Garden tour extraordinaire

If you didn’t go on the Over the Hedge garden tour organized by the Ottawa Botanical Garden Society this past weekend, their only fund-raiser this year, then you really missed out!   This tour was organized by the volunteers on the Board, specifically the dynamo Vice-Chair Monique Oaks.  A vast contingent of volunteers was helping out over the two days, greeting visitors to each garden, selling aprons and t-shirts, offering flavoured ice water and generally providing smiling and enthusiastic faces all along the way.

There were twelve gardens on the tour and I’m embarrassed to say we only made it to half of them.  This was because I insisted on having a leisurely Sunday brunch at mid-day (the outing was my birthday present from my good friend who just happens to be a professional gardener as well, Patti Allen) and we did so at the amazing Heirloom Cafe Bistro in Almonte.  If we had gone out on Saturday as well, it would have been a breeze to see them all (but I was busy having a pedicure and then dinner with other girlfriends!)

The first garden we visited was a small, corner property in Pakenham belonging to Judy and John McGrath.  Judy is a gardener and photographer and the garden is personal, quirky and feels very private.  With beguiling entrances and seating areas, curving beds and miniature water features, this garden reflects a relaxed and friendly sensibility.

Next we moved across the street to the property where Paddye Mann lives and works, joined by her daughter in the neighbouring home, the homes and studio linked by an Asian inspired garden.

What I liked about this garden was the way in which the paths and plantings complemented the existing topography.

River-washed stone, timbers and naturalized plantings all echo the relaxed character of this garden, where a dry stream bed meanders alongside ancient granite bedrock.

An Asian-inspired cedar boardwalk is elevated above the garden, allowing the visitor an easy stroll and accommodating the pre-existing evergreens.

Daylilies, hostas, perennial geraniums, dogwood, coral bells — all these plants have been placed under the canopy of white pines and here, a metal sculpture that mimics the effect of wind rustling grasses gives the finishing touch. 

The working studio affords a view into the peaceful garden — a beautiful still-life from outside as well as inside.

The last Pakenham property belongs to the Bean family and has a lovely view of the Mississippi River.  The garden surrounds the expansive grounds of the stone heritage home called `Glenbeancragge`, referencing the limestone outcroppings that embrace the property and provide a natural home for a vast planting of specimen hostas, or —

— creeping sedums.

Stay tuned:  more to come…

Chanticleer: a pleasure garden

The name Chanticleer to those already ‘in the know’ brings visions of exciting, quirky and multi-dimensional design where seven horticulturists (each responsible for a specific section of the grounds/gardens), as well as many seasonal gardeners, have been creating a world-class masterpiece of plant, sculpture and garden experience for over the last twenty years.  

Path with Papaver rhoeas; photo courtesy Lisa Roper

I recently contacted them by email, asking if I might use some photographs for this blog and was happily supplied with some different photos from Lisa Roper, the horticulturist responsible for the Asian Woods and resident photographer.

Terrace view with Orange Emperor tulips; photo courtesy Lisa Roper

Chanticleer was built as a country retreat on the outskirts of Philadelphia just before WWI.    The owners, Adolph and Christine Rosengarten Sr. (he, a pharmaceutical magnate) then converted the home into a year-round residence some ten years later, thereby making it their permanent address.

Red maple in the morning mist; photo courtesy Lisa Roper

The estate’s website indicates that the name ‘Chanticleer’ was taken from Thackeray’s 1855 novel called ‘The Newcomes’.   Apparently, the building of that fictional estate, ‘Chanticlere’,  almost put the lead characters in the poor-house but upon completion was, nevertheless, a shining star in the county.

Camassia leitchtlinii; photo courtesy Lisa Roper

The Rosengarten’s son passed away in 1990, his will ensuring that the home and grounds were left for the enjoyment of the public as the Chanticleer Foundation.   It is run by an active Board of Directors and the newly developed garden opened to public viewing in 1993.  There are twelve all-season gardeners and groundskeepers maintaining this world-class property.

The Asian restroom; photo courtesy Lisa Roper

If these photos have whet your appetite, then go here for more.  What makes this garden so spectacular is that it has something for everyone; some sections have a modern sensibility, others are wild and natural, still another reflects the simplicity innate in Asian gardens, and don’t get me started about the gorgeous container plantings.  The gardeners here are top-level designers, using plants for the value of their foliage and shape rather than simply their flowers.  

Enough said — plan a visit.

Meadow flower arrangement; photo courtesy Lisa Roper

Garden Treasure

Meet Paeonia ‘Garden Treasure’ – I needed to use the flash to give you a true idea of the colour of this glorious hybrid peony.  Known as an ‘intersectional’ peony, it is a cross between a herbaceous and tree peony (P. lactiflora x P. lutea).  So, it has the size and spectacular face of a tree peony but the more compact plant size and herbaceous stems of the traditional garden peony. 

This beauty just glows in the late day light.  And there’s a bonus:  no ants!

Elephants with no ears

If you’re already a lover of art, you will know the name Christopher Griffin.  Christopher is an artist whose media is not only paint but also concrete, bronze and anything else that inspires him.  In his words,

I am inspired by ancient artwork on cave walls, children’s art and random markings on concrete sidewalks, roads and buildings. I find the immediacy, confidence and lack of pretense in their character very appealing. I emulate this chaotic beauty in the surfaces of my own work with a description I call ‘visual noise’. Scribbles, gestural markings and accidentals mirror our hectic, image laden society and provide the spark of inspiration for me. I often use bird, fish and animal motifs in my work because they represent the pure, the innocent and the spiritual.

So it’s not surprising that Christopher, along with his wife Oresta and young daughter Kalyna, would have journeyed to India.  While there, Christopher trekked away from the urban noise and commotion to the town of Kunhimangalam, where he spontaneously studied with the Thekee Veetil family who ran a bronze foundry called Paravathi Metals.  

Christopher with the Thekee Veetil family; photo courtesy Christopher Griffin

Christopher says,

The trip was an adventure and a wonderful way to experience another culture. I worked side by side with the five brothers who ran the foundry and earned their respect by getting my hands dirty. Only one brother spoke english and there was a major hurdle trying to explain my aesthetics and what kind of sculpture I was interested in. They have worked for generations making beautiful but traditional objects for temples and households and couldn’t understand my crude, child-like creations. There was a bit of a breakthrough when I dug a shallow picture of a canoe into the packed earth. The magic of watching molten bronze flow into the depression was fascinating even for them.
Ranjendran, Mithun and Christopher; photo courtesy Christopher Griffin
Applying the wax; photo courtesy Christopher Griffin

You can read a more indepth account of Christopher’s experience here and here too.

This weekend Christopher is holding an open studio  to showcase his newest works from this incredible journey.  Here’s a sneak peak of some of his works. 


Too much of a good thing

Too much of this:

and this:

Makes for this:

Not to mention this:

The problem with border collies is that when they see another dog doing something, they have to do it bigger, better, longer and faster.  And preferably with that other dog’s owner remarking, “Boy, she’s got a lot of energy for a dog that’s 9!”

(Not to mention getting that other dog owner to throw the ball for her – thus making her more important than their dog … crazy manipulative  beast … )


Trialing (not trailing) annuals

Remember when I told you that I was going to get some free plants from Proven Winners?  And I was so excited?

 Well they came (last month actually but I didn’t report this right away because … well, keep reading…)

I can’t tell you how anxious I was to see what was in that box.  I recall ordering plants from places like Cruickshanks and Gardenimport, and I was always impressed to see how they engineered the containers and boxes so that everything always arrived in perfect condition.

So I dove right in and this is what I found:

What part of  does someone not understand????

So I took things out gingerly but soil was everywhere, stems were broken and some plants were miles away from even being in a pot. 

Of 18 plants (I say ‘plants’ as opposed to rooted cuttings that had barely made it through WWIII) I salvaged maybe 10 or 12.    *sad face*

I planted them, with their tags adjacent, in one of my nice clay pots out front.  This location is north facing but receives sun in the later hours of the afternoon.  And I am *very* happy to report that it is (somewhat miraculously) filling out nicely.


When everything is blooming, I’ll let you know what they’re called and how they’re holding up….


Revisiting the Conservatory Garden

There are a handful of people working and living near enough this public garden in New York City that they come here during their lunch breaks or right after a long day and sit here to decompress.   Wouldn’t you like to do that?

Not only is this impeccably maintained garden a welcome spot to relax, it is also full of views and vignettes that can be translated into small garden inspiration.


There are combinations of colour and shape that are striking and beautiful.

One of the biggest lessons from the Conservatory Garden is the use of interesting annuals in the beds.  Choices like canna, alternanthera, coleus, fuschia, zinnia, fennel and others create bursts of colour and texture in these narrow beds.

To give some sense of these effusive plantings, a languorous and undulating boxwood hedge provides a solid backdrop.  The contrast between the two makes the display even more dynamic.  Contrast in texture and mass should never be underestimated. 

Go big and bold or go home!