When Master Gardener Sharon Rowles turned her talent to a rocky hillside on tiny Bowen Island near Vancouver, she focused on transforming the one-hectare lot into a magical place. Three years later the garden that sprawls over the steep, south-facing lot looks as if it has been growing there forever: lush carpets of woolly thyme wind past a tranquil goldfish-filled pond and cosy arbours to link rock-walled terraces.
After taking night school courses in flower arranging, Rowles says, “I started looking at the garden in a whole different light. I started to choose shrubs and perennials that I knew would have a longer vase life.” Now a professional florist, Rowles plants for year-round interest outdoors and in. Here, her tips for harvesting armfuls of cuttings while keeping your flowerbeds full of blooms.
Start with the soil
"The success of any garden is in the soil," says Rowles, who added more than 250 cubic yards (190 cubic metres) of topsoil, manure and compost to her rock-strewn Zone 8 site. She jokes, "Our Friday night entertainment is a six-pack of beer and a whack of mushroom manure."
• Kick-start new plants with mushroom manure (actually a compost that's available at nurseries), bonemeal and 6-8-6 fertilizer.
• Water frequently until the plants are well established.
• Top-dress flowering plants with a mulch of compost and fertilizer once each spring to retain moisture and encourage big, long-lasting blooms.
• In summer soak the whole garden every 10 days for several hours.
What to plant
"There is no right or wrong," says Rowles. "If you like it, then it's good."
• Pick plants for colour (flowers and foliage) and texture.
• Apply a design principle known as "colour echoes" by planting two shades of the same colour (flowers or foliage) side by side.
• Select plants with long and varied flowering times so bloom periods overlap and you always have flowers to pick.
• In addition to annuals and fast-growing perennials, plant a variety of self-seeders such as poppies and lychnis. Rowles lets these seeds fall where they may, which contributes to the garden's natural look. "If I don't like where something has chosen to grow, I just pull it out later," she says.
• To avoid scraggly patches when the perennials die back, plant them amongst evergreens and ornamental grasses.
Variety in the vase
"Think beyond flowers in a cutting garden," says Rowles. "You can use herbs -- rosemary, chive tops, lavender -- in your floral arrangements, or cotoneaster, with its beautiful winter berries. Echinacea has a dual purpose: when the flower dies, it still has a nice seed head that looks wonderful in an arrangement." Plants that dry well, such as Achillea, bells of Ireland, hydrangea, lunaria, nigella, statice and strawflowers, offer colour and texture.
• For texture try salal, cedar boughs, holly, ivy and herbs such as bronze fennel, parsley, sage, rue and thyme.
• For sculptural form use seed heads from garlic or clematis, branches from corkscrew hazel, curly willow or pussy willow, or ornamental grasses.
• Add colour to a winter or early-spring bouquet with winter-blooming heathers or budding branches from fruit trees, forsythia or lilac.
A bouquet of best picks
Rowles' garden features perennials that are hardy in many Canadian growing zones. "I sometimes lose plants after a hard winter, but that just makes space for something new," she says. Some of her favourites?
• Ten for colour and scent: Japanese anemone, autumn-blooming asters, delphinium, lavender, lilies, peonies, phlox, roses, sweet peas and sunflowers
• Ten for self-seeding: Achillea, clarkia, cosmos, Digitalis, euphorbia, Lavatera, lupines, lychnis, poppies and Verbascum
• Ten for foliage and texture: Alchemilla mollis, boxwood, erica, euonymus, holly, hosta, ivies, ornamental grasses, viburnum and witch hazel