Making a Garden blog by Judith Adam

Judith Adam is the horticultural consultant for Garden Making magazine. Judith is a horticulturist, landscape designer and author of several best-selling gardening books, including Landscape Planning.

When to apply spring fertilizers

'Charles Lamont' viburnum is an early-blooming shrub. Photo by Brendan Zwelling

After a long and unusually cold winter, I’ve been out assessing the damage. Some trees lost limbs in an ice storm, and the raw wounds need cleaning up. Flower buds on magnolias and corylopsis have died, but the wood is still alive. The lawn looks quite rough and patchy, the result of thick ice over it for several months. My impulse is to apply fertilizer to help the plants … [Read more...]

Beautiful pumpkins — warts and all

'Knucklehead' pumpkin

The arrival of the first seed catalogues has coincided with the end of pumpkin season. My friend Clare had a bumper crop of pumpkins (Curcurbita spp.) at her farm garden in Ontario, and her cold cellar is full of the smooth, round globes waiting for winter pies. She gifted me with a lovely specimen that sat on my porch Halloween night, and now is on the dining-room sideboard. … [Read more...]

Monkshood, always a late surprise


Poking around in the back garden the second week of November, I came upon a clump of fall-blooming azure ‘Arendsii’ monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii [Arendesii Group] ‘Arendsii’, 72 inches / 180 cm, Zone 3) in full flower and looking like several frosty nights have only spurred it on. I always forget about this plant until it erupts in gorgeous bloom so late in the season and … [Read more...]

Astilbes stand tall through winter

'Peaches and Cream' astilbe Heritage Perennials

In the new and exciting winter issue of Garden Making, you’ll find Stephen Westcott-Gratton’s article on all good things about astilbes. I’m careful to let astilbe stems and flowers stand through winter as part of the brown garden — cinnamon brown astilbe flowers, mahogany brown sedum flowerheads, nutmeg-brown flowers on dwarf woodland hydrangea Pee Wee (Hydrangea quercifolia … [Read more...]

Putting roses to bed

Rosa Geranium 002

With frost upon us, the roses look like they’re ready for a long winter sleep. But don’t be fooled — their process of acclimatizing to winter dormancy is slow and gradual. Dormancy is the most crucial element of winter hardiness, and roses require six to eight weeks of acclimatization before they enter full dormancy, ready to withstand the lowest winter temperatures. It’s … [Read more...]

Catching up with bee balm and other travellers

‘Miss Manners’ is a non-spreading beebalm selection. (Photo from Heritage Perennials)

Last summer’s abundant rain encouraged colonizing perennials like bee balm (Monarda didyma, Zone 5) to make great strides in overtaking the landscape. My clumps have sent out running roots a full 18 inches (45 cm) from the central mother clump, and young shoots have risen from these roots, indicating where offset plants will begin to grow next season. This is a bold grasp for … [Read more...]

Getting periwinkle under control

'Ralph Shugert' periwinkle

There are good reasons to grow and enjoy periwinkle (Vinca minor, Zone 4). It has a beautiful blue or white spring flower, and small leaves that work well with perennial plants and woody shrubs. Periwinkle, sometimes called myrtle, is a broadleaf evergreen that keeps its glossy leaves in winter. It’s fast growing, making a six-inch (15-cm) thick weed-suppressing mat, rooting … [Read more...]

Benefits of polymeric bonding sand

Bonding sand on path

While cruising the garden this morning to visit a few perennials still in bloom (‘Honorine Jobert’ Japanese anemone and ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ bugbane), I had the distinct impression that the paving stones on the front path were shifting under my feet. And they were! This sometimes happens in spring following a heavy snow melt when the trickling water carries away jointing … [Read more...]

‘The Fairy’ rose keeps on blooming

'The Fairy' rose (Photo by Sheridan Nurseries)

My garden hasn’t had a frost yet, but it certainly is coming in the next two weeks. This is when I begin looking around to see what might keep blooming, despite a few nights of light frost. Any plants that can keep showing a flower into November are well worth having in duplicates. Of the three plants that keep blooming well into November in my Zone 6a garden, the most … [Read more...]

An easy way to make soil

Leaves help make new soil (Photo by Joanne Young)

Spring is all about plants, and autumn is a good time to renovate soil and prepare new beds that will be ready for planting as soon as frost leaves the ground. Often these activities begin with ordering several cubic yards of fresh topsoil or triple mix (equal parts topsoil, peat moss and compost) that are delivered and dumped in the driveway, and then must be moved by … [Read more...]

Conifer needles good for the soil

conifer needles

It seems that overnight, all my coniferous trees have yellowing foliage in the interior sections of their branches. This is their way of shedding up to a third of the oldest needles in preparation for new foliage that will grow next spring. The yellowing needles will begin dropping toward the end of October. I have several mature conifers in the garden, including a white pine, … [Read more...]

Gaura and goldenrod: An autumn marriage

'Golden Baby' gauna (Photo from Heritage Perennials)

Last spring, I bought three pots of ‘Blushing Butterflies’ gaura (Gaura lindheimeri ‘Blushing Butterflies’, 24 x 18 inches / 60 x 45 cm, Zone 6), a compact cultivar with clouds of soft pink flowers and darker stamens. This short, bushy plant has a long blooming season, more flowers than foliage and is perfect for containers. Gaura is borderline hardy in my Zone 6a garden, and … [Read more...]

Best fertilizer for lawn in autumn

October is good time for lawn fertilizer.

The cool nights and mild days of early autumn are just what grass needs to repair itself from the strains of a long growing season that began last April. This is the time to look in garden centres for bags of autumn turf fertilizer, and October is the month to get it spread across the lawn. If I’m able to fertilize the grass only once a season, autumn is the most crucial time, … [Read more...]

Ornamental grasses in bloom

Ornamental grass 'Morning Light'

I’m glad to have both roses and ornamental grasses in the front garden, where they continue to bloom and prolong the seasonal display. It never occurred to me that they would possibly be most appreciated in autumn, when so many other perennials and shrubs are finished blooming. The one rose shrub is fluorescent red Double Knock Out, back in bloom now that the Japanese beetles … [Read more...]

Late-summer blues: Great blue lobelia and willow gentian

blue lobelia with bee (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)

I haven’t been paying much attention to my shady air-conditioner garden, and was pleasantly surprised to pass by and notice two gorgeous blue perennials in bloom — great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica, 24 x 12 inches /60 x 30 cm, Zone 5) and willow gentian (Gentiana asclepiadea, 18 x 15 inches / 45 x 38 cm, Zone 6). They look particularly vigorous this year, no doubt because … [Read more...]

Short and tall Joe Pye weed

'Pink Frost' Joe Pye weed

Travelling the back roads of Algonquin Park in Ontario last month, I enjoyed seeing clumps of Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum) and Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) brightly blooming in complementary partnership. Returning home, I found a similar scenario with (too much!) goldenrod in the borders and a tall clump of ‘Gateway’ Joe Pye weed (E. maculatum [Atropurpureum … [Read more...]

Looking for big garlic cloves

garlic cloves in hand

I have an itch to plant some hard neck garlic (Allium sativum, Zone 3) this October. Like any other hardy bulbous plant (including spring tulips and other ornamental bulbs), garlic begins making roots in the fall, just as soon as it’s buried in soft, rich soil. In spring, it begins forming an underground head, and sends up green blades and a thick stem that will eventually … [Read more...]

Leave some seed for birds

Goldfinch mated couple want seed for birds

After a season of weather stress, the garden is looking like Tobacco Rd. — worn out and ready for a cleanup. I’m starting to cut back spent perennials and remove exhausted annuals slowly and in phases, trying to neaten plants that are truly finished for the year, while leaving anything still green and vigorous to prolong the season through fall. While some of these plants are … [Read more...]

Culver’s root and turtlehead: Late summer stars


In mid-August, I visited the perennial gardens at the Stratford Festival in Ontario to see what was in bloom. Predictably, there were several large clumps of phlox, but I was surprised to find tall thick stands of culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum, 4 x 3 feet / 1.2 m x 60 cm) and turtlehead (Chelone obliqua, 3 x 2 feet / 90 x 60 cm), two old-fashioned Zone 5 plants that … [Read more...]

Planting fall lettuces

Mesclun being cut (Photo from Renee's Garden)

Reading Niki Jabbour’s article on late lettuce in the gorgeous fall issue of Garden Making (“Lettuce Rejoice,” p. 67) will tempt you to search out any lettuce seed packets you have hanging around from spring. I have several, including a mild mesclun (various mixes available at,,,,, full of soft salad bowl … [Read more...]

Saving tomato and pepper seed

Saving seed from tomato (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)

When a plant produces well, there’s always an urge to collect seeds and try to repeat success next summer. The process of saving seeds can be as easy as collecting and drying pepper seeds, and safely packaging them for next year. Or it can be a bit more complicated if you want to save tomato seeds, which require fermentation to remove their germination inhibitors. But it’s all … [Read more...]

Bugbane: A plant with stamina

Bugbane (Actaea racemosa) put on best show in 20 years. (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)

After six weeks of challenging heat and heavy rain, I’m studying what plants prospered despite the environmental assault. I’d have to say the bugbanes, or snakeroots, have done surprisingly well. The simple black snakeroot (Actaea racemosa, Zone 4) stood the tallest, with wands of white flowers extending high above its attractive ferny foliage. My two clumps have been in the … [Read more...]

Pollinator report: Dragonflies, damselflies and bees

Damselfly in Toronto backyard garden (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)

It has been an interesting season for insects, with visits from species I’ve never seen in this garden. I expect the changing climate patterns have created favourable conditions for some of these new visitors. I’ve enjoyed a mated pair of ebony jewelwings (Calopteryx maculata), broad-winged damselflies that resemble dragonflies. The male grows two inches (5 cm) long and makes a … [Read more...]

Sparks Will Fly begonia worth saving


Last May one of my impulse buys was Sparks Will Fly begonia (Begonia boliviensis ‘Brothglow’, 18 x 18 inches / 45 x 45 cm). Its bright tangerine-orange flowers look dazzling against bronze leaves with light green veins. Displayed in a shady corner on my deck, this plant carried on blooming until early August. After a 10-day rest, it’s now full of flower buds and looks like it … [Read more...]

And the winner is: Mighty Sweet grape tomato

Might Sweet cherry tomato (Photo by Brendan Zwelling)

Years ago, I belonged to a horticultural group that had a tomato-tasting event every September. It was the best fun, and also taught us a lot about tomato shapes, colours and flavours. Nowadays, I have taste competitions with tomatoes from my garden, inviting neighbours to be the judges. This year’s theme was small tomatoes, and the winner was Mighty Sweet, a grape tomato with … [Read more...]