The Siberian Squill and the Cellophane Bee

My front garden in Toronto is filled at the moment with hundreds of native cellophane bees, Colletes inaequalis. Sometimes called Eastern plasterer bees or polyester bees (and grouped generally with mining bees), they get their common name for the viscous, waterproof, transparent substance (sometimes compared to plastic wrap) that the females secrete to line and seal the brood cells they burrow in the ground. Their species name means “unequal”, and refers to the unequal segments of the right and left antennae.  They’re one of the earliest bees to emerge in spring and can often be seen on April-flowering native red maples (Acer rubrum), like the one below in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery…..

Colletes inaequalis on Acer rubrum-Toronto

…. and non-native pussy willows (Salix caprea), also in the cemetery.

Colletes inaequalis on Salix caprea-Toronto

My front garden is also filled with the little blue flowers of the non-native, spring-flowering bulb Siberian squill, Scilla siberica.

Front Meadow-April 20-scilla

They’ve been slowly spreading there for at least 20 years, probably much longer, since we’ve been in our house for 33 years and it was soon after I saw the “blue lawns” in our neighbourhood that I decided to plant a few of the little bulbs. Needless to say, the scilla likes our slightly alkaline clay. Quite a lot! Though considered invasive, they are not listed as a serous threat, like Japanese knotweed and dog-strangling vine, since they occupy fairly specific niches and disappear after the foliage ripens. In my garden, they emerge with the crocuses…..

Scilla siberica and crocuses

….. and stay in bloom for the fragrant hyacinths…

Scilla siberica and hyacinth

….. and windflowers (Anemone blanda)….

Scilla siberica & Anemone blanda

And Corydalis solida ‘George Baker’

Scilla siberica and Corydalis solida 'George Baker'

There are thousands enough that my little granddaughter is free to pick handfuls of them.

Scilla siberica bouquet

Later, my front garden will be filled with daffodils, tulips and the bottlebrush flowers of Fothergilla gardenii.….

Front Meadow-May19

….and later still, sun-loving North American (not necessarily Ontario) prairie natives like echinacea, rudbeckia, liatris, vernonia and aster, chosen for their appeal to native pollinators.

Front Meadow-Summer

I also grow many non-native plants like meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa),  catmint (Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and Knautia macedonica and sedums, also chosen for their appeal to native pollinators….

Front Pollinator Garden-Summer

…. like the little native metallic sweat bee (Agapostemon virescens), here on knautia….

Agapostemon virescens on Knautia macedonica-Toronto

….and ‘Mainacht’ meadow sage…

Agapostemon virescens on Salvia nemorosa 'Mainacht'-'May Night'

….and native bumble bees of all kinds, here on knautia….

Bombus on Knautia macedonica-Toronto

….and catmint….

Bombus on Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low'-Toronto

….. and later in the season on echinacea…

Bombus griseocollis on Echinacea purpurea-Toronto

In late summer and autumn, there’s a mix of non-native sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and native obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana).

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' & Physostegia virginiana

Monarch butterflies congregating in Toronto before the long flight over Lake Ontario as they migrate to Mexico adore the sedums (as do bumble bees and honey bees)…..

Monarch-on-Sedum-'Autumn-Jo

….. and native carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) do some clever nectar-robbing to get at the nectar in the corollas of the obedient plant.

Xylocopa virginica on Physostegia virginiana-nectara robbery

The final chapter in my front garden consists of native goldenrod and rich purple New England aster, below, both valuable to native pollinators.

Bombus impatiens on Symphyotrichum novae-angliae-Toronto

***************

But back to my garden in April. The little blue Siberian squill is why the native bees are there. Cellophane bees are a vernal species. As noted in this excellent bee brochure from the City of Toronto , “As soon as the weather becomes warm enough in late March or April, Common Eastern Plasterer Bees start emerging from their overwintering burrows in the ground. Males cluster around virgin females that are digging upwards to reach the soil surface and the mayhem that ensues can sometimes result in some bees being killed in the crush. Once they have mated, the female excavates a burrow in the ground, showing a preference for nesting in patches of bare, or sparsely vegetated, soil.”

Colletes inaequalis is a polylectic species, or a polylege, meaning it gathers pollen from a variety of native and non-native plants from early spring to mid-summer, when their life cycle ends. According to observers, the plants it has been observed using include Aesculus (buckeye, horsechestnut), Amelanchier (serviceberry), Anemone, Anemonella, Arctostaphylus, Aronia (chokeberry), Cercis (redbud), Claytonia, Crataegus (hawthorn),  Dentaria, Dirca,  Erythronium, Hepatica,  Prunus (cherry), Ptelea, Pyrus (pear), Rhamnus (buckthorn), Rhus (sumac), Ribes (gooseberry, currant), Rubus (blackberry, raspberry), Salix (willow), Spiraea, Staphylea, Stellaria, Taraxacum (dandelion), Vaccinium (blueberry, huckleberry, myrtleberry, cranberry), Viburnum  and Zizia.  And in my garden, the unequal cellophane bee is the principal visitor to my thousands of non-native Siberian squill.

Colletes inaequalis on Scilla siberica-Toronto

My abundant blue squill also attracts other native spring bees, including the lovely Andrena dunningi, below.

Andrena dunningi on Scilla siberica-Toronto

I also have a large fragrant viburnum (V. farreri) in my back garden. Native to northern China, it bursts into bloom with the first warmth of spring.

Viburnum farreri-Fragrant viburnum

As soon as the scented flowers open, my viburnum is literally buzzing with native bees and butterflies, including  mourning cloaks (Nymphalis antiopis) that have overwintered nearby…..

Mourning cloak butterfly-Nymphalis antiopa-on Viburnum farreri

…and the odd overwintering red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta).

Red admiral butterfly-Vanessa atalanta-on Viburnum farreri

The existential problem (not for me, but for some rigid native plant proponents) is that the alien floral nectar and pollen is making life possible for these native bees. In fact, since nobody else on my street has much in bloom at the moment and there are precious few red maples or native spring wildflowers in bloom, I am 99% sure that these bees nest in my own garden in order to attack this non-native nectar feast in early spring, as they emerge from their overwintering places.

I live in a city – in fact, the fourth largest city in North America – in which sun-loving plant species are largely all native elsewhere. As the Toronto bee brochure cited above notes:  “Much of the native landscape in our region was originally forested, with the Carolinian and Mixed Forest Zones being the ecological land classifications for the area. Forests are generally not good habitats for bees, although bumble bee queens and a few early spring bees can be found foraging on the early spring flowers that are in bloom before bud burst.”  My ‘native’ forest (including the maples, birches and willows on which my spring bees might have foraged) was mostly cleared, beginning more than 200 years ago, leaving a grid of streets and roads and buildings and an urban forest very much of the “planned” variety (boulevards and parks), save for our wonderful and extensive natural ravines. Though there would have been patches of meadow and bits of relict, sunny black oak savannah near High Park, most Toronto-specific native wildflowers would have been shade-lovers.

City of Toronto-urban canopy

As the city’s bee brochure makes clear: “In comparison to native forests, an urban environment with patches of parkland, ravine, and large numbers of urban gardens, provides an abundance of floral and nest-site resources for bees. An evergreen forest may have no bees at all, a deciduous forest very few. But within our city there may be over 300 bee species and the average backyard garden will likely contain over 50 species, with some nesting and foraging there, and others visiting for pollen and nectar while nesting on a neighbour’s property.

Pollination ecology is a complicated subject. Douglas Tallamy, in his excellent Bringing Nature Home: How You can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, writes that: “There are subtle chemical differences in nectar among plant species, but by and large, nectar from alien plants is the same as nectar from native plants.”  That seems fairly clear and, extrapolating to the physical needs of Homo sapiens, carbohydrates are carbohydrates; it makes little difference whether they come from local maple syrup or granulated sugar or fructose, we will be hypoglycemic if we don’t ingest sufficient amounts. (Interestingly, “deep ecologists” separate humans from the rest of the evolved animal world – and assign us the shame of interacting in any way that benefits us above other creatures. But that’s a big and thorny subject for another day.)  Tallamy goes on to say: “That said, there is growing evidence that our native bees, the andrenids, halictids, colletids, anthophorids, and megachilids, prefer native flowers to alien flowers.”   He then cites the thesis findings of U of Delaware student Nicole Cerqueira, who compared visits of native bees to native and alien plants and found evidence that they showed a statistical preference for native plants in 31 instances.  I’m not sure my garden is comparable, given what I’ve said about Toronto and its “native” plants, but I would be interested in seeing if quantity, i.e. massed plantings of bee-friendly alien plants, might play a spoiler role in what native bees like andrenids and colletids prefer……

In the meantime, do garden organically and do plant lots of plants for pollinators from spring to fall.

Spring Lessons from Giverny

Perhaps it’s folly to try to draw inspiration for our own gardens from one of the most famous gardens in the world – an enchanting 5 acres whose renown comes courtesy of its beloved former gardener and owner, Impressionist painter Claude Monet. The garden he made at Giverny is a short bus ride from the town of Vernon in Normandy, which is a 45-minute train ride from Paris’s Gare St. Lazare (direction Rouen). Now home to the Fondation Claude Monet Museum (Musée Claude Monet), the house and garden are visited by some 600,000 people annually.

Giverny-Monet's House in sprigtime

When I was there a number of years ago, the Fondation allowed photographers and writers to apply in writing to visit on its closed day, Monday. I did so, and stayed in a bed & breakfast in the town of Giverny to be close enough to arrive early Monday morning and walk back to the b & b if it rained (which it did). However, they no longer close during the week and are open daily from late March through October 31st, so everyone must line up for the 9:30 am opening (except those who buy their tickets ahead, allowing them to skip the line). In the summer months, the garden is often terribly crowded and difficult to get around, but on a morning or late afternoon in April, it can be quite delightful.

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Clos Normand from House

Interestingly, my photos come from a spring prior to British gardener James Priest’s tenure at Giverny, when the garden’s maintenance was still under the hand of head gardener Gilbert Vahé, who spent 34 years in the garden from 1977 (even before its reopening in 1980) to 2011. However, in 2017, with James Priest now gone, Vahé has come out of retirement to take over the reins once again, presumably to return the garden to some of its well-archived Monet-ness, i.e. “reproduction”, not “adaptation”.

Despite the fact that almost everyone who’s visited Monet’s garden has posted their photos or written a blog, and despite the fact that others think it’s just become too commercial or pretty, I believe that his garden offers some good lessons for all of us.  Let’s explore a few.

1. DO NOT BE AFRAID OF COLOUR: My first lesson: Life is short, there are no rules, and a house can be pink stucco, with green shutters and veranda. Why not? Claude Monet, himself a master colourist, retained these colours for the house he first rented, then bought, living in it from 1883-1926. They were faithfully reapplied in 1980, when the house and garden were reopened after a restoration that brought it back to life after more than twenty years of abandonment following the bombing of Normandy during the Second World War. (And, honestly, I thought about working my Photoshop magic on the green paint of the veranda, below, but that’s what more than a half-million visitors will do to the stairs, and who am I to paint Monet’s house?)

Giverny-Monet's House-spring

2. BRING THE SAME COLOUR PALETTE INTO THE GARDEN: Given that your painted shutters and veranda are colourful, it follows that it’s a very good idea to extend that colour down to painted features in the garden like benches, fences and outbuildings. Not to be ‘matchy-matchy’, but so the eye moves easily from the house architecture right into the garden. This unified approach works whether you’re dealing with taupe or teal – or kelly green.

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Green bench & door-Japanese cherry

3. SPRING FOR SEASONAL BLOSSOMS FOR YOUR CONTAINERS: No, it doesn’t have to be a flowering crabapple tree and hothouse cinerarias in a ceramic Chinese pot, like Giverny, but do splurge on some pussy willows and daffodils and primulas to say farewell to winter and rejoice in spring.

Giverny-Monet's Garden-pots of cineraria-spring

4. TRY TONE-ON-TONE TULIPS: Let’s face it; this big bed would be truly boring if Giverny’s gardeners planted it with just one variety of tulip, so they don’t! They mix four cultivars, which the office could not identify for me, other than to say “four”. What that provides is a bit of pointillism that shimmers, rather than a block of colour. If you do this (and you should) make sure the tulips you choose are slightly different shades of a hue, but all the same class, whether it’s Darwin Hybrids, Triumphs or Late-Flowered tulips.

Giverny-Monet's house & pink tulip blend

And be sure to remember the importance of humble, biennial forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica) when you’re designing your tulip plantings. Such an easy, beautiful way to carpet bare spring ground.

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Myosotis sylvatica-Forget-me-nots under tulips

5. USE PANSIES & VIOLAS: It takes some planning to produce the beautiful combination in the photo below, where purple pansies and violas are in full flower underneath the tulips as they come into bloom. In mild regions like Normandy, pansies have no problem overwintering. But in colder parts of North America, like Toronto (USDA Zone 5-Canadian Zone 6b), pansies should be planted the previous September so they have time to establish roots before winter. That actually coincides with bulb-planting time, so you can fine-tune your colour choices and positioning of the pansies as you tuck in the bulbs. It’s a good idea to add a mulch (use a layer of shredded, damp autumn leaves) once the ground freezes, and choose the hardiest pansies and violas you can find. Try Icicle Pansies which have been bred for cold winter regions. The Delta, Bingo and Maxim series are also reportedly hardy in the north.

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Clos Normand-tulips & pansies

6. FRAME A VIEW: There’s a Monet family story behind those big, old yews at the end of the 172-foot long Grande Allée, for they were once the final evergreens in a double line of conifers that hedged this path. They can be seen in one of the many paintings Monet made in his garden, Pathway in Monet’s Garden, 1900, below:

Claude Monet - Pathway In Monet's Garden At Giverny - 1900

Monet, looking for more sunshine for the flower garden he was making in front of the house, cut all the path evergreens down except this last pair, which his wife Alice Hoschedé-Monet persuaded him to spare.  Apart from the grandeur of the yews as a penultimate focal point before the house facade, look at the way the gardeners have used pink forget-me-nots edging that long path to draw your eye to the pink house, creating beauty out of geometry and symmetry.

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Allee & House-Clos Normand-spring tulips (2)

7. COLOUR WITH PAINTBOXES: When Gérald Van der Kemp arrived in Giverny in 1977 to restore Monet’s abandoned house and property, there was precious little in the way of garden records.  With his American wife Florence, he had earlier established the Versailles Foundation in New York, attracting wealthy American donors to fund the restoration of the palace and gardens at Versailles. And it was  $2.5 million in further American funding that would pay for the refurbishment of Monet’s house and garden. For details on the garden in Monet’s time, Van der Kemp and gardener Gilbert Vahé sought the assistance of André De Villiers, assistant to Georges Truffaut, the French garden magazine publisher and nursery chain founder, who had visited the garden and Monet often (below).

Georges Truffaut & Claude Monet at Giverny

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As well, Alice Hoschedé-Monet’s great grandson, the late artist Jean-Marie Toulgouat still lived in Giverny and was able to provide Van der Kemp with family correspondence, journals and photos. There were also photos made by Claude Monet himself and visitors, as well as letters he had written or that others had sent to him that mentioned the garden.

As to the colour beds in the Clos Normand, we must imagine Monet playing with his paints, choosing felicitous combinations in the same way he might have combined pigments on his easel — which is why these beds have been described as paintboxes. Rather than a riot of colour, they are planted in discrete hues and kept separate from each other, below.

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Clos Normand-colour beds-spring

There are pinks….

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Pink spring flowers

….and mauves and lilacs….

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Mauves & Purples-Spring

…. and blues……

Giverny-Monet's Garden-blue spring flowers

…. and yellows…..

Giverny-Monet's Garden-yellow spring colour

….and reds that pair beautifully with the deep green leaves of emerging perennials…..

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Red & Yellow tulips

….and even the colour of the emerging peonies, here shown in the rings used to keep them upright in spring rains.

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Peony ring

In Elizabeth Murray’s book Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration and Insights from the Painter’s Garden (1989, 2nd edition 2010), she wrote: “To increase the various atmospheric effects of the garden, Monet planted rich orange, pink, gold and bronze wallflowers and tulips together on the west side of the flower garden to emphasize the effects of the setting sun.”

Giverny-Monet's Garden-orange & yellow spring flowers

“Using blue with clear yellow was one of Monet’s favored color combinations…” wrote Elizabeth Murray, and this pretty pairing of Dutch irises with yellow wallflowers and tulips illustrates the wisdom of that choice.

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Iris x hollandica & yellow flowers

But it’s in the arrangement of the solid blocks of brilliantly-coloured tulips in the Grand Allée, looking under the rose arches towards the house…..

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Allee & House-Clos Normand-spring tulips blocks

…..and to the bottom of the Clos Normand…..

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Tulip Colour Drifts-Grand Allee

….that we see the closest intimation of the paintings that Monet made in 1886 after visiting the bulb fields of Holland. Here is Tulip Fields With The Rijnsburg Windmill (1886)….

Claude Monet - Tulip Fields With The Rijnsburg Windmill - 1886

…and Tulip Fields at Sassenheim (1886).

Claude Monet -Tulip Fields at Sassenheim-1886

It’s these powerful reminders of Monet’s art that makes the garden resonate for me.

8. PLANT FLOWERING TREES:  Every garden needs trees with spring blossoms – Monet appreciated this, and painted the garden when his trees were in bloom, as in Springtime at Giverny (1886), below:

Claude Monet - Springtime at Giverny-1886

Whether ornamentals, like the many lovely Japanese cherries, including slender Prunus serrulata ‘Ama-no-gawa’, shown below in the Clos Normand……

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Clos Normand-Prunus Amanagowa-Japanese cherry

….or edible fruit trees such as pears, plums and apples – like the beautiful espaliered apple trees trained as fencing around the lawn, below, spring-flowering trees play a structural role in Monet’s garden.

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Espaliered Apple trees

9. REMEMBER FRAGRANCE:  It’s a simple lesson, but one that we often forget. Scented flowers should be planted where we can appreciate their fragrance. At Giverny, that means a row of Narcissus ‘Geranum’ edging the path…..

Narcissus 'Geranium'-Giverny-Monet's Garden-perfume

….. or a tumble of hyacinths planted where we can inhale their sweet perfume on the wind….

Hyacinths-Giverny-Monet's Garden-perfume

…… or a truss of fragrant snowball viburnum (V. x carlcephalum) at nose height as we pass by.

Viburnum x carlcephalum-Giverny-Monet's Garden-perfume

10. GARDEN THEMATICALLY:  Claude Monet became passionate about Japanese arts and crafts. His large collection of woodblock prints by Hiroshige, Hokusai and Utamaro is still displayed on the walls of his house. And in the garden, he turned to the Japanese landscape school to inspire him in creating his famous lily pond. We see the Japanese influence especially in the presence of the bamboo…..

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Bamboo & stream

…daylilies……

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Japanese bamboo & cherry

….. ‘Kanzan’ flowering Japanese cherry, below, and other Japanese flora in the area…..

Prunus serrulata 'Kanzan'-Giverny

…including the brilliant azaleas and Japanese maples on its shore.

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Azaleas & Japanese maple

10. PLAY WITH A POND:  For many visitors, the lily pond at Giverny offers the most intimate connection to Claude Monet, given that the wisteria over the Japanese bridge (like the waterlilies, not in bloom here) is the original vine and the bridge itself……

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Japanese-footbridge

….still looks much as it did in Monet’s The Japanese Footbridge, painted in 1899.

Claude Monet - The Japanese Footbridge-1899

And, of course, there were his many paintings of the famous nymphaea or water lilies, some of which I saw in 2016 in a magnificent show called Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse at London’s Royal Academy of Arts

But any pond needs context and perspective and a connection with the rest of the garden, and in this respect, Monet’s pond offers other good lessons. The edges are planted to offer foreground interest no matter where visitors stand…..

Giverny-Monet's Garden-Pond-Foreground interest

…. and the weeping willow lends an air of mystery, its long branches cascading to suggest a gauzy screen.

Giverny-Monet's Garden-lily pond & bridge-spring

Standing beside the pond, it’s easy to imagine Monet here with his easel — something made easier considering there is video footage of him painting his famous water lilies here at the pond’s edge.

As we leave the pond and Giverny, it seems appropriate to conclude with one of Monet’s masterpieces, painted exactly 100 years ago, its genius that quixotic alchemy of sunlight, reflection, water and flora which, his vision failing, he strived to perfect for the last three decades of his life.  I give you Water Lilies, 1917.

Claude-Monet-Waterlilies-1917

Piet Oudolf: Meadow Maker – Part Two

Following on part one, this is the second part of my exploration of the Piet Oudolf-designed entry border at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Planting Plan-Piet Oudolf-Hardscape-Martin Wade-Toronto Botanical Garden

The plant design of the entry walk garden at Toronto Botanical Garden is much more exacting than the drifts and blocks in a conventional border. If you think of a broad meadow like this as a painting, the effect of each series of neighbouring brush strokes is known in advance.  For these plants are like children to Piet Oudolf, many grown and observed for decades in his own Dutch garden, many even bred by him or fellow nurserymen in the Netherlands and Germany.

Piet Oudolf Entry Garden-Toronto Botanical Garden

Designed Combinations

Let’s skip around Piet’s original planting design and have a look at twelve of the combinations he planned, as they manifested themselves over the past decade.  It’s important to note that all these plants fulfill Piet’s mandate that plants must be: relatively adaptable to soil, i.e. neither too wet nor too dry; vigorous enough to grow without fertilizers or pesticides; strong enough to stand without staking (as with the lovely single peonies in Part One, in contrast to floppy double peonies). Plants should be resilient and long-lived. His plant combinations are not dictated by colour, but by form; however, you’ll see some lovely colour pairings in the examples below.

1.Willowleaf bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia) and ‘Purple Smoke’ false indigo (Baptisia australis).

Design-Amsonia & Baptisia-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

This is one of the most stable and effective pairings in the entry garden.

Design-Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia & Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Year after year, these two North American natives (technically, the baptisia selection is called a “nativar”, i.e.  native cultivar) emerge and come into flower at exactly the same time.  They seem to be on the very same wavelength, and equally lovely. And the amsonia, of course, takes on golden-yellow hues in autumn.

Design-Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia & Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'2-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

2. ‘Roma’ masterwort (Astrantia major) and ‘Rose Clair’ geranium (G. x oxonianum).

Astrantia 'Roma' & Geranium x oxonianum 'Rose Clair'-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

These two late-spring perennials share a pleasing rosy hue and a soft presence.

Design-Astrantia 'Roma' & Geranium x oxonianum 'Rose Clair'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

3.‘Claret’ masterwort (Astrantia major) & ‘Mainacht’ =’May Night’ meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa).

Design-Astrantia major 'Claret' & Salvia nemorosa 'Mainacht'-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

Dark-red ‘Claret’ astrantia is another Piet Oudolf breeding selection, a seedling (like his ‘Roma’ above), of ‘Ruby Wedding’. It looks lovely here in a romantic June combination with indigo-blue ‘Mainacht’ sage. To the left is ornamental clover (Trifolium rubens), to the right is drumstick allium (A. sphaerocephalon).

Design-Astrantia major 'Claret' & Salvia nemorosa 'Mainacht'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

4. Alaskan burnet (Sanguisorba menziesii) & ‘Amethyst’ meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa).

Design-Salvia nemorosa 'Amethyst' & Sanguisorba menziesii-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

I’ll talk a little more about the wonderful burnets in Special Plants below, but this is a good early-summer combination: with zingy, dark-red Alaskan burnet (Sanguisorba menzisii) at rear, violet-mauve Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’ in front, and a lttle spiderwort (Trandescantia) too. If you’re a bee-lover, the meadow sages are fabulous lures.

Design-Salvia nemorosa 'Amethyst' & Sanguisorba menziesii-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

5. ‘Concord Grape’ spiderwort (Tradescantia x andersoniana) & Knautia macedonica.

Design-Tradescantia 'Concord Grape' & Knautia macedonica-Piet Oudolf-Toronto Botanical Garden

Speaking of bees, both violet-purple spiderwort and dark-red knautia are excellent bee plants, but I do love these jewel-box colours together in early summer. The light-purple cranesbill is Geranium ‘Spinners’.

Design-Tradescantia 'Concord Grape' & Knautia macedonica-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

6. ‘Hummelo’ betony (Stachys officinalis)  & ‘Cassian’ fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides).

Design-Stachys officinalis 'Hummelo' & Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Cassian'-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

Here are two of Piet’s German heritage plants growing side by side: Ernst Pagel’s lovely Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ and the fountain grass named for Cassian Schmidt, director of Hermannshof.

Design-Stachys officinalis 'Hummelo' & Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Cassian'-Piet Oudolf-Toronto Botanical Garden

7. ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint (Nepeta racemosa) & ‘Cloud Nine’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum)

Design-Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low' & Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine'-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

Catmints are workhorses: long-flowering, great for bees, hardy, with tidy, aromatic foliage.  They do get big in time, but that just means more plants after dividing. Here it is as the switch grass (a warm season grass) is just getting going in early summer. It’s called ‘Cloud Nine’ for its impressive height, to 7 feet (2.1 metre).

Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low' & Panicum virgatum 'Cloud Nine'-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden

8. ‘Gentle Shepherd’ daylily (Hemerocallis) & ‘Purpurlanze’=’Purple Lance’ astilbe (A. chinensis var. tacquetii)

Design-Hemerocallis 'Gentle Shepherd' & Astilbe chinensis var. tacquetii 'Purpurlanze'-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botaniical Garden

When the entry walk garden first came into bloom in 2008, I was surprised to see a few daylilies in it. I suppose I thought that with Piet’s focus on the importance of good foliage, daylilies would simply not make the cut, given the tendency of their leaves to go brown and look straggly in late summer. But surprise! There are a few old-fashioned daylilies, including pale-yellow ‘Gentle Shepherd’ which makes a good companion to the fuchsia-pink flowers of spectacular ‘Purpurlanze’ astilbe and is considered a seasonal “filler” plant (see Scatter Plants and Fillers below), with other perennials emerging to carry on the late summer show.

Design-Hemerocallis 'Gentle Shepherd' & Astilbe chinensis var. tacquetii 'Purpurlanze'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

9. ‘Blue Angel’ hosta (Hosta sieboldiana) & ‘Firedance’ mountain fleece (Persicaria amplexicaulis).

Design-Hosta sieboldiana 'Blue Angel' & Persicaria 'Firedance' - Piet Oudolf Design-Toronto Botanical Garden

Yes, Piet Oudolf uses hostas! (Shhh…don’t tell anyone….)  Actually, the big ‘Blue Angel’ hostas here are favourites of Piet’s for their beautiful leaf texture. They act as anchors (there’s one at the other end, too) for this long border. And when they’re flowering, there are always bees buzzing around the white blooms. I like the way the tall white burnet behind echoes the hosta flowers. These hostas also undergo their own foliage transformation, turning gold in autumn. The ‘Firedance’ mountain fleece or bistort (Piet’s introduction) is more compact than ‘Firetail’, and a good, long-flowering perennial.

Design-Hosta sieboldiana 'Blue Angel' & Persicaria 'Firedance'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

A honey bee works the flowers of Hosta sieboldiana ‘Blue Angel’.

Honey bee on Hosta sieboldiana 'Blue Angel'

10. ‘Little Spire’ Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) & rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium)

Design-Perovskia 'Little Spire' & Eryngium yuccifolium-plan

This is one of my favourite combinations in the entire entry border: the yin-yang combination of the assertive, spiky rattlesnake master and the soft, hazy spires of Russian sage. Peeking through behind are more pink ‘Purpurlanze’ astilbe and ‘Gentle Shepherd’ daylilies.

Design-Perovskia 'Little Spire' & Eryngium yuccifolium-Piet Oudolf Entry border

11. Sea lavender (Limonium latifolium) and dense blazing star (Liatris spicata)

Design-Limonium latifolium & Liatris spicata-Piet Oudolf garden-Toronto Botanical Garden (2)

In writing in Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life about their collaboration on the 1999 book Designing with Plants, Noel Kingsbury refers to a section of the earlier book called Moods. “We outlined the impact of the more subtle and hard-to-pin-down aspects of planting design, such as the play of light, movement, harmony, control and ‘mysticism’. I am still not 100 percent sure I know what we meant by this category, apart from a lot of mist in the pictures, but it looked good and sounded good.”  For me, the vignette below touches a little on mysticism. There’s something about this combination of forms — the solid echinaceas, the constellation of spent knautia seedheads, the regimental spikes of blazing star, the soft cloud of sea lavender, the blades of grass — that seems almost dream-like. This is my childhood meadow idealized.

Design-Limonium latifolium & Liatris spicata-Piet Oudolf garden-Toronto Botanical Garden (1)

12. ‘Royal Purple’ smokebush (Cotinus coggygria) & ‘Amazone’ Jerusalem sage (Phlomis tuberosa)

Design-Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' & Phlomis 'Amazone-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Once in a while, you might see a story (usually British) that refers to Piet Oudolf and the other practitioners of the so-called “Dutch Wave” of naturalistic design as focusing entirely on perennials to the exclusion of woody shrubs and trees.  If you don’t know Piet’s work with trees and shrubs (including roses) at The High Line and elsewhere, you won’t see the fallacy in that line of thought. Though the entry garden at the TBG is primarily a perennial meadow, there are shrubs and vines in a few places, including lilac (Syringa), Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa), witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia), chaste-tree (Vitex agnus-castus) and purple-leaved smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’).  I love the vignette, below, with the burgundy-red foliage and smoky fruit of the smoke bush and the Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’ with the tall alliums (likely ‘Gladiator’) and a sprinkle of white foxglove penstemon (P. digitalis), which is not on Piet’s plan but is now in the border and quite lovely in early summer.

Design-Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' & Phlomis 'Amazone-Piet Oudolf design-Toronto Botanical Garden

Scatter Plants and Fillers 

In the book Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life, by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury (The Monacelli Press, 2015), there are pages devoted to Piet’s use of “scatter plants” and “fillers”.  Scatter plants are defined as “individuals or very small groupings of plants interspersed among blocks of plant varieties or through a matrix planting, breaking up the regularity of the pattern; their distribution is generally quasi-random.”  Scatter plants can act as links in a border, even unifying it, adding contrasting splashes of colour, like the orange-red Helenium autumnale ‘Rubinzwerg’, below…..

Filler-Helenium 'Rubinzwerg'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

…or a pop of colour that later disappears, like the Oriental poppies in the entry garden that later go dormant.

Papaver orientale 'Flamenco'

Fillers are plants whose interest lasts less than three months; though they may have good foliage, they don’t have the structure normally associated with an Oudolf design. They’re good for “filling gaps earlier in the year.” Knautia macedonica does this and cranesbills or perennial geraniums do, too. As Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury wrote in Designing with Plants (Timber Press, 1999), “Think how quickly the neat hemispheres of a hardy geranium turn into a sprawling mass of collapsed stems once the flowers have died.” Yet, when in bloom, they give a starry effect, like the white form of mourning widow cranesbill (Geranium phaeum ‘Album’), below, twinkling among the opening blossoms of Paeonia ‘Bowl of Beauty’.

Filler-Geranium phaeum 'Album' & peonies-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Grasses

If there’s a hallmark group of plants that defines a Piet Oudolf design, it is ornamental grasses. In fact, he and Anja believed so strongly in their value in gardens that they held an annual Grass Days at their garden in Hummelo. And the 1998 book Gardening with Grasses, co-written by Michael King and Piet Oudolf, advanced that respect. Among the grasses featured in the entry garden are:

1.‘Skyracer’ moor grass (Molinia arundinacea), shown here with ‘Gateway’ Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum).  This grass is the perfect example of Piet’s use of plants that act as “screens and curtains”. In Designing with Plants, they’re described as “mostly air, and their loose growth creates another perspective as you look through them to the plants growing behind.” This rosy pairing, incidentally, also says ‘mysticism’ to me.

Grasses-Molinia caerulea 'Transparent' & Eutrochium 'Gateway'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

2.‘Cassian’ fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), here with ‘FIretail’ red bistort (Persicaria amplexicaulis)

Pennisetum alopecuroides'Cassian' & Persicaria 'Firetail'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

3. Korean feather grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha). Lovely and hardy as it is, its plumes gorgeous in late summer and autumn, this grass did exhibit a tendency to seed around in the entry garden at TBG and had to be watched carefully.

Grasses-Calamagrostis brachytricha-fall-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Here is Korean feather grass in winter.

Grasses-Calamagrostis brachytricha-winter-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

4.Tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) with sea lavender (Limonium latifolium)

Grasses-Piet Oudolf-Limonium latifolium & Deschampsia caespitosa-Toronto Botanical Garden

5.’Shenandoah’, a selection of the tallgrass prairie native switch grass (Panicum virgatum), here showing its reddish leaves.

Grasses-Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah'-Switch grass-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

6.‘Strictum’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum) with its gold fall colour and seedheads of penstemon and echinacea.

Grasses-Panicum virgatum 'Strictum'

7. Northern dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), another tallgrass prairie native, its tiny, zingy flowers doing a dance with the small, pale-pink blossoms of North American native winged loosestrife (Lythrum alatum).  More on this perennial in the next section.

Grasses-Sporobolus heterolepis & Lythrum alatum-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Native North American Plants

Mention of the little-known native winged loosestrife brings me to Piet Oudolf’s use of native North American plants. By the time he was commissioned to do the planting scheme for the TBG’s entry border in 2005-6, Piet had become friends with Wisconsin plantsman Roy Diblik, author of The Know Maintenance Perennial Garden, with whom he worked on Chicago’s Lurie Garden at Millennium Park. As we learn in Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life, when they visited the Schulenberg Prairie together in 2002,  Roy recalls that Piet “was so taken with it. It was a very emotional moment for him.”  After visiting this prairie and the Markham prairie later that year, Piet began to use many more North American plants in his designs, including some of the less well-known species in my list below.

1.Winged loosestrife (Lythrum alatum) – Mention ‘purple loosestrife’ to ecologically-aware people and alarm bells ring. Try telling them that there IS a native purple(ish) loosestrife and they don’t trust you. Or it could mutate. Or it might really be that other one, the Eurasian invader that’s drying up wetlands everywhere (Lythrum salicaria).  But part of Piet Oudolf’s education with Roy Diblik was the discovery of this sweet plant. Native to moist prairies in Illinois and other parts of the northeast, it is at home in a well-irrigated garden where, rather than taking over like its cousin, it will work hard just to have its little pink flowers noticed.

Lythrum alatum-winged loosestrife

Here’s winged loosestrife with ‘Ice Ballet’ swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Both species are wetlanders, but do well in regular irrigated soil.

Native wetlanders-Lythrum alatum & Ascelpias incarnata-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

2. Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), shown above, is a larval plant for the monarch butterfly and a fabulous bee plant. The honey bee, shown below with two bumble bees, comes from the TBG’s five beehives and the Oudolf entry garden is a rich nectar source for them.

Natives-Bees on Asclepias incarnata 'Ice Ballet'

This is the straight species of Asclepias incarnata with pink flowers and a nectaring carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica).

Natives-Asclepias incarnata & carpenter bee

3. Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) – The soft drift of leadplant in the Oudolf entry garden, below, was my first acquaintance with this lovely tallgrass prairie native,one of a few true Ontario natives in the garden. Its common name refers to the old belief that its presence indicated that there were lead deposits nearby, but that was disproven long ago.  Its other folk names include downy indigobush (because it looks a little like indigofera) and buffalo bellows (because, to the native Oglala people who brewed it for a medicinal tea, it came into bloom when bison were in their bellowing-rutting season). A legume, it nitrifies the soil in which it grows (it’s usually considered a subshrub, rather than a perennial) and is one of the few natives that tolerates both dry soil and part-shade.

Natives-Amorpha canescens-leadplant-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Bees love leadplant and its stamens provide a bright orange pollen. This is the brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis).

Natives-Amorpha canescens & bumble bee

4. Dense Blazing star (Liatris spicata) – One of the best tallgrass prairie natives for any sunny border, dense blazing star is no stranger to European gardens either, since it’s been available there in the cultivars ‘Kobold’ (shorter and darker purple than the species) and ‘Floristan Violet’ for  decades. Like all Liatris species, it’s a great bee and butterfly plant and a good companion for echinaceas, including Piet Oudolf’s introduction below, ‘Vintage Wine’.

Natives-Liatris spicata & Echinacaea 'Vintage Wine'-Piet Oudolf introduction-Toronto Botanical Garden

Mention is often made of ‘repetition’ in a Piet Oudolf design and this rhythmic syncopation of blazing stars across the vignette below illustrates how those magenta-purple spikes help carry the eye naturally from one side to the other.

Natives-Liatris spicata-Yarrow-Perovskia-Knautia-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

5. Amsonias, Bluestars (Amsonia hubrichtii & Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia) – When I was writing my newspaper column in the mid-1990s, there was a sudden fuss about a genus of North American plants I’d never heard of. Amsonias were on the scene, and I planted Arkansas bluestar (A. hubrichtii) in my garden, which promptly turned up its toes and died. (It may have been a hardiness issue in an unusually cold winter, since this plant is native to the Ouachita mountains of Arkansas and Oklahoma.) Nevertheless, it gained traction in gardening circles and in 2011 was named the Perennial Plant Association’s Perennial of the Year.  This is how it looks in the Oudolf border with late spring bulbs.

Amsonia hubrichtii-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Arguably the brilliant yellow of the autumn foliage, below, is even more impressive than its ice-blue late spring flowers. Perhaps with our warmer winters, this species will continue to survive and thrive. 

Natives-Amsonia hubrichtii & Vitex agnus-castus-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

There are many species of Amsonia in commerce now, but willowleaf bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia) is a good performer in the TBG entry garden and exceptionally hardy.

Natives-Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia

6.Joe Pye Weeds (Eutrochium sp., syn. Eupatorium) – The big Joe Pye weeds lend a powerful presence to the entry border in August and September, especially the statuesque ‘Gateway’ (Eutrochium maculatum) below. Given sufficient moisture, they thrive, last a long time in flower……

Natives-Eutrochium maculatum 'Gateway'-Piet Oudolf border-Tornto Botanical Garden

….. and attract myriad bees and butterflies to their dusty pink flowers.

Natives-Monarch butterfly on Eutrochium maculatum 'Gateway'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

7. Wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) – Native to dry prairie glades in Wisconsin, Illinois and regions south and west, this short, sprawling perennial has lilac-purple, petunia-like blossoms that are beloved by hummingbirds.  Not showy, but a good little edge-of-path stalwart with a tap root. Self-seeds, too.

Natives-Wild petunia-Ruellia humilis-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

8. Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) – One of the mainstays of Piet Oudolf’s designs is this aromatic North American Midwest mint family perennial with bee-friendly, lavender-purple flower spikes in mid-late summer. It spreads slowly by rhizomes.

Natives-Agastache foeniculum-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Agastache foeniculum ‘Blue Fortune’ is an excellent selection with good winter presence.

Seedheads-Agastache 'Blue- Fortune'-Piet Oudolf-Toronto Botanical Garden

9. Bowman’s root (Porteranthus trifoliatus, syn. Gillenia trifoliata) – One of the most beautiful pictures in the entry border is right at the end (or beginning, depending which way you’re walking) where the path intersects with the entrance to the Floral Hall Courtyard. Here, in June, a starry cloud of Bowman’s root or Indian physic rises behind a skirt of Japanese hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra).  In its midst is a hybrid witch hazel which, though small now, will in time produce filtered shade under its boughs – and Bowman’s root is just fine in that light.

Natives-Porteranthus trifoliatus-Gillenia-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Here it is with a few neighbours: Geranium psilostemon and Hosta sieboldiana ‘Blue Angel’.

Natives-Porteranthus tritrifoliatus-Hosta 'Blue Angel'-Geranium psilostemon-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Special Plants

Sanguisorbas or Burnets – Piet Oudolf, more than any other plant designer, has made abundant use of the great genus Sanguisorba, the burnets.  Hardy, reliable and taking up much less space on the ground than their tall, far-flung inflorescences do in the air, they are a much underused group of perennials.  This is Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Alba’, or the white form of Chinese burnet, flowering alongside annual Verbena bonariensis.

Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Alba'

Like Molinia caerulea ‘Transparent’, Chinese burnet is another good ‘screen’ or ‘scrim’ plant, even as its flowers fade. Here it is in front of Helenium autumnale ‘Fuego’.

Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Alba'-Helenium 'Fuego'-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden

This is the purple-flowered form of Chinese burnet, Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Purpurea’, growing in an attractive combination with Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium sp.)

Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Purpurea' & Eutrochium maculatum 'Gateway'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Even the skeletons look strange and wonderful in autumn.

Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Alba'-autumn-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Burnets are good wildlife plants, attracting bees to their abundant pollen…..

Honey bee on Sanguisorba tenuifolia 'Alba'

…. and birds to their seedheads in autumn. In my little video below, sparrows are enjoying the seeds of Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Alba’, while American goldfinches are feeding on the seed of an unlabelled burnet I suspect is Sanguisorba tenuifolia ‘Pink Elephant’.

Birds & Bees

Speaking of birds and bees, as a photographer of honey bees, bumble bees and various native and non-native bees, I’d be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to just a few of the great pollinator plants in the Oudolf entry border (besides the ones above, of course).

Calamint (Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta) – Calamint is, without doubt, the ‘buzziest’ bee plant there is. The sound is really something, with honey bees and bumble bees all over the tiny flowers – and there are tons of tiny flowers on this bushy little perennial.

Honey bee on Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta

‘Walker’s Low’ catmint (Nepeta racemosa) – Long-flowering catmints are superb bee plants, putting out nectar beloved by bumble bees and honey bees.

Bumble bee on Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low'

Wlassov’s cranesbill (Geranium wlassovianum) – Previously unknown to me, this little Asian geranium has become one of my favourites. Not only does it flower for an incredibly long time and prefer filtered shade, its flowers are always dancing with bees and its leaves turn red in autumn.

Honey bee on Geranium wlassovianum

‘Robustissima’ Japanese anemone (Anemone tomentosa) – Japanese anemones are invaluable for their late summer-early autumn flowers, especially the singles like this lovely selection. And their stamens provide rich pollen at a time of year when bees are still looking to provision their nests.

Anemone 'Robustissima' and bumble bee

‘Autumn Bride’ alumroot (Heuchera villosa) – It’s fun to watch honey bees working the tiny white flowers of this fabulous late heuchera.

Honey bee on Heuchera villosa 'Autumn Bride'

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – Echinacea and many of the selections are excellent bumble bee flowers, but they also provide abundant food for seed-eating birds like American goldfinch.  A good reason not to cut down your perennial garden in late summer!

Goldfinch-eating Echinacea seeds-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Seedheads

While we’re on the topic of seedheads, one of the hallmarks of Piet Oudolf’s design philosophy is the use of plants that perform beyond their flowering season, with persistent stems and seedheads that provide structure in the garden into autumn and winter. These are just a few of the entry border’s distinctive seedheads:

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) – The familiar chambered pods of milkweeds ripen, dry and split open in late autumn to reveal a layered arrangement of teardrop-shaped seeds topped by fine hairs. Over the next week or two, the seeds will gradually lift off on their silken parachutes, aloft on the wind to land on an empty inch of damp soil on which they’ll germinate the following spring. This is the milkweed life cycle that has evolved over millennia in all its regional species throughout North America in partnership with the monarch butterfly, whose females lay their eggs on the leaves, which then feed the developing caterpillar until it forms its chrysalis to emerge as the familiar orange-and-black butterfly we admire so.

Seedheads-Asclepias-Piet-Ou

‘Purpurlanze’ astilbe (Astilbe chinensis var. tacquetii) – I love the feathery bronze plumes of this Ernst Pagel-bred astilbe with the fountain grass (Pennisetum) behind.

Seedheads-Astilbe

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) – Long after the American goldfinches (above) have migrated south for the winter and the first snows have fallen, the raised seedheads of echinacea flowers still show their Fibonacci architecture.

Seedheads-Echinacea-Piet Oudolf-Toronto Botanical Garden

‘Fascination’ Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) – The coppery wands of spent Culver’s root look beautiful against the tawny grasses of late autumn.

Seedheads-Veronicastrum-virginicum-'F

Plants That Go, Plants That Come…..

Not all of the original plants in the design thrived beyond a few years. One that was quite short-lived was the beautiful ornamental clover (Trifolium rubens), with dark pink flowers, below.  In an ideal world, this plant would be allowed to self-seed, ensuring progeny for successive seasons. But it has petered out gradually.

Plants-short-lived-Trifolium rubens-Piet Oudolf border-TOronto Botanical Garden

Some of the yellow and orange hybrid echinaceas, like yellow ‘Sunrise’ shown in the early years with purple liatris, below, have also largely given up the ghost. Their lack of longevity (contrasted with the reliable long life of Piet’s Echinacea ‘Vintage Wine’) seems to be part-and-parcel of their genetic makeup, a fact Noel Kingsbury acknowleges in Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life. “The 2000s saw a lot of breeding of E. purpurea with other Echinacea species, mostly in the U.S…… Some exciting color breaks – oranges and apricots – resulted, but the plants were mostly short-lived. For those wanting longer-lived plants, this breeding has not been of any use. We can only hope that someone picks up Piet’s work on longevity.”

Plants-Short-lived- Echinacea 'Sunrise'-Piet Oudolf borer-Toronto Botanical Garden

Unlike a traditional perennial bed or mixed shrub-perennial border with a modest number of plants, a broad meadow planting like the entry garden with its huge cast of flowery characters is an open invitation to opportunistic plants, good and bad. With so many gardens (including a natural woodland) surrounding the entry walk, it was inevitable that seeds would fly into the rich, irrigated soil – either on the wind, or carried by birds. One of the immigrants – from the green roof of the administration building – is  lovely foxglove penstemon, P. digitalis, a plant whose red-leafed form ‘Husker Red’ is used by Piet in his designs.  Easy, prolific. drought-tolerant and a great bumblebee and hummingbird plant, this penstemon’s shimmering white spikes are quite lovely in June. It’s one of my favourite perennials.

Penstemon digitalis-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

But there are also seeds that may have been in the soil for many years, just waiting to germinate. Such is the case with common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), below, which I first spotted in my photos in 2011, four years after the garden was planted. Like Canada goldenrod, this is an aggressive native that spreads not only by seed, but by rhizomes underground.  Beautiful and fragrant as it is, is difficult to maintain a small population. And given that the better-behaved swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) is here already and there are ‘wild’ places on the TBG property where common milkweed could be welcomed for its relationship to monarch butterflies, I hope it is kept in check so the design intent of the Oudolf garden is not lost.

Asclepias syriaca-common milkweed-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Which brings me to maintenance. Toronto Botanical Garden currently operates on a financial shoestring. Unlike other popular parks and public places in Toronto, the TBG receives a pittance from the city. Hopefully, that will change in the near future as the City of Toronto Parks Department and the TBG conduct public consultations (two so far, one in November 2016, the last in late February) towards greatly increasing the size of the garden from the current 4 acres to 30 acres, placing all the current Edwards Gardens within a civically-supported Toronto Botanical Garden.  However, at the moment, the head gardener works with just a few assistants and a changing team of volunteers to maintain not just the entry garden, but the other 16 gardens on site, and one or two off-site.

Maintenance-Piet Oudolf Border-Volunteers-Toronto Botanical Garden

******************************

For perspective, I chatted with Toronto Landscape architect Martin Wade of Martin Wade Landscape Architects, below right, who collaborated with Piet Oudolf, left, on the design of the entry border, which was gifted to the TBG by the Garden Club of Toronto.

Piet-Oudolf-Martin-Wade

Martin fondly recalled their first meeting.  “It was absolutely wonderful collaborating with Piet.  He is extremely down-to-earth, humble and generous.  I remember so clearly the very first time we met.  After picking him up at the airport, we came back to our house where my partner was preparing dinner.  It was shortly after we had moved in. I had not yet “done” the garden – it was a collection of plants left over from the previous owners. We were in the midst of a renovation and the place was in a bit of a shambles.  IKEA curtains hung to cover exposed plumbing, bare sub-floor in some areas, and yet with all of this, it was somehow as though we had known one another for ages   Piet sat down in a chair that had clearly seen better days and, over a single-malt whisky, the three of us talked about life in general and what our respective interests were. When I asked him what was important to him, he answered, without any hesitation, ‘Quality.  Quality in terms of food, wine, art, relationships, architecture, landscape, virtually everything in life.’  The notion of quality as being the driving force that stimulates him has stuck with me.”

Martin & I talked about maintenance. Unlike Chicago’s 2.5 acre Piet Oudolf-designed Lurie Garden (Landscape Architects: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol), which cost $12.5 million and has a $10 million endowment for maintenance alone, the TBG’s entry garden has no separate budget for maintenance. Similarly, unlike the Oudolf-designed Marjorie G. Rosen Seasonal Walk at the New York Botanical Garden, below, a much smaller garden which has the equivalent of half-a-full-time employee dedicated to maintenance (including the hedge), there is no dedicated employee budgeted for the TBG’s Oudolf garden. 

Marjorie J. Rosen Walk-New York Botanical Garden-Piet Oudolf Design

Before the entry garden was installed, Piet Oudolf, Martin Wade and the Garden Club of Toronto (GCT) had a frank discussion about long-term maintenance of the garden. By Piet’s estimate, the entry border would require a minimum of one full-time gardener dedicated to its upkeep. “As Piet explained,” recalls Martin, “His gardens, while ‘naturalistic’ and ‘meadow-like’ in appearance, are anything but low maintenance.  They require regular tending to keep species that were not part of the original design out. I have noticed the invasion of common milkweed in the garden.  This is a plant that has a host of great qualities and should be encouraged and let flourish in the right locations.  However, it was not part of the original plan.  The intent always was that the garden would be monitored yearly to ensure any of the more aggressive species in the plan were kept in check, and that the original plan be maintained, other than in the case of some species that just might not perform well, for which minor design adjustments would have to be made.  This ‘monitoring’ process involves taking a copy of the plan in hand, walking throughout the garden, making note of what has crept into areas in which it was not meant to, and making adjustments accordingly.” 

Sadly,” he continues, “I don’t think the garden is achieving to the full extent the goals that were envisioned when the project began.  I don’t mean this in any way as a criticism of the TBG or its staff, as I realize the extreme pressure they are under with respect to finances and resources that can be allocated to maintenance, not only of the entry garden, but all of their gardens.  Maintenance is such a huge issue for all gardens, private or public, not only for the TBG gardens.  It is relatively sexy these days to give a new building wing naming rights to honour the benefactor who helped make it a reality.  The same applies to gardens.  While a ‘sexy motive’ was not their intent, the Garden Club of Toronto was nonetheless very generous in gifting the Piet Oudolf/MWLA garden to the TBG.  That is their mandate.  The GCT funds public garden projects.”

Martin cites another of his projects to illustrate the level of financial commitment needed. “Our firm designed the Helen M. Kippax Garden at the Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton.  The funds for this garden were donated by the late Mary Stedman in honour of her aunt Helen Kippax, one of the founding members of the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects.  Ms. Stedman’s donation is suitably honoured by a plaque in the garden.  She also had the foresight and financial ability to donate money to a trust fund, the interest from which is earmarked solely for the maintenance of the Kippax Garden.  We need these types of visionaries, and institutions need to find a way to raise money not only for the installation of our public gardens, but for their long-term maintenance.

Helen Kippax Garden-Royal Botanical Garden-Martin Wade Design

*****************************************

But if the entry garden could use more a little more manpower to relieve the hard-working gardeners and volunteers, it is still, without a doubt, my favourite garden at the TBG. It takes me back to that childhood meadow I’ve carried in my heart for 60 years. It nourishes bees and butterflies and birds and the spirits of the visitors who walk the long path, flanked by a profusion of beautiful blossoms and swishing grasses.

Piet Oudolf Entry Garden-Toronto Botanical Garden-September

And in case you haven’t taken that walk yourself, let me leave you with a beautiful memory of a warm August afternoon in the entry garden at Toronto Botanical Garden. Thank you, Garden Club of Toronto. Thank you, gardeners. Thank you, Martin Wade. And thank you, Piet Oudolf.

Piet Oudolf: Meadow Maker – Part One

It was early April 1999, and we were visiting Hummelo in the Netherlands so I could talk with Piet Oudolf and see his garden. I had read his books and followed his burgeoning design career with interest.  Given my childhood love of wild places, I was always more interested in designers who embraced a naturalist ethos and synthesized that into their work, whether purely aesthetic or ecology-based. When we visited Hummelo, I had just finished an in-depth magazine profile on Michael Hough, a seminal member of the mid-20th century ecological landscape movement. Scotland-born Michael had been a student of Ian McHarg (Design With Nature) at Edinburgh’s College of Art and later at the University of Pennsylvania, before founding the University of Toronto’s Undergraduate program in Landscape Architecture, then moving to York University to teach in their fledgling Environmental Studies program and publish his own book, Cities and Natural Process.  Later on this trip, we would visit the botanical garden at Leiden and Ecolonia in Alphen aan den Rijn, below, an experimental housing development whose architecture, landscape, utilities and infrastructure had been built earlier that decade using principles of ecological design.

Ecolonia-Alphen aan den Rijn

Hummelo

The Oudolfs were generous in greeting us. Anja still ran the nursery then, Kwekerij Oudolf with its goddess Flora…..

Hummelo-1999-Folly

….. and retail customers were busy buying the plants that the Oudolfs raised to use in Piet’s designs. In time, other Dutch growers would become adventurous in their plant introductions; this fact, combined with the demands of Piet’s business and Anja’s busy schedule accommodating groups wanting to tour the garden eventually caused the Oudolfs to close the nursery and build a studio in its place.

Hummelo-1999-Piet Oudolf-nursery

We toured the garden; as it was early spring, not much was in bloom, but the hellebores and wild phlox were lovely.

Hummelo-1999-Piet Oudolf-hellebores

The Stachys byzantina ellipses were still there, along with the famous yew towers and undulating yew hedges which would later be damaged by flooding. Both features were eventually removed and this garden was planted with sweeping perennials.

Hummelo-1999-Stachys circle

The trial beds were impressively ordered – and vital in teaching Piet how various perennials performed: their hardiness, floriferousness, optimal companions, seedhead properties, pollinator attraction, winter persistence, etc.

Hummelo-1999-plant trial beds

It was still very much a place where the Oudolfs worked as a team to expand and improve the palette of plants, but there were abundant touches of simple domesticity.

Hummelo-1999-Piet Oudolf-dog

Piet graciously posed for my camera at a picnic table in a little enclosed garden surrounded by spring-flowering shrubs.

Hummelo-1999-Piet Oudolf

Then we said farewell and headed off to the nearby garden of Eugénie van Weede at Huis Bingerden, below.  At the time of our visit, Eugénie been holding her International Specialist Nursery Days, a 3-day June plant fair attracting thousands of visitors, for four years. (In 2016, there were 37 exhibitors.)  In turn, her inspiration came from Piet and Anja Oudolf, who had held their own annual Hummelo Open Days (later Grass Days) beginning in 1983. By the mid-1990s, visitors numbered in the thousands. Wrote Piet in his rich memoir Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life, by Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury (The Monacelli Press, 2015): “Our idea was to bring people together. Of course we wanted to create some income, but thought it would also be a good idea to bring a selection of growers who share the same interest in plants, as an advertisement for all of us.”   It was Piet Oudolf, seedman Rob Leopold and Piet’s original partner, nurseryman Romke van de Kaa (formerly Christopher Lloyd’s head gardener in the 1970s) — the men she calls her three ‘godfathers’ — who advised Eugénie on the nurseries she should include in her Nursery Days.Eugenie van Weede-1999-Bingerden

Fast-forward 15 years to a lovely day in August 2014, and there I was photographing the Piet Oudolf-designed entry border at my own local Toronto Botanical Garden, as I’ve been doing regularly for more than a decade. Even though I recall my visit to Hummelo with pleasure, my relationship with the entry border feels less like a connection to the Netherlands than an arrow that points right back to my childhood.  A childhood spent in a meadow.

Janet Davis-Toronto Botanical Garden

*****************************

You Can Take the Child Out of the Meadow….

How does one become a meadow maker?  Perhaps it might happen through sheer neglect: abandoning a plot of land to flowering weeds and long grasses which, through a stretch of imagination, might eventually approximate a reasonably attractive community of plants. Though leaving meadow-making to serendipity rarely achieves satisfactory results, it was nevertheless a meadow of happenstance that became my first intimate connection with nature and, by extension, with gardening. For it was an old field across the road from my childhood home in Victoria, B.C., the one just behind the trees at left that you can’t make out in this photo….

Janet Davis-child-Victoria BC

….  that taught me how Spanish bluebells and English daisies emerged in spring as grasses turn green; how California poppies preferred the stony ground to the rich, damp soil where western buttercups grew, the ones we held under our chins to see who liked butter best.

Ranunculus occidentalis-Western buttercup

Oxeye daisies and horsetails, bindweed, tansy and purple clover: these were the meadow weeds I came to love. As little as I was, I felt at home in that chaotic wildness, the old field that promised adventure – even the spittle-bugs that brushed our cheeks as we crawled through the grasses on all fours playing hide-and-seek.

If, as landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy contends in her 1995 classic The Inward Garden, the joyful, treasured places of our childhood become the environments we yearn for as adults, my Victoria field was the idyll I tried to recreate a half-century later in the wild front garden of our Toronto home, below, …..

Janet-Davis-Toronto front garden

….. and in the meadows of our cottage at Lake Muskoka….

Janet Davis-East Meadow- Lake Muskoka

….. where bees and butterflies and birds are welcomed.

Janet-Davis-West Meadow-Lake Muskoka

But meadow-making, for me, though it became somewhat more ‘designed’ and much more interesting than conventional gardening, never approached an art form. It was more about capturing a little corner of ‘wildness’ outside my door. Making a meadow that appears to be wild but is ‘enhanced nature’, that relies on deep knowledge for its plant palette and a wealth of experiment for its dynamic combinations: that is the work of a master. And that is how Piet Oudolf came to design the entry border at the Toronto Botanical Garden (TBG).

But first, let’s back up a little to 2006.

***************************

Toronto Botanical Garden

In the early 2000’s, when Toronto’s Civic Garden Centre was being transformed from a small, horticulture-related institution to the Toronto Botanical Garden (TBG), a series of 17 themed gardens were designed to skirt around the new LEED building and extend out into the modest 4-acre property. . (You can see my seasonal galleries of all these gardens on the TBG’s website). Landscape architects for some of the gardens included PMA Landscape Architects Ltd. and Sparling Landscape Architects. For the prominent entry walk along the entrance driveway and the long south wall of the building, funding was provided by the Garden Club of Toronto to commission Toronto landscape architect Martin Wade of MWLA, below left, and Piet Oudolf, right, to collaborate on the hardscape and plant design.   Construction-Piet Oudolf & Martin Wade-Toronto Botanical Garden

Garden club member Nancy Laurie (who provided these photographs of the planting) was intimately involved with the beginning of the garden. As she recalls: “The club was asked to design and install a perennial garden that welcomed visitors into a botanical garden. The parameters of the garden area were predetermined by the TBG and the space was limited in height and width variations. It was surrounded by two parking lots, sidewalks and a building.  It would most likely be viewed first by many from inside a moving car. In addition, the other gardens that would eventually make up the new Toronto Botanical Gardens would be of a more formal design. This garden had to stand out from the others. Be different. Announce this is as an avant botanical garden.  Martin Wade proposed including the internationally acclaimed perennial designer Piet Oudolf to join the project as a consultant specifically for the planting design and selection of plants using his much admired naturalistic interpretation of a traditional perennial border garden.”

Apart from having read some of Piet’s books on plant design and hearing him speak at conferences, Nancy had also helped organize several two-day symposiums on the theme of the natural garden. “So I was personally very keen to make this ‘new’ garden paradigm a key element in our new entrance garden,” she recalls. “The garden world of the 1990’s and early 2000’s was embracing a more modern approach to the traditional formal English-style perennial garden. Piet Oudolf’s alternative style is characterized by naturalistic plantings, both in techniques and style, and using plant material that suited the terrain, climate and growing conditions already present in the site. He was recognized at the time as the master of the ‘new perspective of planting’ to paraphrase the title of one of his books. He was ‘The Man’.”

The plant design was complete and ready for reference.

Construction-Toronto Botanical Garden Entry Border Plan

With the hardscaping and rough grading having been done earlier that spring, the garden was ready for planting. But first there were some preliminary steps. The garden was divided into precise grids….

Martin Wade-Entry Border-Toronto Botanical Garden.JPG

………which would facilitate transference of the design outlines onto the ground.

Constructon-Toronto Botanical Garden-Piet Oudolf Checking Grid.J

Once the grid was finished, the outline of the plant groupings themselves was sprayed onto the surface of the soil with a non-toxic paint…..

Construction-Toronto Botanical Garden-spraying grid

…..like a plant-by-number guide.

Construction-Planting Grid-Piet Oudolf-Toronto Botanical Garden

The Garden Club had teams of planting volunteers ready and they listened to words of wisdom from Piet before starting.  Says Nancy Laurie: “The committee gained enormous experience working through this project. At its completion, I prepared a process paper on how to organize and use volunteers to help install a large garden project under the leadership of a landscape architect. Martin Wade used the suggestions to direct the volunteers at his installation of several new gardens at the Royal Botanical Garden the following year.

Construction-Piet-&-Garden-

Then it was out into the garden. Most of the plants were Heritage Perennials from the Ontario division of Valleybrook Gardens.

Construction-Entry Border-Piet Oudolf & Garden Club Members-Toronto Botanical Garden

As Nancy recalls: “Martin Wade managed the process of planting the garden with the help of Garden Club volunteers. Piet was on site for the first planting day to offer suggestions and help. He conferred with Martin and often stepped into the garden with the volunteers to show them how to properly plant a specific variety.”

Piet Oudolf Placing Plants-Toronto Botanical Garden

Nancy Laurie still recalls Piet’s planting lessons from that day.

  • When ready to plant, start at one end of the garden and move backwards so that the soil does not get compacted with foot traffic. Use planks of wood to walk on especially if the soil is wet so it does not compact.
  • Working in one grid area, dig all of the holes for one plant variety.
  • Loosen the soil around the planting hole several inches larger than the plant root system. Step back and look to see if the planting area is what it looks like on the plan. Adjust if needed before actually installing the plants.

Planted area-Oudolf entry garden-Toronto Botanical Garden

The entry walk was transformed that June into a fluttering, buzzing, verdant place of great beauty, different in all seasons, and indeed different from year to year, as the plants intermingled, possibly even more than their designer intended, and a few disappeared eventually, to be replaced by others. Let’s take a look at a small area, just in front of the glass screen dividing the border from the Floral Hall courtyard just to the north. Here it is on Piet’s plan.

Design-Piet Oudolf-Screen-Toronto Botanical Garden

Here’s the area as it looked in early spring 2006, with its new espaliered ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapples and coppery paperbark maples (Acer griseum).

Design-Piet Oudolf Screen1-April-Toronto Botanical Garden

Now look at it in May 2012, below. Seasonal spring bulbs are part of the changing display in the garden and, when carefully planted, they don’t affect the emergence of the perennials in Piet’s design.

Design-Piet Oudolf Screen2-May-Toronto Botanical Garden

Here it is in June 2011 with the Geranium psilostemon and Astrantia ‘Roma’ flowering amidst the lush green foliage of Deschampsia caespitosa.

Design-Piet Oudolf Screen4-June-Toronto Botanical Garden

I captured this autumn scene in October 2009, with the Deschampsia in flower and toad lilies (Tricyrtis formosa ‘Samurai’) blooming at left.

Design-Piet Oudolf Screen5-October-Toronto Botanical Garden

The genius of the entry garden, for me, especially in the early years when the perennials had not yet seeded about and intermingled, was that it transformed itself through the seasons — especially evident with the ornamental grasses.

Piet Oudolf entry border-seasonal views-Toronto Botanical Garden

Here’s my video of more of the seasonal changes in various parts of the garden.

*********************

Before I move on to more seasonal scenes from the garden, I’d like to acknowledge the hard work of head gardener Sandra Pella, her assistant gardeners and TBG horticulturist Paul Zammit, who oversee the demanding maintenance of the entry garden on a shoestring budget, and with great enthusiasm.

I was there to photograph it each spring….

Seasonal 1c-Spring-Piet Oudolf Entry Garden-Toronto Botanical Garden

……when the brilliance of the tulips, daffodils and small bulbs was especially welcome after the long winter we have in Toronto.

Seasonal 1a-Spring-Piet Oudolf Entry Garden-Toronto Botanical Garden

Families of donors to the garden help to plant new bulbs each autumn, changing the show annually.  The emerging perennials are unaffected by the bulbs growing in their midst.

Seasonal-1d-Spring-Piet-Oud

Late spring featured the big, purple heads of alliums…..

Seasonal 2d-Late spring-Alliums & Hosta 'Blue Angel'-Piet Oudolf entry border-Toronto Botanical Garden

…… and lush peonies like ‘Krinkled White’, here with willow-leaf bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia)…..

Seasonal 2a-Late spring-Paeonia 'Krinkled White' & Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden

….. and ‘Bowl of Beauty’, with mauve Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’, left and the white form of the mourning widow geranium (G. phaeum f. album) behind …..

Seasonal 2b-Late spring-Paeonia 'Bowl of Beauty'-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden.

…. and stunning red ‘Buckeye Belle’ with Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ in the background.

Seasonal 2c-Late spring-Paeonia 'Buckeye Belle' & Salvia-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden.

But the summer months are when the Oudolf garden hits its stride, as the lush, ornamental grasses begin to fountain around the stems of the flowering perennials.  In early summer, deep-red Knautia macedonica pops out like dots in a pointillist painting.

Seasonal 3a-early summer-Piet Oudolf entry border-Toronto Botanical Garden

I love knautia for its long flowering season and its attractiveness to all kinds of bees.

Knautia macedonica with bumble bee-bombus-Piet Oudolf border

Here are three Oudolf favourites:  from rear, mauve ‘Fascination’ Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum), ‘Blue Fortune’ anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and the lime-green, needled leaves of Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii), half-way between its pale-blue spring flowers and brilliant gold fall colour.

Seasonal 3b-early summer Piet Oudolf entry border-Veronicastrum virginicum 'Fascination'-Agastache 'Blue Fortune'-TBG

A little later comes the beautiful echinacea show, here with the salmon daylily Hemerocallis ‘Pardon Me’ and ‘Veitch’s Blue’ globe thistle (Echinops ritro), which is…..

Seasonal 4a-midsummer-Piet-Oudolf-des

….. another exceptional bee plant.

Bees on Echinops ritro 'Veitch's Blue'

August is my favourite time in the garden, as the grasses reach their stately heights and the late-season perennials flower.  Here’s a little vignette of what you see as you do the entry walk in early-mid August:  violet spikes of blazing star (Liatris spicata); creamy-white rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium); the lush, burgundy flowers of the various Joe Pye weeds (Eutrochium sp.); the small, dark-red wands of burnet(Sanguisorba sp.); and echinaceas.

Seasonal 4b-late summer-Piet Oudolf-designed entry border-Toronto Botanical Garden-Summer

Below we have the self-seeding annual Verbena bonariensis, left, leadplant (Amorpha canescens) past its flowering, centre, and red-spiked ‘Firetail’ persicaria (P. amplexicaulis) at right.

Seasonal 4c-Piet-Oudolf-des

By October, the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) on the stone wall of the Raymond Moriyama-designed Flower Hall has turned bright red and the seedheads and fall colour of the big grasses in the Oudolf border take centre stage, along with a few asters and goldenrods that have sneaked into the border from other parts of the botanical garden.

Seasonal 5a-Autumn-Symphyot

One year, aromatic aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’, below, native to the central and eastern United States, looked stunning punctuated with echinacea seedheads.  But this lovely aster, used by Piet at Lurie Garden in Chicago, seems to have diminished in subsequent years, part of the inevitable reality of plant experimentation, something to which Piet Oudolf has paid great attention over the decades.

Seasonal 5b-Autumn-Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'October Skies'

Perennial seedheads are an important part of the seasonal show in the garden; these are the mocha-brown October seedheads of the yarrow Achillea millefolium ‘Walther Funcke’, with silvery Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Little Spire’ at right and bronze Astilbe ‘Purpurlanze’ in the background.

Seasonal 5c-Autumn-Ct

And provided that repeated heavy, wet snowfalls do not knock down the plants and ruin the show, the entry garden demonstrates the beauty of the persistent seedheads and stems throughout winter.  The grass at left is Korean feather grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha).

Seasonal 6-Piet Oudolf-designed entry border-Toronto Botanical Garden-Winter

************

Plants and Memories

Many of the plants in the entry garden are part of Piet Oudolf’s personal history: breeding successes of the German or Dutch plantsmen who were part of his circle – and horticultural education – since the beginning of his design career and life in Hummelo.  People like Ernst Pagels (1913-2007), of Leer, himself a student of Karl Foerster, the iconic nurseryman who sheltered Jews in his nursery during the Second World War and whose name is memorialized in a well-known feather reed grass (Calamagrosis x acutiflora). As explained in Hummelo: A Journey Through a Plantsman’s Life, in the 1980s Piet Oudolf travelled often across the border into Germany to visit Pagels at his nursery where they would talk plants. “We went to get the newest plants, and to bring them home…. and we exchanged a lot.”   Among the Ernst Pagels jewels that live in the TBG’s entry garden are Achillea ‘Walther Funcke’….

Pagels-Achillea 'Walther Funcke'-Piet Oudolf border-Toronto Botanical Garden

…. Astilbe chinensis var. tacquetii ‘Purpurlanze’ and Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’ …..

Pagels-Astilbe chinensis var. tacquetii 'Purpurlanze' & Stachys officinalis 'Hummelo'

…. Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’……

Pagels-Phlomis tuberosa 'Amazone'-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden

…. and Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’, shown here with Allium cristophii.

Pagels-Salvia 'Amethyst'-Piet Oudolf Border-Toronto Botanical Garden

Piet’s Dutch friend and fellow plantsman Coen Jansen is responsible for the tall meadowrue Thalictrum ‘Elin’.

Coen Jansen-Thalictrum 'Elin'

And his German colleague Cassian Schmidt, director of the famous garden at Hermannshof, (thanks Tony Spencer for that great blog entry) has his own name memorialized in the beautiful, Kurt Bluemel-raised fountain grass Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Cassian’, shown here with the statice Limonium latifolium…..

Cassian Schmidt-Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Cassian' & Limonium latifolium-Toronto Botanical Garden

As for Piet Oudolf himself, long before he designed the planting of the TBG’s entry border, he was selecting his own plants and registering them. In 1998, the year before I visited him at Hummelo, he joined with two other growers to launch their company Future Plants, “to market their introductions and to protect their work through Plant Breeder’s Rights.”  As explained in Hummelo: A Journey…, these plants were often put into production in the U.S. before Dutch nurseries had started to raise them.  Among the Piet Oudolf-propagated plants in the entry garden are the pale-mauve hybrid monkshood Aconitum ‘Stainless Steel’….

Piet Oudolf introduction-Aconitum 'Stainless Steel'

……. Astrantia major ‘Roma’…..

Piet Oudolf introduction-Astrantia-major 'Roma'

….. Echinacea purpurea ‘Vintage Wine’, with its lovely dark stems….

Piet Oudolf introduction-Echnacea purpurea 'Vintage Wine'-Toronto Botanical Garden

….. Monarda ‘Scorpion’…..

Piet Oudolf Introduction-Monarda 'Scorpion'-1

….. Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Little Spire’, a compact Russian sage shown below with Calamintha nepeta (a fabulous bee combo!)…..

Piet Oudolf introduction-Perovskia 'Little Spire' with Calamintha nepeta

….. Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firedance’…..

Piet Oudolf- Introduction-Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firedance'

….. Salvia ‘Madeline’…..

Piet Oudolf Introduction-Salvia 'Madeline'

….. Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’ (this photo with Achillea ‘Anthea’ was made at the Royal Botanical Garden in Burlington, near Toronto) …..

Piet Oudolf introduction-Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain'

….. Veronica ‘Eveline’, here with Deschampsia caespitosa…….

Piet Oudolf Introduction-Veronica 'Eveline'

….  …. and finally the spectacular Culver’s root Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’, given its tongue-in-cheek name by Piet Oudolf because of its genetic tendency to ‘fasciation’, a flattening of the flower spike.

Piet Oudolf introduction-Veronicastrum virginicum 'Fascination'

That concludes the first part of my two-part blog on the entry garden at the Toronto Botanical Garden. In Part Two, I drill down into Piet Oudolf’s garden plan to show you some terrific plant combinations, and some of my favourite plants and why.

PS – if you’re a fan of New York’s High Line, I have photographed the Oudolf plantings there in three seasons, and blogged about a few of those visits as well. Here’s the High Line in early May and a two-part blog on the High Line in mid-June.

This summer, I’m looking forward to visiting Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

The American West: Cody, Cowboys & Rushmore

At long last, I’m finishing up my journal of our spectacular (and I don’t use that word lightly) September trip to the American West. As you might recall, in my first blog we visited Grand Teton National Park, then I wrote about our magical journey through Yellowstone National Park with its otherworldly geysers and fumaroles.

As we exit Yellowstone’s East Gate through Sylvan Pass in the Absaroka mountain range, we soon find ourselves following the Shoshone River through the Shoshone National Forest, both named for the indigenous Shoshone people who inhabited the region.  At the river’s edge are willows and September-blooming rigid goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigida). This area between Yellowstone and Cody (our destination for the day and overnight) is called the Wapiti Valley, wapiti being the Shawnee word for elk.

Shoshone National Forest

Our first stop out of Yellowstone (which has no private commercial businesses) is Pahaska Tepee, a mountain resort built in 1904 by Buffalo Bill Cody as a hunting lodge. The resort has the obligatory gift shop…

Pahaska Tepee Gift Shop

….. horses ready to be saddled for trail-riding through the forest……

Pahaska Tepee-Trail Horses

…. and, most interesting to us, a little museum…..

Buffalo Bill Hunting Lodge-Pahaska

…displaying artifacts of Buffalo Bill’s time there….

Buffalo Bill Hunting Lodge

…. including something that’s still important for forest-firefighters in the Yellowstone ecosystem, the vintage version of a modern Fedco smokechaser, a backpack water pump.

Fedco Smokechaser-Buffalo Bill Hunting Lodge

Driving along the Shoshone River, I’m reminded of an historic story of mistaken identity.  When John Colter (mentioned in blog on the Tetons) became the first white man to reach Yellowstone in 1807-08, he described a sulphurous-smelling river with frightening geothermal features, a place that skeptics nicknamed Colter’s Hell. The assumption was that this river was in geothermal-rich Yellowstone, but it was later deduced that the river Colter described was, in fact, the Shoshone as it traverses deep canyons near Cody, Wyoming. For the record, this part of the Shoshone just smelled to me like a lovely autumn day!

Shoshone River-Stinkhole River

The rock formations – pinnacles or hoodoos – in the Wapiti Valley are spectacular and renowned, the product of erosion of lower rock layers contrasted with the relative stability of towers remaining when hard cap rocks protect softer sediment below.  This one looks for all the world like a Shoshone chief.

Rock Formations-Shoshone Valley

The brownish rock of the cliff across the highway is volcanic breccia.

Volcanic breccia formation-Shoshone Forest

Six miles west of Cody, Wyoming, we pass by the Buffalo Bill Reservoir. You can see how the landscape here has changed from rugged mountain valley to rolling hills and sagebrush. Cody actually sits at the edge of the Bighorn basin in the centre of four mountain ranges: the Absarokas, Big Horn, Owl Creek and Bridger Mountains.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir

Soon we pull up to the main attraction in Cody: the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.  The name is a little deceiving, because this is five museums in one: Buffalo Bill Museum, Plains Indians Museum, Whitney Western Art Museum, Draper Natural History Museum, and the Cody Firearms Museum.

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Pretty much everything in the town of Cody – and certainly in the Buffalo Bill Museum in the eponymous Center of the West – focuses on the legacy and legend of William Frederick Cody (1846-1917), aka Buffalo Bill Cody. (As a Torontonian I was interested to learn while researching this that when Iowa-born Cody was a youngster, he lived for 7 years in what is now Mississauga, Ontario, the birthplace of his father, Isaac, and was christened in the small chapel that the Cody family built in 1839. The Dixie Union Chapel still stands at the corner of Cawthra and Dundas.)   After moving his family to the Kansas territory in 1853, Isaac Cody was stabbed by a pro-slavery sympathizer at a political meeting. He died three years later and William, aged 11, began working to support his sisters and mother. He drove horses and wagons (but the vaunted Pony Express stories seem to have been exaggerated by him to enhance his showman’s reputation later). When the Civil War broke out in 1861 young William was attracted to the Kansas Redlegs, an anti-slavery militia, joining it in 1862 to avenge his father’s death. He later joined the regular Union Army and served until the war’s end in 1865, fighting in 16 battles. Married and back home in Kansas, he joined a company providing meals to the workers building the Kansas Pacific Railroad. With his natural riding ability and his army-acquired skill as a crack shot, Cody’s job was to provide the meat, i.e. buffalo steak.  He went back to work for the Army in 1868, acting as a civilian scout in the Indian Wars.  His skill at hunting bison for the railroad and also the army became legendary, earning him his nickname “Buffalo Bill”. It’s estimated he killed 4282 bison in the years 1867-68. He burnished his reputation through his friendship with another “Bill” folk hero of the old West, Wild Bill Hickok.

Bill Cody Hunting Buffalo-Charles H. Stevens-1911

By the early 70s when he was in his late 20s, Cody had already begun making appearances in newspapers and adventure novels, and he, Hickok and two friends started producing and starring in their own stage plays, the Wild West Shows.  But he was still riding as a scout for the Fifth Cavalry in the Great Sioux War, and in July 1876 in northwestern Nebraska, he shot a young Cheyenne warrior named Yellow Hair and brandished his headdress and part of his scalp as a grisly atonement for Custer’s defeat and death at Little Bighorn just weeks earlier. It is memorialized in this 1928 painting ‘First Scalp for Custer’ by Cody’s friend Robert Lindneux.

First Scalp For Custer-Robert Lindneux

In 1883, he mounted the first circus-like production, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, in La Platte, Nebraska.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West

Ironically, in June, 1885, he even signed up Sitting Bull for an initial bonus of $125 and a wage of $50 per week. Despite Cody’s post-Indian Wars attempt to integrate his attraction using the very chief whose leadership helped make it possible to defeat General Custer in the Battle of Little Bighorn, Sitting Bull himself was killed 5 years later during his arrest by Indian Agency police.

Sitting Bull

Another feature of the museum is the Deadwood stagecoach, which had a stormy history in its career of 11 years, being repeatedly attacked for the gold and currency it carried.

US Mail Deadwood Coach-Buffalo Bill Center of the West

One of the coaches was incorporated into Buffalo Bill’s Wild West tour, and when the show visited England for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887. “The highlight of the show came when several monarchs, including the Prince of Wales and the kings of Denmark, Greece, Belgium, and Saxony, hopped aboard the Deadwood Stage with Buffalo Bill in the driver’s seat and rode around the arena while the assembled Indians engaged in a mock attack.” (Buffalo Bill in Bologna, 1869-1922, Robert W. Rydell and Rob Kroes)

Queen Victoria & Buffalo Bill's Wild West-1887 Jubilee

In 1893, he changed the name to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, featuring a parade, cowboys, Indians, Turks, gauchos, African-Americans and others. He also launched the career of sharpshooter Annie Oakley (below) and her husband Frank Butler.

Annie Oakley

Despite his early skill at buffalo-hunting, according to displays at the museum, “Cody became an outspoken critic of the wanton slaughter of buffalos that began in the 1860s and led to their near extermination within two decades.”   This is a taxidermy tableau in the Buffalo Bill museum.

Taxidermy Bison Exhibit

Moving out of the Buffalo Bill Museum, I visit the wonderful Plains Indian Museum.

The Plains Indian Museum-Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Of the myriad exhibits, I love the clothing. On the left is a deer hide-beadwork Cheyenne baby cradle. On the right is a girl’s dress adorned with elk teeth.

Cheyenne Cradle-Crow Girl's Dress-Buffalo Bill Center of the West

This tells the story of the relative ease with which the Cheyenne could migrate, once they had horses.

Migration-Cheyenne-Plains Indian Museum

This hide painting by the Arapaho artist Eagle Robe, Eugene Ridgeley Sr., depicts the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, in which 200 Cheyenne and Arapaho people, mostly women and children, were killed by the 3rd Colorado Cavalry.

Sand Creek Massacre-Eagle Robe-Buffalo Bill Center of the West

The Draper Natural History Museum features exhibits on geology and biology, including Wyoming’s native animals.

Draper Natural History Museum-animal display

You can watch scientists working on specimens in the Draper Museum Living Laboratory Exhibit.

Draper Museum Living Laboratory Exhibit

Isn’t this spectacular? A map made from 27,000 mosaic tiles!

Mosaic-map

And this stunning painting by James Everett Stuart of the Yellowstone Falls and Canyon, part of the Center’s collection,  takes me back to our recent visit to this spectacular feature.

James Everett Stuart-Great Falls and Canyon of the Yellowstone

Our final stop at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue, starring Dan, his daughter Hannah Miller, and Wendy Corr. Here’s a little flavour of their music:

The next morning, after an overnight in Cody, we head out onto the highway. Bus travel at 60 miles an hour makes photography difficult, but the four small scenes below give you an idea of what we pass by. The crop at top right is sugar beets. The formation at lower left is a mesa, a rise weathered away by millions of years of erosion.  At bottom right is a farm field after harvesting. In Wyoming, 80% of water use is farming and agriculture.

Wyoming-Landscape

Somewhat bizarrely, there’s a Museum of Flight and Aerial Firefighting in the middle of the high plains – and it’s our rest stop.

Museum-of-Flight

Wyoming is known for its bentonite clay deposits. This is the stucco facility of Wyo-Ben Inc. at Greybull. You can see the red bentonite on the slope beyond.

Wyo-Ben Bentonite-Greybull

Below is a field of dented corn, used mostly for animal feed (it’s also good for grits). At far right, you can see the bright green of an alfalfa field.

Dented corn field-Greybull Wyoming

Here are some more snapshots of agricultural scenes (I love the beehives, top left)   and geological features in the distance, the beginning of the Bighorns  Bottom left is sandstone; bottom right is limestone (I think).

Wyoming-Landscape-2

Highway 14 takes us east over the Bighorn Mountains, the last of the Rocky Mountain ranges. We’ll be at 9,000 feet elevation at the top.

Highway 14-Shell Canyon-Big Horn Mountains

The scenery is spectacular; we stop and look across the range. The small tree/shrub at the left is Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma). We’re at about 6000 feet here. I believe the pinkish rock on the top of the slope in the distance is Madison group limestone. (But I could be wrong). Geologists refer to that sloping inclination as a monocline.

Bighorn Mountains view

Here’s a closer look at the top. All those blackish dots below are Utah juniper.

Madison group limestones-monocline

Look how the rock is weathered away at the very top.

Weathering-Bighorns

At our lookout, I spot a painted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) nectaring on rabbitbush (Chrysothamnus).

Painted lady-rabbitbush-Bighorn Mountains

As we descend to the eastern side, we pass big grazing ranges.  The Bighorns have skiing, snowmobiling, sheep and cattle grazing, and forestry – apart from their natural beauty. .

Grazing land-Bighorn Mountains

Looking east as we descend, we see the Tongue River Valley; hidden is the Tongue River, which has its source in the Bighorns and flows north to Montana. There is a long history of litigation between the two states, with Montana claiming that Wyoming farmers take too much of the Tongue’s water.  The trees on the slope are Ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa).

Tongue River Valley-Wyoming

We pass the Tongue River Elementary School in Dayton, Wyoming….

Tongue-River-Elementary-Sch

…and it sparks a memory of a song by one of my favourite singers, Nanci Griffith (written by her former husband Eric Taylor). It captures a little of the 19th century lore of this area (a little east into South Dakota), the story of Crazy Horse (whose memorial we’ll see tomorrow) and “young Mickey Free, who lost an eye to a buck deer in the Tongue River Valley”.  (And no, that’s not a photo of Crazy Horse, whose likeness has never been seen in a photograph).  Listen to the words.

Our first look at open coal cars comes near Dayton. Forty percent of America’s coal is mined in this area.

Coal-cars-

And then we arrive at the highlight of our time in Wyoming’s Cowboy country: the TA Ranch.

TA Ranch-Buffalo Wyoming

The ranch has a storied history in Wyoming cattle country lore, for it was the site of the bloody grand finale of the Johnson County cattle wars, between the corporate cattlemen and homesteading ranchers.  (See my video below for more on that episode).

Johnson County-Cattle War

After lunch, we have a number of choices of activities, from taking a wagon ride…..

TA-Ranch-Wagon-Ride

….. to taking a trail ride.  I haven’t been on a horse since I was 10 or so, and the thought frightens me a little, but they look docile and the land is flat (and my husband is willing, and anything he can do….). Thanks to Robert Kelley for the photo.

Janet-Commander-TA Ranch

I make a video from the back of my horse Commander, so I can remember the landscape and the experience better. Here it is!

We also have time to watch TA Ranch’s ‘horse whisperer’ Marchel Kelley work on training a frisky horse. Here’s my video of that experience.

We finish our day at the lovely Ranch at Ucross …..

Ranch at Ucross

….where we have dinner, then sit around the campfire, listening to Katie Wilhelm sing cowboy songs for us before bedtime.  Here’s a Wyoming classic:

As I walked out one morning for pleasure,
I spied a cow-puncher all riding alone;
His hat was throwed back and his spurs was a jingling,
As he approached he was singin’ this song,

Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little dogies,
It’s your misfortune, and none of my own.
Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little dogies,
For you know Wyoming will be your new home.

And a little video of Katie singing:

The next morning we awake to the last full day of our tour. It seems incredible that we have covered so much spectacularly beautiful natural territory in just 5 days, but we’re now leaving Wyoming and heading to the Black Hills of South Dakota to view the work of two men who decide to apply their talents to shaping nature (literally) in order to honour others. But first, a little scenery as we go: cattle near Ranchester, Wyoming….

Cattle near Ranchester

… a coal mine near Caspar….

Coal mine-Wyoming

….and one of many oil rigs in the area.

Oil rig-Wyoming

It takes us less than four hours to reach our first destination, the Crazy Horse Memorial.  Details and background can be found on the website, but in essence, the sculpture is the work of the late sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski (1908-1982) and now his ten adult children, who continue to carve the 600-foot (183 metre) high granite mountain on land that belonged to the Lakota Sioux, fulfilling the pact between the Ziolkowski and the late Oglala Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear (1874-1953), who wrote to him in the late 1930s saying: “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know the red man has great heroes, too”.  This was in response to the carving nearby of Mount Rushmore (1927-1941), memorializing Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. Korczak Ziolkowski had been working – but not happily – as assistant to the head sculptor Gutzon Borglum; their relationship ended with a fistfight. The Crazy Horse Memorial honours the iconic Lakota warrior who led 1500 warriors to defeat General Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, and was killed the following year after surrendering. Little Big Horn was the worst defeat for the army in the Plains Indian War, and the greatest victory for the Indians. As Chief Standing Bear said of the carving:  Crazy Horse was to be seated on his horse with his outstretched hand over the horse’s head indicating, My lands are where my dead lie buried,” in response to a cavalry man asking him where his lands are now.

Crazy Horse-Memorial

After serving with the Army during the WWII, Ziolkowski began carving in 1948, using a scale model he’d made of Crazy Horse – something that can only be called an artistic rendition, since the warrior never permitted his photo to be taken.  This is a plaster rendering of the ultimate design.

Crazy Horse-Model

The final face details were finished in the spring of 1998.

Crazy Horse Memorial face

Almost 70 years after its beginning, trucks, cranes and earth movers replace the rudimentary equipment Ziolkowski used in the first few decades.

Crazy Horse-heavy machinery

On a personal note, about a decade ago I worked intensely with the music of the late California singer-songwriter John Stewart (composer of ‘Daydream Believer’ and 400+ more songs), the goal being to create a theatrical adaptation. During that period, I happened upon John’s tribute to Korczak Ziolkowski, a song I incorporated into my YouTube video on the Crazy Horse Memorial. John’s lyrics attempt to answer the question many have in gazing on this monolithic piece of art:  why would someone devote his life to such a goal?  Have a listen.

Our final destination needs little commentary, for the carved faces at Mount Rushmore form a renowned national monument, one that’s made its way into countless films and books. But if you were sneaking up on it from behind, you’d never know what awaits on the other side.

Mount Rushmore-rear

Move a little further and you see the first president of the United States, George Washington, peeking out over the Ponderosa pines.

Mount Rushmore-George Washington-rear

We arrive at the front of Mount Rushmore and park; then begin the walk to the base of the mountain.

Mount Rushmore-entrance

There are boardwalks that traverse the base of Mount Rushmore, and as I look up, I see a family of mountain goats peering down at the tourists. It’s a little ironic that we find the wildlife here, near the snack bar, when we didn’t see mountain goats in Yellowstone…..

Mountain-goat2-Mount-Rushmo

Given the angles and the height, it’s tricky to see all the presidents from the lower flank of the mountain. But I adore the fact that I can see the aspens and pines below their faces. The carving of the president’s faces was completed between 1934 and 1939.  When Gutzon Boglum died in 1941, his son Lincoln took over working on the presidential torsos, but federal funding ended that autumn, and the carving ended with it, well above the presidential waists.

Mount-Rushmore

Look at Lincoln peering through Ponderosa pine. It’s perfect!

Abraham Lincoln-Mount Rushmore-Ponderosa pines

And George Washington gazing down past trembling aspens.

Mount Rushmore-George-Washington-quaking aspen-Populus tremuloides

Focusing on Washington’s ‘eye’ with my telephoto lens, I’m fascinated that Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln were able to create this reflection in the ‘iris’.

Washington's-eye

President Roosevelt is always in shade, so this is the best I can do with the Rushmore presidents…..

Presidents-Mount-Rushmore

Soon it’s time to head back to the bus and make our way to our hotel In Rapid City, South Dakota. I’m delighted that our room at The Rushmore Hotel seems to evoke a little of our environment over the past six days. I know it’s only wallpaper, but it feels good to be falling asleep in front of aspens.

The Rushmore Hotel-Rapid City

I can’t say enough about Tauck Tours and our host Murray Rose.  Writing this blog, I’ve just returned from a week in Aruba. It was a fine getaway from winter; the sea was turquoise, the sky periwinkle-blue, the people lovely….. but I didn’t gain much knowledge of our planet, even as I relaxed with my books. This trip to the Tetons, Yellowstone and Rushmore filled my head with knowledge. And isn’t that why we travel?