Fling wrap-up at Toronto Botanical Garden: Toronto Garden Bloggers Fling


Wherever I travel, I enjoy visiting local botanical gardens. So I was happy to see that Toronto Botanical Garden would be our final stop — including a catered dinner — on the recent Garden Bloggers Fling in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Upon arrival we 70 garden bloggers were treated to a zingy, high-energy talk and container-design demonstration by the talented and funny Paul Zammit, director of horticulture at TBG. Afterward we were set loose to explore the gardens until dinnertime. I’ll start my virtual tour with masses of tulips in a rainbow of colors. Because…tulips in June!


There were peonies too, in all their improbably large, frilly glory.


Dare I admit that a peony always reminds me of an overstuffed chintz armchair? I swear, it’s not Southern-gardener-can’t-grow-them sour grapes either. I do admire, however, these steel planter rings. I’d put those in my garden! Oh wait, I already have.


I also loved this terraced garden, with sheets of galvanized steel creating tiered planting beds.


Doesn’t this just sing?


I love, love, love these zippy variegated iris.


Dark purple iris adds depth to the scene.


As dramatic as a thundercloud


Purples were also coloring the entry garden, which was designed by the famous Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. (Oudolf also designed the High Line garden and Lurie Garden, both of which I’ve blogged about.)


Fried-egg peonies flounced through the meadowy spring garden.


Purple alliums and burgundy smoke tree — a match made in heaven


Like stars fallen to earth


In a small demonstration garden — stock tank planters! I quite like this formal arrangement, with a tree centered at back.


Paul Zammit’s container arrangements appeared throughout the gardens, like this gorgeous succulent planter in sunset hues.


Echeveria was in bloom.


Fuzzy leaves and kissy-face orange blooms — what’s not to like?


While I was taking photos, a passing visitor stopped to admire this container too. He reached out to pinch a paddle plant (Kalanchoe), and then turned to me and said, “Feel it. It feels like meat.”


By now my appetite was whetted, but I explored on, wanting to see the whole garden before dinnertime.


The garden is not quite 4 acres — very small for a botanical garden — but the director has ambitious plans for expansion into the city-owned parkland next door.


The garden had attracted a lot of visitors that day, and I enjoyed seeing how other people explored and used the gardens. Two women had a tête-à-tête in the clipped hallways of the knot garden.


Other photographers were busy capturing their own vignettes.


On a small lawn, a cluster of what looked like dancing trees caught my eye — part of a temporary art installation by W. Gary Smith. Austinites may be familiar with his work, as he designed the new family garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.


According to TBG’s website, Stooks & Punes — I think Punes is the tree-like portion that remains — is constructed of natural materials found on-site, and it’s “a precursor to the design phase for the TBG’s proposed new children’s garden, which will also be designed by W. Gary Smith.”


Another of Paul’s planters, I assume


When we arrived, tables were set up for us in a lovely outdoor courtyard. But as clouds rolled in threatening rain, staff members made a quick change of plans and moved the tables indoors. I was sorry not to get to eat outdoors but grateful not to have to wear a rain slicker to dinner.


More of Paul’s creations graced the courtyard, and burgundy Japanese maples made the perfect backdrop for them.


I loved them all, but especially these Victorian urns stuffed with sea-glass-colored succulents.


I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts about the Toronto gardens we visited during the Garden Bloggers Fling this year. Enormous thanks to Helen Battersby (left) of Toronto Gardens, who headed up the Toronto Fling planning committee, which also included Sarah Battersby (right), also of Toronto Gardens; Lorraine Flanigan of City Gardening; and Veronica Sliva of A Gardener’s World. These hard-working women did a terrific job of showing us their city’s gardens and green spaces. Hats off to them for a great tour!

If all of this has got you thinking about attending next year’s Fling (open only to garden bloggers), it will be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As with Toronto, I look forward to attending in another city I’ve never visited. Meanwhile, if you’d like to follow the links back through my Toronto posts, starting with an artful wildlife garden, click here.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

My Dry and Mighty article is in Wildflower magazine


If you’re a member of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, you’ll soon find the Summer 2015 issue of Wildflower magazine in your mailbox. I’m thrilled to announce that I wrote the cover story, “Dry & Mighty.”


What’s it all about? “A dry garden doesn’t have to be drab. Make yours dazzle even in summer,” teases the contents-page tagline. In the 6-page spread, I offer design ideas for making a dry garden that looks great all year.


The article will appear on the Wildflower Center’s website soon (I’ll link to it then). But I urge you to consider subscribing by becoming a member. Not only will you receive this beautiful and informative quarterly magazine, but you’ll be supporting the garden and its mission to educate people about native plants and their benefits to ecosystems everywhere — from wilderness to your own back yard. You’ll also get free admission to the garden (and to reciprocating botanical gardens throughout the U.S.) and a discount in the gift shop.


While this wet spring may have central Texans thinking about rain gardens rather than dry gardens, we all know that dry, hot weather will return. When it does, it pays to be prepared. It’s hard to establish new plants, even xeric ones, when drought is squeezing the ground dry. This, then, may prove to be the perfect year for getting a tough, new garden established.

Update: The Summer 2015 issue is now available online.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Botanical bonanza at Peckerwood Garden


For new visitors, the name Peckerwood tends to elicit raised eyebrows because of the word’s history as a racial slur in the South. But touring Peckerwood Garden itself — it was named, explains the owner, after the plantation in Auntie Mame — induces amazement, both because of the owner’s extensive collection of rare plants and because he’s been at it for more than 40 years, utterly transforming his Hempstead, Texas, property from farmland to an artistically designed collector’s garden, which is now guided by the Garden Conservancy as it transitions to a public entity.


On April 19, I made the two-hour drive east along with a few friends (that’s Lori of The Gardener of Good and Evil pictured at top), and we took a guided tour. While it offers ticketed open-day visits, Peckerwood is still very much the personal garden and home of artist John Fairey, a plant explorer and collector of rare specimens from northern Mexico and Asia and a recently retired professor of architecture at Texas A&M University. His house is the corrugated metal building screened from public view by layers of trellis, wall, and fence.


I wrote about Peckerwood for Garden Design magazine a couple of years ago, and the article is available online if you’d like to know more about the garden and its soft-spoken owner. For this post, though, I’ll just show you some of my favorite scenes from the tour, like this terracotta-colored wall with five faces spouting water into a rectangular pool, which flows under the wall to be enjoyed on both sides.


Whimsical faces


The dry garden is the most dynamic space, with shimmering, spiny plants of monumental size clamoring for your attention, like these Mexican grass trees, or toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum). I like how their lines echo the lines of the metal structure behind them.


A metal sculpture is reminiscent of the shape of palm fans.


A long pergola offers shade, which was welcome on this warm, humid day.


Fun details abound, like this variegated octopus agave.


And these Dr. Seussian characters, tagged as Yucca desmetiana ‘Blue Boy’, although they look pretty different from the one I’m growing (aka Yucca aloifolia ‘Blue Boy’).


I’ve visited ceramist Marcia Donahue’s garden in Berkeley, California, which makes it even more fun to run across her art in other gardens. These phallic, bamboo-like poles are instantly recognizable as her work.


Jazz hands


In the woodland garden, sunbeams illuminate plants for a brief period around noon, as light filters through tall trees, each one planted by Fairey decades ago.


Across a woodland stream you get a tantalizing glimpse of a blue wall and a prehistoric-looking garden of palms and Yucca rostrata. I’ve longed to see this part of the garden for years, but after three visits to Peckerwood this is as close as I’ve gotten. Apparently the garden needs funds to construct a safe bridge for visitors to cross the creek and see this area. Until then, this part of the garden is always closed to visitors. Sigh –so close and yet so far!


Weeping boxwood — this is cool.


Vertically laid stone for edging a small change in level


Lovely white flowers on a shrub I neglected to get an ID for. Update: it’s likely mock orange. Thanks, readers!


More silvery blue palms


And more Marcia Donahue art, perhaps? I saw carved skulls like these in her garden.


This sunlit rondel is lovely. Our guide told us a little about the trees and shrubs here, but my memory for plant names is terrible — perhaps because I’m always walking away from tour guides to take pictures. It would be wonderful if Peckerwood’s website had descriptions of each of its gardens, but such things always take money and volunteer hours, of course.


Most of the plants are planted atop berms for drainage, which allows for greater diversity than what could be grown in sometimes soggy clay.


The arboretum, where a vast collection of Mexican oaks has been grown from seed gathered on plant-hunting expeditions. This place really is a plant nut’s mecca.


Amid the majestic oaks, prairie nymph (Herbertia lahue), a native wildflower, was blooming in the lawn, showing that even the most common and lowly plants offer plenty of beauty as well.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.