Gardening Vic MacBournie Gardening Vic MacBournie

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.

Three days of rain, cooler temperatures and a delayed spring makes me turn another page of my favourite gardening book.

There’s YouTube, other garden blogs and windows into our Woodlands that all let us experience gardening in some form, but there is nothing like a good garden book, a coffee and a comfortable chair.

Here are three gardening books (plus links to several more) that can turn wet spring days, winter days and sweltering summer days into gardening days. So many ideas, so much inspiration from a single chapter of your favourite gardening book.

So let’s get started.

If you are looking to purchase gardening books, or any books for that matter, be sure to check out alibris Books, (see ad below).

Alibris: Books, Music, & Movies

The Wild Garden: A Woodland bible

The Wild Garden 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.

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.

Available in both hardback and Kindle version.

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 will set you on the right path to attain these goals.

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.

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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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Can sedum be used as a ground cover?

Sedum is an ideal ground cover especially in hot sunny areas where other ground covers may struggle.

A young oriole bathes among the sedum ground cover

A young Oriole takes a bath among the sedum stonecrop ground cover in the backyard.

Stonecrop sedums are perfect for hot dry areas of the garden

Did you know that sedum, a remarkable plant known for its versatility, can also be used as a ground cover?

With its ability to thrive in various climates and soil conditions, sedum has become a go-to choice for many gardeners and landscape designers.

Many homeowners are familiar with sedum Autumn Joy combined with Black Eyed Susans and various ornamental grasses in the New American Garden landscape. Most, however, are unaware that sedum also excels as a ground cover.

The low-growing sedums are quick to spread but their shallow root systems mean they are not invasive and easily kept in check in the garden.

The sedum or stonecrop genus, part of the Crassulaceae family, comprises between 400–500 species, some of which are hardy down to zone 3. All sedums are fleshy succulents that store moisture in their leaves making them ideal for dry soils and arid regions.

Let’s explore the power of sedum as a ground cover and discover how it can enhance the beauty and functionality of your outdoor space.

Looking for more information on ground covers? Be sure to check out these posts for more ideas. Three Great Ground covers for the woodland garden, What is the easiest ground cover to grow, best native ground covers for shade

Sedum forms the ideal ground cover among the rocks and pea gravel in the back garden

Sedum forms the ideal ground cover among the rocks and pea gravel in the back garden. Here Angelina stonecrop on the left grows together with Murale on the right.

In our garden, two types of sedum stonecrop form dense mats along and into our pea gravel pathways. Both are low-growing sedum that perform well in hot, arid areas where other plants may struggle to survive.

An abundance of small yellow and pink flowers in late spring or early summer provides pollinators with an early food source, while creating a lovely changing tapestry of colour from spring into summer.

There are several different Sedum stonecrop that will work as a groundcover They include:

Angelina stonecrop – (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’) a lovely gold-leaved sedum with tiny yellow flowers throughout the summer that grows to between 4-6 inches and is hardy from zones 3-9.

Russian stonecrop – (Sedum kamtschaticum) unlike Angelina, this sedum has dark green leaves and golden yellow flowers that bloom later in the summer. It grows 3-6 inches in zones 3-8 with foliage that turns bronze in fall.

White Sedum – (Sedum album) a standout ground cover that turns reddish in fall and is at home in rocky or poor soils. It grows to between 3-5 inches in zones 3-9 and sports white flowers.

Murale – (Sedum album ‘Murale’) has pink flowers in spring that are particularly attractive to bees and butterflies. The bronze foliage of this low growing ground cover stays to a tidy 2-3 inches high and is hardy in zones 3-9.

Purple Emperor – (Hylotelephium telephium) stands out because of its plum foliage and pink flowers that is ideal for rock gardens and sunny borders. It is a more upright growing sedum with a mature size of between 12 and 15 inches and is hardy through zones 4-9.

Other sedums to consider include Blue Spruce sedum (sedum reflexum ‘Blue Spruce’) hardy in zones 4-9 with needle-like foliage and yellow flowers in mid to late summer. Japanese stonecrop (Hylotelephium sieboldii) is hardy from zones 3-9 with its bright pink flowers and a mature height of between 3-4 inches.

Sedum as a ground cover

Sedum stonecrop can make the perfect ground cover especially in hot dry or rocky areas where other ground covers might struggle.

Using sedum as a ground cover offers numerous benefits that can enhance the beauty and functionality of your outdoor space. One of the key advantages is its ability to suppress weed growth, saving you time and effort in maintaining your landscape.

Sedum also acts as a natural mulch, helping to retain moisture in the soil and reduce water evaporation. This makes it an excellent choice for areas with limited rainfall or where water conservation is important.

Additionally, sedum ground covers provide insulation, keeping the soil cooler in hot weather and warmer in cold weather. They also help prevent erosion by stabilizing the soil and reducing runoff.

With their low-growing and spreading nature, sedum ground covers create a lush carpet-like effect, adding texture and visual interest to your landscape.

And let’s not forget about the pollinators, Sedum flowers attract bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects, making your garden a haven for biodiversity.

So, whether you want to create a low-maintenance garden, conserve water, prevent erosion, or simply add beauty to your landscape, using sedum as a ground cover is a smart choice.

Sedum stonecrop grows through the stones and around the birch tree clump forming a soft green cover that our dog Holly loves to lay on when she is outside.

How to grow sedum in your garden

Now that you know the benefits of using sedum as a ground cover, let's explore how to successfully incorporate it into your landscape.

First and foremost, it’s important to choose the right sedum variety for your specific needs. There are many different types of sedum, each with its own growth habit, color, and texture. (see above for descriptions of sedum varieties.)

Some varieties are more suitable for sunny areas, while others thrive in shade or partial shade.

Sedum are extremely easy to grow from cuttings.

Once you have chosen the right sedum, prepare the soil and plant the sedum plugs or cuttings at the recommended spacing, usually around 6 to 12 inches apart. Water the newly planted sedum thoroughly and keep the soil moist until the plants are established. After that, sedum is relatively low-maintenance and requires little watering.

However, it's important to monitor the soil moisture levels during dry periods and provide supplemental water if needed. To maintain the appearance and health of your sedum ground cover, trim back any overgrown or damaged foliage in early spring.

Whether you're using it to fill in gaps between pavers, cover slopes, or create a vibrant border, sedum will transform your landscape with its versatility and charm.

How to use sedum in your landscape

Let’s take a look at some inspiring examples of how it can transform your landscape.

One popular way to use sedum is as a vibrant border along pathways or garden beds.

The low-growing, colourful foliage creates a beautiful contrast and adds visual interest to any outdoor space.

Another creative use of sedum is to cover slopes or hillsides. The dense growth habit of certain sedum varieties helps prevent erosion and adds stability to the soil. Plus, the cascading effect of sedum spilling over the edges creates a stunning natural look.

Sedum also works wonders in rock gardens. Its ability to thrive in dry, rocky conditions makes it a perfect choice for adding texture and colour to these unique landscapes.

I like to mix different sedum varieties to create a tapestry of hues and shapes in the landscape.

Lastly, sedum can be used to fill in gaps between pavers or stepping stones. This not only adds a touch of greenery but also helps prevent weed growth and keeps the area looking neat and tidy.

Whether you’re looking to enhance your pathways, cover slopes, create a rock garden, or fill in gaps, sedum offers endless possibilities.

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Joe Pye Weed: Pollinator magnet that’s perfect for wet areas

Sweet Joe Pye Weed is an impressive native wildflower that attracts a range of pollinators from bees to butterflies.

How to grow and care for Sweet Joe Pye Weed

Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium Purpureum) is a stunning perennial plant that not only adds beauty to your garden but also draws in a host of pollinators and butterflies including swallowtails and monarchs.

In our backyard, I have it growing toward the back of the property at the foot of a small hill and mini meadow where its impressive size and pink blooms combine nicely with the other late-blooming native plants like asters, goldenrod and wild sunflowers. It is native to eastern United States and Canada and is hardy in zones 4-8.

Joe Pye Weed drift in natural woodland

Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium Purpureum) is shown here growing in a drift in a natural woodland area.

Joe Pye Weed is both deer and rabbit resistant. The plants also tolerates both clay soil and road salt spray, making them ideal plants to use as a screen if you need privacy near a roadway.

Consider growing Joe Pye Weed as a native alternative to the non-native and invasive butterfly bush. Joe Pye Weed is host to a number of butterflies and moths including the Ruby Tiger moth.

Can I grow different Joe Pye Weed plants?

There are actually several different Joe Pye Weeds you could grow in your garden including the tallest plant Hollow Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium Fistulosum) known for growing large flower heads on 5-7 foot tall plants. Under optimum conditions, it is said that this plant can grow up to 12 feet in height with blooms from July through September. It does best in full sun and spreads by rhizomes. The stem, which is hollow as its name suggests, has a whitish surface.

•Spotted Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) blooms a little later than other Joe Pye Weeds lasting from August through October. It grows best in damp soil and spreads by underground rhizomes.

Joe Pye Weed with bumble bee

A large bumble bee works the nectar of our Joe Pye Weed in the woodland garden.

• Coastal Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium dubium) is the smallest of the Joe Pye Weeds and is known for producing its beautiful display of purple to pink flowers on three- to five-foot stems. The bloom period lasts from July through to October and grows best in wet sandy soils. It is found growing along the atlantic coastal states. The leaves are rough and the stems are purple spotted.

There are also many cultivars available, with the cultivar “Little Joe” being the most common at nurseries. It grows to a maximum height of 3-4 feet, has stiffer stems and is more drought resistant than the native species. Other cultivars include Gateway, and more short varieties including Baby Joe and Little dwarf.

It’s always better to grow the native plants whenever possible to ensure the best ecological results.

Joe Pye Weed prefers moist ground, including wooded slopes, wet meadows, and along the banks of streams.

A beautiful drift of Joe Pye Weed in a natural woodland

A beautiful drift of Sweet Joe Pye Weed lights up the forest on this misty morning.

Why plant native varieties rather than cultivars?

Like most native plants, Sweet Joe Pye Weed plays a crucial role in supporting and sustaining pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Native plants have co-evolved with local pollinators over thousands of years, developing a mutually beneficial relationship. Unlike non-native plants, native plants provide the essential food sources and habitats that pollinators need to survive and thrive.


Sweet Joe Pye Weed’s vibrant pink flowers are a magnet for bees, butterflies, and other important pollinating insects, providing a rich source of nectar, fuelling the energy needs of these creatures as they go about their essential work in our gardens.

One of the key advantages of Sweet Joe Pye Weed is its long blooming period, which extends from mid-summer to early fall. This extended flowering time ensures a consistent supply of nectar for pollinators throughout the season when other food sources may begin to become scarce.

By planting Sweet Joe Pye Weed in your garden, you’re providing a reliable food source for pollinators during critical times as well as providing an important nectar source for hummingbirds as they begin their migration south.

Another benefit of Sweet Joe Pye Weed is its impressive height, reaching up to six feet or more. This tall stature makes it highly visible and easily accessible to pollinators, attracting them from a distance.

The towering flower clusters of Sweet Joe Pye Weed also create a stunning visual display in the garden. If you have the room, plant drifts of Joe Pye Weed to take advantage of the late summer bloom period. The first image on this post, for example, shows how effective a large drift can be in a garden, especially in a wet area where other traditional plants often struggle.

Joe Pye in full bloom in natural meadow

Joe Pye Weed growing in natural meadow surrounded by golden rod.

Furthermore, Sweet Joe Pye Weed is a versatile plant that can thrive in various soil types, including moist or wet areas.

This adaptability makes it an excellent choice for rain gardens, stream banks, or any location with consistently damp conditions. By incorporating Sweet Joe Pye Weed into these environments, you’re not only enhancing the beauty of the landscape but also providing valuable resources for pollinators that rely on such habitats.

In our garden, two plants tell a very different tale. The plant at the bottom of the hill is growing with great vigour, while a second Joe Pye Weed planted nearby is struggling because it is growing in a much dryer environment. While it will survive in a dry area, Joe Pye Weed really does well in damp or even wet conditions. Regular watering and the fact it is growing at the bottom of a hill, where water is more likely to trickle down to the roots and keep the surrounding area damp, has played a role in the plant’s success.

One of the main reasons why native plants are important for pollinators is their ability to provide a diverse and reliable source of nectar and pollen. Native plants have evolved to produce flowers that are perfectly suited for the specific needs of local pollinators, including their tongue length, body size, and feeding behaviours.

Joe Pye Weed attracts a host of pollinators, from bees and butterflies to wasps.

By planting native plants like Sweet Joe Pye Weed in your garden, you can create a haven for pollinators and help maintain the delicate balance of our ecosystems. They also contribute to the overall biodiversity of the area around your garden, creating a healthier and more resilient environment.

In addition to providing food, native plants often provide shelter and nesting sites for pollinators.

A native plant you need in your garden

In summary, Sweet Joe Pye Weed offers a multitude of benefits for pollinators. Its abundant nectar, long blooming period, towering height, and adaptability to different soil conditions make it an ideal choice for attracting and supporting a diverse range of pollinating insects.

By including Sweet Joe Pye Weed in your garden, you’re creating a paradise for pollinators and contributing to the overall health and vitality of our ecosystems.

How to grow Joe Pye Weed

Now that you’re familiar with the benefits of Sweet Joe Pye Weed for pollinators, let's explore how to successfully grow this native plant in your garden.

First and foremost, it's important to choose the right location for planting Sweet Joe Pye Weed. This perennial thrives in full sun to partial shade, so select a spot that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Additionally, ensure the soil is well-draining to prevent waterlogged conditions that can harm the plant.

Before planting, ensure your Sweet Joe Pye Weed is planted in a fertile soil by adding organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure to improve its nutrient content.

When it comes to planting, space the Sweet Joe Pye Weed plants about two to three feet apart to allow for proper air circulation and growth.

Once planted, it’s crucial to provide adequate moisture to help establish the Sweet Joe Pye Weed. Water the plants deeply after planting and continue to water regularly, especially during dry spells.

To promote healthy growth and abundant blooms, you may want to apply a balanced fertilizer in early spring, but heavy fertilizing is not necessary with native plants.

While Sweet Joe Pye Weed is generally resistant to most pests, occasional issues with aphids or powdery mildew may arise. I wouldn’t worry much about these problems and, instead, let nature take care of any pests that may occur.

Finally, to maintain the vigour and longevity of your Sweet Joe Pye Weed plants, it’s beneficial to divide them every three to four years. Dividing helps prevent overcrowding and promotes better airflow, resulting in healthier plants.

By following these simple guidelines, you can successfully grow Sweet Joe Pye Weed in your garden and create a thriving habitat for pollinators.

So get ready to enjoy the beauty of this native plant while supporting the essential work of bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects.

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How to grow common milkweed and why it should be in every garden

Common milkweed is not just for butterflies. Every garden needs a patch of these beautiful flowers in their front or back gardens.


The common milkweed is an exceptionally beautiful garden plant that is critical to the future of monarch butterflies.


It’s not just for Monarch butterflies

Common milkweed is an outstanding native plant that needs to find a place in every garden. Even if it’s nothing more than a small patch in a corner of the yard, we need common milkweed in our gardens.

Yes, it is a great pollinator plant. And yes, it’s the host plant for our beautiful Monarch butterflies that are completely dependent on the plant for their future.

That should be enough to convince any wildlife gardener to have a patch of common milkweed in a prominent spot in the garden.

But too few people talk about the incredible beauty of this plant in full bloom. Massive balls of pinkish-mauve blooms that can take centre stage in any garden for their outstanding beauty.

The monarch and the milkweed

Our monarch butterflies are dependent on milkweed for their future survival. Every garden should have one of these beautiful native plants.

Add butterflies flitting about it and how can you go wrong?

Common milkweed, scientifically known as Asclepias syriaca, is a native perennial that can be found throughout North America.

As we said, its stunning flowers and unique characteristics make it a favourite among natural gardeners and nature enthusiasts alike.

How to grow common milkweed

To successfully grow common milkweed, you need to start with the right seeds or plants. You can find common milkweed seeds at local nurseries or online stores specializing in native plants.

Alternatively, you can also collect seeds from existing milkweed plants in your area in the fall when the large seed pods open up to reveal the unique seeds heads. The unique dispersal method of common milkweed seeds has long been a favourite of children (and adults alike) who who watch as the seeds attached to a silvery, feathered sail are lifted into the sky with the slightest of breezes.

Once you have the seeds, it’s time to prepare the soil. Common milkweed prefers well-drained soil, so make sure to choose a location with good drainage.

But don’t over improve the soil. Anyone who has seen Milkweed growing along roadsides knows that the plants can thrive in very average rocky soil. In fact, We had a large clump growing in one of our dry river beds in the front of the garden where they faced winter salt and hot sun most of the day.

The life cycle of a Monarch on Milkweed

I was able to move some of those plants to the backyard where they are forming a good sized clump that is welcome to grow as large as it wants.

Milkweed plants have long tap roots that can be very difficult to dig out if the plants are mature. Instead, look for young plants that can be moved much easier, but remember that tap root when you dig them out. It’s always a good idea to transplant any plant after a heavy rainfall.

Do not dig them from wild areas unless you know the plants are going to be bulldozed or threatened in another way. Check out my earlier post on Why we should not dig up plants from the wild.

If you are starting from seed, loosen the soil before planting and remove any weeds or grass. This will create an ideal environment for the milkweed seeds to germinate and establish themselves.

For more on attracting Monarch butterflies, check out my earlier post on Butterfly Weed.

Common milkweed in the front garden

The Milkweed plants growing in the centre of the front garden provide food for monarchs while offering beautiful summer blooms followed by interesting seed pods in fall.


When it comes to planting, sow the seeds directly into the soil in early spring or fall. Lightly cover the seeds with soil, ensuring they are not buried too deep. Water the area gently to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.

As the seeds germinate and sprout, thin out the seedlings to provide enough space for each plant to grow.

Common milkweed can reach heights of up to six feet, so make sure to give them enough room to flourish.

Remember, patience is key when growing common milkweed. It may take a year or two for the plants to fully establish and bloom, but the wait will be worth it.

Importance of Common Milkweed

Now that you know how to plant and grow common milkweed, let’s explore its crucial role in supporting pollinators.

Common milkweed is a magnet for various pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Its vibrant flowers produce nectar, which serves as a vital food source for these important creatures.

As pollinators visit the milkweed flowers to feed on nectar, they inadvertently transfer pollen from one flower to another, enabling the plants to reproduce. This process of pollination is essential for the survival and diversity of many plant species.

As we know, common milkweed is a host plant for the monarch butterfly.

Monarchs lay their tiny eggs exclusively on milkweed plants, and the caterpillars that hatch from these eggs rely solely on milkweed leaves as their food source. The leaves of the milkweed are important because they impart toxins that make the Monarch butterflies poisonous to birds and other predators.

Milkweed blooming in our front garden

Milkweed flowers in full bloom in the front garden. Some of the smaller plants were transplanted to the backyard to begin a patch there as well.


By planting common milkweed in your garden, you are providing a critical habitat for monarch butterflies and contributing to their conservation.

Additionally, common milkweed also attracts a wide range of other beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, which help control pests in your garden naturally. One of the more fascinating insects you will likely find on your milkweed plant is the milkweed beetle. The red and black beetle should not be considered a pest but, in fact, is part of the complicated ecosystem that exists on the milkweed plants.

Studies show that Milkweed plants that include a host of insects including aphids and milkweed beetles, prove to be more successful in bringing monarch larvae through to complete metamorphosis. So, leave your plants in a natural state, and when you notices the leaves are being eaten, it is most likely the monarch butterfly caterpillar munching on the leaves, and that, after all, is the reason we planted the milkweed.

Milkweed plants for every garden

So, by growing common milkweed, you not only enhance the beauty of your garden but also play a vital role in supporting pollinators and maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Here are some tips to help you keep your common milkweed garden thriving.

First, make sure to water your milkweed plants regularly, especially during dry spells.

While common milkweed is relatively drought-tolerant, providing adequate moisture will promote healthy growth and blooming. However, be cautious not to overwater, as excessive moisture can lead to root rot.

Keep the area around the plants free from very competitive weeds or shrubs. Milkweed’s long tap root enables it to grow alongside other less competitive plants including grasses.

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A love-hate relationship with Hostas

If you live in deer country you likely share my love/hate relationship with hosta.

How I grow Hostas in the land of the deer

When I first discovered hostas I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Since then, I realize hostas can be as much a stairway to heaven as a highway to hell.

I’m aging myself big time here, but let me explain my love-hate relationship with the hosta.

Much has been written about the joy of planting these incredibly hardy and versatile plants in the garden, and I’m the first to say that they make the ideal ground cover for the woodland garden adding texture, and, if variegated hostas are used, some interesting colour to the shadiest of areas in the garden.

A beautiful variagated hosta takes its place in the woodland garden where it benefits from the constant watering from th bird bath.

A beautiful variagated hosta takes its place in the woodland garden where it benefits from the constant watering from th bird bath.

Most proponents of hostas, I’m sure, are gardeners who have a fenced yard and live in the middle of a subdivision no-where near even the slightest hint of a deer.

That’s not me and my garden.

For years, I welcomed deer to the yard and even enticed them with a lovely assortment of grains and corn in a backyard feeder. So, it goes without saying that the deer thought everything was fair game including, of course, my inherited hostas that made up a good part of the meagre greenery when we first moved into our home.

And these were not today’s new hybrid, deer-resistant hostas. These were the most delicate, almost lettuce-like, old-world hostas that the deer simply loved to munch on whenever given the chance. Young, old, big old bucks, small fawns it didn’t matter. When the hostas were up and just beginning to look their best complete with those fresh spring greens, the herds of deer would move in and overnight cut them down to a few spindly stems.

Hostas and ferns form the perfect combination in any garden.

All they left behind was their droppings to remind me who was in charge in these parts.

Needless to say, I got the message.

I decided that no matter how much I loved having the deer around, if I was ever going to have a garden, I needed to stop encouraging them to drop by for breakfast, lunch, dinner and the occasional midnight snack.

A combination of events happened to change the all-or-nothing banquet for the local deer herds.

First, I stopped feeding them their own 80-pound bags of corn and oats. Second, a new breed of residents began moving into the neighbourhood that believed the first thing they needed to live here – at any cost – was a good fence around their large properties. Despite the semi-rural area never having fences for more than 60 years, the new neighbours all seemed to agree that fences were vital to mark off their territory and keep out the big bad wildlife.

Looking for more information on ground covers? Please check out my other posts on ground covers I use in the woodland garden.

Bunchberry ideal ground cover

What is the easiest ground cover to grow?

Creeping thyme as a ground cover

Moss and moss-like ground covers

Virginia Creeper as a vine or ground cover

Okay, for good or bad, that changed the movement of the deer through the neighbourhood. Although my garden remains open to deer, fewer and fewer deer are roaming the neighbourhood and manage to make it into our yard.

I have tried the spray-on, anti-deer repellents that work to some degree. It works unless, of course, you forget to reapply it after a good rain. I swear the deer knew it was safe to move in and enjoy an unlimited supply of fresh greens immediately after a good rain.

The combination of hostas, ferns, cedar trees and a Pagoda dogwood form the perfect border between our property and our neighbour’s backyard.

Deer-resistant hosta can help

Eventually, however, the reduction in deer, and some research into more deer-resistant hosta varieties taught me that there are, in fact, hostas that deer will not devour in a single night’s snack.

The result, I can now grow a few hosta successfully.

In fact, one of the favourite spots in our garden is an area bordering our property and our neighbour’s (see image above) where I have combined a selection of hostas, ferns, wild geranium, sweet woodruff and a couple more ground covers and just let them compete with one another and run as wild as they like. Our neighbours have added to the tapestry with more hostas and ground covers under the shade of our giant Linden tree and their King Crimson maple. They also like the look enough to keep the hostas sprayed regularly enough to send what few deer wander into the yard looking elsewhere for dinner.

In other areas of the garden, large, leather-leaf hostas with thick crinkly leaves stand up to most of the abuse deer can throw at them. By summer’s end, they can be tattered from the sampling deer take over the course of the summer as well as some minor slug damage, but by the end of summer they are still standing and offering at least most of their glorious texture and colour to the garden repertoire.

This scene shows a small blue hosta used as a specimen in the Japanese inspired garden complete with a school of complimentary blue fish swimming through the ferns and epimediums.

This scene shows a small blue hosta used as a specimen in the Japanese inspired garden complete with a school of complimentary blue fish swimming through the ferns and epimediums.

What hosta-varieties are safe from deer?

First off, I’m no hosta expert. There are people who dive so deep into hostas that they can recite all 70 species and know the latin names of the more than 3,000 registered varieties.

Once again that’s not me.

These small, bluish hostas have been growing in the dry river bed for more than 10 years and have needed no care or even need for splitting.

These small, bluish hostas have been growing in the dry river bed for more than 10 years and have needed no care or even need for splitting.

I know Emperess Wu is considered to be the biggest at more than 4 feet high with a spread of between 4-5 feet. Heck, its deeply veined leaves stretch out to more than 1.5 feet long and wide. Then you have the mini hostas coming in at a few inches wide with names like Little Squirt Hosta, Munchkin fire Hosta, and Mighty Mouse Hosta.

I’m pretty sure we have the Mighty Mouse variety growing in our dry river bed pathway (wee above). Beautiful little blue hostas that just keep coming up every year with no real need to divide these compact little hostas for the past ten or so years. I would not say they would be safe from deer, but where we have planted them, in a rocky area surrounded by pea gravel and river rocks, means they have never had a single deer try taking a bite out of them.

Around the patio, we have another variegated hosta that has performed admirably and helps light up the dark area. (see image below).


How to grow hosta in the woodland

I’ve never been a proponent of the single specimen approach to gardening, and hostas are treated no different.

In most cases, I like to grow hostas as a ground cover in competition with other plants such as ferns, sweet woodruff etc. This is particularly evident in the space between our property and the neighbour’s.

But there are situations, especially with the larger hostas, that I grow them more as specimens in the garden to show off their size and handsome looks. The large blues and the large variegated hostas work well more as specimens.

We also grow some of our miniature hostas as specimens alongside Japanese Painted ferns and a nice clump of black mondo grass.

Of course, the very nature of hostas lends itself to experimentation. Don’t be afraid to dig these guys up and split them every few years to multiply your numbers and spread them around the garden.

Watch out for slugs, they can be nasty to the aesthetic beauty of your prized hostas.

I will often leave the leaves of the hostas to overwinter and clean them up in the spring, but this can promote slug infestation. So, if you are worried about attracting slugs, be sure to clean up the dead leaves in the fall before they begin to get mushy.

These smaller hostas have been growing in our pea gravel pathway for several years.

You can’t kill hostas

One last thing before I end this post. If you are worried about killing hostas, don’t. These things are tougher than tough. I once left a number of hostas I had dug up during the summer out all winter. And it was a bad winter with prolonged spells of freezing temperatures and plenty of snow even for a Canadian winter.

Sure enough, when spring returned, the bare-root hostas lying upside down in a pile beside the shed, began growing their tender leaves getting ready for summer.

Like I said, these are tough, easy-to-grow show stoppers…. unless, of course, you have lots of deer to feed.

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Rocky Mountain columbine: Adding a hit of blue to your garden

Rocky Mountain Columbine is an excellent addition to any garden, adding a spot of elegance and a punch of blue.

A Rocky Mountain Columbine in full bloom adds a delightful hit of blue in the garden alongside another hummingbird favourite Cuphea Vermillionaire (right). The image also shows a columbine in bud as well as columbines that have started to go to seed.

A favourite of hummingbirds, bees and butterflies

Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea James) is the ideal way to add a spot of colour to a part-sun, dappled shade garden.

This hardy, native perennial that brings the garden to life with its multiple extra-large, 2.5-inch, blue and white flowers sitting above the foliage, makes a welcome addition to any garden.

Common names include: Rocky Mountain Columbine, Colorado blue columbine, Dailey’s columbine, White Colorado columbine. They are part of the Ranunculaceae family and grow in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 7.

I’m always looking to add a little blue to the garden, and since these blue and white flowers are attractive to pollinators including hummingbirds and butterflies, even better.

Grow them in dappled shade in a rich, loamy soil where the roots and the plant can be somewhat sheltered from the heat of the direct sun.

Close up image of the Rocky Mountain Columbine and bud.

This image shows the beauty of both the flower and its bud.

This year I have added a number of the plants to the hummingbird corner in the hope that our hummers will take to them. If not, they still add a spot of colour and elegance to that corner of the patio where they complement other blue flowers including the petunias and the large agapanthus lillies that add a bold architectural shape with their large blue flowers.

Like the orange and yellow native woodland columbine (acquilegia canadensis), Rocky Mountain Columbine likes a more open, part-sun environment, where it can often be found growing naturally along forest edges in its native habitat.

Rocky Mountain columbine growing alongside Cuphea in the garden.

In the wild, you’ll find them in a range of habitats, but especially in aspen groves, in the upper levels of the Rockies. They are found in rocky slopes or near streams in open woodlands at elevations of 2100 - 3600 metres.

These columbines are native from western North America – Montana to Arizona and New Mexico.

The flowers themselves might not be long-lived, but make up for it by readily self-sowing seeds around the garden. Provide an area of dappled shade and fertile, moist, well-drained soil, and chances are the plants will spread in the garden and provide plenty of new flowers throughout the years.

Rocky Mountain Columbine with cuphea

Rocky Mountain blue columbines blooming along with Cuphea Vermillionaire as part of our hummingbird corner.

This magnificent columbine has extra-large, 2.5-inch scented blooms. In fact, these flowers are the largest of the entire genus.

The plants grow to about 3 feet by 2 feet with sky blue petals and a white corolla.

With proper care, that includes a mid summer cut back, these plants can provide a long bloom period stretching from early spring through to summer with a second flowering late Summer to Fall.

Where I live, these columbines are not native, but we certainly have plenty of our native columbines growing in the woodland garden. For more on our native columbine, be sure to check out my earlier post here.

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Cuphea Vermillionaire takes centre stage in hummingbird corner

If you are looking to attract hummingbirds, you need to include Cuphea Vermillionaire on your list of plants. Grow it in the landscape or in containers and planters.

A hummingbird works the long, tubular orange/red and yellow flowers in our garden.

Firecracker plant adds explosion of colour and hummingbirds love it

Cuphea may be best known for attracting hummingbirds to your garden, but it doesn’t stop there.

Also known as the firecracker plant or cigar plant, Cuphea Vermillionaire is a great plant to add a non-stop riot of explosive colour to your garden, whether it’s grown as a perennial in warmer climates in zones 8 and higher, or an annual in colder zones.

The cigar-shaped red/orange and yellow flowers may not look impressive on their own, but when the plant is covered with hundreds and hundreds of flowers continuously blooming on a single plant, it’s more than impressive.

Different hybrids are available, including one where the flowers are more pink, but if it’s hummingbirds you are after, the regular red and yellow variety is probably the best.

This image shows Cuphea up close

An up-close image of Cuphea showing its dramatic colour and fringed opening.

Cuphea is primary plant in our hummingbird corner

Cuphea is the primary plant making up our hummingbird corner. Three plants in pots surround our patio container pond/waterfalls and form a light airy feel combined with Salvia Black and Blue, petunias and ferns just to name a few.

Three or four commercial feeders are also part of the hummingbird haven that is situated in a corner of our patio where the little birds can be enjoyed to the fullest.

Hummingbird sips on the Vermillionaire flowers in our hummingbird corner.

It’s also set up as an outdoor photo studio to make photographing our visitors as easy as possible. Of course, hummingbirds are not the only ones attracted to the area. Butterflies, small birds, dragonflies and our friendly chipmunks are all at home among the almost tropical feel of the corner with the waterfalls, ferns and colourful flowers.

Hummingbird corner

This early spring photo of the Hummingbird corner shows the cuphea planted at left and right in containers.


Cuphea might be tricky to find at your nursery

Depending on where you are located, finding the underused annual might be a little tricky.

I went to three of the largest nurseries in our area early this spring asking for the plant and all three not only did not have any, most had no idea what I was talking about.

Funny enough, I stumbled upon the plants at Home Depot where they were selling the plants. I was looking for the Proven Winners variety, because their plants always perform well, but the Home Depot plants are performing admirably in just their first month.

The hummingbird corner surrounded by three Cuphea plants (see top left) is not only attractive to hummingbirds. This chickadee family (four in the image) was caught taking turns bathing in the waterfalls.

How to grow Cuphea

Cuphea is a real heat loving plant, so be sure to plant it in a sunny area for best flowering and to avoid the plants from getting leggy.

Cuphea Vermillionaire is one flexible, low maintanance flowering plant that does not need deadheading and can handle almost anything you throw at it.

The deep orange tubular flowers dangle on 18-24 inch stems from spring right through to fall and create a mounding form in the garden.

Cuphea in container

Cuphea growing in container with petunias and other flowers attractive to hummingbirds.

Although Vermillionaire can withstand dry periods better than most plants, it’s a good idea to keep the plant moist throughout the growing season. Once the plant is established, it does not require a lot of water.

If you are growing it as a perennial, it can take up to a year for it to get settled, so be sure to regularly water it in the first year. Also wait until spring growth begins, if you want to do some pruning on it.

Providing regular fertilizer will help keep the plants healthy and constantly flowering.

If you are located in a marginally hardy area, mulch the plant heavily during winter and then remove it in spring.

These plants are certainly worth overwintering if you can.

Unfortunately, Cuphea is susceptible to some garden pests including aphids, whiteflies and Japanese beetles. The hummingbirds will likely feast on the smaller insects, but keep your eye out for any infestations.

Picking off Japanese beetles is probably a good idea and spraying aphids with the hose should keep them under control.

Commercial feeders combined with Cuphea is irresistible to our hummingbirds.

Why do hummingbirds love Cuphea?

The long trumpet shaped tubular plants are particularly attractive to hummingbirds primarily because they are one of the only ones who can feed on these long tubular flowers.

Most bees and butterflies do not have the ability to reach the nectar in the flowers leaving an abundance for hummingbirds.

The red neck of this Ruby throated male hummingbird is shown as it  feeds on Cuphea.

A male Ruby Throated Hummingbird feeds at Cuphea.

The combination of their long, slender beaks and their even longer tongues make this a plant designed almost exclusively for the hummingbird. That means there is always plenty of nectar available in the plants for the little birds.

The plant’s mounding habit, also makes the flowers very accessible to the birds and their flight pattern enables them to check out several flowers quickly and efficiently.

If you are in a small garden, consider using the plants in containers as a filler plant and pair it with other sun-loving performers. Consider growing them all by themselves in a large hanging basket or paired up with other plants to create a hummingbird hanging basket.

So, be sure to add a few Cuphea plants to your garden this year, whether it’s to attract and feed hummingbirds, or just to add a splash of hot colour to a sunny area of your garden.

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Embracing weeds and native plants is focus of 2023 Chelsea Flower Show

If we can learn anything from the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show it is that we need to begin embracing weeds in our garden both for their aesthetics and to benefit the wildlife in our gardens.

Wildflowers and what many would call “weeds” abound in this image of a garden design created for the Chelsea Flower Show.

Chelsea Flower Show designers make room for wildlife

If we can take anything away from the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show, it’s that wildlife gardening and weeds are the future.

Forget grass. Presenters from the BBC were quick to note that not a single one of the magnificent demonstration gardens included a single blade of traditional grass.

Instead, the landscape designers focused on native plants aimed at providing assistance to wildlife – everything from native bees and caterpillars to birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.

In doing so, they fully embraced using what many traditional gardeners would call “weeds” in the designs.

It’s not the first year some of the world’s top designers looked to “weeds” as a primary source of planting for their outstanding show gardens.

Just last year a gold medal went to a garden design celebrating garden rewilding after the reintroduction of beavers to an area in England.

Gardeners have to remember that it is not about what they want, but about what the land wants.
— Mary Reynolds

Natural gardens are not new to Chelsea. They have been gaining ground over the years and stealing the spotlight from more traditional garden styles as far back as 2002 when Irish-born landscape designer Mary Reynolds shocked the garden establishment as the youngest designer to win a gold medal at Chelsea with her naturalistic approach to gardening.

Mary, whose story was made into the movie Dare to Be Wild, remains an ambassador for natural gardens writing a comprehensive and inspiring book called The Garden Awakening, and continually speaking out against much of today’s traditional landscaping practises.

For More: check out my review of her book Garden Awakening

“Gardeners have to remember that it is not about what they want, but about what the land wants,” Reynolds once told the BBC.

So, maybe it was no surprise that war has been officially declared against traditional gardening at Chelsea.

“The war against traditional gardens is about to go nuclear,” reported the The Daily Telegraph in response to the latest weed-friendly garden designs at this year’s show.

In an informative article in, the author Brigette Duseau explores the increasing acceptance of using weeds in landscape design

Duseau points out that this year, “no less than one third of the 12 main gardens in the competition feature weeds such as nettles, knapweed, dandelions, chickweed or buttercups that generations of gardeners have spent their lives rooting out.”

In fact, the six-time Chelsea Flower Show gold-medal landscape designer Cleve West included as many as 19 weed species in his garden, constructed around the dilapidated remains of a 19th-century house.

Weeds in the garden design – built for a charity that helps young homeless people – proved to be the perfect metaphor for these youth who should not be discarded.

“Weeds play a very significant part in repairing land …. They are pioneer plants that go in and repair the soil," he said.

“They sort of have a microbial activity in the soil that helps make soils healthy, fertile and it provides food for early pollinators—even homes for some invertebrates,” he told Duseau.

"So they play a very important part in biodiversity."

Move away from traditional to more natural gardens

Over the years leading up to this year’s show, there has been a growing move away from traditional non-native plants to more native plants and “weeds.”

And, if you are thinking weeds have no place in your garden, let me say that the results from this year’s gardens were simply stunning. Then again, they always are at the Chelsea Flower Show.

If you are not aware of the annual Chelsea Flower Show every May, you may be surprised by the BBC’s comprehensive coverage of the 5-day flower and design show.

Another example of the use of wildflowers in the Chelsea Flower Show garden designs can be seen in this image. Notice also that the flowers are planted in a loose, naturalistic style, rather than as single specimens.

Go HERE For the complete listing of BBC coverage. Go HERE for the link to BBC’s YouTube coverage.

The British broadcaster provides us YouTube watchers across the pond with hours and hours of coverage from interviews with British celebrities (think Downton Abby) about their impressions of the show and their personal gardening challenges, to detailed analysis of the 12 main large display gardens that are part of a total of 36 total garden design installations. There are features on the incredible flower growers that somehow manage to get all the plants flowering during the show, new plant introductions and examples of how to use more traditional flowers. There are also impressive displays for small balcony and patio container gardens geared to those of us with smaller garden spaces.

The amount of information on plants, garden design and philosophy is second to none, and it’s all there for us to take advantage of on our smart, high definition, large-screen TVs – for free.

What more could we ask for in life.

If you are not taking advantage of your smart TV and internet provider to tune in to the best gardening channels on YouTube, you have no idea what you are missing. Do yourself a favour and take a few minutes to learn how to plug into this wealth of gardening knowledge and entertainment. Just be aware, the rabbit hole is deep. And if you do not have a “smart TV,” it’s well worth purchasing one just to watch the gardening channels alone.

I’m already addicted to YouTube gardening channels, including Linda Vater from Oklahoma City, The Native Plant Gardener from New Jersey and a host of others, but when Monty Don and the Chelsea Flower Show is being streamed via YouTube, it’s always prime watching.

Unlike Home & Garden Television that is nothing but real estate shows, the vast number of gardening programs available on YouTube more than make up for Home & Garden’s severe inadequacies.

But enough of the free promotion for YouTube. It’s time to get back to the Chelsea Flower Show.

For a fun look at images from the show, be sure to catch the Guardian newspaper photo feature here.

The outdoor laboratory in the Royal Entomological Society Garden that embraces the use of weeds and wildflowers to encourage insects.

Best Chelsea Flower Show gardens featuring weeds and wildflowers

• The Royal Entomological Society Garden (silver medal winner) Anyone looking to gain knowledge about attracting insects to their yard will benefit from paying close attention to this garden design by landscape architect Tom Massey.

Here again, weeds have their place, including dandelions and clover.

The design includes an outdoor laboratory for visitors to study the insect life in the garden. Visitors to the garden are taken down into the landscape, offering an ‘insect’s eye view’ and a space in which to study. The lab’s roof structure is inspired by a compound insect eye and the lab is used for real scientific research, monitoring and studying insects visiting the garden.

Diverse topography across the site — rammed earth floors, hoggin pathways, dead wood, piles of rubble, bare sand and gabion walls — provide numerous and varied habitats for insects. Water in still pools and flowing streams provides additional important insect habitats and adds interest to the aesthetic and soundscape of the garden.

A dead tree ‘sculpture’, cut into rings and elevated on steel poles, ‘floats’ over biodiverse planting and a standing dead tree and tree stump provide further sculptural habitat. Planting for pollinators and a wide range of other beneficial insects forms a beautiful and resilient scheme that will provide year-round food, habitats and interest.

Large pieces of concrete and aggregate is interspersed with wildflowers giving the garden a natural, overgrown look.

• Centre for Mental Health’s The Balance Garden (Silver medal) The garden uses crushed site waste as aggregates producing a wealth of wildflowers, grasses and hardy shrubs that thrive in stressful environments, as well as sand piles and habitat layers for wildlife.

Large concrete pieces reclaimed from waste salvage make up a central area overlooking a clear pool. Suspended steel walkways allow movement through the space and access to the wild planting layers. 

At the heart of the garden is a ‘mushroom den’ made from a reclaimed steel-clad shipping container. The planting layers contour from wetland towards a denser, shadier canopy of food forestry and ‘edimentals’ while ‘weeds’ are celebrated as an important part of urban ecology. 

• The Fauna & Flora International Garden Designed by Chelsea award-winning garden designer, Jilayne Rickards, and landscaped by Tecwyn Evans, of Living Landscapes, the Fauna & Flora Garden maps the journey of an ecotourist on a gorilla trek, tracing a rough track through a succession of lush and changing landscapes. 

The design uses thistles, brambles and nettles to illustrate a typical gorilla habitat.

The path eventually leads to a gorilla nest – set among bamboo and other typical gorilla foodplants – and a towering waterfall, surrounded by a variety of weird and wonderful plants commonly found at high altitudes.  

This ‘gorilla garden’ not only tells the story of the endangered species and its precious habitat, but also aims to raise public awareness of the critical importance of protecting nature around the world, and how this can be best achieved by putting people and collaboration at the heart of conservation efforts.

Don’t miss Horatio’s Garden – A gold medal and the Best in Show

The Horatio garden was inspired by a young man who was researching the creation of an accessible garden at the spinal injuries unit of the Salisbury District Hospital where he volunteered, before he was tragically killed at the age of 17 in a polar bear attack during an expedition to Svalbard.

The award-winning design explores how gardens can be viewed differently from a variety of perspectives – with a focus on how spinal patients may be forced to view the garden from different angles dependent on their injuries.

A water feature not only adds sensory experiences but is important for attracting wildlife into the garden which proved to be one of the most important features spinal patients communicated to the garden designers.

For more information on winning garden designs, be sure to check out the work of Country Living here.

Seven sanctuary gardens in 2023 show

This year’s show gardens included seven sanctuary gardens – smaller gardens that focus on the benefits of gardening on our well being. Central to each design was the benefits to wildlife and sustainability the gardens were able to offer both gardeners and those who visit.

One woodland inspired garden designed by Thomas Hoblyn celebrated British crafts – from a treelike medal arbour to embroidered cushions and candlesticks.

The garden’s colour palette was based on three colours that make up a single forget-me-not-flower, including violet, blue and red. Two zones make up the garden including a wetland meadow of sedges and rushes, and a shaded woodland glade.

Centre for Mental Health’s The Balance Garden

Another inspirational garden is The Balance Garden that explores the mental health benefits nature can bring to our lives and ways we can bring more of it into our gardens. The designers are quick to point out that the garden encompasses a myriad of wildflowers – plants many gardeners would consider to be weeds.

“We’ll be educating people about the classic question of ‘what is a weed?’ and realigning people’s perception – if it looks beautiful, why not keep it?” explained garden designer Jonathan Davies to Gardens Illustrated. (link to the full story)

There are too many gardens in the show to attempt to cover them all, but plan on spending several hours – up to ten – watching the BBC’s first-rate coverage. It certainly is more bingeworthy than most Netflix shows.

A rainy day is the perfect opportunity to settle in for tours of the gardens and expert information on plants, shrubs, trees and helping our local wildlife.

Some of the gardens you’ll want to pay special attention to include:

• South Korean environmental artist and designer Jihae Hwang explores a rugged mountain garden design in her garden: A Letter from a Million Years Past. The design explores a primeval forest with massive rocky outcrops inspired by the Jiri Mountains, known as the Mother Mountain of Korea. The garden is the perfect example of how we can incorporate boulders in our landscape and the plants that thrive in these harsh, but natural areas. It’s also an example of how beauty is not dependent on a flush of colourful flowers.

A combination of native plants, including Black Eyed Susans and lobelia create a natural habitat for insects, birds and other garden wildlife.

Learning from Chelsea: Using “weeds” in our own gardens

If we can learn anything from the designers at the 2023 Chelsea Flower Show it is that weeds, or what many of us like to call wildflowers, not only belong in our gardens, but can be a beautiful, natural addition that creates habitat for wildlife big and small.

Of course, one gardener’s weed is another gardener’s flower and that can change dramatically depending on what horticultural zone you are gardening in. Native plants are very dependent on that zone, so it’s important to find out what plants are truly native to your area and do your best to get seed or locally grown wildflowers.

It’s also a good idea to plant the flowers in more of a loose, cottage-style garden rather than single plants trying to survive on their own. Nature does not really work this way, so there is no reason that we should be bound by growing plants in neat little groups.

Designers at the Chelsea show combined both methods to give the gardens a loose, but still organized feel that would be presentable to the majority of visitors, but still provide wildlife with a natural habitat.

Even if a more natural approach to gardening is not your cup of tea, consider setting aside a small part of your garden where you step back and let nature take over.

You might just be surprised with the results and I’m sure you’ll enjoy not having to weed and worry about every little plant that shows up in your naturalized garden.

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Creeping phlox: Ground cover adds splash of purple to the garden

If you are looking to add a splash of purple to your landscape, look no further than creeping phlox. This tough ground cover is a standout in spring when it blooms profusely.

Purple ground cover shines in spring but sparkles all year round

Purple has become one of the trendy colours in the garden, and one of the best ways I’ve found to get it is with a healthy addition of creeping phlox.

Not only are the purple flowers stunning in spring when they bloom for weeks, the foliage remains an attractive almost-moss-like mass of deep green throughout the summer long after the flowers have disappeared.

I never get tired of seeing the creeping phlox flowing down between the large boulders holding back the garden along the driveway.

Where to grow creeping phlox

Creeping phlox (Phlox subulate) is a real favourite in hot, sunny locations where it is happy to take in the full-day sun.

We have ours growing in the front of our property, where it not only gets full hot sun for most of the day, but also gets snow and road salt piled high onto it throughout the winter.

Not only does it keep coming back, it just performs and even gets better as it slowly spreads with each passing year.

If creeping phlox can take this type of abuse, it will grow happily in less taxing conditions in a sunny or even part-shade area of the garden.

Our neighbours have a nice patch growing as a low ground cover in a more traditional garden.

If you are trying to grow it in a shady woodland garden, look for Phlox stolonifera, which is a similar spreading, mat-forming phlox native to wooded areas and along stream banks in the Appalachian Mountains and other parts of North America.

Purple creeping phlox weaves its way through the river rock, boulders and ornamental grasses during its early spring bloom that lasts for weeks.

It really shines in early spring when the normally dark green prostrate plant bursts with lavender flowers.

It’s a real show-stopper in our front garden as it creeps among and weaves through the low-growing, ornamental grasses and onto the stones of the dry river bed.

It has also been encouraged to grow up against large boulders that separate the raised garden from the driveway.

In some areas it literally flows down between the large boulders creating a lovely soft edge to the rather hard-edged boulders. I never get tired of seeing the flowers flowing down between the boulders almost like a stream finding its way through the mountainside.

Creeping phlox weaves its way through low-growing ornamental grasses.

The purple flowers also blend in nicely with another mossy alternative, creeping thyme, that also grows over and along the large boulders. Together they form a nice tapestry in the spring with their purple flowers that are quick to attract pollinators, including our native bees out early looking for nectar and pollen sources.

Is creeping phlox invasive?

Creeping Phlox spreads rapidly and, while it puts on quite the display in the spring, it takes a back seat for the remainder of the year forming a perfect dark green backdrop for our blue-green grasses that emerge through the ground cover in this hot sunny, dry area of our garden.

It is not an invasive plant. In fact, its shallow roots make it easy to pull up and transplant in another part of the garden or share with a neighbour.

Creeping phlox puts on its display in early spring with its vibrant purple/mauve flowers that cover the plant in masses.

Is creeping phlox deer resistant?

The foliage mats are cushion-like, resembling moss, hence the common name of moss phlox. It is native to the central and eastern portions of Canada and the United States.

This herbaceous perennial grows in zones 3 to 9 in a rich, well-drained soil and comes in pink, red, white, blue, rose and lavender.

It’s a tidy plant that grows up to about 6 inches high with a spread of up to 2 feet for a single plant.

It eventually forms a thick mat and, for Woodland gardeners, it’s deer resistant. The fact our resident deer leave it be, should be enough to put reeping phlox high on anyone’s list of plants.

Creeping phlox likes full sun but tolerates some shade.

An added bonus is that it also attracts butterflies and provides an early food source for insects in the spring where it will be one of the first to bloom in your garden.

Looking for more information on ground covers? Please check out my other posts on ground covers I use in the woodland garden.

Bunchberry ideal ground cover

What is the easiest ground cover to grow?

Creeping thyme as a ground cover

Moss and moss-like ground covers

Virginia Creeper as a vine or ground cover

Should you find a spot for creeping phlox in your garden?

There is always room for a little creeping phlox in a garden either as a spot of colour in the front of a garden bed or used as a ground cover where other taller plants are grown up through it.

It’s a tough plant that can take lots of abuse and continue to shine. In fact, several years ago ours was more or less dug up when we installed large boulders down the side of our driveway. When the project was completed, I took what little of the phlox remained and put it back in the area where it was dug up.

Within a year it was back and performing with its same vigour.

If you are looking to add a little purple to areas of your garden, you should consider adding this hardy, tough little plant to your garden beds or rock garden.

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Low and lovely: Five great low growing ornamental grasses

There is always room for smaller, low-growing ornamental grasses in your garden. Here are five you will want to consider.

Early summer dwarf fountain grass combine with Japanese Forest Grass in this front garden.

Five ornamental grasses you need to know about

If you’re in love with ornamental grass, but either have a small garden, or are not interested in large clumps of taller grasses, you need to look into the smaller, low-growing ornamental grasses available.

We have a number of them growing in our front and back gardens, some that appreciate full sun and others that prefer a location with more shade.

Defining a low-growing grass is not always easy. Little Bluestem, for example, grows to about 18 inches and may not be considered by some to be “low growing” but it’s certainly a terrific native plant that actually was awarded perennial of the year in 2022. For more on Little Bluestem be sure to check out my full story here.

Japanese Forest Grass, especially the all-gold variety, is another outstanding performer that you may want to consider in your garden. I would not consider it a tall-growing ornamental grass, but neither is it a low-growing grass. Check out my earlier post on ornamental grasses, for more on the Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa aurelia).

New varieties of grasses are introduced every year, so it’s a good idea to either go online to check out the latest varieties or visit your local nurseries to get a good idea of what grows best in your growing zone.

The grasses mentioned below are all deer resistant.

Infographic on Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses add movement and texture to the garden that is sometimes hard to attain with other plants. Here we have a combination of Japanese Forest Grass (top right), Blue Fescue, Fountain Grass and a Sedge (bottom right).


Fountain grasses add a touch of elegance to the garden

Fountain grass: (Pennisetum Alopecuroides) Without a doubt the Pennisetums are a beautiful variety of grasses that really make a statement in late summer into fall when their (flowers also called inflorescences) begin to bloom. But, even before they start to bloom, the grasses add an elegant look in the garden helping to create movement when the breezes pick up.

There are many perennial fountain grasses – including the large and very popular annual purple fountain grass often used in containers as the thriller. Karley Rose, for example, is a larger perennial fountain grass that makes an excellent addition to any garden with its pinkish inflorescences. I have Karley Rose growing in both our front and back gardens, but it might be considered too large to be considered a low-growing grass.

If you are looking for low-growing varieties, consider Hamlen Dwarf Fountain Grass that grows to about 35 inches (90cm) or the miniscule Little Bunny Fountain Grass with a height of only about 12 inches (30cm.) Both are hardy to zone 5, like to be grown in full sun and prefer a dry to moist soil.

Dwarf fountain grass

These dwarf fountain grass are just beginning to flower in our back garden. The inflouresences (flowers) turn a wheat colour and usually bloom well into fall.

Ideas on using fountain grass in the garden

Use these small fountain grasses in the front of a border or as small specimen plantings on their own. We use them in our front garden as accent plants in a sunny area along a dry river bed as well as in the area of our Japanese-inspired garden.

Japanese Blood Grass adds colour to the garden

Japanese blood grass (Imperata Cylindrica) another perennial garden winner for those who want to add a little pop of colour to their garden beds. (See photo in graphic above) Growing to a height of about 17 inches (45 cm) with a spread of 11-12 inches (30 cm), Blood grass is best grown for its blood-red tips that appear in mid- to late-summer and add a touch of bold colour to the garden.

Blood grass grows well in average to moist soil, in full to partial sun and is hardy to zone 5.

Ideas on using blood grass in the garden

I use Blood grass as a natural ground cover growing among the low-growing sedum (stonecrop) under our clump birch trees. The grass not only adds a little colour, but it seems to be at home in the dappled shade under the birch trees where it stays completely under control.

I also use it as a background for a “school” of ceramic fish (see post on Fish in the Garden) that swim through the grasses and around our birch clumps.

This colourful golden sedge adds a nice chartreuse touch to the garden.

Sedges are perfect for wet areas of the garden

Bowles Golden Sedge (Carex) There are a variety of sedges available that look and act much like ornamental grasses. The biggest difference between sedges and grasses, however, is that the sedges perform best in moist soils. They are the perfect plants for wet or very moist areas in the garden.

Take it from me, if you are planting them in a sandy soil in a sunny spot, you will need to water them almost daily to get them looking and performing their best.

Bowles Golden Sedge has become a nice addition to our garden with its variegated chartreuse leaves. With a height and spread of about 24 inches (60 cm), they are not the most low-growing of the sedges – that would be Blue Zinger Sedge (Carex Glauca Blue Zinger) at a mere 12 inches (30cm), Ice Ballet Sedge (Carex Morrowii Ice Ballet) with a similar height , Ice Dance Japanese Sedge (Carex Morrowii Ice Dance), and Evergold Variegated Japanese Sedge (Carex Oshimensis Evergold) at a mere 8 inches (20cm) with a similar spread.

Where to use Sedges in the garden

It’s important to remember that the sedges like moisture in the soil – even wet soil. Obviously, an area of the garden that enjoys lots of moisture is the ideal spot to plant sedges, but you can create good growing conditions with a little effort. Last year, I moved three sedges from a sunny dry area where they were not doing well, and planted them in cluster near our patio where I can easily water them regularly. They quickly bounced back and performed nicely throughout the summer into fall.

Almost immediately after the move, the three sedges began to look much better, with a faster growth habit and better colour.

Black mondo grass

A good example of black mondo grass growing in our dry river bed.

Black Mondo Grass for a bold statement in the garden

Black Mondo grass (Ophiopogon Planiscapus Nigresce) Black plants of any kind are always in high demand and, when that plant is actually described as a “grass,” you know it’s something special.

While not actually a grass, this hardy to zone 5 perennial grows to a height of between 5-6 inches (15cm) in average to moist soil in full to part sun. It spreads nicely into a clump of up to 17-18 inches (45cm), and can be used in the landscape as a nice tidy edging or as an accent to bring focus to an area with it’s dark foliage.

Black mondo grass can take on a greenish colouring if it’s in too much sun. In addition, it has small purplish flowers that can almost go unnoticed. They can be left on the plant or cut off if you want to maintain that grassy look.

Keep the plant well watered as well.

How I use Black Mondo Grass

I use a lovely clump of black mondo grass almost like an island growing in a dry-river bed. The strapping black grass-like foliage always brings a smile to my face when I see it growing up among the grey pea gravel and river rock. Under the right conditions, it can be striking.

Our clump has grown to the point that I need to divide it, so I am hoping to use it as an edge near our patio where I can appreciate it up close on a daily basis.

Blue Fescue adds a touch of colour to dry, sunny areas

Blue Fescue The adaptibility of Blue Fescue (see photo in graphic above) makes this grass a favourite among gardeners. Not only is this a tough little grass that can take hot, sunny, dry areas, it brings a blue-grey element to your landscape.

The fescues are actually considered a perennial evergreen grass that likes dry to average soil in full to partial sun. It grows to about 10 inches in height (25cm) with a similar spread. It grows in very distinctive clumps, so if you’re looking for a smooth grass to act as a replacement for a traiditional lawn, these are probably not ideal.

Looking for more information on ground covers? Please check out my other posts on ground covers I use in the woodland garden.

Bunchberry ideal ground cover

What is the easiest ground cover to grow?

Creeping thyme as a ground cover

Moss and moss-like ground covers

Virginia Creeper as a vine or ground cover

How to use Blue Fescue in the landscape

This grass is ideal for a hot, dry area where it can be used as an edge or planted in drifts. In the right location, its clumps of blue foliage can be stunning. Inflouresences add more elegance to the plants later in the summer through fall.

I use it both in our front and back gardens near dry river beds where its grey foliage complements the stone while it stays short and compact never intruding or competing too much with the simplicity of the dry river beds.

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Coleus: A colourful addition to the shade garden

Coleus is a plant that more gardeners need to consider both at container plants as well as additions to the landscape.

Three Coleus you need to consider for your containers

If you are looking for more colour in your shade-based containers or landscapes, it might be time to focus on Coleus with its variety of colours, shapes and sizes.

Coleus has got to be one of the most underrated and underused annual plants of its time.

A sampling of Proven Winners Coleus in containers

A combination of Proven Winners Coleus in containers.


If you have hesitated to embrace these incredibly colourful and easy-to-grow annuals in your garden, it’s time to give them some love.

Anywhere you have planted ferns and hostas is a good place to plant Coleus for a little or a lot of colour.

Coleus, by the way, is not only for shade gardens. New varieties of Coleus are available that can take both sun and shade.

These plants have come a long way in the past couple of years thanks to the work of the people at Proven Winners and other plant propagators who have created new hybrids that can take both sun and shade, and look extremely good doing it.

Proven Winners alone lists 17 different Coleus in its arsenal. Everything from plants with colourful foliage patterns to those with solid colours such as the deep reds in Rediculous, the burnt orange colours and ruffled edge of Wicked Hot, or the incredible lime greens of Lime Time.


Golden Dreams Coleus by Proven Winnder combines nicely with grasses in this container planting.


If you want to see Coleus in action both as singular plants in a container, or in combinations with a host of other plants, check out Proven Winners top ten Coleus suggestions.

I have used Coleus in our front containers to add colour in areas that usually get deep shade and was thought to be good for only ferns, hostas and the like.

This year, after so much success in the past few years, a variety of Coleus will take prominent spots in both our front and back containers and maybe find a spot or two in our landscape.

The results have been impressive.


Proven Winners Golden Dreams Coleus creates a soft, restful background that does not fight for dominance in the landscape.


In fact, last year I planted a Proven Winners Colorblaze Golden Dreams Coleus in a large container to hide some utilities, and not only did it grow so large that it hid the utilities, it turned out to be the star of the Japanese-inspired garden.

This Golden Showers Coleus was used in the Japanese-inspired garden to hide utilities and blend in the natural colours of the garden with its soft, golden tones.

One of the reasons it worked so well in the Japanese garden is that Golden Dreams Coleus, though colourful with its chartreuse leaves and red veining, tends to be a calm, restful background plant that brought together the greens of the surrounding foliage, and reds of the Bloodgood Japanese Maple that provided the plant with afternoon shade.

This is the beauty of Coleus plants that come in such a range of colour combinations that they can work as both a bold statement in the garden or a calming, quiet addition depending on how you choose to use them.

The chartreuse and red of this Coleus is an outstanding addition to any garden.

A Golden performance in the garden

The award-winning Golden Dreams Coleus, like many Coleus plants, performs well in both sun and shade. All it asks for is a reasonable amount of humidity which it certainly got in our humid climate where moss grows naturally between the flagstones.

In very low humidity environments, you would be best to grow it in an area where it gets plenty of afternoon shade.

It's not hard to see how the Coleus brings in the colours of the garden.

This Golden Showers Coleus brings in the colours of the garden and helps to create a cohesive feel and look to the Japanese-inspired garden.

Deadheading not needed

There is no deadheading necessary for these plants. In fact all I ever did was plant it, water it regularly and watch it grow. You can pinch it back to thicken up the plant, but it’s not really necessary.

Deer resistant foliage plant

Even the deer wanted nothing to do with this foliage plant, which makes Coleus ideal for woodland gardeners that share their space with a hungry herd of deer.

Coleus is seen here in a small container adding colour to a primary green fern garden but also picking up the yellow of the adirondack chairs.

How to grow Coleus in containers and in the landscape

These plants can grow quite tall. In fact mine was so happy it probably reached three-feet tall and close to that same distance in width by the end of the summer.

If you are planting several specimens out in the garden, plant them about 18-24 inches apart to form an impressive clump of foliage.

In a container, one is probably all you need. They certainly grow large enough to use as a thriller in the container pulling together colours from your other plants.

Of course, the wide variety of Coleus demands that the gardener do a little research on the habits of each plant to get the most out of them.

Chocolate Drop combines nicely in this container

The smaller Chocolate Drop Coleus combines nicely in this container as a filler.


Many varieties of Coleus to meet all your needs

There are too many varieties to describe each of them, but here are a few you might be interested in planting.

In the Proven Winners Color Blaze family, consider Chocolate Drop (Coleus scutellarioides) for a sun or shade location.

This is a smaller Coleus that grows between 18 inches to about 2 feet with smaller rounded green leaves boasting a deep crimson centre that spreads out toward the edges of the plants.

Proven Winners describes the colors as black and green but the overall effect is not quite that extreme.

Like Golden Dreams, there is no need for deadheading and the plants are pretty much maintenance free.

Where I live, they are treated as annuals, but if you are in a very warm climate, they are considered hardy in zones 10-11.

Their trailing habit makes them great for flower beds and containers, but they do better as a spiller rather than a thriller.

Mini Me Watermelon is new this year

If you are looking for an even more compact coleus to add to your container, or one with some serious colour punch, the Proven Winners Mini Me Watermelon is the one.

It might be tricky to find because it’s new this year, but this little red and chartreuse coleus growth ranges from 12 inches to 20 inches with a spread restricted to between 10 and 18 inches.

It’s a new type of ColorBlaze that is substantially smaller than the rest of the ColorBlaze coleus. Proven Winners says the plant is still being developed and may have variable leaves or branches that can be easily taken out if necessary.

Again, this Coleus, with its watermelon-coloured foliage rimmed with golden chartreuse accents can take both sun and shade.

Like most coleus, this one is designed to bloom well into fall until it is hit with the first heavy frost of the year. It’s deer resistant and can be used as a thriller with its upright growth.

Proven Winners says the plant can be used in borders, containers as well as mass planting in the landscaping.

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Pachysandra: Native and non-native ground cover for woodland gardens

Native and non-native pachysandra is a preferred ground cover choice to use in a naturalized shade garden.

Pachysandra in the woodland garden

A chipmunk hanging out in the pachysandra which provides good cover for prey in the woodland garden.

Low maintenance evergreen ground cover is popular choice for shade garden

Pachysandra has long been a favourite ground cover for gardeners looking for an easy-to-grow, low maintenance plant for the shade garden.

If you can grow the native variety (see below) definitely make the effort to get it established in the garden.

I have used it in our front woodland garden as one of the main ground covers to form the basic structure of the landscape. It’s important to note that pachysandra is just one of several ground covers that I have put in the front garden to compete with one another and form an interesting tapestry with various ground covers fighting for dominance in the garden.

Pachysandra forms a solid enough ground cover that is manageable but still allows me to grow more interesting plants up through it.

The pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) or Japanese spurge competes with sweet woodruff, ferns, epimediums and others to form the dominant ground cover. It weaves through the main front garden that is heavily planted with black-eyed Susans, columbines and other spring ephemerals like trillium, solomons seal and bloodroot helping to bring the garden together in a naturalized look.

Like most ground covers it can be aggressive and, if allowed to take over, can form a dense foliage that will choke out other plants. Keeping it from overpowering other plants is not difficult but you need to keep your eye on it each year.

The more naturalized look involving competing ground covers with perennials growing up through it may not be for everyone. I prefer that look to a single ground cover simply replacing a sea of grass.

A single ground cover is simple and makes the landscape look neat and tidy, but it lacks the variety that is important to attract wildlife from birds to insects, reptiles and the like.

I have seen everything from toads, to small snakes, birds chipmunks and red squirrels rooting around in our front garden ground covers.

As an added bonus, the deer that visit almost daily leave the pachysandra alone.

Looking for more information on ground covers? Please check out my other posts on ground covers I use in the woodland garden.

Bunchberry ideal ground cover

What is the easiest ground cover to grow?

Creeping thyme as a ground cover

Moss and moss-like ground covers

Virginia Creeper as a vine or ground cover

• Best ground covers for the woodland garden

Pachysandra in fall surrounded by Japanese maple leaves

These pachysandra leaves are poking up through a blanket of Japanese Maple Leaves.

How high does Pachysandra grow?

The popular evergreen ground cover, native to Japan and China, works well in cooler regions in hardiness zones 5a to 8b). It grows to about 6 inches in height, and spreads aggressively to create a mat of leaves and stems.

Native pachysandra is an excellent choice for woodland

Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens), is a native semi-evergreen species that is at home in fertile, well-drained, moist wooded areas in USDA zones 5b to 9a that includes Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, south to Florida, and west to Louisiana.

Both the non-native and native species will grow well in partial to full shade in well-drained, fertile soil.

You can use it in shady areas that have had trouble supporting grass.

Clemson College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, on their website, is quick to recommend the native species for a woodland garden.

“Allegheny spurge is a perfect fit for naturalized, woodland gardens where it can be planted en masse,” Clemson writes on its informative website.The less aggressive nature and open growth habit of Allegheny spurge makes it a suitable companion with other shade-loving groundcovers and low-growing plants.”

Pachysandra: Keep it contained

Not unlike other ground covers, it’s a good idea to keep pachysandra contained in some way. Ours is more or less contained by massive boulders on one side and a cement path on another side. Any other control is done by simply pulling out any lateral growth that looks like it is getting too comfortable growing in a particular direction.

If you want to use it in another area of the garden, you can just take cuttings from your existing patch. In fact, our front garden patch of pachysandra was created by using a handful of pachysandra cuttings purchased at the local garden club annual sale for a very small price.

Patience is key here. I’d estimate that it took 3-5 years for the cuttings to cover a fairly large area (15 feet by 15 feet) in our front garden.

But, if you are looking to save some money, pachysandra can be a good choice to begin adding to an area of the garden that needs a ground cover that performs better is a shady location than a boring, thinning patch of turf grass.

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Proven Winners’ Idea book hits another home run

The 2023 version of Proven Winners’ Gardener’s Idea Book is another home run. Released just in time to ignite the inspiration of gardeners looking to begin planning and planting their gardens.

Inspirational ideas and tips booklet is a Proven Winner

The 2023 Proven Winners’ Gardener’s Idea Book just arrived in the mail and, once again, the company known for its top performing annuals, perennials and shrubs has hit a home run.

I’m not sure if I’m more excited about the opening of the baseball season in two days or the arrival of this year’s booklet packed with pictures, ideas and tips on how to maximize the plants and shrubs offered in 2023.

Idea Book turns the focus on birds

It’s good to see Proven Winners’ recognizing the importance of birds in the garden. This year they included a spread on creating a bird friendly garden, along with pages featuring everyone’s favourite, Supertunias, and images showing how to get the most out of them in the garden and in containers. There are even planting plans on creating the three images of mature containers on page 2 of the 42-page full glossy booklet.

I signed up for the booklet several years ago and it now gets delivered every year right on time for the gardening season. You can get information on the booklet by clicking on the link here to the Proven Winners website. From that link you can order the free booklet and check out the Proven winners’ new plants and guides and photographs.

• For my previous articles about the Proven Winners’ Gardener’s Idea Books from past years check out these links: 2022 Idea Book and the 2021 Idea Book.

Proven Winners suggestions for shrubs for nesting birds

This image from Proven Winner’s website shows suggested shrubs for nesting birds.

This year’s booklet also includes pages on creating “sophisticated” shady areas on your porch or patio using primarily shade loving plants in containers. Of course, there are planting schemes included for some of the containers to get your creative juices going, and a host of images for inspiration.

Booklet features colourful containers

There are features on making the most out of your front yard using colourful combinations – the colours are a little too hot for my liking – but still some interesting ideas to tap into.

Pages 12-13 is more to my liking focusing on how to combine perennials in containers for more subdued but still colourful containers including hostas and some of the newer colourful Heuchera or coral bells along with other plants like Silver Falls Dichondra.

Pages 14-15 tackle some of the new and long-time favourite shrubs, including Rose of the Year, Hydrangea of the Year and Shrub of the year.

There are several pages donated to the growing popularity of indoor plants as well as a section on greenhouse gardening, just to name a few.

Some of Proven Winner’s suggestions for plants to feed the birds.

Proven Winners’ has traditionally been known as the company that offers long flowering and highly colourful plants, at least in my opinion, so I was surprised to see a move toward more casual and nature-inspired gardens. The booklet focuses on a once under utilized area of a garden that was turned into a Japanese-inspired space combining simple materials and a toned-down palette of black and white, and chartreuse.

“A special place devoted to regaining balance can be as close as your own backyard,” the authors write in describing the out-of-the-way garden room.

There are examples of sprucing up a small patio or balcony, and several pages on creating a view from a home office space – a growing reality for so many of us following the pandemic.

Proven Winner's suggestions for best shrubs for nectar eating birds.

Some of Proven Winner’s suggestions for best shrubs for nectar eating birds.

At the back of the booklet is the real treasure. Proven Winners’ has created two excellent charts showing the bloom times of their top performing perennials and another showing the bloom times of their shrubs including hydrangeas to help gardeners plan for the longest bloom times.

It’s important to note that Proven Winners’ plants are hybridized and are therefore not true natives to our gardens.

I use mostly their annual plants and must admit that, although hybridized, I have had incredible success with their plants attracting native bees, hummingbirds, hummingbird moths (clearwings) and other insects. Last year the Rockin’ the Blues salvia was the busiest plants in our garden for our native bumble bees and hummingbirds, especially later in the season. This year I’m looking to add more salvias from their Rockin’ series.

It’s hard to argue that the Proven Winners’ Gardener’s Idea Book is not simply a marketing device to encourage gardeners to purchase their plants, but that would mean missing out on the incredible wealth of knowledge and creative ideas that the booklet offers.

And, for the price – free for the asking – it’s a freebie you will want to have in your hand this spring. Get on the mailing list and add The Gardener’s Idea Book to your spring, summer and for sure winter, inspirational guides.

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Can hardy geraniums be used as a ground cover?

Hardy geraniums or Cranesbill are not like the summer plants we put in containers or plant out in our gardens for the summer months. These are much smaller-flowered perennials that are perfect to use as ground covers.

Hardy geranium: A blue-flowered ground cover for the woodland or shade garden

When most of us think about geraniums, the first thing that comes to mind is the bright red and white lollipops that filled window boxes and containers at our parents’ homes.

These annual geraniums known as pelargonium still have a place in our gardens, but they’re not what we’re talking about when we speak of using geraniums as ground covers. The pelargonium is a long-time favourite non-native summer bedding plant that is not cold and frost hardy.

Hardy geranium graphic

The hardy geranium or Cranesbill makes the perfect ground cover for a woodland garden.

Hardy geraniums, on the other hand, often referred to as cranesbill geraniums, are hardy perennials that can withstand freezing temperatures and return year after year. The primarily bluish-pink flowering perennials are hardy in zones 4 through 8 and can be grown in a rich woodland soil in the garden or in containers. They are perfect to use as ground covers.

Wild geranium, like the one pictured below, can be hardy down to zone 3.


Wild geranium growing among the ferns showing both the flowers and buds.


Native wild geranium is ideal ground cover for the woodland garden

The wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) flowers in spring, with tender pinkish-purple blooms that will attract pollinators to the garden while adding delicate colour.

These native, clump-forming plants in the geranium family (Geraniaceae) can form large dense patches in natural woodland openings. These colonies are formed of groups of long-lived clones that have grown from individual plants, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Although they can form large dense clumps, I would not consider them overly aggressive. They can spread by underground roots as well as through seed. Plants have a loose cluster of basal leaves and flowering stems arising from thick, branched horizontal rhizomes.

It is an herbaceous perennial native to deciduous woodlands of eastern North America, from southern Ontario south to Georgia and west to eastern Oklahoma and the eastern part of the Dakotas in zones 3 to 8.

Also known as Spotted/Wild Cranesbill, alum root, alum bloom and wood geranium, among others, this plant is an easy-to-manage perennial that prefers medium to wet conditions and tolerates most light conditions. Like the more hybrid cousins, it has unique dissected leaves that turn red and orange in the fall and is hardy from zones 3-7.

Wild geranium is generally the showiest of the native geraniums with larger flowers than the other Cranesbill species.

Being a woodland plant, they prefer a well-drained, fertile and moist soil.

Looking for more information on ground covers? Please check out my other posts on ground covers I use in the woodland garden.

What is the easiest ground cover to grow?

Bunchberry perfect ground cover for woodland garden

Three great ground covers for the woodland garden.

Creeping thyme as a ground cover

Snow in summer ideal for hot dry areas

Moss and moss-like ground covers

Hardy Geranium or cranesbill in front garden

Hardy geranium growing as a ground cover among the pachysandra in the front garden.

Hybrids offer variety of flower colours, shapes and leaf patterns

Depending on the variety you are growing, hybrid, hardy geraniums can perform well in full sun, partial shade and even in dense shade, but they tend to grow best when they receive early morning and afternoon sun,

Don’t expect showy pom pom flowers, however.

In fact, the flowers of cranesbill geraniums are usually quite small in comparison. Although the flowers are small, they are produced in abundance and can almost cover the plants when they are in full bloom.

Many of the varieties flower over several months throughout the summer into fall and some will even begin flowering in late spring.

In her book Gardening with Hardy Geraniums, (see link below) Birgitte Husted Bentdsen shares her knowledge of cultivating the plants and highlights the most garden worthy species and varieties. Expert cultivation advice, including comments on soil preferences and hardiness, is followed by fascinating information on pollination, and failsafe propagation secrets.

Not unlike most ground covers such as hostas, epimediums and ferns, cranesbill geraniums are all about their foliage, which can be particularly impressive, with their intricate colour blotching, veining and interesting leaf patterns.

These are low-growing plants with a dense carpet-like foliage that makes them ideal to use as ground covers.

I have several clumps, including wild native and hybrid varieties, growing in various parts of our woodland/shade garden where their roots slowly spread out over time forming large, attractive ground covers.

The native cranesbill can be found on our forest and woodland floors growing in moist woodsy soils.

The popularity of hardy geraniums can be seen in the large variety that are available. With new ones coming available regularly, there are 70 species and 700 varieties available.

Close up of a Hardy Geranium or Cranesbill.

Close up of a Hardy Geranium or Cranesbill growing in the front garden.

What pollinators are attracted to cranesbill

The importance of native cranesbill to our gardens is evident by the pollinators that are regular visitors. Besides non-native honeybees, bumblebees, a variety of native solitary bees, and syrphid flies are common pollinators to the flowers. In addition, various types of ants and beetles also pollinate the flowers.

How can I keep my cranesbill flowering

We grow cranesbill as a ground cover for its dense foliage and abundance of flowers. You can expect an ultimate height of between 5-36 inches (13-90cm) depending on the variety.

To ensure a tidier and thick foliage as well as lots of flowers, be sure to remove the flower stems after they have finished flowering to prevent them from going to seed.

The plant itself will continue to spread by underground rhizomes. So, unless you are looking to substantially increase the number of plants in a given area, consider removing spent flowers for continuous bloom.

How to care for hardy geraniums

These easy-to-care-for perennials are considered low maintenance plants that, once established, only need to be watered during prolonged dry periods. Mulching the plants in spring will help to create that woodsy soil and prevent excessive moisture loss throughout the summer.

Give the plants a shearing after the first flush of flowering to keep the plants looking their best and to encourage more flowers.

Can hardy geraniums be divided?

The hardy geraniums will grow large over time, with an ultimate spread of between 5-36 inches (13-90cm). Larger clumps can be divided every 3 to 5 years by cutting them in half or quarters in spring or fall.

Consider dividing them in the spring and using the divisions in containers during the summer where they can be properly cared for and enjoyed. Later in the fall, you can plant the healthy specimens back into the garden.

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