Colour in the Garden

Spring Colour in the Garden

Spring Colour in the Garden

Colour in garden design is a personal matter. You may enjoy looking at a riotous mix of flower colours or you might prefer subtle colours. Perhaps you like different colours for different seasons; this might mean pastels in spring, a white garden in summer, and a profusion of reds, oranges, and yellows in the fall. You might want only different foliage textures all in green. There is no right or wrong.

The colour wheel helps you choose flower and foliage colours. There are three primary colours: red, yellow, and blue. When you combine these, you end up with the in-between secondary colours. Adding white to these colours gives you the pastels (colour tints). Adding black to colours gives you different colour shades. Take a look at the following colour wheel to see different colour tints and shades (the background is the colour of the February sky).

Three Common Garden Colour Designs

The colour wheel helps us create three common garden colour-schemes:

  1. Monochromatic Garden:

    The monochromatic garden uses just the shades or tints of one colour (in addition to the green foliage). The monochromatic garden can be very dramatic and beautiful. Many people create a white garden. White gardens are great for those who only get to enjoy their garden in the evening. White will pop out of dark corners. White also looks lovely when bathed in moonlight or low lighting. You might like to use only different pink tints. Visit my blog, Pink Plants for Early Spring, for great shrubs with pink blossoms.  Perhaps yellow is your favorite colour and you want to create a monochromatic yellow garden. There are also beautiful gardens that use no flower colours. Often these gardens are small and rely on interesting foliage for their success.

  2. Analogous Garden:

    The analogous garden uses colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel (purple and red, blue and purple, green and blue, yellow and green, yellow and orange, and red and orange). Some consider this soothing and harmonious.

  3. Complimentary Garden:

    The complimentary garden uses colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel. These colours really should be called opposing, not complimentary. Without getting too technical about the type of colour wheel chosen, complimentary colours can be red and greenish-blue, green and purplish-red, blue and yellow, red and green, yellow and purple, and finally blue and orange. The complimentary garden is bold and eye-catching. Think how blue and yellow together brings out the best of both colours.

    Deciduous Azalea and English Bluebells show complimentary colours

    Deciduous Azalea and English Bluebells show complimentary colours

Warm and Cool Colours in the Garden

Red, orange, and yellow are considered ‘warm’ colours. They provide a feeling of warmth and passion. Green, blue, and purple are the ‘cool’ colours. They contribute to a feeling of calmness, serenity, and relaxation.

You can make a garden seem smaller by putting warm colours in the back of a garden with cool colours in front. Putting warm colours in the front and cool colours in the back will make the garden appear larger.


Deer and Rabbit Resistant Plants

Cute Fawn or Garden Pest?

Cute Fawn or Garden Pest?

Having kept two outdoor pet rabbits for 13 years, I found the need to research what plants are rabbit resistant. I discovered that these same plants are also not favoured by deer.

There are few plants that are deer and rabbit proof. The best a gardener can hope for is a deer and rabbit resistant garden. Deer and rabbits generally avoid strongly scented plants, prickly or fuzzy foliage, and leathery leaves. They also prefer new growth over old growth. I noticed that astilbes, daylilies, ferns, and kinnikinnick were never eaten by my rabbits. Sadly, many of my other plants did not fare as well.

It is unfortunate that most deer and rabbits will try eating a plant before deciding it is not tasty – this means that new growth might be torn off only to be rejected and dropped. The following deer and rabbit resistant plants will likely survive such nibbling. The following plants are only eaten by deer and rabbits when other more desirable plants are not available.

Ornamental Onion
Black-eyed Susan
Bleeding Heart
California Poppy
Coral Bells
False Salvia
Foam Flower
Hens and Chicks
Jacob’s Ladder
Lamb’s Ears
Lily of the Valley
Meadow Rue
Shasta Daisy
Solomon’s Seal
Shrubs and Trees:
Butterfly Bush
Flowering Quince
Heavenly Bamboo
Japanese Snowbell
Mock Orange
Red Flowering Currant
Tree Peony

It is also important to know what plants are attractive to these creatures. Both deer and rabbits are enticed by vegetables, roses, grasses, tulips, annuals, fruit trees, and berry bushes. You can avoid luring deer and rabbits into your garden by not including these plants in your design.

A question to seriously consider is, “Do you really want to eliminate deer and rabbits from your garden?” They are enjoyable and relaxing to watch, as are other wildlife. By choosing to welcome these guests, you eliminate a source of stress and you might find you enjoy your garden even more.

Best Shrubs for Early Spring

Camellia ‘Taylor’s Perfection’

The evergreen camellia hybrid, ‘Taylor’s Perfection’, is one of the first shrubs in my garden to bloom. The soft pink blossoms are prolific and beautiful. The shrub grows 3-4 meters high and 2-3 meters wide. It can be planted in full to part sun in acidic soil. Once it is fully established, it does not require summer watering except in the case of drought.

'Taylor's Perfection' Camellia Blossoms

‘Taylor’s Perfection’ Camellia Blossoms

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’

Dawn Viburnum is one of the first shrubs to flower in late winter. It is a hybrid Viburnum that has fragrant pink flowers that bloom on bare branches. You can cut the branches in winter to force the blossoms indoors. The green leaves turn a wonderful orange-scarlet for fall interest and the winter will show off the cinnamon coloured bark. It is a great four season shrub for a mixed hedge.

Dawn Viburnum grows about 3-4 meters tall and 2-3 meters wide so it can easily fit in a small garden. It is fairly forgiving of soil types but you need to plant it in full sun to get a good flower display. Zone 5.

Dawn Viburnum

Dawn Viburnum


The beloved and common forsythia is well known for announcing the end of winter. The bright golden flowers cover the shrub in late February or early March. The branches make wonderful bouquets for bringing indoors.

Plant in sun where the forsythia can spread. It will grow 3-4 meters tall and just as wide. Prune out old canes every 2-3 years right after flowering. This leaves time for the following year’s buds to develop. Do not shear! The natural shape of a forsythia is an arching vase-shape; pruning into a ball or box shape is not ideal. Visit my blog, How to Propagate Red Flowering Currant, and follow the same steps to propagate forsythia. These shrubs are extremely easy to grow from cuttings.



Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’

Christmas Cheer Rhododendron begins to bloom in late February or early March – not at Christmas time as the name suggests. It is the earliest rhododendron to bloom in my North Vancouver neighbourhood and it always ‘cheers’ me up because it announces spring.

Christmas Cheer has large, pale-pink flowers and dark green foliage. It will grow to about 2 meters high and wide. Plant in moist (but not waterlogged) acid soil in part shade. It can tolerate sun if it is not the afternoon summer sun. This is a low-maintenance shrub that only needs additional water in drought.

Christmas Cheer Rhododendron

‘Christmas Cheer’ Rhododendron


Hellebore (unknown variety)

Hellebore (unknown variety)

Hellebores herald the approach of spring. They often poke their heads up through the snow to delight us with their delicate rose-like blossoms. The long-blooming flowers come in shades of pink, cream, deep purple, and green. These colours change and deepen with age. There are many Hellebore species to choose from and new Hellebore hybrids are being offered every year; some with double flowers or anemone centers. A Hellebore may also be called a Christmas Rose, Lenten Rose, or Stinking Rose.

Hellebores are ideal woodland perennials. They thrive in the rich soil under trees where there is full to dappled shade. Do not plant in very dry or waterlogged soil and provide protection from winds.  Many Hellebores are evergreen, although they can look ragged over the winter. They will grow about ½ meter high and wide. The flowers dangle from the plant so they are best planted on a slope where you can look up to see them.

Hellebores can be divided in early spring (as with most perennials) but they rarely need it. They can be expensive in garden stores (because seedlings take 3-5 years before they bloom) so dividing is a great, inexpensive way of getting new plants. Keep in mind that Hellebores are poisonous so keep them away from children and pets.

Hybrid Hellebore 'Pirouette'

Hybrid Hellebore ‘Pirouette’

5 Late Winter Garden Chores

February in the Pacific Northwest often feels like spring. You may be tempted to start planting. Don’t! The last frost date in Vancouver is in late March. So what can you do in the garden when the sun is shining and you want to get outside?  Here are five late-winter garden chores that you can get started on:

1. Trim and Clean-up Dead Foliage, Broken Twigs, and Damaged Boughs

Cutting away dead and damaged foliage when a plant is dormant helps wounds quickly recover before the plant starts to actively grow. You will start the growing season with tidy perennials, shrubs, and trees.

2. Dig and Divide Emerging Perennials

Perennials are wonderful plants for propagating. I have numerous daylilies, peonies, irises, and astilbes that have all been propagated from just a few parent plants. This is a great way to fill your garden without spending a lot of money. Other great perennials that divide easily are Black-Eyed Susans and Shasta Daisies. Even ferns can be divided. You can tell when a plant needs dividing because the center will look sickly and not produce as much foliage as the outer regions. To divide a large perennial clump:

  • Divide in the shade and do not let unearthed perennials sit out of the soil for an extended length of time.
  • Dig the perennial out and shake off excess soil. This is difficult for some heavily rooted perennials. I try to dig mine out before they get too large – otherwise I can jump on the spade with all my weight and nothing is accomplished.
  • Use a spade with a flat blade and cut the perennial in sections, ensuring there is a good amount of root in each section.
  • Replant the divisions and water slightly.

That is all there is to it! Below is a picture taken today (February 21st) of my neighbour’s daylilies emerging from the warmed soil. The magnificent trunk behind is a Sequoia.

Daylilies emerging in front of Sequoia

Daylilies emerging in front of Sequoia

3. Clean Birdhouses and Birdbaths and Set Up

This is the time to get your birdhouses and birdbaths cleaned up and ready for the birds. Already I am seeing lots of chickadees and robins in my backyard. The chickadees will be looking for nesting locations before they need them.

  • Do not use harsh chemicals when cleaning your birdbaths and birdhouses. Use only water and a good stiff brush.
  • Hang the birdhouses where you will be able to enjoy watching the comings and goings of the parents as they feed their young.
  • Ensure predators cannot reach the birdhouses and that there is afternoon shade. It can get quite hot inside a birdhouse if the sunlight is directly hitting it.
  • Put the birdbaths in a location near the hose. I have to put fresh water in my birdbaths sometimes three times per day. Moving the hose back and forth will quickly become a chore.
  • Make sure the birdbaths are not located near an area where cats can lie in wait.
  • Place birdbaths in the shade if they are made from metal. Even other types of birdbaths should be put in shaded locations because bacteria can grow rapidly in warm water.

4. Clean Patio Furniture, Decks, and Patios.

It is a good time to scrub all mold, moss, and dirt from your patios and deck furniture. Use stiff brushes and water. Power washers are great inventions; use one if you can. Dress in waterproof gear because you can get wet and cold very quickly. Keep the cleaned furniture under cover for a while longer but you can now pull a chair out on a sunny day to sit and enjoy the warmth.

5. Plan Your Summer Garden

Here is the best part. Just sit outside and look around your yard and make plans. I find planning is the best part of any project. Take deep breaths of the fresh air and enjoy! Look up into the sky and give thanks for this beautiful world.

February Crocuses

February Crocuses

10 Best Christmas Trees

10 Best Christmas Trees to Grow in the Pacific Northwest

Fraser Fir

Fraser Fir

With the cost of Christmas trees ranging from $30 to over $100, it is well worth the effort to grow your own trees if you have a large garden. Most trees will be about 2 meters tall in 7 years. If you plant one tree a year for 7 years, you will always have a very fresh Christmas tree every December and you will enjoy the additional benefit of having extra boughs for wreaths and garlands and other decorations. You can plant your Christmas tree in a pot that could be brought indoors for a couple of weeks during the Christmas celebrations. If you plant your trees in the ground, make sure you plant them with approximately 1.5 meter spacing and in full sun. There is very little effort required to grow these trees; keep watered during droughts and prune to shape annually after the tree is about four years old.

1. Fraser Fir

This is my favorite Christmas tree. The branches are beautifully spaced, the needles are soft, the color is a lovely silver-green, the branches are strong enough to support heavy ornaments, and the overall shape is perfect for the purpose of being the center of attention. It is often called the ‘no-shed’ tree because it does a wonderful job of retaining its needles after cutting. It also has a beautiful light fragrance.

2. Noble Fir

This is the quintessential Christmas tree. The branches have a classic, slightly upward sweep and are strong enough to hold heavy ornaments. It has good needle retention and is long lasting.

3. Douglas Fir

This tree is not a true Fir. They are native to North America and can live to a thousand years. They have thick bark which help them to survive forest fires. The needles are dark green to blue green and the young tree has a good conical shape. The Douglas Fir can grow in a wide range of soil types and climates; it will grow and thrive whether the site is extremely dry or moist.

4. Balsam Fir

This lovely Fir will grow to about 20 meters tall in the wild and will have a nice conical shape. It will often have a long spire at the top which is perfect for attaching your angel or star. The needles are dark green and the tree is dense. It is a great choice for a Christmas tree.

5. Colorado Blue Spruce

The Latin name for this tree is Picea pungens. ‘Pungens’ means sharply pointed so this tells you how the needles will feel when you touch them. The tree has a strong silver-blue color so keep this in mind if you prefer the traditional green Christmas tree (like I do). If you want to dress up your tree in silver and blue-toned ornaments, then this tree may work for you. Just remember to wear gloves to protect your hands.

6. Western White Pine

This pine is related to the Eastern White Pine (Pinus Strobus) of which I have two in my garden. The needles are large and soft to the touch. It will grow rapidly and will thrive in well drained soils. Pines have a wonderful scent and a nice open shape.

8. Grand Fir

This tree can grow to incredible heights; it often reaches 100 meters (300 feet). Do not plant it in a small garden unless you pot it. It is a dense foliaged tree when clipped and it produces a beautiful fragrance.

9. Scotch (or Scots) Pine

Scotch pine grows quickly and is tolerant of a wide range of soil types and climates. It is also able to withstand drought more than some of the other Christmas trees mentioned. It has good needle retention and it will not completely dry out if you keep it in a water-filled tree stand for about 3 weeks. You will need to prune it regularly to create a nice shape.

10. Nordmann Fir

This is a great tree for people with allergies because the Nordmann Fir has very little fragrance. It has a waxy coating to its needles which helps them to retain moisture. The needles are also fairly soft.

How to Attract Chickadees


Black-Capped Chickadee


Every spring I look forward to the chickadees that flock to our woodland garden. Often they will splash about in the birdbath, scratch gently in the soil, perch or hang upside down on bare branches, and generally do what they do well – look extremely cute. Because their bodies are so round, small, and chubby and they possess a beautiful song, they tend to be universally liked. They do not leave large droppings, they do not damage your siding, they do not hurt other birds, and they actually eat offending pests such as aphids, caterpillars, and beetles.

You can easily identify the Black-Capped Chickadee by its distinctive markings. The cheeks are white, the cap of the head and the chest bib are black, the back is grey, the wings a mixture of grey and white, and the body under the wings is a light tan. They tend to travel in groups as they are very sociable. They choose a mate early in the season and are very quick to use a nesting box if it is provided. They will also build a nest in rotted wood cavities. They are very curious and are not afraid of humans.

Chickadees are one of the easiest birds to attract to your backyard. You will be visited by these birds if you provide nesting boxes, feeders, birdbaths (or other water source), and a good mix of evergreen trees, deciduous trees, and shrubs for food and shelter. They love to eat seed heads, suet, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. They will also eat many types of flying insects, ants, larva, and bugs.

Black-eyed Susans are a Chickadee favorite

Black-eyed Susans are a Chickadee favorite


Instead of providing birdfeeders, it is preferable to make available plants that offer attractive seeds and berries or harbor bugs that fulfill the dietary requirements of Chickadees. Favorite perennials are seed bearing plants such as Black-Eyed Susans. Leave the seed heads on the plant over the winter and you will find flocks of Chickadees feeding on the seeds in early spring when they need the fat and nutrients these provide. Maples, Western Red Cedars, Crab Apples, Lilacs, Dogwood, Rowan, and other trees and shrubs that attract small insects will be visited frequently by Chickadees. Below is one of my resident chickadees in my Western Red Cedar with a bug for his/her babies.

Another important attraction for chickadees is a source of clean water for drinking and bathing. I have two bird baths that I clean every day. They frequently see up to ten Chickadees in the bath at the same time! If you do not have a bird bath, a shallow dish on the ground that is regularly filled and cleaned will be welcomed by them.

Black Capped Chickadee with bug in Western Red Cedar

Black Capped Chickadee with bug in Western Red Cedar


I bought two cedar bird houses from the Wild Birds Unlimited shop in North Vancouver that were built specifically for Chickadees. They have a door that can be opened for easy cleaning. I have had the houses for three years and every year they provide a home for 2 mating pairs and their offspring. It is such a joy to hear all the chirping and see the parents busily rushing back and forth searching for food for the little ones. Over the winter I clean and store the houses in the shed. I also hang wool from trees for building the nests. I put this out in March. I also notice Chickadees really love the lint that comes from my dryer vent. They spend ages scraping it from the concrete patio as if it were a treasure. It must make a nice soft bed for the babies.

Here is a photo of one of my birdhouses with its occupant poking his/her head out. I can view the comings and goings from my chair in the family room…

Chickadee in my birdhouse

Chickadee in my birdhouse


If you prefer to build your own birdhouse, ensure the entry hole is just over 2.5 cm (1″) in diameter and do not attach a perch. Have a way to open the box for cleaning. Also ensure you provide some ventilation and hang the box in the shade, not direct sun. I hang my birdhouses at a height of approximately 3 meters and far enough out on a limb that racoons and cats cannot bother the nest.

I hope these tips will help you to experience the joy of sharing your garden with these marvelous little birds.