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Herbaceous Perennials, Figs & Ponds

What herbaceous perennials should she plant; non-ripening figs in New Jersey; how and when to prune Euonymus shrubs/climbers; and finally our water features which didn’t notice in last week’s pictures.
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

September 9, 2007

Above, our large pond first in early spring with the Marsh Marigold in full bloom, and then in June showing an array of early summer bloom and including our geyser in the centre of the photo. Below, some of our small fish rush for their food in slightly rippled water, and our small pond shows our second ‘mini-pisser’ a gift from a listener and it is still going over 20 years and about 4,500 kilometres later! Author photos.

Maribel wrote from the Orangeville area, just north of Toronto, on August 29th, with the following question: “I was listening today, and heard you talking about tulips. I moved two years ago, to a house with very few gardens. I have slowly been changing that. My beds are now in place and I am now ready to put in flowers for all year colour. I have a north-facing frontage, and sun everywhere. What do you suggest I put in now for next year. I prefer perennials. Help!”

If I were to write ten pages in answer to this question, I would still not be able to give a complete response. First, let me emphasize this is an excellent time for planting herbaceous perennials, at least the vast majority of them. Since you are close to the Brampton area, I would suggest you visit two nurseries, and take a pad and pencil. The first would be Humber Nurseries on Hwy. 50, between Steeles Avenue and Hwy. 7, with easy access from the 407. The second would be The Country Squires Garden on Derry Road (#2601) just a few hundred metres west of Guelph Line which runs south from Hwy. 401.

Both of these centres have thousands of cultivars of perennials already to plant in your garden right now. You should strive to obtain as broad a selection of flower and foliage colours/textures, varying plant heights, and of course flowers that bloom at the various seasons of the year. If the latter seems a problem for you, I suggest you obtain a copy of the book Gardening with Perennials Month by Month by Joseph Hudak (published by Timber Press). Though Joseph is an American, he is quite familiar with perennial gardening in your area and has done gardens for some famous folk there.

Be sure to enlist the help of one of the friendly gardeners in the perennial department at Humber Nurseries, and of Keith or Carolyn Squires at The Country Squires Garden.

My only other advice--just do not be overwhelmed!

On the same day that Maribel’s note arrived, Loretta Merritt wrote to Donna Dawson from the U.S., “We have a fig tree and it gets figs but they never get ripe. We live in New Jersey—what can we do to improve this situation? The tree looks healthy and we had one good crop a few years ago but green figs since.”

Well, Loretta, your problem is for certain one related to weather; i.e. not enough heat for the particular variety of fig you are trying to grow. The one year that they ripened for you was likely one for record heat--a check of local weather records would likely prove that. Various fig growers in the cooler climates such as your area have their favourite hardy varieties such as ‘Marseille’, ‘Chicago Hardy’, ‘Celeste’ and ‘Brown Turkey’.

There are other precautions that can be taken, including planting the tree in a somewhat protected location, such as on the south or southwest side of a building, or at least in some way protected from prevailing winter winds. Sun is obviously the most important ingredient for ripening and I would even consider removing some of the foliage in early August to allow more sun for ripening. However, the single most important item is to plant a variety that is considered hardy, such as the ones I’ve named here.

On September 1st, Dominque in Freelton, Ontario wrote asking: “I have some Euonymus that are at least 25 years old, and they are large growing varieties. I usually trim them a little in the spring to keep them the size I would like them to remain. For the past 3 years I haven't been able to do much gardening and they are overgrown and looking sparse in the centres. Can I correct this problem by pruning them back to the size I'd like them to be? If so, when would I do this?”

Euonymus is not a fussy plant, and it can take pruning at virtually any time of year. If you want to do it yet this fall, I would be sure to have it complete this month, or else, leave it until early next spring (mid-April). You may cut it back severely removing at least a third of the growth if you wish. The only caution I would give you is that if there has been any sign of Euonymus scale (off-white coloured clusters along the youngest growths) then be sure you put the clippings in the garbage and not the compost heap. Also, you should assure that the plant has a ‘decent’ shape after the pruning is done. And, keep in mind it should look as if you pruned too severely once you are complete. It will soon thicken and grow back.

Finally, on Thursday, Cristiana Stanciu of Toronto wrote: “I just read your latest article in the "I Can Garden" and I admired your pond pictures. Sorry for your Koi. As I looked at the pictures I didn't notice any ripples (as if a pump was running) and I was wondering it you use a pump or if the oxygen provided by the plants is enough for your fish?

Thank you.”

It just happened that the photos I included of my large pond last week showed perfectly calm water. Actually, ever since our first years with ponds, back in the early 80s, we have had some type of water movement, more for added interest than anything else. In Toronto we always had one, and then a few years later, two little ‘pissers’ at opposite ends of the pond. We brought both of those with us to British Columbia (although the original one from Belgium, is now in bad shape) and they are along the edge of the small pond (at opposite ends). The one in the photo here was the second one that I acquired from a radio listener in the mid-80s in Toronto.

For the large pond here, we installed what I call ‘the geyser’ which runs on a separate even larger pump. The water rises at least 90 cm, sometimes over a metre, depending on how clean the built-in pump filter is! Water lilies do not like water that is disturbed as ours is around the geyser, but there is lots of room for them in other parts of the pond. You’ll see the geyser in action in both the early spring and June photos of the large pond, and a bit of the rippling of the water in the August photo of the small fish now present.

Enjoy your pond!

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