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.


Winter Interest, Part 2

Winter interest part 2

I mentioned in the previous post that ways to create winter interest in our garden is to “think of the aspects to the garden that you like through the rest of the year, and then find winter tolerant providers– texture, colour, movement, smell”.

So a quick note on “movement”.

Wind causing movement of feathery plants:

Stipa tenuissima. Photo credit.

Stipa tenuissima. Photo credit.

Feathery grasses that "flow" in the breeze.

Feathery grasses that “flow” in the breeze. This Miscanthus will be brown now in January (picture was taken in July), but that just means you get not only the visual interest but also auditory interest–the crunchy/crackly sound of the dry grass blades.

Water flowing from fountain or stream:


This garden will have movement from the water  as well as the Pennisetum (Fountain Grass), altho’ it’ll be brown now in January, will still be “blowin’ in the wind”.


Thanks to Outdoor Makeover for the picture

Thanks to Outdoor Makeover for the picture

Here in coastal BC, we don’t often have to worry about freezing temperatures when it comes to water. But if you do, you may not have the luxury of letting your fountains continue fountaining through the winter. Check your night-time temperatures, and if it’s going to be below 0° C, just keeping it running through the night might be enough to keep it liquid. Unless it’s well below 0°.

Birds of course create an delightful amount of movement, and even more so if you provide “some of their favourite things”–food and water.

House finches

House finches and a junco at the bottom.

This feeder is filled with mostly black sunflower seed top and middle, and then Nyjer in the bottom section. (I was disappointed to learn that most Nyjer seed is imported from Africa or India. So much for 100-mile diet!) Enlarge the following clip to get  better view of the house finches “eating and spitting”. 

Chickadee having a little drink.

Chickadee having a little drink.

Besides keeping the feeder filled, I like to leave faded flower stems in the garden in the fall instead of doing a fall clean-up, so the birds can enjoy the seeds.

Sedum spectabile 'Autumn Joy'

Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’–lots of seeds.

Rudbeckia hirta seed heads

Rudbeckia hirta seed heads. You’re right, this isn’t beautiful, but still provides joy when you see the birds pecking away at them.

Crocosmia seed heads. These are a big seed and I don't see much bird action around them. I wonder if I collected some and actually put them in the feeder?...

Crocosmia seed heads. These are a big seed and I don’t see much bird action around them. I wonder if I collected some and actually put them in the feeder?…

Stay tuned for the next post on “Water in the Landscape”.

5 Elements to Designing Curb Appeal

5 Elements to Designing Curb Appeal

What really constitutes”curb appeal”? Is it just making the front of the house look nice? Is it just a sales tactic, like baking bread or lighting a fragrant candle?

In looking through pages and pages of Houzz pictures, I’ve determined the following 5 (of course) landscaping elements  that are essential to curb appeal:


I’ve written about this before, so I won’t completely repeat myself. I’ll just say, make sure your guests/visitors feel welcome to approach your front door.

1. Where is the entrance?

Sometimes it’s just not clear how one is supposed to approach the house. It may be a fence that surrounds the site and you have to look for the gate. It could be plantings that obscure  the path. Not infrequently there isn’t actually a path, other than from right by the garage or carport, so you have to drive right in to find the entrance.

From this angle you can see the tiny entry path, but from right in front it's just a lot of tall grass and cedar hedging.

From this angle you can see the tiny entry path, but from right in front it’s just a lot of tall grass and cedar hedging.

Take pity on your poor guests or observers, and signpost the entrance. Build a path if there isn’t one, plant some identifying feature plants by the gate if it’s hard to find, or remove those feature plants if they’re hiding the entrance. People shouldn’t have to ask “How do I get in?”

This lovely Japanese Maple is a little too low for most people. Better to move the entry path than trim the shapely tree.

This lovely Japanese Maple is a little too low for most people. Better to move the entry path than trim the shapely tree.

2. Tactile Texture

This is where the plant-lover in me starts to get excited. Our 5 senses  are all integral in creating enjoyment. Vision has been addressed in the first section (can you see the way in?), and taste we’ll leave for a future post on the fruit and vegetable patch. But touch, that’s one sense we can capitalize on in the entrance garden. Lamb’s Ear is soft and fuzzy; Sedum spectabilis has leathery leaves; Mexican feather grass begs to be stroked or brushed like a ponytail!

Stipa tenuissima. Photo credit.

Stipa tenuissima. Photo credit.

Even sharp things are attractive to the curious–who doesn’t like to check if houseleek leaves or Bear’s Breeches flowers (Acanthus) are really sharp to the touch? (I’d recommend against checking out the Bear’s Breeches…)

Just make sure you don’t have to brush by those sharp spiky things.

3. Fragrant

This one is a no brainer. Some fragrant plants just barely need to be brushed against to release their fragrance, many don’t even need that. If your entryway is in moderate shade, the surprise sweetness of February-blooming Sarcococca (called Sweet Box for a good reason) will delight passers-by. Plant fragrant foliage plants (such as Artemisia, Oregano, or Lavender) so the perfume isn’t limited to a short-lived blooming period.

You may notice that people sense smells differently. For example, I’m not at all fond of lavender or oriental lilies. ( I’m definitely in the minority in the case of lavender, not so much with oriental lilies.) Some find the smell of Ladies’ Mantle or Boxwood unpleasant (cat pee, I’m afraid…), or hyacinths too strong. Give some thought to which might be the best in your own situation.

4. Water feature

Yes, we’re experiencing with our vision again, but the real beauty of water is in the sound it makes as it tumbles over rocks. If you’re thinking of installing some kind of water feature, consider putting it in the front where visitors will appreciate it right away–and then maybe add seats to encourage guests to linger longer.

5. Pretty from all angles

As much you’ll want your front yard to look great for passers-by and visitors, how much more should you want it to look good to your own eye, from the viewpoint you’ll be viewing it? Do you view your garden from the front windows? Or from a mid-garden patio? Or from a veranda? Make sure you don’t hide the beauty of this new design from your preferred viewpoint. Shrubs that create a backdrop when viewed from the street might be too high to see over when viewed from the front porch. A lovely little Japanese Maple that balances the plantings around the new pondless waterfall may completely hide that waterfall from another angle–your angle!

On the other hand, your preferred viewing spot may be quite high up, giving you almost a bird’s eye view of the garden. Will it look one-dimensional from above, or will the layering still be obvious?

Last pictures

A few more local pictures to analyze:

Yes, you can certainly see where the front door is, and there's nothing painful to brush by, nothing unpleasant to smell, but somehow, this garden just doesn't work!

Yes, you can certainly see where the front door is, and there’s nothing painful to brush by, nothing unpleasant to smell, but somehow, this garden just doesn’t work! Think of how big your chosen plants will get at maturity! And think about BALANCE.

Another unbalanced front garden.

Another badly balanced front yard. Not to mention squeezing  between those two egg-shaped junipers to get in the front gate.

A lot of work went into these topiary'd trees--and to what purpose?

A lot of work went into these topiary’d trees–and to what purpose? Click on any pictures for larger view.


Uh, cute, but…

Grasses In The Garden

Grasses in My Garden–no, not MY garden, though after looking at these pictures, I’ll definitely be adding some of them to MY garden–and YOURS. Admittedly, you need to have a fair sized garden to really appreciate these, and as you’ll see, located in such a place where you’ll SEE the flowers and seed heads backlit by morning or evening sun. (I’ve written about this before.)

Miscanthus-sinensis Rotfeder_09sep07

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rotfeder’ 09sep07


Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rotsilber’

Pennisetum_alopecuroides 23sep07

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Herbstzauber’ 23sep07

Pennisetum_'Herbstzauber' 25sep06

Pennisetum ‘Herbstzauber’ 25sep06


Stipa tenuissima 13sept05

Evergreen Stipa tenuissima complements growing bulbs

Evergreen Stipa tenuissima complements growing bulbs. The only picture on this post that is my own.


All this courtesy of Sandfrauchen’s Garden. Please visit her blog for amazing garden pictures, including THIS picture diary of garden renovation.