Celebrating Canada’s 150th at Ottawa’s Tulip Festival

On July 1, 2017, Canada celebrates a big birthday – we turn 150! The Dominion of Canada was signed into being in 1867; we were only four provinces then: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. A century-and-a-half later, we are 10 provinces and 3 territories. Our nationhood is acknowledged on the Centennial Flame that has burned in front of the parliament buildings in Ottawa since our centennial in 1967.

Canada Flame-Ottawa

I was in Ottawa last week to visit friends and catch a little of the Canadian Tulip Festival. Though there weren’t many tulips at the Parliament Buildings, I did the requisite “lie flat on the grass and attempt to get both tulips & Peace Tower in the shot”.

Parliament Buildings-Ottawa-Tulip Festival

And since a lovely flame-like tulip called ‘Canada 150’ was introduced this year to commemorate our birthday, I decided to put all the flames together and try to ignite a bonfire!

Canada Flame & 'Canada 150' tulip-montage-Tulip Festival

The weather was perfect and cool when we were there, though the normally dry trail below the Parliament Buildings flanking the Ottawa River was still under water from this spring’s historic flooding of the area.

Flooding-Ottawa River-Parliamenet Buildings-May 2017

We began our tulip quest at lovely Commissioners Park adjacent to Dow’s Lake, where the tulips were splendidly arrayed between the lake….

Commissioner's Park-Tulip Festival-Ottawa

…. and a residential neighbourhood.

Commissioner's Park-houses-Tulip Festival-Ottawa

Everyone was trying their hand at photography…..

Photographer-Ottawa Tulip Festival-Commissioners Park1

….including the serious shutterbugs….


….and those who still seem to have good knees!

Photographer-Ottawa Tulip Festival-Commissiners Park2

Some were mastering the tulip selfie. Smile!

Selfies-Tulip Festival-Commissioners Park-Ottawa

Double-flowered ‘Miranda’ was a big hit (if you like red tulips on steroids….)

Tulipa 'Miranda'-Commissioners Park-Ottawa-Tulip Festival

‘Pretty Princess’ is a sport of old ‘Princes Irene’.

Tulipa 'Pretty Princess'-Commissioners Park-Ottawa-Tulip Festival

I liked this citrus-flavoured tulip mix.

Tulips-Commissioners Park-Dow Lake-Ottawa-Tulip Festival2

‘Ottawa’ is just one of a number of tulips named for Canadian cities.

Tulipa 'Ottawa'-Commissioners Park-Ottawa-Tulip Festival

‘Calgary’ is a pure white Triumph tulip.

Tulipa 'Calgary'-Commissioners Park-Ottawa-Tulip Festsival

And I’m sure there’s a joke somewhere in ‘Double Toronto’, especially if you come from elsewhere in Canada.  As in: “Q. Why are Toronto tulips double? A. Because they think they’re twice as good as the other cities.”

Tulipa 'Double Toronto'-Commissioners Park-Tulip Festsival-Ottawa

Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of massive blocks of tulips in one colour, whether it’s at the Keukenhof in the Netherlands or Ottawa. I do understand they attract crowds to public places, especially in a city that features winter for half the year. And as a stock photographer, I do love finding well-grown, labelled plants to shoot. However, as a tulip-lover, I’m partial to naturalistic designs incorporating them with perennials, as I illustrate in this video of my own front garden yesterday. But if I had to name a favourite planting at Commissioner’s, this would be the one – a big, happy circus of tulips.

Tulips-Commissioners Park-Dow Lake-Ottawa-Tulip Festival

There were more than just tulips in the park, like these lovely late daffodils….

Commissioner's Park-daffodils-Tulip Festival 2017

….. and this spectacular mix of ‘Rembrandt’ hyacinths and ‘Blue Magic‘ grape hyacinths (Muscari).

Muscari 'Blue Magic' & Hyacinth 'Rembrandt'-Tulip Festival-Commissioners Park-Ottawa

There is also a row of interpretive signs at Commissioners Park describing the origins of the Tulip Festival, the first 100,000 bulbs a gift from Princess Juliana and the Netherlands in dual gratitude to Canada for providing a safe haven for her during the 2nd World War and also for liberating the country in spring 1945. The Netherlands royal family and Dutch bulb growers continue to send 10,000 bulbs to Canada each year.

Tulip Festival-interpretive sign-Netherlands Gift.

On our second full day of three in Ottawa, we visited Major’s Hill Park, across from the beautiful, Moshe Safdie-designed National Gallery.


I loved this view of the Gallery’s atrium through elderberry flowers (Sambucus pubens).

Sambucus pubens-Elderberry-National Gallery-Ottawa

This is the National Gallery entrance, from a previous visit.

National Gallery of Canada-entrance-Ottawa

And since we’re here, this is ‘Maman’ by the late French-American artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), in tribute to her mother. At the time, in 2005, its $3.2 million price tag made it the most expensive artwork acquired by the gallery.

Maman-National Gallery of Canada-Louise Bourgeois-Ottawa

Behind ‘Maman’ is the Notre Dame Cathedral, with its twin spires that peek out over this cloud of serviceberry flowers (Amelanchier) from the park.

Amelanchier-serviceberry & Notre Dame Cathedral spires-Ottawa

There were lots of tulip-lovers at this centrally-located site, which has a spectacular view of the Parliament Buildings and the Ottawa River….

Parliament Buildings & Ottawa River

…. and the Douglas Cardinal-designed Canadian Museum of History across the river in Gatineau, Quebec. Both the National Gallery landscape and the landscape of the Museum were designed by Vancouver’s renowned Cornelia Hahn Oberlander.

Canadian Museum of History-Douglas Cardinal design-Ottawa

Little children ran around the brilliant tulips.

Major's Hill Park-Tulip Festival-Ottawa

I have a special place in my heart for tulips that perform this brave task on behalf of misfits everywhere.

Single red tulip-Tulip Festival-Ottawa

It was in Major’s Hill Park that I photographed the ‘Canada 150’ tulip…..

Tulipa 'Canada 150'-Ottawa Tulip Festival

….with its white-edged leaves.

Tulipa 'Canada 150'-Ottawa

At the top of a rise, there’s a pretty tulip bed leading to the monument honouring Lieutenant-Colonel John By.

Tulips-Colonel By Monument-Ottawa-Tulip Festival

His statue looks out over the Ottawa River, which leads to the downtown locks and the Rideau Canal, his great engineering achievement on behalf of the British in the 1830s (and a fabulous winter skating rink for the people of Ottawa).  His name is also memorialized in the nearby and fashionable Byward Market.

Lieutenant Colonel John By-Statue-Ottawa

As the engineer in charge of this grand engineering project, By lived in a home on this site with a wonderful view of the river, Chaudières Falls and the Gatineau Hills.  “Colonel By lived with his wife and two daughters in an ornate, cottage-style home. Visitors were charmed by the residence with its English gardens and surrounding pastures.” In 1848, long after he’d returned to England and the house was occupied by other officers, it was destroyed by fire, leaving the foundation cornerstones as part of a living museum here.

Lieutenant-Colonel John By House Foundation-Ottawa

As my patriotic effort for this, our Sesquicentennial year I made a video of our Tulip Festival sojourn, complete with stirring national anthem soundtrack, followed by a lovely bit of music by an English composer named T.R.G. Banks, who generously makes his music available as public domain. Happy birthday, Canada. And many happy returns!



A Tour of My Spring Garden

Come along with me on a little tour of my garden in mid-May!  I’ve meant to do this for several years, and this is the perfect week, since the cool weather up til today has kept everything looking good. Not just that, but I splurged last autumn and bought quite a few spring bulbs from my pal Caroline de Vries, who owns Tradewinds International in Mississauga, Ontario. And my pal Sara Katz planted most of them. But for some reason, loads of my old tulips seem to have multiplied this spring, adding to the party. Let’s start in my front garden. Isn’t this fun?  Though I’ve picked a lot of pinks and oranges, that luscious, black ‘Queen of Night’ is absolutely essential to make this garden ‘zing’.

Tulips-Janet Davis Front Garden-Toronto

Here’s a closer look, with the creamy fothergilla shrub and dainty ‘Thalia’ daffodils.

Tulips-Janet Davis Front Garden2-Toronto

Study the first two photos and you’ll see that my spring bulbs emerge in a sea of green foliage. While a front garden full of invasive, agressive lily-of-the-valley might provide a beautiful, fragrant background for all these bright hues, it’s definitely not recommended as a design tool. Nevertheless, if you happened to read last spring’s blog about how to make a fresh-picked lily-of-the-valley hat, you’ll know that I’ve done my best to come to terms with these perfumed thugs.

Lily-of-the-valley-invasive-Janet Davis garden

I love finding pretty groupings to photograph, like the one below.  And that dusty-rose tulip is a bit of a mystery. It might have been mislabelled – I didn’t order it – but it looks like ‘Champagne Diamond’.

Tulips-Janet Davis front garden

It’s pretty gorgeous, whatever it is…..

Tulipa 'Champagne Diamond'

I have nine Fothergilla gardenii plants in amongst the spring bulbs. Their foliage turns spectacular colours in autumn.

Fothergilla gardenii-Janet Davis garden-Toronto

Here are some of my favourite tulips. Let’s start with an oldie, ‘Perestroika’. This tall, late-flowered cottage tulip has multiplied over the years.

Tulipa 'Perestroika'-Janet Davis Garden

And ‘Carnaval de Nice’ has stuck around pretty well, too.

Tulipa 'Carnaval de Nice'-Janet Davis Garden

This is ‘Crispion Sweet’ – isn’t it lovely?

Tulipa 'Crispion Sweet'-Janet Davis garden-Toronto

‘Rococo’ is a luscious parrot tulip – and parrots are usually divas when it comes to longevity. But I planted these several years ago.Tulipa 'Rococo'-Janet Davis garen-Toronto

Here’s the lovely, late tulip ‘Dordogne’, below right, with ‘Queen of Night’.

Tulipa 'Queen of Night' & 'Dordogne'-Janet Davis Garden-Toronto

There are loads of daffodils in the front garden as well. I decided to stick with white to cool down this hot-coloured scheme, so there’s a combination of ‘Thalia’ with (below) pure white ‘Stainless’ and orange-centred, spicily-perfumed ‘Geranium’.

Narcissus 'Geranium'-Janet Davis garden-Toronto

The Back Yard

I have more spring happening in the back garden, so let’s head there. It might be fun for you to see it from my bedroom window.  That big cloud of white in the centre is Malus ‘Red Jade’, my lovely weeping crabapple planted over the little pond.

Back garden-upper view-Janet Davis-Toronto

If we head down to the deck, you get the view below.  That’s fragrant snowball viburnum (V. x carlcephalum) right in front of the deck, just about to open its incredibly-perfumed flower clusters.  The garden was designed to flow from the deck to the dining patio, which makes summer entertaining fun.

Back garden-Janet Davis-Toronto-Malus 'Red Jade'

This is a closer view of ‘Red Jade’. It’s an alternate-bearer, meaning every other year it puts on a great show like this, followed by masses of tiny red fruit.  It flowers very sparsely in the ‘off’ years.

Malus 'Red Jade'-pond garden

Here’s a view of the back of the house, from under the crabapple.

Janet Davis House-through crabapple

I’ve had the pagoda lantern for a long time. Though this little garden isn’t classically Japanese, it had a bit of that feel, so I though the lantern worked with the pond.

Malus 'Red Jade'-Janet Davis garden

I love this fresh combination in the lily pond garden, underplanted with self-seeded forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica).  Later, there is magenta phlox here.

Daffodil & Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'-Janet Davis Garden

The back garden is on the north side of the house, so it’s shadier. The tulips in my west border here tend to be surrounded by ostrich ferns, which would fill the entire garden if I let them.

Pink tulips & Ostrich ferns-Janet Davis Garden

This is ‘Mona Lisa’ – isn’t she lovely?

Tulipa 'Mona Lisa'-Janet Davis garden

‘Ballade’ is one of my favourite tulips – a very good perennializer.

Tulipa 'Ballade'-Janet Davis Garden

‘Texas Flame’ is no shrinking violet (!) and though I started with eight or so, I still have one or two that return each spring.

Tulipa 'Texas Flame'-Janet Davis Garden

If I ever knew the name of the orange beauty below, I’ve forgotten it.

Tulip orange

Same with this lovely, lily-flowered tulip…. maybe ‘Jacqueline’?

Tulipa - lily flowered -Janet Davis garden-Toronto

Native  Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) bloom in the ferns with the late tulips.

Mertensia virginica-Virginia bluebell-Janet Davis garden-Toronto

Where it’s sunnier, in the front as well as the back, there is elegant camassia (C. leichtlinii).

Camassia leichtlinii-Janet Davis Garden-Toronto

In my west side garden, Burkwood’s viburnum (V. x burkwoodii) is filled with fragrant blooms this year.

Viburnum x burkwoodii-Janet Davis-Toronto Garden

To access my east side garden, there’s a gate from the driveway fitted with a rusty, old heating grate. Have a peek down the path…..

Garden gate-see through grate-Janet Davis-Toronto

Let’s go in and walk down it   If you look back, you can see the gate.  See the arched stems of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum)? They’re one of my favourite natives and so easy to grow.  That’s European ginger (Asarum europeaeum) at the base of the black walnut tree.

Solomon's Seals & path-Janet Davis garden

There are bleeding hearts in this pathway, too.

Bleeding heart-Dicentra spectabilis-Janet Davis garden

So that’s my garden in mid-May!  I’ll leave you with this little video of my 2-year-old grandson Oliver, who enjoyed “tiptoeing through the tulips” in a thunderstorm a few days ago. Toddlers and tulips….. time is fleeting, and I’ve learned to enjoy them both for the short time they’re around!


May in the David C. Lam Asian Garden at UBC

On my frequent visits ‘home’ to Vancouver, I always make a point of visiting the UBC Botanical Garden. I spent time on the campus about a million years ago, but my sensibilities were not garden-related at the time, given I was in my late teens. But 50 years later, it’s become for me a vital part of the leafy paradise that sits at the edge of the Salish Sea, those bay-and-cove inland waters of the Pacific Ocean.

UBC Botanical Garden-map

Though I’ve blogged about their beautiful, May-flowering Garry Oak Meadow before, today I want to explore The David C. Lam Asian Garden, below.

David C. Lam-Asian Garden-Map-UBC Botanical

The garden was named for British Columbia’s 25th Lieutenant-Governor, David C. Lam (1923-2010). A successful real estate developer and philanthropist, Mr. Lam also helped to fund Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

David C. Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

As you enter in spring, you’ll be tempted by the lovely little gift shop, but leave that until you depart. But do note the educational displays featuring plants from the garden, like redvein enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus), below.

Enkianthus campanulatus-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

Move into the garden proper, and you’ll soon see a lovely pond surrounded by Persicaria bistorta and various rodgersias.

Pond-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

There are Himalayan blue poppies (Meconopsis baileyi), of course…

Meconopsis on path-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

…and they love growing near primroses (P. veris).Primula veris & Meconopsis-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

This is gorgeous ‘Lingholm’ blue poppy with its purplish cast.

Meconopsis 'Lingholm'-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

I adore being under the towering hemlocks and red cedars. It takes me back to my British Columbia childhood.

Tsuga heterophylla-Hemlock-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

In this forest, native sword ferns are plentiful, and amidst the fallen logs, you can see the small rhododendron specimens newly planted.

Sword ferns & rhododendron-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

If you’re feeling brave, you can pay extra to walk the educational Greenheart Tree Walk, alone or with a guide for the scheduled, daily tours.

Tree-Canopy Walker-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

There’s nothing like being up in the canopy with the birds. I heard a great horned owl when I was there last week.

Tree Canopy Walk-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

The spectacular forest here is second growth, with considerable cutting done in the 1930s. Nevertheless, there are 500-600 year old Douglas firs, like the famous eagle-perching tree, below, with its bald eagle aboard.Eagle-perching tree-Pseudotsuga menziesii-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

May is when the Asian Garden shines, with its vast collection of camellias……

Camellia japonica-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

….and magnolias, including common star magnolia (M. stellata), below, but many rare and endangered species, such as early-blooming and critically-endangered Magnolia zenii, as well.

Magnolia stellata-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

There are myriad rhododendrons, such as R. rigidum arched over the path, below…..

Rhododendron rigidum-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

…and the tiny R. senghkuense, lovingly planted in the bark of a fallen red cedar, which approximates its preferred substrate….

Rhododendron senghkuense-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

….and numerous other rhodos, including those in my montage, below.

Rhododendrons-David C. Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

The David C. Lam Asian Garden is renowned internationally for its collection of 130 maples, the second most significant collection in the world.  Among them are the rugged, hardy Manchurian maple, Acer mandschuricum…..

Acer mandshuricum-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

….Acer pauciflorum, below….

Acer pauciflorum-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

Acer japonicum ‘O-isami’, below…..

Acer japonicum'O-isami'-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

…the lovely fullmoon maple Acer shirasawanum ‘Palmatifolium’, below….

Acer shirasawanum 'Palmatifolium'-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

Acer elegantulum, below….

Acer elegantulum-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

…and Siebold’s maple, Acer sieboldianum, below, among many, many others.

Acer sieboldianum-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

There are hundreds of other flowering shrubs and trees, like Asian spicebush (Lindera erythrocarpa)….

Lindera erythrocarpa-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

…the enchanting Chinese styrax-parasol tree (Melliodendron xylocarpum)…..

Melliodendron xylocarpum-parasol tree flowers-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical Garden

….with its delightful umbella-shaped blooms. It’s one of my favourite small trees.

Melliodendron xylocarpum-parasol tree-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

There are Asian lindens like Tilia intonsa from Taiwan…..

Tilia intonsa-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical Garden

…and rare hornbeams, like the monkey-tail hornbeam Carpinus fangiana, below….

Carpinus fangiana-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

…and mountain ashes such as Sorbus meliosmifolia….

Sorbus meliosmifolia-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

…the Chinese yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium)….

Xanthoceras sorbifolium-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

…. and the wondrous Rehderodendron macrocarpum, now threatened because of logging in southwest China.

Rehderodendron macrocarpum-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical Garden

I love the way this Chinese horse chestnut, Aesculus assamica growing beneath a massive native B.C. hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), symobolizes the successful marriage of the second-growth forest here with the Asian flora within it.

Aesculus assamica-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

Though you’re in a mature forest full of towering British Columbia conifers, you’ll also find some Asian species, like the Chinese plum yew, Cephalotaxus sinensis, below.

Cephalotaxus-sinensis-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

There are fairly common viburnums, like Viburnum davidii, V. henryi, and the cinnamon-leaved viburnum, V. cinnamomifolium, below…..

Viburnum cinnamomifolium-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

…and rarer ones, like Viburnum chingii.

Viburnum chingii-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical Garden

And this pale-yellow weigela (W. middendorffiana) is a rare beauty from Japan and northern China.

Weigela middendorffiana-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

…and I think this pink deutzia (Deutzia calycosa) that grows at elevation in Sichuan – where it’s called 大萼溲疏 or “da e sou shu” – is delightful.

Deutzia calycosa-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

Look at beautiful Ludlow’s peony (Paeonia ludlowii), below.  In Tibet, they call it lumaidao meaning “God’s flower”.

Paeonia ludlowii-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

I spend my time turning labels around so I can record the names to match my photos later….

Stauntonia hexaphylla-label-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

….like this evergreen vine from Japan and Korea, Stauntonia hexaphylla.

Stauntonia hexaphylla-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

Here is the pink form of Clematis montana scrambling up an evergreen in the forest.

Clematis montana-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

Paths through the garden commemorate the work of many storied plant explorers who collected throughout Asia.

Explorer path signs-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

Here is a collection of some of the historic names – all leading somewhere in the garden and helping to map the species.  The signpost “Straley” honours the late Gerald Straley, who was Curator of Collections at UBC until his untimely death in 1998.

Asia-Explorers-Signposts-David Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

The sign below honours the late David C. Lam garden curator and plant explorer Peter Wharton, who sadly passed away in 2008. These days, when he’s not in the garden, curator Andy Hill can be found on the slopes of Chinese or Vietnamese mountains plant-hunting with the likes of Dan Hinkley of Washington, or with Douglas Justice, Associate Director of Horticulture & Collections at UBC Botanical.

Peter Wharton-path sign-David-Lam Asian Garden-UBC Botanical

If you still have the energy after traversing all the bark mulch paths in the David Lam garden, do take the tunnel under Marine Drive and head over to the sunny side of the street where you’ll find the Garry Oak garden, the alpine garden, and the beautiful British Columbia Native Plant Garden. And if you see my pal, curator Ben Stormes, there – be sure to say hello!

David Lam Asian Garden-Tunnel under Marine Drive-UBC Botanical

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)…..


….. 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


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.