Christchurch Botanic Gardens

As we pulled into Christchurch in late afternoon a few hours after our delightful lunch and garden tour at Akaunui Homestead and Farm, a few of us decided to leave the hotel and walk to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens less than a mile away. After the disastrous 2011 earthquake here, the city has been rebuilding for years, especially structures that were not earthquake-proof, like this old building en route.

The botanic gardens are open to the public from 7 am to 6:30 pm (conservatories 10:15 am – 4 pm) daily, except Christmas Day. Like all the botanic gardens we saw in New Zealand, there is no charge to visit. Covering 21 hectares (52 acres), they were opened in 1863, occupying a pretty site along the Avon River.  There is an excellent printed .pdf guide online.

We started in the Kitchen Garden adjacent to the former Curator’s House, which is now a restaurant (we would eat dinner there later).  I thought this was one of the finest edible gardens I’d visited…..

….with its focus on design…..

….and diversity of edibles…..

….and education.

We walked along the Avon River with its scrim of beech trees….

….past early evening picnickers.

With so little time until dark, we bypassed the lawn and adjacent heather garden.

The large Rock Garden seemed to need a little more TLC in the weeding and editing department……

….. but had clearly been an ambitious design with significant scale.

I liked seeing a new ornamental onion, Allium carinatum subsp. pulchellum, so happy here…..

…. and keeping the bees happy, too.

I had never seen Francoa sonchifolia in a garden, so was delighted to find it here along with its foraging honey bees…..

I walked slowly through the New Zealand Gardens….

….full of indigenous plants which in this country seem to be so understatedly…..

…. green that the overwhelming perception is unremarkable.

But it takes time and local understanding to appreciate each of these plants, the smallest and the large, like the iconic totara tree (Podocarpus totara), below….

….and how they relate to wildlife, including this insect chorus on a Christchurch evening in mid-summer. Listen…..

Adjacent to the Native Plant Garden is the Cocayne Memorial Garden, designed in 1938 to honour Leonard Cocayne (1855-1934), New Zealand’s pioneering botanist and ecologist and author of The Vegetation of New Zealand (1921).

Given our limited time, we hurried through a cactus garden….

….. with some interesting large succulents that I later discovered were Furcraea parmentieri. A monocarpic Mexican species, these plants will grow until they achieve flowering, after which they will die.

A female paradise shelduck hovered at the water’s edge with her duckling nearby.

There were pretty, South African Crinum x powellii at the water’s edge here, showing why its common name is “swamp lily”.

Time was fleeting so we turned back toward the entrance past this lovely stand of fragrant lilies.

Nearby was a giant redwood (Sequoidendron giganteum), below, one of seven grown from seed that was ordered from California in 1873 (just 21 years after William Lobb first collected seed of the newly discovered trees in Calaveras Grove in the Sierra Nevadas for Veitch’s Nursery in England), making them 145 years old. Interestingly, though North Americans call this species “Sierra redwood” or “giant redwood” or “big tree” (since it is often confused with the smaller Coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens). New Zealanders and the British call it “Wellingtonia”, a name that recalls England’s race to be the first to name it. After Lobb returned to England with seed, seedlings and herbarium specimens, taxonomist John Lindley named the species Wellingtonia gigantea to honour the recently deceased Duke of Wellington (1769-1852).  Meanwhile, as tourists poured into Calaveras Grove, botanist Albert Kellogg was working to sort out his big tree specimens in his herbarium at the brand-new California Academy of Natural Sciences in San Francisco, intending to call the species Washingtonia.  In 1854, the Duke of Wellington would lose his “official” taxonomic honour when French botanist Joseph Decaisne placed the tree in the genus Sequoia as S. gigantea (Sequoiadendron came later), but the common name Wellingtonia stuck for giant redwoods grown in the Commonwealth.

We peeked in to the lovely Rose Garden with its 104 beds, but kept walking.

Two more trees caught my eye. The Madeiran lily-of-the-valley tree (Clethra arborea) was attracting bees to its pendant blossoms……

….. and I was happy to see a young kauri  (Agathis australis) growing here, having loved walking under towering kauris in their protected forest at Bay of Islands.

At the southeast fringe of the Rose Garden was the extensive Dahlia Garden, with 90 percent of the collection sourced from New Zealand breeders.

This is ‘Velvet Night’, a 1985 introduction from Dr. Keith Hammett, one of the dahlia world’s icons and New Zealand’s leading breeder of ornamental plants.

We walked past an old Kashmir cypress (Cupressus cashmeriana), with its elegant pendulous branchlets.

Sadly because of the lateness of the day, we missed seeing the large water garden and the far reaches of Christchurch Botanic Gardens including Hagley Park. And the six conservatories had closed a few hours earlier: Cunningham House (tropical rainforest), Townend House (cool greenhouse), Garrick House (desert), Gilpin House (orchids, bromeliads, carnivorous plants), Fern House and Fowraker House (indigenous and exotic alpines).  And somehow we missed the herbaceous border. But it was time to head back to the entrance, past our riverside picnickers who had now been joined by friends and a few waterfowl, in order to enjoy our own alfresco dinner at the Curator’s House Restaurant before walking back to the hotel and hitting the sack. For tomorrow would be one of the best days on our tour, starring three stunning and very different New Zealand gardens.

Hiking Under Aoraki Mount Cook

Of the three January 2018 weeks we spent touring New Zealand on the American Horticultural Society’s “Gardens, Wine & Wilderness” tour, without a doubt my two favourite outings were our overnight voyage on Doubtful Sound in Fiordland and the day we hiked the Hooker Valley Track under the country’s tallest mountain, Aoraki Mount Cook.  That’s not to say I don’t love gardens, but for me there is simply no garden that compares with the one that nature conjures in places that we have not disturbed. So it was with great excitement, a few hours after lunching at Ann & Jim Jerram’s lovely Ostler Wine vineyard in the Waitaki Valley that we found ourselves standing beside Highway 80 on the shores of Lake Pukaki, staring in awe at the majestic mountain in the distance.  Every camera and cellphone came out.

You can see why the Māori of the South Island called their sacred mountain Aoraki, or “cloud piercer”.  (I’ll tell you more of their founding legend later.)

We continued driving Highway 80 (aka Mount Cook Road) along the shore of Lake Pukaki on our way into Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. As at Queenstown, we saw invasive “wilding conifers” along the shore – in this case, lodgepole pines (Pinus contorta), left, from western North America. Introduced into New Zealand in 1880, the trees were intended to “beautify” the lakeshore but have invaded throughout the Mackenzie Basin.

Like Lake Louise in Canada’s Banff National Park, Lake Pukaki appears turquoise because its waters consist of glacial melt from the mountains we’ll see over the next 36 hours. In the meltwater is superfine “rock flour” or “glacial milk” consisting of rock that has been pulverized into fine powder by the grinding action of ice as the glaciers melt and retreat.

Though I wouldn’t really understand the hydrology here until I came home and studied maps, we then drove over a small stream wending its way out into Lake Pukaki’s northern shore.  This, I would learn, is a channel of the Tasman River, which empties both the Hooker glacier and massive Tasman glaciers in adjacent mountain valleys in the park. Now at the height of New Zealand summer, it was not a big flow, but I imagine these braided channels roar in springtime when the gravel floodplain accepts the snowmelt.

Moments later, we arrived at the 164-room Hermitage Aoraki Mount Cook Hotel that would be our home for the next two nights. Built in 1958 and extended several times, this is the third incarnation of the mountainside hotel.  The original, built in 1884 by surveyor and Mount Cook ranger Frank Huddlestone, was sited further into the valley near the Mueller Glacier. It was taken over by the New Zealand government in 1895. As visitors started pouring into the region, the hotel could not keep up with the demand for rooms, and was also subject to seasonal flooding, which ultimately destroyed it. In 1914, a second hotel was erected; it would host four decades of guests, including a young Edmund Hillary and his climbing mates who bunked here during their 1948 ascent of Mount Cook. Five years later, he and Sherpa Tenzing Norguay would be the first to summit Mount Everest. After a 1957 fire destroyed the second Hermitage, the current one was built by the New Zealand government, under the aegis of its Tourist Hotel Corporation (THC) which also owned other tourist properties. In 1990 the THC was sold to a private corporation.  Our room was on the 5th floor of the rear wing and had a floor-to-ceiling view of Aoraki Mount Cook.

It had been a long Day 12 of our tour, starting in Dunedin with a morning stop in Oamaru before our wine lunch in the Waitaki. After a delicious dinner (appetizer below), shared with hundreds of other mountain tourists, we hit the sack. Tomorrow there would be a valley hike – and plants!

My Hooker Valley Track Hiking Journal

10:00 – The next morning, we left The Hermitage (roughly the red square), cheating a little by getting a lift in our tour bus (which cuts off the first few miles and at least a half-hour walk) to the campground, shown at the first yellow arrow, below. Our destination, Hooker Lake – the second yellow arrow – didn’t seem far on the map, but it’s a good hike, as you’ll see.

10:17 –  Armed with a lunch we’d scrounged from our breakfast buffet, off we went in the fine, mid-January summer weather on the Hooker Valley Track (Kiwi for “trail”).

10: 21 – Soon we were passing through matagouri shrubland. Dark and prickly, the other name for this riparian native is wild Irishman (Discaria toumatou).

10:26 – Through the thorny matagouri branches, the massive southeast flank of Mount Sefton appeared. Called Maukatua by the Māori, it’s the 13th tallest mountain in the Southern Alps at 3,151 metres (10,338 feet).

10:28 –  Look at all these amazing golden Spaniards! What? You don’t see any Spanish tourists? No, golden Spaniard or spear grass (Aciphylla aurea) is the name for the sharp-leaved plants stretching across this meadow. Now we could clearly see Mount Sefton and its neighbour to the right, The Footstool (2,764 metres – 9,068 feet).

10:30 – The meadows were spangled with snow totara (Podocarpus nivalis), also called mountain totara. A much-hybridized evergreen, its progeny appears in  temperate gardens throughout the world.

10: 32 – The track features three suspension bridges, two of which were rebuilt in 2015 to divert them from areas prone to flooding or avalanches. This was the first bridge. From here, you could just spot……

10:34 –  …..Mueller Lake as it spilled its own meltwater from the Mueller Glacier just beyond into Hooker River below the bridge.

I walked (bounced?) across the bridge behind my husband who was holding onto his Tilley hat in the fierce valley wind. I was very proud of him. He is not a gardener, and a 3-week garden-wilderness tour of New Zealand might not have been the first item on his bucket list when we contemplated this trip in 2017, but he was enjoying it very much – provided the wine flowed at dinnertime!

10:39 – Here was Griselinia littoralis, aka kapuka or New Zealand broadleaf, an evergreen that normally grows as a tree. Though its Latin name indicates a preference for the seashore (littoral), we are really not far from the Tasman Sea in this mountain valley. (And here I must offer my thanks to New Zealand plant wizard Steve Newall, who helped me identify many of these endemic treasures. Have a read about Steve in this piece by my Facebook friend Kate Bryant).

10:41 – That long berm at left, below, is the moraine wall of Mueller Glacier.

10:44 – We passed a few invasive plants in the first meadows, like foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), below.

10:50 – I passed my phone to my husband and asked for a portrait….of my best side. Like some 70,000 other New Zealand tourists, I wanted to have a record that I actually made this hike.

It was much warmer than I thought it would be, and I adopted my customary “I thought this was a glacier hike?” clothing modification, the same strategy used a few years ago in Greenland to hike the boardwalk through the alpine meadows to the UNESCO   Ilulissat Icefjord site.

11:01 – Okay, back to New Zealand. Forty minutes after we began our hike, we crossed the second suspension bridge, known as the Hooker Bluff bridge. The scenery here can only be described as spectacular.

11:02 – Now we saw the Hooker River spilling into Mueller Lake.

11:05 – After crossing the bridge, the river was on our right side. Though small, it was powerful, its crashing cascades seeming to echo off the nearby mountain walls.

11:06 – I was so transfixed, I stopped for a few minutes to make a recording.

11:07 – Along the path, one of the golden Spaniards (Aciphylla aurea) had toppled over under its own weight. You can see the umbellifer flowers and strange leaves against the stem

11:08 – A moment later, I saw one pointing towards Mount Sefton’s lofty glaciers.  

11:11 – And three minutes after that, I stopped to mourn that I had not been here a month earlier to see the flowering of the iconic Mount Cook lily, Ranunculus lyallii, the world’s largest buttercup, below. It was collected by and named for Scottish botanist David Lyall (1817-1895) who had travelled as ship surgeon around New Zealand and the Antarctic from 1839-41 on HMS Terror. (Terror was later lost with all hands, along with HMS Erebus, in Canada’s Arctic during Captain John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 expedition to find a shortcut from Europe to Asia.  After years of searching, both shipwrecks were found in 2014 and 2016.)  In assembling Flora Antarctica containing Lyall’s plant collections, his friend, English botanist Joseph Hooker (1817-1911), noted that the New Zealand shepherds called it the ‘water-lily’, an appropriate name since it is the only known ranunculus with peltate leaves.  (It was Joseph Hooker’s father, William Hooker, for whom this valley and glacier were named by Julius von Haast in his geological survey of the Southern Alps in 1863.)

But the Māori of the South Island – the ancient Waitaha, then the Ngāti Māmoe, then the present-day Ngāi Tahu – had known the flower for hundreds of years before David Lyall arrived to botanize. They called it “kōpukupuku”. It has even been featured on postage stamps.

11:13 – A few minutes later, I felt somewhat mollified to come upon a few pristine specimens of Gentianella divisa.

11-17 – Unlike a Canadian alpine meadow in, say, Alberta, there is little bright colour in these tussock meadows under Aoraki Mount Cook.  Many of the herbaceous plants tend to have white flowers, like Lobelia angulata, below.

11:19 – You can barely see the tiny white flowers of inaka (Dracophyllum longifolium), one of the common native shrubs in the Hooker Valley.

11:24 – So far, we’d been walking on crushed gravel. But now we set off across the meadow on a beautiful boardwalk. As it began, it pointed us at Mount Sefton and The Footstool, but a few minutes later, it….

11:26 –  …… veered to the right and gave us the full valley view of Aoraki Mount Cook.

11:30 – The shimmering meadow here was mostly mid-ribbed snow tussock (Chionochloa pallens).

11:32 – I was happy that I was able to identify mountain cottonwood (Ozothamnus vauvilliersii), which I had also seen in flower on Ben Lomond in Queenstown.

11:36 – Steve Newall helped me identify this lovely little community: the silver leaves of mountain daisy (Celmisia semicordata), its flowers already past, sitting in a bed of Gaultheria crassa to the left, with creeping wire vine (Muehlenbeckia axillaris)  up against the rock. The tussock grass is mid-ribbed snow tussock (Chionochloa pallens).

11:37 – A minute later, we were crossing the third bridge, called the Upper Hooker Suspension Bridge. This one seemed to catch the wind and the vibrations, especially near the river banks, were very strong!

11:43 – I stopped on the path for a few minutes to absorb the sight of these wonderful meadows and shoot a short video. Here’s how they looked:

11:54 – As we approached the end of the track, I found a stand of creeping wire vine (Muehlenbackia axillaris) in flower…..

11:54 – and Raoulia glabra with its little pompom flowers.

11:55 – When I looked up from the tiny alpine plants nestled in these rocks, I couldn’t help but notice the massive boulders lying in the meadow. The one below looked like it had sheared clean off the mountain and tumbled down the scree slope. But of course it might have happened dozens or hundreds of years ago. Unless one was actually there…….

11:56 – A minute later, we arrived at our destination. Hooker Lake lay before us – a body of water that hadn’t been there at all before the late 1970s, when Hooker Glacier began its retreat. In geological terms, it’s referred to as a “proglacial” lake.   It had taken us an hour and 39 minutes. We celebrated by walking along the path to a little picnic area and eating our lunch.

12:12 – With our picnic finished, I headed down to join the tourists posing for photos on the lake’s shore.

12:19 – My arthritic knee was not going to keep me from kneeling on the glacial till to capture a souvenir image of this little iceberg – aka “bergy bit” – washed up on shore.  As I looked up from this little lake – melted from a glacier named for an English botanist by a German geologist – at a towering mountain – named for an English sea captain by another English sea captain – I was unaware of the sacred nature of this park.

Long before Captain John Lort Stokes decided in 1851, while surveying New Zealand, to honour his predecessor, Captain James Cook, by naming the country’s highest peak after him, the Māori of the South Island knew it as Aoraki, or “cloud piercer”. The Ngāi Tahu do not see the mountain merely as the result of millions of years of tectonic uplift as the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates collide far beneath the surface along the island’s western coast  For them it is the core of their creation myth: the mountain possesses sacred mauri. They say that long before there was an island called Aotearoa (New Zealand), there was no sign of land in the great ocean. When the sky father Raki wed the earth mother Papa-tui-nuku, Raki’s four celestial sons came down to greet their father’s new wife. They were Ao-raki (Cloud in the Sky), Raki-ora (Long Raki), Raki-rua (Raki the Second) and Raraki-roa (Long Unbroken Line). They arrived in their waka (canoe) and sailed the sea, but could not find land. When they attempted to return to the heavens, their song of incantation failed and their waka fell into the sea and turned to stone as it listed, forming the south island. The brothers climbed onto the high side of their waka and were also turned to stone. They exist today as the four tallest peaks in the area: Aoraki is the highest (Mount Cook); the other brothers are Rakiora (Mount Dampier), Rakirua (Mount Teichelmann) and Rarakiroa (Mount Tasman).

When title to the park was vested to the Ngāi Tahu in 1998, the mountain’s name was formally changed to recognize Aoraki, and all management decisions are made in concert with them to respect the environment as their sacred place. This remarkable carving by the late Cliff Whiting hangs in the park’s Visitor Centre. It depicts a fierce Aoraki and the four brothers/mountains.

Moments after kneeling at the shore of Hooker Lake, I gazed up at the sky and saw a cloud. People who study clouds call this an orographic cloud – its shape distorted by air currents that must lift in response to tall mountain peaks. But when I looked later at the photo I’d made, all I could see was the face of a fierce ancient god gazing across the sky.

12:20 – Okay, back to earth now. I didn’t bring my ultra-zoom camera with me on the hike or I could have captured the front wall of Hooker Glacier.  As it is, I enlarged one of my images to show the glacier and its calving wall.  If you’re looking to see sparkly-white, gleaming glaciers, you’re in for a shock here. As my friend Andy Fyon, retired head of the Ontario Geological Survey, says: “Active alpine glaciers can be a bit like a child. They revel in the rough and tumble life and in getting dirty! That is not the same for continental glaciers, which enjoy staying clean.”

12:30 – Looking at the upper part of Aoraki Mount Cook, below, you can see the summit partly obscured by a cloud.  I’ve also drawn in the south ridge that was recently renamed the Hillary Ridge. The closest of the mountain’s three peaks, Low Peak (3599 metre – 11,808 ft) was first summited in 1948 via the southern ridge by a foursome that included Edmund Hillary, Mick Sullivan and Ruth Adams and their guide Harry Ayres, Three years later, Hillary, along with Tenzing Norgay, would become the first person to summit Mount Everest. But that 1948 ascent of Mount Cook came with attendant drama, for when the foursome went on to attempt the nearby peak La Perouse (out of my photo to the left or west), Ruth Adams’s rope broke and her 50-foot slide down the slope left her unconscious with several fractures.  Hillary would contribute the first chapter to the gripping account of that rescue.

In fact, some 248 climbers have died attempting to climb Aoraki Mount Cook. Summiting is a considerable achievement in the world of couloirs and cirques and belays. I enclose the following video to demonstrate the skill needed. I estimate that I screamed “Oh, my god” or words  to that effect a dozen times and averted my eyes at least 20 times. Put on your crampons and fasten your carabiner…..

12:38 – Heading back to the hotel now, we took a little side detour up to a few small tarns, which is alpine for glacial pond.

12:46 – The Upper Hooker Suspension Bridge was just as bouncy and windy on the return trip.

12:55 – We walked at the base of Mount Wakefield, which separates Hooker Valley from the Tasman Valley to the east.

12:59 – A small footbridge at the Stocking Stream Shelter took us over the Hooker River with its milky rock flour.

1:20 – Looking down a little later, I saw a drift of Parahebe lyallii.

1:35 – And creeping over a rock was one of the “bidibids”, Acaena saccaticupula.

1:53 – I saw my only Hooker Valley butterfly, the common copper, foraging on New Zealand harebell (Wahlenbergia albomarginata).

2:12 – Coming towards the end of the hike, I made a critical mistake. Weary now and gazing across the meadows at what looked to be a direct route back to the Hermitage, I said, “Why don’t we get off this winding path and go straight back across the meadow?”  My husband, trusting soul that he is, reluctantly agreed.  Neither of us knew that the only people who ventured this way were mountain bikers.  With our tired legs, the spongy soil and long grass of the meadows made the last stretch seem never-ending.

2:14 – In the meadows in front of the hotel were a few lupines. Despite now being on the noxious aliens list, these invaders are quite famous for their massive spring show in the park.

2:19 – Parts of the meadow turned into dried-up gravel stream beds that are clearly part of the seasonal drainage patterns of the rivers here.

2:21 – I found another famous New Zealand mat plant, scabweed (Raoulia australis), growing here.

2:37 – And finally, 4 hours and 20 minutes after we began our hike, we arrived back at the sign-post near the hotel.

3:00 – As we kicked off our hiking shoes and collapsed  onto our beds in the 5th floor room with the great view of the mountains, we cracked open a bottle of the Gëwurztraminer we’d bought at Ostler Vineyard the previous day. A glass of chilled wine never tasted so good.

9:30 – And later, after dinner, as the light dimmed in the sky, I looked out on Aoraki Mount Cook with something akin to affection. Like the Māori, I sensed its spirit infusing this spectacular landscape.

9:43 – And as the sun shed its last rays on its snowy peak, I gave thanks for the pilgrimage we had made to be close to it.


A Tour of My Spring Garden

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

Tulips-Janet Davis Front Garden-Toronto

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

Tulips-Janet Davis Front Garden2-Toronto

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

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

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

Tulips-Janet Davis front garden

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

Tulipa 'Champagne Diamond'

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

Fothergilla gardenii-Janet Davis garden-Toronto

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

Tulipa 'Perestroika'-Janet Davis Garden

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

Tulipa 'Carnaval de Nice'-Janet Davis Garden

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

Tulipa 'Crispion Sweet'-Janet Davis garden-Toronto

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

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

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

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

Narcissus 'Geranium'-Janet Davis garden-Toronto

The Back Yard

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

Back garden-upper view-Janet Davis-Toronto

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

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

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

Malus 'Red Jade'-pond garden

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

Janet Davis House-through crabapple

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

Malus 'Red Jade'-Janet Davis garden

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

Daffodil & Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'-Janet Davis Garden

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

Pink tulips & Ostrich ferns-Janet Davis Garden

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

Tulipa 'Mona Lisa'-Janet Davis garden

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

Tulipa 'Ballade'-Janet Davis Garden

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

Tulipa 'Texas Flame'-Janet Davis Garden

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

Tulip orange

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

Tulipa - lily flowered -Janet Davis garden-Toronto

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

Mertensia virginica-Virginia bluebell-Janet Davis garden-Toronto

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

Camassia leichtlinii-Janet Davis Garden-Toronto

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

Viburnum x burkwoodii-Janet Davis-Toronto Garden

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

Garden gate-see through grate-Janet Davis-Toronto

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

Solomon's Seals & path-Janet Davis garden

There are bleeding hearts in this pathway, too.

Bleeding heart-Dicentra spectabilis-Janet Davis garden

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


Silver Belles

A little holiday song, for those who’ve stuck it out through my Twelve Months of Colour blogs in 2016:

Silver belles, silver belles,
It’s Christmas time in the city.

Ding-a-ling?? No, they don’t ring,

My “Silver Belles” just look pretty.

Row 1:‘Pictum’ Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum); ‘King’s Ransom’ Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla); ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’ giant sea holly (Eryngium giganteum); Agave parryi; Row 2: Hosta ‘Ultramarine‘; ‘Bascour Zilver’ hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum tectorum); ‘Blue Glow’ fescue (Festuca glauca); Heuchera ‘Rave On’; Row 3: ‘Montgomery’ blue spruce (Picea glauca); ‘Silver Carpet’ lamb’s-ear (Stachys byzantina); ‘Blue Star’ juniper (Juniperus squamata); ‘Sapphire Skies’ yucca (Y.rostrata)

Yes, we’re finally in December, and as befits the tinsel month in my year-long celebration of monthly colour themes, I’ve pulled together a treasure box filled with pieces of silver (and some nice blue-greys) for your garden. You should know that I’m a big fan of grey, especially mixed with that little dash of brown that tips it into ‘taupe’. In fact, my house is painted that colour, and my deck and fence are stained a darker shade of stone-grey. It is a beautiful background for all plants.


If you add a little blue-green to silvery-gray, you get a colour we often describe as “glaucous”. That word has travelled a long way since it was first used by the Greeks, including Homer, as glaukos to mean “gleaming, silvery”. In Latin, it  took on the meaning “bluish-green”, and in the 15h century, the Middle English word glauk meant “bluish-green, gray”.  That fits the color of luscious Tuscan kale, below.


So we’ll look at some lovely plants with glaucous foliage as well.

Shrubs & Trees

Let’s begin with a few trees and shrubs.  Weeping willowleaf pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’) is a pretty little (20 ft – 7 m) tree with silvery-grey foliage. Here it is at Victoria’s Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, underplanted with Allium ‘Purple Sensation’.


Then we have a true willow, dwarf blue Arctic willow (Salix purpurea ‘Nana’). This is a very hardy, useful shrub, standing about 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and wide, that will lend its soft greyish texture to a variety of applications, including as hedging or a filler.


As for conifers, there are lots of blue junipers and silver firs, and of course, blue spruces. For a big silvery tree, perhaps none is as stately as the concolor or white fir (Abies concolor ‘Candicans’).


If you want a cool blue-grey spruce at garden level, consider Picea pungens ‘Glauca Procumbens’.


And I love the look of Juniperus conferta ‘Blue Pacific’, especially as it takes on mauve hues in winter, below, along with Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’.


Speaking of winter, there’s even a shrub with silvery fruit that persists into winter: Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica).


Though we often think of lavender as perennial, it is actually a sub-shrub. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) has greyish-blue foliage, and even the commonly available cultivars like ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ will provide a good colour contrast, as they do edging this beautiful potager.


But if you want a really silvery, hardy lavender, try ‘Silver Mist’, shown below contrasting with a bronze carex.


And if you are in a climate where you can grow the more tender Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), there’s a gorgeous silver-leaved cultivar called ‘Anouk’.



Who hasn’t seen lamb’s-ears in a perennial border? And who hasn’t questioned whether the plant’s name should be a single lamb or a flock? Kidding aside, using hardy lamb’s-ears (Stachys byzantina)  is one of the easiest ways to inject a note of silver into the garden. Here it is with lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) at Burlington, Ontario’s Royal Botanical Gardens …..

Stachys byzantina with Alchemilla mollis

… and fronting a June border at Vancouver’s Van Dusen Botanical Garden.


I love the way my pal Marnie White intersperses her lamb’s-ears with pink portulaca.


Sea holly has a few beautiful silver forms; this is Eryngium giganteum ‘Miss Willmott’s Ghost’ with liatris and switch grass (Panicum virgatum) at the Toronto Botanical Garden.


Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) has several cultivars with lovely silvery variegation. This is ‘Jack Frost’.


Artemisias are invaluable silver foliage plants. This is Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Silver King’ with liatris.


And this is Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ creating a silvery pool at the edge of a border.


In the fern world, luscious Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) is literally ‘painted’ with silver variegation. The stunning cultivar below is ‘Pewter Lace’.


Though they don’t come in pure silver, there are many blue-grey hostas to add texture to a shaded or semi-shaded place. At the Toronto Botanical Garden, I love the juxtaposition of Hosta ‘Blue Angel’ with the silvery-blue glass screen behind it.


Here is an assortment of blue-grey hostas.

1 - Ultramarine; 2 – First Frost; 3 – Fragrant Blue; 4 – Earth Angel; 5 – Paradise Joyce; 6 - Halcyon.

1 – Ultramarine; 2 – First Frost; 3 – Fragrant Blue; 4 – Earth Angel; 5 – Paradise Joyce; 6 – Halcyon.

With their rainbow foliage colour and myriad leaf markings, heucheras have become a plant breeder’s bonanza in the past few decades. Below are ‘Rave On’ (left) and ‘Silver Scrolls’ (right).


Euphorbias also offer delectable silver makings. Though it’s borderline-hardy where I garden in Toronto, I do love Euphorbia characias ‘Tasmanian Tiger’.


The silvery foliage of Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium) can be quite stunning, but careful it doesn’t escape – clip those flowers before they go to seed.



Blue-grey grasses abound. Here’s  Festuca glauca ‘Blue Glow’ with berried cotoneaster and silvery Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) behind.


This is ‘Heavy Metal’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum) – one of my favourites.


Little bluestem is a wonderful native prairie grass, and ‘Prairie Blues’ has a more pronounced silvery-blue hue.


‘Wind Dancer’ love grass (Eragrostis elliotii)  is hardy only to USDA Zone 6, but I’ve seen it used as an annual grass to lovely effect.


Annuals & Tropicals

Montreal Botanical Garden knows how to create wonderful knots and parterres with silvery plants. This is the tender grass Melinis nerviglumis ‘Savannah’ (ruby grass – USDA Zone 8-10) with Angelonia ‘Serena Purple’.


…. and this is Cerastium ‘Columnae Silberteppich’ with lantana.


Montreal Botanical’s Herb Garden has also used silvery herbs in formal design schemes over the years. The tapestry-like knot garden below features the sages (Salvia officinalis) ‘Berrgarten’ and variegated ‘Icterina’ in the circle, along with hedge germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) with the pink flowers; clipped lavender and santolina are in the background.


Here’s a closer look at santolina or cotton thistle (Santolina chamacyparissus) in flower. Its ease of shearing makes it a prime candidate for parterres and knots, but it is only hardy to USDA Zone 6.


There are several Mediterranean plants that fit our silvery-blue theme.   A tender perennial (USDA Zone 8) with silver foliage that can be used as a drought-tolerant annual is Greek mountain tea (Sideritis syriaca).


And Senecio viravira or silver groundsel has textural foliage.


Isn’t this combination at the Niagara Botanical Gardens beautiful? The big, felted silver leaves of Salvia argentea with Tradescantia spathacea ‘Tricolor’ seem made for each other.


Also at Niagara Botanical one summer, I loved this juxtaposition of blue-grey cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) with the cascading silvery Dichondra argentea in the hanging baskets behind.


Speaking of dichondra, here it is at the Toronto Botanical Garden paired with Centaurea gymnocarpa ‘Colchester White’. This, of course, is the work of the TBG’s container wizard Paul Zammit.


Dusty miller (Centaurea cineraria) is an old-fashioned annual that’s easy to source and offers a lovely hit of silver, as with this rich autumn combination of dusty miller and ornamental cabbages.


We mustn’t forget the spectacular leaves of the newer Rex begonias like ‘Escargot’, below, many of which have silver markings.


There are loads of silvery succulents available, because being silver-grey (reflecting the sun) and being succulent (storing your own water in your leaves) are both adaptations to plants growing in extreme hot and dry environments. I loved this combination of Kalanchoe pumila ‘Quicksilver’ and Senecio serpens at Eye of the Day Garden Center in Carpinteria, California.


This pairing of blue sticks (Senecio mandraliscae) with Scaevola aemula at the Montreal Botanical Garden was simple, yet dramatic.


And the gorgeous container below was in the former Vancouver garden of garden guru Tom Hobbs and Brent Beattie, owners of Vancouver’s Southlands Nursery.  It features Echeveria elegans, salmon-red Sedum rubrotinctum and silvery parrot feather (Tanacetum densum), along with astelia in the centre.


Succulents have been used extensively over the years by Paul Zammit at the Toronto Botanical Garden. Check out this silvery monochrome masterpiece.


And finally, this gorgeous windowbox from the TBG, with its luscious mix of silver echeverias, aptenias, kalanchoes, senecios, rhipsalis and more, all enhanced by the dwarf Arctic willow hedging around it.


With that, I finish my monthly 2016 exploration of the garden paintbox. But not to worry!  2017 is a whole new ballgame, and there will be garden colour galore (plus the odd travel journal and personal reminiscence) throughout the coming year.