I moved into a new house in August and couldn’t stand the front yard. I got to work right away at adding some curb appeal. It wasn’t hard at all! The photo below was 7-8 hours work and $200 (being the end of the season, I got some great deals!)

At the beginning….


The Steps:

  1. Choose your Space – Consider location, snow piles, dog’s peeing, ease of mowing, postman paths and kid routes.
  2. Plan and Design – Iscape and other apps, use other gardens for inspiration, be realistic about the size and maintenance
  3. Utilities Check – Ontario One Call!
  4. Get Rid of the Grass – Dig it out, solarize or sheet mulching. Make sure you get rid of ALL the grass and roots
  5. Amend  the Soil – Compost made from yard waste/ vegetative matter is the best!
  6. Choose your Plants  – Consider hydrozones, choose non-invasive (watching out for “spreads easily” on the plant tag), use some native plants, shrubs are a must have and VERY low maintenance, look for drought tolerant, hardy perennials.
  7. Mulch –  natural products are the best (wood chips, cedar, pine bark), 2-3 inches
  8. Efficient Irrigation – water only when necessary – use your finger to see if the soil is dry down 2-3 inches before adding any water), check the forecast!

Digging the edge…


The Plants I used (although the weren’t planted in the “after” photo below”:

Daffodils – Narcissus

Purple Coneflower – Echinacea Purpea

Sedum Autumn Joy “Purple Emperor”

Dwarf Goatsbeard – Aruncus aethusfolius

Coral Bells – Heuchera “Peach Flambe”

The Shrubs:

Tiger Eye Sumac – Rhus Typhina “Tiger Bailtiger”

Ninebark – Physcocarpus opulifolius “Diablo”

Emerald Cedar – Thuja occidentalis “Smaragd”

Golden Globe Cedar – Thuja occidentalis”Golden Globe”

 Almost done….


What I wanted to Plant if I had more sun….

Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia

Allium – Allium Spp – they are all great but have to be planted in the fall

Butterfly Weed – Asclepias tuberosa

Variegated Iris – Iris Pallida “variegata”

 Time and Water: Precious resources wasted on the pursuit of a green lawn!

How to save money on your new garden?

  • ˜Fall Discounts – up to 50%, but no warranty…
  • ˜Donations from friends– but be CAREFUL!
  • ˜Buy bulk mulch and compost
  • ˜Investment plants; shrubs and perennials – no annuals
  • ˜Less watering needed when planted in the fall – and choosing drought tolerant plants and shrubs means less/no watering next year!
  • ˜Reuse the existing plants until fall sales start (if you are impatient like me…)
Its not that hard, let me know if you have any questions!
Happy Gardening!

Like any good relationship, these two bring out the best in each other. Flowers will come and go but foliage colour lasts all season, and both of these deliver. Planted together they make a charming combination in the spring when the Ninebark has its pinkish-white cluster flower tufts. As the season wears on, this turns into an eye-stopping bold partnership as the blue-gray of the Blue Fescue grass (Festuca glauca) brings out the bold red wine coloured leaves of the Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius).

A great combination with three season colour!

A great combination with three season colour!

These plants are both low maintenance. Blue fescue grass is a well behaved, clump-forming, drought tolerant ornamental grass. They have the best affect in the garden when planted in 3’s (or larger odd numbers), either together or echoed throughout your garden. Ninebarks, also drought tolerant, come several leaf colours and are now available in a dwarf version. Depending on your preference, you can allow this shrub to grow freely, or prune after flowering to maintain a more managed shape.

ninebark blue fescue 2

The Specs:

Ninebark: Flowers in spring
Blue Fescue: No flower

Ninebark: Full sun to part shade
Blue Fescue: Full sun

Water: Both of these plants need very little water, if any, once it is planted. Water only after two weeks without rain. If you are planting in sand, the blue fescue may need watering in the heat after 4-5 days.

Shopping: These are both very common plant that are easily found at garden centres.

Happy gardening!!!

My sister recently told me that her lettuce wasn’t doing very well because she hadn’t had time to water it. I told her that shouldn’t matter, and she argued with me, telling me that lettuce needs lots of water. I like to test these “rules” in my own garden, which often makes for some interesting arrangements and results.

On May 5th I bought a mix of lettuce and planted it. I watered it on the day of planting and once after. As you probably recall, we had very little rain in Southern Ontario in the month of May, so my watering was the most the lettuce got.

I was pleasantly surprised how much my lettuce grew in that time.  I had my first salad from my garden this past Monday, and it’s still growing strong, ready for another harvest today. (I know we had a fair amount of rain this past weekend, but I my lettuce was growing very well before that).

My low water lettuce, with one harvest already done.


A little about the conditions of my garden; I have a raised garden/retaining wall, which is south facing and has a sandy loam soil mix (thanks to the previous owner). The retaining wall is crumbling, adding to the “well-drained” conditions of the raised garden. I have wood mulch throughout, and lots of it (the other day I was planting some Kale and realized there was over 6 inches of mulch in once area of the garden).

I grow a mix of perennials, annuals and vegetables in my garden, most planted somewhat haphazardly as I use my garden to test and experiment, rather than as a visual masterpiece. Sometimes this works in my favor and a neat little colour combination of plants will reveal itself…

Using lettuce to create foliage interest in your garden.

For the first time ever, my other half actually commented on how great the garden looked, and how beautiful the colours looked (he prefers grass to EVERYTHING).

Dianthus with some chartreuse lettuce for an unexpected colour combo. Both get very little water…

Am I telling you to push your plants into a perpetual state of thirst? Not at all. But stop over-pampering your plants, they are living things and they will adapt to the conditions to survive. They have root systems which will quickly grow or move to find moisture, and at the same time, they will shrink and limit growth if there is too much water. Play with the “rules” of gardening a bit and see what great results you may end up with. Less water will typically amount in better results than too much.

Happy Gardening!


Creeping Phlox

May 23, 2012

Creeping Phlox

This perennial is a classic for any garden, especially rock gardens.  The early spring bloomer comes in many colours including pink, white, purple, red, mauve and even candy striped. It is very easy to care for, if you want to deadhead after it blooms, a simple chop with your garden shears and you are done. Keep in mind that the creeping phlox blooms early, but it’s tidy, mounded shape and thin green leaves make it a good border plant for taller perennials that flower later on in the season.

Creeeping Phlox in shade

I find Phlox very well behaved and will not wander too far from where you plant it or show up in an another area of your garden where you didn’t plant it.

Hot Pink Phlox in shade

The technical info:

Bloom: April to May

Exposure: Full sun to part shade (full shade under deciduous trees)

Water: Because this plant blooms early, has a mounded shape and thin needlelike leaves, this plant needs very little water, if any, once it is planted.

Combination ideas: Its low growing behaviour will frame medium sized plants such as Echinacea, Little Blue Stem, Coral Bells or Hostas. Add it to the base of a few smaller shrubs with purple leaves such as Japanese Barberry for a sharp colour combination of easy, low maintenance plants.

Creeping Phlox with iris

Shopping: This is very common plant that is easily found at garden centres. The only hunting you might have to do is if you are looking for a particular colour.

Happy gardening!!!

If you want a great lawn this summer, you will have to do some work.  The first three tasks should be done at least once a year, twice if you have bad soil, heavy compaction or a thin lawn.

There are 5 recommended tasks for building and maintaining a great lawn:

1. Aerate  – this will reduce compaction and get rid of thatch. No need to if you are on sand

2. Topdress  – this will feed your lawn and improve soil

3. Overseed  – this will thicken your lawn and fill any spaces so weeds won’t establish

4. Mow high  – at least 2 1/2 inches, but in the hotter months 3 inches

5. Don’t over water  – 1 inch, once per week, at most, including rain, or let your lawn go dormant in the summer, it is a natural adaptation.

Time to get to work if you want a great lawn this summer!

Aerate once the lawn has dried up and is no longer damp. After aerating, add a well screened layer of compost to a depth of ¼ to ½ an inch. Adding compost to your lawn is the equivalent to feeding it fruits and vegetables. Compost will add the main nutrients (N, P, K) as well as the micro nutrients needed.

Choose a mixture of grass seed that has several species of grass in it. Remember, with grass seed, you get what you pay for, so a few extra bucks will go a long way with the quality of seed. Spread the seed over the compost and lightly rake it in. Keep the seed moist (not soaking wet) for a period of 8-10 days.

There are many options for grass seed. Buy the best quality for the best results.

They are predicting a bad year for bugs, so applying beneficial nematodes will help prevent damage by pests such as grubs. The key to using these is to follow the directions EXACTLY! Nematodes are now available for purchase at most garden centres and large box stores such as Home Depot or Canadian Tire. They will likely be stored in a fridge, if not; you may want to look for them elsewhere. They need to be kept cold so the nematodes stay in a dormant state before application. I won’t go into specific detail on how the nematodes work, but if you are keen, google it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

If your lawn is covered with more than 50% of weeds, and you don’t want the weeds, you should resod, or consider an alternative to your lawn.

In my next post I will tackle weeds…


With the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having lately, it’s hard to resist the urge to go play in the gardens. Some tasks can be detrimental if done too early. To appease your urges; here are some outdoor garden tasks to keep you busy…

This would be a large lawn to rake!

1. Resist the urge to rake your lawn. The ground is still wet and if you have clay soil, walking on it will compact the soil. Compacted soil is bad for turf, but good for weeds. Also raking your lawn too early can easily damage any new grass shoots.

2. Don’t roll your lawn, again, with clay soils, this will compact it.

3. Now is a great time to apply corn gluten to your lawn. This is a natural pre-emergent weed preventative that coats weed seeds and prevents germination of the root from the seed.  Wait 4 – 6 weeks before overseeding as corn gluten will also prevent grass seed from germinating. Corn Gluten will also serve as a fertilizer for your lawn.  Corn Gluten will not kill exisitng weeds. For more details on applicaiton of corn gluten, visit: http://lawncare.about.com/od/organiclawncare/a/corn_gluten.htm

4. Wait to clean up the dead plant materials from your gardens. Once the soil warms up the decomposers will become more active and will start decomposing old plant material. This will add natural organic matter into your soil, which will help to feed this year’s plants.

5. Rather than using a hose to clean off your driveway, use a broom. It is good exercise for you and you won’t be wasting high quality drinking water.

Thanks for the spring "presents"

6. Now that the snow has melted, for those of you with dogs, your lawn will be covered with months of dog droppings that need to be picked up. This is one of those spring clean-up tasks that I do not enjoy. Maybe this year I’ll hire a company to clean these up?

Enjoy your gardens folks, that’s why we have them!

Garden Trends for 2012

January 26, 2012

It’s that time of year where we see what the trends in landscapes will be for the upcoming year.  There are common themes across the country, with a few differences in what the hot colours will be. One things for sure is the move back to sustainable gardening. Its time to put down the hose, connect the rain barrel and look for colour from something other than those water hungry impatiens.

Water soaked gardens are no longer trending... Say goodbye to those water hungry impatiens

From the Ottawa Citizen….


I love the oranges and blues in the garden. Got a wet shady area? Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is a wonderful native plant, but only if the area has good moisture or you have a rain barrel nearby. Got a sunny, dry area? Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is gorgeous plant, but it won’t grow until mid-June when the soil warms up. It needs well-drained soil that won’t soak its root tuber over the winter.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias Tuberosa) a wonderful option for a dry sunny garden.

From the Vancouver Sun….This has Amber and Black as trendy colours.


From Canadian Garden Centre and Nursery… This one puts water conservation up front.


From our neighbours to the south…


Start planning your sustainable garden for 2012!


Social Media is changing the way we communicate with the public.  With one tweet you can send your water conservation and efficiency message to your followers, with very little time and cost.

Using Twitter may seem time-consuming, but not if you start with a good plan. Define what messages you want to send and how often. Some examples include daily messages about ways to save water in the garden, or information about an upcoming rain barrel sale or a new rebate program you are offering.

Twitter provides an opportunity for open and engaging dialogue with your target audiences.  You can use your tweets to guide people to your website for more information about your programs without the costs and environmental impact of newspaper ads or flyers.

By following other municipalities and water conservation professionals on social media, you can be part of the global community and see what others are doing with water conservation and efficiency.

Some tips for using Twitter:

  1. Actively engage other followers in active dialogue about a variety of water conservation and efficiency topics. Do not use Twitter as a simply a news feed for the program.
  2. Do not expect an immediate influx of followers, you need to interact with the twitter community and give reason for people to follow you.
  3. Be human and have fun. Robotic or overly formal “government” type tweets will discourage the interaction with users, this engagement is what makes Twitter unique and effective.
  4. Set up your Twitter account and then use it! It is easy to get caught up with other business and to forget about your Twitter account (I know I do), but to be effective  you need to interact on a regular basis. Monitor the account daily, during business hours.

Twitter is a great opportunity to get your water efficiency and conservation messages out to the public. Once you get started, you will realize what a great communications and outreach and engagement tool it can be.  The most important thing to do is to get started.

I recently visited a garden planted with plants native to Ontario. The plants were covered in mildew and fungus, so I asked how often they were watering.  The manager told me that they had to water their newly planted native plant garden every day, ALL SUMMER because they were on clay soil and were having a hard time keeping them alive, even after adding lots of compost to the soil.

You should never have to water perennial plants every day in Ontario (unless they are planted in a major heat wave, which is never advised). The plants I saw in the garden were not only water-efficient plants, but they were plants that grow fine in clay; most of them actually prefer clay soils.

I tried to explain this to her, but to no avail. She insisted that the plants would have only survived if watered daily and that even then, they lost of a lot of the plants over the summer.

I see this time and time again, a there is a HUGE misunderstanding about how much water plants need. Watering a plant is not the way to keep them alive.  Plants need air and nutrients from the soil. If the soil is saturated with water, they plants have difficulty accessing the much needed air and nutrients in the soil, so they literally suffocate and then die.

When a plant is overwatered, the symptoms can look like what people assume is “thirsty” plant.  If your plant’s leaves turn yellow or brown, then that is usually a sign of too much water.  When a plant does not have enough water, the obvious symptom is wilt, not yellowing or browning leaves.

When is it time to water?

It is important to note that plants will show some wilting during a hot, dry and sunny day. Plants are not Einstein’s, but they do know enough to protect themselves during stressful periods such as hot, dry weather. They will pull the water from the leaves, into the roots, to prevent water loss through ‘transpiration’ (water loss due to plant “sweating”). They will then return the water to the leaves when the weather conditions improve.

So, if your plant shows some signs of wilt in the mid-afternoon sun on a hot summer day, then that is likely ok. Check back later on in the evening when it’s cooler. If your plant is wilted in the evening, morning or on a cool, overcast day, then this is a sign that they are stressed due to lack of water. This is when it’s time to get the watering can out.

All of this may seem too complicated or time consuming. We all have better things to do than to stand in the garden questioning the level and timing of a wilting leaf. My solution to you… the Finger Test!

How the finger test works (Yes friends, it’s time to get dirty):

Step #1 – Take your longest finger.

All you need is your finger!

Step #2 – Stick it into the ground up to your knuckle.

Step #3 – Do you feel moisture in the soil surrounding your finger?

→Yes – Then there is enough moisture in the soil, skip to step #7

→ No, the soil is dry – Go to step #4

Step #4 – Check the weather forecast, is rain forecasted in the next 24  hours?

→Yes = Skip to step #6

→ No = Go to step #5

→ I don’t trust the weatherman = Go to step #5

Step #5 – Turn your soaker hose on or use a watering can with water from your rain barrel and water the soil (not the plants) until the finger test shows good soil moisture. (Note: If you  don’t already have mulch on your gardens, add some, this will seriously extend the time between watering and leave you more time doing Step #7)

Step #6 – Let Mother Nature water for you and proceed to step #7

Step #7 – Sit back and enjoy a glass of wine in your water efficient garden!

Although we have an abundance of water in Ontario and in Canada, we shouldn’t be wasting it, especially in our gardens, to the detriment of our lovely plants!