Native vs Non Native gardening

Butterfly & Zinnia cm

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly on a Zinnia – the flower is definitely not native to Southern Ontario

I recently started following the Royal Horticultural Society on Twitter (@The_RHS); I’m not sure how this feed came to my attention, likely it was Twitter itself, that clever creature, that suggested it.  It was a good suggestion.  Even though it’s a British organization, and the information they share is abut British gardening and British plants and British garden shows, the RHS does, not infrequently, post tidbits that are relevant over here.  Also, their picture are very pretty.

This morning the Society tweeted that the second paper from their Plants for Bugs program has at long last been published.  (The first paper was published in 2015.)

Plants for Bugs is a “a four-year study into wildlife gardening, which was undertaken at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey…”  as in England, just southwest of London.  The scientists set out to determine what sort of plant typically found in an English garden does best at attracting insects: native or non-native.

Garden commentators in North America have, for many years now, been battling it out (sometimes quite heatedly) over this question.  There are extreme gardeners who ONLY plant natives and those who couldn’t give a whit if a plant is native or not, as long as it looks pretty.  Most commentators fall in the middle – wanting to use natives when possible but not closing the door to aliens (aka non-native plants).

The arguments for using natives run along the lines of they are more drought tolerant (true, but only if it’s a drought tolerant plant to begin with: you wouldn’t stick a native Marsh Marigold – Caltha palustris – in gravelly soil on a south slope); they’re better suited to our climate (until you factor in climate change and how Prince Edward County’s Plant Hardiness Zone has gone from zone 5b to zone 6a in the past 20 years); and they provide better food – nectar, pollen and roughage – than non-natives.

It’s this last assumption that the folks in England wanted to measure.  In 2009, they created 36 planting beds, each nine square metres, and planted some with a mix of plants native only to the UK; other plots had plants that only grow elsewhere in the northern hemisphere while the rest had plants that grow in the southern hemisphere.  Then they waited, and counted the invertebrate life that showed up.

“By the end of December 2013 (four full years of recording) approximately 80,000 invertebrates had been counted and more than 300 species identified.”

The peer reviewed papers that have so far resulted from the study have led the RHS to come up with key messages for the home gardener.  To quote from the RHS site:

From the first paper, that studied pollinating insects:

  • The best strategy for gardeners wanting to support pollinating insects in gardens is to plant a mix of flowering plants from different countries and regions.
  • Emphasis should be given to plants native to the UK and the northern hemisphere, though exotic plants from the southern hemisphere can be used to extend the season
  • Regardless of plant origin (native or non-native), the more flowers a garden can offer throughout the year, the greater the number of bees, hoverflies and other pollinating insects it will attract and support.

From the second paper, that studied insects that chomp on plants, suck the juices from plants or eat other bugs that suck or chew:

  • The best strategy for gardeners wanting to support plant-associated invertebrates is to plant a predominance of plants native to the UK.
  • Plants native to the Northern hemisphere are likely to support only marginally fewer (less than 10%) invertebrates in some functional groups (including herbivores and some predators) than UK native plant schemes. And exotic plant schemes based on Southern hemisphere plants will still support a good number of invertebrates, albeit around 20% fewer than plants from the UK.
  • Regardless of plant origin, the more densely your garden is planted or allowed to grow, the greater the abundance of invertebrates of all kinds (herbivores, predators, detritivores and omnivores) it will support.

 

I’m guessing these messages will appeal to many North American gardeners as well.

For me, the takeaway is to plant densely using a diverse mixture of annuals, perennials, shrubs and bulbs to create as long a flowering season as possible.

Sunflower August 2017

Sunday Surprise

pumkin growing in compost bins

I’m seriously serious about composting.  Almost the first thing we did after buying our Prince Edward County property was build this huge compost bin.  I think I had seen something like it on a BBC gardening show.  I think we had fantasies of being able to drive the shovel of a small garden tractor into the bins to turn the stuff over.  No more using shovels or pitchforks for me.

Oh well.

The system works, in its own way, like a charm, (my) manual labour involved notwithstanding.  There’s no water where it’s situated at the back of the field so it generally takes longer for plant material to break down than it did in my small city black plastic with a lid composter.  But that’s OK because I have three bins to work with.

The first year I pile new stuff in one bin, filling it to the top by the end of the season.  The next year I start fresh with the next bin and let the first  just sit there, using a heavy fork to turn stuff over every now and then, to get air to the bottom of the pile.

I start the third year by screening the first year’s material – dumping finished compost in the third bin, and putting the unfinished stuff in the second bin to continue breaking down.  This leaves me with the first bin empty and ready to use.

Sounds complicated but it’s not.  Until this year.  Mid May something sprouted in the middle bin. Now, a lot of things sprout in the compost bins — tomato seedlings, Rudbeckia, various weeds, garlic, Virginia Creeper…but this one plant seemed to have strength and purpose.  It became large very quickly and was obviously some sort of squash so I left it alone.  I like squash.  And I loved the huge leaves this vine produced – so much larger than the leaves of anything I had ever purposefully planted!  And by mid July it was obvious – it was a pumpkin vine. I had grown pie pumpkins last year and one seed survived the winter.

So now I have a withering vine (it is August after all, and it’s been rather dry the past few weeks) and six good sized pie pumpkins growing.  And I notice, on Saturday, a large burrow going into the middle compost head, directly under where the pumpkin sprouted.  It looked like it could have been made by a skunk or a fox, hopefully not by a rat!

On Sunday I went out back to dump kitchen scraps and the whole centre of the compost pile had been torn out.  There, in a hole in the middle, was this.  I very quickly left the immediate vicinity.  And spent the day puzzling about what creature in our back field was brave enough or big enough to attack such a huge nest.

bee nest uncovered in compost pile

 

Time to revel in Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia Laciniata, August 19, 2011

When I first started gardening (eons ago, it seems) in my tiny Toronto backyard, one of the first flowers I bought was a Black Eyed Susan.  It was lovely – small, hairy leaves with bright orange-yellow flowers in late summer.  I planted it in an area that started out in full sun but gradually, as surrounding trees grew, became shady, which is when I transplanted a chunk of it to the County.  Turns out this was Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm.’  I didn’t know the Latin name then, and didn’t know how many Rudbeckia species were out there and available.

Turns out there are a lot!  At least 25 accepted species with a lot of different common names that can be confusing – one of the reasons I like to use botanical (Latin) names as much as possible.

Rudbeckia

R. hirta & R. fulgida in same patch

 

In my garden they start blooming in earnest the second week of August and will continue until mid September, longer if dead-headed.  The different species have different ways of spreading — R. hirta and R. fulgida will quickly spread by underground runners as well as self-seeding.

 

 

Rudbeckia laciniata Aug 6 2017 a

Rudbeckia laciniata

My favourite tall Rudbeckia (one of my favourite perennials in general) is Rudbeckia laciniata.   I’ve read where it likes moist areas, stream beds and such, but I find that they send their seeds everywhere and will grow everywhere, even in the driest areas of the yard.  They can grow to five or six feet tall but the neat thing is you can, in early summer, clip them back by half or more (as you may do with Asters and Solidago – Goldenrod) so that you keep a clump bushy and shorter.

 

deadish Rudbeckia July 29, 2012

The shorter Rudbeckia‘s do want water — this is after a month with no rain.  The plant came back (you can see new leaves poking through) in the fall but all the flower buds dried to a crisp in the summer.

Orange is the new Black

double orange daylily August 12 2017

double orange daylily, possibly Hemerocallis var. kwanso

This lovely double orange daylily is a vigorous grower in moist soil but is easily kept in check in my un-watered garden.  A neighbour gave me a few fans many years ago and now I have several large clumps in the garden.  It blooms later than most every other daylily, helping provide vibrant colour in August before the Asters start to bloom.

 

Martagon Lily August 12 2017

Lilium lancifolium

Not too sure where I found the Lily but it has been growing in a semi-shaded spot for about 12 years now.  The bulb multiplies underground every year and it also produces small bulbils on the stalk that will ripen over the summer, drop to the ground and help form a small colony.  This Lily is cultivated in parts of Asia as a food source (the bulb).

 

of wasps in gardens…

IMG_2581 (2)I’ve noticed that often when someone says the word ‘wasp’ in a conversation or posts the word ‘wasp’ on social media, a general frenzy, almost hysteria, breaks out.  Almost immediately stories will erupt about a friend of a friend or a second cousin or a neighbour being stung by a wasp, or by a whole colony of wasps.  Tragedy is only averted after swift action possibly involving a trip to the hospital.

I get it – wasps are mean looking beasts with big eyes and a venomous stinger that can deliver pain and cause a few days of annoyance.

wasp & forget me notSome people (I’ve read perhaps 1% -3% of the population) are highly allergic to the proteins that a wasp injects into the skin when it stings.  This could lead to a serious reaction (anaphylactic shock) that requires immediate medical attention.

For me though, fortunately, wasps are merely a nuisance, a flying critter I want to be aware of  because a sting will result in swelling, itchiness, a sore spot for a few days.

A wasp nest can be an indicator of a healthy garden – no out of control pesticide use.  It also means you’ve got an insect ally hard at work controlling the many unwanted insects in your garden. Adult wasps typically prey on a wide variety of caterpillars including corn earworms, armyworms, loopers, and hornworms. Adult wasps also utilize beetle larvae and flies as food for their young.”

wasp nest July 29I’ve found that if I leave a wasp alone it will leave me alone.  They’re attracted to sugary things (which is why they always seem to show up at a picnic involving watermelon or soft drinks) so I watch out near the compost pile after adding melon or peach rinds.  If one starts buzzing around me I’ll slowly move away or gently bat (if that’s not an oxymoron) it aside – I definitely don’t want to agitate it!  There’s all sorts of information out there on how best to move a wasp nest if you absolutely have to (ie if a colony starts to build their own condominium if the beams of your back porch).  I’d suggest though, if possible, to let it be until most die off  in the winter (generally through starvation).

 

 

Highs and Lows

An e-mail last week from my dad on Vancouver Island had a photo attached of his gigantic Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) – its first flower had opened, a lovely pure white with a burgundy red eye.  Three days ago my own Rose of Sharon bloomed for the first time ever, and it’s remarkably similar to my dad’s!  MRose of Sharon August 5 2017y still tiny shrub was purchased at a yard sale last spring – it looks to have a dozen or so flower buds – I’m looking forward to future years when it’ll be as large as the one in B.C. – I’ve heard that hummingbirds love them!

 

 

My glorious stand of pastel hued Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) was no match for the strong winds we had last weekend….they toppled over as one, snapping several of the tallest sgrounded Hollyhocks August 5 2017talks.  I collected a few seed pods that I hope are ripe enough before cutting them off and adding them to the burn pile (don’t want to risk spreading rust through the compost pile).  I was able to tie up a half dozen or so to continue their display for a few more weeks and provide enough seeds for sowing and sharing.

Fun fact – both the Hollyhock and Rose of Sharon are members of the Mallow family (taxonomically speaking).  And in the same area of the garden as these Hollyhocks and Rose of Sharon is the perennial commonly called Mallow (Malva moschata)– it arrived uninvited but has made for a very long lasting display of beautiful pink flowers all summer.  They’re blooming in white or pink in several places around the yard and make a great filler.

Mallow August 6 2017

mid summer report – happy happy joy joy

Nothing has died.

That kind of says it all.  This time last year the fields were brown, the Larix were dead, the Rudbeckia was just not flowering.

Copious amounts of rain this spring and an average amount so far this summer has brought in the garden great joy to all things growing and, I suspect, all things crawling and slithering and hopping (hello newly arrived rabbit family!) as well.

Here are a few updates from previous posts.

The Canadian Burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis) purchased and planted on July 1 is now blooming: Sanguisorba canadensis July 29 2017

The Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) started from seed and planted out last year is now eight feet high and blooming:Silphium perfoliatum July 29 2017

Garlic planted last fall has been harvested, and my experiment to see if cutting off the scapes does increase bulb size shows me yes, it does:

Garlic - with and without scape removed...

left – scape cut off; right – scape not cut off

Veggies are all doing well with no or minimal watering – have harvested beans, chard, zucchini, green onions; the spaghetti squash and tomatoes are getting plump:

This Phlox, given by friends, almost didn’t make it last year.  So glad it hung in to produce this glorious display now:Phlox July 30 2017

Directions from Nature

When early pioneers were rolling their way across the tall grass prairies of North America, sometimes, in mid summer, they would come across a towering plant with huge basal leaves that often were oriented on a north-south axis.  They called it a Compass Plant.  In later years scientists speculated the leaves point that way to protect themselves from the burning sun.  The plant would be labelled Silphium laciniatum – the same genus as the Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) that I wrote about earlier.

It’s easy to see why – they’re both really tall (the Compass Plant can grow to 12 feet high) and both has relatively small (2″ – 4″) sunflower-like flowers.  Carious types of bees love to feed in the flowers and their stalks, if left up all winter, can provide over-wintering refuge for beneficial insects as well.  They differ in that the Cup Plant likes moist meadows and tolerate flooding in spring while the Compass Plant, being native to the prairie, likes it dry and can tolerate drought.  (After next to no rain during last year’s spring and summer drought, they’ve back in my dry back field more vigorous than ever.)

This is likely because Compass Plants have a really long taproot (up to 16′ deep in the prairies!)  that seeks out moisture, even in the rocky, decidedly non-prairie like soil of the County.  This root can, unfortunately, make it really challenging to transplant – best to start seeds and plant them where they can stay for many years.  They can self-seed but it’s not a fast process – my 15 year old patch has produced only three offspring that I know of, two in the gravelly rocky area where the ‘parents’ live and one in a meadow, about 30 feet away.  One plant with a single flowering stalk can, however, become one plant with multiple flowering stalks.

If you can find Compass Plant for sale (perhaps at a local native plant nursery)  and you have room, buy it; or, if you find seeds somewhere (Seedy Saturdays in Picton or Trenton possibly) , try starting them yourself.  (Read up on how to prepare them for sowing first.)

Spring into July

Is it too early to start thinking about what the garden will look like next year?  Sorry (I am Canadian, after all), but I just can’t help it.  It’s  the hottest week of the year, the garden is lush with annuals and summer blooming perennials, the veggies are starting to be harvested, pole beans and Morning Glory are climbing feet a day but I’m thinking about spring.

Why?

Likely because the last of the Narcissus (Daffodil) leaves are finally fading away and I’m remembering all the bare patches from last April, May and June.   And I’m thinking – why didn’t I plan ahead.  It’s all well and good to wander around in mid spring, thinking to oneself:  ‘Self, I should plant more Hyacinth here – there’s lots of room,’  unless you somehow note where exactly you want to dig without damaging the existing bulbs.  Can’t do that now, of course, because for the rest of the season that spot of ground is a very full Lupin and Echinacea bed – I’ve no idea where to plant new Hyacinth!

I could have taken close up photos, drawn sketches or developed a really good memory really quickly but no.  This past spring, like most springs, I just enjoyed the display.  Realizing the folly of my ways last week, I gathered some small stones that appear in abundance (even when I’m not looking) and, before the last of the daff leaves withered, quickly placed small cairns where it will be safe to dig when my bulb order arrives.

Here’s where I’m going to plant more Colchicum bulbs at the end of August, so that this existing patch expands to match the ever widening spread of the Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood) on top.:

markin spots for future bulbs with rocks

Colchicum bed Sept 30 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few years ago I planted three Fritillaria persica bulbs in front of the fountain – the bulbs have multiplied so that this there there were five stems, but only one bloomed.  So this fall I want to plant another 10 or so – and placed individual stones in the general area.  Hopefully next April I’ll have a small forest of these purply flower stalks!

 

Have you started to think about spring bulbs yet?  What do you want to plant?

 

Daylily Dreamin’

Bonibrae Daylilies 7

Bonibrae Daylilies

Daylilies (Hemerocalis spp) started to bloom in early June in my back garden.  Well, one lovely tall spidery lemon yellow variety of daylily anyway.  The common orange ‘ditch daylily’ started to open July 1, as they do every year.  Stella d’Oro about three weeks ago and the rest, large brash colourful varieties, just this past week.

I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about daylilies but I do really like them.  A lot.  They’ll grow almost anywhere and bloom reliably given enough sunlight.  They are drought tolerant once established (long, fleshy tubourous roots helps them get through dry periods), deer and rabbits don’t find them tasty and, best of all, can be used in multiples ways.

Want a wide swath of specific colour?  Have a micro garden that needs a flash of brightness?  Want to savour a light fragrance in the evening?  Want to surprise visitors with a bizarre shape or colour combination next to a well traveled garden path?

Daylilies can do it all.

A neighbour and I visited Bonibrae Daylilies, just north of Bloomfield,  over the weekend.  Next to a small grove of ancient maple trees, Barry & Margaret Matthie maintain about an acre of daylilies, carefully cultivated in well mulched rows.  The maples provide welcome shade for visitors and the many varieties of Hosta they also sell. Barry hybridizes and grows from seed the daylilies in their fields and sells them either in person or via mail to aficionados across the continent  – most of the plants in the field are $15 each for a very generous size clump lifted by Barry for you; a few of the more rare varieties can be $100 – a price not uncommon for collectors.

For me, the glory of this nursery is experienced wandering through the rows of daylilies,  marveling at the colours and shapes, whiffing the occasional sweet scent and imagining where, in your own garden, you can add one of these beauties.

For the next few weeks the nursery is open almost every day – if you’re contemplating getting a daylily this is the place to visit.  Even if you’re not a gardener, this is a place to visit – think of it as a living art gallery – a place to overload your ocular sensors  on a warm summer day.

Tale of Two Echinaceas

I have to confess I don’t have just one favourite plant – I have dozens.  And the list changes every year depending on things as mundane as the weather (too dry to produce many flowers, or, so dry the whole plant just dies) or as esoteric as did I grow it from seed (or it was given by a friend or relative).

Bug on purple echinacea (2)

Echinacea purpurea

In mid July there are quite a few favourites – one of them is Echinacea purpurea – Purple Coneflower. It has lively purple or white (the alba variety) large daisy-like flowers, self seeds readily and transplants easily.  Best of all, bees and other bugs love its pollen and nectar.  If it’s happy in its location it can get quite tall so needs to be either near the back of a border or in the midst of other tallish things.

bugs on white echinacea
Echinacea purpurea alba

 

 

 

 

 

My newest heartthrob though is Echinacea pallida – Pale Purple Coneflower.    I started these indoors from seed two winters ago; last year I planted them out – kinda spindly looking things with short narrow leaves.

IMG_2433_edited-1

Echinacea pallida the first yeat – longish narrow leaves very different from E. purpurea

No sign of a flower at all.  They survived the drought though, with minimal watering, so that made me happy.

Echinacea pallida July 2 2017

Echinacea pallida July 2 2017

This year they exploded – almost literally – sending up first much larger leaves and then enormous stalks topped with a beautiful and delicate flower.  Much like the Purple Coneflower, except it differs by having narrower petals that droop down instead of pointing out like a daisy.

 

Also, the flower stalk itself is many inches long, making it perfect for cutting.

Ti top it off, as the Missouri Botanical Garden plant page says, this native plant can: “tolerate Deer, Drought, Clay Soil, Dry Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil.”

In other words, this perennial is perfect for my garden and also for many other gardens in the County!

Let me know if you’re interested in growing these yourself – I’ll try to harvest and save you some seeds.

Echinacea pallida July 8 2017

Echinacea pallida July 8, 2017

Star of the Show

As the growing season progresses I find that some plants, even amongst dozens that may be blooming, steal the show.  Lilac and Lupin in spring.  Sunflowers (seeds sown late to ensure autumn flowers) and Asters in the fall and, before the bright orange Rudbeckia starts, the tall and serene majesty of Hollyhocks.

They’ve just starting blooming this past week in The County and you’ll see them in ditches and gardens everywhere.  In the garden, they can provide a screen for something you want to hide.  They can be a dramatic focal point to a driveway entrance.  They can stand alone, in a clump, at the side of the road – a colourful distraction for Sunday drivers.

My favourite Hollyhocks are the ones I start from seed collected from friends’ and neighbours’ gardens.  It just means more to see them sprouting from the soil.  The waiting for the second year (because Hollyhocks are biennial and don’t bloom the first year), to see what colour they are, is worth it.

This year, I’m loving the pastel shades that have appeared for the first time.  The flowers appear so delicate, yet are born on the six and seven foot stalks that make you take a second glance, make you want to walk over to appreciate them better.  And provide motivation to start thinking about collecting seeds for next year.

That’s a show stopper.

pink Hollyhock July 2017yellow Hollyhock July 2017Hollyhock

location, location, location…

Let me confess first that I should have known better.  In fact, I DID know better, yet I did it anyway.  I planted something in a spot I knew was just not suitable, a spot that was already getting a tad overcrowded, didn’t have quite the right requirements, a spot that meant something, sooner rather than later, would need to be moved.

The victims are two pots of Silphium perfoliatum (Cup Plant) I started from seed the winter of 2016.  I was excited to see the seeds offered at Trenton’s Seedy Saturday that year – I remembered studying this plant at school and seeing pictures of HUGE clumps growing in a moist meadow near Ottawa.  Called a Cup Plant because the leaves grow together at the stem to create a cup that catches water, it’s in the Aster family, and the same genus as the Silphium laciniatum (Compass Plant) – another favourite. 

Cup Plant - Silphium perfoliatum June 24 2017

Two leaves joining together at the stalk to form a cup

Many bee and butterfly species are attracted to the small sunflower-like yellow flowers and small birds gobble up its seeds in later summer into the fall.

 

But did ya see the word ‘HUGE’ in the previous paragraph?  And the words ‘moist meadow’?  Four to 10 feet tall!!  Clumps six feet across!!  What was I thinking???

After starting them indoors in four inch peat pots then transferring them to one gallon plastic pots, I planted them in the Island Bed – about two feet from a prized  Paeonia tenuifolia (Fernleaf Peony – given to me by a friend many years ago as a root division with a single eye) and three feet from a joyful Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple – which is itself slated to eventually be VERY tall and wide!).  I knew they had to be at the back of something and I didn’t want them to be all by themselves in the middle of the yard, not even the front field where it gets very wet (ie floods) in the spring – something the plant actually appreciates.

In semi-desperation I planted them where I was able, thinking I’d have a few years before they (or their neighbours) would need to be moved.  Alas, this year, their first full year in the ground, the clumps are already about seven feet high — that’s with flowers yet to spring forth from the top!

Lesson Learned (yet again…):  think of the mature size of a plant before planting!

Silphium perfoliatum July 23 2017

The poor Fernleaf Peony is just to the bottom left of the Cup Plant

 

New Additions

I really enjoy visiting nurseries – especially the small owner-operated ones that specialize in specific types of plants.  You can often find things that don’t make it to the larger nurseries, let alone the supermarket parking lots.  The people working there (ie those owner-operator types!) are a wealth of knowledge about what grows well in a local area, what survived last year’s drought and how tall something might really get!

On  Saturday, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, I went with some friends to Fuller Native & Rare Plant Nursery in Belleville, Ontario.  I’ve never been before but found out about them at the Picton Seedy Saturday earlier this year.  What a jewel!  This tiny nursery has four small structures jammed with trees, shrubs and perennials in pots 4″ to five gallon – including many in an ‘end of season’ sale – five 10 cm ‘plugs’ for $10.   (They call them plugs, to me they’re tall 10 cm pots.)

Anyway – love this place, their display beds are outstanding – all full of colour and ideas.  I walked out with some 10 cm plugs of Empatorium purpureum (Joe Pye Weed) and Helenium autumnale (Sneezeweed) plus two plants that are new to me:  Sanguisorba canadensis (Canadian Burnet):

Sanguisorba canadensis[Canada Burnet]

The Canada Burnet really does like moist, even marshy areas….gets about a meter high and will have load of interesting white spikey flowers in summer/fall

and Thermopsos Villosa (Carolina Lupin):

Thermopsis villosa [Carolina Lupin]

The Carolina Lupin has bright yellow flowers in the summer; should mature to about one meter high and wide.

Didn’t know anything about their habit or needs but they looked great planted out at the nursery.  A quick internet search indicates the Thermopsis should do well – it can take dry, clay soil, while the Sanguisorba might find it more challenging as it likes moist areas.

But hey, it survived through last year’s drought at the nursery with no hand watering – and we’ve just come through the wettest spring in a century, so here’s hoping!

Perennials from seed

I was once afraid to start perennials from seed – so many doubts, so many questions – so many chances for failure.  Why take a chance (money, time, emotional commitment) on a perennial when you know you can get a Marigold to germinate and grow just by dropping a seed in a cup of soil?

Here’s the thing:  when you have a large garden, filling it with perennials is expensive!  Even if you buy the smallest pot size available and don’t mind waiting a year or two for thing to grow into its space, the cost can add up quickly!

Here’s the other thing: if you’re in a garden centre buying perennials, especially the smallest size possible, it’s way too tempting to get one or two of a lot of different plants, instead of two dozen of one plant.  Because really, in your imaginary garden, you have these magical drifts of blooms, created by massing dozens or hundreds of the same plant.  Sure, you may be after the cottage garden look, with all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours vying for attention; but even then it helps a lot to use the same plant here and there, in clumps big or small, to add cohesion to the whole.

Enter seeds.

I started a few years ago by collecting my own seeds – from big yellow and red daylilies (Hemerocallis ssp)  – I’ll get into the details on a future post, but the results were fabulous.

Two years ago I went to my first Seedy Saturdays – in Picton and in Trenton.  There, I purchased seeds for Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) and Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida) and was able to plant them out last spring.  These are both perennials that can’t be found in most garden centres – another benefit of starting your own seeds!  With much hand watering (remember last year’s drought??) they survived the summer and winter, growing ever large leaves and this year they are set to bloom.  Pictures coming soon!Digitalis purpurea June 24 2017

Another plant I started from seed last winter was Foxglove  (Digitalis purpurea).  I thought it would be neat to have a ton of them just in front of the tree/brush line on the Island bed.  The ‘magical drift’ I mentioned above!  The challenge with Foxglove is the seed size:  they’re VERY TINY!!!  I wound up with a flat of seedlings all jammed in together and had to carefully split them apart when planting out last spring.  The foliage stayed green all winter and this year they sent up dozens of beauful flower stalks.

it’s all about the daffodils…

Daffs April 22 2017

Daffs in back garden

 

Late April in the garden means yellow everywhere – Narcissus in all sizes plus Forsythia and the early Tulips.  I love it!  As a bonus, it looks like the Fritillaria persica will bloom!  One of them, anyway…really looking forward to seeing up close and in person what they look like, then putting in more this autumn.  The Island project is coming along – go a lot mulched this weekend.  Next weekend I’ll start transplanting Echinacea.

It was wonderful to see so many bees out and about this weekend.  At one point this small grouping of Hyacinth was covered with thrm – as many as two dozen just going in and out of the flowers.  They were also loving all the daffs and of course the Scilla and Chianodoxia.  This time next week they’ll be all over the dandelions!