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.

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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!

How to Capture Morning and Evening Light

How to use morning and evening light to your best advantage

It’s late October, but still a great time to be planting here in coastal BC. And one of the things I’ve loved about my own garden is how I serendipitously planted some shrubs and perennials where they’ll GLOW in morning or evening light. And of course, since it was serendipity–read “total accident”–I missed the opportunity to do the same with others. No problem, my “research” garden is always in the process of change-I love to dig things up and move them around. They seldom mind.

Here’s some examples:

Imperata cylindrica, Japanese Blood Grass:

This is what it should look like in your garden

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You can see that the light is shining through from the back right (shadow front left).

My JBG on the other hand looks like this:

Not taking advantage of this glorious sunny day, just kind of ...dull

Not taking advantage of this glorious sunny day, just kind of …dull

So it’s going to be dug up, divided, and moved to here:

DSCN1052In among all this lily-of-the-valley, I’ll put clumps of JBG. What a fabulous combination when morning sun shines through.

Japanese Maple:

Morning sun front-lighting this Japanese Maple

Morning sun front-lighting this Japanese Maple

This Japanese Maple–almost overpowered by the Pieris japonica–is beautiful from the street side. But from the house side (not my house)…

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I know you’re confused–“Where’s the Pieris?” This is actually a different tree, same property.

…it’s practically on fire! And because it’s out toward the street giving enough open space on all sides, the evening lighting will be even better.

Euphorbia characias is an amazing structural plant:

Thanks to HortusUrbanus for her Seattle picture

Thanks to HortusUrbanus for her Seattle picture.

But if you situate it where there is open space between the viewer and the morning or evening sun, you get this:

DSCN1007How about this Fritillaria meleagris

Fritillaria meleagris

Fritillaria meleagris

DSCN1006Or even

Even your teeny tiny botanical tulips.

Even your teeny tiny botanical tulips.

Then there are things you can’t control

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…but keep your eyes open, and appreciate them when they appear.

How to

The key is just identifying plants that will show extra-special when backlit–either flowers or foliage, like the lily-of-the-valley above–and then plant them so they are positioned between you and the early morning or late afternoon sun. (These are mostly early morning pictures, but late afternoon sun gives even more fiery effect since the angle of the sun produces that golden glow.) Make sure they’re planted with open space, or lower growing plants, on the “sun-side”, so your targets plants are not in the shadow of the others.

Then go out and enjoy the view. Take pictures. Send them here. I’d love to see what others have done to Capture the Light.

5 Great Containers–Part III

Another Japanese Maple

As promised, here’s another container for the balcony garden. Remember, this is a south facing garden on the 7th floor, with a duplicate balcony above it on the 8th floor, so it gets a little shelter from storms, but is therefore in a rain shadow. Don’t forget to water your outdoor container garden, even if it rains. 

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The Plants

  • Acer dissectum ‘Inaba Shidare’
  • Cotoneaster procumbens ‘Strieb’s Findling’
  • Dianthus ‘Wicked Witch’
  • Sedum telephium ‘Xenox’
  • Erigeron glaucus ‘Sea Breeze’

I planned to use a grafted PeeGee Hydrangea (‘Limelight’) that I saw at the nursery, but they were all gone by the time I returned only a few days later. But saw this Japanese Maple, and couldn’t resist. I was pretty sure I’d seen ‘Inaba Shidare’ in the list of trees that tolerated full sun fairly well, so I nabbed it.

Japanese Maples are “understory” trees, so in their native environments they receive some shade from the taller trees around them. In our temperate climate, our not very cold winters, not very hot summers makes it a little easier for the JM to tolerate our sun. Besides, this balcony does get a little less than full south facing sun because of the over balcony.

This ‘Inaba Shidare’ is beautifully shaped, so we’d like to be able to see this feature even as the tree grows and fills out. This means judicious pruning of new branches, and keeping the under plantings short. Hence the following:

Cotoneaster procumbens ‘Strieb’s Findling’

This is actually a ground-covering woody shrub, the lowest growing of the cotoneasters. It’ll have flowers in the summer and berries in the fall/winter, and never grow high, but will begin to tumble over the edge of the pot. The colouring will complement the red/green of ‘Inabe Shidare’.

Dianthus ‘Wicked Witch’; Erigeron ‘Sea Breeze’; Sedum  ‘Xenon’

All of these will bloom pink, the first a deep almost red pink, the second a lavender pink, the last a rich pink with burgundy foliage. Short ones toward the front, tall one at the back.

“Houseleek”

Also called “Hens and Chicks” (but since there’s only individual rosettes here, no mums-with-babes, I’ll call it a Houseleek), it’s real name is Sempervivum. (You can just see a few reddish spikes at the front of the container.) This is a fun red colour, and the pot I bought had a large extended family of rosettes, so I split them up and divided them among several containers. They multiply like crazy, but like most perennials, they “sleep the first year, creep the second year, leap the third year”.

The Containers

I haven’t commented yet on the containers themselves. There was nothing about the balcony itself that I could coordinate with, so I just asked the client to find something that he liked, and then we looked for appropriate sizes that would match or compliment one another. Containers aren’t cheap, so when you can find them on sale, it may be worth compromising on exactly what you had in mind for the sake of the significant cost savings. In this case we had a pretty small budget, and yet were able to get the sizes we needed (three 24″ diameter pots and three 18″ diameter pots) and still splurge on the plants themselves.

Sometimes you’ll do the exact opposite–the aesthetic of the containers will be more important than what goes in them. This was not that.

That’s it for the trees. Next up will be the grafted shrub–what  cool idea!

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Let me know what you think of my creations, and add suggestions. I’m not a big fan of annuals, so you’ll seldom see them in my container gardens, unless they’re annuals that think they’re perennials. But I’m open to any ideas.

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