So many gar­dens and so lit­tle time

Catch­ing up with a let­ter from the flower front

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - KATHY RENWALD

Par­don the chain let­ter, but it seems like the only way to catch up.

This sum­mer has been so hor­ti­cul­tur­ally dra­matic that the land­scape changes by the day.

I get calls and emails and even let­ters urg­ing me to come right away and see some­thing spe­cial in bloom. Or I carry, in a com­part­ment some­where in my brain, notes from the past to check out gar­dens at a spe­cific time.

Last year I wrote about Fa­tima Cus­to­dio’s won­der­ful gar­den in the North End, and she urged me to come by in a year’s time and see the roses. I did and they are won­der­ful, fill­ing a side yard with their re­nais­sance beauty.

Then a friend told me about Thomas Munn’s rose gar­den in the Gib­son neigh­bour­hood. “You have to see it.”

So I did. They fill the whole front yard, roses planted over 18 years. They are like a big, frothy wave rolling up to the front porch. The time-tested roses in­clude the climber Blaze, beau­ti­ful Care­free Won­der, the tough and re­peat bloom­ing Mor­den Ruby, and Ge­orge Van­cou­ver — an Ex­plorer se­ries rose bred in Canada.

“They get one prun­ing a year,” says Munn, a former art teacher. “No pro­tec­tion, no fer­til­izer, peo­ple drive by just to see them.”

And what a treat they get: gor­geous roses that re­ally show how robust and durable this shrub can be.

Zip­ping around Hamil­ton, some­times I feel like I should be driv­ing a Canada Post truck, that’s how of­ten I pull over.

Who wouldn’t stop to see an in­trigu­ing gar­den on James Street North? It starts on the lit­tle strip of land be­tween the road and the side­walk, a piece of prop­erty that usu­ally sports strug­gling grass and a frag­ile tree hop­ing to sur­vive. But at this lo­ca­tion, the home­owner has taken to tend­ing a lush lit­tle gar­den. Yel­low day lilies bloom abun­dantly and yuc­cas have sent up tow­er­ing spikes of white flow­ers. Yucca sur­vives in sand, rocky slopes in silt or clay, so the harsh en­vi­ron­ment of a traf­fic is­land does not seem to dampen its vigour.

But the lit­tle me­dian dis­play doesn’t stop at plants, the home­owner has tucked among the fo­liage lit­tle tri­cy­cles painted in pri­mary colours. In his own yard, a cast off bar­be­cue is painted bright red and planted with petu­nias and coleus, a mail­box is filled with suc­cu­lents, and close to the front door, a golf bag has been sac­ri­ficed for a bet­ter use as a planter.

You know how an­noy­ing it is to drive around the city and see that peo­ple have dumped their tires on out of the way streets? Well some­one near Birch Av­enue sees beauty in those re­tired rub­ber castoffs. They’ve painted old tires bright yel­low, stacked them two and three high and turned them into planters for be­go­nias and gera­ni­ums. In front of the tires, a raised bed gar­den has been cre­ated by us­ing cin­der blocks to con­tain the soil. The blocks get a facelift too, with a plant­ing of suc­cu­lents.

From the mod­est to the man­i­cured, all gar­dens are ben­e­fit­ting from fre­quent rain. In our gar­den, flow­ers that usu­ally look pre­sentable are look­ing sen­sa­tional, in­clud­ing hy­drangeas, false gold­en­rod, day lilies and hosta. Peren­ni­als that are fine in drought, such as grey-headed cone­flower, are grow­ing taller with the mois­ture.

So get out and ex­plore Hamil­ton. Ev­ery­thing looks so good, the streets are get­ting cleaned by the rain, and sur­pris­ing gar­dens thrive in un­likely places.

And stay tuned for my next chain let­ter from the flower front.


Roses at Fa­tima Cus­to­dio’s gar­den bloom lushly in their south­west ex­po­sure.

Be­tween the front yard and back­yard, Thomas Munn grows more than 90 rose plants. Many are hardy va­ri­eties bred in Canada.

Trikes have been added for a splash of con­trast­ing colour.

Grey-headed cone­flower will grow in dry con­di­tions but when it gets mois­ture, it grows taller and flow­ers more pro­fusely.

Munn’s roses are se­lected for their beauty and ease of care. Many are re­sis­tant to dis­ease and tol­er­ant of very cold tem­per­a­tures.

It’s been an ex­cel­lent grow­ing sea­son for hosta. Some peo­ple pre­fer to cut the flow­ers off, but they do at­tract ben­e­fi­cial in­sects to the gar­den.

Can you think of a bet­ter use for an old bar­be­cue?

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