Further to “Pergolas and Arbours”

I saw a couple of pictures that illustrate well the concept of complementing your garden structure with the personality of your house/site. First is this one:

You can see how the redwood on the door is repeated in the material of the pergola, but more than that, the rough nature of the rock garden/water feature (can’t tell what it is) matches the simply rough/roughly simple style of the pergola.

Here’s another:

In this case you’ve got a well-tree’d small yard with lots of hardscaping (flagstone paths and patios). The dark-stained, narrow-profile pergolas almost melt into the border of the yard, providing all the things you want a pergola to do, while being very subtle about it. I love this site!

Is This YOUR Time to Plant a Tree?

Is it time to plant a tree?

Treekeepers is a program established recently (2013) to encourage Vancouverites and locals to plant trees. And their strategy is to almost give them away ($10 each!). Go to the website for details.

According to  Steve Whysall in his column (Mar 24, 2014), the city of Vancouver planted 10,000 trees (just in Vancouver) in 2013, and the goal is 150,000 by 2020. That’s a lot of trees!

So I did my part (even tho’ I live in Burnaby) and ordered three of Treekeepers’ discounted trees.

Acer circinatum–Vine Maple. It’s a native tree, which is good for my wildlife garden, with a nice small multi-stemmed growth habit.


Bee on Vine Maple

Next up is Oxydendron arboreum, commonly called Sourwood. Also suitable for smaller city yards, this one max’s out at about 20-25′, and half as wide. Fragrant summer flowers, amazing fall colour, and berries that hang on into winter–what more can you ask for?


Fall colour Photo Credit


Summer fragrant flowers Photo Credit









And finally, I’m going to try a Ficus carica (fig) again. This will be my third try. First was in a container on my townhouse roof. It never did well, and I never knew why. It was a ‘Brown Turkey’, and my Persian friend complimented the flavour of the one fig I harvested! Next try was a rooted cutting I got at Garden Club–which apparently wasn’t actually rooted, just a stick.

This time it’s ‘Desert King’ (I could have hoped for ‘Dessert King’…), possibly the best variety for our region. Looking at the UBC garden forum, it’s definitely popular and dependable here.

Desert King fig tree. Photo Credit

Desert King fig tree. Photo Credit

Somehow I just can't imagine getting this many figs.

Somehow I just can’t imagine getting this many figs. But I’m very keen to try Fig and Ginger Jam!

So is it your turn to plant a tree? To give you shade, maybe fruit, wildlife habitat, air purification, never mind beauty!

Leave me comments with your thoughts, and definitely follow the Treekeepers link if you live in Metro Vancouver. I’ll post a up-date when I receive my trees (April 12).


A How-To on Pergolas and Arbours (or Arbors)

A How-To on Pergolas and Arbours (or Arbors)

I’ve been trying to get the definitive answer to “What’s the difference between a arbour and a pergola?”

There is no definitive answer. The moment you think you’ve found one, some other word-police will dispute it.

So here’s MY definition: an arbour is a small archway supporting some kind of vining or rambling plant. It may or may not be over a path (mine isn’t), or an entrance to a garden room (mine sort of is), and it may or may not have enough space to fit a seat for one or two (mine doesn’t).

you can't actually walk through this arbour, it's got a Westerland rose growing underneath. But it gives a sense of definition to the garden bed, and there's a path now on the other side.

You can’t actually walk through this arbour, it’s got a Westerland climbing rose growing underneath. But it gives a sense of definition to the garden bed, and there’s a path now on the other side.

A pergola is larger garden structure, more for the sake of people underneath it, providing some degree of shade either along a walkway, or over a patio/seating/entertaining area.

Why have one?

There are a lot of reasons to have a tall man-made element in the garden. First of all, just its very presence draws the eye upward, increasing the dimensions of the space. It also gives a sense of “ceiling” to your garden “room”–even if you’re not sitting underneath it. Trees do that as well, usually on a much larger scale, so the arbor/pergola will lend a layered look. It can give definition to the edges of the garden, or a direction to move to or through. These are design features. There are of course also practical features: some degree of shade, a structure to facilitate vining plants, a place to locate a bench.

Front yard, back yard

Depends on what you want your structure to do. Here’s a house that I think would look really cool with a pergola across the front, above the retaining wall (won’t discuss the gravel “hellstrip” beneath):

Pergola across the front above the retaining wall??

Pergola across the front above the retaining wall??

There are a lot of houses in my neighbourhood with this kind of format, some with higher retaining walls, some with lower. I live in the “South Slope”, so kind of goes with the territory. And I’d love to suggest some ideas to this owner–except there isn’t an owner yet.

This wouldn’t necessarily be a seating area, but if instead of the little sad boxwoods (and what’s with the solitary Thuja occidentalis in the corner?) there were tallish ornamental grasses along the edge, a small patio with facing benches and a fire pit would work, taking advantage of the view downhill toward the river. Semi-private while still featuring the view, mostly open “ceiling”, so the upper balcony wouldn’t be looking down on a roof.

Anyway, an idea for a front pergola; here’s another: Photo CreditHCRBL210_house-front-yard-after_s4x3_lg

Vines Overhead or Not

If you are going to be sitting underneath this structure, I would highly recommend you confine any plant material to non-messy, restrained growers. Grape vines? VERY messy. Hops? Kiwi?  Anything that doesn’t get harvested will fall and make a mess, which also includes whatever the raccoons have a go at. Or wind: last year I lost half my ready-to-pick grape harvest to what I thought were racoons, then realized the night before there was a howling gale. Then the racoons got at them.

Then there are the really vigorous vines that need to be frequently pruned, or they attempt to strangle you as you’re sitting there. Campsis (trumpet vine), honeysuckle, some rambling roses. If it grows REALLY fast in one season, it’s not the best choice for your overhead structure (under which you are sitting). Ditto for wisteria; lovely, but unless your structure is made of steel, Wisteria japonica (the commonest one) will eat it for lunch.

Campsis radicans

Campsis radicans

Heavy-duty or Lightweight

This has to do with aesthetics and whatever may or may not be growing on the structure.

A small house, or one with fine features or a modern vibe, will be better complimented with a structure that is lightweight, not bulky, not rustic. Your home’s personality (which hopefully will also be your own personality) should be reflected in most of your garden design. If your home has big features, bulky pillars, dramatic angles, giant trees, your pergola/arbour should do likewise.

There are lots more decisions to be made about your overhead structure–freestanding or attached? vinyl, wood, steel? big or little? open or enclosed? You get the idea. Have a look at pictures–Google images has a lot of options, and my Houzz Ideabook might spark your creativity. There are lots of kits available, construction information for the DIY-er on Youtube,  or you might prefer to actually hire a professional for that custom look.

If you like the idea, get started now thinking, planning, locating, designing. And let me/us all  know what you think and what you’re planning and designing. And of course, click the “Follow” button.

5 Favourite Hedges

Favourite Things–Hedges

I’m not generally a big fan of closing in a property with ultra-privacy screening. Tall fences, dense cedars and laurels–as we’ve seen before, they just say “KEEP OUT”. I prefer the “come on in and have a look” style of garden design.

Having said that, hedging isn’t always a bad thing even for me. Shrubs that are not too tall, or are “airy”, or spaced widely, that are set well back from the public thoroughfare, that are fragrant and/or very floriferous (LOTS of flowers)–these can all constitute a welcoming hedge.

Se here are “a few of my favourite things”–in hedges:

1. Ceanothus thyrsiflorus–California Lilac. A very drought tolerant bee-and-butterfly magnet, native to California (duh). Masses of blue flowers followed by reddish berries that deepen to black in the fall. Evergreen with small glossy crinkled leaves.  I’ve posted this video before, but it’s worth a second view.

If you think of “typical” California weather (if there is such a thing), you’ll know exactly what kind of conditions Ceanothus needs: full sun (altho’ many cultivars can tolerate some shade), very good drainage, minimal watering (except in the first year when it needs extra care to get established), no extra fertilizer (organic mulch being the exception).

You can give Ceanothus a “haircut” every couple years, after blooming in the late spring. It can also be limbed up to give it more of a small tree look, but be careful with that. Ceanothus won’t sprout from old wood, so be sure when you trim back to old wood, it’s on purpose, not by accident.

2. Rosa ‘Hansa’. Magenta coloured Rugosa Rose ‘Hansa’ is a big, sprawling, fabulously-scented rose with nasty thorns. Not what you would ordinarily term “welcoming”, except that once you get a whiff of the fragrance, you have to follow the whiff to its source.

Recommending a thorny sprawling rose as a guest-friendly hedge requires a little refining. First of all, most roses tolerate, or demand, some pruning. This rose can take a LOT of pruning. She’ll easily grow 5 feet in a season, so if you don’t prune her down pretty aggressively in spring, you’ll have something of a monster on your hands. She doesn’t need much else in the way of care, which is one of the reasons she gets a place on this list. My Hansa is growing in half shade, and still blooms “enough”. Full sun will produce many more blooms. She should be mulched (almost everything should be mulched…), but won’t need much if any extra water through our dry summers. And the best thing is that unlike any other rose I’ve ever had, she has never had any disease–no black spot, no powdery mildew, no rust.

Of course, roses are deciduous, dropping their leaves in the fall, so in winter you’ll have a hedge of thorny sticks. For a while it will look like that “KEEP OUT” hedge. Sorry.

3. Ribes sanguineum –Flowering Red Currant. Native to coastal BC, Flowering Currant is allegedly the favoured flower of the returning Rufus Hummingbird. That would surely make it my favourite if it worked, but so far, I haven’t seen the evidence. 

Ribes sanguineum, Red-Flowering Current. Native to BC coast.

Ribes sanguineum, Red-Flowering Current. Native to BC coast.

But you can see the flowers are wonderful, the summer foliage is crisp and compact, growth is quite vigorous, but very easily controlled with pruning, and in late winter this will be one of the shrubs that you can force into blooming in your house by cutting branches early (Feb) and putting them in a vase of water.

4.  -Oregon Grape. Another prickly shrub–in this case it’s the leaves, not the stems–that has three benefits that overshadow the “prickliness”: fragrant(1) flowers(2) that bloom in winter(3). 

The blue-black berries that follow flowers on Mahonia aquifolium. Photo Credit.

The blue-black berries that follow flowers on Mahonia aquifolium. Photo Credit.

Another native plant, so is instrumental in keeping our local fauna happy; evergreen, civilized size that doesn’t mind being pruned to an even more civilized size, and leaves that often go reddish in Autumn. Take care cleaning up fallen leaves (even “evergreen” shrubs/trees loose their aged leaves sometime): they are particularly sharp when they’re all dried up. If you don’t prune after flowering, you’ll be rewarded with very tart berries that make amazing preserves.

5. Spirea japonica. This one I love because it has such a nostalgic air and fragrance about it. We had a spirea hedge when I was very little, and so of course the smell of the flowers on my little S. japonica ‘Anthony Waterer ‘ feels somehow very comforting.

Spiraea.japonica.Magic Carpet.

Spiraea.japonica.Magic Carpet. Photo Credit.

Compact, easy to prune, fabulous new spring growth,

Spirea japonica 'Anthony Waterer'--I think...

Spirea japonica ‘Anthony Waterer’–I think…

and the flowers make lovely bouquets. What more could you ask?


There are so many others I could mention–deciduous Azaleas, Sarcococca (Sweet Box) if you have shade, Physocarpus (Ninebark) in one of the rich coppery colours–but these five listed are my favourites. For now…

What are your favourite hedging shrubs? Do you have other suggestions for a hedge that welcomes yet offers a degree of privacy?

Window Sill Herbs

I subscribe to quite a few gardening and design blogs, one of my favourite being Northwest Edible LIfe. Today’s guest author on Erica’s blog is Grace Hensley of eTilth.com, who vegetable-gardens in 150 sq ft of space, which is just about how much room I’ve designated in my garden for edibles.

You can go to either or both to read the article, but I just have to highlight this one paragraph because of my absolute FAILURE at growing basil.

Not happy basil dug up from the Fall garden

Not happy basil dug up from the Fall garden

“Don’t bother with planting basil in the ground; it’s too cold here. Instead, buy one fresh $4.00 packet of basil at the grocery store. Gently snip off the bottom centimeter of each stem and the lower leaves. Put each stem in a jar of water on your windowsill, with the leaf junction below the water line, and it will form roots. Make sure to change the water at least weekly. You should be able to grow and eat that small purchase for many weeks.”

That’s definitely my plan for this year–no more guilt over sowing 6 different kinds of basil and harvesting enough for one meal. It’s grocery store basil all the way. Let’s see how well it works.

Anyone on for the contest? Comment if you’ll join me, and we’ll keep one another updated here.