Thrillers, Fillers, and Spillers

When designing summer, autumn, or winter containers be sure to follow the thrillers, fillers, and spillers rule for maximum effect. The “thriller” is the center, tallest plant. The spillers go around the perimeter of the pot; choose ones that sprawl “spill” over the edges. The fillers go in between the thrillers and the spillers to fill in the bare spots.

photo credit

Annuals or Perennials?

Most people choose annuals over perennials for their summer containers. That’s because annuals bloom all summer until frost kills them off. Perennials, on the other hand, bloom for two weeks on average, if you’re lucky. You can use a combination of both for your thrillers, fillers, and spillers. For example, perennial ornamental grasses make an awesome, inexpensive (dig a clump up from your garden) “thriller” (center) for containers.

Sun or Shade?

When designing your container, be sure to take its intended location into consideration. Some plants (both annuals and perennials) like full sun, others full shade, with others somewhere in between. Don’t try to combine these different requirements in the same container. If you do, some will thrive, and others will fizzle.

You can probably tell from these pictures that coleus and hibiscus are my favourite annuals for shade and sun containers respectively….

Fertilizer

Containers of annuals can be fertilized weekly right up until frost. This practice will keep the annuals looking cheerful as long as possible. Perennials need less fertilizer, especially those in garden beds when monthly is ideal up until August (in zone 4/5).

Deadheading and Pinching

Deadheading, or removing spent blossoms, helps to keep your containers looking nice all season. For annuals and perennials with flowers on stalks, remove the stalk right back to the first set of leaves after the flower has passed its peak. This practice often encourages repeat blooming. Others just need the faded flowers picked off.

Pinching the center of annuals and perennials encourages them to get bushier instead of leggy.

Frost Warnings

While annuals will be affected by frost, most perennials will not. Some annuals tolerate a light frost, others not so much. Of course, the first frost date varies across the globe, sometimes year to year within the same area.

In other words, frost is unpredictable.

Perennials can overwinter in your containers if you choose plants two zones hardier than what is normally hardy in your area. Otherwise, you can stick them in the ground to overwinter, to use again the following spring.

You can extend the season on both ends by heeding frost warnings in your weather forecast. In the spring I tend to start my containers early to ensure I get the annuals I want. If a frost warning is issued, I move the containers into my garage, off the (cold) cement floor, for the night in question. The same technique can be used in the fall when a sporadic early frost is in the forecast.

Once frost has set in for several days, you are fighting a lost cause. It’s then time to switch your concentration to fall or winter containers. Use the same thrillers, fillers, and spillers technique to create unique designs…

Household Toxins Might be Making you Sick

household toxins

Common household toxins may be making you sick.  In some cases you don’t even know you are sick. Toxins are present in your home in the form of cleaning products, paints, furniture, synthetic building materials such as particle board and insulation, carpets, and even your printer and photocopier! Learn about the common culprits and just what they can do to your health.

VOCs are Household Toxins

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are harmful gases released by all of the common household items listed above.  These gases cause lethargy, skin rashes, headaches, drowsiness, itchy eyes, asthma-like symptoms, and even cancer.

Be aware of what you are bringing into your home!  I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when I was cleaning my house.  Out of my usual brand of toilet cleaner, I grabbed a bottle of Javex sitting around the house from my pre-toxin awareness days.   I used it (sparingly) to clean the toilets in my home…

Symptoms of Household Toxins

The next day I woke up with what I thought was the start of a cold.  My chest felt heavy and I could not seem to draw a full breath into my lungs.  I also had a vague headache, and a “tickle” in my throat, but no other cold like symptoms developed.  Later on that day, I developed a shallow, dry cough which felt like my lungs were trying to clear whatever was irritating them. 

These symptoms lasted for four days.  Coincidence?   I don’t think so; this is how my lungs felt most of the time before I switched to non-toxic products. The products I now use are all made with tea tree oil, an anti-viral, anti-bacterial, natural ingredient.  My respirologist agrees, as my asthma-like symptoms have disappeared since switching to these non-toxic products.

Houseplants Remove Household Toxins

You can also make your home healthier by adding house plants to your decor.  Not only do plants look nice, but they can also help keep your family healthy.  Carbon dioxide and the VOCs described above, as well as other harmful gases such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene are absorbed through the roots as well as through pores in the leaves of plants.   In exchange, beneficial and healthy products like oxygen and moisture are released into the air for us to breathe.

Choose plants such as spider plants, dracaena, English ivy, mother-in-law tongues, bamboo palms, and other tropical plants. These choices are all easy to grow and readily available.  Tropical plants are suitable for indoors in homes and offices because they are used to growing and processing gases in reduced light under the canopies of jungles and rain forests.  Water your plants thoroughly with warm water and let the soil dry out between watering; too much water is the easiest way to kill your house plants.

Fifteen medium to large plants (greater than six-inch pots) in an average-sized 2000 square foot home can greatly improve the air quality in your home. So, get growing!

In Conclusion

Get rid of the common household toxins making your family sick by removing offending chemical compounds and adding houseplants. Check out a recent post on what I’ve learned about houseplant care. My house is fast becoming a jungle, but I love it.

A green landscape outside can improve the air quality in your yard and even your neighbourhood as well. Planting lots of shrubs, trees, perennials and annuals can turn your yards into a healthy environment for you as well as the birds and other wildlife.

Garden Renovation at Ruddy Shenkman Hospice

gardening business

Recently Gardens4u expanded the front garden at the Ruddy Shenkman Hospice (RSH) in Kanata. I have been volunteering my (gardening) services at RSH for several years now, shortly after it moved to my neighbourhood.

Only the Good Die Young

This project has been a vision in my brain for a while; I just had to wait until all parties were onboard and permission was granted. As a non-profit organization there are always lots of hoops to jump through.

A few existing shrubs were left in place, in particular the burning bush which is gorgeous this time of year. Two large spreading junipers were trimmed and shaped, but will remain in the garden, mainly because they would be much too difficult (for me) to remove. They also provide winter interest as they are evergreen in our climate.

The first step was to mark out the shape of the new garden using a garden hose and black spray paint. My granddaughter was on hand as the inspector for that job…

Next, to save time as well as my back, I enlisted the help of Tim Driscoll of TD Small Loads who scraped the sod and carted it away.

When that chore was complete, we spread the composted manure donated and delivered by Ritchies Feed & Seed on Carp Road in Stittsville.

After the soil amendment came the plants, many of which were donated by other members of the RSH garden team as well as some of my neighbours. The large shrubs were also selected from and donated by Ritchies. I placed the shrubs and perennials strategically in the garden, still in their pots, according to their bloom time and colour, foliage shape as well as their mature size. A few tweaks here and there are always the norm before holes are dug and actual planting takes place.

The final step is to fill any blank spots in with contributions from my own gardens. Then a layer of cedar mulch (also donated and delivered from Ritchies) finishes the garden off…

I can’t wait until this garden matures, it should look beautiful!!

October blooms in Gardens4me

October blooms

Who can believe that October is here already? Not me. Not Gardens4me either as they are still producing lots of blooms.

New this month is the silver lace vine I have adorning my garden shelves/work bench. What a mess this shelving unit is, another job for my fall to do list.

Another fall blooming perennial is the aster, a little soggy in this picture, cheerful none the less…

October blooms
aster

Also putting in a (late) appearance is my beautiful white and red hibiscus…

Roses are still blooming beautifully…

…as is tickseed. Did you know if you cut tickseed back immediately after it first blooms in the summer it will rebloom? This picture is my proof..

October blooms
tickseed

Also reblooming for the third (!!!) time this season is my weigela. It requires no maintenance to make it rebloom, just warm weather…

Annuals in containers are still eye catching, including a gorgeous pal blush pink hibiscus, even though we have had a few frosty nights.

One annual I was disappointed in this summer was the cardinal flower vine on my bamboo teepees. Although the foliage is unique, the blooms (other than a sporadic one mentioned earlier) have only just shown up in earnest….

The frosty nights have caused the leaves to start their colour transformation. From green to red with various shades in between. The vine on my back deck (or green room) is no exception…

We can’t complain about the advancing calendar too much though as our summer here in Eastern Ontario has been awesome. A tad too hot and dry for our lawns, but awesome for we humans. With one daughter-in-law on maternity leave, I was able to spend more time than usual at the lake with her and two of my grandchildren. With pandemic restrictions in place we were not allowed to do much else, so cottage life was the perfect answer.

The rain this week has been great for the fall lawn repair my yard so badly needs. The temperature has been warm too, so my Gardens4me blooms should last a while longer.

Mid September Blooms in Gardens4me

Cooler days and nights in mid September makes for much easier gardening. One of my favourite perennial plants this time of year are the cool season ornamental grasses. There are so many varieties to choose from these days, but my favourite is still what I call “fireworks,” for obvious reasons. Its real name is Maiden Grass Silberfeder or Miscanthus Sinensis. Whatever you call it, it is gorgeous!

 There is not much new in Gardens4me this time, but many perennials are still looking dapper. For example, the roses, coneflowers (I love its seed heads too), geraniums and butterfly bushes just won’t quit, not that I’m complaining, and the Turtlehead I mentioned at the beginning of the month has produced even more unique blossoms…

Oh, and my hibiscus is finally making an appearance, a bit later than usual.  I figure my magnolia tree has shaded the hibiscus too much so I plan to trim a few of the lower branches from the magnolia to restore the full sun conditions in that bed.

I’m feeling left out; everyone elses’s hibiscus have been blooming for weeks now.

The coleus I planted are also still beautiful in containers at my local hospice and in my own garden. I love the way the vivid colours appear to be randomly splattered across the leaves…

 

With frost in the forecast a few nights this week, who knows what next week will bring……..stay tuned!

Early September in Gardens4me

Although the calendar says early September, the summer weather (heat and humidity) is still going strong. That means many of the perennials blooming last month are still looking good…

Coming into their own this month are the seedheads of the fall grasses that look awesome in the garden or in containers on a deck or veranda…

…as well as another perennial called Turtlehead (I had never heard of it, but it looked promising at the nursery), and an annual vine called Cardinal Climber…

I have lots of roses thriving in Gardens4me, in many different varieties and colours. I love the roses because they bloom off and on all summer and well into the fall. They are also (believe it or not!) relatively low maintenance. Last month I posted a picture of one such rose just starting a second bloom. Here it is (first pic) this week with (just) a few more of its thorny cousins…

My two and a half year old granddaughter loves to play hide and seek in Gardens4me. Now that she has discovered the stepping stones leading into each corner and was taught how to gently move the plants out of the way, she runs from one corner to the next. She is still young enough to think that if she can’t see all of me I can’t see her. So precious!

One of my clients was disenchanted with the statues in his garden, (at least his wife was) so I brought them home and added them to mine knowing my grandkids would love them. The black bear is a favourite; this granddaughter likes to pet it and give it a bath with the hose while my three-and-a-half year old, bug-loving grandson searches for the bugs hiding underneath the bear!

The frog (a mothers day gift from my son years ago), the racoon family (from my father’s garden), and the heron are well loved too. The rabbit hiding in the hostas is pretty banged up now as this same granddaughter used to carry (and drop it) it around everywhere.

Coming into focus soon are the fall favourites such as sedum “Autumn Joy” and more grasses. Although this grass is an annual, I plant it in containers each year and am never disappointed with its pinky-purple plumes this time of year.

Stay tuned for more pictures later this month!

Love of Gardening is Contagious

My (almost) seven year old granddaughter has been asking me to make a flower garden at her house to surprise her mom. She has been spending one day a week with me recently; we decided today was the day, now that it has cooled off a bit.

My son was to dig out the sod, but was not working locally today to get home at lunch to do it, so we girls had to do that tedious job ourselves.

After the digging and soil preparation was done we took a break for lunch.

Next we added composted manure, then the plants…

Love of Gardening is Contagious

The finishing touch was the mulch…

I was impressed at my granddaughter’s perseverance, she lasted 4.5 hours with only one short break at lunch time. I guess I should have had her sign a waiver in case anyone reports me for abusing the child labor laws.

Next Gardens4U Project

My most recent Gardens4U project involved two new garden beds for the back corners of a large, pie-shaped lot. The yard has a large swimming pool so the corner beds were placed far enough way that pool water will not splash onto the plantings. The clients’ own three dogs, so my plans also had to allow for a running area between the flower beds and the pool. Check out the before and after shots…

To save my time (not to mention my back) and the expense involved, the client dug out the beds after I marked them out. I added composted manure to improve the clay-laden soil, then arranged the perennials and shrubs according to their potential sizes at maturity as well as their bloom time and colour.

When the temperatures cooled off a bit, and I was happy with the placement of plants, I spent half a day planting them in their new beds. Note the drain in one corner bed, a low point in the area that rainwater from several adjacent lots drain into. It is imperative that this drainage site not be adversely affected when adding soil and plants. Although this consideration makes the one bed appear oddly shaped and lacking soil, the drain will not be visible when the plants grow to mature size. After planting, the garden beds were then edged to leave a clear demarcation line between the gardens and the lawn…

Once the perennials and shrubs were watered in well, (every day for a week) I added dark brown, cedar mulch for the finishing touch. The plantings may look a bit sparse right now, but in a few seasons from now they will have reached their full, mature size. If I plant too many plants and too close together, I will have unhappy clients in a few years…

I also talked the clients into outlining the perimeter of their above-ground pool with river rock. They did this project themselves; I think it looks great!

pool edged with river rock

You can see the one corner garden at the back left, peeking out from behind the pool. Onto the next project! Now that the weather has cooled off I can get more done before garden fall cleanups start.

Recent Gardens4U Project

gardening business

Gardens4U recently finished another project. As projects go, this was a fairly simple one. The client had an existing garden in her front yard, but wanted to add some pizazz to it. With lack of sun exposure the predominant issue, my challenge was to find a larger and unique variety of perennials that would perform well in those conditions.

The old garden featured a pair of shade-loving hostas as well as a pair of peonies that were stretching for the sun. While I am not overly fond of hostas (I am a bit of a plant snob afterall) I did reuse these pretty lime green ones.

The new version offers a wider variety of shade loving, colorful perennials as well as a more attractive shape. The new additions are spaced to accommodate the mature size they will reach in a few seasons. Of course the plants in the back row will grow taller than the ones in the middle and front rows. The peonies were also reused, moved forward to benefit from more sunshine. The foliage wilted when I moved them, so I cut them back, assuring the client that they (the peonies) will return next season.

gardens4u
after

One month later, this is what the garden looks like. Despite the incredible heat wave we have been experiencing here in the Ottawa area, the plants have survived and are thriving…

Next season it should look absolutely gorgeous as the plants in the back will have grown taller and all plants will be fuller. I am especially anxious to see the progress of the vivid pink rhododendron I planted in the back left corner. It was chosen as an ideal candidate to anchor the garden, perfect for the part sun conditions that corner has to offer, with a mature height of five feet.

Early July Blooms in Gardens4me

We have had an extraordinary summer so far, with weeks of hot dry weather. My lawns have taken a beating with the extensive drought, but my gardens are still looking good in early July. When planning my gardens, I chose drought tolerant perennials that could handle little to no maintenance. These choices are being tested this summer.

This next set of pictures are some of the annuals I have planted in various containers on my front veranda and back deck. Succulents continue to be some of my favourites for containers; they love the drought…

A soaker hose prevents my perennial gardens from drying out in this heat, I have used it quite frequently lately. For those of you not familiar with soaker hoses, they are rubber hoses with tiny holes in them so water sprays at the base of plants. Set up early in the spring as perennials are emerging, the hose will disappear into the foliage by this time of year. Connect as many as you need to snake through your garden, especially in the areas that receive lots of sun. Turn it on early in the morning and let it run for several hours.

My granddaughter is always willing to help me water the gardens and containers too…

helping Grandma water

Although, now that she is a “big girl” of two and half years, she has graduated to manning the hose…