Welcome to Gardening from a Hammock

Learning how to make your garden work for you

Finally a book that recognizes that while we all want beautiful gardens, we don’t all want to work too hard at it. I have been told countless times that there is no such thing as a lazy gardener. But the truth is, I am a lazy gardener. Or I would like to be, if I could figure out how to be one.  (Just so you know, my co-author, Dan Cooper, is not a lazy gardener – it’s all about balance.)

Gardening from a Hammock helps us get organized by assisting with choices of low-maintenance plants that keep working when we don’t. Talented gardeners tell us why they choose certain plants, how to work the soil, watering techniques, and how to get the maximum benefit from our choices.  Essentially, how to garden smart so it’s not work.

We are delighted to introduce a low-maintenance gardening book that borrows expertise, tips and valuable experience from nationally recognized gardeners. We also are grateful to all the photographers who so kindly let us use their wonderful photos for the sake of educating and sharing their love of gardening. Please check out their individual pages under gardeners and photographers and their websites from the adjacent Honour Roll. As well, special thanks to Dave Cooper at ttc for his page design and support, and Wendy Thomas for her editing skills. A special thanks to Linda Chaplick for meticulously reading and editing along the way.

We are glad you came by to learn about our  Gardening from a Hammock.  It also is available at many stores including the Toronto Botanical Garden shop in Toronto, Sheridan Nurseries, selected Lee Valley stores,  as well as through Amazon.ca.  Like our gardens, we trust this website will grow as we learn and share along the way.

Happy Gardening,

Ellen and Dan

Just ’cause it doesn’t look like we shouldn’t be planting…

                                                      Only 22 days and 22 hours until spring

…..doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t — or couldn’t — be starting our seeds. There is another snow storm today. It has been snowing for the past 6 hours and it is beautiful.

But I have to admit that I am impatient for green and growth, and that usually does not bode well. Too often my seedling transplants have been leggy and overgrown and have either perished indoors while the ground was  still frozen, or flopped shortly after planting outside.

I know better. But I have a hard time doing better. Seedy Saturday at the Toronto Botanical Garden didn’t help. I came home with some beautiful soil, a number of seeds, and the irresistible urge to plant something. Anything.

I capitulated and ended up sowing some sunflower sprouts (above, which already are starting to sprout in the past four days) and some ground cherries. Last year I had a hard time finding seeds so was thrilled to find them this year. And with the best of intentions I have started to record the seed plantings in the Toronto Gardener’s Journal which sisters Helen and Sarah Battersby now have updated with Margaret Bennet-Alder. If you are like me, with pre-spring fever, check out the Savvy Gardeners website and note what vegetables they recommend for planting right now. Or perhaps, if you have more will power, perhaps give it another couple of weeks.


Feeling purple?

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)


Every year there are more and more brilliant coloured  echinacea hybrids available but the tried and true native, the purple coneflower remains my favourite. It never stops giving: in the summer, it brightens up the garden and attracts bees and butterflies. In our cold  season, the coneflowers provide winter interest, especially when snow falls on the spent seed heads, looking like intricate lace.



These grow  30 – 48 inches tall (75 cm – 120 cm) and provide many features: they are long blooming, drought tolerant, can be an accent in the garden and make lovely cut flowers.

Even though these are my favourites, I still love some of the newer hybrids in oranges, peaches, corals, and reds.  These self-reliant plants are designed for the lazy gardener.


Sunshine in the Garden


There should be a song: Black-eyed girl, because Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ are singing in gardens, urns and in the wild at this time of year.

Black-eyed Susans come in many varieties and sizes, but ‘Goldstrum grow about 24-30 inches tall (60-75 cm) in zones 3-9.

These native, long-blooming flowers are a wow factor in the garden right now, and will often bloom well into the fall.  They are easy to grow in just about any soil, and spread easily and quickly in the garden – take that as a blessing or as a warning.

Use them to attract butterflies, as a cut flower or accent, in sun or part shade.

Crocosmia in Bloom


These wispy beacons of colour are attracting bees and pollinators as they shine this time of year. Crocosmia or Montbrtia can be used as specimens in the garden, accents or as cut flowers. The Crocosmia Lucifer (zone 5-9) reaches 36-48 inches while  Crocosmia x Crocosmiiflora is about 24 inches high.  Their flowers are delicate and add a tropical feel to the garden and have been blooming the past three weeks. The added beauty is that their airy form provides peaks of neighbouring foliage and flowers planted around them. The squirrels seem to ignore the bulbs when we planted them last fall – so far.  Another low-maintenance plant.


First week of spring

Below is a photo of  our squirrel-proof bird feeder which teaches us that there are  no guarantees in the garden. We may as well be relaxed because plants we don’t recognize will pop up, others we will have lost in our freeze and thaw of a winter.

I am getting restless watching the days lengthen, the sunshine and birds returning. I want to get into the garden and plant or dig or seed. Yet I know it is too early, and patience is required. Other than watch squirrels eat our birdseed, one thing we can do now is to prune our Japanese Maples. While the branches are bare, or almost bare, we can see their shapes  and the form of the tree as a whole and gently prune it to our liking. Why we do it now is that we want to prune before the sap begins to wake up and circulate through the branches.

Spring reminds us all to wake up after our long gardening hibernation. Time to take stock and think about the coming season.  In Mid Life kindly mentioned Gardening from a Hammock in his blog on how to make gardening easier. I hope this helps — and watch out for squirrels.


Thoughts of Spring


In one month it will be spring and despite the snow and cold, (and perhaps with the help of a glass of wine) I can visualize the early bulbs poking up and the forsythia glowing with yellow flowers, and the hellebores coming to life. I don’t think of all the dog droppings to pick up, or broken branches to prune or the tidying up I didn’t do in the fall. That will wait.

Daydreaming brings me along in time, to summer and here’s where those wonderful seed catalogues come handy. Although planting seeds inside and watching them grow brings joy and anticipation, if you are a low-maintenance gardener, you may only want to look at the photos. Consider though, that there are lots of seeds you can simply scatter in gently prepared soil outside once the weather warms the earth. At Renee’s Garden (https://www.reneesgarden.com), you can check out its Easy to Grow Seed Collection online. Order, receive seeds, and then anytime in the spring – or even early summer if you misplace the envelopes – scatter the seeds in a container, or on the ground, and enjoy fresh herbs or annuals.

Another website we love is Savvy Gardening (by four women, including our talented Canadian friends Tara Nolan and Niki Jabbour. Their website (https://savvygardening.com) provides excellent information on starting seeds.

Goat’s beard shines in the shade

 Giant goat’s beard

There is drama and there is high drama. Aruncus dioicus or giant goat’s beard is high drama, looming up to 180 cm, bearing creamy-white plumes that rise above the dark foliage and brightening up the shady garden. Susan Lipchak, one of the master gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock, suggested both the giant Aruncus diocus and the smaller Aruncus dioicus ‘Kneiffi’, cutleaf goat’s beard, for the shade. “The Aruncus dioicus is a dramatically bold plant because of its size – it looks like a giant astilbe,” says Susan. It holds its own beside a giant clump of tall grasses in her garden. This perennial stands between 120 to 180 cm and is spectacular in flower with its creamy white plumes and lacy leaves. It eventually forms a dense clump. The ‘Kneiffii’ variety is smaller, but still stands 90 cm and has finely cut leaves, which would suit a smaller garden.

This is the dwarf variety:

Dwarf  Goat’s beard – Aruncus aethusifolius

This hardy perennial complements summer-blooming shrub roses, brunnera, ferns and hostas. Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials.

The giant goat’s beard is ideal for the back of a shady border or beside a pond. It needs room, as it will spread between 90 and 150 cm. Expect a strong statement from the creamy-white flowers June through July. Where the giant goat’s beard would be too large, the more compact cutleaf goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus ‘Kneiffii’) would provide the impact without the height. It is smaller at 75 to 90 cm high, but with the same spread.  It has finely cut leaves similar to a Japanese maple with creamy-white flowers June through July.

As an interesting aside, the male flowers produce showier and more erect plumes (I am not making this up) than do the plants with female flowers.

To get new plants, divide clumps in spring or fall, but be aware they do not like being moved.

This was originally published as part of Canadian Gardening series of Low-Maintenance Mondays.



Hello Hellebores, Harbingers of Spring

One of the first perennials to show off their colours, the Hellebore (Lenten Rose) also provides us with glossy leaves throughout the year. At a March workshop with garden guru Marion Jarvie, she suggested we cut off the old dead leaves of theHellebore now, even with some snow on the ground, to ensure we get the best view of the flowers when they arrive. And that will be all we have to do all season to take care of this hardy plant. It’s important to remember that the flowers of the Hellebore face downward so ideally we plant them to accommodate that. Some of the newer varieties however, such as Hellebore ‘Anna’s Red’, a variety where  red flowers look up instead of typically downward. As well, the plant has mottled foliage to contrast with the dark green of the other varieties.

Here are some photos from my garden in zone 5 Ontario.

Low-maintenance plants for the shade

I recently went to a workshop at the Toronto Botanical Garden only to hear dozens of questions about what to plant in the shade. We thought we would provide some answers. The experts featured in Gardening from a Hammock shared their favourite easy-care perennials with us. Although we edited the book to ensure there were no repetitions, in the early interviews there were many repeat favourites. We share them here in anticipation of a new planting season. Although we are fans of hostas, we are not including any in this blog, because we know they are so obvious; they work well in the  dark shade, dappled shade, and part shade and come in countless sizes and variations.  All the favourites  we feature today were frequently mentioned.


Adiantum Pedatum  ( Maidenhair fern)

Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s mantle)

Athyrium niponicum ‘Dictum’ (Japanese painted fern)

Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’ (Creeping Japanese sedge)

Corns alternifolia ‘Golden Shadows’ (Golden Shadows pagoda dogwood)

Epimedium (Barrenwort – any and all- my favourite is rubrum – red)

Hakonechloa macro ‘Aureola’ (Golden Japanese forest grass)