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This year, my gardening column appears every Tuesday in the Saint John Telegraph Journal, from April through October. Below is the latest, and the picture that went with it.



Duncan's garden column telegraph journal May 21/2013


It's hard to drive around greater Saint John these days without seeing the tremendous display of lavender-pink bloom produced by the early-blooming rhododendron 'P.J.M.' Every other yard in most neighbourhoods has one or two, yet two weeks ago you wouldn't have noticed them over any other shrub in the garden. For that matter, two weeks from now you won't either. But right now, they dominate the scene. That point is well illustrated in this multi-layered garden bed near Rockwood Park . I have the pleasure of tending this garden, and actually transplanted several of these P.J.M.s a few years ago. Like most rhodos, that was a relatively easy task despite the age and size of the plants, because of their fine, fibrous root system, which is quite easy to dig up, and holds together very well during transplanting.

The other two plants in the picture of this very large bed are also evergreens, but more traditional sorts than the broad-leaved rhododendrons. In the foreground is a mass of 'Mint Julep' juniper, and in the background, like proud monarchs, a group of weeping Nootka false cypress. Together, the three masses of shrubbery well illustrate several concepts of landscape design you might consider in your future planting opportunities.

Firstly, plant height was considered in the placement of these groups, using one of the simplest, yet most important rules-of-thumb in bed design: tallest at the back, medium in the middle, and shortest in the front. It sounds painfully simple, but if not adhered to, makes for a much less appealing block of foliage. The reason this is so important is that each layer is allowed a part of the overall display, without significantly blocking the plants behind it.

Although this is a very large bed, you only see three kinds of shrub in the current view. That's because each one is planted in a group of 3, 4, 5, or more of a kind, which is known as mass-planting. I've made this point to you before- masses provide a more refined pleasing view than a collection of too many different individuals.

When the masses are placed by the height rule, you wind up with a pleasant layering effect, where the plants in the foreground gradually build up in height to the tallest in the background. From this particular vantage point, and given the conical shape of the weeping cypress in the middle, it's almost like looking at a mountain scene, with the cypresses forming the peaks of the mountains. The gorgeous blue sky in the background certainly supports that illusion.

Coming up this Saturday and Sunday, May 25th& 26th, is our popular WINDOW BOXING WEEKEND. Bring your own containers and window boxes Saturday or Sunday for expert advice on filling & planting containers. We supply design expertise & Free Potting Soil - just bring your gloves and containers & buy the plants from our great selection. That's at the Brunswick Nurseries Garden Center, 308 Model Farm Rd., Quispamsis.

Garden Correspondents with Judy Whalen in Gondola Point
With the amazing stretch of good weather we had in early May, Judy is really off to the races in her vegetable gardening. "I have the majority of my vegetables in now, and started in late April with hardy crops like spinach. It's up now and doing great. Potatoes are doing exceptionally well, as I started them in April in the greenhouse. Not in containers, just directly into the ground on the greenhouse floor. They put out a nice little set of green leaves each, plus a thick base of fine white roots. I carefully lifted each one with as much root attached as possible, and set them out in rows in the garden. They have caught on beautifully, and I'm in line for some of the earliest potatoes I've ever grown. I am holding off on the real heat-lovers, like tomatoes, squash, corn and cucumber. I did put in some beans, against my better judgement. Hopefully they won't rot before they can start really growing."

Not only are the food crops in early, but some flowers that usually go in a bit later too. "Bill is holding off on the main planting of dahlias, but I set out a couple rows of poms and some glads at the top of the garden, to add some colour to the vegetable patch. If we can just avoid the very real chance of frost over the next few days, I will have some of the earliest dahlia blooms I've ever grown. "

"The back yard is alive with flower colour supplied by a wonderful array of tulips we put in last fall, very late at that, in early December. That didn't seem to bother them, and now they are in full bloom. It's such a treat to have them, knowing that they are now a rarity in this deer-governed town. I'll never take for granted the fence we have around this back yard."

I asked Judy about the birds they had seen of late. She had two exciting sightings to mention. "One morning up by the greenhouse, I heard a commotion in the hedge, and out popped a male cardinal with two youngsters, which he proceeded to feed, as they chirped away at him. Then just the other day, I saw a bird for the first time ever in this garden, a red-bellied woodpecker. They're about the size of a hairy woodpecker, with much more red on the head and body." This solved a mysterious wild animal call Judy and I had heard last time I was there without being able to see who was making it. We shakily identified or at least speculated that it was a gray squirrel, though the call was unlike any mammal's I'm familiar with. Now we've tied the call to the rare avian visitor to our province, and are both the wiser for our experience. Like several bird species, red-bellied woodpeckers have gradually moved into the area, where they had never been seen before. That's probably mainly a function of milder climate, though other factors may also be at play.


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