Peg Bier’s Leafy Virginia Oasis

I first met Peg Bier this June at the opening party of our Garden Bloggers’ Fling at Willowsford Farm in Ashburn, Virginia. She looked lovely! It was fun to think we were going to be seeing Peg’s garden a few days later – the Fling write-up called her a “local gardening legend”.

Peg Bier-Willowsford Farm

Later in the tour, I spotted her chatting animatedly with another Fling attendee, Gryphon Corpus, soaking up the garden vibes at Meadowlark Botanical Garden in Vienna, VA.

Peg Bier & Gryphon Corpus-Meadowlark Botanical Garden

But the best sighting of Peg Bier was in the driveway of her own home in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, where her large, 2.5 acre woodland garden appeared a leafy oasis in a neighbourhood of neat and tidy lawns.

Peg Bier

Even in the driveway, there were clues that this was not just the domain of a gardener, but a collector and artist as well.

Peg Bier-Succulent Display

Peg has lived in this pretty house for 58 years, raising four children with her late architect husband Richard and teaching her twelve grandchildren the fine art of gardening.

Peg Bier-House

As for that “local gardening legend” billing, for 25 years (1990-2015) Peggy had been a television personality on the show Merrifield’s Gardening Advisor produced by Merrifield’s Garden Center, (which we visited on the Fling, below), where she continues to work part-time as a garden specialist.  Imagine having this as your plant source…….

Merrifield Garden Center-plants

…. and this as your outdoor furnishings resource! (I could have spent a lot of $$ here, but contented myself with a sweet purple birdhouse and some windchimes.)

Merrifield Garden Center-decor

P.S. – A big thank you to Merrifield Garden Centers for hosting the garden bloggers.

Merrifield Garden Center-Garden Bloggers Fling

Here’s a little taste of Peg on the show, chatting with host Debbie Warhurst Capp about shade plants inspired by her own garden, which she calls a ‘nature preserve’ with its foxes and opossums.

Back to our tour.  As we moved into the back garden, I gazed up and saw a canopy of mature oak trees….

Oak canopy-Peg Bier

….and some tulip poplars (Liriodendron tulipifera) as well.  Keep in mind that this miniature forest is a literal ‘island of wild’ in a ‘desert of tame’. Residential development swallowed the land surrounding the Bier home, but Peg held on under her big trees.

Tulip tree-Liriodendron tulipifera-Peg Bier

Immediately behind the house is a roomy deck with a table big enough to seat a lot of family. And I loved the deck boards placed on the diagonal.

Peg Bier-Table & sundeck

And a comfy chaise for reading and relaxing.

Peg Bier-green chaise

If you took some time to watch the video above, you’ll know that Peg has hewn lots of paths out of the shade-dappled understory. This is her favourite path material: crushed ‘red stone” on top of landscape fabric. And look at that textural shade planting!

Peg Bier-Crushed red stone path

But it’s not all about the plants. Over the years, Peg has created little sitting areas out of the woodland. This is one I loved, atop a flagstone patio.

Peg Bier-patio

Much of her seasonal colour comes courtesy of inspired container combinations. Look at these cobalt-blue accents – and of course, the perfect complementary colour contrast in the orange Bolivian and Rieger begonias!

Peg Bier-Blue glazed accents

And I loved this little vignette, with French bistro table and chairs painted aquamarine. What a lovely place to have lunch!

Peg Bier-Aquamarine bistro table

With such a large property to tend, I wonder if Peg ever has time to sit in one of these lovely Adirondack chairs?

Peg Bier-Red Adirondack chairs

Another sitting area featured bricks laid around a mature tree.  The understory in the woodland includes natives like redbud (Cercis canadensis), fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) and dogwood (Cornus florida), as well as shrubs and small trees Peg has planted including aucuba, mahonia, camellia, nandina, sweet box (Sarcococca), Japanese maples (many grown by Peg from seed), hydrangea and boxwood everywhere.

Peg Bier-circular brick patio

Everywhere there were containers of tropicals mixed with luscious shade plants.  And more of those lovely orbs!

Peg Bier-Alocasia & tropicals

And loads of grasses! Variegated Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’) is a particular favourite of Peg’s.

Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance'-Peg Bier

Speaking of grasses, she loves dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus), too – and what a spectacular use of it, below.

Peg Bier-Mondo Grass-triangle

At the far end of the property, in the sunniest spot, there was a deer-proof enclosed garden filled with sun-loving perennials, vegetables and herbs, all mulched with pine needles.

Peg Bier-Deeproof veggie garden

Tomatoes are grown in containers here.

Peg Bier-Tomato-in pot

And there’s even the odd rooster.

Peg Bier-Rooster Art

I wanted to walk every path, but time was running out!  How beautiful is this?  Imagine those hellebores in early spring.

Peg Bier-Flagstone path

I found a bathtub with a spouting frog….

Peg Bier-Bathtub Fountain

…. and a few fairies. (Peg loves fairy gardens.)

Fairies-Peg Bier garden

This pretty path was near the front of the property…..

Stepping stone path-Peg Bie

…. where I found concrete stepping stones embossed with the handprints of all Peg’s grandchildren. Isn’t that lovely?

Grandchildren steppingstone-handprint-Peg Bier

At the very front where the neighbours can see them was a glorious profusion of sun-loving perennials…..

Sun perennials-Peg Bier

…. as if celebrating colour and fragrance on the edge of this shady forest…..

Colourful perennials-Peg Bier

…..and the grace of bees.

Bumble bee on echinacea-Peg Bier

The bus was loading and I made my way along a split-rail fence, sniffing this luscious trumpet lily as I took a last look at Peg’s garden.

Trumpet lily-Peg Bier

But as I was climbing up the bus steps, I heard her cry, “Oh, no. I forgot to show everyone my special garden.”  I wondered where that could be, since every part of this big garden had seemed “special” to me.  I thought it wouldn’t hurt to run back for two minutes, so I followed her back into the woodland. And there it was, her beautiful little memorial garden to her late husband.

Memorial garden-Richard Bier

Having spent time with Peg, talking with her and learning a little about her, I thought how special that marriage must have been, and how his presence must still be so strong in this lovely garden where family is cherished above all.

Memorial stone-Richard Bier

And then it really was time to go.

Siri Luckow: The Garden as Wildlife Sanctuary

Siri Luckow’s  garden won first place in the Environmental category in a city-wide garden contest, and on her street in the northern part of Toronto it stands out as a beacon of hope in a desert of lawns.  Look at this, in late spring.  It’s hardly a sacrifice in the name of the environment, is it?

Siri Luckow-Front garden

She proudly proclaims her intention with this beautiful garden right out front, where passersby can be inspired.

Backyard habitat sign-Siri Luckow

I visited Siri’s garden first in 2015 with a group of garden bloggers, and she was a delightful host.

Siri Luckow-Toronto

I then asked to return the following year to absorb a little more of what can be done on a small property, like the drainage made possible by a dry stream bed.

Dry stream-Siri Luckow

In her front yard, Siri mixes lots of natives, like the dwarf chinkapin oak (Quercus prinoides)….

Siri Luckow-Quercus prinoides-dwarf chinkapin oak

….with old-fashioned non-native favourites like tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa).

Paeonia-Siri Luckow

But it’s not all ‘native this’ and ‘non-native’ that. Siri’s garden contains loads of edibles as well, front and back. In her front garden, she mixes shrubs like gooseberries….


….and blueberries with the ornamentals….

Blueberries-Siri Luckow

…. and she includes leafy crops in her containers, too. Here’s kale with pansies.

Kale & Pansies-Siri Luckow

Moving around to the back, you’re greeted with a lovely flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) underplanted with sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum).

Cornus florida-Flowering dogwood

Nearby in a sunny spot is the vegetable garden.

Vegetables-Siri Luckow

In her shade garden, Siri grows ostrich ferns and white bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Albus’)….

Shady garden-Siri Luckow

…. and spring natives like (Geranium maculatum)….

Geranium maculatum-wild geranium

…. and this uncommon white form of Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica f. alba).

Mertensia virginica f. alba-White Virginia bluebells

There are beautiful painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum), paired here with the foliage of early-flowering native bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).

Japanese painted fern & bloodroot

Siri’s garden art tends to be organic and ecological, like this rotting tree section melting into cranesbills (Geranium sp.)….

Geranium & tree trunk-Siri Luckow

…. and this vine sphere…..

Vine sculpture-Siri Luckow

…. and this dead branch cradling a smooth rock.

Stone sculpture-Siri Luckow

There’s a bit of lawn in the sunny part, and behind it a wonderful mini-woodland that acts as ‘edge’ habitat, bringing many birds.

Back garden-Siri Luckow

Chickadees nest in a house Siri set up here…

Chickadee nesting box-Siri Luckow

….and birds are able to secure nesting material in the wool holder or nesting ball that hangs in the garden.

Bird-nesting wool-Siri Luckow

There are always birds feeding here. Here’s a male northern cardinal eating from a simple plastic plant pot feeder,

Cardinal male-flowerpot birdfeeder-Siri Luckow

…and the female eating a sunflower seed, too.

Cardinal female

Hidden away in the trees is a brush pile for birds and other wildlife – the value of which too few gardeners understand.

Brush pile habitat

It’s easy to plant some pussytoes (Antennaria sp.)……

Antennaria flowers

…. and wait for the painted lady butterfly to lay its eggs on the leaves, which then become the larval caterpillar’s diet.

Painted Lady Caterpillar on Antennaria

Siri’s sunny woodland front features native shrubs like Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus)…

Calycanthus floridus-Carolina allspice

…. and native trees like the paw paw (Asimina triloba), with its dusky maroon flowers…..

Asimina triloba-Paw paw flower

…. and native perennials like prairie smoke (Geum triflorum).

Geum triflorum-Prairie smoke

But she’s a plant collector, too – so there are a few rarities like Syringa afghanica.

Syringa afghanica-Siri Luckow

During the Garden Bloggers’ Fling in 2015, we were invited to climb the ladder to look at the Luckows’ Green Roof. Here’s Toronto garden designer Sara Katz taking a photo under tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipfera)….

Green roof-Siri Luckow-Sara Katz photographing

… and here’s my photograph of the top of the roof.

Green roof-Siri Luckow

Thank you Siri (belatedly) for opening up your garden to gardeners – and to the rest of the wild creatures you welcome daily.

Cordial Chartreuse on the Garden Menu

When you mix green with yellow in equal portions, you get a mountain range in the southeast of France (Massif de la Chartreuse); the Carthusian Monks of the region, whose order was founded in 1084; “charterhouse”, the English translation of chartreuse (and the designation for the Carthusian monasteries which were chartered, or given financial support, by the Duke of Burgundy); and the cordial Green Chartreuse, brewed by said monks from distilled alcohol aged with approximately 130 flowers, plants and herbs featuring cinnamon, mace, lemon balm, dried hyssop flower tops, peppermint, thyme, costmary, arnica flowers and angelica roots, among many other ingredients.  The eponymous colour of that liqueur, said to be the “elixir of life” when its recipe was granted to the monks in a 1605 manuscript, is the luminous colour I want to blog about today.

Chatreuse Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

Charteuse, lime, golden-green, khaki…. In reality, there is a broad range of yellowed greens and a broad range of foliage plants that fit the description. But when that dollop of yellow is added to the green (well, when the plant rejects certain yellow light waves along with the green ones, as it powers photosynthesis), it results in a plant that will add a pool of shimmering light to the garden, especially to shady corners. Perhaps it’s a perennial like Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’, below.

Aralia cordata 'Sun King'

Or a tree like the ‘Frisia’ black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), where it’s hardy.

Robinia psesudoacacia 'Frisia'

Or perhaps a shrub like the beautiful Japanese spirea ‘Ogon’ (Spiraea thunbergii), below, at Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

Chanticleer-Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon' It might be the delightful ‘Hearts of Gold’ redbud tree (Cercis canadensis), below, also at Chanticleer (and kept ‘stooled’ or pruned to the ground each spring to promote bright new growth). In front of it is another excellent chartreuse-leafed shrub, Magic Carpet spirea, (Spiraea japonica ‘Walbuma’) with its cerise-pink flowers.

Chanticleer-Cercis 'Hearts of Gold' & Spirea Magic Carpet

Then there’s the lovely, old-fashioned perennial Filipendula ulmaria ‘Aurea’, shown below in a border at Chanticleer’s Tennis Garden.

Chanticleer-Filipendula ulmaria 'Aurea' It’s easy to use perennials to add that shot of lime punch, especially if you select from the huge roster of hostas that fit the bill. Here are just a few ideas.

Chartreuse Hostas

I was wowed by the sumptuous, big Hosta montana ‘Aureo-Marginata’ in the Montreal Botanical Garden’s fabulous shade garden. Here it is with Phlox divaricata keeping it company.

Hosta montana 'Aurea-Marginata'

And in my own garden, a trio of big ‘Zounds’ hostas lights up an east-facing border, along with old-fashioned yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata).

Hosta 'Zounds' & Lysimachia punctata

Another workhouse chartreuse perennial is the bleeding heart Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ (formerly Dicentra). Here it is in bloom at VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver with the dark-red tulip ‘Queen of Night’. What a gorgeous combo!

Van Dusen Gardens-Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Gold Heart'

And here it is in the Shade Garden at Montreal Botanical with the feathery (and unusual) annual Asparagus tenuifolius.  Talk about a hit of sunshine.

MBG-Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Gold Heart' & Asparagus tenuifolius

One of my favourite new shrubs is the Tiger Eye sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailmer’). I grow it in my own garden and love its chartreuse leaves in summer, that turn a delicious apricot-orange in autumn. But I adored this border at Montreal Botanical Garden, where it served as a brilliant backdrop for a sensuous ensemble of plants, including goldenrod, Tuscan kale, heuchera, little bluestem grass and ‘Cherry Brandy’ rudbeckias.

Montreal Botanical Garden-Rhus Tiger Eyes

Euphorbias, anyone? Chartreuse needn’t just be leaves, either. This was a simple but striking spring pairing under trees at Montreal Botanical Garden: ostrich ferns (Matteucia struthiopteris) with marsh spurge (Euphorbia palustris).

Montreal Botanical Garden-Euphorbia palustris & Matteucia struthiopteris

A massed planting of lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) in flower offers a spectacular lime punch, especially when paired with other June beauties like the alliums and catmint (Nepeta racemosa) co-starring here at the Toronto Botanical Garden.  And note that drift of ‘Isla Gold’ tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) behind the lady’s mantle, another stellar chartreuse plant.

TBG-Alchemilla mollis & Nepeta racemosa

Speaking of the Toronto Botanical Garden, every year I enjoy the way annual plants are used in fabulous container arrangements (by the uber-talented Paul Zammit). That was especially true of this big, tropical-themed urn, with its frilly, variegated ‘Indian Dunes’ pelargoniums. Look how perfectly those wine-red markings in the leaves echo the spiky ‘Red Star’ cordyline in the centre.

TBG-Pelargonium 'Indian Dunes'

I also loved this line of window boxes at the Toronto Botanical Garden, with their repeated use of the Japanese forest grass ‘All Gold’ (Hakonechloa macra), punctuated by the tender ‘Goldcrest’ Monterey cypresses (Cupressus macrocarpa) behind.

TBG-Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold'

The more common Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, shown with Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) below, is no slouch in the looks department either.

RBG-Mertensia virginica & Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

And what about this delightful, chartreuse double-bill in Shari Ezyk’s Etobicoke, Ontario garden?  Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ with Lamium maculatum ‘Beedham’s White’.

Shari Ezyk-Hakoechloa macra 'Aureola' & Lamium maculatum 'Beedham's White'

Another chartreuse grass I adore is Bowles’ Golden Sedge (Carex elata ‘Aurea’). Here it is at VanDusen Botanical Garden with Stachys macrantha ‘Superba’.

Van Dusen Gardens-Carex elata 'Aurea' & Stachys

There are many chartreuse annuals that will add oomph to a border or container. In my own garden, I’ve tried several over the years in my deck pots, like this golden oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’) accenting orange, pink and red geraniums.

Origanum vulgare 'Aureum'

In Marnie Wright’s Bracebridge, Ontario country garden, the popular ‘Margarita’ sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas) looks particularly charming in a rustic windowbox. I love the way it pairs with the orange blackeyed susan vine (Thunbergia alata).

Marnie Wright-Ipomoea batatas 'Margarita'

Another sweet potato vine that acts as a good foil is Ipomoea batatas ‘Illusion Emerald Lace’, shown below with blue and purple salvias at the Montreal Botanical Garden.

Montreal Botanical Garden-Ipomoea batatas 'Illusion Emerald Lace'

Apart from plants, of course, there are myriad ways to add a splash of chartreuse via furnishings, stains and paints, and funky little accents. No one does ‘funky colour’ better than Portland’s Nancy Goldman. Here she shows just how creative you can get with an old pair of party pumps. I love this idea.

Nancy Goldman-Succulent High Heel

Nancy’s garden has a fun party vibe, especially with the paper lanterns that go perfectly with that lime-green hosta below.  And how cool paired with the blues.

Nancy Goldman-Party Lanterns

You’re not always sure what you’re seeing in Nancy’s garden, so I’m not sure if this chartreuse rail really was meant to be a home for marbles. But it’s an eye-catcher!

Nancy Goldman-Marble Rail

After all this garden touring, let’s finish up by taking a rest in a pair of comfy chartreuse garden chairs nestled in the long grasses in Chanticleer’s Bell’s Run Woods. Time to put our feet up — and maybe try a sip of that flowery cordial crafted by those French monks. Bottoms up!

Chanticleer-Green chairs in Bell's Woodland

Green as in Irish, Green as in Garden

Unlike most of my Paintbox Garden ruminations on colour, this one has a slightly more whimsical, personal approach. After all, March (my scheduled green month via my New Year’s resolution), contains St. Patrick’s Day — so two birds with one blog. Green Array-Janet Davis Ask anyone in my family what my favourite colour is, and they will all know the answer: green. My bedroom walls are kiwi-green; my kitchen is celery-green; our summer cottage is stained sage-green. Even my car is forest-green. My Green Subaru Outback

My clothes (many of them, anyway) are shades of green, from bright chartreuse to olive, no matter the season. Janet Davis-Green-Summer & Winter

Perhaps my passion for green comes from having family roots on the Emerald Isle. This pile of stone and slate is all that remained of my grandfather’s childhood home and blacksmith stable in what was once Kilkinamurry, near Banbridge, County Down, in Northern Ireland. I took the photo when we visited the ‘old country’ in 2008. But look at those lovely spring-green fields!  Green as in Ireland!

Campbell House & Blacksmith Shop ruins-County Down

The old Campbell house and blacksmith shop on Glen Corner, as we found it in May 2008 on our trip around Northern Ireland.

This (below) is how it looked in 1917. My great-grandmother Ellen Ann, the gardener, and great-grandfather Patrick Campbell are there in the centre, with some of their children and grandchildren around them, the men in their blacksmith aprons.  My grandfather, also named Patrick (Paddy) Campbell and also a blacksmith, had already immigrated to Canada in 1911.

Campbell Family House & Blacksmith Shop- Glen Corner-County Down

From left, daughter Maggie (m. Cooney), granddaughter Minnie McIvor, Ellen Ann, Patrick, son James and grandson Willie (Bill) McIvor.

Yes, Paddy Campbell. Perhaps I’m drawn to green for the love of gardening I inherited from my grandfather, seen here listening to 11-year-old (bossy? eager? young gardener?) me in his vegetable patch in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, when we would visit from the west coast for our summer vacations. (That’s my uncle Vic and cousin Debbie in the background).  If gardening is in the genes, I proudly claim a share of his DNA.

Janet & Paddy Campbell-Saskatoon I have green eyes, too, for what it’s worth – and I like to imagine I was born with them so I could ‘see’ the world through nature-tinted irises.  But of course, green eyes are a product of inheritance (both my parents had blue eyes, which makes mine kind of rare) and melanin pigment and light scattering, so I can’t claim any special powers there. No, I’m quite sure that my love of restful, cool green is a direct result of being so energized and happy in the green and growing world.

Green Eyes-Janet Davis But speaking of pigments, let’s talk about chlorophyll, the pigment that makes our world “green“ and enables our survival on earth through the process of photosynthesis, in which life-enabling oxygen is a waste product. Chlorophyll is in every plant, (there are two types, Chlorophyll A and B, depending on the photosystem of the plant). Though we call it the ‘green’ pigment, in fact it is because it reflects back unused green spectral light waves (sunlight provides the energy or photons needed for photosynthesis) that we perceive it as that verdant colour. In the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) below, the leaves are metabolizing chlorophyll even as they unfurl. A few weeks from now, the full complement of chlorophyll will have turned the leaves dark green.

Sugar maple-Acer saccharum-flowers & leaves In the Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) below, photosynthesis occurs from the moment in spring when those first leaves unfurl until the moment they lose their chlorophyll and expose the underlying orange and yellow pigments in autumn, before ultimately separating from the tree as falling leaves (abscission). It happens zillions of times a day in every leaf, as long as sunlight is there to power it.  That is how the tree feeds itself, and by extension us and other animals – through all the vegetable foods and plant-eating animals we eat. Gymnocladus dioicus-Kentucky Coffeetree

Once upon a time, we got along quite well understanding the science behind photosynthesis via a simple equation, like the one I made below.  The tree leaf absorbs 6 molecules of carbon dioxide via the porous stomata in the leaf surface, while drawing up 6 molecules of water from the soil.Mix them up using solar energy in the chlorophyll-rich chloroplasts in the plant tissue cells, and voila! Plant sugars are synthesized and oxygen is released. End result: the tree feeds itself and grows, and we breathe in the released oxygen. Substitute corn or lettuce or any number of edible plants, and you have the planet’s green grocery store. Add in a grass-eating cow or plankton-eating salmon (incidentally, ocean-borne phytoplankton are responsible for 50% of the world’s oxygen) and you have the photosynthesis-enabled meaty side of the diet. Photosynthesis

Perhaps it’s no surprise that photosynthesis is not really as simple as my little bare-bones equation.  If you thought it was, do yourself a favour and take 12 minutes to watch this excellent video. Then watch it again, and again, for this is the single most important process for life on earth.

BACK TO THE GARDEN….. Now that I’ve written a blog-length introduction with a lot of questionable personal asides, what is there to say about green in the garden? First, of course, it’s the quiet framework — often evergreen —  for all the splashes of colour that attract bees and butterflies (like the Painted Lady on the purple coneflower below). From a design point of view, you need that neutral background to make the colours pop, and give the eyes a rest. And from a biological point of view, each plant must photosynthesize in order to flower, fruit and set seed. Painted Lady butterfly on echinacea

Since many of the plants we think of as “foliage” accents are happier in dappled light, we often consider green designs as being a gift of cool shade, like this leafy section of the David Lam Asian Garden at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden in Vancouver. UBC-Botanical Garden-Creek

Or this ferny glade at Vancouver’s VanDusen Botanical Garden. What a perfect little scene! Ferny Glade-Van Dusen Gardens-Vancouver

And I adore the Takata Japanese Garden at Victoria’s Horticulture Centre of the Pacific. Look at all this green, with just the tiniest burgundy-red contrast. Takata Japanese Garden-Horticulture Centre of the Pacific-Victoria BC

One of my favourite places to visit in May is the shady woodland garden at Toronto’s Casa Loma. It’s full of northeastern wildflowers (trillium, Virginia bluebell, wood poppy, among others), many of them spring ephemerals, but shimmering in a rich tapestry of ostrich ferns. Casa Loma-Wildflower Garden

The Shade Garden at Montreal Botanical Garden is a spectacular part of this world-class garden, and the subject of one of my favourite blogs. I marvel at how they use just the smallest touch of colour to add sparkle to what is an overwhelmingly green eden under mature trees. Shade Garden-Montreal Botanical Garden

Even without dipping into the other colours in the paintbox, you can design some pretty cool combinations using green, as the Toronto Botanical Garden did here using hostas, ornamental grasses and hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Grandiflora’, front, and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’, rear) Toronto Botanical Garden-green vignette'

Green is good for drawing lines in the garden, whether ornate, as with the parterre here at Chateau Villandry in France’s Loire Valley,  with its symbols of love and music….

Villandry-Second Salon-Ornamental Garden …or more simple, like the little Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden at New York Botanical Garden.  Some years, the green knots are filled with leafy plants like cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), below….

NYBG-Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden (1) …. and other years, something more colourful, like clary sage (Salvia sclarea), here. NYBG-Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden (2) You can even draw with green and enjoy the painting when the garden is covered in snow, as with the Beryl Ivey Knot Garden at the Toronto Botanical Garden, below.

Boxwood Spiral-Beryl Ivey Knot Garden-Toronto Botanical Garden Lawns are green, it’s true, but you can even have fun with a boring green lawn by turning it into a checkerboard path like the one here at Lakewinds Bed & Breakfast in Niagara-on-the-Lake, (I’ve blogged about Lakewinds before – have a look.) Lakewinds Bed & Breakfast-Niagara-on-the-Lake Though they sometimes seem overused in gardens, hostas are valuable for the elegant foliage statement they make. (If only gardeners would stop cutting off those bee-friendly flowers!)  Here are just a few of the thousands of cultivars that boast every possible permutation of ‘green’. Hosta Array

Green furnishings and accessories can be added to the garden with spectacular results. Look at this fabulous scene at Landcraft Environments in Mattituck, on Long Island, New York. The cushion on the chaise lounge is the icing on the foliage-green cake. Patio & Chaise-Landcraft Environments

And this elegant garden room in Toronto – once a utilitarian garage before being opened up on two walls — was paved in limestone and furnished as a cool, chintz-and-wicker outdoor retreat. Former Garage as Garden Room

In her Raleigh, North Carolina garden, garden writer Helen Yoest has this mint-green Luytens bench to sink into when she needs a rest. Isn’t it pretty?

Helen Yoest-Luytens bench Containers can be green-themed, too. I love my little Home Depot ceramic pots, below. Filled with succulents – they head out to the deck table each spring and I ignore them almost all summer. Succulents-Green Pots

Well, there are containers, and then there are containers….. How about these wonderful urns from Landcraft Environments? Gorgeous, right? (By the way, though Landcraft is a wholesale nursery and closed to the public, it does open one day this summer for the Garden Conservancy, on July 9th, 2016. Plan a trip to the Hamptons around it; you won’t be sorry!) Urns-Landcraft Environments

Let’s end this little exploration of green with a few vignettes. The first is from Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, PA, near Philadelphia, my favourite small public garden in North America. (I’ve blogged about Chanticleer before, Part 1 and Part 2). Yes, it’s a pleasure garden with a talented roster of designers at the top of their game (including Dan Benarcik, the creator of this scene). Yes, there are greenhouses in which to store all the delectable tropical plants used here. And yes, there’s a generous budget and most of us can only afford the inspiration, not necessarily the ingredients. But isn’t it wonderful, this lush, green greeting? Don’t you want to linger before opening the door?

Chanticleer House GardenBut even a small space can feature a tiny, perfect vignette, like this cool green welcome in Portland designer/writer/garden guru Lucy Hardiman’s colourful garden. A Paris bistro chair, an array of green foliage plants, a soft-green wall behind, and a funky ceramic tile in the brick paving, just to keep things interesting. Perfection. Lucy Hardiman-Green Vignette Something to think about, as we contemplate another chlorophyll-rich spring in our own gardens.   Lamprocapnos spectabilis 'Gold Heart' & Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum'

The Wright Stuff: A Plantswoman’s Muskoka Garden

Spending most of the summer on Lake Muskoka a few hours north of Toronto as I do, I am far away from the public gardens where I tend to get my regular photo fixes. Fortunately, I have a lovely friend in the nearby city of Bracebridge who generously invites me to pop by her spectacular garden whenever I feel the urge for a hit of colour and beautifully designed borders. Her name is Marnie Wright and over the years, we’ve found we have much in common – including our age!

Marnie Wright

I first met Marnie on a GWA (Garden Writers’ Association) tour in Portland, Oregon, and later on a local garden tour where I mentioned I was working on a long-term colour project. “My garden has quite a lot of nice colour happening now,” she said. “You’re welcome to come by anytime.”  That was my first visit, one warm July day when the blackflies and mosquitoes were still rather hungry. I was completely wowed by Marnie’s wonderful little house and by her abundant gardens filled with interesting structures and whimsical folk art, like these big-eyed dragonflies.

Wire dragonfly

Marnie’s lived in her house for 34 years on a 91-acre property hewn originally out of an alder bog.  Thus the two acres on which she actively gardens has a high water table and can be very wet in spring, once the deep Muskoka snow melts. But summer-damp conditions are perfect for a host of perennials, especially the daylilies (Hemerocallis) Marnie loves to collect – she even grows some from seed.

Daylily bouquets

So if you visit in July, you’ll see rainbow displays of daylilies in the borders.


Some — like beautiful ‘Jade Star’ — grow with blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’) around the three linked ponds in the centre of the gardens….

Daylily & rudbeckia

…and some of the seed-grown ones mix casually with gloriosa daisies and echinacea around a rugged shard of lichen-encrusted Muskoka granite near the barn at the end of the driveway.

Muskoka Granite-Echinacea-Rudbeckia

Despite the generally moist soil, xeric-loving verbascums tend to self-seed and thrive in a long border with beebalm (Monarda didyma).  The key to their success might be the long ditch Marnie created behind the bed to drain away the water and create a more mesic soil.

Verbascum border

Yes, Marnie’s place looks gorgeous in July, with its roses and summer blossoms……

House -July

…but was just as beautiful this week, on a fine August morning when old-fashioned summer phlox (Phlox paniculata) was doing its ebullient pink thing and pairing oh-so-nicely with the goldenrod that also grows…..

House - August

… by the millions, along with flat-topped aster (Doellingera umbellata), smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum leave) and obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)  in the fields surrounding the house.


Summer phlox also makes a nice companion to these pale globe thistles (Echinops sphaerocephalus)…

Phlox & Echinops

…and enhances the vintage garden chairs that Marnie paints a rich purple. These ones are perfect for relaxing in while enjoying a campfire…..

Purple chairs

….but the chairs have looked lovely through the years no matter where they’re situated.

Purple chair

Purple pops up a lot in Marnie’s designs – especially in her annual favourite, ageratum, seen here with dark purple heliotrope.

Ageratum & heliotrope

And in the Verbena bonariensis that looks so lovely in an unusual pairing with yellow blackberry lily (Iris domestica, formerly Belamcanda chinensis).

Belamcanda & Viburnum

Speaking of roses, there was even the odd August-flowering rugosa rose attracting bumble bees to its abundant pollen.

Rose with bee

Marnie is a great collector of interesting vintage objects that find their way into the garden.  Some find a functional use, such as this coffee table – formerly an old wash-tub table from the Beatty washing machine factory in Fergus, Ontario …..

Bench & table

….while others are more picturesque than pragmatic, like this old watering can paired with a Rex begonia on the potting table.

Watering can

A recent acquisition was this bell wheel from a local church, now taking pride of place in a flowery border.

Bell pull wheel

The odd reptile can be found climbing the back wall of the garden shed….


…which, in itself, is a delightful bit of rustic, old Canadiana.

Garden house

Glass objects find their way into the garden, too. On the left are decorative glass totems that Marnie made using thrift store vases and plumbing pipe. On the right is a glass ceiling fixture from one of the grand old Lake Muskoka lodges.  Somehow, I can see this with flickering candlelight (solar, maybe?)


I love all the beautiful vistas that Marnie has created.  These perfumed lilies frame a view to her little “dock”, with a miniature Muskoka chair overlooking a tiny, lake-like pond.

Lilies & dock

Look past the Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium) towards one of Marnie’s rustic arbours in the centre of the garden.  Squint a little, and you can see the little succulents….


….she’s growing in the old picture frame leaning against the bench.

Rustic arbor

There probably isn’t a perennial combination that Marnie hasn’t experimented with in her borders at some time or other.  I loved this July vignette, of queen-of-the-prairie (Filipendula rubra), sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica ‘The Pearl’), gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum) and spiky Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum).

Pink and white July combo

And this August combination features the bold pea foliage and yellow flowers of American senna (S. hebecarpa), paired with echinacea, summer phlox and scented lilies.

August border

She works her design magic in pots and planters scattered throughout the garden, often with plants she’s grown from seed in one of her small greenhouses. This pot features a variegated phormium with red and yellow kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos), calibrachoa, golden globes (Lysimachia procumbens) and other annuals.


Outside the barn where she keeps her mowing tractor (45 minutes weekly manages the lawns), there’s always a fun combination.of annuals in whiskey barrels. This year’s colour scheme uses red, purple and white flowers.

Whiskey barrels

Her window boxes are luscious! I particularly loved this one from a few summers back, with orange Thunbergia alata, yellow Bidens ferulifolia, blue Salvia patens, chartreuse Ipomoea batatas ‘Margarita’, purple Ageratum houstonianum and peach Calibrachoa.

Shed Window Box

In the shade next to her front door is another window box with tuberous begonias, salmon fuchsia and purple violas, among other annuals.House windowbox

Behind the house are her two small greenhouses, which help her get a spring head start on annual seeding. In summer, one is filled with small figs and the other with a jungle of ‘Sungold’ cherry tomatoes, Marnie’s favourites — safely protected from hungry deer and growing tall in the warmth and humidity.

Greenhouse tomatoes

She passes me a handful and I swear they’re the sweetest little tomatoes I’ve ever eaten.

Sungold tomatoes

At the end of a long path beyond the greenhouses flanking the forest is Marnie’s swimming pond, which also features an assortment of water lilies and other aquatic plants and a windmill to aerate the water.


The cool water offers welcome relief on hot summer days – not just for Marnie, but for her old dog April.

April in pond

Another spot where visitors can escape Muskoka’s summer heat is the shade garden near the road.  Here a path wends through giant hostas and other traditional shade plants that revel in the rich soil (all entirely organic).

Shade garden

Here Marnie tries out seldom-seen perennials like devil’s bit scabious (Succisa pratensis), which is happy in shade like this or in full sun, provided the soil remains moist.

Succisa & bee

It grows tall enough to look lovely beside deep-pink Astilbe tacquetii ‘Superba’.

Astilbe & Sucissa

There are lots of rusty foxgloves (Digitalis ferruginea ‘Gelber Herold’), left, that self-seed throughout the shade garden. And I love the jewel-like, blue fruit of the North American native umbrella leaf (Diphylleia cymosa), one of many big-leaved perennials that thrive here in the dappled light.

Digitalis & Diphyllea

Whenever I visit Marnie’s garden, I come away with the impression that she has managed to do something that other skilled plant collectors and designers often forget to do. I think you might agree…..