Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Garden Inspiration: Exploring the gardens of Niagara On The Lake

Throughout Canada, the United States and Europe there are special cities, towns and neighbourhoods dedicated to beautiful gardens. Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of those inspirational towns.

Alliums are a popular choice for the gardeners of Niagara On The Lake. Hear a lucky situation with the alliums protruding from the fence into the public sidewalk. A Lensbaby lens helped provide a dreamy look to the image.

Lensbaby optics add a romantic flavour to garden images

There are cities and towns all over Canada, the United States and especially Europe worth exploring just for their gardens. Even within large cities, there are neighbourhoods that offer the same inspiration in just a few square blocks.

One of these places, located not too far from where I live, is the small tourist town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Not to be confused with nearby tourist Mecca Niagara Falls that has its own lovely public parks, but offers nothing near the private gardens of Niagara-on-the Lake.

Walking the residential areas just off the main commercial street has probably been one of my main inspirational points of my garden life. For years, my wife and I have visited this little gem where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario, My wife tours the little quaint shops on main street while I take my camera and explore the garden scene.

Both are actually quite sensational – quaint with a serious spoonful of sophistication that is often missing in many neighbourhoods where money and the size of the house takes precedence over the gardens.

Here, it’s almost as if the gardens take centre stage around equally beautifully historic homes.

Picket fence covered with flowers shot with Lensbaby

This soft, romantic image was taken with a Lensbaby Composer creating the dreamy effect and capturing the mood of the scene. Touring public or private gardens provides the ideal opportunity to practise creative photographic techniques.

Mackinac Island in Michigan is another community that comes to mind where gardeners can go to be truly inspired. I’m sure readers know more places of inspiration. Please leave a comment telling readers what your inspirational garden cities, towns or neighbourhoods are in the comment section at the bottom of the page.

It’s here, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where I got the idea that driveways don’t have to be asphalt or concrete. A simple crushed red stone is not only acceptable but preferred for even the most sophisticated of homes.

It was here where I fell in love with Japanese Forest Grass after seeing it used in large clumps to welcome visitors in the front yard of an elegant home.

It was here, in neighbourhoods dominated by large trees, that I realized woodland gardens can take on a sophisticated look with trees and plants growing up through the ground cover.

And, it was here where I realized that garden art can take the form of a gorgeous bubbling rock, a simple garden swing or a natural moss-covered boulder greeting visitors.

Garden swing adds a little nostalgia to the scene photographed with a Lensbaby lens to give it a soft, romantic appearance.

A beautiful bench provides a little nostalgia to the garden especially when it is taken with a Lensbaby lens, giving it a soft, romantic look.

Although a visit to Victoria B.C. introduced me to the glory of Japanese Maples, it was their exquisite use in the landscape as understory trees in Niagara-on-the-Lake that inspired me to use many of them in our woodland garden.

It’s hard to believe that most of these gardens – many of them tied to elegant bed-and-breakfast facilities – were not designed and maintained by professionals. But, unlike many professionally landscaped homes in areas where I live, these have a sophisticated aesthetic that gives the impression that the gardens were lovingly installed over the years by the owners themselves.

On this afternoon, I chose to photograph the gardens primarily using a Lensbaby optic to give the images a soft, romantic appearance that seems to match the feeling the gardens present to the public.

The homes themselves, even newly built homes, have that same sophisticated look.

Red flowers complement the beautiful red door  photographed with a Lensbaby lens to create the dream look.

Red flowers complement the beautiful red door photographed with a Lensbaby lens to create the dreamy look.

On this visit, I was particularly drawn to the extensive use of alliums in many of the gardens. (See top photo) The balls of purple and white add architectural interest to the gardens and seem to fit naturally into the landscapes, often dripping out between stylish fences into the more public areas.

They certainly are stealing the show during the month of May when many gardens in my area are just beginning to wake up.

The moderating affect of Lake Ontario gives Niagara-on-the-Lake a slightly earlier start to gardening season and probably allows gardeners to push the boundaries of what they can successfully grow in the area.

Obviously known for their grapes and fine Ontario wines, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s real gem and maybe best kept secret isn’t the wine, fine dining, the Shaw Festival and elegant Inns, it just may be the gardens and gardeners that make this little tourist town so special.

If you are in the area this summer, make sure to drop by for a glass of wine and a self-guided walking tour of the glorious gardens.

Romantic porches, mature trees and white picket fences combine for a romantic image. The creative effects of the Lensbaby Composer and 50mm double glass lens adds a romantic look to the image.

Romantic porches, mature trees and white picket fences combine for a romantic image. The creative effects of the Lensbaby Composer and 50mm double glass lens adds a romantic look to the image.

Get creative with your garden photography

Photographing beautiful gardens and capturing inspirational garden vignettes is an excellent way to collect ideas for our own gardens.

It’s also an opportunity to get creative and try to capture the feeling that inspired you to stop and take the picture. Maybe it was the romanticism of the wisteria vine over the arbour, or the white picket fence covered in delicate white flowers.

Maybe the garden swing hanging from the tree branch brought back nostalgic moments of when you were a child.

does that clematis growing over the arbour, or the chair on the large front porch remin you of mornings at your grandparents?

On my most recent visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake, I used a Lensbaby Composer and 50mm double glass optic to capture many of the garden scenes. The soft, selective focus qualities of the Lensbaby lenses provide the perfect effects to capture the romantic garden scenes I came across on my short walk.

For more on Lensbaby optics and effects, check out my post on Lensbaby flower photography here.

All of the images were shot with the original Lensbaby Composer and 50mm double glass optic using the F4 disc on an Olympus micro 4/3 camera. I only mention the specific F-stop because the it has a major influence on the selective softness of the images.

Below are a few more images of the gardens taken with the Lensbaby. If you are looking for creative inspiration for your flower and garden photography, why not take a look at the American-based Lensbaby line of lenses and accessories?

Flowers cover a white picket fence photographed with a Lensbaby.

White flowers cover this picket fence creating a truly romantic scene made even more special by the creative properties of a Lensbaby Composer and 50mm double glass lens.

A massive pine cone is an interesting focal point on this large garden.

A massive art installation inspired by nature works perfectly in this front yard.

The pastel colours make the perfect backdrop for garden containers and the perfect place to sit out overlooking the garden.

Light post and roses

Soft pink roses surround a lamp post leading into the garden.

allium image

Allium is a popular choice among the gardeners in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

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Create a tapestry of ground covers

Creating a tapestry of ground covers creates texture in the garden and adds interest that a single ground cover cannot create.

A tapestry of ground covers.

Hosta, pachysandra, ferns and sweet woodruff combine to form a tapestry of ground covers.

In any garden, but especially a woodland or shade garden, ground covers need to be a vital part of the design plan.

Without them, the forest floor either looks too bare or it begins to form its own ground cover based on whatever weeds are dominant in the area. A thick ground cover not only shades and protects the soil of the garden floor, it creates a beautiful green backdrop for other, more showy plants, to shine.

Make ground covers the star of the show

But what if the ground covers themselves were the real show in the garden?

By creating a tapestry of ground covers, all competing for their own space on the forest floor, it’s possible to turn them into the star of a particular part of the garden.

Mayapple, wild geranium and epimediums combine to form a very different tapestry of ground covers.

Mayapple, wild geranium and epimediums combine to form a very different tapestry of ground covers.

Think of the wall tapestries made up of mosses and ferns that have become so popular in the last few years, and translate that same look on to your garden’s floor.

The results can be stunning.

In fact, in one area of our garden where I have been adding ground covers (three great ground covers) for the past several years to cover up a messy sloped area between our home and the neighbours,’ the result is truly inspirational this spring.

By combining hosta, ferns, sweet woodruff, wild geranium, pachysandra along with a little Lilly of the Valley (I know it can be a problem) the area has been transformed from an eye sore to a lovely tapestry where the ground covers fight it out for dominance.

Tapestry of ground covers

Wild geranium, epicedium and mayapple combine to create a tapestry of ground covers.

A little gentle persuasion on my part can hopefully keep everything in check and allow the tapestry to continue for several years before the more dominant ground covers can get a foothold in the space.

Growing up through the ground covers is a lovely Cornus Alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood) that lends its elegant shape to the garden area.

Nearby, a ground cover of mayapple, wild geranium and epimedium are weaving their own tapestry under the canopy of our mature Linden tree.

Ground covers are most often either an overlooked component to a landscape, or used singularly in a mass planting. While a mass planting of a single ground cover such as pachysandra can create a unified landscape and is almost certainly better than the most used ground cover of all – turf grass – adding a second or third ground cover, preferably ones that are native, can add real texture and diversity to your landscape.

Why not consider setting up an area of your garden where ground covers take centre stage and add real texture to your garden floor in the way of a beautiful ground cover tapestry.

This fawn was spotted hiding in the deep ground cover of ferns, hosta etc.

Update on our ground cover tapestry

Shortly after writing this post, we woke up to a beautiful little fawn hiding in our thick ground cover. Mom either gave birth to the fawn nearby because we picked her up alone on a trail cam the night before, or she brought the fawn to the location just for the day because it was gone by the late afternoon.

I guess the old saying: “build it and they will come” can be changed to “grow it and they will appear.”


Author Profile: Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of the award-winning website and newsletter Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and enjoys sharing his garden photography with readers.

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A walk in the garden: Finding inspiration in public gardens

Public gardens are an excellent way to find inspiration for your own gallery.

Plants along the pathway descending into the rock garden

Rock steps take visitors down into the former quarry at the Royal Botanical’s rock garden providing inspiration and ideas for gardeners.

Three tips to inspire creativity in your home garden

A light rain kept the the public away and left me alone in a spectacular sunken rock garden to explore its magnificent beauty and draw inspiration from the plants and garden design.

The result was not only inspirational, at times it was almost spiritual. The spiritual component was, at least in part, due to the intense feelings I was experiencing from having to say goodbye to my 16-year-old dog, Holly, just a day earlier. The solitude was the perfect escape from the overwhelming grief I was experiencing.

In three hours in the garden, I saw only one other guest. The rest of the time, the garden could have been my own.

Although native plants were few and far between, the garden design and natural planting designs growing along the edges and down into the heart of a sunken quarry, reminded me of the importance of using boulders as a backdrop for flowers, shrubs and grasses. The quarry lent itself to dramatic vignettes with flowers and ferns growing out between the massive rocks and stepping stones that led you deeper into the former quarry.

Exploring the garden also enabled me to see what plants were in bloom or coming into bloom at this particular time of year in my growing zone. It showed me plants growing in a natural environment, from the conditions it was growing to the amounts of sun and shade it was exposed to. It showed me how the garden experts here used companion planting to bring out the best in the plants. Years of testing proved helpful for the finished products.

Too often we are enticed to buy plants from nurseries because they are in bloom at the front of the store. At the nurseries we don’t get the opportunity to see the plants growing in their natural environment. In addition, most of the nursery plants are grown in greenhouses and so are often far ahead on their actual bloom time creating a false sense of when the plants will bloom in our own gardens.

I was particularly interested in the plants that trailed over the rock ledges.

(For more on exploring public gardens, check out my earlier posts on the best woodland gardens to visit in the United States, and some of the best public gardens in Canada.)

Use trailing plants over large rocks

Tip one: Use plants that spill over the top of boulders or trail down slopes. The inset image below shows large boulders in our front yard that hold back the main garden. In one area, we have creeping phlox spilling over boulders onto the front of the driveway. I love the look it gives but seeing what the public garden was doing showed me that there are many more possibilities that could be implemented in our garden.

Basket of Gold and creeping phlox combine for a sensational scene at the public garden.

Creeping phlox spills over boulders along our driveway.

The combination of the yellow, basket of gold, perennial alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis) with the creeping phlox is a combination I’ll be adding to our front boulder wall. Up in the top right of the above picture are the remains of Hakonechloa or Japanese Forest Grass also spilling down the rocky cliff.

Japanese Forest grass, especially “All Gold,” would be a beautiful addition spilling over our front boulders. I have several clumps in the front that could find a new home beside the boulders.

Aurinia saxatilis more commonly called “basket-of-gold” is the dominant flower in the image above. It is a low-growing, spreading perennial that produces a profuse spring bloom of bright yellow flowers. It’s easy to see from the images that the flowers are extremely attractive in rock gardens, sprawling over rocks or cascading down rock walls. Following the colourful bloom, it can be left as an attractive ground cover. It’s unfortunate the plant is a non-native (central Europe to Turkey) because I would use it everywhere in the garden as a spring ground cover. It is a mat-forming perennial with woody roots that grows to 6-12 inches tall and features spatulate basal leaves (to 5 inches long) and smaller linear-oblanceolate stem leaves. Leaves are gray-green. Bright yellow flowers in corymbose panicles bloom in spring. Additional common names include yellow alyssum, madwort, goldentuft and gold-dust.

Walking down into the quarry from high above was a constant reminder of the possibilities of working with steep inclines, especially if large boulders are added. The walls of the rock quarry created lovely dark backdrops to show off the flowers, shrubs and trees to their fullest. In our gardens, unless we are blessed with an old rock quarry, we cannot duplicate this effect, but we can plant evergreens to form a dark background.

A green or dark backdrop help these magnolia flowers pop in the landscape.

A beautiful magnolia comes into bloom surrounded by evergreens in the public garden.

Create dark backgrounds to highlight flowering trees, shrubs and plants

Tip two: Consider planting a wall of cedar, spruce or native white pine along one side of the garden to create a lovely dark backdrop to plant light-coloured flowers, flowering shrubs and trees in front of to show them off in their best light. A clump of birch trees, for example, would be a standout in front of a tall wall of black cedars or Green Giant cedars. In one area of the garden, the blooms of a mature magnolia tree (see above image) sparkled beneath a wall of dark rocks and evergreens.

A bridge leads to a walkway and a lovely saucer magnolia coming into bloom amidst a background of evergreens

A bridge leads to a walkway and a lovely saucer magnolia coming into bloom amidst a background of evergreens.

So many of us plant flowering trees such as magnolias, serviceberries and dogwoods that look great in the garden. But imagine them with a wall of dark evergreens behind them. Proper pruning would make them standout year round, but imagine the show in spring when they are blooming lovely shades of white and pink upon a dark background of evergreens.

Throughout the sunken gardens, I was stopped in my tracks at vignettes that captured a particular part of the garden. Some of them were small vignettes highlighting a tree or shrub, others were large views that still captured the intimacy of a much smaller garden.

A beautiful weeping willow surrounded by daffodils stands out against an evergreen backdrop in the public garden.

Create garden vignettes and a sitting area to experience them

Tip three: Look for big or small garden vignettes where you can turn the focus on a particularly impressive specimen tree, shrub or drift of flowers. This helps you turn the focus on certain areas of the garden.

In the rock garden, a spectacular weeping willow takes the spotlight surrounded by drifts of daffodils. The fresh green leaves of the willow against the dark background created magic in the soft misty rain. At the same time, the garden designers made sure that visitors had several vantage points to view the tree in all its glory.

These red Adirondack chairs are placed perfectly on the upper level overlooking a beautiful sunken public garden. They are a good reminder of the importance of creating garden vignettes.

Public gardens concentrate on providing spectacular views for its visitors. But those views fall a little short if there are not comfortable places to take in this impressive views. Garden benches, large flat boulders that can act as seating areas, and comfortable garden chairs invite visitors to rest and take in the scene.

There was no better example of this than the two bright red Adirondack chairs on the upper level of the rock gardens looking out over the sunken garden. The chairs almost beg visitors to sit down and take in the scene that spreads out before them.

They are a reminder for this gardener to ensure there are many places to take a seat, relax and take in the beauty of the garden.



Author Profile: Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of the award-winning website and newsletter Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and enjoys sharing his garden photography with readers.

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Adding Trilliums to your woodland or shade garden

There are more than 40 different species of Trilliums. Look to plant ones that are native to your area.

It’s hard to resist a scene like this downed birch tree literally surrounded by thousands of trilliums along Trillium Trail.

Memories of thousands of trilliums covering the forest floor

Trilliums were one of the first ephemeral wildflowers that caught my attention on the forest floor. At the time, we lived near a Provincial Park that included an area known as the Trillium Trail. I spent many summer evenings strolling along Trillium Trail looking for the perfect composition among the hundreds of thousands of trilliums.

As far as the eye could see were trilliums. I’ve not been back in a long time and I understand that the number of trilliums along the trail are down substantially. The decline was no doubt the result of a host of reasons not the least being the thousands of visitors deciding they would like a few Trilliums for their own gardens, to the natural decline of the habitat as the young forest matures. Click on the link for my earlier post on why we should NOT be picking or digging up wildflowers.

Trilliums are ephemerals that are meant to be enjoyed when our garden conditions favour them. An open woodland with a soil rich in humus is ideal for these showy white flowers. Plant them in clumps so you can appreciate them from afar.

Don’t make the mistake of planting them in a sunny area with poor soil. They likely won’t survive for more than a season or two and you’ll be wasting the opportunity to plant them in an area where they will thrive.

Our front yard several years ago with many white trillium clumps. Many of the trilliums have disappeared but a few remain having escaped the rabbits and deer.

Early in our woodland garden journey, I planted a number of trilliums in our front garden under the summer shade of a Crimson Maple. (see image above) That should have been ideal for the wildflower, but our soil was much too sandy to feed these wildflowers properly and encourage them to multiply into a mini Trillium Trail. Instead, the rabbits and deer likely chomped on them and most that escaped eventually gave in to the poor, sandy soil.

I should say, however, a few have survived and still continue to put on a little show in the spring. In the meantime, I’ve learned enough to plant any new Trilliums I purchase in the back where our soil holds much more organic matter and is ideal for trilliums and other ephemerals.

The rabbits and deer continue to take a toll on our trilliums, but I’m convinced I can get enough into the ground to revive, at least partially, that feeling I had of walking along Trillium Trail and feeling the magic of Ontario’s official flower carpeting the ground around me.

It’s hard to imagine a woodland without Trilliums.

Easily recognized by their three petalled white flowers surrounded by a whorl of three green leaves, these early spring bloomers have long been a favourite of gardeners looking to celebrate spring.

Example of a white trillium turning to its pink stage as it begins to fade in late spring or early summer.

Although there are more than 40 trillium species, with varying colours ranging from white to yellow, maroon and approaching nearly purple, most are familiar with the white trillium (T. grandiflorum).

If given proper growing conditions, Trilliums are relatively easy to grow and are long-lived in our woodland gardens. Provide them with an organic-rich soil that is well drained but kept moist all summer. The flowers will bloom early before the trees are all leafed out, and become dormant by midsummer.

Trilliums do not transplant well if they are dug up from the forest floor, so always purchase Trilliums from a reputable nursery.

Gardeners on a budget can propagate Trilliums from seed, but expect to wait up to five years before you begin to see blooms. Seeds sown in the garden will not even germinate until the second year. Propagating trilliums by rhizome cuttings or, even better, division when the plant is dormant is probably an easier way to go.

Trillium montage

There are a total of 40 species of Trilliums to choose from, however, look for Trilliums native to your geographical area and growing zone.

What type of conditions are needed to grow trilliums successfully?

To grow trilliums successfully, it is crucial to provide the right conditions. Trilliums thrive in woodland settings with dappled sunlight and rich, well-draining soil. These plants prefer moist, humus-rich soil with a slightly acidic pH level. Adequate moisture is essential, especially during the growing season, but it's important to avoid waterlogged conditions that can lead to root rot.

Additionally, trilliums benefit from a layer of organic mulch to help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature. Planting them in areas with good air circulation can also prevent fungal diseases. It's recommended to avoid disturbing trilliums once they are established, as mentioned earlier in this post, they do not transplant well due to their sensitive root systems.

Overall, providing a shaded, moist, and nutrient-rich environment is key to successfully growing trilliums in a woodland garden.

This is an example of how the white trilliums begin to turn pink as they age resulting in some people thinking they have pink trilliums.

Can you grow trillium from seed?

To propagate trilliums, you can indeed grow them from seed. Collect mature trillium seeds in late summer or early fall when the seed pods have ripened and turned brown. It's essential to sow the seeds immediately as they have a short viability period.

Start by preparing a seedbed with well-draining, moist soil in a shaded area of your garden. Sow the seeds at a shallow depth, covering them lightly with soil. Keep the seedbed consistently moist but not waterlogged to promote germination.

Trillium seeds can be slow to germinate, often taking 1-2 years to sprout. Patience is key when growing trilliums from seed, as they require a period of cold stratification to break dormancy. This mimics their natural growth cycle in the wild.

Once the seeds have germinated, continue to provide the young plants with the ideal woodland conditions they prefer.

How long before trillium seeds produce plants?

Trillium seeds can be notoriously slow to germinate, testing the patience of even the most dedicated gardeners. On average, it can take anywhere from 1 to 2 years before trillium seeds produce plants. This extended timeline is due to the seeds' natural dormancy period, which requires a cold stratification process to trigger germination.

During this dormancy period, the seeds undergo a necessary chilling period to mimic the conditions they would experience in their native woodland habitats. This process is essential for breaking the seeds' dormancy and stimulating growth when conditions become favorable.

While the waiting period may seem long, the reward of seeing delicate trillium seedlings emerge from the soil is well worth the wait.


Author Profile: Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of the award-winning website Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and enjoys sharing his garden photography with readers.

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How to plant a hanging basket

Hanging baskets are perfect opportunities to add a punch of colour to your patio.

Try these tips to create stunning hanging baskets

Planting a hanging basket is one of the more creative and satisfying gardening projects in spring. It can be as simple as planting a single, fast- growing plant like a Proven Winners’ Supertunia in a small hanging basket, or as complicated as adding a host of plants including numerous fillers, spillers and thrillers that combine to create a breathtaking hanging basket.

In our primarily shaded woodland garden, six hanging baskets play a vital role in providing much-needed colour in the garden. In fact, the combination of hanging baskets and containers placed throughout the garden are, at times, the only real colour brightening up our woodland.

Hanging baskets don’t have to be complicated. Using a single species can be an effective way to add colour to the garden. Here, three varieties of Supertunia create a cohesive look with a low maintenance approach.

The importance, therefore, of getting them right can be the difference in enjoying a colourful garden from spring through fall, or learning to appreciate the textures and varying greens so often associated with a shade or woodland garden.

There are basically three types of hanging baskets: steel baskets lined with a coco mat, plastic pots and peat-based pots. The plastic and peat planters are most often the ones purchased at nurseries already planted up. The peat based planters offer the benefit of looking good even before the flowers have spilled over the container, while the plastic container work well to retain water during the hottest days of the summer.

The steel baskets with coco mats are most definitely the most aesthetic of the group, but because water drains so freely from them, keeping them properly watered can be tricky requiring you to water them twice a day in the summer.

If you are planting your own, chances are you are using the steel planters with coco mats.

For more on container planting check out my story on creating container and hanging baskets for hummingbirds.

Consider your conditions

It’s important to establish the light conditions your planters will be in before you begin planning your containers.

While full sun in a hot dry climate like those experienced in Arizona is different from full sun in the Pacific northwest, the same general principles can apply. The difference is the time of day the plants are in the sun. In hot dry areas, provide the required sun primarily in the morning when it is not as hot. In the high humidity areas of the coastal areas or around the Great Lakes region where humidity can be extremely high that sun can be provided in the hotter parts of the day in the afternoon.

Rule of thumb is that full-sun plants need a minimum of six- to eight-hours of sun to do well and produce an abundance of flowers. Part sun, part shade want 4-6 hours of sunlight and full shade want 4 hours or less of sun to perform well and not have their foliage get scorched by the sun.

Hanging baskets are a great way to add a pop of colour to your patio, but don’t be afraid to hang them from tree branches farther out in the garden.

Size matters when it comes to containers

The next consideration is the size of your container. The larger 17-18-inch containers will retain a lot more moisture than the more traditional 14-inch containers which need to be watered several times a day during the heat of the summer. It’s always a good idea to add a perforated plastic liner inside the smaller containers to help it hold water longer. I use a a green garbage bag cut up to get the job done.

Start with new potting soil

It all starts with an excellent mix of fresh new potting soil, not garden soil. Be sure to completely clean out your old soil and coco mat and use all fresh soil and mat rather than simply topping up last year’s soil.

It’s no secret that keeping hanging baskets properly watered, let alone keeping them from drying out between waterings, is the biggest challenge most of us face. Water retaining granules may look like a simple solution, but they have their own inherent problems. While many garden nurseries advertise soil with built-in water granules that help hold moisture in the soil, the jury is still out whether these polymer-based granules are good for the environment. It’s probably better not to add these granules to your soil or purchase soil with these water-retaining granules already included.

Adding a slow release granular fertilizer to the soil gives the plants a good start and provides the fertilizer at the roots of the plants where they need it most to get a good start. You can top up the slow release fertilizer every six to eight weeks in addition to the weekly fertilizing with a water soluble fertilizer.

Although not a hanging basket, our window box features many of the plants that also work in a hanging basket, including Lemon Coral sedum, Supertunias, Superbells and coleus.

Getting started with your planter

Insert the coco mat into the basket and add potting soil until it is about one inch lower than the lip of the container. The number of plants to use depends on the size of the basket. The rule of thumb is that for a 14-inch basket you should use three to five plants (depending on the type of plant you are using.

For a 15- to 18-inch basket you should use between 5 and 7 plants.

When you are adding the plants, ensure that they are not root bound from the nursery. If they are, you can break up the roots a little before planting them.

Once they are in place, tamp the soil down around the plants to remove any air pockets, and water them in well.

By adding favourite plants such as these cuphea plants, you can attract hummingbirds and butterflies to your hanging baskets.

Let’s talk plants for hanging baskets

Let’s face it, preparing the pot is easy, choosing the plants for your containers can be the difficult part. Throughout this article I refer to specific plant names that are often associated with Proven Winners’ plants. Similar plant varieties are available from other sources, however I have had only positive results from Proven Winners’ products. Finding their plants, however, is not always the easiest of tasks. You can order directly from the Proven Winners’ website in the United States and Canada.

The options are too numerous to list here, but if you are planting several hanging baskets, don’t be afraid to experiment a little and have some fun. Last year, for example, I planted up a couple of containers and planters with hummingbird in mind so that I could photograph them at more or less eye level as they worked the hanging basket right near my favourite sitting spot.

To be successful, however, we need to first think about where our containers are going to be placed – in sun, shade or a combination of the two.

The other consideration is the amount of maintenance the plants require. Just keeping the containers well watered can be enough, having to go around and deadhead the spent flowers is only going to add to the maintenance. And, if it’s not done regularly, will result in a messy looking unkept basket that is too easy to give up on early in the year.

Plants like Proven Winners’ Supertunias and Superbells are excellent because they are self-cleaning, easy and fast growers. I have also found them to be good for attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators from native bees to butterflies.

Also look for lower-maintainenance plants that can stand up to drying out a little between waterings.

Adding Cuphea to your hanging baskets will attract hummingbirds to your hanging baskets.

Some sun loving plants to consider

• Petunias are available in a wide range of colours. Not all are created equal. Some stay small, while others grow fast into large plants that spill over the sides of your basket in short order. Supertunia Vista are the ones I always look for to plant in my containers and hanging baskets. Supertunia Vista Bubblegum is a favourite for its never-ending pink blooms. The Vista series grows huge whether they are in a basket or planted in the landscape. One supertunia vista in a 14-inch basket is often enough to fill out the basket beautifully all on its own. Make sure not to plant it with smaller, slower growing plants because chances are it will soon overpower that plant and bury it beneath its flowers.

• Calibracoa or Superbells are another favourite. They are also available in a variety of colours and can stand up to drier conditions for short periods of time.

• Trailing verbenas are exquisite plants that help make up the spiller component in your baskets. These can be the main plant in your container or compete with the likes of Supertunia Vista plantings.

• Lantana are heat-loving annuals that do well in dry conditions often found in our containers. They will not compete with the most vigorous of plants, and do not spill out quite like the Supertunias and Superbells, but they will perform nicely as colourful fillers in the container.

• Geraniums are classic container plants and excellent to use as your thriller. They can, however, get quite large and require some dead heading so you might want to think twice before using them in smaller containers or hanging baskets.

• Lobelias make for lovely fillers adding a delicate touch to a basket planted with less aggressive plants that allow these smaller plants to stand out. They make a nice accent plant but prefer cooler less intense sun than some of the other plants mentioned above.

• Lemon coral sedum is a great foliage plant that adds a chartreuse, lemony-yellow accent to containers.

• Potato vines in both black and green provide beautiful foliage accents to containers and baskets as they trail to the ground. They do require a little more care to ensure they get consistent moisture and do not dry out. Pairing them with plants like Calibracoa that like to dry out between waterings might not be the ideal situation for either plant. Always try to match plants with similar water needs in your containers.

•Euphorbias adds a delicate cloud-like effect to any container filling in areas around the crown of the basket or container.

• Alyssum has come a long way from the time your parents used them along a pathway. Today’s plants grow much larger and can be used as spillers or trailers in containers. The purple variety are exceptionally popular to add a pop of color.

Three strong foliage trailers for sun and shade to consider

• Creeping Jenny is another trailer that adds a hit of chartreuse to the baskets as they reach for the ground.

• Dichondrea Silver Falls is an icy blue plant that can take dry conditions and continue to perform well.

• Licorice vine (Helichrysum petiolare) is good to use in varying lighting conditions as it can take both full sun and shade. The Black Heart variety is particularly good for shady conditions.

Plants that do better in shade (4 hours of sun a day)

• Coleus is the ideal shade loving plant that depends only on its foliage for its striking look. Available in a host of colours, this is a must for the shade container. Coleus can grow quite large so you may want to look for smaller varieties. Chocolate Drop is a coleus with smaller leaves that trail and can act as both a filler and thriller in a smaller basket where it is not overwhelmed by large, more aggressive plants.

• Torenia or wishbone flower is a short plant with numerous flowers that can work well in baskets.

• Browalia is a popular choice, available in both blues and whites

• Begonias are an excellent choice. Trailing Begonias add a lot of colour and foliage interest. They are available in several varieties from trailing plants that can work as spillers to more upright varieties that work as thrillers. Look for varieties with outstanding foliage to add more interest to the container.

• Impatiens are not just for the landscape. Many varieties are available including some with interesting foliage.

• Heucharas or coral bells use foliage to add texture.

• Ferns can act as an ideal thriller for the summer and then planted into the garden in the fall if you choose a hardy version. Maidenhair fern may be perfect for a smaller shade container. If you are using ferns, ensure sure that the surrounding plants can handle the moisture levels ferns require.

• Trailing ivy works as a trailer. Look for an ivy with variegated foliage to add interest to your shade container.

If this leaves you totally confused, you can simply go to Proven Winners’ website and click on Garden Ideas. Use the filters to specify your requirements and tap into their valuable recommendations. You can follow their recommendations exactly or choose to experiment a little with plants that might be more your style or provide wildlife with a more sustainable source of food.



Author Profile: Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of the award-winning website Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and enjoys sharing his garden photography with readers.

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Why we need more birch trees in our gardens

Birch trees are among the best trees for wildlife we can plant in our gardens. Not only ar they a beautiful addition, they are also important for wildlife.

Are birch trees good for wildlife?

No matter how much I love dogwoods, it’s the birch trees that take centre stage in our woodland garden.

Three large clumps of White Birch create the main focal point in the backyard, whether you’re outside on the patio or looking out the bay window from the kitchen/dining room. I decided to plant the trees quite close to the house directly in front of the windows so we could experience everything they bring to the garden winter, summer, spring and fall.

The mini birch grove creates a secluded spot surrounding a dry river bed and small bubbling rock. For more on our birch grove and bubbling rock, check out my earlier post here.

A male cardinal sits in our birch tree in spring.

While the elegant peeling bark and white trunks create the aesthetic appeal, it’s their attractiveness to birds and other wildlife that makes them true stalwarts in the garden.

Birds often sing from the tree’s elegant branches where, in spring, if you’re lucky, you can catch a warbler chasing insects around the tree branches. In summer, our birch trees make the perfect landing spot for hummingbirds that rest on the delicate branches in the open shade the trees create.

Birch trees are an elegant addition to any garden whether they are used as a single specimen, in clump form or en-masse as seen above.

Birches are excellent sources of food for wildlife. Not only do they support several hundred species of moths and butterflies, they also produce seeds and flower buds that are important food sources for songbirds, small mammals, grouse and turkeys. Species with exfoliating bark provide lots of nooks and crannies in which insects hide in the winter months and thus provide woodpeckers with food when they need it most.
— Douglas W. Tallamy

Even in our front yard, I’ve created a spot for three narrow-growing birch trees (Betula pendula 'Purpurea' ) that work perfectly as an attractive buffer between us and our neighbours’ properties. I remember planting the trees at least ten years ago when they were nothing more than $10 whips. Since then, these fast-growing trees have grown into handsome specimens that have kept their narrow, shape while taking on their white trunks.

Birch trees, of course, are highly valued in gardens for their aesthetic appeal and their ability to attract diverse wildlife.

Their striking white bark and delicate leaves add a touch of elegance to any garden landscape, making them a popular choice among gardeners.

In his book The Natural Garden, Ken Druse writes about the non-native ‘Whitespire Birch’: “Many birch species have problems, but the beauty of their bark and their overall form make them desirable as specimens. … Plant several against a backdrop of evergreens. Because they are are relatively short-lived (50 to 70 years) consider planting a second some fifteen to twenty years after the first.”

Birch tree trunk and grasses in winter

This birch tree clump and native grasses shows how beautiful the trees are in every season.

Birch trees’ role in attracting wildlife

Beyond their beauty, birch trees play a crucial role in supporting wildlife populations.

The unique characteristics of birch trees make them a magnet for various bird species, such as chickadees and finches, that are drawn to the trees for both food and nesting sites. Additionally, birch trees provide a vital food source for insects, caterpillars and butterflies, further enhancing the biodiversity of the garden ecosystem and creating a built-in food source for birds.

It’s hard to argue that by planting birch trees in our gardens, we not only enhance the visual appeal of our outdoor spaces but also create a welcoming habitat for a wide range of wildlife. The symbiotic relationship between birch trees and wildlife underscores their value in garden settings, making them a cherished addition for both nature enthusiasts and garden lovers alike.

What birds are attracted to birch trees and why?

Birds are attracted to birch trees for a variety of reasons, making them a hub of avian activity in our garden.

The trees provide a valuable food source for birds, with their many small, winged seeds contained in the droopy catkins early in spring, followed by the leaves budding out, and the myriad of insects and caterpillars attracted to the trees.

You can expect species like the American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, Pine Siskin, Chickadees, Fox and Tree Sparrows and even Ruffed Grouse to drop by to feed on the seeds produced by the trees in spring.

But, of course it’s not just the seed eaters that are attracted to the trees.The real value of the birch tree are the insects that are drawn to them. Experts have documented several hundred species of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) that utilize birch trees.

In fact birch trees are host plants for butterflies like the Mourning Cloak as well as incredible moth species like the Cecropia, Polyphemus and the Luna Moth. The trees, therefore, are important to both the moths and butterflies as well as the birds that count on a good supply of these caterpillars to feed their nestlings.

At night the trees' white bark are perfect for uplighting

Soft uplighting on the white birch can turn your yard into a magical experience.

Wherever there are insects and caterpillars, it’s likely you’ll find woodpeckers as well. Our birch trees attract more than their share of woodpeckers to the yard. While it can be a little disconcerting watching them peck away at your favourite tree, remember that they are actually doing you and the tree a favour by removing many of the potential borers before they can do damage.

In his book Bringing Nature Home, author Douglas Tallamy explains the importance of birch trees in our gardens adding that the tree supports more than 320 species and 413 Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). Birches are not the top tree in the food chain, but they are among the best behind only oaks, willows and cherry/plums on the list of best trees to support wildlife.

Tallamy’s book points out that Birches are one of the host plants for the magnificent Tiger Swallowtail butterfly as well as the impressive Cecropia Moth, Imperial Moth, Luna Moth, Polyphemus Moth, Promethea Moths, Four-horned Sphinx Moth and Small-Eyed Sphinx moths. He adds that only the Arched Hook Tip moth and the Chocolate Prominent lepitdoptera survive only on birch tree leaves.

Butterflies and moths are attracted to Birch trees

Please do not spray your birch trees if you see caterpillars on your Birch tree. They are totally normal inhabitants on the trees and an important food source for birds, especially in spring when they are feeding their young.

Tallamy writes: “Birches are excellent sources of food for wildlife. Not only do they support several hundred species of moths and butterflies, they also produce seeds and flower buds that are important food sources for songbirds, small mammals, grouse and turkeys. Species with exfoliating bark provide lots of nooks and crannies in which insects hide in the winter months and thus provide woodpeckers with food when they need it most.”

In our backyard, the cardinals like to use our birch trees to survey the area before moving in to the bird feeders or one of the many bird baths.

Our backyard birds rely on the trees not only for sustenance but also for nesting sites. As the trees get older, they can even be home to larger birds such as Great Horned owls.

The dense foliage and branches of birch trees offer a safe and secure environment for many birds to build their nests and raise their young.

What insects and butterflies benefit from birch trees?

Birch trees play a crucial role in supporting a diverse array of insects and butterflies within garden ecosystems.

These trees are particularly essential for the survival of various insect species, including the striking Mourning Cloak butterfly and the iconic Luna Moth. Additionally, birch trees provide a vital habitat for caterpillars such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the Viceroy butterfly.

In terms of insects, the birch tree serves as a host plant for the Bronze Birch Borer beetle, which plays a significant role in the decomposition process of decaying wood.

Furthermore, the Birch Leafminer moth relies on birch trees for its larval stage, contributing to the intricate web of interactions within the ecosystem.

Overall, the presence of birch trees in gardens not only enhances the visual appeal but also fosters a thriving community of insects and butterflies, highlighting the importance of these trees in supporting biodiversity and ecological balance.

What are the different species of Birch trees available?

Birch trees are known for their diversity, with several species offering unique characteristics and benefits to garden ecosystems. One of the most prominent species, native to northeastern U.S. and Canada, is the Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis).

This species stands out for its distinctive yellow bark and its ability to thrive in cooler climates, making it a popular choice for gardens in these regions.

Another notable birch species is the Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), recognized for its striking white bark that peels in thin layers, adding visual interest to garden landscapes. This species is well-suited for areas with moist soil conditions, making it a valuable addition to gardens near water features or wetlands.

Many birch species have problems, but the beauty of their bark and their overall form make them desirable as specimens. … Plant several against a backdrop of evergreens. Because they are are relatively short-lived (50 to 70 years) consider planting a second some fifteen to twenty years after the first.Whatever it is, the way you tell your story online can make all the difference.
— Ken Druse, On the Whitespire Birch

Additionally, the River Birch (Betula nigra) is a favored choice for its unique exfoliating bark that reveals shades of cinnamon, cream, and salmon underneath. This species is particularly resilient to various soil types and can tolerate wet conditions, making it versatile for different garden settings.

Birch clump in spring with Canada anemone and native grasses.

Birch tree clump with Canada anemone and native grasses.

Is the river birch the best birch tree for our gardens and why?

The River Birch (Betula nigra) is indeed considered one of the best birch tree species for gardens, and for good reasons.

Its unique exfoliating bark, showcasing shades of cinnamon, cream, and salmon, adds a visually appealing element to garden landscapes.

Moreover, the River Birch is highly adaptable to various soil types and can thrive in wet conditions, making it a versatile option for different garden settings. Its resilience to wet soil conditions sets it apart from other birch tree species, allowing it to flourish near water features, ponds, or wetlands without compromising its health.

Additionally, the River Birch provides valuable habitat and food sources for wildlife, attracting birds, insects, and other beneficial creatures to garden ecosystems.

How large do birch trees grow?

Birch Trees grown in favourable conditions can get quite large reaching from 30 to 65 feet high (9-19 meters) with a spread of 15-30 feet (4.5-9 meters). Birches are fast-growing, short-lived (50-70 years) trees, that do best in natural areas away from high-stress situations.

What conditions do birch trees like to grow?

Birch trees prefer well-drained soil that is moist but not waterlogged. They also appreciate full sun exposure, although some species can tolerate partial shade.

Birch trees’ shallow root system can be very sensitive to heat and drought. The trees need moist, cool soil, but also sunshine on its leaves to flourish.

Plant your birch tree at a site that will shade its roots in the afternoon but still provide sun to canopy for a good part of the day. Mulching also helps to maintain soil temperature.

Another crucial factor for birch trees is soil pH. They prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil, with a pH range between 5.0 and 7.5.

Additionally, birch trees are sensitive to drought conditions, so regular watering, especially during dry periods, is necessary to keep them healthy. Mulching around the base of the tree can help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature, benefiting the tree's growth.

By providing the right soil conditions, adequate sunlight, and proper watering, gardeners can create an optimal environment for birch trees to thrive and enhance the beauty and biodiversity of their outdoor spaces.



Author Profile: Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of the award-winning website Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and enjoys sharing his garden photography with readers.

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2024 Gardener’s Idea book: A sure sign of spring

Proven Winners’ 2024 Garden Idea Book is another impressive and informative booklet gardeners will want to get their hands on as soon as possible.

Order your free Proven Winners’ booklet or download it to get started right away

You know spring is around the corner when Proven Winners’ unveils its popular Garden Ideas book.

This year’s free booklet is another impressive effort filled with inspiring photographs of real-life garden ideas ranging from using annuals for high impact colour, to creating colourful containers. For woodland gardeners, there is even a section on their favourite deer resistant plants.

All valuable information to go into the spring season ready to create the best garden ever.

Whether you choose to order a hard copy (sign up here) of the more than 40-page booklet, or simply download it and enjoy it from the comfort of your laptop or computer, you’ll find all the information you need at the Proven Winners site here.

For more posts on past PWs’ Garden Idea Books:

2023 PWs’ Garden idea book

2022 PWs’ Garden Idea Book


Jazzing up the curb appeal with supertunias is featured on the cover of this year’s Proven Winners’ Idea Book.


The feature garden on the cover takes a jazzy, free-form approach to the garden with a pleasant combination of rocks, boxwood, ornamental grasses, a lovely container arrangement and massive plantings of Supertunia Vista Jazzberry Petunias.

Proven Winners’ calls it jazzing up the curb appeal and although it’s a little much for my taste, most gardeners will love the easy-to-duplicate look. Supertunia Vistas are extremely fast-growing and spreading annuals that I’ve used for years in my hanging baskets for maximum impact.

It’s hard to go wrong with Proven Winners’ Vista series – available in several colours and colour combinations. I’ve had great luck with their Bubblegum Vistas that add a hit of pink in the woodland garden in hanging baskets and in containers around the patio. While there are better flowers to attract hummingbirds and butterflies, the petunias get the job done.

In typical Proven Winners’ style, the booklet provides plenty of images complete with schematics of how the containers were planted. If your hanging baskets often fall a little flat, PWs’ creations are not only beautiful but PWs’ are quick to share their secrets right down to the number of plants in a basket.

From Supertunias to Superbells

Proven Winners move on to their second favourite hanging basket fillers in the form of Superbells, which is really their name for the more commonly named Calibrachoa.

The wide ranging selection of double Superbell varieties from pure white, through blue, violet, ruby, orange and yellows, makes them an ideal choice for gardeners looking to add a delicate touch to their containers and hanging baskets.

Other features include spread on the use of Caladiums, especially for more tropical gardens from Arizona to Florida that experience ever increasingly intensive high heat during the summer.

Proven Winners says their “Heart to Heart® ‘Lemon Blush’ flourishes in unrelenting heat and shade all season and looks fabulous doing so. Its vibrant tropical foliage shines in contrast to spikier drought tolerant plants characteristic of hot climates, contributing lush texture and color to patio pots and entrance beds.”

I’ll be trying some of those this year in some of our shadier locations.

From flowers to garden writers and Influencers

Eight garden influencers, including Laura from Garden Answer, California’s Janey Santos from @DigPlantWaterRepeat and Floridas Josh and Jose from @Mr.Gardeners are featured over eight pages.

Moran Amos’s (@coffee.and,chlorophyll) rural Wyoming garden covering zone 5A Northern USA and Eastern Canada, is another featured garden. Her garden is described by Proven Winners as a “zone 5a, rural Wyoming “Gusty Garden” is ripe with bountiful produce, happy birds and bees, and the occasional passing moose which really riles up her hunting dog, Hadlee. With only 90-120 frost-free
days in the Mountain West, she makes the most of every moment. In addition to growing many hardy perennials, Morgan enjoys trying out new annuals each summer.”

Proven Winners deer proof plants

Got deer problems? Proven Winners has a number of suggestions for deer resistant plants to consider.

Perennials and shrubs of the year

Proven Winners’ announces their favourite plants of the year including a yellow-bluish variegated hosta and lovely salvia.

Pink Profusion perennial Salvia is a beauty worth trying to get your hands on this season. Proven Winners describes it this way: “Prolific and Perpetual. Enjoy vibrant pink flower spikes in multiple waves through summer. One of the best salvias of its type for the South and a must-have for drawing in pollinators.”

There are more favourites, of course, including a rose, hydrangea, weigela and sweetspire.

Here’s a great idea for those homeowners struggling with how to improve the look of a privacy fence.

More PWs’ Idea Book features

The booklet wraps up with features on garden planning and design, the resurgence of bicoloured and patterned flowers and a feature on vertical gardening with @CaseyLynnLawrence who uses seven small window boxes to create an impressive and beautiful vertical garden for a wood fence.

The finished result is simply spectacular (see image above) and worth considering if you are one of the many homeowners stuck looking at a wooden privacy fence all summer.

The booklet ends with a feature on houseplants and Proven Winners’ deer resistant plants.

A word of note about Proven Winners. Although their plants perform incredible well, they are cultivars and are not considered native plants and therefore do not offer the same benefits that native plants offer our wildlife. Some of their plants are particularly attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies, particularly their salvias, however, they should never replace the use of native plants when they are available.



Author Profile: Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of the award-winning website Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and enjoys sharing his garden photography with readers.

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A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee: Creating Habitat for Native Pollinators

A Garden for the Rusty-patched Bumblebee is a bible for native gardens in the Great Lakes region.

Native Bumble Bee covered in pollen on Beautyberry shrub

A native Bumblebee covered in pollen works the flowers of a beauty berry.

A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee: Creating Habitat for Native Pollinators by Lorraine Johnson and Sheila Colla (2022 paperback) 250pp Douglas & McIntyre

Authors explore benefits of using native plants in our gardens

Native plant gardening – once a bastion for former tree-hugging hippies – is fast becoming an acceptable almost trendy form of gardening from inner cities to suburbia and from beginners to seasoned gardeners.

And that’s just fine with garden authors Lorraine Johnson and researcher Sheila Colla whose informative and entertaining gardening book, A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee, is all about promoting the use of native plants to create habitat for pollinators.

But they’re not kidding themselves about the amount of work still ahead.

While the use of native plants in gardens is fast becoming more commonplace, the gap between non-native and native plant gardeners remains a massive problem that threatens the future of pollinators that depend on native plants for their continued existence.

A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee is aimed at narrowing that gap and bringing more gardeners into the fold, while providing existing native plant gardeners with a blueprint on how to explore native plants and gardens to a fuller extent.

A Garden for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee is an outstanding addition to any gardeners’ library.

At the heart of the book, is the detailed profiling of more than 300 native plants, (over 250 pages) along with sample garden designs, ideas for beautiful plant pairings and numerous tips for success. All of this valuable information is meticulously illustrated by Ann Sanderson’s incredible artwork.

This beautifully-illustrated plant guide is so detailed that it connects each plant with its pollinators and the hosts (caterpillars and insects) that depend on the plants to mature into adulthood as bees, butterflies and other insects. This feature in the book will go a long way to helping gardeners discover the crucial connections between native plants and native pollinators, and learn how to cultivate patches of pollinator paradise.

“There is much about the natural world that science has yet to discover and understand, but one thing we do know is that native plants and native pollinators form systems of association that are vital to supporting all life on earth,” the authors write. “When we plant native plants, we are supporting and strengthening this web of connections—supporting and strengthening ecological relationships that have functioned for millennia.”

Ann Sanderson’s outstanding illustrations add a touch of elegance and creativity to the book.

Although the authors focus is on native plants and pollinators of Ontario and the Great Lakes region, it is a must-have for native plant gardeners looking to better understand the relationship between plants and their pollinators.

“When we fill landscapes with introduced, non-native plants, we are severing crucial, dependent relationships between native plants and wildlife that have evolved over millennia,” the authors write. “These partnerships and interdependencies support all life on Earth, including us.”

“Non-native plants may provide pollinators with some of the resources they need, such as nectar, but not the pollen or other resources (oils, for example) that specialist bees require, nor the host plants that moth and butterfly larvae require.”

And speaking of specialist bees.

That’s where the title of the book comes into play. The Rusty-Patched Bumblebee has not been seen in Ontario since 2009 when co-author Sheila Colla happened to catch a glimpse of one while searching for it as part of her research work at York University in Toronto.

Illustration by Ann Sanderson.

The authors hope the sudden disappearance of this native bee once common in the area should be an awakening call for scientists and a call to action for gardeners.

“There has been a lot of interest lately in honeybee-keeping as a way to help pollinators. However, starting a honeybee hive does not help save wild bees, any more than keeping backyard hens helps save wild birds,” the authors write. “There is a growing body of scientific studies documenting that non-native honeybees are negatively affecting native bees”

Johnson and Colla are hoping gardeners realize the importance of helping our native bees, and they are more than willing to provide the blueprint for gardeners.


This Illustration by Ann Sanderson is an example of the many gardens provided to readers, complete with native plant suggestions.


Designing your patch of native garden

While the plant profiles form the root of the book, the detailed plans and helpful suggestions will be the catalyst to inspire gardeners to put their shovels to work. The authors even go so far as to offer advice on how to design your native plant garden. Here’s just a sampling of the advice Johnson and Cola provide in the book.

• Choose native plants according to your conditions: sun, partial sun/shade, or shade; moist, regular or dry soil.

• Plan to have a diversity of continuous and overlapping blooming periods, from early spring to late fall, with three species in bloom at any one period.

• Include a variety of flower colours and flower shapes—for example, tubular blooms, cup-shaped blooms, etc.

• Consider the eventual height, spread, and flower colour of each plant, and decide on a design that appeals to you.

• Design in groups with three to five plants of each species, in clusters, to produce abundant foraging opportunities.

• Space the plants roughly 1 to 2 feet apart, depending on the mature size of the species, because many native plants will greatly expand in size over their first few years of growth and will crowd each other if planted too closely together.

From designing your native plants to maintaining the finished garden

• Keep your newly planted patch well-watered for the first growing season—especially during periods of drought. In the following years, you will only need to water during extended periods of drought when the plants are showing signs of water-deficiency, such as wilting. Keep in mind, though, that some wilting during hot summer days is to be expected, and plants will bounce back.

• Remove any unwanted plants (for example, aggressively spreading non-native plants) as soon as they appear, and be careful not to pull out young volunteer seedlings of native plants.

• Mulch your plants to help control weeds and retain soil moisture, but ensure that your patch includes some areas of bare soil for ground-nesting bees.

• Consider deadheading spent blooms to encourage more f lowering—and thus more nectar and pollen for pollinators.

Illustration by Ann Sanderson.

• Don’t use pesticides (they are toxic to bees and other creatures). In Ontario, the cosmetic use of pesticides (which includes herbicides and fungicides) is banned.

• In the fall and winter, leave stems and dead stalks on plants rather than removing them, as they provide habitat for overwintering bees. In the spring, it is best to wait until there have been two or three weeks of warm daytime temperatures (above 10 C) before cutting back stalks, to give bees time to emerge. But if you decide to cut the stalks before then, cut them only to about 30 cm (12 in) to 40 cm (15 in) tall.

• If you do remove stems and stalks in the fall, bundle them up and keep them in an out-of-the-way place as overwintering habitat. Do the same with stems and stalks you remove in the spring, as bees might not yet have emerged following winter

Of course, this is just a sampling of the information the authors provide readers within their book.

• More information on the importance of native bees in my post here.

There are illustrations of example gardens – from those that can be set up on a small balcony, to gardens for the sun and shade. The book includes sources for native plants and seeds as well as resources for more information on native plants. There are tips and tricks, as well as proven practises to ensure success.

It’s clear that authors Johnson and Colla tackled this project out of love and the genuine hope that the book can make a difference.

In an interview with Gail Hope for Landscape Ontario, highly acclaimed garden author Lorraine Johnson explains her hope for the book.
“My hope for the book is that we help people understand some very complicated issues in a very straightforward, basic, and engaging way,” Johnson explains.

“I hope it also inspires people to action: planting a pollinator patch (even a tiny one), or adding a few native plants to a non-native garden, which is mainly what people have. If we inspire people to add a few native plants to their garden then they will see all of the butterflies, bees, and birds that the native plants support. However, individuals can do all this but if we are in a place that doesn’t value the natural greenspace and just paves it over, we’ll still be in trouble. We can create habitat until we are blue in the face but the losses are going to be greater than the gains without political and policy changes as well.”

Be sure to check out my posts on author Lorraine Johnson’s work with native plants here:

Lorraine Johnson: Early pioneer for native plants

Native gardening from meadows to woodlands

Lorraine Johnson: A longtime leader and advocate in native plant gardening

Lorraine’s passion for gardening and expertise in the field is evident in the numerous books she has written on the subject. Her books cover a wide range of topics, providing valuable insights and practical advice for gardeners of all levels of experience.

Lorraine Johnson is leading the way in educating gardeners about the importance of native plants.

• One of Lorraine’s notable works is 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens.” This book highlights the beauty and benefits of using native plants in Canadian gardens. Lorraine explores the unique characteristics of each plant, including their adaptability to local climates and their ability to attract pollinators. This book serves as a comprehensive guide for gardeners looking to incorporate native plants into their landscapes.

•Another popular book by Lorraine is The New Ontario Naturalized Garden. In this book, she delves into the concept of naturalized gardening and its benefits for both the environment and gardeners. Lorraine provides practical tips on creating a naturalized garden, including plant selection, maintenance, and design principles. This book is a valuable resource for those interested in creating sustainable and wildlife-friendly gardens.

• Lorraine has also written City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing, which explores the growing trend of urban agriculture. In this book, she shares stories and experiences from urban farmers across Canada, showcasing the innovative ways they are growing food in cities. Lorraine’s book inspires readers to embrace urban farming and provides practical advice for starting their own urban food gardens.

Lorraine’s work is groundbreaking because it addresses emerging trends in gardening, such as urban agriculture. Her book, City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing, highlights the innovative ways in which urban farmers are growing food in cities. By showcasing these practices, Lorraine inspires readers to reimagine the possibilities of gardening in urban environments and encourages them to take part in the urban farming movement.

Sheila Colla has been researching native bee ecology since 2004.


Sheila Colla is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto.

She has been researching native bee ecology and decline since 2004. She works closely with environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) and government agencies to implement the best available science in policy and land management.

She co-authored The Bumblebees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press, 2014) and helps run the citizen science program BumbleBeeWatch.

Ann Sanderson

Ann Sanderson’s exquisite art work is featured throughout the book.


Ann Sanderson has had a lifelong fascination with both science and the arts.

After completing an undergraduate degree in Zoology and Biology from the University of Toronto, she attended the Science Illustration program at the University of California in Santa Cruz.

Ann honed her skills as an illustrator while working in New York at Scientific American magazine and the American Museum of Natural History.

She is now a freelance illustrator in Toronto where she enjoys gardening and visually documenting the plants and wildlife of the city. Ann’s work can be found at


Author Profile: Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of the award-winning website Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and enjoys sharing his garden photography with readers.

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Best flowering native ground covers for a woodland garden

Groundcovers are vital to any woodland and a key to creating a thriving garden with lots of interest.

Foamflower, with its white or pink spring flowers, is an idea woodland ground cover that spreads into impressive drifts.

Creating a thriving woodland garden requires incorporating native ground covers and, if they include a lovely flower, all the better. Three top choices for native ground covers in a woodland garden are Wild Ginger, Foamflower, and Allegheny Spurge.

Of the three, foamflower is by far the showiest providing delicate white or pink flowers in spring that look especially impressive growing in a large, natural-looking drift.

Wild Ginger, known for its heart-shaped leaves and unique maroon flowers, thrives in shaded areas, making it a perfect addition to the understory of a woodland garden. Its low-growing nature creates a lush carpet effect, adding texture and visual interest.

Foamflower is a versatile ground cover that can tolerate varying light conditions. Its attractive foliage and ability to spread make it an excellent choice for filling in gaps between larger plants in a woodland setting.

Be sure to check out a few of my other posts on groundcovers

Best ground covers for a woodland garden

Easiest ground covers to grow

Allegheny Spurge, also known as Pachysandra procumbens, is a hardy native ground cover (unlike the popular and more common Japanese Pachysandra) with attractive green and silver variegated leaves. It thrives in partial to full shade and produces small, white flowers in early spring, adding a pop of color to the garden.

These three native ground covers not only enhance the beauty of a woodland garden but also provide essential habitat for local wildlife, making them valuable additions to any naturalistic landscape.

  • Looking for more information on ground covers? The Complete Book of Ground Covers (Amazon link) is an excellent resource. It may also be available from your local bookstore.

Wild ginger boasts an unusual but certainly less impressive flower than the foamflower. It’s leaves are the hi-light of these native ground covers.

More ground covers to consider

If you are more open to other ground covers, there is a huge selection available for both sunny and shady locations

Ground covers play a crucial role in enhancing the beauty and functionality of our gardens. They provide a lush carpet of foliage and flowers that not only adds visual appeal but also helps to suppress weeds and retain soil moisture.

By covering the ground, these plants create a cohesive look in the garden, tying together different elements and creating a sense of unity.

Additionally, ground covers offer practical benefits such as erosion control on slopes, reducing the need for frequent watering, and acting as a natural mulch to protect plant roots. They can also attract beneficial insects and pollinators, contributing to a healthier ecosystem in your garden.

Choosing the right ground covers can transform a dull, bare patch of soil into a vibrant and dynamic space bursting with color and life. Whether you opt for low-growing varieties to fill in gaps between larger plants or use them to create a living pathway, ground covers are versatile and adaptable to various garden styles and conditions.

Incorporating these plants into your garden not only adds aesthetic value but also promotes sustainability and biodiversity.

Five of the best spring flowering ground covers

When it comes to spring flowering ground covers, there are several standout options that can bring a burst of color to your outdoor space.

One excellent choice is “Creeping Phlox,” a low-growing perennial that produces a carpet of delicate flowers in shades of pink, purple, white, or blue.

Another top contender is "Aubrieta," a hardy plant with cascading blooms in vibrant hues like purple, pink, and blue.

For a more unique touch, consider "Candytuft," a plant that forms dense mounds of white flowers, creating a stunning contrast against its dark green foliage.

“Moss Phlox” is another spring favorite, offering a carpet of colorful blooms that attract pollinators to your garden. Lastly, “Basket-of-Gold” is a bright and cheerful option with golden-yellow flowers that add a pop of color to any landscape.

These spring flowering ground covers not only enhance the beauty of your garden but also provide essential ground coverage and help maintain soil health. Consider incorporating these vibrant plants into your outdoor space for a stunning spring display.

Five of the best summer flowering ground covers

If you are looking for later, summer flowering ground covers, there are lots to choose from.

One exceptional choice is the “Blanket Flower,” known for its striking red and yellow daisy-like blooms that attract butterflies and bees.

Another standout option is the “Ice Plant,” a succulent ground cover with bright, daisy-like flowers in shades of pink, purple, orange, or yellow.

For a touch of elegance, consider planting “Lantana,” a versatile ground cover with clusters of flowers in hues of pink, orange, yellow, and purple that bloom throughout the summer.

“Verbena” is another top contender, producing clusters of small, fragrant flowers in various colors like purple, pink, red, and white, attracting pollinators to your garden.

Lastly, “Creeping Jenny” is a low-maintenance ground cover with cascading stems and small yellow flowers that add a pop of color to borders and containers.

These summer flowering ground covers not only beautify your outdoor space but also help suppress weeds and retain soil moisture, making them a practical and visually appealing choice for your garden.

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From Woodlands to meadows: gardening in the Great Lakes region

Using native wildflowers, trees and shrubs in the woodland garden in the focus of the final chapter of Lorraine Johnson’s outstanding book Grow Wild.

A woodland garden scene with bee balm and a large fern garden.

If Lorraine Johnson’s 1998 book, Grow Wild, was a pioneering effort to convince gardeners to use native plants, it was also a stark warning that adapting our gardens to a more wild and native state is critical if we hope to protect the ecosystems and wild ones that share our ever shrinking world.

And nowhere was it more important to adapt this approach than in and around the Great Lakes regions of southern Ontario and northeastern United States.

“The land itself seems to be literally disappearing. Favourite nooks and crannies of undeveloped, almost secretive caches go the way of development with growing regularity,” she wrote way back in 1998, almost 26 years ago.

Since then, “progress has not stopped the continued destruction of more and more environmentally sensitive lands.

“This is one of the central ironies of the Great Lakes region: We’re destroying precisely those features which make it function as a healthy, lively place like no other,” Johnson warned in Grow Wild: Native plant gardening in Canada and Northern United States.

If Johnson and others who were promoting the use of native plants more than 20 years ago could’ve seen then the progress of their pioneering efforts today, I think they would be satisfied that – although not perfect – we have come a long way in a relatively short period of time.

Is there still a long way to go? Absolutely.

For more information on using native plants and Lorraine Johnson’s outstanding book Grow Wild, be sure to check out my other posts:

• Lorraine Johnson plants the seed for native gardening.

• Grow Wild: Favourite native flowers and grasses for a prairie garden

Even back then there were positive signs that we gardeners were beginning to open our eyes to the importance of creating sustainable landscapes in our own front- and backyards.

“Native-plant gardening is all about taking down the fence (metaphorically, not necessarily literally) that separates the wild from the tame; it’s all about making a place for wildness in our lives, becoming a part of the wildness, in fact.”

Lorraine Johnson – Grow Wild Native Plant Gardening in Canada and Northern United States

Johnson wrote: “But surrounded by proof of nature’s tenacity, dwellers in the (Great Lakes Regions of southern Ontario and northeastern United States) have begun to value, protect and restore the unique natural features that give the area its character and identity: its broad-leaved deciduous forests of maple, beech, oak, elm, ash and birch; its productive marshes and wetlands; its forest clearings full of sunny-meadow forbs and grasses.

“Naturalization groups have popped up in the region like goldenrod in a clearing, working in regreening school grounds, revitalizing creeks and whole watersheds, lobbying for increased protection of existing wild areas, doing the backbreaking work of clearing out invasive exotic species that are threatening forests, and much more.”

“And working behind the scenes, sometimes in hidden backyards, sometimes in declarative front yards, are thousands of gardeners using native species,” she writes in Grow Wild. Whether it’s a hesitant novice planting a native species here and there or a full-scale naturalization effort – someone attempting to re-create a fully functioning ecosystem – a great deal of native-plant gardening is going on in the region.”

A bumblebee works the native blue lobelia in our garden. Blue lobelia is an excellent, easy-to-grow addition to a native woodland or prairie garden.

More gardeners recognizing the need for native plants

And, thanks to the work of Johnson and other native plant enthusiasts, today’s gardeners have embraced native plants, shrubs and trees helping to restore islands of nature where birds, butterflies, native bees and other wildlife are not only welcomed, but encouraged to live alongside us.

The good news is that more gardeners than ever before are embracing this new form of natural gardening. The bad news is that the majority of homeowners continue to worship grass, pesticides and non-native plants in the never ending desire to fit in with the neighbourhood.

Changing long-held beliefs is never easy, but Johnson gives us stepping stones to success in her book Grow Wild.

“Just a single bergamot plant offers nectar to butterflies, bees and hummingbirds as well as seeds to birds,” Johnson writes in her book pioneering native plant book Grow Wild.

“There are many different approaches to the use of native plants and no one right way,” she writes. “Just a single wild bergamot plant … will offer nectar to butterflies, bees and hummingbirds and seeds to birds and will perhaps inspire that curious soul to try other natives. Pretty soon, that tentative gardener will be making more and more space for natives, seeing how relatively effortlessly some of them grow, admiring their forgotten and neglected beauty, becoming convinced that natives deserve pride of place in the garden.”

Whether its birds, butterflies, bees, moths, toads, frogs, opossums, bats, shrews – or all of them – the key to attracting critters to the garden is to create the conditions that meet their food, water and cover requirements.
— Lorraine Johnson, author

Johnson is quick to tell readers about these success stories. Grow Wild includes mini-chapters telling the stories of Canadian and American gardeners who are some of the early pioneers of adapting their more traditional gardens to native plant gardens. Their inspiring stories are enough to convince even the most staunch traditionalist to explore native plants.

Johnson’s feature on a small garden located in the heart of downtown Toronto is evidence that outstanding gardens can be created in the smallest and most urban of spaces.

She tells the story of an artistic couple who transforms a small front garden into a native-plant woodland garden packed with ferns, foamflower, trilliums and a host of other woodland species. Their woodland may include only a single, large maple tree, but it was all they needed to transform the property. The leaves from their single maple, together with leaves from their neighbours’ trees helped transform their soil into lovely woodsy soil over the years and the rest, as they say, is history.

Three favourite woodland plants in the small Toronto garden

Red baneberry (Actaea rubra) White flowers with bright red berries that are a real knockout in summer. Flowers in early spring and grows to about 2 feet (60 cm) becoming quite bushy.

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) These interesting plants need moist, rich woodland soil. Features a spadix surrounded by a green hooded sheath and grows 1-3 feet (30-90 cm) and produce orange berries in fall.

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) Easy-to-grow groundcover reaching about 6 inches (15 cm). This rapidly-spreading ground cover features heart-shaped leaves that hide maroon bell-shaped flowers.

Our native cardinal flower adds a beautiful pop of red to the garden as well as attracting hummingbirds.

In a larger Toronto-based garden

In another Toronto-based garden, Johnson describes how the gardener was able to combine both “wild and tame” areas to create a natural-looking garden packed with plants in a 55-by-150 foot (17m by 46m) property.

The gardener was proud to report that he had amassed a “collection of more than 375 species of plants, most of them natives…”

Some of the favourite woodland plants included in the larger Toronto-based garden

Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) A fascinating plant that sends up dark bluish spiky shoots that turn into bushy, rich green foliage. Small unspactacular greenish yellow flowers appear in spring followed by impressive dark blue berries in the fall. Grows to about 21/2 feet (75 cm).

Goldenstar -commonly known as green-and-gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) A dainty woodland groundcover that grows to about 6 inches (15 cm). Loads of yellow daisylike flowers in spring through summer against a backdrop of attractive dark green foliage.

Black snakeroot – common name bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa) Large bushy plant that sends up its tall wand in midsummer that can reach 5 feet (1.5 m) and is covered with white flowers.

Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) Nodding white flower tipped in yellow that hang downfrom arching stems in spring. Foliage is lacy and fernlike. Grows to about 6 inches (15 cm).

Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) Spring ephemeral, low growing (6 inches or 15 cm) with brownish spotted leaves and yellow bell-shaped nodding flowers. Grow in large drifts for best effect.

Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)This rapid spreader groundcover is excellent for open woodlands and woodland borders as well as sunny meadow areas. White flowers with yellow centers arrive in spring and early summer, followed by flavor-packed berries.

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) This woodland beauty with its purplish pink flowers are not to be mistaken with the more common cultivated geranium (Pelargonium). Commonly called cranesbill, these low growing spreaders can act as an evergreen groundcover.

Woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) Blooms late summer early fall and grows up to 5 feet (1.5 m) creating dense colonies. These plants tolerates dry conditions in the garden.

Great lobelia or blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) These easy-to-grow plants grow to (21/2 feet 73 cm) with wands of blue flowers that bloom in mid to late summer. Prefers moist conditions but will do well in regular soil in open shade.

A woodland slope in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Johnson explores another woodland garden in the United States where the gardener welcomes twelve to eighteen species of birds, including wild turkeys.

Local deer and raccoons might not be as welcome in the garden but even they fall into the gardener’s approach and philosophy to her landscape.

“I pretty much let things take care of themselves,” she explains.

Johnson explains that this approach to gardening extends to most things from compost (“I just leave things where they fall”) to seedlings (“I tend to let stuff grow wherever it comes up”) to paths (“I make them wherever I want to wander” to dead trees, which she leaves as snags for wildlife.

Fox in the woodland garden getting a drink from water bowls

A fox visits our large water bowls to get a drink. Providing wildlife with their basic needs of food, water and shelter goes a long way to encouraging them to visit you or make a home in your garden.

Bringing it all together in a wildlife garden

Grow wild is more than a collection of tales from successful gardeners, or a listing of what plants work best in a given area. Yes, Johnson provides valuable information about what plants work best in different conditions and “winning plant combinations” in the woodland. There are even two full pages dedicated to some of the best ferns for woodland gardens.

She digs deep to provide readers with valuable information that is difficult to get elsewhere and certainly almost impossible back in 1998 when the book was originally written. For example, one of the featured gardens is a New Hope, Pennsylvania garden that explores the “Magic of moss.” Another features a bog garden in Saginaw, Michigan.

Finally, Johnson talks about the importance of creating a garden for wildlife. “If you’re willing to participate in the necessary give and take of gardening for wildlife, the rewards are rich. Your garden will become not just a place of ornamental beauty but a healthy habitat home and haven for creatures that are losing too much of it in the wild.”

“Whether its birds, butterflies, bees, moths, toads, frogs, opossums, bats, shrews – or all of them – the key to attracting critters to the garden is to create the conditions that meet their food, water and cover requirements.”

Afterall, isn’t sharing our gardens the greatest joy. Whether that’s sharing our gardens with friends and neighbours or the wildlife that live among us.



Author Profile: Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of the award-winning website Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and enjoys sharing his garden photography with readers.

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Dogwood tree leaves shine spring, summer and fall

Dogwood leaves can be a beautiful addition to the garden both in spring when they emerge through to fall when they introduce an incredible variety of color to the garden.

Flowering dogwood in its fall color.

The exceptional color of the Flowering Dogwood in fall colors of orange, red, yellow with hints of burgundy later in the fall.

What makes Dogwood foliage so interesting?

Anyone who has followed my posts on Ferns & Feathers knows my deep appreciation and love for Dogwoods in the garden. These plants, shrubs and small understory trees are both a versatile and highly welcome addition to any garden, but fit in especially well in a woodland style garden.

Obviously, the spectacular spring and early summer flowers of the Flowering Dogwood (Cornus Florida), Cornus Kousa (Cornus Chinensis), and even the diminutive Bunchberry or (Cornus Canadensis) are the primary reasons to plant these Dogwoods in your garden. It can be argued, however, that the foliage of both the Cornus Florida and Cornus Kousa, as well as those of the Pagoda dogwoods and Bunchberry are impressive in their own right and add to the garden’s aesthetic.

In our garden, I’ll add the variegated leaves of the Cornus Mas (see image below) as another stalwart in woodland garden.

Even Paul Cappiello, in his comprehensive book, Dogwoods has praise for the foliage of the Dogwood genus.

“Most dogwood species sport medium green summer foliage, and, with the exception of the many variegated forms, few are standouts in this regard,” Cappiello writes.

“But it is in autumn that the leaves can really shine. Reds, yellows, oranges, and burgundy shades can develop alone or in concert to form spectacular autumnal dress. To be truthful, on the full-family scale, there are as many poor fall-coloring species as there are those that would inspire poets. Dogwoods seem to have benefited from wonderful public relations in this realm.”

The incredible fall color of this flowering dogwood shows how beautiful these trees can be in the woodland garden.

In fact, Dogwood foliage possess several positive traits that make them highly desirable in gardens and landscapes.

One of the key advantages of dogwood leaves is their attractive shape and texture. The leaves are typically oval or elliptical, simple, with smooth edges and a glossy surface. The lower leaf surface is often covered with copious amounts of single-celled T-shaped trichomes (hair-like structures) that are loaded with calcium carbonate.

Close up of Flowering dogwood leaf in early fall

This image of flowering dogwood leaves shows the distinct veining in the leaf structure.

How to identify dogwood leaves

“All dogwood leaves show a rather unique arcuate veination, the major veins arranged much like lines of longitude on the globe. In addition, the major leaf veins contain a latex-like substance that form strands when pulled apart,” explains Cappiello, in his book.

You might even describe the leaves of dogwood as giving a refined and elegant appearance, adding a touch of sophistication to your garden throughout the season.

But it is in autumn that the leaves can really shine. Reds, yellows, oranges, and burgundy shades can develop alone or in concert to form spectacular autumnal dress. To be truthful, on the full-family scale, there are as many poor fall-coloring species as there are those that would inspire poets. Dogwoods seem to have benefited from wonderful public relations in this realm.
— Paul Cappiello

Their emergence in spring marks the beginning of a stunning display of beauty that lasts throughout the year. From the moment they unfurl, dogwood leaves captivate with their vibrant green hues and delicate, unique shapes. Whether it’s the iconic native flowering dogwood or the lesser-known native Pagoda dogwood, their leaves never fail to make a statement.

In our garden, the emergence of the bright green dogwood leaves is almost as special as the first sign of their flowers in spring. The emerald greens and the deep veining of the leaves, contribute to dogwoods’ distinctive look.

For more of my posts on Dogwoods, be sure to check out these articles:

Find the Perfect Dogwood

Flowering Dogwood: Queen of the Woodland garden

Cornus Kousa: Impressive non-native for the woodland garden

Bunchberry: The ideal native ground cover

Pagoda Dogwood: Small native tree ideal for any garden

Cornus Mas: An elegant addition to the Woodland Garden

Dogwood leaves are good indicator of problems

The leaves of the Dogwood will often inform us of disease or other problems our Dogwoods are facing. Watch for black spots or curling of the leaves as indicators of possible problems. Curling leaves may be nothing more than the tree protecting itself from the harsh sun, but they could be an indicator of more serious problem. More information on potential problems later in this article.

A variegated Cornus Mas shows off its lovely bright leaves as it grows up through the fern garden and alongside a Cornus Kousa. A Redbud is just coming into flower in the background.

Dogwoods are impressive in their fall colors

Another positive trait of dogwood leaves is their versatility in terms of color.

While some varieties are known for their vibrant fall foliage, others exhibit stunning colors throughout the year. From deep greens in spring and summer to rich reds, oranges, and purples in autumn, dogwood leaves provide a dynamic and ever-changing display of color in our gardens.

In addition to their visual appeal, dogwood leaves offer practical benefits as well. They provide shade and shelter for birds and other wildlife, making them an important part of the ecosystem.

Dogwood leaves collage

A collection of images showing the beauty of the dogwood leaf from the Bunchberry (top right), Cornus Kousa (top left) to the more shrubby and variegated dogwoods.

The leaves of the Dogwood also contribute to soil health by decomposing and enriching the soil with organic matter.

Furthermore, dogwood leaves are relatively low-maintenance. They are resistant to many common pests and diseases, making them a more or less hassle-free choice for gardeners.

The trees’ and shrubs’ moderate size and density also reduces their potential negative effects on turf, if that is a concern.

As the seasons progress, dogwood leaves continue to enchant. In the summer, their lush foliage provides a refreshing canopy of shade, creating a cool and inviting area to plant woodland-loving plants. Try acid-loving plants like ferns and spring ephemerals such as trilliums and native geraniums.

Pagoda dogwood in flower

This image shows the umbrels of the Pagoda Dogwood, but take note of the elegance of the trees deep green leaves that are heavily veined and create the perfect backdrop to show off the creamy flowers.

It is in the fall that dogwood leaves truly shine.

As the temperatures drop, these leaves transform into a kaleidoscope of colors, ranging from fiery reds and oranges to rich purples and yellows. Their vibrant hues create a breathtaking spectacle, turning our landscapes into a picturesque scenes.

Moreover, dogwood leaves have a unique ability to retain their color well into the late fall, ensuring that their beauty lasts longer than many other tree species. This extended display of color adds an extra touch of magic to the autumn season.

This image shows the leaves of a Flowering Dogwood in early fall color with next year’s flower buds.

In conclusion, the special and attractive qualities of dogwood leaves lie in their year-round beauty, from their emergence in spring to their stunning fall colors. Their vibrant hues, intricate veining, and long-lasting color make them a standout feature in any landscape.

So, whether you’re admiring the flowering dogwood or the Pagoda dogwood, take a moment to appreciate the exceptional beauty of their leaves.

What diseases should we look for in dogwood leaves?

Anthracnose is indeed a common disease that affects the leaves of Flowering Dogwood. However, there are other diseases that can also show up in dogwood leaves.

It’s important to be able to recognize the early signs of disease in order to take appropriate action and prevent further damage to the tree.

One of the early signs of disease in dogwood leaves is the presence of spots or lesions. These spots can vary in size, shape, and color depending on the specific disease.

For example, anthracnose may cause small, dark brown or black spots with a purple halo, while powdery mildew may result in white or grayish patches on the leaves.

Another sign to look out for is leaf discoloration. Diseased dogwood leaves may exhibit yellowing, browning, or even reddening, depending on the disease. This discoloration may be localized or spread throughout the entire leaf.

In addition, wilting or drooping leaves can indicate the presence of disease. Diseased dogwood leaves may lose their turgidity and appear limp or wilted, even if the soil moisture is adequate.

It’s also important to pay attention to leaf deformities. Some diseases can cause the leaves to become distorted, curled, or misshapen. These deformities can range from minor abnormalities to severe malformations.

If you notice any of these early signs of disease in dogwood leaves, it’s crucial to take action promptly. Consult with a professional arborist or horticulturist to accurately diagnose the disease and determine the appropriate treatment. Early intervention can help prevent the spread of the disease and protect the overall health of the dogwood tree.

For a complete breakdown of diseases that face Dogwoods, check out this page from the University of Maryland.

The captivating colors of a Flowering Dogwood in early all color with its combinations of greens, yellows, reds and hints of purple.

What are the best dogwood leaves for fall color?

Dogwood trees are known for their stunning fall foliage, and some varieties have leaves that are particularly exceptional in terms of color. When it comes to the best dogwood leaves for fall color, two varieties stand out: the Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) and the Red Osier dogwood (Cornus sericea).

The Kousa dogwood is native to East Asia and is highly regarded for its vibrant fall foliage. Its leaves turn a beautiful deep red or purple, creating a striking contrast against the tree’s dark bark. The Kousa dogwood’s leaves also tend to stay on the tree longer than other varieties, prolonging the enjoyment of their autumn hues.

On the other hand, the Red Osier dogwood, also known as the Red Twig dogwood, is native to North America. While its fall foliage may not be as showy as that of the Kousa dogwood, it’s bright red stems offer a stunning display of color throughout the winter months. The leaves of the Red Osier dogwood turn shades of red, orange, and purple, adding warmth and vibrancy to the autumn landscape.

Both the Kousa dogwood and the Red Osier dogwood are excellent choices for homeowners looking to enhance their fall gardens with colorful foliage. Whether you prefer the intense reds and purples of the Kousa dogwood or the warm tones of the Red Osier dogwood, these varieties are sure to bring beauty and visual interest to your outdoor space during the fall season.

Do dogwood leaves make good tea?

Do dogwood leaves make good tea? This is a question that many people have when they see the beautiful leaves of the dogwood tree. While dogwood leaves are not commonly used for tea, they do have some potential benefits.

One of the main benefits of dogwood leaves is their high antioxidant content. Antioxidants help to protect the body against damage from free radicals, which can contribute to aging and disease. By consuming dogwood leaf tea, you may be able to boost your antioxidant intake and support overall health.

In addition to antioxidants, dogwood leaves also contain certain compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. These compounds can help to reduce inflammation in the body and alleviate symptoms of conditions such as arthritis and allergies.

To make dogwood leaf tea, simply steep a handful of fresh or dried leaves in hot water for about 10 minutes. You can add honey or lemon for flavor if desired. However, it's important to note that dogwood leaves may have a slightly bitter taste, so you may want to adjust the amount of leaves or steeping time to suit your preference.

While dogwood leaf tea may not be as well-known as other herbal teas, it can be a unique and potentially beneficial addition to your tea collection. Just remember to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating any new herbal remedies into your routine, especially if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications.



Author Profile: Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with readers.

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Hanging baskets: Simple designs ensure success with Supertunias

If you have never tried Supertunias in your hanging baskets, there’s a good chance you don’t know what you are missing. These Proven Winners plants are bred to perform in containers as well as in the landscape.

Create stunning hanging baskets using a single flower

Every spring I get excited about creating our many hanging baskets.

I imagine spectacular baskets rivalling the massive ones that line the streets of our town, or the hanging baskets that take our breath away in tourist areas like Niagara On The Lake or along the main road of Michigan’s Mackinac Island.

A hummingbird feeds from a feeder among the Supertunia vista Bubblegum growing in a hanging basket.

Of course, these massive hanging baskets in tourist areas are created with no cost restrictions when it comes to plants or maintenance. They’re also often designed by professional landscapers whose primary job is to keep them looking beautiful from the day they are planted until the day they are taken down.

Few of us can hope to duplicate these magnificent baskets, but by taking a simple approach and tapping into the suggestions from Proven Winners and others, it’s possible to create stunning baskets that perform well from spring through fall and require nothing more than regular watering and fertilizing.

Tips to create simple, easy-to-care-for hanging baskets

In other words, unless you are a super diligent gardener (that’s not me), chances are your hanging baskets, window boxes and container plantings are not going to look as good as these magnificent professional plantings. Instead, we need simple, easy-to-care-for hanging baskets that will look great even if they’re ignored for a couple of days.

Choose the right plant material

Thankfully, by choosing the right plant material, we can create hanging baskets that are both beautiful in their simplicity, and easy to maintain.

Most of my success with hanging baskets, window boxes and container plantings have almost always been the result of using Proven Winners supertunia series of plants. It’s important to note that there are different series of supertunia to choose from depending on your wants and needs.

To get the most out of these plants, it’s important to place them in an area that gets full sun or at least six hours of sun a day. They can survive on less sun, but may not flower as profusely.

These petunias take centre stage in the trio of hanging baskets.

Supertunia offers different series to best meet your needs

The Supertunia series offers a wide variety of beautiful flowers that are perfect for hanging baskets. One popular series is Supertunia Vista, which includes stunning varieties like “Supertunia Vista Bubblegum” and “Supertunia Vista Silverberry.” These flowers are known for their vibrant colors and vigorous growth, making them ideal for creating eye-catching hanging baskets.

Another series to consider is the Supertunia Mini Vista, which features smaller flowers that are perfect for adding delicate charm to your hanging baskets. Varieties like “Supertunia Mini Vista Pink Star” offer dainty pink star-shaped blooms that create a serene and graceful look.

Supertunia vista Bubblegum is an excellent flower to grow by itself in a hanging basket because of its incredible flowering throughout the season.

If you prefer a more sophisticated and elegant display, the Supertunia Bordeaux series is a great choice.

The deep burgundy flowers of the “Supertunia Bordeaux” variety add a touch of luxury to your hanging basket, especially when paired with the bright yellow blooms of the “Supertunia Limoncello” variety.

Lastly, for a bold and attention-grabbing display, consider the Supertunia Royal Velvet series. The rich purple flowers of the “Supertunia Royal Velvet” variety create a striking contrast when combined with the vibrant fuchsia blooms of the “Supertunia Vista Fuchsia” variety.

Supertunia Bordeaux is a standout from Proven Winners.

By choosing from the various Supertunia series, you can create visually stunning hanging baskets that are sure to impress. Remember to consider the light and water requirements of each variety to ensure their success.

Proven Winners Supertunia categories

Breaking down Proven Winners’ various categories can be a bit confusing, but here is a simplified explanation:

The Vista series: Proven Winners describes its Supertunia Vista series in the following way. “Supertunia Vista® petunias are very vigorous, with mounding habits that can reach up to 2 feet in the landscape and will trail over the edges of baskets and containers up to 3 feet by the end of the season.  They are fantastic landscape plants and are great in large containers, where they function as both fillers and spillers.  In garden beds, they will work either in the front or middle of the bed.  They have medium-sized flowers. They are the largest Supertunias both in height and width.”

Flowers in this series include: Silverberry (white with a dark fuschia interior), Jazzberry (Fuschia with a darker interior), Fuchsia, Bubblegum, Snowdrift and Paradise.

Mini Vista series: Proven Winners describes its Mini Vista series in the following way. “Supertunia Mini Vista petunias are mounded, but will also spill over the edges of containers.  They are great container plants and will function as both spillers and fillers in combination planters.  They are incredibly good landscape plants, best used at the front of beds.  They are very densely branched plants.  They have small to very small flowers, similar in size to a large Superbells Calibrachoa flower.  They are a great substitute for Calibrachoa in landscapes without excellent drainage – Calibrachoa require excellent drainage to thrive, while petunias are much more forgiving.

Flowers in this Mini Vista category include: Ultramarine (deep purple), Yellow, Midnight and Scarlet.

Bordeaux series: This appears to be a single flower style with purple outer flower and deeper color in the inside.

Standard Supertunia: Proven Winner’s describes their other Supertunias in the following way. “Standard Supertunia petunias are vigorous with slightly mounded habits that function as both fillers and spillers in containers.  They are also excellent landscape plants, best suited to be placed near the front of beds.  They have medium to large sized flowers. Compared to Supertunia Vista, these plants are shorter, but over time can almost match the spread of a Vista. They function as fillers and spillers in combination recipes.

These purple supertunias from Proven Winners take centre stage in this window basket.

Supertunia Bubblegum is my favourite

I particularly like the performance of Supertunia supervista Bubblegum. It’s one on the colour indulgences I allow in my garden and by looking at the Proven Winners page on this plant, it’s easy to understand why I lean into Bubblegum. Check out this Proven Winners page of Bubblegum magic.

Now, that’s not to say similar results can’t be achieved by say, Wave petunias or any of the other brands of petunias, but I have to admit that Proven Winners products have never let me down.

Supertunia vista snowdrift is an excellent addition to any basket to lighten it up and intensify the colours of other flowers in the hanging basket.

For smaller hanging baskets, try using a single flower

More often than not, my greatest successes has come by using a single flower or at best combining two supertunias in a single basket.

Imagine a hanging basket dripping with lovely pink bubblegum-colored-flowers in your landscape. I use supervista bubblegum in containers throughout the landscape to add colour in distant areas of the garden.

How many plants should I put in a hanging basket?

One plant is usually enough to eventually fill out our rather small hanging baskets, but two plants helps to get the process started quicker and ensures a more fuller-looking basket.

Creating a simplified hanging basket using a minimal approach can greatly contribute to the visual success of your display.

By focusing on a single supertunia variety, you can achieve a cohesive and visually pleasing arrangement. This approach not only simplifies the design process but also ensures that the plants in your hanging basket have similar watering and sunlight needs.

Supertunia vista Bubblegum is a stunner in any landscape.

Using a single supertunia allows you to highlight the unique characteristics and vibrant colors of the chosen variety. Whether it’s the bold red of the Supertunia® Royal Velvet or the delicate pink of the Supertunia® Vista Bubblegum, a single variety can make a strong visual impact.

This minimalistic approach also prevents overcrowding and allows each plant to thrive and reach its full potential. Moreover, focusing on a single supertunia variety simplifies maintenance. Watering and fertilizing become easier since all the plants in the hanging basket have the same requirements. This ensures that each plant receives the appropriate care, leading to healthier growth and more abundant blooms.

In summary, creating a simplified hanging basket using a minimal approach not only enhances the visual appeal but also simplifies maintenance. By choosing a single supertunia variety, you can achieve a cohesive and visually stunning display while ensuring that all plants receive the care they need.

Single plants Simplifies watering

When you choose a single supertunia variety, you can easily determine the watering needs of the plants.

When plants in a hanging basket have similar needs, it becomes easier to provide them with the right care and maintenance.

This is especially important in hanging baskets, as they tend to dry out more quickly than plants in the ground. By selecting plants with similar water requirements, you can avoid overwatering or underwatering certain plants, leading to healthier growth and more vibrant blooms. Similarly, sunlight needs can vary among different plant varieties. By using a single supertunia, you can ensure that all the plants in the hanging basket receive the appropriate amount of sunlight. This prevents some plants from becoming leggy or weak due to insufficient light, while others may become scorched from too much sun exposure.

Here is an example of using supertunias in containers to add colour to a corner of the garden.

When a single variety just won’t cut it

Proven Winners, a renowned gardening brand, emphasizes the success of using combinations of supertunias in creating cohesive hanging baskets.

By selecting different varieties of supertunias, you can achieve a stunning display of colors, textures, and growth habits.

One advantage of using combinations is the ability to create visual interest. By mixing supertunias with varying flower colors, such as the vibrant "Royal Velvet" and the delicate "White Charm", you can create a captivating contrast that adds depth and dimension to your hanging basket.

Additionally, combining supertunias with different growth habits, like the trailing “Vista Bubblegum” and the mounding “Pretty Much Picasso”, adds visual variety and creates a more dynamic arrangement.

Another benefit of using combinations is the opportunity to cater to different light and water requirements. While all supertunias have similar needs, some varieties may prefer slightly more shade or moisture than others.

By selecting a mix of supertunias that thrive in different conditions, you can ensure that your hanging basket remains healthy and vibrant, even in challenging environments.

Proven Winners also highlights the importance of selecting supertunias with similar growth rates. This ensures that no single variety overpowers the others, resulting in a harmonious and balanced display.

By considering the growth habits and characteristics of each supertunia, you can create a cohesive hanging basket that showcases the beauty of each individual plant while maintaining an overall sense of unity.

In summary, Proven Winners encourages the use of combinations of supertunias in hanging baskets to create visually stunning and cohesive displays. By selecting supertunias with different colors, growth habits, and light and water requirements, you can achieve a vibrant and thriving hanging basket that will be the envy of all.

Proven Winners’ combinations that work well together

Finally, let’s explore some Proven Winners combinations of supertunias that work well together. For a complete list of Proven Winners Supertunias, check out the post on their site entitled 23 Colorful Supertunias for your garden

These combinations have been carefully curated to ensure visual appeal and harmonious growth. One popular combination is the “Supertunia Vista Bubblegum” and “Supertunia Vista Silverberry.” The vibrant pink blooms of the Bubblegum variety contrast beautifully with the soft purple flowers of the Silverberry. This combination creates a stunning display of color and texture in your hanging basket.

Another winning combination is the “Supertunia Bordeaux” and “Supertunia Limoncello.” The deep burgundy flowers of the Bordeaux variety pair perfectly with the bright yellow blooms of the Limoncello. This combination adds a touch of elegance and sophistication to your hanging basket.

For a more subtle and delicate look, consider the “Supertunia White” and “Supertunia Mini Vista Pink Star.” The pure white flowers of the White variety create a serene backdrop for the pink star-shaped blooms of the Mini Vista Pink Star. This combination exudes grace and charm.

If you prefer a bold and eye-catching display, try the “Supertunia Royal Velvet” and “Supertunia Vista Fuchsia.” The rich purple flowers of the Royal Velvet variety complement the vibrant fuchsia blooms of the Vista Fuchsia, creating a striking contrast that demands attention.

By choosing these Proven Winners combinations of supertunias, you can create visually stunning hanging baskets that are sure to impress. Remember to consider the light and water requirements of each variety to ensure their success. With these combinations, you can enjoy a beautiful and thriving display of supertunias in your hanging baskets.



Author Profile: Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with readers.

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Dogwoods: Find the perfect dogwood(s) for your woodland

Dogwoods are an integral part of any woodland garden. From the tiny ground cover known as Cornus canadensis or bunchberry, to the ever popular Flowering Dogwood tree.

Native dogwood trees and shrubs are perfect for yards big and small

When it comes to creating a woodland garden, I think it’s safe to say that no single genus is as important than the group of plants known as Cornus or, more commonly, the dogwoods.

In our backyard, dogwoods definitely dominate the woody plantings and, after pouring over the 2004 book Dogwoods, The Genus Cornus, (Amazon link) I am convinced that I need more … a lot more.

Dogwood in bloom

A lovely dogwood in full bloom in our backyard in early summer.

Authors Paul Cappiello and Don Shadow dive so deep into the genus dogwoods that any homeowner/gardener who takes the time to read this entertaining and incredibly informative book and doesn’t fall in love with dogwoods, is either ignoring the inherent qualities of this wide ranging species of primarily woody plants, or has yet to discover the importance, beauty and usefulness of under story trees and shrubs in the landscape.

Small trees like the Flowering Dogwood can take center stage in any garden, while the lower growing shrubby dogwoods such Cornus alba are happy to sit back and take a supporting role for most of the spring and summer. Together dogwoods form the backbone of the under story layer going from a ground cover (cornus canadensis) or bunchberry, to magnificent mature Flowering dogwoods (cornus florida) with stunning spring flowers, delicious summer berries for wildlife, finishing the season in a spectacular fall colour display.

More of my posts on Dogwoods

For more information on Dogwoods, please check out my other posts listed here:

Flowering Dogwood: Queen of the Woodland garden

Cornus Kousa: Impressive non-native for the woodland garden

Bunchberry: The ideal native ground cover

Pagoda Dogwood: Small native tree ideal for any garden

Cornus Mas: An elegant addition to the Woodland Garden

Dogwood beginning to take on its fall colour

The same Cornus florida as above in early fall colour in our back garden.

How can you not love dogwoods?

Most prominent in the northeastern United States into the Carolinas and stretching as far north as the Carolinian zones in southeastern Ontario, Canada, this group of both native and non-native plants offer such a variety to choose from that it’s not surprising most become overwhelmed.

To complicate things further, dogwoods also play a significant role in the landscapes of the Pacific northwest with their stunning Cornus nuttallii and its countless cultivars

I think it’s fair to say that there are few places in the U.S. or Canada where you can’t find a dogwood for your garden.

The hardcover book Dogwood: The Genus Cornus is an exceptional resource for information on this massive plant species

All of these dogwoods are explored in great detail in the 2005 book Dogwoods, The Genus Cornus by authors Paul Cappiello and Don Shadow published by none other than Timber Press.

If you are looking for a great deal on a used copy of Dogwoods, be sure to check out these incredible prices at Alibris, an umbrella group of independent book sellers, starting as low as $2-$7 for this lovely hardcover book. This link will take you the page on their website featuring the book Dogwoods.

Is it out of date? Obviously, yes. But, if you love dogwoods half as much as I do, I don’t think you will find a more comprehensive book on the subject. The more than 220 pages explore every dogwood imaginable and provides detailed information on each group.

Author Paul Cappiello describes himself first and foremost as a gardener and yet, his formal training is in both environmental planning and design, and horticulture. His expertise and passion for dogwoods comes out in the incredible detailed way he explores each sub-category of the Cornus species.

He writes: “Finally, my approach in this book has been from the standpoint of and for the benefit of the gardener. I make no attrmpt to rewrite the taxonomic treatment of the genus Cornus. I have no desire to rewrite the natural history of the genus. Any such indication in the following pages is simply due to my inability as a writer. I hope simply to provide some information, possibly a little inspiration and a bit of enjoyment.”

That he does.

Dogwood in fall colour in the woodland garden

The bright red fall colour of this dogwood is a showstopper in our woodland garden.

In the introduction he explains how “almost immediately after the first ships returned to England from the New World, seedlings of the Cornus florida began showing up in British nursery catalogs.

He explains how dogwoods have “been with us since the time of the dinosaurs and have moved over most of the Northern Hemisphere and occasionally south of the equator as well. In the present day plant world, Cornus species are known from Venezuela (C peruviana) to subarctic North America (C. canadensis, C suecica), across Europe (C. sanguinea), and through much of Asia (C kousa, C macrophylla).”

The authors explore everything from Dogwood characteristics, growth habits as well as the fruit and bark that can be found in various species. In addition, no book on Dogwoods would be complete without an in depth exploration of insect and disease problems dogwoods face – especially canker, dogwood and spot Anthracnose, powdery mildew and dogwood borer.

The Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) in early fall colour with some of its blue berries still hanging on.

The meat of the book, however, dives deep into the variety of dogwood species and their many cultivars. I am sure that, since the printing of this book, many new and improved cultivars have been introduced, but I doubt there have been any ground-breaking introductions not already tackled in this comprehenive book.

Beginning with the smallest of dogwoods, Cornus canadensis (also known as Bunchberry, Bear Berry, Bear Grape and Kinnikinick) the authors provide valuable information from growing zones to best growing conditions, propagation sub species and cultivars.

More than 130 Cornus florida cultivars.

Did you know that in the Cornus florida group of trees, there are more than 130 cultivars ranging from Cornus florida ‘Autumn Gold’ selected for it bright yellow and orange stems, to ‘Cherokee Chief’ with its deep red bracts through a multitude of varieties including variegated varieties such as ‘Daybreak’ with its white and green leaves, and ‘first lady’ with a green and gold variegated leaf.

Each of the more than 130 cultivars is described in the book spanning more than 37 pages with high quality images for many of the cultivars.

If you are looking for the perfect dogwood, this type of detail is indespensible.

I would be remiss, however, not to point out that the native species of plant or tree is always the best choice if you are hoping to attract and provide habitat and food for backyard wildlife.

Not to be outdone, The Cornus Kousa chapter details a total of 137 cultivars.

Even Cornus nuttallii (Pacific Dogwood) lists ten cultivars.

Cornus Kousa branch in full flower with a variegated Cornus Mas in the rear

Cornus Kousa branch in full flower with a variegated Cornus Mas in the rear

Section on Cornus florida group hybrids is eye opening

I was surprised to find out the incredible work being done on hybrids combining the best of Cornus florida with C. nuttallii and C. Kousa.

The cross between C. florida and C. kousa known as Cornus xrutgersensis is represented by a group of hybrids developed by Elwin Orton of Rutgers University m New Brunswick, New Jersey dating back to 1961.

According to the author: “After more than 20 years of work, Orton and Rutgers released a group of six patented cultivars under the trademarked names Aurora, Constellation, Celestial, Ruth Ellen, Stellar Pink and Stardust.” …

“These hybrids are low branched, mostly with strongly ascending tendencies and an upright overall shape. Flowering time begins with Ruth Ellen just as the last of the Cornus florida fade, with Constellation being about the latest to flower.”

These hybrids have proven resistant to powdery mildew and free from dogwood anthracnose. With proper watering they also show good resistance to borers.

Dogwood book covers a wealth of information

Of course Dogwoods goes well beyond covering the popular dogwood species like C. florida. Extensive chapters are dedicated to the less popular but equally important shrubby forms as well as an extensive chapter on our native Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda dogwood). Separate chapters on the Cornus Alba group and the Cornus Mass Group of shrubs and small trees rounds out this book.

Blue Jay in flowering dogwood

Blue Jay in Flowering dogwood tree.

Dogwoods: In conclusion

Whether you are a little obsessed about dogwoods like I am, or are just looking for a few to add spring interest, colour, berries and fall interest to your yard, the book Dogwoods: The Genus Cornus can be a great addition to your gardening library. While the author shares anecdotes and does his best to make the story as interesting as possible, the book should be seen primarily as resource material providing detailed descriptions of a family of plants. To put it in other words, this is best used as a source of information rather than great bed-side read.

But it’s indespensible if Dogwoods are your thing.

Just be careful. I can almost guarantee the book will be sending you to your nearest garden centres to explore and compare their selections of Cornus species that absolutely need a spot in your garden.

Author Profile: Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with readers.

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Three Top Woodland garden books

Three of the best woodland gardening books to help you create the garden of your dreams. The Wild Garden, The Living Landscape and the Ken Druse’s exceptional book The New Shade Garden are all books that will open a new world for gardeners looking for solutions and landscape ideas.

Plus a few more too important to leave off the list

Winter is a time to sit back with your favourite gardening book and begin planning for the gardening season ahead. That sense of anticipation is a feeling that is hard to deny and leads me to turn another page of my favourite gardening book looking for new ideas and possible garden vignettes I can implement this spring and summer.

YouTube gardening channels and other blogs just can’t replace the joy of a good, well-worn and tattered garden book, maybe a coffee and a comfortable chair.

Dogwoods book cover

This lovely little book provides everything you ever wanted to know about Dogwoods with complete descriptions of just about every dogwood and cultivars available.


I am currently leafing through Dogwoods, (link to book from Alibris with incredible prices on used books) an incredibly informative and entertaining book I picked up from Alibris books (an umbrella group of independent book sellers based in the United States and the U.K. that offers used books at extremely reduced prices.) If the book has taught me anything, it’s that I need more Dogwoods in my life.

Many of the books below are available through a number of book retailers, but I urge you to check out Alibris for outstanding deals on perfectly good used books at ridiculously reduced prices.

Here are three gardening books (plus links to several more) that can turn winter evenings into productive gardening days.

So let’s get started.

The Wild Garden

The Wild Garden, Expanded Edition is an excellent resource for any gardener looking to go a little wild in their garden.

The Wild Garden: A Woodland bible

The Wild Garden (amazon link) might well be considered the bible of Woodland gardening.

(Link to Wild Garden from Alibris Books, Movies and Music)

With its roots going back to its first publishing in 1870, the new edition includes an introductory essay by award-winning photographer and landscape consultant Rick Darke (The Woodland Garden) who underscores the importance of not only the author’s original ground-breaking, and hugely influential approach to gardening at that time, but its importance to today’s environmental-conscious gardeners and more naturalistic, ecological landscape designs.

It’s a message more gardeners need to embrace as our planet comes under new, and constant threats to its very survival.

A kindle version is also available for this book.

The Living Landscape explores how to take modern family needs and apply them to a natural landscape that feeds the soul of Woodland gardeners and those looking to bring nature back to their gardens.

The Living Landscape explores how to take modern family needs and apply them to a natural landscape that feeds the soul of Woodland gardeners and those looking to bring nature back to their gardens.

From the Chicago Tribune: “If there was but one book on our garden library shelf, William Robinson’s The Wild Garden would be the single tome, at once revolutionary and oozing charm. . . . With photographer and writer Rick Darke’s added chapters and insight, we understand more than ever the wisdom and urgency of Robinson’s garden gospel.”

The 356-page book includes more than 100 outstanding photographs taken by Darke that include images of modern “wild” gardens to give readers an understanding of how today’s gardeners and landscapers are interpreting the naturalistic garden. The Wild Garden includes the complete original text and illustrations from the fifth edition of 1895.

The hardcover book, published by Timber Press, is also available in a more economical Kindle edition.

The Living Landscape: A guide to backyard design

The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden is another offering by Rick Darke and Timber Press.

This is a book that I keep going back to for new ideas and approaches to creating a garden that is both inspiring and family friendly as well as sympathetic to the natural environment.

It’s for gardeners who want it all but need a little help bringing their wildest dreams to fruition. In this almost 400-page guide to backyard design, Darke teams up with author Douglas W. Tallamy (Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard) to create a blueprint for today’s ecological gardener looking to achieve a home landscape that satisfies their soul, their kids’ need to have a play area, some privacy and maybe even a little veggie on the side.

The Living Landscape is also available at Alibris Books, including used versions at excellent prices.

A tall order for sure, but one that is becoming increasingly in demand in backyards big and small all over the world.

The Living Landscape will guide homeowners in the creation of an outdoor space that provides both human needs while still feeding their desires to create a beautiful, wildlife-friendly space that connects them to their favourite natural areas. Along the way the authors provide ideas, richly illustrated with photographs, on incorporating outdoor rooms and entertaining areas.

The authors use favourite wild areas to guide home gardeners in methods they can use to apply these observations of natural areas to their own gardens to create and maintain a diverse, layered landscape that is so important in today’s Woodland gardens.

For my take on using natural areas as inspiration for your own backyard, check out my post here.

Available in both hardback and Kindle version.

The Natural Garden is Ken Druse's earlier book that helped to change how people garden.

The New Shade Garden: Druse sheds light on the beauty of shade

The New Shade Garden: Creating a Lush Oasis in the Age of Climate Change is another important, comprehensive garden book from award-winning garden author Ken Druse ( The Natural Habitat Garden, Natural Garden, The Natural Shade Garden).

For new gardeners looking to create their own ecologically-sensitive oasis, or an experienced gardener looking for help dealing with their ever increasing shade garden and wanting to become more environmentally aware, this book or any other books by author Ken Druse listed above will set you on the right path.

If you are interested in more on the New Shade Garden, check out my complete review here.

Be sure to check out Alibris Books, Music and Movies for used versions of these books.

The 256-page, richly illustrated, informative tome on shade gardening and its importance in a changing world, could not be more appropriate for Woodland gardeners and Woodlanders in training looking for guiding principles.

Druse explains the importance of creating shade gardens in the context of climate change and how to work with nature, including making the most of the constraints that may arise.

The New Shade Garden provides gardeners with a manual to begin down the Woodland path or methods to turn a less environmental, water-starved traditional backyard, into one that works with nature, climate change and ever-evolving garden aesthetics.

Published by Harry N. Abrams and available as both a hardcover and Kindle edition.


Nancy Lawson with her book The Humane Gardener.


The Humane Gardener and Wildscape books: Ideal for gardeners who care

Wildlscapes, author Nancy Lawson's latest book.

Wildscapes is author Nancy Lawson’s latest book exploring the natural world that exists in our gardens.


If gardening with nature, woodland creatures, birds and the natural environment are among the reasons you garden, you simply have to put The Humane Gardener and Wildscape on your list of must-haves.

And, if you have friends who think the same, these make the perfect gift to inspire them to even greater things in their gardens.

I have written extensively about author Nancy Lawson’s critically acclaimed books.

Lawson doesn’t pull any punches about the importance of respecting the creepy crawlies, animals and other visitors we share our gardens with on a daily basis. Her approach to wildlife gardening is, however, both informative and easy to incorporate in our daily lives.

If you are interested in exploring Nancy’s books further, please check out my full reviews listed below.

Nancy Lawson, The Humane Gardener. (link to my full review.)

The Humane Gardener (Amazon link)

Wildscape book review with links to reviews of each chapter of the book.

Wildscape (Amazon link)

Author Profile: Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with readers.

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The first step to building our Woodland Garden

Building your dream garden may start with planting a tree or your favourite shrub. For us it began by escaping our new-home subdivision and taking the leap to an older fixer-upper that provided us with the property we needed to start our dream Woodland garden.

Our woodland garden began with a pool in our neighbour’s backyard. We didn’t know it then, but life in a brand new home in the middle of the suburbs where late-night pool parties, loud teenagers and the never-ending drone of gas powered mowers was the norm, was enough to push my wife and I to extremes.

These weren’t our dreams – the pools, the parties the close proximity to neighbours.

So, it was time to sell and move into a home that, in the end was totally opposite to the one we were living in at the time.

A for-sale sign went up and before long we were in ‘our’ dream home. Well not exactly a dream home, more like a dream property. We only had one child, so my wife and I decided to go against the grain and buy a small house on a big property rather than a big house on a small property.

It was the best decision we ever made for our sanity.

In the end, we compromised a little and bought a small home (at least by 1980s standards) on a decent-size lot pushing a half acre. To say the home was a fixer-upper would be a bit of an understatement.

What does this all have to do with building a woodland garden, you ask?

The Woodland garden starts in the front and carries through to the back of the home.

The Woodland garden starts in the front and carries through to the back. We’ve included a Japanese-inspired garden (at left) in the front garden.

Focus on the garden for long-term happiness

Our dream was never really to own a huge multi-level home. We realized we wanted to create a peaceful, natural area around us where we could enjoy nature rather than jumping in the car every weekend to go to cottage country to escape the neighbourhood noise.

The final selling factor, at least for me, was a photo album left on the table of the house left opened to a photo of a group of deer in the backyard of the very home we were touring. For many gardeners, this would be a deal breaker. For me it only made me want it more.


A fox stops by to take a drink in one of our water bowls.

A fox stops by to take a drink from one of our water bowls.

Building the woodland garden

Then the slow process of building the garden began in fits and starts. Not unlike the home, the garden, what little of it there was, needed a lot of work.

We brought in soil and mulch, planted trees and native wildflowers. Expanded the gardens and eliminated grass. Then eliminated more grass. Check out my post on the benefits of eliminating grass.

We brought in boulders, lugged hundreds of wheelbarrows of stone, pea gravel, mulch and soil into the backyard. Check out my post on the importance of using stone in the garden

My wife and I made paths, created dry-river beds in the front and the back and it continues to this day.

Check out my post on some of the DIY projects my wife and I tackled over the years.

Finally, more than 20 years later, the combination of time and a lot of hard work is turning our patch of rural suburbia into a woodland garden rather than a patch of grass surrounded by neighbouring patches of grass surrounded by forest.

Now, most mornings my dog, Holly, and I step outside on the patio and enjoy some peaceful time together before the neighbourhood wakes up.

Be sure to check out some of my other posts on putting together a woodland garden or natural garden. Ken Druse’s book The Natural Garden is a great place to start. His newer book The New Shade Garden is an excellent source of information. Or take a minutes to check out this post on the 5 best books for woodland gardening.

The birds are at home here. On any given morning, a young fox wanders through looking for breakfast and maybe a deer or two comes through and offers me a chance to photograph them before they are off for their daily adventure. I’ve watched skunks wander through the yard, rabbits, more chipmunks and red squirrels than I can count and even a lone coyote. Snakes have returned to the property after not seeing a single one for many years here. Toads, fireflies and a host of native bees and butterflies call our property home.

It’s taken a while to get here, and we know we will never be done. But we took that first step that needed to be taken.

Your first step might not be to sell your home, it might be to go out and plant your first tree, shrub or native wildflower.

So what are you waiting for? Take that first step. You never know where it will lead you.

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Linden tree: A stalwart in our woodland garden

The Linden is an important part of our woodland garden providing deep shade in summer and habitat for wildlife as well as lovely fall colour.

How Lindens help wildlife in our yards

Not a day goes by that I don’t appreciate the beauty of our mature Linden tree in the backyard. It stands on the edge of our property just outside our family room where I can observe the many comings and goings as it changes from season to season.

It’s a favourite of our squirrels – both red and grey – backyard birds and raccoon families that use its dense branches and leaves for nesting and hiding out from summer’s full sun.

It’s not uncommon to watch our hummingbird feed from one of our feeders and then head up into the safety of our Linden tree where it can rest high in the tree’s branches or feed from its fragrant spring flowers.

Sixty plus year old Linden tree I watched growing up

Linden tree from my childhood home that I watched grow up from a staked sapling to a 60-plus-year-old tree.


Actually, Lindens have always been a part of my life.

As a child, I watched our little Linden grow up in front of me from a tiny sapling into a fully mature tree that now dominates the front of my childhood home. It became the climbing tree for my nephews and a shady play spot and picnic area for my daughter and her cousins whenever they came to visit grandma and grandpa.


In spring and summer it provides a deep shade for many of our native wildflowers, from wild geraniums to trilliums, violets and Mayapple. Our ferns and hostas also thrive in the deep shade of our massive tree.

Our Linden was a mature tree – towering above our one-storey home – when we purchased it more than 25 years ago. Little leaf Lindens can grow to about 80 feet tall (24m) with a spread between 40 to 50 feet (15m). In most urban landscapes Linden’s normally grow 40 to 50 feet (15m) tall with a 35- to 40-foot-spread.

Lindens take on a very attractive pyramidal form as they age (as seen in the larger image above). This creates a large shaded area below, making them an ideal spot for a garden bench, sitting area or small dining area.

They would be considered by some to be a little messy dropping their flowers in spring followed by small, ball-like seeds later in the year. Of course, their dense leaf cover creates a lovely deep yellow, natural groundcover in fall after they shed their leaves. I just leave them on the ground for the wildlife to use.

In spring, its bright green leaves combine with our neighbour’s mature Crimson maple leaves creating a lovely contrast that lasts throughout the growing season and create effective habitat for a host of wildlife.

Our large, mature Linden tree towers over the woodland garden providing shade to the understory trees and plants.

How do you identify linden tree leaves?

Linden tree leaves have distinct identifying characteristics that set them apart from other tree leaves.

The key feature is their heart-shaped form, with a pointed tip and a rounded base. The edges of the leaves are serrated or toothed, adding to their unique appearance.

Another distinguishing trait is the asymmetrical leaf base, where one side is slightly larger than the other.

In terms of size, linden tree leaves are typically medium to large, ranging from 2 to 6 inches in length.

They have a smooth texture and a glossy surface, which gives them a vibrant and attractive look in the landscape. The color of the leaves varies throughout the year, transitioning from a fresh green in spring and summer to a vibrant yellow in the fall.


Our mature Linden towers above understory trees such as a Japanese Maple and Cornus Kousa in the landscape.


To further identify linden tree leaves, you can also examine the leaf veins. The veins are prominently visible and radiate from the central midrib toward the edges of the leaf. This venation pattern is characteristic of linden trees and can help distinguish their leaves from those of other tree species.

What is special about a linden tree?

Little Leaf Lindens are excellent trees to create shade in your garden.

Their dense foliage and broad canopy provide ample shade, making them a popular choice for homeowners and landscapers alike.

But what makes linden trees truly special goes beyond their shade-providing abilities.

Fragrant flowers attract bees, butterflies and even hummingbirds

One remarkable feature of linden trees is their fragrant flowers.

In late spring and early summer, linden trees produce clusters of small, yellowish-white flowers that emit a sweet, intoxicating scent. These flowers not only add beauty to the tree but also attract a variety of pollinators, including bees and butterflies.

The nectar-rich blossoms serve as a valuable food source for these insects, supporting their populations and contributing to the overall biodiversity of the area.

Medicinal uses of Linden trees and leaves

Linden leaves have long been used in traditional medicine for their calming and soothing effects.

They are often brewed into herbal teas that are believed to promote relaxation and alleviate stress. Additionally, linden leaves are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and can be used topically to soothe skin irritations and reduce swelling.

In conclusion, linden trees are not only beautiful shade trees but also play a vital role in supporting wildlife and providing medicinal benefits.

Whether you're looking to enhance your garden’s aesthetics or create a peaceful retreat, a linden tree is a special addition that will bring numerous benefits to your outdoor space.

Are linden trees native to the U.S. and Canada?

Linden trees can be grown in a variety of zones in both Canada and the United States, but are native to Europe and Asia.

These trees are adaptable and can thrive in different climates and conditions.

The ability of linden trees to grow in different zones makes them a popular choice for homeowners and gardeners looking to add beauty and shade to their landscapes. Whether you live in Canada or the United States, you can enjoy the benefits of linden trees in your garden or outdoor space.

In the United States, linden trees can be grown in zones 3 to 8, making them suitable for a wide range of states. From the northern states like Minnesota and Maine to the southern states like Texas and Florida, linden trees can be found in various regions across the country.

In Canada, linden trees can be grown in zones 2 to 7, which cover a large portion of the country. This means that linden trees can be enjoyed in regions such as British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec, among others.

With their attractive foliage, fragrant flowers, and the wildlife they support, linden trees are a valuable addition to any garden or woodland area. So, if you're considering planting a linden tree, rest assured that it can thrive in the appropriate growing zones in both Canada and the United States.

What are linden leaves good for?

Linden leaves are not only beautiful, but they also have several practical uses.

One of the main benefits of linden leaves is their medicinal properties. These leaves have been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat various ailments. They are known for their calming and soothing effects, making them a popular choice for herbal teas and infusions.

Linden leaf tea is often consumed to help with anxiety, stress, and insomnia.

In addition to their medicinal uses, linden leaves are also beneficial for the environment. They are rich in nutrients and can be used as a natural fertilizer for plants. By composting linden leaves, you can enrich the soil and promote healthy plant growth.

Linden are host plant for certain insects and caterpillars

Furthermore, linden leaves are a valuable food source for certain insects and caterpillars. They provide nourishment for species such as the linden looper moth and the linden hawk moth. These insects play an important role in the ecosystem as pollinators and as a food source for other animals.

So, while linden trees are admired for their shade and fall color, their leaves offer even more benefits. From their medicinal properties to their role in supporting wildlife, linden leaves are truly valuable. Whether you’re enjoying a cup of linden leaf tea or observing the insects that depend on them, linden leaves are a wonderful asset to have in any garden or woodland area.

What animals, insects, and birds depend on Linden

These trees attract a wide range of animals, insects, and birds, making them an important part of any woodland garden or natural habitat.

One of the main beneficiaries of linden trees are butterflies. Species such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the Red-spotted Purple rely on linden trees as a food source for their caterpillars. The leaves of the linden tree provide nourishment and support the growth of these beautiful butterflies.

In addition to butterflies, linden trees also attract a variety of birds. Species like the American Goldfinch and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird are known to visit linden trees for their nectar-rich flowers. These birds play a crucial role in pollination and contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem.

Furthermore, linden trees provide shelter and food for mammals as well. Squirrels and chipmunks are often seen scurrying up and down the trunks of linden trees, collecting seeds and nuts.

These trees also offer a safe haven for nesting birds and provide a habitat for small mammals like bats.

Linden tree: An ideal tree for a woodland garden

In conclusion, linden trees are not only visually appealing but also support a diverse range of wildlife. From butterflies and birds to mammals, these trees play a vital role in providing food, shelter, and habitat for various species. By planting linden trees, you can create a thriving ecosystem in your own backyard.

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Weeping Japanese Maple: Perfect for a small space

Weeping Japanese Maples are excellent trees to include in your landscape. They are small enough to add an accent to even the smallest yard but elegant enough to draw attention in a larger yard.

Weeping Japanese Maple beside boulder in Japanese-inspired garden

Our weeping Japanese Maple branches flow beautifully to the ground around the large boulder as part of our Japanese-inspired garden.

Our weeping Japanese Maple may not be very large, but it’s a big performer in the Japanese-inspired garden where it anchors one side of the garden with its delicate branches softening the hard edge of a giant boulder.

Its unusual form and dark red foliage makes a bold statement despite its rather demure size.

In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a better tree for that location in our Japanese-inspired garden.

Let’s take a closer look at weeping Japanese Maples with any eye on how to get the most out of these small-growing trees.

How big does a weeping Japanese maple get?

All Japanese Maples should be grown as understory trees, meaning they are generally smaller trees meant to grow in the shade of larger trees or buildings that protect them from harsh weather, especially extreme sun and heat.

Most weeping forms of Japanese Maple are dwarf, cutleaf varieties meaning that they are not only smaller than a regular, say Bloodgood variety, but are more susceptible to harsh conditions.

Interested in Japanese Maples. For more information be sure to read my other posts here:

A Japanese inspired garden

Getting the most out of Japanese Maples in the garden

Caring for and growing a mature Japanese Maple

Weeping Japanese Maple in fall colors.

The same weeping Japanese Maple in its fall colors just before it drops its leaves.

The typical weeping Japanese Maple will grow to about 8 feet with a similar width, but I have found the weeping Japanese Maples grow at a particularly slow pace.

While a traditional Japanese Maple can grow one to two feet a year, the weeping Japanese Maple will put on growth much more slowly. Be prepared for a vertical growth rate of just a few inches per year.

You can expect the average dwarf, weeping Japanese Maple to reach between 4-5 feet over a ten-year period making them ideal small trees for small yards or areas in the garden where you are looking for a tree to provide a spot of color without ever dominating its planting space.

Graphic showing the beauty of Japanese Maples in the landscape including several weeping varieties.

Examples of the beauty of Japanese Maples including some of the weeping variety.

Which Japanese maples are the weeping variety?

There are many varieties of weeping Japanese Maples to choose from including:

Acer Palmatum Dissectum ‘Inaba Shidare.’ This red to maroon weeping maple grows to about 5 feet with a six foot width and sports bright red fall colour. This laceleaf, pendulous tree is very hardy and is able to adapt to most situations, including sunnier areas. Three to four hours of sun helps the tree keep its best color. It can be grown in containers and is hardy in zones 5-9.

Acer Palmatum Dissectum ‘Waterfall.’ This weeping maple leaves emerge an almost neon green in spring turning a golden yellow to orange into fall. It grows to about 5 ft by 6 ft in about ten years and is hardy in zones 5 through 9.

Acer Palmatum Dissectum ‘Orangeola.’ Leaves emerge in spring in various shades of red, orange and green helping to give the tree an interesting look. This multi-colored pendulous dissectum acer is considered one of the most cascading Japanese maples. The leaves turn an orange red in fall and the tree is a little more compact than others reaching only about 4 ft tall with a width of about 5 ft over the course of ten years. It is hardy to zones 5 through 9 and can be grown as a container plant.

How to care for a weeping Japanese maples? Are they hardy?

Weeping Japanese maple are hardy trees (zones 5-9) that do not require a high degree of special care.

Although they benefit from some sun, they are meant to be understory trees and, therefore, benefit from being in the shade for the sunniest and hottest parts of the day.

Some varieties may have better color if exposed to short periods of sun.

Besides adequate water and mindful pruning, these small trees require little maintenance.

Weeping Japanese Maple in our front yard

A nice example of the weeping Japanese Maple in front of Miscanthus ornamental grasses in our front yard.

How to prune weeping Japanese Maples?

Please use restraint when pruning your weeping Japanese maples and do not remove the lower half of the trees to create umbrella-looking trees in the landscape.

Japanese Maples have inherent beauty and unlike, say a weeping Catalpa tree, do not benefit from harsh pruning. I have seen Japanese Maples that are pruned into odd umbrella-looking trees that look out of place in the garden. Maybe the owners wanted to plant flowers under the trees or just didn’t think the pendulous branches would benefit from touching the ground.

Try to refrain from severely pruning these trees in such a manner. Embrace their inherent pendulous habit and let them reach their full beauty. Feel free to trim them up off the ground if you feel you must, but I have never pruned the bottom of our weeping tree and don’t intend to in the near future.

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What are the benefits to growing native violets?

Our common native violets are important wildflowers that need to have a place in our gardens and even in our grass.

Native butterflies depend on our common violets

In our garden, common native violets are welcome wildflowers.

Whether they are growing happily in the grass or adorning wild areas of the garden, common violets will always have a home here.

I extol the virtues of commonplace violets due to their critical and pertinent role within our local ecosystems. Their vivid purple, yellow and white blooms are a delightful signal that spring has arrived, leading the way for other native wildflowers, which will continue to flourish right through to the summer.

Collage of common violets

But it is not just their charming appearance that makes them essential; it is their ecological significance that truly stands out.

These little plants serve as host for many butterfly species, particularly the fritillaries, as well as a range of essential insects. This interaction guarantees the perpetuity of these species. Recognizing the significance of this relationship is vital and therefore we should resist the impulse to remove these wildflowers from our yards.

Their presence is not just an aesthetic addition to our landscapes; it is a fundamental factor in ensuring the survival of our native wildlife.

Moreover, I must highlight that violets are not just a symbol of spring. They bloom from the early days of spring continuing into the colder months, bringing colour and life to our gardens even in early winter. This makes them not only a visual treat but also a constant source of sustenance for a variety of local insects and pollinators.

Rather than eliminate them, we need to applaud and appreciate the remarkable roles of such ordinary plants like the violet, in contributing to the biodiversity of our ecosystems.

Our common native violets are host plants to many charming fritillary butterflies such as the Great Spangled, the Aphrodite, Atlantis, Silver Bordered, and Meadow fritillary butterflies.

What does it mean to be a host plant mean, and why does it matter?

Host plants play an integral role in the sustenance of our indigenous wildlife. They are crucial in providing nourishment for the larvae of butterflies and other insects.

The colourful and captivating butterflies we so cherish are in fact bi-products of these caterpillars who, in their initial stages, rely heavily on these host plants for their sustenance and habitat.

However, the fascinating metamorphosis from a caterpillar to a butterfly is a process that requires a bit more elaboration. During this transformation, the host plants serve as the primary source of food and nutrients for the caterpillar. They also provide the much needed sanctuary for these creatures to grow and develop safely.

A prime example of a host plant would be common violets, these nurturing plants are known to host a variety of butterfly species.

In order to conserve these vital host plants, one simple practice we can adopt is to discourage the unnecessary weeding of our gardens and lawns. By preserving these plants, we provide more than just a home for caterpillars, we are supporting the lifecycle of butterflies, and in turn, the vibrancy and balance of our native fauna and flora.

The critical role host plants play is undeniable. Not only do they foster growth and development for caterpillars, they are instrumental support systems to our indigenous fauna and flora.

Where are common violets found?

The common blue violet (Viola sororia), also known as common meadow violet, purple violet, woolly blue violet, or wood violet grow in a wide range across eastern North America in the United States and Canada in areas ranging from zones 2 through 11.

A similar violet (Viola odorata) is a species in the viola family, native to Europe and Asia. Commonly known as wood violet, sweet violet, English violet, common violet, florist’s violet, or garden violet, this small herbaceous perennial has been introduced into North America and Australia.

Although our common blue violet are best known for their spring blooms, common violets can grow from spring into winter, making them extremely important wildlife plants.

There exists a wide variety of 35 Viola species throughout Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, extending up to the northern treeline. These include varied habitats such as forests, prairies and marshlands. A notable species is the green violet (H. concolor) frequently seen in southern Ontario.

As we said earlier, these Viola species play a crucial role as host plants to a myriad of fritillary butterfly species. Preserving these plants will significantly aid in the survival of our native wildlife, particularly our cherished butterfly species.

Within the realms of the United States, the humble common violet has embedded itself in the core of its native ecosystems. The plant serves as a host to an array of Fritillary butterflies. The importance of its preservation is paramount. The robust flower thrives in zones 2 to 11, surviving from spring to winter, acting as a reliable food source for larvae. As such, it is imperative to reorient our gardening approach from removing these perceived ‘weeds’ to fostering these foundational aspects of our biodiversity.

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Mature Japanese Maple is star of the woodland garden

There is nothing like a mature Japanese Maple in a landscape with its elegant horizontal branches stretching out and shading the ground below.

How to properly grow, prune and plant Japanese Maples

A mature Japanese Maple is truly a spectacular site no matter the season. Their slow growth habit also makes even a mature Japanese Maple the ideal tree for today’s more compact front and back gardens.

Even in maturity, most Japanese Maples will reach only 15-20 feet (4.5 meters) in height. But getting to these lofty heights will take a while considering they will grow on average only about 1-2 feet (about .5 of a meter) per year. These non-native trees are generally hardy in zones 5-8. If planted in a sheltered micro-climate area close to your home, you might be able to stretch it to even lower zones.

That’s why a Japanese Maple (see image below) was the first tree I purchased when we moved into our home more than 25 years ago.

Mature Japanese Maple in Japanese-inspired garden.

This images shows a trio of Japanese maples in our Japanese-inspired garden. The large, mature tree was the first tree we planted on our property 25 years ago. In the foreground is a weeping cutleaf Japanese Maple. A third Japanese Maple grows in the black container. A fourth Japanese Maple is actually growing in the garden behind the main maple.

I remember purchasing it on sale for about $25. Today, it’s a large, mature Bloodgood Japanese Maple that takes a prominent spot in our front garden and anchors our Japanese-inspired garden.

Twenty-five dollars and 25 years later, our little Japanese Maple – home to a red-eyed vireo family one year – is now a priceless addition to the front yard and contributes immensely to the curb appeal of our modest home.

Japanese maples as a groundcover.

Japanese maple leaves form a beautiful, vibrant ground cover after falling off the tree.

Its beauty is evident in its early spring foliage which gives way to a darker red leaf colour through summer changing to an incredible crimson red in fall before the leaves all drop over the course of a day or two and create the most magnificent ground cover for several glorious days. The image above shows the leaves shortly after falling from the tree in fall and creating the most glorious of ground covers.

• For more on using Japanese Maples in the landscape check out my other posts:

How to Use Japanese Maples in the Landscape

Six tips to creating a Japanese-inspired garden

Weeping Japanese Maple for yards big and small

Photo montage of mature Japanese Maples

These images of mature Japanese Maples are illustrative of how these magnificent trees should be grown with respect and reverence for their inherent beauty. Any pruning should be done discretely to enhance their natural beauty.

Consider mature size when planting a new Japanese Maple

It’s important to consider the final, mature height and width of these trees when you decide to plant one.

Since there are many different Japanese Maples – all with varying growth habits – it’s important to do your research on the particular variety of tree you have purchased to ensure that you give it room to spread out.

It’s easy to think this tiny tree will stay small all its life and plant it too close to your home or other structures.

Focus on leaves of the Japanese Maple

Image shows a mature Bloodgood Japanese Maple and the various leaf patterns of the different Japanese Maples including the Laceleaf, full moon and cutleaf varieties.

Let your Japanese Maples spread their horizontal branches

Although they don’t grow very tall, most Japanese Maple’s, except for the weeping varieties, are meant to be grown in a way that allows their branches to spread out horizontally.

In fact, a properly grown, mature Japanese Maple can have a horizontal spread equal to or even greater than its height.

As Japanese Maple trees mature, they should be treated more like a flowering dogwood trees and allowed to take on their natural shape. These are not trees you want to heavily prune into tight balls or columnar shapes. (There is a columnar variety available if you really have a constrained space.)

A mature Japanese Maple in fall colours.

Please don’t heavily prune these trees into ridiculous shapes. As they mature, these majestic trees deserve to be allowed to grow the way nature intended.

If you are not sure how to prune these trees, either leave them to grow on their own, or hire a professional tree pruner who specializes in Japanese Maples. Be careful, a lot of tree companies will tell you they can prune the tree only to destroy your tree’s lovely horizontal shape.

I was actually shocked to see one of the top garden websites’ using an image of a Japanese Maple pruned to the point that I’m sure would be a crime in Japan or at least a mortal sin. In all seriousness, just plan to give these trees ample room to spread out and you will be amazed at how beautiful they will become in time.


Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' (Golden Full Moon Maple) in its fall colours.


Japanese Maples for very small or tight areas

Ont of the great things about Japanese Maples is that there is a huge variety available, including ones that never get very large at all.

So, rather than trying to grow a Bloodgood variety in a tiny space, consider one of the slower growing varieties that never get much larger than three or four feet. These include the cutleaf weeping Japanese Maples that can be spectacular in their own right.

However, there are acer palmatum varieties with such a slow growth rate that they will never get too large for a small space.


A very young Acer shirasawanum ‘Aurem’ Golden Full Moon Maple growing in our back garden. Below is the same tree after about seven years of growth.


Acer shirasawanum ‘Aurem’ Golden Full Moon after about 7 years of growth.

In our woodland garden, we have a Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’ (Golden Full Moon Maple), with a mature height of about 15 feet. It’s extremely slow growth habit means reaching this height would probably take your lifetime. A lovely mature specimen can be seen here on Kiefer Nursery’s website.

One of the more expensive and surely one of the most beautiful specimens, these are best grown as a true understory tree in the shade of larger trees where they can get ample shade to protect their magnificent golden foliage.

Diseases to watch for in your Japanese Maples

Japanese Maples are relatively healthy trees without any significant diseases. However, like any plant, they can still be susceptible to certain diseases.

One common disease that affects Japanese Maples is powdery mildew. This fungal infection appears as a white, powdery coating on the leaves, causing them to become distorted and eventually drop off. Powdery mildew thrives in humid conditions, so it’s important to ensure good air circulation around the tree and avoid overhead watering.

Verticillium wilt can be deadly for Japanese Maples

Another disease that can affect Japanese Maples is verticillium wilt. This fungal infection attacks the tree’s vascular system, causing wilting, yellowing leaves, and eventual death. Verticillium wilt is difficult to control once a tree is infected, so prevention is key. Avoid planting Japanese Maples in soil that has previously been infected with verticillium wilt and ensure the tree is well-watered and properly fertilized to maintain its overall health.

I have personally experienced Verticillium wilt that quickly killed two of my favourite Japanese Maples and then took out another red maple in a corner of the yard after I threw the dead Japanese Maple with soil attached in the back near the regular maple. I believe the contaminated soil got into the soil around the young red maple and killed it over the course of a year.

Lastly, Japanese Maples can also be susceptible to root rot, especially if they are planted in poorly drained soil. Root rot is caused by various fungi and can lead to the tree’s decline and death. To prevent root rot, it’s important to plant Japanese Maples in well-draining soil and avoid overwatering.

By being aware of these common diseases and taking preventive measures, you can keep your Japanese Maples healthy and thriving.

Regularly inspecting the tree for any signs of disease and promptly addressing any issues that arise will help ensure the long-term health and beauty of your Japanese Maples.

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Best shade trees: Poplar tulip tree, birch, maple and oak

Shade in our landscape has never been more important. Here are four great shade trees to consider in your landscape.

Tulip trees are perfect if you need quick shade in a sunny area

The Poplar Tulip Tree is a magnificent tree that stands tall and straight in our landscape – taller and strighter, in fact, than any other tree in the woodland.

If you have space, plant a tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipfera) in your yard for almost immediate impact.

The tulip tree through the seasons

From its stunning appearance to its positive impact on the environment, the Poplar Tulip Tree is a deciduous tree you will want to explore fully.

Standing tall and proud, tulip trees have captured the imagination of nature enthusiasts for centuries.

These magnificent trees have a rich history that dates back thousands of years. Native to North America, tulip trees have been an integral part of the continent’s ecosystem for centuries.

They have flourished in the diverse landscapes, from the eastern United States to parts of Canada.

In fact, in one of my favourite garden design books Outdoor Living Spaces, How to Create a Landscape You Can Use & Enjoy, the landscape designer suggests using a “grove” of Poplar Tulip Trees in a tiny courtyard to create an almost instant canopy, privacy and lovely shade in just a few short years. This bold use of our native Tulip tree is just one example of how important shade has become in our landscapes.

The illustration below shows the grove of Tulip Trees in the upper corner of the tiny yard. Although the trees will eventually grow quite large and some may have to be removed, the designer is not afraid to use them to create shade quickly.


Even in a small yard, the landscape designer boldly used a grouping of Tulip trees to provide both shade and privacy.


By grouping the trees closely in a confined space, the designer explains that the trees are forced to grow tall and narrow as they compete for the light. With proper pruning techniques they can be kept relatively narrow as they reach up to the sky, rather than stretch out.

Tulip trees provide the primary shade as well as the foliage canopy for privacy.

For more information on the best trees for wildlife, be sure to check out the works of Douglas Tallamy. His book Nature’s Best Hope and The Nature of Oaks are excellent places to start.

I actually tapped into this concept in our garden by using three clump birch trees in a small area of our back garden. (See below for more details.)

Even the indigenous people held great reverence for the tulip tree, recognizing its importance and utilizing its resources for various purposes.

More on the Tulip Tree here.

Let’s take a moment to explore the origins of these majestic giants and their ancient heritage.

Tulip tree in fall on the forest floor

The unusual shape of the tulip tree leaf is seen here as it lays on the forest floor in fall.

These majestic giants are known for their towering height, reaching up to 150 feet or more. With their distinct tulip-shaped leaves, they add a touch of elegance to any landscape.

But it’s not just their appearance that makes them unique.

Tulip trees also boast vibrant flowers that resemble tulips, hence their name. These beautiful blooms attract a variety of pollinators, including bees and hummingbirds, making them an essential part of the ecosystem.

Additionally, tulip trees have a straight trunk and smooth bark, which sets them apart from other tree species. Their wood is highly valued for its strength and durability, making it ideal for construction and furniture.

Of course tulip trees are not the only native trees that are capable of providing shade in our garden.

Below are other great native trees ideal for throwing shade in our garden. They include the maple tree in fall colour, the large mature oak tree, the tulip tree and birch trees.

Excellent shade trees include from top left: Maple tree, Oak tree, Tulip Tree and birch trees.

Here are three more of the best shade trees for your garden

Fast-growing shade trees can transform your outdoor space into a much cooler environment in a reasonable time period. Depending, of course, on how large they are when you plant them, these trees can transform your yard both aesthetically and by cooling it over the course of the summer.

Before exploring the specific trees, it’s important to understand why shade trees are so important.

Shade trees not only provide relief from the scorching heat of the sun, they also offer numerous benefits for both humans and the environment.

They can help reduce energy costs by providing natural cooling, improve air quality by absorbing pollutants, and create a peaceful and inviting atmosphere.

The criteria for selecting fast-growing shade trees can vary depending on your needs and the size of your garden.

When choosing shade trees, it’s essential to consider their growth rate, adaptability to your climate, and overall size.

Fast-growing shade trees are preferred because they provide quick relief from the sun’s heat and can transform your outdoor space in a shorter period. Additionally, you’ll want to select trees that are well-suited to your specific climate conditions, ensuring they can thrive and grow successfully.

Lastly, consider the overall size of the tree at maturity, as you’ll want to ensure it fits within your available space. By keeping these criteria in mind, you’ll be able to select the perfect fast-growing shade trees for your oasis!

My choices for the three outstanding, fast growing shade trees are as follows: The birch tree either single or multi-trunk, the maple tree either single or multi-trunk, and the oak tree.

All three are relatively fast growers, extremely important for the environment and wildlife, and capable of creating a beautiful canopy in a hurry.

Let’s explore each of these individually.

Birch grove with dry river bed and bubling rock

This mini birch grove creates a lovely dappled shade beneath and around the dry river bed.

The Birch Tree: Adds dappled shade to the landscape

Birch trees have so much going for them in our landscape, especially in today’s more compact yards. The white paper birch is an exquisite tree, but the river birch is usually a better choice.

In fact, there are about 60 different species of birch (Betulaceae). Grow them in well-drained soil, with plenty of moisture and sunlight. Birch trees are found in zones 2-6 and are known as a pioneer species that are often found growing near lakes and rivers in their natural habitat. These medium-sized trees generally reach between 30 and 50 feet with bark that can be white, grey, yellow, silver or black. Because they are fast growers, birch trees can be short-lived trees.

Even in winter birch trunks stand out in the landscape.

A birch tree clump shines in winter showing off its peeling, textured bark.

Known as extremely fast growers, these trees – either as single or multi-stem specimens – are attractive in all seasons, but especially in winter when their peeling white bark and textural qualities stand out against a stark landscape.

In our landscape, I borrowed the idea (see above) of planting several trees in a small space, close together to create upward growth by forcing them to compete for sunlight. Three birch clumps amounting to 11 trees create a small birch grove around a dry river bed and bubbling rock.

More on the birch grove here.

This birch tree clump is one of three that form a mini birch grove in our woodland garden.

The leaves of the trees forming the small birch grove throw a lovely open shade on the dry river below, while creating a magnet for local wildlife including birds, butterflies and other insects. In just a few short years, the trees have grown sufficiently to be able to hang bird houses, feeders and birdbaths from the stronger branches.

The Maples: Huge selection to choose from

Maple trees offer homeowners a variety of alternatives to create shade in their yards. From the smaller and more delicate Japanese maples, to larger native maples that are medium-fast growers but boast outstanding fall colour. Some, like the Norway maples are extremely fast growers but can be invasive.

Most maple trees prefer cool temperatures in plant hardiness zones from 5-9. A few of them are cold-hardy that can even tolerate sub-zero winters down to zone 3.

The incredible fall colour of our native maples make them an almost irrisistable addition to the garden.

Although not as showy as birch trees – with the possible exception of the paperbark maple – the native maples are renowned for their incredible fall colours. In addition, unlike birch trees, maples tend to throw a much deeper shade below and around them.

If you are looking for a cool place to sit under the shade of a tree, a native maple tree is an excellent choice. Maples are also important trees for wildlife attracting a variety of birds, caterpillars and insects. In addition, the deep shade provides excellent nesting potential for birds and habitat for other wildlife.

An oak leaf rimmed in frost on the forest floor.

An oak leaf is rimmed in frost on the forest floor.

The Oaks: A haven for wildlife

Studies show that Oak trees are the most valuable wildlife trees in any landscape. That alone is reason enough to plant oaks in your yard. Considering their value for wildlife, the shade these trees throw can be considered a pure bonus.

Oaks are not considered fast-growing trees, but their sheer size means that they can get to a size to throw shade quite quickly and, in the right situation, can reach for the sky at a good pace. At maturity, Oaks can reach heights of several hundred feet but average about 100 feet or (30 meters).

Different varieties can be grown in zones 3 up to 11, so there is virtually no place where an oak can’t be used to throw shade.

If you have ever wondered how important an oak tree can be for a backyard, this infographic should convince you to be sure to add one to your yard.

It’s important to consider the mature height of the oak you want to plant, but don’t let their mature height sway you too much from planting these important trees. There is a good chance that they will not get close to their mature height in your lifetime.

For more on oak trees, be sure to check out these posts: The mighty oak, What tree should I plant in my backyard, A columnar oak perfect for small backyard or narrow space.

Let’s get back to the Tulip tree

As we continue our journey into the world of tulip trees, it is crucial to highlight the conservation efforts aimed at protecting and preserving these trees.

Due to their historical significance and ecological importance, organizations and individuals have come together to ensure the survival of North America’s native tulip trees.

Conservation initiatives focus on various aspects, including habitat restoration, seed collection, and public awareness campaigns. By restoring and protecting the natural habitats of tulip trees, we can create safe havens for these majestic giants to thrive.

Seed collection programs play a vital role in preserving the genetic diversity of tulip trees, ensuring their resilience against threats such as disease and climate change.

Furthermore, raising public awareness about the value of tulip trees fosters a sense of appreciation and encourages responsible stewardship. Together, these conservation efforts contribute to the long-term survival and flourishing of North America’s native tulip trees.

One of the top reasons to plant and preserve the Poplar Tulip Tree is its fast growth rate and ability to provide ample shade.

This magnificent tree has the remarkable ability to reach impressive heights in a relatively short period of time. With its rapid growth, it can quickly transform any landscape into a shaded oasis, providing relief from the scorching sun during hot summer days. And we all know that our summers are getting hotter each year and the need for shade in the garden is increasing exponentially.

Whether you’re looking to create a cozy spot for outdoor activities or seeking natural shade for your garden, the Poplar Tulip Tree is an excellent choice.

Another compelling reason to plant and preserve the Poplar Tulip Tree is its significant environmental impact and carbon sequestration abilities.

Like all large trees, the Tulip Tree is an integral part of nature’s intricate web by doing its part in a crucial role in mitigating climate change. The Tulip Tree has a remarkable capacity to absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

By planting and preserving these trees, we can contribute to the fight against global warming and create a more sustainable future. Additionally, the Poplar Tulip Tree acts as a natural air purifier, filtering pollutants and improving air quality.

Its presence in urban areas can help combat the harmful effects of pollution, creating healthier and more livable environments for both humans and wildlife.

So, by choosing to plant and preserve the Poplar Tulip Tree, we not only enhance the beauty of our surroundings but also make a positive impact on the planet.

In addition to its environmental impact, the Poplar Tulip Tree also serves as a vital wildlife habitat and supports biodiversity.

The tree’s large size and dense foliage provide shelter and nesting sites for a variety of bird species, including woodpeckers, owls, and songbirds.

These birds not only bring joy with their songs but also play an essential role in controlling insect populations and pollinating plants.

Moreover, the Poplar Tulip Tree attracts a diverse range of insects, which serve as a food source for birds, bats, and other small mammals.

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