Blue Hydrangea

Designing With Perennials

 Whether you are an experienced gardener or just getting started, perennial gardening can be adapted to suit your needs, and your budget. You can start on whatever scale you wish. No matter what you gardening situation is, full sun, shade, dry, moist, there are perennials available that will meet your criteria. With perennials, the only limitation is your imagination!

The use of perennials has really regained popularity over the last few years due in large part to the vast number of new varieties that have come onto the market. Whether we are adding perennials in with evergreens and flowering shrubs in a mixed planting or doing mass plantings of perennials in a bed on their own. Another area where the use of perennials is blossoming is in container gardening.

We first need to establish what is meant by the term ‘perennials’. The term perennial refers to any herbaceous plant (herbaceous meaning that they do not develop a woody stem) that dies down in the fall and come back up from the roots the next spring.

Fern and Bowles Golden Carex Helenium DSCN2346


Why design at all? Why not just plant a bunch of perennials together and see what happens? Well, this can be done, but often the result is chaos and an unhappy gardener. Designing a flower garden and seeing it develop before your eyes can be rewarding. It takes time, knowledge and experience to prepare a good one. The planning stage is too often overlooked by the impatient gardener resulting in a haphazard collection of plant materials. The eye needs a sense of order. Too many variations in sizes, shapes, colors, and textures create confusion. Remember, the most spectacular gardens all begin with a carefully thought-out design.

Here are some steps for you to follow:

Step 1 – Analyze Your Site

When determining a garden site you need to consider the following factors:

  • Is the desired garden area getting sun or shade? What time of day is it getting sun?
    • 6 hours or more – full sun; 3-5 hours – part shade; less than 3 hours – shade
  • Viewing angles – determine what areas of your garden are key areas from both indoors and outdoors to help you locate your focal points
  • Existing features that you will need to work around
  • Existing growing conditions
  • Is the area very dry, even moisture, damp or wet?
  • Do you have sandy loam soil or clay soil?
  • What plant hardiness zone are you in?

Step 2 – Choose your StyleHidden Treasures in the Garden

Once you have analyzed the site for your garden you then need to choose what style you would like to have.  Gardens fall under two categories when it comes to style – formal or informal. Formal gardens follow straight, geometric lines to determine the shape of the beds. The geometric shape selected may be copied from an architectural feature found on your home. Formal gardens rely on symmetry. One garden will match another. In a small space, the symmetry becomes the focal point. Formal gardens date back many centuries. Palatial castles often had formal gardens. If contemplating this style, keep in mind the best way to view a formal garden is from an elevated point. When looking down, you are able to appreciate the symmetry and balance. Formal style is high maintenance.

Informal gardens are more popular. They follow the natural terrain by using curved lines. The human eye follows curves easier than straight lines. In fact, curves are more natural. There are no perfectly straight lines of great length in nature. All perfectly straight lines are man-made. Balance is created not through symmetry (as in a formal garden) but with plant material characteristics such as plant shape, color, size, and texture.

Even though there are different trends that seem to be popular, it doesn’t mean that the older ways of designing with perennials are wrong. Design according to your own tastes. Let your personal character dictate your choices. You can give 20 different people the same 20 perennials and they will arrange them differently according to their preferences, interests and experiences No one style is wrong.

Step 3: Choosing the Right Plants

Now it is time to choose the right plants.

 Choose plants with a variety of colour.

  • Colour doesn’t just refer to flower colour, but also to leaf colour. Make sure that the plant looks good both in and out of bloom. This is done by paying attention to the leaves as well as the flowers. Your garden should look colourful whether or not there is anything in bloom.
  • Opposite colours on the colour wheel provides contrast (yellow-purple; red-green)
  • Combining various hues of the same pigment creates harmony (pink-lavender-purple)
  • Cool colours such as mauves, pinks, pale yellows and silvers are relaxing and tranquil. They tend to recede in the garden. This is useful in a small garden situation where you want it to appear larger than it actually is. Cool colours make you feel peaceful and meditative.
  • Warm colours such as reds, oranges, golds and burgundys are vibrant and exciting. They tend to pop out at you in the landscape. These colours are good around entertainment areas such as decks, patios and pools. The use of warm colours is also effective on large properties when you are viewing a bed from a distance. Remember: Nothing in nature clashes. Don’t be afraid to try new colour combinations. 

Lamb's Ear Heuchera Jack Frost Brunnera

Choose plants with a variety of shapes 

  • Shape can refer to the overall shape of the plant and also to the shape of flower and shape of leaves.
  • Once again, if you had plants that had all the same shape of flower (say daisies) the garden would not have much interest.
  • Make sure you have a mixture of different flower shapes: spikey, daisy, globe, lily-like, etc
  • Leaf shape is just as important. Is the leaf rounded, grass-like or linear?
  • Also look at the overall shape of the plant. Is it mounding, low lying or tall and spikey?

Choose plants with a variety of textures

  • Planting for Texture – small feathery leaves and dainty flowers give a delicate, subtle look and are appreciated more if seen from up close.
  • Bold flowers and large leaves can be appreciated from a distance.
  • To achieve a balanced look, make sure that there is a good mixture of bold and delicate flowers and foliage.
  • It is very important to have all different textures in any garden whether perennial or otherwise.
  • To have a garden full of plants with all the same textures means that everything will just blend  together and there would be no accents, there would be just a mish mash of leaves.
  • Again, texture just doesn’t mean flowers. With flowers you will have a choice of fine and feathery and large bold flowers and everything in between. But, also remember the foliage. Your garden should look good both in and out of bloom. Not only is the size of leaf important but the physical texture of the leaf. Is the leaf: glossy, fuzzy, heavily veined, puckered etc.

Japanese Bloodgrass Bergenia Fern

  • Choose plants that look good both in and out of bloom.
  • Choose plants that are more disease and insect resistant.
  • Choose plants that have different seasons of interest (don’t forget winter)
  • Group plants with similar requirements together – similar light, soil and moisture requirements.


  • If you have nothing in bloom in your garden at a certain time of the year, that is the perfect time to go to the garden centre and see what is blooming. We tend to do most of our shopping in the spring, so most the things blooming in our gardens our in the spring.
  • Avoid overcrowding – leave some space in between plants to allow them to fill in naturally.
  • Incorporate bulbs to lengthen the garden’s bloom time. Most of the bulbs are up and have bloomed before the perennials begin to fill in.
  • In larger gardens or when viewing a garden from a distance, remember to mass plant. To get the same effect as you get up close. Up close – you can use groupings of 1 or 3 or maybe five. Further away – you might have to be using groups of 5, 7, 9 etc to get the same effect.
  • DO NOT FORGET WINTER INTEREST. We only get to see our perennials for about 7 months of the year. There is no reason why there should not be something of interest the remaining 5 months. There are many perennials that can provide winter interest such as: ornamental grasses, Sedum, Echinacea, Rudbeckia etc.

Growing together,


Blue Hydrangea

More Than Just A Little Off The Top


To prune or not to prune? That is one of the most often asked questions. One of the first chores that we attack in our gardens each spring is pruning, but I find that most people are not quite sure what it is that they are supposed to do. Knowing the proper pruning times and proper pruning techniques seem to be the most misunderstood areas of gardening. Pruning promotes flowering, reduces pests and contributes to the plant’s overall health, all while helping it maintain an attractive shape. The longevity of a plant, its productivity and the overall health of a plant is mainly determined by how well it has been pruned over the years, so it is very important to know and understand the proper way to prune your shrubs. 

When To Prune

In general, the best time to prune most deciduous woody plants is just before the new growth starts in the spring or, in other words, late dormant period (early March to mid -April). Pruning at other times can rob the plant of its stored food and energy. It may also mean a loss of flowers or fruit.

With that said, all rules have some exceptions. Here are those exceptions:

  1. Any early spring flowering plants (plants that bloom off old wood) should be pruned immediately after flowering and before leaves unfold. These are some plants that this exception applies to: Magnolia, Forsythia, Wisteria, Serviceberry, Lilac, Quince, Bridal Wreath Spirea, Viburnums, Serviceberry and Wisteria
  2. Trees such as Maples (including Japanese Maples), Flowering Dogwoods, Birch and Elm, Poplar, Laburnum and Lindens will bleed if pruned in late winter or early spring. A better time to prune these trees would be mid-summer to early fall.

Lilac in bud Pink Flowering Dogwood Show Off Forsythia Fothergilla

Where To Start – THE 3 D’s OF PRUNING

Many people, when pruning deciduous trees and shrubs, will just shear back the top of the plant to reduce the overall height of the plant, but this is only a part of proper pruning techniques. So what else is involved in pruning? What steps should be taken when starting to prune?

Step 1. When pruning any shrub or tree, you always start out with the 3 D’s of pruning. This means that you prune out any DEAD, DISEASED or DAMAGED branches first.CrossingBranches

Step 2.   Remove any branches that closely cross with other branches or that cross through the middles of the plant. You want to have branches that come from the center of the plant and heads outward.

Step 3. The next step is to consider your pruning goal.  Read below to discover your goal.

How To Prune – Knowing Your Pruning Goal

When pruning any plant, it is always good to know what your goal is and that will help you determine how to best prune your shrub. Here are the 5 main goals of pruning and the questions that you should be asking yourself before you begin:

GOAL 1 – Control the Size of PlantPruning

The best way to control the size of a plant is by natural pruning. Natural pruning means that you are making selective cuts in order to thin or reduce the overall size of the plant. This cannot be done with shears, but with secateurs or loppers. It means cutting one stem at a time and not just shearing off the tips. When all you do is shear back the tips, the plant loses its natural form because it increases the number of branches and creates a branch structure that resembles a candelabra. Your shrubs will become very wide at the top because of this increased branching, giving your shrub an ice cream cone-like appearance. And because the top is so wide, it stops the sunlight from hitting the base of the plant and you are left with a plant that is bare at the base. Always prune back to a point just above a side shoot or back to just above a bud. When pruning is completed it should look like no cuts have been made. It should still have its natural form.

GOAL 2 – Increase the Amount of Flowers and Fruit

Proper pruning will aid in the production of more flowers and more flowers produce more fruit. Most flowers are produced on the tips of the stems, therefore, the more tips that there are, the more flowers that the plant will produce and the more flowers you have the fruit will be produced. In order to accomplish this goal, you cut back the stem tips, stimulating the side branches and developing more tips for the flowers to form on. Just remember that the more flowers that a plant produces the smaller the flowers will be. Fewer flowers usually mean larger flowers.

GOAL 3 – Maintain a Certain ShapeFormal Hedge Pruning

One of the goals of pruning might be to maintain a certain shape such as a hedge, a globe form, or specimen plants like spirals and pompons. This is best achieved by shearing. With shearing you are just removing new tip growth, creating a full dense look. Even though electric shears makes the job easier, hand shears make a much nicer job of things. Electric shears just tear the plant tissue while hand shears makes a cleaner cut. When the plant tissue is torn there is more die back at the tips giving the sheared shrub a brownish tinge. Always make sure that any pruning tool is sharp and clean before using to prevent this from happening.

GOAL 4 – Encourage Colourful Bark

There are certain plants, such as red or yellow twig Dogwoods and Japanese Kerria, which have colourful bark. In order to keep the colours as intense as possible special pruning is required. It is the youngest stems that will give you the brightest colour. As the stems age, they start to lose their colour. So the best way to encourage colourful bark is by pruning out (right to the ground) one third of the oldest growth every year. You will be able to tell which ones are the oldest stems because they will be thicker and more grayish/brown in colour. This encourages new growth to come up from the base, which will then give you more colourful bark.

GOAL 5 – Rejuvenate an Older ShrubRemoving Old Wood

In most cases, we tend to let shrubs grow and grow and once they become too large, we hack them back hoping that they will survive and become beautiful again. It is much easier to do a bit of pruning every year than to wait until the shrub is out of control. It is sometimes very hard to rejuvenate an old shrub that has been ignored for too long. The best way to rejuvenate an old flowering shrub is to do so over a three-year period. This can be achieved by removing one third of the oldest growth every year right back to the base, which will then stimulate growth to come from lower down. In three years you will have completely rejuvenated the entire shrub. With some flowering shrubs you can drastically cut the stems back to about 4”-6” above the ground. It may look funny for that season, but it will fill back in eventually.

I hope that this helps you to tackle your pruning chores this spring.  Happy pruning!

Clematis Flowering Quince Common Witch Hazel

Growing together,


Blue Hydrangea

The Five Senses Of Garden Design

Picture this….you walk into a beautiful garden. Your eyes immediately begin to take in the beautiful array of bold colours; from the bright golden yellow Coreopsis to the deep, violet, spiked flowers of the Salvia. You are drawn in by the overwhelming sweet fragrance of a lilac in bloom. In the background, a cluster of birds are twittering back and forth with excitement. As you stroll around the gardens you can’t help but to reach down and touch the soft, fuzzy, silver leaves of the Lamb’s Ear.

LilacClematisPink Flowering Dogwood

All of your senses are alert in the garden, taking in all that nature has to offer you. The garden stimulates your senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. When speaking of gardens and their design, though, there is another set of 5 senses to consider:

A Sense of Entry Before you even arrive in the garden you need to create an entrance, something that invites you to enter and entices you to want to see more. This can be achieved in various ways through the use of an arbour, gate, and portal or with the use of plants. The entrance should be welcoming, giving glimpses of the garden without giving up all of the garden’s secrets.

Entry into gardenCreating an Entrance with an Arbour

A Sense of Welcome  A garden must welcome you in. As soon as you enter the garden you should feel your blood pressure going down, feel relaxed and instantly at home. It should be a place where you would just want to find a comfortable seat in a shaded corner and spend the day. Your guests will not want to go home. If your garden is lacking organization, unity and a sense of balance it will leave you feeling chaotic and uneasy. One of the best ways to create a sense of welcome is to make sure that you add elements that stimulate the sense of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste; whether it be the soft trickle of a water feature or brushing by a hedge of lavender as you stroll along the walkway.

A Sense of Enclosure   A small city garden as well as a large country estate with wide open spaces can leave you feeling exposed to your surroundings. For one to feel at home and at peace in the garden, you need something that defines the garden space; to clarify the perimeters of a garden area. When sitting out in middle of your backyard leaves you feeling totally exposed to neighbouring houses, you are unlikely to spend time enjoying your garden. Disguise any unwanted views using a mixture of privacy plants or constructed screens. A larger shade tree that provides an overhead canopy can also give you that feeling of enclosure.

A Sense of Flow   The flow of a garden refers to the way that people move through the space.   It can be the mere outline of the beds that visually leads the eye continuously around the garden. It can be in the form of a path that leads the eye and the feet in ways that maintains your interest and possibly offers the odd hidden surprise. The repetitive use of certain plants throughout the garden can also create a sense of flow and helps your eye to move around the yard. When the lines in the garden abruptly stop, so do your eyes. Simply flaring the line of a bed or walkway out ward instead of inward can make all the difference.

Flowing lines of a gardenOverhead PergolaHidden Treasures in the Garden

A Sense of Place  A well designed garden has a sense of place. Your garden should look like it belongs there or that it always has been there. It should share some of the same characteristics of the house or its’ surroundings. For example, if you live on or near the Niagara Escarpment you may want to consider incorporating mossy, limestone rocks into your landscape. Maybe you are lucky enough to have a lake front property – adding in a dry river bed would be a way of uniting the lake and your garden. If you live in old Victorian home, it would be very difficult to create a Japanese style garden in front of it and make it look like they belong together. Take some time to reflect on the unique characteristics of your home and surroundings and draw you inspiration from them.

As we begin a new gardening season and start to work in our yards, take the opportunity to look at your garden in a new way and consider what changes you can make to create your own paradise. Remember, you never know what treasures are hidden in your own backyard until you begin to dig.

Growing together,


Blue Hydrangea

The Happy Gardener

Have you ever noticed that gardeners always seem to be happier, more generous and generally have a better outlook on life? Ever wonder why that is?

It is a well-known and proven fact that gardening is good for the mind, body and spirit. Everyone can garden, in some form or another, regardless of ability. With gardening, the only limitation is your imagination.

The Mind

Let’s first explore that ways in which gardening benefits the mind. Have you ever spent time in a garden and found a sense of calm come over you? Just being in a garden can give you a feeling of well-being. Gardening, or even relaxing in a garden, greatly reduces stress levels. Researchers have documented that people who interact with plants recover more quickly from everyday stress and mental fatigue than those who are not surrounded by plants. One study reported that people working on computers in an office with plants were 12% more productive and less stressed than people in the same job in an office without plants. Over the last few years, we have heard a lot about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and how the lack of sunlight in the winter can affect our mood. So from this we know how much sunlight, on its own, has positive effects on the mind. Gardening also keeps you mentally stimulated. In a garden, there is always something different to see, always something to be tended to, and always something new to learn. Horticultural Therapists have discovered with Alzheimer patients in residences with plants that the rate of violent incidents decreased 19% over a 2- year period, while in non-plant residences violent incidents increased by 680% over the same 2-year period (according to the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association). So spending time in the garden can be very beneficial to the mind.

Residents in the GardenLavenderFlower Garden

The Body

Gardening, done properly of course, is also very good for the body. Gardening is the second most popular form of exercise in Canada, attracting 48% of Canadian adults. It is second only to walking. It is a very balanced form of exercise, consisting of endurance, flexibility and strength building exercise. The combination of these activities will help to reduce the risk of premature death, heart disease, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, stroke, depression and some forms of cancers. Regular gardening activities burns off an average of 300 – 350 calories per hour and up to 600 calories or more per hour with heavier work activities. One study shows that the average gardener burns more calories in one hour than an average person would during a 1-hour aerobics class. Studies also show that gardeners (especially vegetable gardeners) eat a wider variety of vegetables, which are richer in disease-fighting anti-oxidants and phyto-chemicals. They will also eat more organically-grown vegetables and therefore consume fewer pesticides. Another physical benefit of gardening is being out in the fresh air and sunlight. We all know how dangerous over-exposure to the sun can be so it is very important to take the necessary precautions; but a few minutes a day will provide you with enough Vitamin D that is essential for healthy bones. These are just a few of the benefits gardening has on the body.

The Spirit

As was stated at the beginning of this article, gardening is also beneficial to one’s spirit. It appeals to all the senses: sight, taste, touch, sound and smell, so it does encompass your whole being. Gardening provides you with a creative outlet. It also provides you with a personal link to nature and to the Creator. Gardeners are usually very optimistic and patient people. With gardening there are no instant results. It sometimes takes a whole season or several seasons before you will see your creativity comes to full fruition. Gardeners always believe that things will be better next year; the flowers will be more plentiful, and the tomatoes will be larger. Once you see the results of all you sweat and tears, you get a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. Working with soil and plants can be an enriching experience that helps to build your self-esteem and confidence. Yard care and gardening activities helps to develop individuals, strengthens families and builds communities. When families garden together it teaches the children valuable work skills as well as develop team work skills. Gardening is a universal language that brings communities together. It melts away the differences between ages and ethnic groups and therefore unites neighbourhoods. Have you ever been out working in the garden and have had people, that you may not even have known, stop and start up a conversation centered around gardening? Have you had friendships develop just because of your mutual love of gardening? Gardening also gives you a sense of belonging and a sense of having contributed back to the world. As you can see, there are many benefits that gardening has on one’s spirit.

So it’s no wonder why gardeners are always happy and optimistic and a no wonder why gardening remains the fastest growing hobby in Canada. Regardless of your gardening knowledge and ability, whether you have a green thumb or not, you will find that gardening is a very rewarding endeavor.

Just remember – He who plants a garden, plants Happiness. Happy Gardening!

Growing together,



Blue Hydrangea

My Grass Roots

JoanneWelcome to my garden blog. Since this is my first entry, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself to you…

Well, it all began on a farm just on the outskirts of Monkton, Ontario – just northwest of Stratford. I am the fourth of six children. We had 200 acres of land on which we grew mainly corn, beans and barley. We also raised pigs, and had a few ducks, geese, chickens, goats, and rabbits. I think of all of the great experiences that I had growing up on the farm and I feel so fortunate to have had such a wonderful childhood. Working hand and hand with nature is a constant learning experience.

Gardening was very much a big part of our lives. We grew all the vegetables that we would need, for our family of 8, to take us through to the next year’s harvest.   When we saw that Mom was starting to gather the seed packages together, we knew that spring was just around the corner and the work was about to begin. As soon as we hopped off of the school bus on a warm spring afternoon, Mom would instruct her troops to go inside, change our clothes, and then join her out in the garden.   She would string out the line with twine for the next row and begin to make a shallow trench. We would follow along with the packages of seeds, spacing them out as to her directions. While covering up the seeds with the rich, warm soil, we would occasionally uncover an innocent earthworm that would inevitably be seen flying through the air towards an unsuspecting sibling. To this day, the fragrance of lily-of-the-valley, peonies and lilacs takes me right back to my childhood and my time spent in the gardens.

As a child, I loved spending time out in the garden observing how plants grow, how they set their flower buds, and how the fruit would seem to miraculously start to form. I always wondered how a plant knew what it needed to do and when to do it.   Even the insects in the garden captured my attention, especially the cool looking tomato hornworms. Chores like tilling the soil and weeding were enjoyable tasks for me – just don’t tell my Mom.   I wanted to soak up all that nature had to teach me.

After high school, it seemed like a natural fit for me to continue my education by taking a 2 year Horticultural Technician course at Niagara College in St. Catharines.   Who knew that studying plants would mean minoring in Latin? Here, the world of plants was opened up for me and my love for gardening really grew. I finally started to learn some of the answers to the many questions I had as a child.

For the past 25 years I have been employed at Mori Gardens in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON as a Garden Designer and Consultant. I have been privileged over the years to have completed approximately two thousand landscape designs of all sizes, for both commercial and residential properties. I love talking with customers about their gardens and helping them to make their dream gardens become a “growing” reality. I still get excited when someone brings in a diseased plant sample for me to diagnose or when they carry in a glass jar that contains some strange bug for me to examine and then educate them on possible solutions to their problems. I also have many opportunities to teach seminars and workshops on various gardening topics which I enjoy greatly. I love to see both experienced and novice gardeners get excited about plants and start to see the possibilities that lie undiscovered in their own yards.

It is these years of garden knowledge and experience and my love for nature that I would like to share with you through my blog. I will be writing about various garden topics, providing “how-to” instructions, monthly chore lists, and diagnosing different insect and disease problems that you may be encountering in your garden, and sharing some design tips. It is my hope that you, in return, will feel free to reply with any gardening questions that you might have or provide tips that you may have for other gardeners. I am looking forward to helping you with your future gardening endeavors.

Growing together,