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Garden Tours, Arborvitae Hedge & Moles

Take in at least one garden tour; and questions about a hacked arborvitae hedge and gum for moles!
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

June 27, 2004

Our Victoria Flower & Garden Show project of a Mad Hatters Tea Party Garden at the Emily Carr House in Victoria is finally nearing completion. At top is the front of the house with the Capital Iron gazebo looking as if it really belongs permanently. Immediately above, is a wrought iron arch with a weeping Norway spruce (Picea abies ‘Pendula’) beautifully outlining it. Immediately below, is the side of the house with part of the water feature. The ivy-like foliage trimmed in red is chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata), and if the smaller wrought iron feature looks as if something is missing, there is! The Queen will be arriving there shortly! Note the cacti in the lower right, which are as hardy in Ontario as they are here! Finally, at bottom is Jerusalem sage (Phlomis russeliana), a wonderful woolly-leaved perennial that may be worth a try in the milder areas of southern Ontario. Author photos.

There are a couple of questions this week, but before I deal with those, I want to make some general comments about garden tours.

The season of garden touring is upon us and anyone with any interest in plants and gardens really ought to take advantage of as many of them as possible. There is simply no better way to get ideas for your own garden than by visiting others. Often, even the least interesting of gardens on any one tour can yield a special plant, a plant arrangement concept, or problem solving idea that makes the entire tour more than worthwhile.

The first garden tour I ever attended was in 1966, and as far as I have been able to ascertain, it was in fact the first such tour at least in Ontario, perhaps in Canada. It was the brainchild of the Cloverleaf Garden Club in what were then the communities of Port Credit, Clarkson and Lorne Park. They and others are all now part of the City of Mississauga. It was Cloverleaf member (and strong promoter) Tom Crookston, who lived on Mineola Road West, who came to me with the idea asking my thoughts. I told him I thought it a great idea and over the next several years, I helped with various publicity ideas in order to build the attendance. Naturally, Tom’s garden was on that first tour, and I can still remember seeing his wonderful English delphiniums and the many other fine perennials for the first time. In those days, annual flowers were King, and perennial growing was a lost art. Tom Crookston would be impressed with the huge surge in perennial gardening that has developed in the last two decades.

Cloverleaf now has a list of over 400 names of people who sign up at their tours in order that they be notified each year in advance.

Perhaps the most sophisticated tour is that run by the Toronto Botanical Garden, formerly the Civic Garden Centre. It is only 17 years old, having been started by another old friend, landscape architect (and former call screener for my gardening radio shows) Peter D. C. Thomas. He had the concept of a two-day weekend tour with 15 to 20 gardens in different specific areas of the city each year. He also organized the first tour, including the use of shuttle buses between the gardens. I’ve been involved in promoting and advertising almost all of these tours as well, except for this year, when it was sold out in advance, for the first time I believe.

While the first Cloverleaf tour was not thought of by Tom Crookston (or anyone else likely) as a major fund-raiser, many garden tours have now become such, including that of the Toronto Botanical Garden. And, that was Peter Thomas’ idea for the then Civic Garden Centre tour.

Now to questions.

Wayne McMillan of Acton Ontario wrote on Friday with the following question. “I have just been BLESSED with new neighbours. Between our houses WAS, until yesterday, a 30 foot cedar hedge that needed to be pruned and shaped. The hedge was a great privacy screen and when I arrived home last night, my neighbour, in all his 28 year old wisdom, had chopped the top 20 feet off of the tops of all of the trees. What's left, is a forest of sticks standing straight up in the air with a little bit of green foliage on the ends of the branches. I don't think I've ever seen anything that looks as terrible as this does.

“My question is this. If I leave this hedge (or what's left of it), will it fill back in and how long would it take? Or should I just finish the job and cut the trees right down to the ground and pull out the trunks?

“My house is over 100 years old and I'm guessing that the hedge must be at least 50 - 75 years old. The only other place I've seen such large cedars, is on the borders of the farmers fields in the Grey county area of Ontario.”

Before giving a definitive answer as to whether or not Wayne should cut down his old arborvitae trees, I am asking him if he can provide a fast photo or two of the trees after they were pruned. Another important question is does any window of his house look down on the trees?

Ordinarily, with few exceptions, evergreens that are severely cut back take years to put out new growth from old thick wood; if they ever do. The exception would be Japanese yews (Taxus) species. My own experience with cedars (correctly, arborvitae or Thuja) was back in 1959 and 1960 at The Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture. There was a hedge of oriental cedar (or arborvitae) [Thuja orientalis] which is similar to the much more common occidental arborvitae (T. occidentalis), which is likely what Wayne has. This hedge, surrounding the Herb Garden at the school, was three metres (10 ft.) high and almost as wide and presented a giant task when it needed to be clipped. The superintendent at the school, C. H. (Bert) Henning, decided he was going to have we students reduce it in size by cutting it back to a manageable height of about 1.5 to 1.8 metres (5-6 ft.) and at the same time reducing the width by several feet.

What resulted after the task was the barest of cedar hedges any of us had ever seen. I only wish I had taken a photograph! But, as Bert said it would, it did come back, but slowly. It took several years to be fully green again, but nevertheless, when it did green up it looked just as nice as previously and was much easier to maintain. Now, that was Thuja orientalis, and I have no evidence that T. occidentalis will do the same.

Once I see how bad Wayne’s hedge looks, I’ll report back on my final recommendations!

Finally this week, Judy in Fenwick wrote with the following comment about controlling moles and voles. As it happens her suggestion is known to me, but I always hesitate to recommend it, but since she wrote, and on second thought I decided I should provide it to others.

“This past Saturday morning I was listening to your show when one caller wanted to know how to get rid of moles. Well I have had a problem with them myself for the past two years. I tried many products on the market to get rid of those pesky little guys. This spring someone told me about using spearmint flavoured chewing gum! Gum? Well don't laugh...they are attracted to the spearmint, chew it and well needless to say I have not seen any new boroughs since. It's worth a try. I don't really condone killing animals but sometimes you just have to.”


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