When to Start Your Spring Clean-Up

When to Start Your Spring Clean-Up

Back in the Fall I wrote a post about NOT doing Fall clean-up. There are lots of reasons, not least is to leave some seed-heads for the birds. Well, it’s mid-February, and the birds have eaten all the available seeds, and now there’s a good reason to start your pre-Spring clean-up. On a nice dry day, preferably.

Pre-Spring clean-up isn’t about making the garden look tidy (at least not for me–I’ve never been interested in a”tidy” garden), it’s about finding what you forgot you had planted, or seeing the amazing late winter life “spring” into action.

Perfectly good looking Helleborus leaves, but...

Perfectly good looking Helleborus leaves, but…

Hiding flower buds.

Hiding flower buds, only visible if I cut away the old foliage.DSCN2482 2

Asters still looking somewhat architectural, but...

Asters still looking somewhat architectural, but…

...Hiding these tiny yellow crocuses.

…hiding these tiny yellow crocuses. So the asters come down, and benefit the compost heap.

Euphorbia looking the worse for wear after the freeze of early Feb…

Euphorbia looking the worse for wear after the freeze of early Feb…

And more crocuses visible after cutting down some of the Euphorbia. You

And more crocuses visible after cutting down some of the Euphorbia. (I’d rather see the new crocuses than the tatty euphorbia, which will grow back in the spring.) You can see the white “milky” sap of the euphorbia on all the cut stems. Your skin might be sensitive to this.

This is the detritus of summer alyssum, which I left not only for the birds, but also for the garden--I need alyssum to self seed to provide habitat for beneficial insects. But it's truly not beautiful.

This is the detritus of summer alyssum, which I left not only for the birds, but also for the garden–I need alyssum to self seed to provide habitat for beneficial insects. And because I adore the scent of alyssum–can never have too much of it. But this is truly not beautiful.

And who remembered--daffodils sprouting up!

And who remembered–daffodils sprouting up! I don’t get a lot of multiplication of my daffs, so I’m always surprised when I see them return–fewer and fewer each year.

So now really is the time to do some garden clean-up. What might YOU find…?

Comments, questions, better pics than mine? You can also follow me on Facebook. Occasionally I post things there that don’t qualify for here.


Five Great Containers: Part Last!

So I’ll recap the story.

Ben’s wife and little son have been gone all summer and are coming back in two weeks. He wants to do something nice for them and asks for a balcony design. This is one of my favourite balcony pictures:

And because of its simplicity, that is the idea I gave him. Only MUCH smaller.

Containers 1, 2 and 3 all had small trees, a smaller evergreen shrub, a fluffy perennial, a taller perennial, and a grass. (Or a close approximation of those elements.)

Container 4 is very different.

Container #4

Container #4

This is a 16″ container, compared with the other 22″ containers. So obviously it doesn’t hold as much. Intentionally. I wanted some contrast with the sizes, and would have preferred no contrast with the colours, but we took what we could find. The glazing style of all 5 containers is the same, the colouring is different.

This container planting isn’t nearly as interesting as the others because everything is still immature. Next year it will look a lot different as everything gets closer to mature size.

It starts with a lavender.

My favourite, Lavendula angustifulia ‘Hidcote Blue’. This is one of the smallest of the English lavenders, sweet-smelling (never mind that I seem to be the only person in existence who doesn’t  like the fragrance of lavender), and rich purple-blue coloured flowers. Here is an excellent video on pruning lavender. Unless you actively keep your lavender in check, it will get woody and overgrown and UGLY. You don’t want this, I’m sure.


Thanks to beingfiftysomething for her picture of her front  lavender “hedge”. Which she has since completely changed!

Next, and almost invisible because it’s so young, is Verbascum ‘Blue Pixie’. This will give a nice spray of height above the lavender, coordinating nicely with the colour. But as the name implies, not grow as high as most Verbascum.


Thanks to Future Plants for the picture of Verbascum ‘pixie Blue’

Finally this  garden is rounded off with the some of the same plants as other containers: the grass–Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘LIttle Bunny’, the spurge–Euphorbia ‘Tiny Tim, and a few strands of the sedum–Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’. Repeating some plants in your collection of containers gives a sense of unity, and is a principle you can apply to your in-ground gardens as well.

Container 5–the Succulent ContainerDSCN2024

One important thing to remember about succulent containers: they need to be treated a little different than other perennial containers. Most succulents grow in closer-to-desert conditions, hence the “succulent” leaves which store water. They don’t want a lot of watering, they don’t want their roots to stay too wet, and they don’t want a  lot of wet soil underneath their roots or under their leaves. A shallow container is commonly used, but again, we went with what we could find, so choose the smaller of the coordinating pots. A layer of pebbles would be a good thing to use to mulch the soil and keep the plant leaves from sitting directly on the wet soil.

My favourite plant here is the ruffled edge Lewisia cotyledon in front. This puts on the sweetest show in late spring, with flowers that range from light orange through various pink shades to almost purple or red.

Thanks to Wild Ginger Farms for the picture of Lewisia cotyledon 'Sunset strains'

Thanks to Wild Ginger Farms for the picture of Lewisia cotyledon ‘Sunset strains’.

Going around clockwise, next is Sempervivum tectorum ‘Royal Ruby’. I stole a few from the plant to add into other containers, as well as planting a few in smaller pots for a houseplant. Then another no-name Sempervivum hybrid, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’, and Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina, and last-but-not-least, Euphorbia myrsinites trailing over the edge.

So that’s the end of my series on “Five Great Containers”. Hope you liked it–if so, let me know and maybe I could do another series on some other topic of your choice.

As always, leave a comment, ask a question, incite a discussion. Nicely.

5 Great Containers–Part 4

As promised, here’s another instalment of 5 Great Containers, this time a variant on the formula–“One Tree, One small Evergreen, One tall Perennial, One fluffy Perennial, One Grass”.

DSCN2027I saw this amazing grafted Cotoneaster (some feel this is an artificial-looking device, but what is art but an artificial device?), and had to buy it. My original plan had been to have two grafted PeeGee Limelight Hydrangea containers, an evergreen shrub container, a mainly perennial container, and a succulent container. But when the PeeGee Limelights were sold out at my preferred nursery (and I was in quite a hurry to get these done), I chose the Japanese Maples instead.

So seeing the grafted cotoneaster brought me back to the plan of having a tall item with still lots of space underneath for bulky plants.

Hence what we have here. DSCN2022 2

1. Cotoneaster horizontalis ‘Variegatus‘. Here’s a shrub with 4 season interest, even tho’ it’s deciduous. (Who knew there was even such a thing as a deciduous cotoneaster?) Tiny white flowers in the spring, red berries in the fall that should last into winter–especially here on the 7th floor balcony where the birds are unlikely to eat them. Then the creamy white edged leaves that turn pink-to-red in the autumn before falling. 

(Incidentally, if you see a plant label with “horizontalis”in the name, you can be pretty sure it’s not going to grow tall. Safe for a small space, and usually used as ground cover. Hence here being grafted on a tree.)

This is a 24" diameter container, so lots of room for growth here.

This is a 24″ diameter container, so lots of room for growth here.

2. Chamaecyparis obtusa  (False Cypress) ‘Fernspray Gold’. One of my favourite conifer shrubs, I have this myself in my front garden. The colour becomes coppery as it gets cold–worried me the first year, then I discovered it’s a colour change, not a dying change! It comes back gold-to-chartreuse in the spring. The branches tend to “spray” out (hence the name) a bit like a fountain, so a great plant to have underneath the tall apparently lifeless stick of the grafted cotoneaster.

3. Euphorbia x martini (Dwarf Martin’s Spurge) ‘Tiny Tim’. Another favourite that I’ve previously killed in my own garden, this is another all-season plant. It’s evergreen–always a bonus. The ‘flowers’ in spring are actually bracts, not petals, like the “flowers” of the (also euphorbia) Poinsettia. So they last  A LONG TIME.

Thanks tohttp://loghouseplants.com/plants/shop/euphorbia-x-martinii-tiny-tim-spurge/

Tiny Tim in flower. Thanks to Log House Plants.

4. Pennisetum alopecuroides (Dwarf Fountain Grass) ‘Little Bunny’. Cutest little ornamental grass–kids will love it, not least because of its name. Because it’s small (mature size only 12-14″), it can easily be cleaned up in the fall (it is deciduous) so there’s no mess when it starts to grow again in the spring. Bigger grasses are a little more work to tidy up.

5. Finally just a few left-over Sempervivums (Hens and Chicks, also called Houseleeks) and Creeping Spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites) that will cover the soil in one season. The Euphorbia will have the same flowers as the Tiny Tim, but without the red centre.

There you have it, another fun container that will last for years, with a new look every year as the plants grow. And doesn’t look like anyone else’s!

Questions? Comments? Criticisms? All welcome, and I’d be happy to reply to anything.