I wouldn’t complain if we got a bit of rain, but October has been magical this year. Sunny warm days, cool nights and glowing foliage with the sun rise. This is what I’ve been looking at early mornings as I sip my coffee in the dining room.
In the wee hours of yesterday morning a wave of frost rolled over the field and gardens closest to the house. I had, perhaps instinctively, cut and brought in for drying all the sweet and Thai basil the day before so no loss there. Hardest hit were the Canna Lilies, cantaloupe, zinnias and, sadly, my overgrown jungle of Amethyst Jewel cherry tomatoes.
Wanna know what happens when you try to pull a cherry tomato plant after frost?
The tomatoes fall. With the lightest touch, they fall like marble size pieces of purple hail. And, I discovered, they make a nice ‘pop’ when you happen to step on any that land in the grass on its way to the wheelbarrow and compost pile.
Here is a portion of my frost touched cherry tomato bed, glowing in this morning’s light.
I was amazed this year when three volunteer tomato seedlings quickly took over a pretty big micro garden. Last year this area was home to large artichoke plants. This year I changed it up and planted Canna lilies, a hardy Hibiscus, rhubarb, a few asparagus roots and a row of purple beans in front.
Then up popped these tomatoes – brought in with the compost or by a hungry chipmunk the previous year. They are a heritage variety of cherry tomato – Amethyst Jewel – which I started from seed and planted in 2016. The fruit starts out the most beautiful dark purple, almost black, then ripens into a pale orange.
To say it’s a vigourous grower is an understatement – the three plants took over the entire area, layer after layer of tomato stems two to three feet deep. The size and lushness of the vegetation is so out of scale with the size of the fruit you need to get in close before, gradually, spotting the hundreds and hundreds of purple fruit just waiting for a few more warm sunny days to ripen.
And fall to the ground.
And sprout next year.
This time last year we had already had our first frost – not unusual around here – but this year, summer started late and it’s just now starting to cool down. Today’s high is 11 but the next two weeks, if you believe the forecast, will be in the high teens and low twenties. With overnight temperatures nowhere near frost warning levels.
Even so, and swarms of Monarch butterflies notwithstanding, autumn is upon us. Trees know it – leaves are starting to turn yellow, red or plain brown and fall. Native perennials know it too. Foliage is holey and ragged looking and flowers are going to seed, creating some lovely images as they wait for a bird to gobble them up or a strong wind to shake them free and send them flying. Here’s a few of my favourites, ready now for collecting (or not!).
The tale of my morning glory tuteur has taken a new turn.
A few weeks ago, just after the first flower appeared, one of the three maple ‘legs’ of my tuteur snapped, possibly under the top heavy weight of the vines and, it turns out, developing flower buds. I watched with much fascination as, day by day, the top came down – I imagine the vines on the opposite side of the snapped leg kept it from toppling over all at once.
Now, it’s become a pretty cool arch. The vines continue to grow, now along the ground, reaching out in a widening circle of tentacles. And, lo and behold, a multitude of flowers are opening. In October. Just a few weeks before the normal first frost date.
Better late than never!
Snowberry. Doesn’t the name conjures up images of large, juicy, creamy berries produced after pollinators have spent the summer happily buzzing amongst fluttery, multi-petaled white flowers?
Then you add the botanical name, Symphoricarpos albus, and reality sets in. Latin can really be a buzzkill sometimes.
For me, the Snowberry is a memory pant — a shrub I remember from when I was a kid, lining (along with honeysuckle and blackberry canes) the rural road I walked along to catch the school bus.
There is absolutely nothing spectacular about this deciduous shrub, except perhaps that it’s native to almost all of Canada (and much of the U.S. as well) – that in itself should give it bonus points! The flowers are so small you need to be within a few inches for them to be noticeable. The berries are, indeed, white, but they are smallish, inedible for us and even unappetizing to birds.
This last tidbit may be why they stay on the bush into fall and winter, providing some interest when the rest of the landscape is grey or brown.
I like it because it grows well in my limestoney soil with no pampering or watering (even during last year’s prolonged drought, when the leaves drooped a lot but recovered nicely) and in the semi to mostly shade of the tree line (More berries are produced with more sun). Although they may sucker after a while they’re pretty contained, growing to maybe six feet high and wide. I can see them being a useful as a hedge or as a low visual barrier if you want to create a hidden patio; also a great shrub to fill in spots amongst trees if you don’t want to worry about grass or perennials yet want some greenery. And although it may be the food of last resort for birds, it does provide shelter for wildlife.
If you see this shrub at a garden centre and you have a bare spot in the yard consider Snowberry. Maybe create some memories of your own.
In this first week of autumn I realize there’s nothing new left to come up in the garden – no new flower buds to open, no new unfurling of leaves, no more sudden growth spurts of stalk and stem. The final Hollyhock flowers – those at the very tip of six or seven foot spikes – are blooming; Goldenrod is going to seed; Hosta leaves are yellowing and somewhat bedraggled.
Before I start to think and rave about the changing colours in our forest canopies and tree lines (or about raking up fallen leaves!), and before I set about in earnest collecting seeds for next year’s garden, I want to savour the beauty of these early fall favourites. Thanks to Chloris in England who writes The Blooming Garden for encouraging this regular check-in of favourite flowers!
1 – Turtlehead – Chelone glabra — I’ve struggled but so far failed to get a good picture of this native perennial. Not too sure why, but all the close-ups turn out fuzzy so I can’t show you how bees love to force their way into the purple, snap dragon-like flowers, buzz around for a bit then force their way out again. I’ve had to move this clump around a few times so it’s not that large; hoping it’ll be happy in this spot, shaded by variegated Dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’):
2 – Garlic Chives – Allium tuberosum – like regular chives but with flat leaves and a more garlicky than oniony flavour. I love them because the white flowers open late in the year and are often swarmed by bees. I started this clump from seed – this is its second year, much slower to get going than regular chives – and will collect seed to start more clumps all over:
3 & 4 – Evening Primrose – Oenothera biennis – this is the native species, not the domesticated variety often sold in garden centres. They can get very tall or sprawl close to the ground. A beautiful, vibrant yellow to contrast nicely with New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae). They spring up all over here because I often let them go to seed – but they’re easy to pull up where not wanted:
5 – Colchicum – this is the ‘The Giant’ variety – I’ve posted before about them – just can’t stop myself. This time next year the Veronica ‘Whitley’s Speedwell’ (the low growing ground cover on the left) will have spread over the mulch, providing a gorgeous bed for the purple petals:
6 – Sedum spectabile “Autumn Joy” – not a native but bees of all sorts still love ’em! A staple of my garden with its many very dry areas:
7 – Reblooming tall bearded Iris – new to me this year thanks to a generous friend — I don’t know the variety of this Iris (does anyone??) but it had a huge show, as expected, in the spring. It’s been sending up flower stalks again for the past three weeks with enough buds to last another month:
Can you believe it?!
I was doing this and that in the garden yesterday, looked up and spotted this! My one and only Morning Glory, the most beautiful sky blue shade ever! Sure hope there’s a few more blooms before the whole structure comes toppling down — it’s leaning quite precariously now, and I’m not sure if the vines are holding it up or pulling it down!
I sat in the garden on Labour Day Monday, resolved (but not entirely succeeding) to do no labour that wasn’t absolutely necessary, pondering the meaning of ‘resiliency’ in my own personal landscape. It’s a word, along with ‘sustainability’ that’s been cropping cropping up a lot these past few years in landscape design circles.
I heard the word defined on the radio earlier this year as: “will a plant bounce back from severe weather events.” We’re very fortunate in the County, weather wise. We haven’t had (in recent memory, anyway) the kind of ‘severe weather events’ experienced in other parts of North America: no floods, forest fires, prolonged extreme heat, hurricanes or tornadoes.
But we do have extremes. Last summer was the driest summer in more than 50 years. This past spring was the wettest on record in parts of Southern Ontario. And some plants suffered.
So I looked at my garden and pondered, with amazement, at the resiliency of so many perennials, shrubs and trees that came through it all, often stronger and more beautiful than ever. Hemerocallis ‘Catherine Woodbury’ Daylily, Mock Orange (Philadelphus ‘Starbright’ – hybridized in Newfoundland) and Bridlewreath Spirea (Spiraea vanhouttei) all produced more flowers this year than I’ve ever had.
I also remembered the trees I lost. Gardeners do, I think, grieve when they lose a plant cherished either because it came from a loved one’s garden or because it has been started from seed and nurtured for many years. But just as searching deeper for water might make a plant, in the long run, stronger, seeing a tree die makes me (hopefully) wiser. I’ll refrain from planting things that I know will not be happy in my garden. Yes, I’ll still be challenging our 6a planting zone, but I’ll try, no matter how interesting or beautiful a flower may be, to stop myself from buying anything that loves moist, boggy soil. I know that no matter how wet and flooded the yard may be in April, come July, without regular rain, the dirt will be bone dry.
I planted this Larch (Larix decidua 12 years ago….it sadly succumbed to last year’s drought.
Slicing open an heirloom tomatoes is an adventure every time …
As Irish novelist Margaret Wolfe Hungerford wrote in 1878 (in her book Molly Bawn), “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” When we bought our parcel of land it was a field surrounded by trees. The field had tall grass and, according to some, a lot of weeds.
Now, 15 years later, I’ve come to appreciate, cultivate and even occasionally propagate some of these plants. Like many fellow gardeners I call them wildflowers, not weeds, and, if strategically left to grow, they can add a lot of colour and interest to a garden. Plus, they all provide nectar and/or pollen for bees and birds. Here are the six I go out of my way to find places for:
#1 – Goldenrod – Solidago sp. I know – you see it everywhere, city and country and we have it everywhere too, in the meadow, along the tree line, coming up in the ‘lawn’ if it isn’t mowed often. It self seeds prodigiously and also spreads via underground runners. Yet it’s easy to pull out of the ground when the soil is moist and it is NOT the plant many blame for allergic sneezing and sniffing in late summer (that would be ragweed) as its pollen is heavy enough to fall to the ground and not be blown around by the wind.
The really neat thing about Goldenrod is you can control its growth by clipping it back once or twice in late spring or early summer. When you do that you get shorter, bushier plants without the ugly ‘bare legs’ most often seen. Plus they bloom a bit later after pruning so you lengthen the season.
#2 – England Aster – Aster novae angliae. Just coming into bloom now, it’s likely my favourite of all the Asters, although I do have a soft spot for Sky Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense), also native to this part of the world. I often prune these the same way I do Goldenrod (see above) — cutting them back by different amouts or not at all to provide a clump of varying height stalks.
#3 – Mullein – Verbascum thapsus. You’ll see these stately spires in fallow fields or on the side of ditches when you’re in the country. I love them because they grow in rocky, dry soil (yaay!!), bees love them and the small flowers open one at a time, over many weeks. The bonus with Mullein is the soft, velvety rosette of large leaves that form the year before the flower stalk appears.
#4 – Queen Anne’s Lace – Daucus carota The tall lacy foliage of this plant does indeed smell like carrot when you crush it, as do the white, carrot like roots which are easily pulled in moist soil. The flowers (called umbels when they appear like this) attract many species of flying bug and the leaves are a fave food for Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.
#5 – the common Milkweed – Asclepias syriaca –Long hated (too strong a word?) by farmers because the seed pods burst open in late summer to disperse, like a dandelion, thousands of seeds. Thought to be poisonous to livestock thus not great in pastures and not great either in hay fields. HOWEVER… the leaves are a primary food source for monarch butterflies and the flowers, aside from attracting many species of pollinators, smell ever so sweet in early summer. Will spread underground as well as by seed.
On a busy street just east of the Don Valley near downtown Toronto there’s a tiny micro garden planted at the base of a 24/7 gas station sign. I saw a man there once in early spring, hovering over the space as if he was weeding or planting but generally it’s unattended most of if not all summer.
I’m guessing watering is a challenge – I don’t recall much of anything thriving there during last year’s dry summer but this year (although on this last day if August you see mostly Cosmos) a dozen or so species all happily cohabited this space. There were perennials like New England Aster, Sedum spectabile , Phlox paniculata and poppies (you can still spot the ripe seed heads) and the show stopper Plume Poppy.
I love how the petals of the Mandevilla vine come out in this pinwheel structure — reminds me of the whirl-a-gigs we had as kids.
More than three weeks left in summer. Officially. But with days getting noticeably shorter and temperatures several degrees cooler than average (single digits when we got out of bed yesterday – Shileau came down the stairs with me but then just curled up on the couch!) it really is beginning to feel a lot like autumn.
To emphasize that point, I harvested my first pumpkin on Saturday – one of the half dozen growing in the composter. (I need to find a recipe that uses pumpkin and puff pastry…)
Here’s what’s going gangbusters in my garden now along with a few just starting, a few new to me and a few trying to hang onto to their mid-summer glory.
I spot great heaps of Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) everywhere but this is the first year my one plant has given me any kind of display. The Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) I’ve written about is now in its eight foot glory and the Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are magnificent – both the few I planted (above) and the ones that found their way into my garden from plants a year or two ago — some appear to be small trees, 10 or 12 feet high.
New to my garden this year are these white Iris given by a friend. They bloomed profusely in the spring and now they’re sending up a few, select, stalks to provide welcome contrast to the lush greenery everywhere. I brought this Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) home from my visit to the native plant nursery in July. It had a bit of mildew then and is now covered with it yet still has given some remarkable, small, flowers. Hopefully next year the mildew will stay away.
Just starting are Sedum specabile – even before it starts to pink up it gets swarmed by bees:
Although not really a flower (although one bolted early on so yes, there were flowers…) I’m including this kale – I’ve never grown it before and am entranced by the curly, crinkly foliage – so much so I’ve not been able to cut off any leaves to eat:
Finally, still going strong, are my Rudbekias. Once again here are two photos of Rudbeckia laciniata, the first paired with Ironweed (Vernonia fasiculata), another Ontario native.
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.
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:
From the second paper, that studied insects that chomp on plants, suck the juices from plants or eat other bugs that suck or chew:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Some 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.”
I’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).
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! My 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 stalks. 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.
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:
The Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) started from seed and planted out last year is now eight feet high and blooming:
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:
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:
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.)
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.
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.:
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
No sign of a flower at all. They survived the drought though, with minimal watering, so that made me happy.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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):and Thermopsos Villosa (Carolina Lupin): 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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
One of the garden chores I get a lot of satisfaction from is the annual compost screening. Usually I’ll wade into the compost a few times every month to turn it over, aerate it, help the insects and microbes do their decomposition bit. This year; however, nature had other plans – I’ve posted previously how pie pumpkin seeds from last year germinated and basically took over. This indicated two things: the pile didn’t get hot enough to kill the seeds, and, whatever was happening within that pile of kitchen scraps, leaves and garden clippings had created a really nutritious growing medium!
I harvested the pumpkins a few weeks ago (had to make Thanksgiving pies!) and it was time to see what was there. I’ve had for many years a compost screen that fits nicely over a wheelbarrow – it’s easy to build with two-by-fours (or should that be written as 2×4’s?) and wire screening from a building supply store. I shovel three or four scoops from the pile onto the screen then swipe a trowel through it several times, which sends the decomposed material into the wheelbarrow. What’s left gets dumped onto this year’s pile for further composting.
After a few hour’s work I’m left with an empty slot ready for next year, a growing pile of this year’s raw material being transformed and a nice pile of rough, crumbly compost, ready for top dressing beds or adding to bulb planting holes!
One of my favourite gardening activities isn’t actually an activity – it’s just standing (or squatting or sitting) in the midst of it all, day-dreaming about what it will look like next year. Or three years from now. I enjoy this (non) activity so much that when a neighbour had a large spruce cut down this summer and offered me pieces of the trunk I gladly accepted; not for firewood but to create perching stools.
These log chunks are now scattered around the property – waiting for me to do some sanding and sealing next year and then to be perched upon.
Although I’ve been known to stand around day-dreaming about the garden at any time of the year, October is possibly about the best time to do it. I do a lot of planting in October and standing for a spell helps relieve my aching back. Also, of course, October is bulb planting month.
As I make my way around the various garden beds, basket of bulbs and planting tools in hand, I like to stop and envision what the bed will look like next spring. How I can enhance one micro garden to complement the whole.
Along with a shovel (for digging large holes for the larger bulbs) and my trusty trowel, I have a new favourite bulb planting tool this year. It’s called a Cobrahead, (aka the aptly titled Steel Fingernail) and is marketed as a ‘weeder and cultivator.’ I’ve been using it to plant smaller bulbs – Fritillaria meleagris, Crocus, Chianodoxa – by pulling it through my rocky, clay soil to create a furrow the perfect depth for planting.
One of the micro gardens I’ve been thinking about all year is a small semi-circular area behind a short Caryopteris hedge that screens the side patio from the house. It’s an important area because it’s the first thing you see looking out the dining room window but for the past two years it’s been unimpressive. I scattered Lupin seeds there last fall and they germinated but remained small this year. I planted Snapdragons there last year and this year and although they’re one of my favourite annuals they didn’t make the statement that’s really necessary for this location.
I decided last spring that Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ would make that statement and planted a few dozen earlier this week – adding Chianodoxa near the top of each planting hole to extend the spring blooming season.
I wanted to keep the Lupin seedlings that have been slowly growing there so dug them out first and made an interesting discovery:
Lupin have a tap root, just like a dandelion or carrot – long and tapered, with many fine hairs coming off it. So all summer, while producing little growth above ground, extraordinarily long roots have been developing underground.
I replanted the Lupin I had to remove to plant bulbs and hopefully they’ll survive.
Now, when I look out the window, I have an image of blue Chianodoxa followed by purple Allium followed by purple or pink Lupin. I’ll let you know next June if my day-dream becomes reality!