Poison ivy and relief with beautiful containers

About a week and a half ago I felt that familiar itchy feeling, with a slow, red rash appearing on my skin.  This time it was on the palm of my hand, at the base of my fingers.  A few days later, this itch turned into a full blown poison ivy break-out and culminated in huge, painful welts between my fingers and on my thumbs.

After attempting to cure myself with various remedies (calamine lotion, Gold Bond cream, French green clay, Apisgel*, colloidal oatmeal, hot baths, cold baths, Benadryl, tea tree oil, shea oil – have I forgotten anything?), I went to my doctor and got a prescription for a cortisone ointment.  Keenly aware that my agonizing reaction had reached its apex, I applied this cream twice a day and watched as my painful welts started to subside and the redness began to go away.

Honestly, I am doomed to suffer skin reactions like this every year.  If its not poison ivy, its giant hogweed or the milky sap from euphorbias.  And its not that I can’t identify these plants; no, I can see them in my sleep.  They just seem to be hiding in amongst other ones, especially when they see me coming.  I hate them, but they have my number :c(

Anyway, I’m almost better now and in celebration was able to start making some summer planters for clients.  The trick is to choose carefully — not simply flowers but foliage.  Colour, texture, form – they need to mingle in a way that creates a story and a visually pleasing party.  This needs to happen right away — no waiting allowed!

The other trick is to go to the nursery with no preconceived ideas of what you’ll choose.  First I take a walk around the nursery and see what’s available AND looking good.  Then I grab a cart and start creating.

I might be smitten by a blue or a silver and decide to create my container story from there – but you need to know what some plants will end up looking like as they grow.  The white and violet Bacopa here are fairly well known dainty trailers but many people aren’t yet familiar with Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’, a delicate plant with starry white ‘flowers’ that creates a cloud of sparkling fluff — the perfect foil for flat or grassy leaves and any saturated colour.

For interest, I’ve also included a decorative variety of sorrel, Rumex sanguineus ssp. sanguineus, the sword-shaped foliage plant with red veins in the middle of this planter.

The beautiful blue spikes belong to an ornamental blue sage, Salvia farinacea, that blooms and blooms and blooms, as long as you keep dead-heading its spent flowers.

In order to provide some lightness, I’ve relied on a new variety of variegated Pennisetum alopecuroides, new to me anyway.  I’m very excited about this tender grass and hope it performs well.

For height at the rear of the planter (every planter needs the proper scale, especially if it is an entrance container), I’ve used an English ivy (Hedera helix) on a metal obelisk.

And for a surprise later in the season, I’ve popped in two silvery blue ornamental kale.  They’ll expand throughout the heat of the summer and become a striking feature by the autumn.

* Just a word about Apisgel (now called Dapisgel).  If you haven’t tried it yet, go out and buy some.  It is a homeopathic remedy for any or all itching (especially insect bites and stings) and contains Apis mellifica and Ledum palustre in a gel base.    I have found this remedy to be amazing and to stop itching almost immediately, so much that I go through multiple tubes of it every summer.  This is who makes it.

Shady woodland spring stars

This is Uvularia grandiflora, commonly known as large-flowered bellwort.  It is a wildflower native to eastern North America and can be found as far west as Manitoba and the Dakotas, and as far north as Quebec, and as far south as Georgia and Lousiana.  It flowers in May with languorous yellow bell-shaped blooms and I caught this specimen, among many, on a walk a couple of weeks ago close to Wakefield, Quebec.  It is a favourite nectar source for several different varieties of bees.

It grows up to 18 – 20″ tall and will stay green throughout the summer if the location is shaded and the soil remains moist; otherwise, it will act as an ephemeral.

The great white trillium or white wakerobin (Trillium grandiflorum) is, of course, the official flower of Ontario.  In my youth, I remember that it was illegal to take plants from the woods and they were certainly never sold in the nurseries so these plants were always considered magical and temperamental.  It is true that raised from seed, trilliums take 20 months to emerge as seedlings from the soil, making their propagation a long-term commitment for any gardener!

These natives are ephemeral and disappear after flowering and going to seed, so their placement is best marked so they’re not disturbed during any autumn digging in the garden.

Do you have a favourite wildflower in your garden?

When the past peaks through

A visit to the Distillery District in Toronto left me with some unexpected feelings.  We ventured there in the hopes of finding a great restaurant but left again when we found not only very expensive parking but few dining options.  I was surprised to experience an overwhelming feeling of desolation.  The opposite of what one should expect to feel in a ‘gentrified’ and purified pocket of a big city — I felt its gritty and utilitarian past.

The sun had not gone down yet, but the light was dimming and there were few people around.  Granted, it was not yet summer so perhaps not the time of year for crowds and outdoor lingering.  And I know these still-life were staged for the benefit of visitors like us —

But I didn’t mind.

I would have loved to have visited a museum that chronicles Toronto’s distillery past in this area — if only to honour its past and those people who worked here.

Can your dog do all this?

How can you not be dazzled by this border collie?  But don’t be fooled; this kind of success requires a lot of time and commitment.  Border collies, though, are up to the challenge!  Are you?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Dazzle is a seven year old border collie, from working stock, who is owned by Katherine.  If you’re interested in seeing more videos featuring this talented team, look here.

Inspired front gardens

I was away on the weekend and saw some beautiful gardens …

Could this Euonymus be any more beautiful?

For a garden that fronts on a busy, main street and abuts a parking lot, it is truly a jewel.  One of the best, most effective characteristics of a garden is the element of mystery.  This walkway with a solid gate at the end is breathtakingly enticing.  I met the woman who has lived here for over 30 years but since she was leaving and we were strangers, I couldn’t bring myself to ask to see her hidden garden.  Maybe one day.

My experience in Savannah and Charleston with courtyard gardens hidden behind beautiful iron fences has me enamoured of any such display.  The border sedum seed heads that were left over the winter are now a perfect echo of the new foliage on the Bloodgood Japanese maple.  I think most of us might have chopped them off without a second thought.  Clearly the gardener here is totally in tune with their plants and their visual effect.

Luckily this one was free for all passersby to view.

As was this one.  Both with beautiful use of natural stone.

Note the low, picket fence that acts as more of a garden feature than a barrier.