Designing on Computer

I’m re-learning a landscape-based CAD program–Dynascape. I haven’t decided what to do about colour–whether to hand colour or invest in the colour plug-in. In the meantime, I’m enjoying learning…

Planting Plan--includes all the plant labels.

Planting Plan–includes all the plant labels.

Presentation Plan--this would be the simplified version for the clients so they're not overwhelmed with detail.

Presentation Plan–this would be the simplified version for the clients so they’re not overwhelmed with detail.


It’s almost two months since I wrote a blog post, and I have no more time now than I did these two months. So I’m going to jam out by linking to this lovely article on paths–one of my favourite garden structures–by Three Dogs in a Garden. The article is Down the Garden Path: Part 1 and illustrates some useful ways of, and reasons for, creating pathways.

Favourite among the pics is this one:Pathway new

Roses Roses Roses

Roses Roses Roses

Roses, Rhodos and Peonies were my first loves–at least my first plant loves. And they still rank really high on that scale. But whereas rhodos and peonies are pretty self-sufficient once you start them off right, roses will almost always need a little more management.

It’s still “winter”, even tho’ most of the country would challenge my use of the word, but it’s the perfect time to start planning if roses are to be part of your garden design. I’ll explain shortly.

I have a small yard, and quite a lot of roses.

Rosemary Harkness

Rosemary Harkness

The very first one I bought, (and managed to sustain for about 6-7 years), was the one that bit me with the rose-acquisition bug. It was “Blue Moon” (sorry, I never took a picture of it), a hybrid tea with the most enticing fragrance of almost any rose I’ve had since. (Maybe my imagination has exaggerated its fragrance. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and all that…)

That was in the days when all I had was a roof-top deck to grow things, so everything grew in containers. (FYI, if you only have containers to grow in, stick to roses that are suited to containers. More on that to come.) I tried David Austin roses, shrub roses, hybrid tea roses, floribunda roses, Old Garden roses. Guess what. None did very well, least of all Blue Moon. They were stunted, got fungal disease, produced few actual blooms, and in the end, only a very few survived to move house with me. Jude the Obscure was about to be turfed quite a few times, Rosemary Harkness (above) resists being “shovel pruned” (aka turned into compost–because she’s got such a long root I can’t dig her out!), and Princess Alexandra is still short-listed for disposal. I keep giving her “one more year”.

Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure–a David Austin rose. Just gets better and better every year!

Princess Alexandra.

Princess Alexandra. She hasn’t looked this good since her first year “in the ground”.

Here in coastal BC we have a lot of rain. And a relatively short hot-ish summer. And cool nights even when the days are hot. And unfortunately, these are all conditions that encourage the growth and multiplication of fungal diseases.  And of all the things roses are, susceptible to fungal diseases is what they are the most! (Bad, BAD sentence!) Black spot, powdery mildew, and rust.

There are lots of home remedies for these diseases, none are very effective. Of course, you’ll read in the Garden and Rose forums that Baking Soda solution, or a dilute milk solution, or corn meal, or sulphur will work–everyone has their preferences, seldom are any of them in coastal BC. The key is consistency–ie, treating about weekly or so, and removing ALL infected leaves, as well as giving the plant all the cultural things it requires–full sun, mulch, not-too-much-and-slow-release organic fertilizer.

But I have a much better solution: only buy roses that are KNOWN to do well in OUR climate. I can give you a start right now: Jude the Obscure (above), Octavia Hill and Julia Child. At the Stanley Park Rose Garden they have a few Queen Elizabeths that looked REALLY good (in August) when many others were fading.

Octavia Hill. She is this mid-pink early in the season and the blooms get more "shell pink" as the summer wanes.

Octavia Hill. She is this mid-pink early in the season and the blooms get more “shell pink” as the summer wanes.


Julia Child

So here are a  few rules to follow if you want to have roses in your garden, AND you want to treat them like any other garden plant–sustainably. Which means no pesticides (including allegedly “organic” pesticides), no chemical feeding, no inordinate amounts of water, no “baby-ing”:

1. Check local forums and nurseries for their list of the most disease resistant roses for coastal BC. (Of course if you live in the Sierra mountains or Florida everglades, you might want to revise that rule.) I highly recommend Select Roses for their list of top performers. When I started buying roses online, I diligently bought only those that were classified  “highly disease resistant” . Unfortunately at the time I didn’t realize that the Ontario climate led to different performance than our climate. So go LOCAL.

2. Plant them in full sun, in UNamended soil (like all shrubs and trees).

3. Mulch them with organic mulch, following rules for mulching trees and shrubs–ie, not deeper than 2″, leaving at least 3-5″ of bare soil around the stem/trunk.

4. Feed discreetly with slow-release, preferably organic fertilizer, or just compost, which is a nice light balanced diet. I’ve many times heard it said that roses are “heavy feeders”; I’m of the opinion that more harm is done following that statement than otherwise. If other plants and shrubs are doing well, why not just treat your rose in the same way, and if it doesn’t bloom as well as it should, then consider adding a little Alfalfa meal.

5. Containers–a whole new ballgame! Several rose breeders have developed roses that are really suited to the more limited environment of the container, and I’d definitely recommend looking for some of them. Kordes Veranda and Balconia series roses or others that are called “Patio Roses” are compact and bred for small spaces. Follow standard container garden rules. 

William Shakespeare 2000. He has AMAZING fragrance and colour that changes every month. But an ungainly growth habit, and black spot magnet.

William Shakespeare 2000. He has AMAZING fragrance and colour that changes every month–it’s usually some variant of magenta. But an ungainly growth habit, and black spot magnet.

Roses Roses Roses

Why did I say early February is the right time to start planning your rose garden? Because, since you’re not going to just go out and pick up a rose at Home Depot, you’re going to have to find out where your preferred rose variety is sold and then get it from them. Pickering or Palatine or even Select Roses will already be selling out of some of their favourites. So get onto it right away for your best success! Just be warned: the more success you have, the more you’re going to want to have “just one more rose”.

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Create a Welcoming Entryway

5 Ways to Create a Welcoming Entryway

People approach your house in one of only two ways: either they drive up or they walk up. And if they drive up, they still walk to the door. How will you make that approach both welcoming and personal?  If you’re ready to make some changes, and are not sensitive to criticism, try asking friends what they think about your entryway.

1. Open and Airy.

Many homes were landscaped by the builder with foundation shrubs that soon outgrow the space allocated to them. As a result there will be large-to-huge shrubs/trees competing for space with you and your guests around the front door.

This may take more remediation that just a little pruning. Most Rhodos are pretty tolerant of moving. The cedar desperately needs "limbing up".

This may take more remediation that just a little pruning. Most Rhodos are pretty tolerant of moving. The cedar desperately needs “limbing up”.

This tends to make the site feel quite oppressive, and you may remember as I do the fear of walking into spider webs strung from one shrub to another across the walkway. You may be able to prune that shrub back to a shadow of its former self, but there’s a good chance that before long it will have grown back, and even larger than it was at first. When you look at websites to check the mature size of chosen plants, you can safely add 20-50% to the height they give. That rhodo that was planted 10 years ago, and still looked perfect 5 years ago, is now fighting you when you walk up the stairs to the front door. The pyracantha (thornbush) practically takes an eye out when you walk on the path, so you have to skirt it to escape serious injury. You’ve begun to grow accustomed to all the little idiosyncrasies of your site, but your guests aren’t so fortunate.

I love this Houzz picture of a house in San Francisco, but can you see what will happen to those birches in 5 years’ time?

2. Wide and deep

How wide is wide enough? Two people should be able to walk/stand side-by-side (not clutching each other). The path to the front door should be no narrower than 4′, and the landing deep enough for two to stand at the door and not be knocked off the step when the door (3′) is opened.

Not only is the concrete walkway too narrow, the depth of the laurel hedge is a good 4'. There are better ways to plant a hedge.

Not only is this concrete walkway too narrow, the depth of the laurel hedge is a good 4′. There are better ways to plant a hedge.

3. Good circulation

How do you get from the street to the front door? How do you get from the car to the front door? Is the front door the door that most people will commonly use? Is there another route to the front door that may be/should be/shouldn’t be/isn’t being used? How would you like to correct this circulation? The main things here are making the walk from “somewhere” to the house entrance obvious and exclusive, and unless your house is architecturally formal, don’t use straight lines to do it. You might line the edges of a concrete pathway with little low shrubs or ornamental grasses, creating a mini “allee”. If there isn’t a clear convenient connection between the driveway and the front entrance, make one, and preferably make it  similar to or the same as whatever other pathways exist–they fulfill the same function, so should look like they do. Still at least 4′ wide. My own front door is almost at the east edge of the house, only 3′ from the edge of the driveway. So the path up to the front door is in fact the driveway. But I added a little swoosh of a concrete pad to connect the two.

Six years ago.

Six years ago.


Today. Winter. Had to edit out some of the winter mess.

4. Public/Private Balance

No one wants to feel like they’re living in a fishbowl, but that doesn’t mean you have to erect some kind of barrier all around the perimeter. If the only open space in fence or hedge to enter the property is the front walk or the driveway, you might as well post a sign saying KEEP OUT (in upper case).



On the other hand, shorter shrubs, below eye level, or deciduous shrubs that are only dense half the year, give a sense of privacy without completely blocking the view in or out. Tall-ish grasses will serve in the same way.

5. Lighting

Be judicious about lighting. It should serve a function, or it’s just light pollution. Or “garden art”.

This front yard is lined with gratuitous solar lights. In fact, here in coastal BC, we seldom have enough sunlight to make these tiny solar panels work. Not sure what the point of the lights are in this yard.

This front yard is lined with gratuitous solar lights. In fact, here in coastal BC, we seldom have enough sunlight to make these tiny solar panels work. Not sure what the point of the lights are in this yard.

Lights for your entryway should be shining down onto the walkway and steps for safety purposes. Lights that shine upwards not only don’t do what they’re there for, but they are blinding to the people walking beside them. Landscape lighting has a different function; some focused spotlights will shine up into trees for dramatic effect, but we still need to be conscious of overuse.

For the front door, a motion sensor light that has two phases (very low light for security, and brighter to guide you or your guests to the door) is a great idea, as long as the brighter phase isn’t blindingly bright–as mine is.

Create Your Welcoming Entryway: Five quick fixes will make a big difference to your visitors’ “first impression”. How many of these can you see yourself implementing?

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5 Winter Questions

5 Winter Questions

It’s the coldest day of the season. Everything that had started to grow in the warmth of January is turning to mush. My hummingbird feeder nectar froze in one hour. DSCN2414 2

Clearly it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll spend your summer in the garden!

Of course all my faithful readers will have read the page called Client Site Analysis. It’s really designed to help the homeowner identify ALL the needs (constraints and opportunities) of the site. But if you’re planning to design/revise/amend your gardens yourself, it would be easier to take a more functional approach. What’s more, your “garden” actually consists of many mini-gardens. Even if you have just a small property with little ground space, odds are you at least have two gardens, a back and a front. For the DIY-er, it would be best (easiest, most practical, most affordable) to deal with one section at a time. If you don’t already have pictures of your property and gardens, why not go out today (before any REAL weather starts up again) and take pictures–many pictures, from all angles, including your views of the neighbours’ houses. Looking at them objectively will really help with the following 5 steps.  So let’s start with…

1. How Will You Use Your Garden?

Do you see yourself escaping the Madding Crowd with a good book and a drink in the seclusion of your secret garden? Or do you prefer welcoming guests every weekend to a backyard BBQ? Is play space for the kids the most important priority? These aren’t mutually exclusive, but would usually happen in different spaces. So in the interest of “dealing with one section at a time”, choose your preferred garden activity. That’s Step #1.

2. What Sun Exposure Do You Need?

If your preferred garden activity is growing vegetables and fruit, you will need the most sun exposure you can find, so that will determine where on your property that particular section is located. On the other hand, if play space is top priority, you will need to locate it where there will be at least a little shade. Or create a little shade. Here’s a little graphic that took me a ridiculous amount of time to create:Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 3.41.59 PM

3. Site Qualities?

Do you have a slope or is the site flat? Does the water drain well or are there areas with standing water for long spells in the spring or fall? Do you have grass, and is it dense or sparse? weedy or mossy? too much or too little? under trees or out in the open? What elements are unchangeable? (Like my neighbour’s massive Douglas-fir–but even that I could have an arborist cut off some of the overhanging limbs…)

4. What is your Gardening Commitment?

This question is partially dependent on the results of Step #1. How much actual gardening work do you see yourself expending? Do you love–or anticipate loving–being out in the “dirt” digging, weeding, lovingly caring for your plants? Or are you afraid of killing anything your touch and therefore need cast iron native, drought tolerant, carefree plants. Probably somewhere in the middle. Answer this step objectively; if you love roses and dream of surrounding your property with a hedge of the wildly vigorous Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’, that will constitute a pretty significant “gardening commitment”.

DSCN1200 2

Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ overhung with Clematis armandii

5. Budget

Last and certainly not least, how much are you willing to spend on this project? One of the chief reasons to separate your property into different projects is to make it all more affordable. And of course, the more of the project you can do yourself, the easier on the wallet. As long as you produce a quality product, not a hack job. I certainly wouldn’t attempt building a deck, but I was able to build a small patio. The larger patio I hired professionals to build, but only because I knew I didn’t have the muscle to move that much sod/sand/gravel/flagstone. If you do, go for it. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThose 5 Questions will take you a long way toward planning and starting your own garden design. You can go back to the Client Site Analysis to fill out some more details, and I’m happy to answer questions here or on my Facebook page. As always, click on Follow to get regular updates here.