Monkshood & Snakeroot for a Fall Finale

What a luscious October afternoon! I looked out my back window and was drawn, as I always am this time in autumn, to the furthest corner of the garden, where a little fall scene unfolds that I treasure more because it’s a secret. Want to see it?  Let’s take a little stroll past the messy pots on the deck with their various sedums and swishing sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) out into the garden past the table and chairs that haven’t been used since… when? August?

Janet Davis-garden-autumn

Keep going to where the lovely chartreuse Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) is currently doing its Hollywood star thing in brilliant apricot…..

Tiger Eye Sumac-Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger'-fall color

But what’s this scene, just behind it?

Tiger Eye Sumac-snakeroot-monkshood-Janet Davis

Yes, two stalwarts of the autumn garden – and I mean autumn, fall, October!  Autumn monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendsii’) and autumn snakeroot (Actaea simplex), aka fall bugbane. Each year, they flower at the same time, and enjoy identical conditions in my garden, i.e. the most moisture-retentive soil (lowest corner of the garden by a few inches), with reasonable midday sunshine but dappled shade a good portion of the day. The fragrance of the snakeroot is fabulous, something a little soft and incense-like, or reminiscent of talcum powder (in the nicest way).  Colour-wise, I love blue and white, from the earliest anemones-with-scilla in April to this shimmering, assertive finale.

Janet Davis-Actaea simplex & Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

And did I mention pollinators? As in bumble bees of different species, honey bees……

Pollinators-autumn garden-fall snakeroot & monkshood-

(WHO has the beehives near my house? I’d love to know)…..

Honey bees-Apis mellifera-Actaea simplex-fall snaekroot

……hover flies…..

Hover-fly on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

….and paper wasps, below, as well as ants and cucumber beetles.

Paper wasp on fall snakeroot-Actaea simplex

Monkshood is deadly poisonous, but its pollen seems to be an attraction for bumble bees and honey bees once the asters have finished up.

Bombus-Fall Monkshood-Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'

Finally, do note that the snakeroot is not any of those fancy-schmancy dark-leaved cultivars like ‘Brunette’, but the straight species with plain-Jane-green-foliage,. And that it used to be called Cimicifuga, but the gene sequencers have now moved it into Actaea.  It is a lovely plant and should be used much, much more.

In the Garden with Barbara & Howard Katz

Barbara Katz and I became Facebook friends a few years back, drawn to each other by our mutual love of colour combinations in plant design and also our great admiration for Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. In fact, it was on Barbara’s recommendation and with her introduction that Piet was commissioned to design a meadow garden for Delaware Botanic Gardens, being planted this fall. So it was with great anticipation that I made plans to attend the 2017 Garden Bloggers’ Fling in the Washington DC Capitol Region, a 3-day event that included a tour of Barbara & Howard Katz’s Bethesda, Maryland garden. We even decided to have dinner in a Washington restaurant before the tour, meeting face to face for the first time. (Our husbands got along famously too!)  And when our bus pulled up on Barbara’s street a few days later, it was easy to see which house was theirs for Barbara and Howard, an architect, were there waiting to welcome us.

Barbara & Howard Katz-Bethesda

But even if they hadn’t been out front, we would have known the house. Their luscious front garden (below) presented a welcome right at the street with a generous bed of summer perennials, carex grasses and succulents arrayed around an old ‘Halka’ honeylocust tree. Barbara, who has 30 years experience in garden design with her company London Lanscapes LLC, said that this bed, installed in mid-April while creating a new flagstone path, gave the front a needed facelift and some interest and pleasure for passersby. It was also a way to reduce the amount of front lawn and provide a buffer against dogs and snow.  But most important, as a plantswoman: “I needed MORE space to play with plants.”  Not surprisingly for a designer who knows how to use colour, there is a clever and subtle use of red flowers in this garden – the gaillardia at front and the echinacea in the rear – that carries the eye up and back toward the red chairs on the porch, the oxblood-red door, the red window shutters and even the Japanese maple.

Barbara Katz-Street Garden & House

Barbara worked the soil in the street garden to make it free-draining. “It gets baked in the afternoon,” she said, “So now I can use plants I hadn’t been able to before” (like the yuccas, below).

Sun-loving plants-Barbara Katz

I adored the beautiful iron scroll edging – staking out the property line with airy elegance. Barbara found it online at Wayfair

Gaillardia-Barbara Katz

The ‘Blue Boa’ anise hyssop (Agastache hybrid) was attracting lots of bumble bees.

Bumble bee-Agastache 'Blue Boa'

The veranda, below, is everything a good front porch should be: an attractive welcome for visitors, a well-appointed anteroom to the house itself and a place to relax comfortably with a view of the garden and street. Too often we restrict our seating areas to the privacy of a back yard where none of the neighbours can spot us reading a newspaper or sipping a glass of wine. But why?  A covered veranda is a sanctuary in the rain and obviously has a completely different outlook on life (and the neighbourhood) than the sitting areas we create out of view. Let’s tote up the good things about Howard’s and Barbara’s version. But first of all, a little background. When Barbara first saw this house, it was as a designer for the owner, who would have her redo the entire garden, including the complex topographical challenge at the back (more on that later). The year was 1995; the garden was installed in 1996. Fast forward six years and the house was for sale and Barbara and Howard bought it, including the garden she’d designed, worked with over the years, and come to love. As for the veranda, it was bigger then, with small wooden posts and railing, and a concrete bases and steps. Howard needed an office, so they took half the veranda and incorporated it into the house; removed the railing; used Azek (a plastic-wood product) to make the posts chunkier; rebuilt the steps to give them generous 18-inch treads with stone risers; then refaced everything with stone veneer. Add some Arts & Crafts lights, pots of easy-care succulents (can we get a cheer for iron plant stands?), a few handsome pieces of sculpture; and comfy chairs and it’s one of the prettiest makeovers ever.

Veranda-Barbara & Howard Katz

All the succulent containers, by the way, are Howard’s creations. He was born in South Africa where many succulents are native; they add their own textural note to Barbara’s herbaceous side of the ledger.

Succulents-Howard Katz-3

Wouldn’t you like to fall asleep in one of these Adirondack rockers? And another little colour tip, courtesy of the glazed green pots (as devotees of the artist’s colour wheel know): red and green are complementary contrasts and they always combine nicely with each other. I can only imagine how beautiful this foundation planting must look as the Japanese maples turn colour in autumn!

Adirondack Rocker-Barbara Katz

Let’s head around to the back, passing a little treasure trove of Howard’s succulents as we go.

Succulent collection-Howard Katz

The back garden is where the challenge lay for Barbara when she first saw it more than two decades ago. With a 12-foot elevation change from the back door up to the property line, it called for creative terracing. In the photo below, (when I got home, I realized I didn’t have a workable shot of the slope and asked Barbara to take a photo, which shows one side), you can see how beautifully the rich tapestry of perennials and low evergreens creates a frame for the cascading water feature.

Slope-Barbara Katz

In my experience, a designer who loves plants and knows how to combine them while also mastering the art of hardscaping is a rare individual. Barbara is skilled at both. Plants with purple, white and orange flowers and leaves are on one side….

Slope-Plantings-Barbara Katz

…including this butterscotch combination of carex and heuchera with peach echinacea and anise hyssop….

Heuchera & Carex-Barbara Katz

….while blues, yellows, pinks and maroons (below) are on the other side….

Echinacea & Coleus-Barbara Katz

…. along with a cool-green pairing of heuchera and euphorbia….

Euphorbia & Heuchera-Barbara Katz

But it’s the stone workmanship on the hillside that really impresses me. Let’s climb up the stairs, which have an excellent tread:riser ratio that makes navigating the slope easy…

Stairs-tread to riser ratio-Barbara Katz

We’ll pass some more of Howard’s delectable succulent confections on the way, like this one…

Succulents-Howard Katz-2

….and this one….

Succulents-Howard Katz-1

…. as well as a more traditional container, below.

Pot-Brugmansia-Barbara Katz

Halfway up, we’ll stop on the cool little grassed terrace, the only lawn in the back garden, with a sophisticated edging of boxwood and….. .

Lawn Terrace-Barbara Katz

…shade-tolerant plants above and below the sinuous retaining wall that supports the top terrace. The wall is impressive, and features little plants tucked into the crevices.

Retaining Wall-Barbara Katz

Even Howard’s succulent container is green.

Jade Plant-Katz

Reach the top, enter past the tall plume poppy (Macleaya cordata), and you’re rewarded with a cool rest in the gazebo with its green mosaic-tile-topped table, green mosaic candle-holder and green-cushioned chairs.

Gazebo-Barbara Katz

The woman knows colour!

Barbara Katz-Mosaic table

I’m not sure how many people would take note of this small detail, but for me it stood out as a superb way of disguising the necessary nuts-and-bolts of slope retention. The concrete block wall between the Katz property and the one behind them has been stained dark green – and presto! it vanishes. Well, except for the sweet little plaque to pretty it up. That airy iron trellis above it is Howard Katz’s effort to keep leaf-munching deer from leaping from the neighbour’s garden into theirs.

Stained Concrete Block Wall-Barbara Katz

There are lovely little touches of art in the garden, like this ‘bluebottle fly’….

Bluebottle Fly Art-Barbara Katz

And a wire grasshopper, among many other pieces.

Grasshopper Art-Barbara Katz

But the big focal point in the back garden is the terraced water feature. From the stone patio behind the house, this is what it looks like gazing up the slope.

Waterfall-lower-Barbara Katz

There are tropical waterlilies in the pool at the bottom, and goldfish.

Waterlily & goldfish-Barbara Katz

Climb back up those stairs a little, and you see how it courses down the rocks, mimicking a natural waterfall….

Waterfall-upper-Barbara Katz

…with a bubbling fountain in the very highest pool, below. Barbara wanted the effect of a series of birdbaths down the slope and it worked perfectly, since the Katz garden is now on the migration route of myriad birds, both spring and fall.

Fountain-Barbara Katz

I would have loved to linger a little, perhaps in the comfy seating near the house. Doesn’t the soft kiwi green look gorgeous with the sage green of the wall?

Sitting area-Barbara Katz

But it was time to get on the bus and head to our next garden.  Thank you Barbara and Howard, for your generosity and creativity. You are both inspiring!

Rhapsody in Blue: Linda Hostetler’s Virginia Garden

During last month’s Garden Blogger’s Fling in the U.S. Capital Region, (and following my visit to Washington DC’s fabulous Dumbarton Oaks and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello near Charlottesville VA), I was delighted to find myself meandering through the garden of fellow color connoisseur and Facebook pal, landscape designer Linda Hostetler. I’ve long admired her photos so it was a pleasure to wander the paths exploring her amazing textural plantings. But there was definitely a color theme running through Linda’s garden, and I loved ticking off all the ways she manages to celebrate ‘blue’. So let’s take a little tour, starting in the front garden of Linda and Ralph Hostetlers’ pretty home in Plains, Virginia, not far from Washington D.C. The tapestry-like plantings here, while very lovely, don’t really prepare you for the immense scale of the back garden.

House-Linda Hostetler

Let’s walk down the side path with its playful boxwood balls.

Path-Linda Hostetler

You might catch the light glinting off the sweet mirrored suncatcher….

Mirror suncatcher-Linda Hostetler

…. and at the end of the path, any one of hundreds of interesting plants might catch your eye like the native Indian pink (Spigelia marylandica).

Spigelia

But look up and gaze around and you’ll be struck by the flashes of azure and turquoise shimmering in every corner of Linda’s garden. How does she love blue? Let us count the ways.

Furnishings 

Like a little sense of occasion? Walk into Linda’s garden and you’re passing under a blue arch.  Doesn’t that curved boxwood allée make you want to start exploring? And look at the blue-toned hosta in the rear.

Arch-Linda Hostetler

Want to rest a minute in a little bit of shade? These blue umbrellas (there were several) and tables and chairs were popular spots for relaxing when masses of garden bloggers were trying to escape the June heat.  And don’t you love that spectacular pairing of ‘Lucifer’ crocosmia with the furnishings?

Blue Umbrella and furniture-Linda Hostetler

Art

Little artistic touches in blue abound in Linda’s garden – like these metal spheres in blue and contrasting yellow.

Sphere-Linda Hostetler

And no southern garden is complete without a bottle tree – this one sprouting cobalt blue bottles. (If I’m not mistaken, those are Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry bottles….)

Bottle tree-Linda Hostetler

A glazed ceramic globe is an easy way to give a blue punch to the border, especially contrasted with bright-red coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides).

Ceramic ball-Linda Hostetler

Like me, Linda is a fan of blown glass – this one in swirls of blue.

Blown glass-Linda Hostetler

Lighting

Speaking of glass, there are lots of solar lights in the Hostetler garden, all in shades of blue. You’ll see stained glass globes….

Solar ball-Linda Hostetler

…. and swirls….

Solar-twist-Linda Hostetler

…. and even blue Japanese lanterns.  Imagine the starry canvas these would make at night!

Japanese lantern-Linda Hostetler

Containers

Linda’s lovely, glazed, blue containers are an opportunity for her to change up little scenes each season, whether with tender begonias and tropicals….

Blue Pot 3-Linda Hostetler

… shade-tolerant heucheras….

Blue Pot 2-Linda Hostetler

…. or colorful coleus.

Blue Pot 1-Linda Hostetler

Then there are the artful ways Linda uses blue-hued hangers and stands to feature her pots, like this agave in a blue birdcage.

Agave in birdcage-Linda Hostetler

And this lovely pedestal stand for succulents.

Plant stand-Linda Hostetler

Plants

It was such a sunny afternoon with so many people running through the garden, I gave up trying to get landscape shots. But I did love seeing this little water feature with purplish-blue pickerel-weed (Pontederia cordata). It’s a favourite of bumble bees (and me).

Pontederia-Pickerel weed-Linda Hostetler

And then, alas, it was past the blue hydrangea and back on the bus to continue our tour of Virginia gardens. Next time, Linda, we will hopefully meet in person in your lovely garden (not via blog!)

Hydrangeas-Linda Hostetler

 

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.