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Gardening tips from Marjorie Harris Add to ...

Not happy with your peonies? Can't get your lilac bush to flower? Want to make your garden more presentable?

Whatever your gardening dilemma, Marjorie Harris, author of the Globe's weekly Hurried Gardener column, can help.

Ms. Harris was online earlier today to answer your garden queries. Your questions and her answers appear below.

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Marjorie Harris is considered one of Canada's leading garden writers. She writes a weekly gardening column for The Globe and Mail and is editor-at-large of Gardening Life magazine. Born in Shaunovon, Saskatchewan back in the mists of time, she was educated from Goose Bay Labrador to Vancouver B. C. and graduated from McMaster University.

She is the author of 13 gardening books, her most recent being How to Make a Garden, The 7 Essential Steps for the Canadian Gardener, published by Random House.

Editor's Note: globeandmail.com editors will read and allow or reject each question/comment. Comments/questions may be edited for length or clarity. HTML is not allowed. We will not publish questions/comments that include personal attacks on participants in these discussions, that make false or unsubstantiated allegations, that purport to quote people or reports where the purported quote or fact cannot be easily verified, or questions/comments that include vulgar language or libellous statements. Preference will be given to readers who submit questions/comments using their full name and home town, rather than a pseudonym.

Rasha Mourtada, Globe Life web editor: Welcome, Marjorie, and thanks for lending your green thumb to our readers. We've got loads of questions, so we'll get right to it.

Allison, Ottawa: Ms. Harris - Here is a picture of my, as yet, non-existent garden. It is the typical lot of a townhouse dweller: small and dark. The only sunny spots we have are on the cedars along the back and in the corner where the composter is.

Until recently it was almost entirely paved with the stones you see lying around. We thought we'd keep the few we left scattered about to walk on, get rid of the piles of leftovers, and plant some low maintenance things around them. Clearly, in order to do this we will have to dig up the gravel and in-fill with soil. We have lots of compost ready as well.

I would like to put in an interesting array of inexpensive shade plants (and grasses?) and some perennial flowers for the sunny area around the compost. So far all I have are a couple of ferns and hostas (which I love) and the lily of the valley that crept in under the fence from the neighbours. I plan to keep the cedars for privacy. Any suggestions? Also, how can I encourage the cedars to fill in at the bottom?

I believe we are in hardiness zone 5a (Ottawa). Thanks very much!



Marjorie Harris: Dear Allison: I obviously love the idea of a checkerboard pattern since I had that in my garden for decades. Make sure you dig down about 8 or more inches to back fill the planting pockets. Then add a thick layer of sand, then soil and top with a couple of inches of compost. You canplant almost anything in this. Fescues ('Elijah Blue' is gorgeous); the Japanese gold grass (Hackonachloa).

Get that lily-of-the-valley out of there, it's going to take over.

Add some sedums ('Xanax' and 'Black Jack' along with 'Autumn Joy') which will love this situation; and make sure the colours are harmonious so you have a tapestry effect.

Hostas and ferns like shade so put them in shady part and get a mix of different kinds. Don't just fills holes for their own sake. Do one at a time and get my book POCKET GARDENING which is full of ideas for this kind of a situation. Yours, Marjorie

Nathalie Mattheus, Vancouver: Hi Ms. Harris, Thank-you in advance for whatever advice you may have to offer.

We have a flowerbed below the large picture window of our living room and directly in front of our rec-room window. The house faces north and the overhangs/eaves of our roof ensure that the flowerbed stays dry. Although I am not averse to the occasional watering, I am looking for plants that are both shade and drought tolerant as I would prefer as low-maintenance as possible a flowerbed.

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