Archive for the ‘Shrubs & Trees’ Category

Japanese maples in autumn
Andrea Bellamy |

'Ao' Japanese maple

I’ve always thought of our back patio garden as a spring garden, with its ferns and ephemeral natives. It took a positive comment from my husband for me to look objectively at the space and think, “wow, it does look pretty great right now.” I know, duh, right? With three Japanese maples—one normally red, one green, and one yellow—plus a fourth deciduous tree (a European hornbeam) it should look pretty damn good in fall.

So, since my last post focused on trees I could grow if I had the space, I thought I should celebrate the ones I have—especially since they really are giving it their all.

'Beni Kawa' Japanese maple

Here’s Acer palmatum ‘Beni Kawa,’ otherwise known as that totally-out-of-control tree. Despite the fact that it is too large for its space, I do love its colouring. Its new growth (and it always seems to be growing) is deep red, and its leaves are a lovely pale yellow—at least until fall, when it seems to burst into flame.



My fantasy trees
Andrea Bellamy |

Maple Leaves

Red maple. Photo credit: inoc on Flickr.

I’ve been having all kinds of fantasies lately. No, not THAT kind. The kind that comes from being a gardener raising a toddler in a tiny urban apartment. That’s right, I’m dreaming about land.

My fantasies are very specific, very romantic, and very far-fetched. In my fantasy, I have a big white farmhouse with a wraparound porch  bounded by fields of wheat, a small but productive orchard, and, further out, forest. With all that space, I’ve got lots of room for chickens, and goats, and of course, a huge vegetable garden. But when it comes down to it, I’ve got room for trees.

I grew up in a rural, forested area. Our yard was choc-a-block with trees: Douglas-fir, cedar, hemlock. And a huge big-leaf maple that dumped mountains of burnt umber leaves every autumn. I miss that. Don’t get me wrong; I love my Japanese maples. They’re very pretty. Very clean. And very urban. But I yearn for real trees. Big, sprawling, messy trees — the kind you need a lot of space for.

So, in my daydreams, I construct my fantasy tree list. Trees I would grow if I had unlimited space. They are:

Red maple (Acer rubrum). Simply for that brilliant red. We don’t get that eastern show-stopping fall colour in our deciduous trees here in the Pacific Northwest, but these trees provide it without fail. Its fallen leaves ook like scraps of red and white paper to me, all scattered around in perfect disarray.


Katsura leaves. Photo credit: Schnittke on Flickr.

Katsura (Cercidiphyllum). What’s not to love about this tree? It has a nice, rounded form and heart-shaped leaves that blaze orange-red in fall. To top it off, fallen katsura leaves perfume the air with a lovely burnt-sugar scent: like the crust of a of creme brulee!

forest of white birch

White birch grove. Photo credit: Nakae on Flickr.

White birch (Betula papyrifera). Actually, a grove of white birch. For the white bark, obviously. These aren’t commonly grown around here, but the interior of our province has many, and they remind me of holidays spent at my grandparent’s ranch in the Kootenays.

Old Sycamore Tree

Sycamore. Photo credit: Dakota O on Flickr.

Sycamore (plane tree) (Platanus occidentalis). I have no first-hand experience with these trees, however, I love their rounded shape, the mottled bark, and their fantastic seedpods.

What are your favourite fantasy trees?


Confession: I buy plants from Big Box stores

Acer palmatum 'Ao Shidare'

Acer palmatum ‘Ao Shidare’, purchased from—gasp!—Home Depot.

I realize that it’s deeply unfashionable to shop at such stores, and that my confession may come as a shock to some of you. After all, I’m a Hardcore Gardener, right? And Hardcore Gardeners are very clear in their disdain for Home Depot and their ilk (please see Exhibit A: Garden Rant).

Some of this scorn is well deserved, of course. Big box retailers are known for selling spectacularly crappy plants. Too often, they’ve been sitting around too long and are root bound, spindly, and stressed—a week away from the great compost heap in the sky. And finding a knowledgeable salesperson to help you? (Or any salesperson?) Forget it. I won’t even get into the ethics of labour policy or impact on small, independent businesses.

They do have their merits, however. They offer great value for “disposable” plants (cheap and cheerful annuals, which must be the mainstay of big box garden centre sales). I’ve also had good luck finding basic, mainstream perennials—again, for a great price (notice a trend?). I recently bought a great little Japanese maple at my local big box, after phone calls to several independent garden centres failed to turn up a dwarf green variety (apparently they’re too nondescript).

The secret to successful big box shopping, of course, is to get there when the plants are still thriving. They’ll receive regular shipments; you’ll want to be watching as they unload the truck. If you can’t do that, know what to look for in a healthy plant. Examine it for signs of disease, pests, and stress. Is it green and bushy, or gangly and yellowing? Check the bottom of leaves for pests like aphids, and the bottom of pots for slugs. Make sure it’s not root bound (do the roots circle the sides and bottom of the pot because the plant has outgrown it?).

I do love to support my local independent garden centres, and do most of my shopping there. Nothing rivals the thrill of going to a great little nursery with an hour or two to spend dreaming, planning, and, of course, buying.  Sometimes, though, it’s hard to resist a deal.

What’s your take on it? Are big box stores invariably evil? Or do you do most of your garden shopping at one? Did I just lose all credibility as a garden writer?


Ferns and ephemerals

shooting star

Hello. I’d like you to meet Shooting Star, aka Dodecatheon hendersonii. This sweet little thing is one of the native wildflowers blooming in my backyard “woodland bed” right now. Like many of the spring ephemerals (so called because of their fleeting nature), it’s not exactly a show-stopper (but just look at how it wows en masse!). Since there’s just one clump in my garden, it’s best appreciated up close. Luckily, I don’t have much choice but to get close – our backyard is that small.


At 13′ x 15′, our backyard offers, let’s say, the opportunity to get up close and personal with each and every plant in it. Here it is, seen from the third floor balcony. The woodland bed is the one in the bottom right corner of the above photo.

woodland garden

And here it is earlier this month, as everything started to spring to life. Acer palmatum ‘Beni Kawa’ anchors this bed. When I planted it three years ago, I called it “the perfect small space alternative to ‘Sangu Kaku’.” I lied. Sure, it’s smaller than ‘Sangu Kaku,” which can reach 20’ tall, but it isn’t a tiny tree. In our household, it’s generally referred to as “out of control,” or “that &%* tree” as one of it’s ridiculously long branches insinuates itself into your personal space.



Berries in the winter garden

Photinia davidiana (David’s Christmas berry) is a tough evergreen plant that also has white flowers in early summer.

I last wrote about how hardscaping can make your garden in winter – and year round, for that matter. I still maintain that the hard landscape makes the biggest overall impact on the garden in winter, but there’s no denying plants pull their weight.

Take evergreens. They’re pros at this winter thing. Evergreen shrubs, trees and hedges can function like hardscaping in terms of their permanence and impact. They are architectural plants that will retain their form while the rest of the garden lies dormant. Ornamental grasses and plants with interesting seed heads are also popular additions to the winter landscape.

But when it comes to creating interest in the winter garden, you can’t beat berries. They provide food for birds, colour amidst the white – or gray, as the case may be – and joy to human visitors. Here are some of my favourites.

The berries of cute little Pernettya mucronata look like tiny strawberry bubblegum spheres. This low-growing shrub has fine, glossy evergreen leaves that take well to a shearing.

Although the berries of the Pacific Northwest native Snowberry (Caprifoliaceae Symphoricarpos albus) are considered toxic, they can be highly entertaining to children. I survived growing up with a yard full of them. Now Lila will have to, too, as I planted one in our backyard. (*Update*: Eleanor from Out of Doors, an ethnobotany student, has pointed me towards the Plants for a Future Database listing for snowberry, which indicates, “Although toxic, [saponins]


Fall colour fallen flat? Blame it on the rain.

Gratuitous baby photo: Lila in the leaves, 6 months old.

The autumn colours are pretty spectacular in the Pacific Northwest this year (at least by PNW standards). Sure, normally we get a few weeks of pretty leaves, but it’s nothing compared to the show back east. Which made me wonder: what makes fall colours more vibrant from one year to another?

Autumn colours at Trout Lake, East Vancouver…

As I suspected, it’s all in the weather. Chlorophyll, the chemical compound that makes leaves appear green, disappears fastest during an autumn with dry, sunny days and cool nights, exposing the leaves’ orange and yellow pigments. Dry weather concentrates sugar production, which brings out the red.

…and on my back patio. (‘Fireglow’ Japanese maple.)

That explains it. We’ve had an uncharacteristically sunny, cold autumn. So next time we have our usual ho-hum fall colour? I’ll just blame it on the rain.


Earth Day garden and baby update

erythronium shadow.jpg“Oh the days are long/ ‘Til the baby comes…” – Sinead O’Connor

That’s right – I’m still waiting for this baby. One week past my due date and just learned today that the baby, which for the last nine months has been perfectly positioned, has rotated and is now posterior. This just confirms my suspicions that he or she will be a shit disturber.

There are about a million things you can do to try to rotate a posterior baby; one of them is getting onto your hands and knees as much as possible. Scrubbing the floors on all fours was suggested. Since that has about as much chance of happening as this baby being born on Earth Day, I decided to crawl about my back garden instead. While I was there, I thought I’d snap some photos.

Fawn lily.jpg

The two above photos are of BC-native yellow fawn lily (erythronium; aka trout lily or dog’s-tooth violet). I believe this one is Erythronium grandiflorum but I can’t quite remember I’ve moved the bulbs from house to house as I moved over the years. They look delicate but are naturalizing well and survived last week’s hailstorm nicely.

maidenhair fern.jpgEven people who claim not to love ferns have to appreciate the unfurling of this maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), right?

sword fern fiddlehead.jpg

And the site of fiddleheads – so cute! – on my Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum). You have to love those, too, or you’re just not wired right.

huckleberry buds.jpg

My new evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) will hopefully provide me with some berries this summer.

firegold maple leaf.jpg

All three of my Japanese maples are in various stages of unfurling. This is Acer palmatum ‘Firegold,’ which, when viewed from below when the sun’s shining on its leaves, is just this incredible blazing red. Hence the ‘fire’ in its name, I suppose. This could also be ‘Fire Glow’ – I bought it from the Japanese Maple Guy at the farmer’s market and haven’t found many references to ‘Firegold’.

Acer palmatum beni kawa.jpg

I love my Acer palmatum ‘Beni Kawa’ – the perfect small space alternative to ‘Sangu Kaku’.

virdig maple.jpg

Finally, here’s Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Viridis’ – with its lovely weeping form – making its appearance. Hopefully this baby isn’t far behind. Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Gone Wild


I met Hartley and Anne-Marie (above) at the farmer’s market last year, because, well, they were selling plants – need I say more?

Early in the spring, there are always more vendors selling plants than fresh produce. Mostly it’s pretty basic: pots of herbs, annuals and a few cottagey perennials. But there’s also Otto with his Japanese maples, someone who sells bonsai, and another booth that focuses on water plants.

Hartley and Anne-Marie’s sign read, “Gone Wild: native ornamental plants for the urban habitat.” I think I probably squealed when I saw it.

It’s exciting because it’s tough to find retail sources for native plants here in Vancouver. Many carry some of the more marketable plants like ferns or the more ornamental shrubs, but just try to find Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) or Vanilla leaf (Achyls triphylla) at your local nursery!

Hartley happens to live just around the corner from me, so, yesterday, on the way back from the greenhouse, he kindly dropped off a snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) and an evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), which I’ll add to my “mostly-native” plant bed. (Despite James’ plea for me not to plant snowberry, it’s not an invasive plant here – so I’m planting it anyway!).

Gone Wild carries a great selection of native and ornamental trees, ferns, perennials, shrubs, and groundcovers. You’ll find them at the farmer’s market come April – or contact Gone Wild directly.


Maple leaf love


What I’m loving this week:

“Leaf walks”: long walks in search of the best, driest, most-kickable leaves. Something comes over me when I spy a nice thick stretch of colourful leaves. I am compelled to run through them, doing a series of low, straight-legged kicks that send the leaves flying and which cannot fail to make me feel happy. Try it. You’ll see.

front and back.jpg

Flaming red Acer rubrum, the Red Maple, and, more specifically, the sight of its fallen leaves. They look like scraps of red and white paper to me, all scattered around in perfect disarray.

red_maple_leaves.jpgThe arrival of daylight savings time, which brings sunrises that are late enough to catch the end of, and dusks that bring the incredible, spooky sight of the nightly migration of Metro Vancouver’s huge murder of crows.



Spring shopping spree


It’s amazing how quickly you can drop $150 at the nursery. But I got a lot of bang for my buck (see above), and I did it in less than half an hour, all during a business call my husband had to take on our Easter Monday holiday.

I apologize for the infrequency of posts lately; I was really feeling stalled by the backyard dilemma and my indecisiveness surrounding it, but after a late-night “eureka!” moment and subsequent design break through, I feel like I can finally move forward with my garden(ing) and garden blogging. But this post isn’t even about the back garden. That $150 I mentioned earlier? All plants for the front garden. Ahem.


Before: Okay, this was the front garden: exactly as the developer installed it – Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’ (European Beech) in the centre flanked by a yew hedge with escallonia in front. Boring. (Say in sing-song voice.) It’s a raised bed, approximately 3m (9′) x 1.5m (3.75′) flanked by three- and four-story townhouses in our shared courtyard, outside our front door. Behind it is our little bistro set, much used in the summer months.


After: So fresh it’s garden show-y. But don’t hold that against it. I think it looks better in person, when the brightness isn’t so much the sole focus but a nice counterpoint to the greyness of the surrounding, dominant buildings.

Here’s what I planted:

Spiraea x bumalda ‘Goldflame’ (Goldflame Spirea)

Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’
Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)
Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Woodside Gold’ (Woodside Gold Columbine)
Carex dipsacea (Olive sedge)
Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ (Coral Bells)
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (Autumn Joy Stonecrop)
Stipa tenuissima (Mexican Feather Grass)


Ipomoea ‘Sweet Caroline Sweet Heart Purple’
Verbena Star Dreams ‘Double Salmon’


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