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Energize Your Garden
Centre of the City, Toronto, May/June 2004

Looking to give your garden a ’pick-me-up’ this season. Maybe bring new life and colour to an unused corner. You don’t always have to start over. A new highlight can make all the difference, and some of the new plant selections for this year may be just what you need.

One of the most eye–popping introductions is the new ’Dre’s Dagger’ fern <Athyrium filix-femina ’Dre’s Dagger’>, with thin, deep green fronds than crisscross in a striking display. It grows to 45cm tall and wide and will be happy in moist soil and shade or morning sun. Another new fern is ’Pewter Lace’ Japanese painted fern <Athyrium niponicum var. pictum ’Pewter Lace’>. As the name implies, foliage is pewter–coloured, giving a change to the regular fern colourings. ’Pewter Lace’ has been named Perennial of the Year, 2004, by the Perennial Plant Association <US>, and both can be easily teamed with hostas and other bold textured plantings for great visual diversity.

Tickseed varieties have been around for quite some time. They are quite reliable and very low maintenance. A new variety, Coreopsis ’Creme Brul´’ has arrived, however, that should make this standard even more desirable. Said to bloom non–stop from late spring to fall, this plant is more vigorous, has larger and more abundant flowers, and the flowers grow up the stalks so your planting appears fuller. This plant loves the sun, tolerates drought, and if you shear the plants off in late summer, you get a new set of blooms for fall.

If you want something to take over a patch of ground, then yarrow is for you. In general with yarrow, you plant sparingly and keep it in check, as it can be a rapid spreader.. As a change to the common pink and yellow varieties, a new introduction, Achillea millefolium ’Red Velvet’ has vivid rosy–red flowers growing up to 30 inches tall, that should not to fade with age. It will thrive in most soil and exposures, and even seems to prefer a sandy, infertile environment. ’Red Velvet’ loves full sun, where it produces best colour, but will tolerate some shade.

A constant favourite for it’s subtlety and grace is the hellebore. Sometimes known as the Christmas Rose, perennial Helleborus niger is often hard to come by, but worth the effort of seeking it out. This particular hellebore is hardy to zone 4, which is fine for Toronto. Other hellebore varieties are advertised as hardy to zone 6 or greater, and may be touch–and–go for our area, even with protection. Hellebore flowers may be single– or double–bloom, and colour varies, but is usually pale green, pale pink or white. They like semi–shaded, slightly alkaline soil, need moisture, but will tolerate our hot summers well.

The Coral Bells, or Heuchera family, is a long–time favourite with a few new variations this year. The usual versions have burgundy or green foliage, topped with long wavy stems of either white or red flowers. Heuchera ’Lime Rickey’ bears lime green foliage with short–lived white spring flowers. This stunning plant would work well to brighten a dark corner, or as the centre of a container planting. Or create a grouping of varieties such as Heuchera ’Marmalade’ with shiny orange–to–umber foliage and red–brown flower spikes, and Heuchera ’City Lights’ with bronze foliage and creamy spikes.

As a stunning focal point in a rock garden, a good choice is the barberry ’Sunsation’ <berberis thunbergii ’Sunsation’>, a compact, low–growing shrub with vibrant yellow–green foliage. It likes a well–drained environment, but don’t let it dry out or pouts and it drops its leaves. On a corner or on top of a retaining wall, try it’s cousin, ’Rose Glow’ <berberis thunbergii ’Rose Glow’>. With a graceful drooping bough habit, new foliage for this plant starts out rosey-pink turning darker and mottled as it matures. It ends summer as deep mottled red–purple and turns bright orangey–red in the fall. Best colour will be achieved with full sun exposure. This plant provides great garden refuge for small birds, and has bright cherry–red fruit that stays all winter. Both varieties were introduced to Canada in the past couple of years, and winter well.

To add some cheer to a long stretch of sunny or semi–shaded wooden fencing, one of the best displays I’ve seen included side–by–side groupings of different lily varieties. It may sound very tried and true and unexciting, but having visited that garden, I have added a lot more lilies to mine, this time around. Try a mix of Asiatic Hybrid and Trumpet lilies to bloom in June and July, mixed with some Oriental Hybrids that will follow in mid to late August. Plant in groupings of the same variety and colour to make a stunning display.

As an alternative, try plantings of daylilies instead of Asiatics. The foliage stays lush and vivid even after the blooms fade away. Daylilies include the common yellow and orange seen everywhere, but new varieties are introduced all the time, and include pale to deep pink, crimson, coral–coloured, and ones with ruffled edges or star–markings on the petals. They’re lovely, low–maintenance, expand over the years and as a rule, rarely need dividing. These plants will perform for you in the most trying circumstances. I have some orange daylilies <hemerocallis fulva> planted underneath a burning bush <euonymus alata>. The lilies grow up into the euonymus and come into bloom just as the shrub reaches full leaf. No problem  –  the lily blooms reach for the sun and pop out of the solid green of the euonymus, looking for all the world like a new plant species. Very pretty.

A good tip for planning new plant purchases is to look for something that has attractive qualities even when it’s not in bloom. Look at the foliage of the plants nearby, and find a new plant on which the foliage contrasts in either colour or texture, with its surroundings. For example, try the large blue–green ribbed leaves of a hosta against the delicate arch of a fern or the pale green of a heuchera. Try to keep in mind the size each plant will attain over the next couple of years, so that one doesn’t overtake the other.


Helen Kirkup
HMK Consultants
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Also by Helen Kirkup:
The Kirkups: Pioneers & Travellers
Available now on Amazon.com