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)

More low-maintenance plant suggestions

Looking at the snow covered ground, it was a treat to think about plants and suggest some low-maintenance plants for the interesting smiling gardener website. But what a hard task: to choose favourites from the 300 star plants in Gardening from a Hammock.

Tight on space, the website article includes only the Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum) and Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) we recommended.

So here we share the third favourite:

Epimedium is an underused low-maintenance plant that is a workhorse the spreads slowly to form a groundcover in hard to plant dry shade or sun. Called Barrenwort or Bishop’s Hat (from the shape of the flower), this drought-tolerant plant has heart-shaped, red/green leaves with small flowers in a variety of colours: red (Epimedium x ‘rubrum’) yellow (Epimedium × versicolor ‘Sulphureum’) or white (Epimedium x youngianum ‘Niveum’). These elegant but tough plants will grow under just about anything, include Maple Trees. Leaves are semi-evergreen depending on your zone. They’re drought tolerant, have delicate flowers in a variety of colours, and lovely heart-shaped leaves that turn red, purple or bronze in the fall depending on the cultivar.

Photo is Epimedium x ‘rubrum’

Epimedium x rubrum-Dan photo.jpg

For some more interesting recommendations for plants that are easy to grow and maintain, check out this link:



Slug it to the Hostas

July 4, 2015

I love Hostas because they are so accommodating, interesting and they share. There is a size and colour to fit in the smallest and the largest gardens. And they are tough. Nothing thrived under our water-sucking Corkscrew Willow – not even hardy Vinca or Creeping Jenny – until we planted Hostas. As you can see from the photo, there are many different varieties, sizes and shapes that get along with not just one another, but with the dominating Willow. Many of these started as pieces of other Hostas thriving throughout the rest of garden. Yet tough as they are, the succumb to the tiny slug and at this time of year, many Hostas resemble Swiss cheese more than plants. Our book, Gardening from a Hammock, guides you to specific varieties that don’t seem to be eaten despite their proximity to slugs. Our gardeners suggest we look for Hostas that have waxy leaves, thick leaves, corrugated leaves which make snacking more difficult for slugs.

Garden June 6, 2015 Sum and Substance

Notice  how the large Hosta in the background, Sum and Substance, glows in the shade bed.

Garden June 6, 2015  Sum and Substance

This closer view of the Sum and Substance Hosta illustrates how its thick textured leaves protects it against slugs.

The Squirrels will always win

I spent years planting tulips while the squirrels perched in the trees above, watched and waited for the right moment to feast on their favourite bulbs. If they missed a tulip, they would eat it early spring. I tried digging the bulbs deeper than suggested. I used bone meal. I put human hair cuttings over the soil. And still the squirrels outsmarted me. As a lazy gardener, I also tried species tulips which have much smaller bulbs and spread on their own. Still no luck. So the past few years I have planted daffodils and narcissus. The squirrels don’t like them. Each year I add a few different varieties, and admire the assortment of sizes, colours and flower shapes. I am now a big fan of the daffodil. They are such happy plants and bring a smile to my face. And the squirrels now concentrate on getting into the birdfeeders.IMG_3471

Daffodils greet you as you walk to the front door

Daffodils greet you as you walk to the front door

Conifer recommendation from Whistling Gardens

Darren Heimbecker with Pinus Parniflora 'Ogon Janome'

Darren Heimbecker from Whistling Gardens with Pinus Parviflora ‘Ogon Janome’

Darren Heimbecker, owner of Whistling Gardens which boasts 20 acres with 2,500 different conifers, singles out one of his favourite low-maintenance shrubs. Pinus Parviflora ‘Ogon Janome’ (Japanese White Pine or Golden Dragon eye white pine) is a slow-growing yellow-variegated conifer that handles a fair amount of shade. “You never have to touch this plant,” says Heimbecker, “just enjoy it.” He explains that it takes backstage for the summer, but is front and centre in winter with its layered colours of variegated  gold, green, silver, grey and blue. It has a globe shape when young and can become broadly conical with age. Heimbecker says that after 10 years his Japanese White Pine is only about two feet.  Whistling Gardens (www.whistling gardens.ca), south of Burlington, Ontario, has one of the largest conifer collections in North America featuring many rare varieties of ornamental and native trees and bushes. 

Low-maintenance plants that show off in the fall

Here is another hardy, reliable plant that carries us from late summer, early fall all the way into the winter. Check out Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’. Japanese anemone. These tall, elegant white daisy-like flowers dance from August through October. They work as cut flowers, as an accent and provide vertical interest.Image