Margaret's Blog

My personal garden

Margaret Bennet-Alder

Margaret Bennet-Alder

The author of The Toronto Gardener's Journal & Source Book shares memories and thoughts about her garden.

Why I Keep On

Dear gardening friends,

You might like to know why I keep on doing this book, year after year. This 2014 issue is our 22nd. I guess it’s because I love everything about it, and I do use it every day. Having recently learned that people like to buy a product from those who are enthusiastic about it, I decided to share my enthusiasms with you, some of which may also be or become yours.

I use the cover flaps to know when to plant seeds before the last frost in spring. Same in mid-summer, but before the first fall frost. I use the calendars for the current and next year on the inside of the covers. I fold the book back on itself when I need a firmer surface for writing allowed by the spiral binding. I enjoy the five tabs on the colourful garden-related dividers for the book’s five sections: Journal, Garden Plan and Records, Photos, Delights and Disappointments, and Source Book.

I fill my Journal section with appointments, as well as notes about my garden. Even though I’ve been gardening on and off for 50 years, I still refer to the weekly reminders in the Journal to know “what to do when.”

Where else could I find a jam-packed 60-page Source Book which provides so much local information: the phone number of my nearest garden centre; the address of the Natural Insect Control company in the Niagara Peninsula when I need to get nematodes to control the grubs in my lawn; the times and stations of my favourite radio call-in gardening shows.

I still like to learn and putting this book together gives me lots of opportunity to do that. The asterisks in the margins tell me what’s new (or revised) in each annual, especially books to peruse in a bookstore or library. My book also gives me community with so many: fellow gardeners, garden writers who generously promote it, experts who put it together, and the many buyers who year after year re-order.

Sometimes I think of giving up, but I’m not ready to sell the business yet. My good health at age 86 allows me to continue. I attribute this to plants because I eat whole plant-based foods; for example, potatoes, but not chips or fries. What compost does for plants, that is give them excellent health and prevent disease, plants can do for us. In my experience they can keep us healthy and even heal our bodies.

I’ve just read Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study which inspired me to eat this way in the first place. (How long before the whole world will read Whole, especially the nutritional scientists?) Campbell’s daughter has written The China Study Cookbook. It and The Vegan Cheat Sheet are my current favourites. Here’s to health and to gardening, both with plants, for a long healthy life.

I hope that you will love The Toronto Gardener’s Journal & Source Book 2014. The two main parts make it a hybrid like nothing else on the book market. May you find it “more useful than any tool in the shed.”

Margaret Bennet-Alder

Spring

Front porch

These tulips, Tulipa, Hybrid Cultivar, Greigii, 'Toronto,' are the first ones to bloom in this bed. Since the photo was taken, the logs have been freshened up with a new colour, see Front bench under Summer.

Front garden

Front garden

Deervik, a petroleum product which I bought from the United States, has kept the squirrels away from the tulip bulbs in this bed since I first planted it in 2007. These are the second group of red tulips to bloom here: Tulipa, Hybrid Cultivar, Greigii, 'Oratorio.' The first group has finished and the third group on the left, a small number of species tulips, is just beginning. The white blooms are Glory of the Snow, Chionodoxa gigantea, 'Alba.'

The garage designed by Victoria Lister Carley, Landscape Architect

At the time some neighbours were pulling down their garages. When Ms Carley asked me if my garage was full, and I said, "Yes," we both agreed that it would be better to keep it. It's even fuller today, but I plan to get rid of stuff "soon."

Very early spring in the 1970s

Leaves left over from the fall were soon diminished with the spring rains and the earth worms. Railroad ties outline the garden beds, roughly 4'x4', originally designed to grow vegetables. Over the years growing neighbouring trees have provided too much shade to grow many vegetables. The yellow blooms are Cushion Spurge, Euphorbia polychroma, a plant from the garden of my childhood piano teacher, Margaret Crawford, whose summer perennial business, Evergreen Gardens, was at her home just south of Ailsa Craig. When she died, many of her plants went to the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Late spring in the 1970s

Early June shows our neighbour's hedge of the sweet-scented Mock Orange, Philadelphus, in bloom. Two clumps of Lady's Mantle highlight the bird bath.

Back garden

My no-care Spring garden 2008

The yellow-green plants are from left to right Tradescantia, 'Sweet Kate'; Golden Fullmoon Maple, Acer Shirasawanum 'Aureum'; and two clumps of Cushion Spurge, Euphorbia polychroma. When I first began to plan the colour scheme of my garden in 1991, I favoured white and green. Since then chartreuse and purple have crept in as gifts, recommendations, or my choice.

Looking towards the back of our house

The self-seeding blue forget-me-nots come up every spring. The first plant came from my maternal great-aunt Teenie Howie’s garden in London, Ontario. She was noted for having 100 plants in her garden in the early 1900s, apparently a number equaled by few at that time.

Summer

Back of the house 2008

The two containers are from my parents' home. The one on the left is an iron kettle that my paternal great-grandfather, John Stewart, hung over an open fire to make maple syrup out of the sap from the sugar maples in his bush south of Ailsa Craig. The other is a galvanized round tub, now painted black, in which my brother and I had our Saturday night baths. In the winter these were taken in front of the open oven door of the wood stove in the farm kitchen. He, the younger, always went first. When it was my turn and I invariably complained to my mother about the cold dirty water, she always had a large tea-kettle full of hot water to add to the tub before I got in.

Notice the pleasing curve of the bottom step, one of Victoria Lister Carley's designs.

Back porch 2008

Virginia Creeper climbs up the wall. I like this vine because it's easy to keep under control. I can pull it off or cut it off where I don't want it, unlike the painstaking and regular pruning required by the English Ivy (see the photo above). The marks on the red brick are where the ivy has been removed. I would not plant it again.

The plant stand came from a neighbour's garage sale and the Eames chair from a long-time dear neighbour who was moving away. The old red table--built with square nails--originally sat on the side verandah of my great-grandfather's yellow-brick farm house. Then and now it's used to summer house plants. I like this place for breakfast on warm summer mornings.

Front bench July 2008. Photo by Virginia Heldebrandt

This was my husband’s idea--before the days of nannies--because he wanted the mothers and babies to gather here instead of farther down the street. It’s a great place for photos when relatives come to visit. It's also a nice place to sit and enjoy the sun, but for me a little too close to the sidewalk with strangers walking by. The polyantha pink roses are 'The Fairy' and the white shrub rose is 'Seafoam,' both good ground covers blooming all summer. The dark purple leaved plants are Coral bells, Heuchera, Hybrid Cultivar, 'Amethyst.'

Back yard July 2008 ready for the garden tour of the members of the Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society

July 2008

The blue agapanthus plants did not survive the winter. Well, one plant did, but it did not bloom in 2009. I've coloured the water with PondShade. Next year I plan to use black which will better hide the sediment which collects at the bottom, but will maybe make the water coming out of the fountain, also black, so we'll see. Because I couldn't get bricks or stones to hide the edge of the sunken bathtub--it probably should have been sunk lower--I wrapped the liner around the edges and let it go at that. The wispy plants at the back and left side are sedge. I plan to add some more at the front.

July 2008

I bought this much-admired cement birdbath from a neighbour's garage sale for $3 about 1975. The fine-leaved shrub behind it is Cutleafed Stephanandra, Stephanandra incisa 'Crispa' recommended by Victoria Lister Carley on her first visit. The small leaves give a sense of depth to the garden making it seem longer than it is. At the foot of the bird bath is Lady's Mantle, Alchemila mollis. The big-leaved plant with yellow-green leaves is Hosta 'Fragrant Bouquet,' a gift from Ani Oliver, a friend from North Toronto Hort.

East side of the back garden

The pear tree was in the back yard in 1964 when we bought our home. It's so old we like to think that it was already growing here on the farm from which our block of Briar Hill was developed in the late 1920s. The tree originally had four trunks, but we removed one because it was rotting. A third now seems to be on its way out. When we had a dog, her barking kept the squirrels from eating the ripening winter pears, and my husband, the cook in his later years, made many delicious dishes of pear sauce from the fallen fruit.

The side drive with gate and pergola designed by Victoria Lister Carley

The white vine is Clematis paniculata, 'Sweet Autumn Clematis' recommended by Victoria. It used to grow over the pergola with the Porcelain Vine, Ampelopsis brevipedunculata 'Elegans.' This September I was surprised to see the clematis growing on the neighbour's house. Our friendly neighbours have let me place flagstones and grow Sweet Woodruff, Gallium Odoratum, on their side. I enjoy all from my kitchen window.

Because we had to water-proof the basement wall in the spring of 2009, it seemed a good time to make a bed for Box which would look good all year, especially in the winter. And so I bought Sheridan's 'Green Velvet' which will grow to 40"and hide the large unattractive white basement stones. In the future I will not need to buy impatience and plant them in containers all along the side of our house. Although I like impatiens, I sometimes referred to the driveway as gas station alley.

Fall

Mid-October 2009

The leaves of the Downy Serviceberry, Amelanchier canadensis, planted by the city, are turning orange. The Russian Sage, Perovskia, which follows the red tulips, has finished blooming. These plants were bought promising to be compact and sturdy, but here you see them wild and floppy. Oh well, the bees love them. The New England Aster, Aster novae-angliae, 'Purple Dome,' is in flower. Again this plant promised to be compact and only 1-2 feet, but here it is 4-5 feet, and I don't think it's because I talk to it, because I don't. More likely the cause of its gigantic growth is the strong street light on our boulevard. The Fairy roses are still putting on quite a show.

View of backyard from upstairs October 2009

In 1976 we bought the white pine for $3.50 from my piano teacher (see Very early spring in the 1970s). Huge white pines grew in the sandy loam on her property bordering the Aux Sables River. When we planted the little tree, it was only 3' high. Every fall it sheds needles which we leave on the ground beneath it, but those on the grass we rake up and spread around our two acid-loving rhododendrons.

The white pine, Pinus strobus

In 2009 it's almost as tall as the neighbouring maples.

Our peaceful garden

My favourite spot to get away from the world is behind our garage. Here hidden from neighbours and family, I can listen to the fountain reminding me of the sound of the water rushing over the stones in the creek behind the house of my childhood. I can look up through the pine needles to the blue sky. When David was first ill with schizophrenia, this is where I mourned.

The giant hosta, came from my piano teacher's garden. She called it Hosta sieboldiana 'Major.' The large male fern is dryopteris x complexa 'Roberta' from Humber Nurseries.

My late husband used to drag the recliner into the sun where he spent many hours rocking and reading the Globe and doing cryptic crossword puzzles. I covered the pad with a yellow-green cotton beach towel, another case of that colour creeping in.

Three rocks

We found these granite rocks--remnants of the last ice age--in various places in our back yard. I've tried to group them as a Japanese master might, but not too successfully. I'll try again some time.

Winter

Winter

This shot was a first-prize winner at the North Toronto Horticultural Society's photography contest in February 2006. I took the photo with my new Canon PowerShot A410, no longer being made, but still used for many of the photos in this blog.

Bird bath

Winter

Table

Marshmallow snow

Some of my favourite plants

Silverleaf Dogwood, Cornus alba 'Elegantissima'

One of Victoria Lister Carley's first recommendations for my green and white garden.

Meadow Rue, Thalictrum

It came from the back of the farm where I was born, south of Ailsa Craig.

Tree Peony, Peony, Paeonia suffructosa

When Ann Barber, a member of North Toronto Hort, moved to an apartment, she gave me a shoot of this beautiful plant which I had admired in her garden.

Climbing Hydrangea, Hydrangea petiolaris

I won this at my very first North Toronto Hort meeting in the fall of 1991. It didn't grow very much for the first five years but now covers the wooden fence from the gate almost to the garage.

Tradescantia, ‘Sweet Kate’

I won this at a Garden Writers' Meeting held during Canada Blooms a few years ago.

Carpathian Bellflowers, Campanula carpatica, 'white clips' and ‘blue clips’

To keep these blooming all summer, it's necessary to dead head them. Obviously I haven't done it here.

Queen of the Prairie, Filipendula rubra, 'Venusta'

Coleus growing in a copper boiler, 2008

The varieties here are Religious Radish (the red leaves), Fishnet Stockings (the green leaves), Inky Fingers (the small leaves), and Stained Glassworks (the one coral plant).

My mother used this boiler to clean my father's white shirts and other white clothes in boiling water on Monday mornings, wash day.

Common Morning Glory, Ipomoea purpurea

Clematis ‘Geraldine’

Clematis, ‘Wisley’ and Clematis, ‘Harlow Carr’

Clematis, Hybrid Cultivar, Lanuginosa Group, ‘Ramona,’ 2009

Bought several years ago, this is a happy substitute for Mrs. Cholmondeley, my first choice. I'm hoping that next year and thereafter Ramona will reach the wire netting and hide the downspout on the garage.

Columbine, Aquilegia, 'Origami Blue'

Bedding Alyssum, Lobularia maritima, 'Snow Crytals'

Self-seeded these plants are growing in the sun near the front steps of our house where I can enjoy their fragrance.

Rusty Foxglove, Digitalis ferruginea

Self-seeded, I never know where they are going to come up each year.