Creating a Winterberry Wreath

wreath16 (454x600)Few things are as quintessentially Christmas as a homemade Winterberry wreath and the sight of those bright red berries adorning the front door definitely says ‘season’s greetings’ to all who come calling. Our demonstration today comes to us from Cathie Whitman, who along with her partner Tim Hurley runs the Timberosa Tree Farm in Pitt Meadows – 10 acres of Christmas trees and holly all in full view of the majestic coast mountains. Tim and Cathie have been welcoming the public during the Christmas season since 2003 and Cathie’s Winterberry creations have become a local favorite. She is going to show you how to make your own in three easy steps.                                                                                                                                     wreath1 (298x300)Tools and Supplies – You’ll need an 18 or 24″ wire wreath frame, a roll of waxed string, some rustic wire, secateurs (hand pruners) and wire cutters. Depending on how dense you want your wreath to be, you will need between 30 and 45 Winterberry stems, with lengths varying between 10 to 12″. A flat work surface will also come in handy, as will a second pair of hands.

wreath13 (300x293)wreath2 (297x300)Step 1 – Begin prepping your Winterberry stems by removing leaves and any spoiled berries beforehand. Secure your waxed string to the frame by tying it and then you are ready to begin attaching your stems to the frame.

wreath5 (300x294)Step 2 – Carefully tie your Winterberry stems to the frame in bundles of three, while also taking the time to gently bend the lower bare stems to the arch of the frame and tie them in place. Once in place the tips of the Winterberry stems should still flare out somewhat, up to 3 to 4″ from the frame edge. Be careful to choose thinner stems, as the thicker ones tend to crack easily.

wreath10 (300x289)Step 3 – Continue the process by overlapping the Winterberry bundles and tying them to the frame in succession, carefully working your way all around. Once you’ve tied all the Winterberry sprigs onto the frame you can use your secateurs to prune the tips in order to create a balanced wreath. You can then attach a loop of rustic wire onto the back for hanging.

wreath18 (225x300)Your homemade Winterberry wreath should last you well into the New Year and one way to defer the costs of purchasing Winterberry stems every year is to grow your own shrub. Ilex verticillata really isn’t that demanding, it just needs plenty of space to grow as the average plant reaches 6′ wide by 6-8′ tall. They prefer a rich, acidic soil that is evenly moist and part to full sun. The female plants produce the berries and two good cultivars include ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Winter Red’ – just make sure that they have a male pollination partner (‘Jim Dandy’ and ‘Southern Gentleman’ respectively). The only other thing you may need is some bird netting, as our feathered friends will often pick them clean before you get a chance to enjoy them. That said, your old wreaths can be hung in the garden after Christmas for the Stellar’s Jays and Thrushes to feast on during the colder weather.

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Not-so-Spooky Halloween Planter

halloweenplanter (291x400)This easy to make Halloween planter features a living green sculpture made out of a columnar Japanese Holly, with the ‘arms’ holding out some purple spider decorations to match the miniature cyclamen planted below – it was placed in the middle of a black plastic nursery pot. A ‘Tricolor’ New Zealand Flax provides an interesting textural background and some colour contrast, while a pair of bright orange fall chrysanthemums are arranged on either side of it. Some bright gold Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia  ‘Goldilocks’) is used to trail down the container’s sides to brighten the otherwise black pot sidewalls, while some miniature ‘SMARTIZ Purple’ Cyclamen fill out the foreground with their eye-catching blooms.

hall3 (286x300)Bracing and Decor – I was able to make a plant character out of a 1 gallon Columnar Japanese Holly by tying in a thin metal trellis to the backside of the plant and then wiring in two light bamboo stakes on a slightly upward angle. Several of the outside branches were tied to the latter to make arms, while two Christmas balls were ‘permanent markered’ with cookie monster eyes.

hall4 (288x300)Phormium cookianum subsp. hookeri ‘Tricolor’ – This New Zealand Flax features arching blades of green and creamy-yellow  with fine red edges. It forms a clump and infrequently produces yellowish-green fleshy summer flowers. ‘Tricolor’ is an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner and a great container specimen. Grows 24-30″ high by 30-36″ wide. Hardy to zone 8.

hall1 (300x298)Ilex crenata ‘Fastigiata’ – The upright growth of this cultivar very much mimics that of an Irish Yew, making it ideal as a centerpiece in narrow urn-shaped containers. Occasional tip pruning is important in regards to density, as un-pruned specimens tend to peel outwards. Tiny black berries. Reliably evergreen. Grows 5-7′ tall by 2-3′ wide. Hardy to zone 5.

crygigiorange (300x285)Chrysanthemum x morifolium ‘GIGI Orange’ – This member of the GIGI family bears double orange blooms (up to 1.5″ wide) over a densely branched crown, making for a very full display. This Yoder Brother introduction is often used for fall bedding but will overwinter in gardens zone 6 and warmer. Pinch late spring to early summer. Grows 18-24″ high and wide. Z6.

cycla6 (294x300)Cyclamen persicum ‘SMARTIZ Purple’ – A member of the SMARTIZ Series mix (the smallest of Morel cyclamen) which features intense purple blooms that really make a visual impact at a distance. They can be grown in very small containers (such as the 2″ shown) which will result in a true miniature with foliage 4-5″ across. Grows 2″ high by 4-5″ wide. Hardy to zone 9.

goldlygoldilocks (300x293)Lysimachia nummularia ‘Goldilocks’ – Golden Creeping Jenny is a hardy perennial, and reliably evergreen in coastal BC gardens. The glossy gold foliage of small rounded leaves provides the perfect contrast for Black Mondo Grass, silhouetting every blade. While this is a great container specimen, it’s invasive when planted in the ground. Grows 2-4″ high by 24″+ wide. Zone 3.

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Late Winter to Spring Planter

springplanter (288x400)Sometimes those Christmas planters can get a little tired by the time February rolls around and we start to crave a little more of those spring hues. Here is an easy to create mixed container planting that utilizes readily available shrubs and perennials which pack a little more cold weather colour. I anchored this combination with a tall ‘Christmas Cheer’ Lily-of-the-Valley shrub with unusual two-toned pink and red flowers. This was framed on one side with Skimmia ‘Rubinetta’ and on the other with a newer Hellebore, ‘Platinum Rose’. A Euphorbia ‘Ruby Glow’ adds some nice foliage contrast with its rich burgundy-red leaves while a combination winter heather (including ‘Kramer’s Red’) brings a burst of rich magenta-pink and white to the pot rim.

pichristmascheer-300x293Pieris japonica ‘Christmas Cheer’ – While not in bloom at Christmas, this lovely cultivar has large pendulous clusters of soft cherry-pink blooms (with darker tips), starting in early spring. Like most Lily-of-the Valley shrubs it prefers part sun but can tolerate full sun on the coast with even soil moisture. The new growth is coppery-red and it grows 4-6′ high. Hardy to zone 6.

skimrubin-294x300Skimmia japonica ‘Rubinetta’ – A lovely male Skimmia cultivar with deep red flower buds (resembling berries) carried through winter, opening to fragrant pale pink to white spring blooms. This shrub tolerates part to full shade, with morning and early evening sun being okay in coastal BC. The glossy deep green foliage is also aromatic. Grows 4′ high by 3′ wide. Hardy to zone 6.

helplatinumrose2 (299x300)Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Platinum Rose’ – A Heuger hybrid with outward facing deep rose buds that open to creamy-white blooms which fade to a striking rose-pink. The silvery-grey to bluish-grey foliage compliments the flowers nicely and is held on reddish stems. ‘Platinum Rose’ is reliably evergreen and works well in containers. Grows 12-18″ high by 18″ wide. Hardy to zone 5.

a2Euphornia amygdaloides ‘Ruby Glow’ – An evergreen Euphorbia with rich reddish-purple late summer foliage that makes an attractive contrast plant in containers, especially when paired with gold-leaved Heuchera. The new growth is intensely red accented by March to May greenish-yellow flower bracts. Cut faded flower stems down to new growth. 12-18″ tall by 18″ wide. Zone 7.

ericawhiteperfection (299x300)Erica x darleyensis ‘White Perfection’ (Erica carnea x Erica erigena) – A vigorous form of winter heather with long spikes of intense white flowers over bright green foliage from December to April. This RHS Award of Garden Merit winner is a sport of ‘Silberschmelze’ and provides good coverage, as it grows 18″ high by 30″ wide. ‘White Perfection’ is hardy to zone 6.

Erica-x-darleyensis-Kramers-RedErica x darleyensis ‘Kramer’s Red’ (syn. ‘Kramer’s Rote’) (Erica carnea x Erica erigena) – This cross of E. carnea ‘Myretoun Ruby’ and E. erigena ‘Brightness’ is by far the best selling of the winter heathers. ‘Kramer’s Red’ features long-lasting deep magenta blooms that are contrasted by rich dark green foliage. Award of Garden Merit. Grows 15″ high by 24″ wide. Hardy to zone 6.

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Ornamental Grass Planter Designs

planterf3 (239x300)planterf2 (241x300)planterf1 (258x300)Ornamental grasses make great additions to fall and winter planters, especially the evergreen varieties. Here we have used two Carex oshimensis and a Blue Fescue Grass to give you some colour options which might compliment your decor. The first planter uses the lime greens and yellows of Carex ‘Everlime’ and Euonymus ‘Sunny Delight’ contrasted against the plum foliage of Heuchera ‘Velvet Night’. The second is an Alba theme with Carex ‘Everest’, a white bud-blooming heather and the new SMARTIZ miniature cyclamen. The last display contrasts the vivid steely foliage of Festuca ‘Blue Glow’ against the bright chartreuse needle-like foliage of Sedum ‘Angelina’ with a rosy-pink backdrop of the bud-blooming Calluna vulgaris ‘Selly’.

carexeverlime (300x297)Carex oshimensis ‘EVERCOLOR Everlime’ – A beautiful weeping sedge which is reliably evergreen in coastal British Columbia. It features arching broad blades of dark green with crisp lime marginal variegation. This sport of Carex ‘Evergold’ is clumping and looks great when used in mixed fall or winter container plantings. Grows 14-18″ high and wide. Hardy to zone 5.

heucheravelvetnight (300x294)Heuchera ‘Velvet Night’ – This Proven Winners selection features deep purplish-black foliage that emerges bright plum and is accented with a pewter overlay which shows off the darker veining. It was originally introduced by Terra Nova  and produces sprays  of cream flowers in summer. Looks great in combination with gold-leaved Hosta. Grows 8-12″ high by 18″ wide. Zone 4.

euonymusaureola (300x294)Euonymus japonicus var. microphyllus SUNNY DELIGHT (syn. ‘Moncliff’) – A smaller-leaved Japanese Euonymus with an upright growth habit that lends itself for use as planter centrepieces. It features dark green foliage that is generously edged in bright yellow. SUNNY DELIGHT also makes a good dwarf hedge. Grows 2′ high and wide. Hardy to zone 6.

carexeverest (300x296)Carex oshimensis ‘EVERCOLOR Everest’ (syn. ‘Carfit 01’) – This sport of Carex ‘Evergold’ is an Irish introduction with arching green leaf blades edged in pure white variegation. That white variegation makes it the perfect accent for Alba gardens or planters. This cultivar is evergreen and any browned tips can be cut off in spring. Grows 14-18″ high and wide. Hardy to zone 5.

cycla4 (297x300)Cyclamen persicum ‘SMARTIZ Pure White’ – One of the few colours available separately in the new SMARTIZ Series of miniature cyclamen. This variety features pure white blooms  contrasted against deep green foliage with silver accents or veining. The blooms are held on 4″ tall scapes from late summer and well into autumn. Grows 2″ high by 4-5″ wide. Zone 9.

budalicia (300x293)Calluna vulgaris ‘Alicia’ – An RHS Award of Garden Merit winner bred by Kurt Kramer, it features large pure white flower buds from September to November which are nicely silhouetted by the bright green foliage. Bud Bloomers can be grown in colder zone 3-4 climates, but low growing varieties that will be covered by snow should be chosen. Grows 12″ high. Hardy to zone 5.

festucablueglow (300x297)Festuca glauca ‘Blue Glow’ (syn. ‘Blauglut’) – This cultivar of Blue Fescue Grass features silvery-blue foliage that is evergreen and really stands out on those dull winter days. It is a hardy clump-forming grass that lends itself to foreground mass plantings. It bears tan flower spikes from April to May. Divide every 2-3 years. Grows 10-12″ high by 12″ wide. Hardy to zone 3.

combo6Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ – A low evergreen Sedum that makes an excellent groundcover but is also used extensively as a container accent. It is extremely cold hardy and features bright chartreuse needle-like foliage that takes on reddish-bronze highlights in winter. The yellow summer flowers do not show well against the golden foliage. Grows 4-6″ high by 18″+. Zone 3.

calluna sellyCalluna vulgaris ‘Selly’ – Even juvenile plants of this impressive Bud Bloomer bear hundreds of deep rose-pink flower buds (which don’t open) that really stand out on those dull autumn days. Several other similar varieties include ‘Leonie’ and ‘Salena’, both of which grow 12-18″ wide and 16-20″ tall. ‘Selly’ reaches heights of 12 to 18″, with a 16-18″ spread. Hardy to zone 5.

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Monster Sweet Potato Harvest From Ornamental Vine

sweetpotato (321x400)Over the years I have come across one or two small elongated tubers when digging up the ornamental Sweet Potato vines in the fall, but this year’s crop was bountiful to say the least. Some of the tubers were 10-12″ long and 2 ” thick, but one of them (shown in the photograph) was the size of a very large Yam. It came from a planting of Ipomoea batatas ‘Marguerite’ in a raised planter and I suspect that our long, unseasonably warm summer had something to do with this giant of a tuber. Although this is the same species as the culinary Sweet Potato, ornamental cultivars such as ‘Blackie’ (deeply lobed purplish-black leaves), ‘Marguerite’ (chartreuse foliage) and ‘Tricolor’ (pink, white and green leaves) are primarily foliage plants, although all are capable of producing edible tubers like their culinary cousins. Depending on the variety, these will probably be bland (or possibly bitter) once cooked and they may also be more white (the flesh colour does vary) than orange fleshed. Your only other concern besides flavour is whether or not there are any pesticide residues.

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A Guide to Bulb Planting

bulbs1 (300x295)Tools & Fertilizer – While you may also need a garden fork and hard rake to turn and grade the soil in the preparation stage, for the most part digging tools such as a trowel, shovel or spade and possibly a hand-help bulb planter are in order. The latter only works in loose or turned soils and should have a release to drop the soil core. Bone meal is recommended when naturalizing.

bulbs5 (300x299)Large Rounds – These are very effective for filling the gaps in mixed borders between established shrubs or perennials. The other useful application is for utilizing fewer bulbs in a mass planting but still giving the appearance of a full display by staggering the rounds. Large rounds are useful for taller Trumpet Daffodils which emerge as arching symmetrical bouquets.

bulbs4 (300x300)Drift Plantings – This is a more naturalized look that mimics wildflower plantings and is best used with minor bulbs such as  Crocus (as shown), Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Muscari (Grape Hyacinths). There are no straight lines used with this technique so you can overlap drifts of different bulb types. The bulbs are usually laid out on prepared soil and planted using a trowel.

bulbs3 (295x300)Mass Displays – These are the type of displays you typically see in public parks but they have their place in some residential settings. Consider 5-6′ long by 2-3′ wide as a minimal bed size and a staggered spacing of 6-8″ between bulbs. You will need at least 3 rows for the display to be effective. Works well with larger Tulips with straight stems but not Daffodils, as they tend to lean.

bulbs2 (296x300)Bouquet Plantings – Bouquet plantings are essentially groups of smaller staggered rounds that work well with Hyacinths (as shown), botanical Tulips, miniature Daffodils and a myriad of minor bulbs. The smaller rounds typically hold between 6-7 bulbs which emerge in spring as small bouquets. You need only prepare the holes being used by digging with a trowel or small spade.

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Two-Tone Cyclamen Planters

winplan4 (327x400)winplan5 (192x400)Simplicity in design doesn’t always translate into boring displays as these two Cyclamen planters can attest to. The trick here is to use the mustard-yellow and black ceramic pots to best effect by contrasting them with the miniature Cyclamen, and then complimenting them with the centerpiece – which in these two cases are Cupressus ‘Wilma Goldcrest’ and Black Mondo Grass. Neither one of these two containers were terribly large so I used the new SMARTIZ Series of miniature Cyclamen in order to keep a proper scale and not overwhelm the centerpiece.

winplan5 (300x298)Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Wilma Goldcrest’ – A highly popular dwarf Cypress with bright chartreuse lemon-scented foliage that just gleams at a distance. It is a sport of ‘Goldcrest’ that originated in Holland which is proving to be in high demand for container plantings. Tolerates part to full sun and is drought tolerant once established. Grows 6-8′ high by 1.5-2.5′ in 10 years. Zone 7.

grassblackmondo-300x298Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (syn. ‘Arabicus’, ‘Ebony Knight’, ‘Black Dragon’) – Although Black Mondo Grass looks exotic and is initially slow to establish, it is not particularly difficult to grow. It features jet-black evergreen leaf blades, pale purple summer flowers and dark bluish-black berries. Award of Garden Merit. Grows 8″ high by 12″+ wide. Hardy to zone 6.

cycla4 (297x300)Cyclamen persicum ‘SMARTIZ Pure White’ – One of the few colours available separately in the new SMARTIZ Series of miniature cyclamen. This variety features pure white blooms contrasted against deep green foliage with silver accents or veining. The blooms are held on 4″ tall scapes from late summer and well into autumn. Grows 2″ high by 4-5″ wide. Zone 9.

cycla5 (286x300)Cyclamen persicum ‘SMARTIZ Scarlet’ – The most vibrant of the SMARTIZ Series, making it ideal for use as a flowering houseplant or even sheltered outdoor bedding in mixed containers or hanging baskets. It will keep blooming late into autumn as the plants are quite cold tolerant, but keep under overhangs as the rain can spoil the flowers. Grows 2″ high by 4-5″ wide. Hardy to zone 9.

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