Witch hazel: a sure sign that spring is near

Hamamelis X intermedia 'Diane'

Hamamelis X intermedia ‘Diane’

Late last week I was at the kitchen sink gazing out the window at the snow-covered garden when my eye caught flashes of deep copper-maroon on the witch hazel near the side of the house.
“The first sign of spring!” I shouted with joy, scaring Rufus away from Jake’s bowl, where he was surreptitiously scarfing down the remains of Jake’s breakfast.
I rushed out immediately and took a picture of Hamamelis X intermedia ‘Diane’, a lovely shrub I forget about until suddenly its fringe-like blossoms trumpet spring on a cold February morning. It’s important to preserve these moments to share with your gardening buddies.
Then I rushed down to the end of the garden to check out H. X intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’, ‘Diane’s brother cultivar, which blooms in a pretty yellow. Eureka! it was starting to show too. Continue reading

Beware the invasive spindletree

european spindletree

“Every garden should have one of these,” said the woman who gave me the small rooted shrub, a type of euonymus, she said. “You’ll love the fall foliage, and the gorgeous berries are great for arrangements–they last, too.”

She was right on all counts, including the “last” part. Make that multiply instead, and I mean the tree, not the berries–which are indeed gorgeous, as it turned out. In the fall, each four-segmented pod opens its velvety crimson arms to reveal a quartet of showy orange berries inside. It’s a colour combination hard to beat.

The shrub turned out to bear more resemblance to a triffid than a euonymus. One day it was behaving itself nicely in the front garden, the next it was leering in the front window. Continue reading

The Norway maple: a love/hate relationship

IMG_1837The late, great Christopher Lloyd wrote in  The Adventurous Gardener “…by exercising a little vision you will realize that [your] tree has a future, perhaps even a great one…..it may be more important one day than yourself.” I’m grateful to say this won’t be true of the huge but now dead and gone Norway maple (Acer platanoides) that lasted about 60 years in our backyard. It spent its last 30 years—the time we lived with it—besetting me with its grasping, thirsty roots, which kept coming to the surface no matter how much compost I piled over the soil. Its falling keys sprouted into hundreds of baby Norways every spring, causing endless backaches as we pulled them out.

For all those years I had a love-hate relationship with that tree. I tried to grow many things under it, even shallow rooted shade-loving annuals, but only Batlic ivy and Euonymus colorata stood up to it. Not much survived beside it. This was partly due to its dense shade and shallow root system, but also to the toxins its leaves release that affect soil fungi and microbes and can prevent other plants, especially trees, from germinating. Norways are pariahs in Toronto, where I garden, especially in the city’s ravines and woodland areas.

On the other hand, our tree’s shade was welcomed on hot days, and it held up one end of our hammock. I admit it was a dramatic focal point in the garden, and we can take much of the credit for its good looks—every couple of years we had an arbourist prune out wayward branches and keep it limbed up. Visitors would walk into the garden and at first sight exclaim, “What a beautiful tree!” Continue reading