Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Garden Close to the Heart

I was uncertain how to title this post when the gardener herself gave me the words: a garden close to the heart.

"A garden had always been a dream since I was a little girl," Joanna tells me on the phone. She grew up in Warsaw, Poland where her family lived in a small apartment. After WWII Warsaw had been left in ruins. The new communist authorities that came to power considered moving the Polish capital to another city. Life under communist rule was not easy either. The socialist food distribution system barely functioned and Poles lived with censorship, rules and restrictions.

For her tenth birthday her parents gave her a book filled with beautiful gardens."It must have cost them a fortune," Joanna speculates. She loved her present and the wide open spaces she saw on its pages. For Joanna, gardens came to represent the possibility of a different sort of life.

Years later Joanna found herself with a choice between immigrating to Canada or Australia. Half a world away from her homeland, Australia seemed too far. In the years since her decision to choose Canada, she's had a chance to visit Australia. "It's a beautiful place," she tells me with the slightest hint of regret in her voice. Who could blame her on a cold day in March when there are snow flurries in the air? Canada offered opportunities and the wide open spaces she had dreamt about as a little girl. Plus she knew people here.

At her lovely home in Mississauga, Joanna has created the garden of her childhood imaginings. 

The space has evolved and changed over the years. "My husband's original idea was to create a mystic garden with a number of rooms," Joanna tells me,"He used his creativity to to incorporate some of his own art installations." 

The idea was to have a garden filled with surprises. Many of the original art pieces were made of wood and rope which weathered over time and eventually disintegrated. Joanna opted not to replace them and instead seized the opportunity to take advantage of the increased light and space. She also deepened and expanded the garden's central feature, a stream and pond with a bridge. 

In her garden Joanna has created spots for birds, chipmunks and all the other natural inhabitants. She's even spotted a coyote. The coyotes seemed to disappear for a few years as the housing subdivision expanded, but they've slowly moved back into the neighbourhood. Joanna will often hear them calling to one another when she walks her dogs. She's not worried about her dogs though. They are rescue dogs from overseas that survived a tough life on the streets.

The decayed stumps of some poplar trees make homes for insects and birds.

A view of backyard from the deck.

In the centre of the yard there is a covered deck with table and chairs.

At the back of the property, Joanna has a vegetable garden. "Tomatoes, beans and lettuce greens do the best," she says, "I will have some heating in my greenhouse as of this spring. There are lettuce seeds planted as of two days ago."

Joanna's own pictures of her vegetable garden.

The vegetable garden is a big job, but Joanna has help from friends. In return, she shares some of the garden's bounty.

Here Joanna has used wide pieces of tree bark to hide the flower pots 
and create a display by the shed.

One of the works of art Joanna's husband created.

A beautiful fern from a shady area of the garden.

A view of the generous wood deck at the back of the house.

The central pond and stream was ment to create a cottage or “Muskoka” feeling in the heart of the city. "I sit on the deck often in the summer feeling not that far from "the lake country” of northern Ontario."

Fish and a number of frogs call the pond home.

Another view of the stream. 

Joanna's own picture of her Bearded Iris.

Gratitude is a very important sentiment for Joanna. She feels a close connection to nature and is grateful for the beauty it provides. 

Years later, Joanna still has the gardening book that her parents gave her back in Poland. I am sure her parents would be proud to see the garden their gift inspired.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Book Giveaway: The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing your Small Yard

“Urban and suburban aren’t so different anymore," writes author Susan Morrison in her new book The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing your Small Garden. And it’s so true! Suburban houses are about the same size, but the lots that they sit on seem to be getting more and more modest in size. A "small" urban garden no longer refers to the outdoor spaces offered in townhouses, condos, and apartments. Tiny backyards are the new normal even in the suburbs.

Susan is a landscape designer with a long, successful career, so it's no surprise that the focus of her book is garden design. It is is a practical, “less is more” approach to gardening that links the design of a garden to the lifestyles of the people who will be using and enjoying it.

This book is aimed primarily at young professionals juggling careers, kids and busy lives. The goal is to get the most out of an outdoor space with least amount of effort.

From the book The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing your Small Yard by Susan Morrison published by Timber Press in 2018. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

When it comes to gardens, bigger isn't always better at any rate. A small garden requires fewer plants and less time to design, install and maintain.

Susan's new book aims to help homeowners make the best use of every square foot of space. When she tallies up her less is more approach to design, there are actually a lot of pluses:

• Less space, more enjoyment
• Less effort, more beauty
• Less maintenance, more relaxation
• Less gardening-by-the-numbers, more YOU.

From the book The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing your Small Yard by Susan Morrison published by Timber Press in 2018. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

I found another review that broke the book down into chapters really helpful, so I thought that I’d take a similar approach:

Chapter 1 poses the questions that will help you match the design of your landscape to your lifestyle: What time of the day and in what seasons are you likely to use the garden? Who will be using the garden? Chapter one also guides you through the process of making allowances in the design for children, guests and even the family pet. 

Chapter 2 tackles a variety of possible design approaches.

Chapter 3 helps homeowners use a small space to its best advantage. Growing vertical, creating an illusion of space and the debate of lawn/no lawn are some of the issues covered.

Chapter 4 addresses sensory elements. Topics covered include attracting wildlife to the garden, including scent, adding color and the relaxing sound of water to the garden.

Chapter 5 looks briefly at a variety of different hardscaping options.

Chapter 6 touches on plants that will make a garden attractive and yet keep it low maintenance: plants with four seasons of interest, dwarf shrubs, long-blooming plants and easy perennials.

Chapter 7 helps you add in personal touches that give a garden style.

From the book The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing your Small Yard by Susan Morrison published by Timber Press in 2018. Excerpted with the permission of the publisher.

This book is represents a modern, realistic approach to gardening where the lifestyle and design intersect to create outdoor spaces that are suited to a family’s needs. In short: gardens that don’t involve a ton of traditional gardening.

I closed the book wondering if this is the way of the future?

My own garden is old-school cottage garden. It’s pretty, but it’s high maintenance. As I set the book down, I began to feel a bit like a dinosaur...but then I paused to reconsider.

The thing I am most passionate about as a gardener is nature and the outdoors, not the labour. Every family deserves a private haven where they can  enjoy being outdoors. If Susan Morrison's less is more approach means that more people are doing just that, then we are actually on the same page. After all, reconnecting with nature is were a passion for gardening is often born.

The Less is More Garden is filled with the wisdom honed from Susan's experience as a designer, lots of practical advice and stylish examples of her less is more approach. There may come a time in the not so distant future when my creaking back and rickety knees see me trading in my high maintenance plot for a garden that is much smaller, but hopefully just as beautiful.

Thanks to Timber Press for providing a copy of The Less is More Garden: Big Ideas for Designing your Small Garden for me to give away. Because this book will go to a winner through the mail, we will have to limit entry to readers in Canada and the USA. 

Please leave a comment below, if you would like to be included in the book draw. The draw will remain open until Saturday, March 31stIf you are not a blogger, you can enter by leaving a comment on the Three Dogs in a Garden Facebook page (there is an additional link to the Facebook page at the bottom of the blog). You are also welcome to enter by sending me an email (

About the Author:

Susan Morrison is a nationally recognized landscape designer and authority on small-space garden design. She has shared her strategies on the PBS series Growing a Greener World and in publications such as Fine Gardening. Morrison has also served as editor-in-chief of The Designer, a digital magazine produced by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

An Art Collector's Garden

with photography by Maggie Sale

There was a time when art collections were displayed in grand homes, and were a sign of wealth and privilege, but with the advent of the internet, the popularity of artist run co-ops and studio tours, works of art have never been more accessible or affordable for the average person.

At her home in Guelph, Ontario, Maggie Sale has gathered a collection of artwork that she displays in her large suburban garden.

"Having an English background, combined with artistic family members, and having travelled throughout the UK and other places where there are beautiful gardens, I have always appreciated art in the garden. I guess it was inevitable that I would find my own pieces, but never set to become an art collector!," she says.  

Maggie is an accomplished photographer and world traveler whose adventures have taken her to far off places like Iceland, Morocco, Spain, Istanbul and Jordan. Last fall Maggie and her husband Julian visited Peru. Then in February, they toured parts of Sri Lanka for sixteen days.

If you have a moment, pop over and take a look at the image galleries that chronicle some of Maggie's travels. From her recent trip to Peru, there are stunning views of Machu Picchu, a 15th century Inca citadel situated on a mountain range almost eight thousand feet above sea level.  There are also images of ancient temples and crumbling palaces, elephants and other exotic creatures from her most recent visit to Sri Lanka.

Maggie's collection of artwork began with a purchase for the couple's English summer home.

"The first piece was purchased in England for our 1850's stone and slate cottage which had a small walled garden. At that time we moved from Toronto, where we had a very small townhouse garden, with no art, to a larger home in Guelph. I began to acquire additional artwork for the cottage and pieces for the garden of our new house," says Maggie.

Both Maggie's passion for photography and her travels have been a great sources of inspiration.

"Travelling certainly helps you appreciate other countries, their culture and uniqueness," she says,"Photography takes this a step further, where you are developing your "eye", searching for interesting subject matter and compositions, whether in natural or man-made environments, or in large or small scale."

"I think there is no doubt that both travel and my photography have influenced my own creativity, which in turn has had a spill-over effect into the garden, an important but more recently developed aspect of my life. Colour, form and texture in the garden and the way plants are grouped, are all influenced by developing ones "eye" just as it does in photography." 

While the focus of this post is art in the garden, I would hate to miss the opportunity to draw your attention to the beauty of the garden itself. 

A carpet of groundcovers, which hug the earth, and low-growing, mounded perennials keep the front garden looking every bit as tidy and presentable as a lawn. This is not to say that the garden is flat by any means. Groups of taller perennials create an gently undulating landscape of hills and valleys.

Even without a ton of flowers, there is still lots of color. In the foreground of Maggie's photograph (above) Creeping Thyme and Silvermound, Artemisia schmidtiana add a hint of blue-green. A couple of burgundy colored Heuchera add warm color into the mix. Yellow springs from the Angelina Stonecrop, Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'.

One clever design trick is the flagstone pathway that links the front yard with the boulevard garden. Even though the sidewalk divides the overall garden into these two distinct areas, the path joins them into a unified whole.

This post looks primarily on the front garden, which I haven't featured before, but you can take a tour of the back garden here.

In this photograph, Maggie has captured a tapestry of shade loving perennials. 

1. Ostrich Fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris 2. Fern-leaf Bleeding Heart, Dicentra 3. Hosta 4. Golden Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' 5. Japanese Fern, Athyrium niponicum 6. Autumn Fern, Dryopteris erythrosora 7. Miniature Hosta 8. Lamium 9. Hosta

How to choose an Artwork

For most people, artwork represents a bit of an investment. If your spending money, you don't want to get it wrong. Where do you even begin to choose a piece of art? 

Choose artwork that speak to you on a personal level. This makes it impossible to go wrong. 

"As soon as I saw this piece of art, I knew it was the right accent for my rock garden at the front of the house," says Maggie.

"It is visible from the sidewalk and sits on top of a slight berm where it's circular form draws attention. It was made by an artist (unknown to me) in the Ottawa region and was bought from an art gallery in Eden Mills, near Guelph. The slate layers remind me of slate buildings and walls in the UK. The metal has now taken on a lovely rusty patina."

A couple of Tips on Choosing Artwork for the Garden:

• Think about where you want to place a piece of art when your making your choice. A large sculpture makes an excellent garden focal point. By its very nature, the location of a smaller work of art is likely to be somewhat obscured by foliage and flowers. A small sculpture is often a nice surprise that you happen upon as you stroll through the garden. 

• Ignore the rule that says you ought to choose small artwork for a small garden. Depending on the piece, one large sculpture in a small garden can be quite stunning.

• Another rule suggests that artwork you choose should be in keeping with the style of your home. To me this is a little like matching a painting to the color of the sofa. With the right placement, a contemporary piece can look terrific in the garden of a more traditional home and vice versa.

• The impact an artwork will have is somewhat determined by scale. A large sculpture makes a big statement. A small sculpture speaks quietly.

1. Mountain Bluet, Centaurea montana 2. Dwarf Bearded Iris 3. Arabis or Rock cress 4. Heuchera 5. Snow-in-summer, Cerastium tomentosum 6. Sweet Woodruff, Galium odoratum 7. Dwarf Bearded Iris

This is a photograph of the front of the house a little later in the summer. Daylilies, Echinacea and Russian Sage (not shown) are a few of the perennials that add mid-summer color.

Like any garden ornament, a work of art can be something unexpected you happen upon.

"This was the first Shona sculpture from Zimbabwe that we acquired," says Maggie, "It was bought for our cottage from a local art gallery owner, who was a friend of my mother. It introduced me to a beautiful style of African art that I didn't know before." 

"When we sold our cottage 3 years ago, we brought the sculpture and a couple of other pieces of garden art back to Guelph. This small sculpture, almost hidden until you stand in front of the small rock garden in the backyard, complements the plantings and existing rocks perfectly - a happy coincidence!"

A few Tips for Displaying Artwork in a Garden Setting:

• Less is more. Too much visual clutter diminishes the impact of each piece. Don't ask artwork to compete for the attention of garden visitors.

•Aim for contrast to help a sculpture stand out in the landscape. For example, place light objects against a dark background of foliage and set a dark artwork in front of bright flowers and foliage.

• One of the biggest trends in interior design is an eclectic mix that mixes traditional and contemporary furniture and accessories. There is nothing to say that the same approach won't work in a garden setting. Go ahead and mix different types of artwork (example a traditional figure with a modern sculpture). Just be sure to give each piece enough space to shine.

Artwork need not be big or grand to be meaningful. It can be something as small as a single poppy. 

"The red ceramic poppy was a gift to my husband Julian from my brother in England," explains Maggie.

"The poppy is a remembrance of Julian's uncle who died in the second world war. It was one of the red poppies that were part of an art installation at the Tower of London in 2014 to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war (the poppies numbered over 880,000 - one for every British service person who died in WW1). The poppies were sold afterwards to the public to raise funds for service charities."

Family members have added their own unique genius to Maggie's collection.

"The cedar driftwood was picked up by my in-law's many, many years ago on one of their frequent fishing trips to Georgian Bay," says Maggie.

"Our son Jayce, who creates art out of found objects, used a piece of red metal (resembling a moth), which he found when the house next door to his home in Vancouver was demolished, to make the piece that fits perfectly into the top part of the driftwood."

The ceramic owl that now presides over this planting is another of the pieces Maggie brought back to Canada when she and Julian sold their property in England a few years ago.

"Every year there was a pottery festival at one of the stately homes near our cottage in Cumbria in the north west of England. Simon Griffiths was a artist who had many birds, animals etc. in his stall there. They were so life-like that I knew it would be a wonderful garden ornament for our cottage, so we bought the Tawny Owl. When we sold the cottage, we brought it back to Canada. We found a post in a local wood and erected it in our garden here," Maggie recounts.

This last piece of artwork owes its inspiration from a place far from Canada.

"We lost a large locust tree in a storm a few years ago which resulted in a corner opening up. I decided it was an ideal place to put a larger statement piece of art. The swirling black stone sculpture made by Sylvester Samanyanga, an artist from the Shona tribe of the indigenous people of Zimbabwe, was bought last summer at an outdoor art gallery near Peterborough called ZimArt's Rice Lake GalleryIt makes a nice focal point in the back garden."says Maggie.

To close this post, I asked Maggie to make a few suggestions for someone looking to start a collection of their own:

• Start small and local

• Go on a garden tour to see what other gardeners are doing with plantings and art. 

• Visit local public gardens and art galleries for a broader picture. 

• Take a studio art tour and learn about and visit local artists - you might find the perfect piece right on your doorstep! 

• Expand your search with the internet, if you are travelling.

• Above all, be patient and enjoy your search! It might take some time to find the right piece(s). Art collections grow with time and can't really be achieved in a hurry - but they are worth the wait!

Great advice to be sure!

 Many thanks to Maggie for sharing her art collection and garden
through this lovely series of photographs.

About the Photographer: 

Maggie Sale is originally from England and has lived in Canada for over 40 years with her husband Julian. Most of her photography is done outdoors, and often involves travel, which she loves. Maggie is a life member of the Etobicoke Camera Club, a member of the Grand River Imaging and Photographic Society and the Canadian Association for Photographic Art. Her photographs have been published in magazines and books in Canada, the USA and UK. Maggie is also a member of the Guelph Horticultural Society and is a committee member and photographer for the Guelph Annual Garden Tour. Her website is

Thursday, March 1, 2018

New Shrubs for 2018

Pollypetite® Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus sp. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

You'll notice that "dwarf" is a recurring descriptive in this post. Smaller yards mean that gardeners are looking for small-scale shrubs and growers have responded with new dwarf versions of classic favourites.

I'm opening with this dwarf Rose of Sharon. If you dislike this kind of shrub for having a plethora of unwanted seedlings, you'll be glad to hear that the new Pollypetite® is nearly seedless.

Pollypetite® Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus sp. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

And how pretty does its cool pink blooms look paired with this greenish-white hydrangea? (quite possibly a BoBo® hydrangea paniculata– a 2017 introduction)

Pollypetite® Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus sp. has a rounded, wide habit. In summer it's loaded with lavender-pink blooms floating over handsome dark blue-green foliage.

Full sun
Moisture: average
Deer resistant
Blooms on new wood  (prune in early spring)
Height: 36 - 48 Inches
Spread: 48 - 60 Inches
USDA zones: 5-9

The feathery pink plumes of "smoke" are  fine hairs on infertile flowers.

I have wanted a purple smokebush (cotinus) for ages, but they can grow to reach epic proportions. Where on earth could I squeeze a large shrub like this into my already crowded garden?

Their clouds of pink "smoke" in mid-summer are a nice feature, but what I really like is their deep maroon colored foliage.

 Winecraft Black®, Cotinus coggygria. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

Winecraft Black®, Cotinus coggygria  Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

So I'm super excited to see Proven Winners® is now offering a dwarf cultivar. Maybe I can finally fit a smokebush in somewhere!

Winecraft Black®, Cotinus coggygria has round leaves that are a rich purple in the spring. As summer heats up, the leaves turn a deep near-black tone. In the fall, the foliage turns an array of reds and oranges. Soft panicles of bloom appear in spring and become the misty "smoke". Unlike older cultivars, this smokebush has a rounded, dwarf habitWinecraft Black® smokebush is very easy to care for and requires little to nothing in the way of regular maintenance.

Full sun
Soil: average Moisture: average
Deer and rabbit resistant
Blooms on new wood
Height: 48 - 72 Inches
Spread: 48 - 72 Inches
USDA zones: 4-8

On the left is a Pugstar Blue® Butterfly Bush. In the middle is Pugstar White®. On the right is Pugstar Pink®. Photos courtesy of Proven Winners® 

Pugster Periwinkle®. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

I seem to have terrible luck over-wintering Butterfly Bushes. This Pugstar® series offers increased cold hardiness and full sized flowers on a dwarf-sized shrub. Dare I try one?

Pugster® butterfly bushes are the first to offer large, dense blooms on a small frame. They bloom from summer through frost without deadheading. The thick, heavy stems of Pugster® butterfly bushes ensure better hardiness in cold areas.

Full sun
Soil: well-drained Moisture: low
Deer and rabbit resistant
Blooms on new wood
Height: 36-48 Inches
Spread: 24-36 Inches
USDA zones: 5-9

Festivus Gold® Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

Festivus Gold® Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

I already have four Ninebark shrubs in my garden. This new cultivar, with its striking yellow foliage, tempts me to consider adding yet another.

Festivus Gold® Ninebark Physocarpus opulifolius has a semi-dwarf habit and yellow-green foliage. Even in full sun, the foliage stays bright and is free from the fungal diseases that plague other varieties. In spring, the entire plant is covered in white flower clusters. Ninebark are native to North America, so they are extra tough and adaptable to various sites and soils. Once established, they are quite drought tolerant, but will benefit from a layer of shredded bark mulch. 

Full sun (6-8 hrs.)
Soil: average Moisture: average
Blooms on old wood (It's best to avoid any kind of regular trimming or pruning of ninebarks. However, dead wood may be removed in spring. Should further pruning be required, do so immediately after flowering is finished.) 
Height: 48 - 60 Inches
Spread: 36 - 48 Inches
USDA zones: 3-7 

 Invincibelle Mini Mauvette® (left picture) and in the centre (right picture). 
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

Invincibelle Mini Mauvette®. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

I have a pale pink Invincibelle Spirit®, which I absolutely love, so of course this new introduction caught my eye.

Invincibelle Mini Mauvette® hydrangea blooms every single year, even in cold climates. It's the same type of hydrangea as the classic and much-loved 'Annabelle' but instead of plain white blooms, the flowers are a deep pink-mauve. The stems are strong and sturdy, so the flowers don't flop. It blooms in early summer, and continues through to frost. 

Part sun to sun (minimum of 6 hrs. of sun)
Moisture: average (Mulch recommended to help conserve water)
Blooms on  new wood (Prune in early spring. Cut the entire plant by one-third its total height)
Height: 30-36 Inches
Spread: 36 - 48 Inches
USDA zones: 3-9 

There is also a white option. Invincibelle Wee White®Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

A full sized Doublefile Viburnum. Private garden in Toronto.

Up next is yet another dwarf (I warned you it would be a recurring theme!)

A traditional Doublefile Viburnum (seen above) is a glorious thing, but again, it is enormous. The new Wabi-Sabi® Doublefile viburnum Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum (seen below) is a lot smaller.

Wabi-Sabi® Doublefile viburnum Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

To be honest, I don't think this new cultivar would have quite the same drama as the full-sized Doublefile viburnum, but its modest proportions allows Wabi-Sabi®  to step out of the background and become a shrub you might use at the front of your garden.

Wabi-Sabi® Doublefile viburnum Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum grows low and wide, making it perfect for the front of beds, planting atop walls, or lining walkways. Every branch bears large, pure white lacecap flowers. Like all viburnums, it is somewhat shade tolerant. Plant in well-drained soil and sun to part sun for best results. 

Part sun to sun
Soil: average, well-drained  Moisture: average
Deer and rabbit resistant
Blooms on old wood (Pruning should not be required regularly, but if you wish to prune, do so after flowering. )
Height: 24 - 36 Inches
Spread: 48 - 60 Inches
USDA zones: 5-8

Czechmark® Trilogy (left) and Czechmark® TwoPink (right)
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

Czechmark Sunny Side Up™ Weigela. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

Czechmark Sunny Side Up™ Weigela. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

The Czechmark® series of shrubs promises heavier blooming than a typical weigela. Czechmark Sunny Side Up™ Weigela caught my attention for its white flowers and its apple-green leaves. And look how pretty it looks in a mass planting (see above)

There are also two pink cultivars; Czechmark® Trilogy and Czechmark® TwoPink (also see above). 
Plant in full sun for the very best floral display, but a little light shade isn't too harmful, particularly in hotter climates.

Soil: average Moisture: average 
Deer and rabbit resistant
Blooms on old wood
Height: 36-54 Inches
Spread: 36-54 Inches
USDA zones: 4-8 

Tandoori Orange® Viburnum dilatatum. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners® 

This is not a sponsored blog post. I have showcased new introductions that appealed to me personally in hopes you might be interested in them too. 

Even though I famously write ridiculously long blogs, there are more new shrubs than even I dare include in a single post. You can check them out by visiting

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