Childhood memories visiting the Central Experimental Farm

This is a recent view in the late afternoon of the sunken gardens at the Central Experimental Farm’s Ornamental Gardens in Ottawa.  If my recollection is correct, it was originally planted as a showcase for miniature conifers, but over time, these plants have grown into giants.

Dwarf mugo pines, hemlocks, all manner of spruce and juniper; they’re all here but now tower above you.  In my childhood, my older sister and I would often visit with my Mom & Dad.  We would first go and see the pigs in their paddocks next to the old barns, and try to feed them fistfuls of grass — here I am (dressed up in my matching red jacket, hat and tights) with my sister, who’s doing the feeding.  I’m busy trying to get a better view or get in … 

Then we’d race over to this two-part garden and skip along the path to our primary destination:  the small waterfall:

It’s not flowing here (and seemed as I got older to always have technical difficulties – isn’t that the truth!) but acts as a receptacle for overflowing pots of water iris.

This garden seemed magical to me as a child.  But as an adult, it is no less magical.  The delicious feeling of being small and hidden,  and being beckoned along a path with fits and starts, so that you can’t see where you’ll end up.  Being coaxed with tentative steps on stones that are uneven and unpredictable, so that every footfall requires looking down, and then looking from side to side for the planted treasures.  This is the way I first saw a colony of Anemone robustissima (the vigorous Grapeleaf anemone) bending to the sun and nodding in the late summer heat as well as a dwarf form of hardy bamboo (I wish I could remember what it was called…), not to mention tiny specimens of hosta and diminuitive creeping bugleweed.

And this majestic Scots Pine, with its arm reaching down and into the foreground, was perfect for small children to perch on and have their picture taken.  I’ll have to look for that photo…and see how this maternal tree has grown over the past 40 or so years.  Oh look — here we are!  I’m the camera-shy one…

And then we’d trot off to see the fish at the formal pond, where bronze frogs sat at each end and spit an arc of water over the lilypads.

Why did it seem so much bigger then?

Rideau Canal Garden Tours

For the next four days, (actually starting today, the 28th of July) Ottawa is home to the Rideau Canal Festival.  Doesn’t ring a bell?  Well, surprise … this festival is now in its fourth year, with various displays and events that celebrate the canal’s inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Events take place at three locations: the Bytown Museum and Locks next to the Chateau Laurier, Confederation Park (across from city hall) and the Dow’s Lake Pavilion. 

This weekend, Saturday July 30 and Sunday July 31st, plant and garden lovers can tag along for free on a tour of the changing flower beds that grace both Dow’s Lake as well as both sides of the canal.  This walking tour, called Rideau Canal Garden Tours (both tours begin at 1 p.m. and meet at the Info Kiosk at the Dow’s Lake Pavilion; on Sunday the tour is bilingual) is hosted by Gerald Lajeunesse and Tina Liu, respectively the old and new guard landscape architects at the helm of the National Capital Commission.

What is the history of these beds?  How are the plants chosen?  Are they being trialed?  Are the same plants available to homeowners?  Why aren’t they labelled?  Are they being regularly fertilizered and if so, with what?  Are any pesticides used?

This bed incorporates pink and purple sweet alyssum, zinnias and mandevilla (usually this bed has morning glories) set to climb up string in front of the stone wall.

Although most of the beds that line the canal utilize colourful annuals, there are several beds around Dow’s Lake that showcase perennials.  This bed, near Madawaska Avenue, is a new one and has a dreamy selection of blue, purple and silver perennials.  Catmint (Nepeta), ornamental sage (Salvia), Artemisia and others have been chosen.   If you’re not familiar with the varieties, having both Mr. Lajeunesse and Ms. Lui at your disposal on this tour will help, I”m sure!

This bed is the circular raised planter along the path between Dow’s Lake and Carling Avenue.  Its one of the more spectacular displays, imo, probably because it is both raised and allows the designer to really make a statement because it can be viewed from a distance.  It is ringed here with white sweet alyssum and includes purple fountain grass (Pennisetum) as well as pink (Angelonia) and purple/blue annuals (Ageratum). 

Although these displays are striking right now, especially when you look at the way in which the designer has chosen combinations of colours, textures and habits, late summer is the time that they really shine.

This is the same bed last summer.  Gorgeous, no?  I want to know who designed this one …

Daylily delirium

I regret that I cannot pass along any of the cultivar names of these beauties, since I was in a hurry to snap the pictures.  But, needless to say, the staff and volunteers at the Central Experimental Farm, where these pictures were taken, seem to have been hard at work making sure they are labelled.  Hooray!  And if you’re looking for a nursery to see dozens of varieties in bloom, and buy a generous clump, check out Whitehouse Perennials, just outside Ottawa in Almonte, Ontario.

These display beds are in the ornamental gardens of the Central Experimental Farm, just south of the annual beds.

One of the ways in which breeders rate the quality of their newest varieties is the texture and thickness of the petals.   The thicker the petal, the more durable (i.e. heat, wind and sun resistant) it is.   They also seem to hold their colour better.

Yum.  Almost good enough to eat.

Almost too many to choose!  But what other perennials are good companions for daylilies?

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), variegated loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata ‘Alexander’), hybrid speedwell (Veronica cv.) and Oriental lilies are mingling here with a luminous red daylily …

This bed combines a spider-form of daylily with an ornamental grass (foreground right; perhaps a Molinia?) with grape-leaf anemone (Anemone robustissima) in the background.  They have also inserted a Dracaena (or is it a Cordyline?) behind, for a touch of something tropical.  Love it. 

Echinacea and Monarda are also simultaneous bloomers.

Go take a trip down to the Farm.   With these long, wide borders there’s lots to see.

Peachy-keen planters

These are my front step planters which are now overflowing to bursting!  The star in them both is the peachy-pink coloured impatiens (Impatiens walleriana, not the New Guinea variety).

I can’t tell you what the cultivar name is but I can tell you that I planted both pots (my prized Italian terracotta that went unsold at the store; go figure!) with a couple of styrofoam flats of them.  I’ve also interspersed them with a flat of mixed coleus. 

The top planter has a dark coleus with deeply cut foliage that I think is called Sofia Red Green Fringed.  As a background plant that is supposed to tower over the impatiens, I have used Fuchsia triphylla ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’.  I know, it is definitely not towering but that’s because the other plants are so happy.  But honestly, this variety of fuchsia is a must-have, especially if you have a shady location.  It is a woody plant, multi-branched with pendulous flowers at the end of every one of those branches that just keep blooming all summer and beyond.  It is one of my go-to plants.

The planter at the bottom has a trailing tuberous begonia, also in peach, as its primary ingredient, which is also being dwarfed now by the impatiens.

Remember this?

It was the carnage that arrived on my doorstep from the Proven Winners people back in May; a bunch of little pots with annuals to trial.  I didn’t think any of them could be saved…but look at this:


I’ll get back to you and tell you what the plants are….

Clematis vitacella ‘Alba luxurians’ – love!

I *love* this clematis. 

It is called Clematis vitacella ‘Alba Luxurians’ and is indeed, to my mind, luxurious.

It’s not the ‘in your face’ Clematis jackmanii, although I love the rich colour of that hybrid, or any of the bright bi-colours that look so striking from afar.  This clematis is the epitome of subtlety and grace.  With blooms that defy predictability — sometimes with four petals, other times with three or five, beautiful black anthers and splotches of green at the petals’ tips — I love their ease and simplicity.

Never needing pruning and always reliable for a good show, even in part sun (or even considerable shade), this July and August blooming clematis is worth waiting for.  And certainly worth searching out.


Wow.  I took this picture last night.  Genius. 

But, what came first?  The blue door and stairs or the blue lacecap hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla; perhaps the cultivar ‘Veitchii’?)  And hey!  You’re not supposed to be able to grow that in Ottawa!

I’ll have to visit this garden next year to see if this plant survives our winters…