Viewpoint Part II, and Ferns

Take Advantage of Timing

Yesterday I mentioned the two ephemerals Sanguinaria (bloodwort) and Erythronium (trout lily). The Sanguinaria was coming up under the foliage of the Asplenium (hart’s tongue fern), and the Erythronium is concealed behind the Buxus (boxwood). But spring ephemerals are perennials that erupt, bloom, set seed and “die back” all in spring, so that by early summer there’s nothing to be seen but a bare space.

So in fact, I could in theory have left the fern where it was, cut off the foliage, which is normal procedure for most hardy ferns, and allowed the Sanguinaria to grow and bloom (or “bloom and grow”), because by the time the fern’s foliage was well up and in danger of  hiding the Sanguinaria, there’d actually be no Sanguinaria left visible to be hidden.

Sanguinaria canadensis

Sanguinaria canadensis

Now, as it happens–and this is where “Viewpoint Part II” comes in– from my “preferred view from my living room window”  the fern was obscuring my view of the waterfall, and I couldn’t have that! So fern was moved, replaced with something that will stay shorter.

But that brings me to ferns, and cutting down foliage.

Of all the ferns with really ratty late winter/early spring foliage, Asplenium is the least ratty. In fact, were it not for the utter beauty of the new foliage coming up but hidden in the old foliage, one wouldn’t feel the need to prune away the old foliage at all.

Asplenium Scopularium

Asplenium scopularium in January

But then I’d miss this:

Asplenium Scopularium

Asplenium scopularium

Asplenium scopularium

Asplenium scopularium today Ap 11

Some other ferns I don’t hesitate to prune to the ground as soon as I can, there being nothing of aesthetic value. E.g., the following:

Dryopteris affinis 'Cristata'

Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’ late Feb 2020.

Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’–Crested Male Fern–is one of my (many) fave ferns. Not at all beautiful in Feb, tho’ technically “evergreen”. But in summer:

Dryopteris affinis 'Cristata'

Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’–almost 4′ tall, about 3′ in diameter.

…stunning. So I chop off everything above ground, and now I’m waiting for the “tarantulas” to unfurl:

Dryopteris affinis 'Cristata'

Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’

Dryopteris affinis 'Cristata'

Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’

Adiantum venustum–Maidenhair fern–behaves differently from year to year. This winter, altho’ not any more severe than any others lately,  she suffered a lot of die back, so even tho’ the dead and “mostly dead” foliage was lying flat on the ground, and new growth rises prettily above it, I pruned away most of the dead stuff so that when the new growth began it would indeed be pretty, like this:

Adiantum venustum

Adiantum venustum–click to enlarge–in fact, all images can be clicked to enlarge.

And then this:

My favourite combination: Adiantum venustum and Athyrium niponicum 

Adiantum venustum

Adiantum venustum

So two take-aways:

  1. Understand the life cycle of your plants, and you’ll be able to coordinate blooming times, colour combinations, pruning times.
  2. Most hardy ferns can and should be cut down to the ground so you can see the wonder of new growth.

Whose Viewpoint?

I’ve posted too little over the last two years, so with this forced isolation still upon us, I think I’ll try to post a little something most days. Remains to be seen–it always takes longer to write than I think it’s going to…

So for today, it’s about your viewpoint. This is the view from my living room window, where I stand and stare just about any time I’m not doing something else. (Duh! I mean when I’m not actually working on something else.)

See the little white flowers in the bottom of the screen? Sanguinaria canadensis, aka “Bloodroot” (altho’ you know I hate to promote “common names” because there are too many names for the same plant, depending on your location, and very often the same common name applied to more than one plant).  A few weeks ago, when they were just emerging from the soil, I couldn’t see them from my preferred viewpoint, because they were hidden under the foliage of an Asplenium scopularium–Hart’s tongue fern. They could be seen from another vantage point, but not my vantage point. So there’s the thing: who are you planting/designing for, who’s viewpoint gets priority? Is it you, from where you stand staring out the window? or is it passers-by? or the person wandering through the garden?

Sanguinaria canadensis

Sanguinaria canadensis

I decided to dig up the Asplenium and put it into two areas (it was big once removed, so I split it into two) where they could grow as much as they liked, not overshadow anything, and enjoy being the stars of their own shows.

Another example:  at the top of the screen (beginning of the short video) you’ll see a Choisya ‘Goldfingers’, and behind it an Edgeworthia chrysantha, in bloom from January, before the leaves appear. Edgeworthia begins to bloom when it’s still cold and miserable, so it’s great if I can see them from the window and not have to brave the weather to do so. But these two pretty shrubs were cleverly concealed by a Nandina domestica, species variety (so growing pretty big, unlike some of the cute little cultivars like  ‘Firepower’ or ‘Moon Bay’). Thus, my two little shrubs behind, and especially the Edgeworthia which is still quite young, small and not massively blooming, were invisible to me from my preferred viewpoint. So out came the Nandina, got pruned back a little, and replanted over near the street. Now the Nandina is fully visible to anyone walking by, but almost invisible to me because there’s an evergreen in the way. Hmmm, we’ll see how that works out…

Edgeworthia chyrsantha

Edgeworthia chyrsantha

Sometimes it’s worth having things a little hidden. This little Erythronium is unintentionally concealed behind a row of boxwood. I chopped away at a nasty rose which gave me access into this little space.

Like the Sanguinaria, it’s a spring ephemeral–it disappears completely once the weather heats up. So in this case I really do have to go out to find it. Worth the effort.

Erythronium americanum

Before and After

Last week Facebook kindly reminded me of pictures I posted that date nine years earlier. They were pics of my garden.


Various angles of my front yard–click on any for larger image

So I went out that day–fortunately a nice day for taking pictures, unlike every day since–and tried to capture the same angles. I’m not the greatest photographer in the world, and with 9 years of growth I couldn’t even get into all the same spots, but here’s what things look like now.

Looking east from my front porch

There’s a lot I love about my front yard, especially the pond. (Two surviving goldfish are now 5″ long . ♥.) But one of the best aspects of the old garden is that mass of Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan). I haven’t been able to foster such a lovely patch since, and I’m not sure why. Still trying.

Looking west from the street.

Why am I not growing dahlias anymore? Surely they’re among the best sources of colour in the late summer-autumn garden.

House next door was torn down and rebuilt. New fence gives a lot more sun to the garden under the cedar trees.

Of course one expects trees and shrubs to put on a foot or so per year in vertical growth, so here’s the little Cryptomeria japonica ‘Cristata’:

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Cristata’. 30″ when I planted it and now about 14′

The previous pics all seem to show a fairly open yard, both old and current, lots of empty spaces, aka “negative spaces”. One of the reasons a lawn can be a good thing is to provide that restful space that creates a foil for the busier, more colourful areas.

Below you’ll see however that the garden is anything but “empty”. In fact it’s far too busy, and I’m planning to remove the red rose (right side pic) and a lot of that croscosmia (light green grassy clump). As I’ve said before, the larger the plant–perennial, shrub or tree–the more value it has to provide. And that red rose (‘William Shakespeare 2000′–a David Austin rose) just doesn’t provide enough value. It sprawls, it’s subject to black spot, the flowers, while stunning on dry days, turns to mush in the rain. I’ll miss the fragrance tho’!


Couldn’t get the same viewpoint because the rose (circled) and the smoke bush were too high to see over.


So this fall I’ll be doing a renovation in the back yard, but come next spring it’ll be time to make some changes here. Seeing these old pics really makes me want to get back to some of the look of the old garden–the rudbeckia, the dahlias, more open space, fewer shrubs (can hardly believe that’s me saying “fewer shrubs”!)

I’ll keep you posted…



A Word about Lighting

If you scroll down to the pictures of exterior lighting you’ll assume that the reason any of us want lighting is to provide light–lots and lots of light. But as Richard V. Morse says in this article, light is a means to an end. You want to read, or you want to see the fish in the aquarium or you want to highlight the china in the cabinet, or you want to put on your makeup. And in each of those cases there’s good lighting and bad lighting.

For exterior lighting, the reasons are usually safety–so you don’t trip on your way from the car to the front door; security–so bad guys can’t hide in the shadows; enjoyment–you can use your outdoor spaces when it’s dark out; beauty–highlighting your garden features.

Since the following pictures have no landscape lighting at all, I’ll leave discussion of “beauty” to another post. (It’s hard to show up beautiful garden structure and features if this is what the garden is fighting.) For now let’s just see how the existing lighting meets any of the four purposes. These are all within walking distance of my home:

Looks like an architectural version of a skunk! Or a zebra? Or that little boy in Addams Family! Referred to here as the “spaceship effect”!

Actually, the only house of the collection that does have an element of landscape lighting–illuminating the house number on the boulder. There’s so much light that safety and security are adequately dealt with, but it’s so sharp, it wouldn’t invite lingering out in the garden.

This isn’t photo-shopped–it really is that bright!

Another property with such sharp light/dark contrast you’d seldom choose to take an evening stroll in the garden. The fence/wall in front hides the front yard, so one can’t tell what shadows exist there, but for sure there’s no other landscape lighting, and even if there were, it would be completely eclipsed by the house lighting. One of the (many) problems with this degree of brightness is that it leaves the shadows extra dark. So it doesn’t necessarily meet the security need as well as might be assumed. I’m not sure why soffit lighting has become so popular, but it does nothing to beautify the home (imho).

This wouldn’t be so bad if the house lights were the same degree of warmth as the carriage lanterns. But still too bright on the lower floor.

Soffit lights–again. Creating spots of light over the windows–for what purpose I wonder? They are doing nothing for any of the four lighting needs.

The following are just too egregious! I’m speechless!

I guess that’s “slow rain” falling in front of the lens. In this case it’s not too much light, but too harsh, not in the right places, and illuminating too much wall.

Here again, not so much the amount of light, or number if fixtures, but the quality of the light and where it’s placed. blue-grey light on very grey walls.

This is how stark it really looks.

I’ll try to find some really nice, effectively lit homes and gardens for a future post. If there are any in my neighbourhood!