The Goodness Ratio

I’ve stolen that expression from Darcy at egardengo and I hope he won’t sue me for copyright infringement. The principle goes like this: the more valuable space a plant occupies in your garden, the more it has to perform for you and the less you should tolerate its shortcomings.

For example: Here is the exquisite Rosemary Harkness rose:

Rosemary Harkness

Rosemary Harkness Rose

I’ve enjoyed her blooms for over 10 years. But at her very best she bloomed little, and at her worst she had gangly canes and was covered with black spot. Never an attractive shrub. And while I didn’t need the space she occupied, I put up with her deficiencies for the sake of the few but beautiful blooms.dscn2853

No more. I wanted to plant a ‘Bluebird’ Hibiscus syriacus (Hardy Hibiscus) that my neighbour was discarding, and the best place for it was right about where Rosemary was. So Rosemary is no more. Shovel pruned, as they say. There are lots of other, better performing apricot-shaded roses, so why have one that has never earned her keep.

So look around at your garden objectively to see if the plants are fulfilling their designated function. If not, and they don’t “put a smile on your face”, consider replacing them with better choices.

Hibiscus syriacus 'Blue Bird'

Hibiscus syriacus ‘Blue Bird’ –too low a “Goodness Ratio” for my neighbour, who wants the space for apple trees. 

Blue Bird

Blue Bird–Her loss is my gain!

Ex-Bearded Iris Garden


The year I moved into this house I got irises from various friends. I thought I loved Iris, especially Bearded Iris, with their spectacular colours and falls and beards.

Because they’re so hardy, and drought tolerant, and need virtually nothing in the way of care, I planted them–more like “placed” them, since they don’t really get buried–under the three cedar trees in the front garden.

Bearded Iris, "no name'. This is May 2010

Bearded Iris, “no name’. This is May 2010

Purple Bearded Iris, May 2010

Purple Bearded Iris, May 2010


Unfortunately, I don’t like the look of this area of the garden once the irises are finished flowering for the season. Of course I don’t have a picture of the area in its ugly phase, so there’s no evidence. And there never will be:

Many many MANY irises

Many, many, MANY irises

I’ve changed my garden so many times in the last 9 years, I can testify to the value of keeping those plants that you really love and/or give multi-season interest, and getting rid of whatever doesn’t make the grade. [Stay tuned for a post on “The Goodness Ratio”.] Irises just weren’t making the grade.

I’ve dug what I hope will have been ALL of them, to be replaced by something that will be beautifully back-lit by the morning sun. This is on the east side of the property, and there’s nothing in the way of that early light. (The fence in the second picture above is no longer there.)

Here are some of the options:

Solomon's Seal --Polygonatum odoratum

Solomon’s Seal –Polygonatum odoratum

Solomon’s Seal, looking lovely backlit with morning sun. It’s only in bloom for a few weeks, but the foliage is attractive most of the growing season. Definitely a possibility. Will it tolerate the drought? Will, I have to irrigate?

This might be my favourite spring bulb--Fritilaria mealagris

This might be my favourite spring bulb–Fritilaria mealagris

Fritilary, cute as a bug’s ear, but only for a month or less, and then the foliage dies away quickly. It’s also a flower that is best seen close up, as in this picture. That isn’t really the situation in my ex-iris bed.

Euphorbia amygldaloides

Euphorbia amygdaloides

Euphorbia amygdaloides, Wood Spurge. Yes, there’re lots of advantages to this, not least is that if you deadhead frequently, you’ll get a lot of flowering through the growing season. Pretty unusual for perennials. But I already have LOTS of Euphorbia, the above being a large patch right in front of the ex-iris bed. So, “No” to more Euphorbia.

Imperata cylindrica 'Red Baron'

Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’

Ahhh, Japanese Blood Grass. Hard to beat for showing off the early and late day sunlight. But again, I already have lots. Because I love all these plants that glow in early and late light.


Stipa tenuissima

OK, getting closer. Stipa tenuissima–Mexican Feather Grass. I have a few clumps of MFG, so I think my decision may be another ornamental grass, possibly Miscanthus sinensis or Panicum virgatum.

Panicum virgatum 'Prairie Fire

Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Fire

Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio'--or is it 'Yaku Jima'?

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Adagio’–or is it ‘Yaku Jima’?

In the meantime, this is where this post started. Anyone interested in free irises? I recommend only local-to-Vancouver fans.


Location Location Location

Acer palmatum--unknown variety of Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum–unknown variety of Japanese Maple

This stunning Japanese Maple at the Bob Prittie Library (Burnaby) looks better right now than almost any other time of the year. Yes, the fringe of red leaves and the lake underneath contribute. But even more than that is the blackness of the bark and the structure of the tree–now visible without leaves.

Key to appreciating this beauty is LOCATION–I know, surprise! Besides being alone in an expanse of lawn, what you can’t see is that the tree is right beside the library’s entrance path. Visitors to the library–those who approach on foot anyway–have to go by it. Will they stop to admire?

It’s exposed on all sides with nothing to obscure it–no building walls, no large or even small shrubs, and even many smaller, lower branches have been regularly pruned to reveal the architecture of the trunk and primary branches.


Japanese maple at Metrotown library

I’ve talked about locating plants to catch the morning or evening sun, and this is a variant on that. When you buy or otherwise acquire a young tree, it doesn’t look like much, usually. So think ahead five or ten years to when it’s becoming a little more mature. Will it be something that draws you out to take a picture, as this did for me? I wouldn’t have even noticed this tree if it were one of many, or surrounded by other plant material, or if the gardeners hadn’t done such a lovely job of enhancing its beauty.

Thanks gardeners!

Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’

It’s been way too long since I last wrote a blog post, so I’m going to ease back into it slowly. With this:

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’

I was at the Nursery looking for who knows what when I spied this amazing specimen. It’s Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’, a fall-winter blooming camellia, which, like most camellias, really likes our climate.

C. sasanqua 'Yuletide' detail

C. sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ detail–wow, look at the number of buds on this beauty!

So I want someone to buy it so I can see it in a garden. PLEASE!

I don’t have room for it in my own garden–it wants at least a little shade, but it also should be in a spot where it will have room to grow–it’s already started as an espalier, so optimally it would be a wall or fence. And then of course, someone who is willing to continue training it either on a larger trellis or along wires. This shrub is easy to espalier with its pliable and outward bending branches.

If you live in the Vancouver area and you want this, let me know. I’ll get it, plant it, even look after it for you if you like (for a nominal fee of course!).