What To Plant In Beds On A Large Property & Comments About The Damn Dandelions
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

May 12, 2013

Above: One of the beds to be replaced by the questioner this week. Below: dandelions infesting a lawn in typical fashion without the use of 2,4-D; and the typical sight of dandelions all in seed, producing thousands more plants the following year; and one of our red azaleas currently at its best just for contrast!

An interesting question rolled in some little time ago. It came from a friend in eastern Canada (eastern Ontario actually) and it was for suggestions to plant up a large garden in the country. I was sent photos of what is there now, and I had to ask for more information before I could offer any suggestions.

Presently they are planting large numbers of annual flowers (specifically a red Salvia) and have a few junipers and other small evergreens, along with a very few ornamental grasses.

The owner was concerned about hardiness and possibly strong winds, but did not mention anything about snow. Here is what I wrote to him in response.

“One thing I do not do is design gardens or draw plans for same. I plant gardens (mainly my own) by saying ‘let’s try that over there’ and so on.

“Having said all that, here are my observations. You should have no problem with any of the Box (Buxus), especially the Sheridan Hybrids—which were developed at Oakville and are all rated at least zone 4b (Canadian zone map) or hardier. You mention smaller plants and if that is your wish you likely should go with the first of these that was introduced (in 1973—only four years after I left the company so I was well aware of these coming onto the market). You could also incorporate taller cultivars such as Green Velvet which was introduced the same year and is considered slightly hardier. Since it grows slightly taller, it might contrast well.

“I would think that by sticking to a limited number of broadleaf evergreens you would have a decent look for not only the growing season but for the winter as well. For good colour you could plant the taller box to square in or encircle beds of annuals of bright colours, and when you remove them in the fall, the broadleaf evergreens would still look pretty good. The only thing to think about is that you would not want a snow plow to pile the plants high with snow which would cause them to bend and break.

“Other broadleaf evergreens that you could use are Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Coral beauty Cotoneaster (C. dammeri ‘Coral Beauty’), Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), Rose daphne (Daphne cneorum), Bogrosemary (Andromeda polifolia ‘Blue Ice’) and Periwinkle (Vinca minor ‘Illumination’. These are all hardy, and should withstand the wind, particularly if they are planted within beds edged with the higher box plants.

“For the replacement for the annuals, there are ever so many choices now. Some of the most colourful are the newer Million bells (Calibrachoa), Scaevola, Nemesia, and of course, the much older Petunias, Marigolds and Zinnias.

“With regard to ornamental grasses, I agree with you about height, however, there are some that do not get too high. The single best place in southern Ontario to see a selection of ornamental grasses is Humber Nurseries on Hwy. 50 south of Brampton. There is a brown sedge ‘Prairie Fire’ (Carex testacea) that grows only about 45 cm (18”) high that would fit inside a hedge of the taller Box quite well. Likewise, Golden variegated Hakone (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) grows only to less than 60 cm and should also be hardy with you.

“By the way, in planning the various beds using broadleaf evergreens, it is not necessary to think solely of circular or square beds such as you have now. You could have plantings in the shape of a fan radiating out from one corner of an entire square or rectangular bed with different plants in each successive ‘row’. Each row would get wider as it reached the other side of the bed. Entire beds would then be surrounded in one of the box plants.

“You mention ‘Knockout’ roses in the past tense, but you could still have some roses, I’d just stay away from the older HT, Floribunda and Grandiflora types. You would be better off with some of the newer types such as the Easy Elegance shrub roses, or the Floral Carpet series.

“For good photographs of any and all these suggestions you can, of course, find them on the Internet.

“I think that is about all I can recommend after checking your guidelines again. If you have specific questions, do not hesitate to get in touch!”

While responding to the foregoing request, I happened to read in one of our local newspapers, the regular column by Nancy Whelan, commenting on the gold that is now all around us in the form of the hated dandelions!

“Weeds are the ultimate opportunists, and their golden opportunities are patches of disturbed land where they can hunker down and in no time at all overrun the native plants. In other words, no plows, no weeds.

“Some weeds were imported by design as a food source, others came as hitchhikers. The dandelion was purposely brought to the New World for its multiple uses in settlers’ pantries. The young leaves were prized as salad greens full of Vitamin C; the flower heads were used, and still are, to make wine; and the roots were dried and ground for the morning coffee.

“In most people’s books, dandelions are capital W weeds, yet it’s hard not to welcome their sunny yellow faces when they first appear in the spring. It’s even been suggested that the robust golden dandelion should be the flower of Easter and rebirth, rather than the pale and fragile lily. The common dandelion, (Tarazacum officinale) comes by its common name through a French description of its sharply notched leaves — “le dent-de-lion” or teeth of the lion.

“Whether or not we like the connection, the dandelion is a member of the sunflower family, and an interesting aside on that giant of our gardens and favorite of the birds, is that the sunflower gang is the largest plant family in the world.”

However, I guess Nancy Whelan wished to avoid controversy by making absolutely no mention of how to control them; i.e. no mention of the most effective control: 2,4-D. She may be a member of the NDP party which has sworn to introduce a total ban of such chemicals in the province of B.C. if they are elected the new govenment, which it currently looks as if it may happen! Or, maybe she is just anti the use of chemicals, which she is welcome to be; I just wish people holding that opinion would be less promoting of it as if only they can be correct, when as our federal government scientists confirm, 2,4-D is less poisonous to humans than say one of the alternatives often recommended—common table salt (which really does not work nearly as well).

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