Joining in the fun with six things in my garden today, with thanks to The Propagator for this witty idea! Most contributors to this theme are showing images of spring — here in my part of Canada it’s still winter. It was -14 Celsius overnight, although much of the snow may well be gone next weekend as the experts are calling for a lot of rain and highs almost double digits in the coming days.
While I’ve spent the past six weeks with my head in the snow and my body in front of a cozy fire, other gardeners have been busy planning for the 2018 growing season. Yes, I’ve received and perused a few seed catalogues, with their glowing descriptions and lovely pictures of the wonders that could show up in my garden, but I haven’t ordered anything.
That’s because for me, the growing season starts in earnest with Seedy Saturday – the day when local(ish) seed sellers and gardeners set up tables and displays in a school gym or community hall to sell or, better yet, swap seeds. Some of my favourite annuals, perennials and vegetables have come from a Seedy Saturday table: Echinacea pallida, Silphium perfoliatum, Amethyst Jewel cherry tomato, Alcea rosea…. the list goes on.
For County dwellers, the Picton Seedy Saturday is next Saturday, February 24! Trenton is March 24, Cobourg March 17, Kingston March 10… You can check out Seedy Saturday dates for the whole province (or country) on the Seeds of Diversity website — in fact, check out the whole site. It has a ton of great information about seed saving and starting.
In the Toronto area – the first Seedy Saturday is this Saturday at the Toronto Botanical Gardens.Others, from Scarborough to Etobicoke and points in between, follow throughout February and March.
Often these events are more than just tables of seeds – there are educational displays, talks by professionals and lots of information sharing. It really is the perfect opportunity to get the gardening juices flowing after a long cold winter, to meet and share stories with other enthusiastic gardeners and to discover new plant varieties.
So mark you calendar, I hope to see you there!
I don’t keep chickens. Yet. My neighbours do, and my other neighbours used to, and I love eating the fresh eggs they’ve provided me over the years. I love the rich yellow yolks and the flavour so different from supermarket eggs, and I really, really love the different colours in a basket of farm fresh eggs when the eggs come from different chicken breeds.
There’s a great website called Fresh Eggs Daily and in this week’s article, Lisa Steele explains why some chickens produce white eggs, others brown, others blue, green, pink and so on.
Turns out all eggs start out white. Pigment gets added by specific breeds of chicken as the egg goes down the chute (aka oviduct). Brown eggs have the pigment added near the end of the journey so it stays on the surface of the egg (meaning the inside is white). Blue eggs has pigment added early on, giving it time to penetrate the entire shell. The genes of various types of chicken determines how much pigment is added, which accounts for various shades of brown or blue. Other colours of eggs (green, pink) are produced by brown egg chickens and blue egg chickens that have been cross bred.
Not really about gardening, I know, unless you want to get me started about how free range chickens can really wreak havoc in a garden, as told by the neighbour who no longer keeps them!
It was a brilliant weekend on The County – just above freezing during the day, just below freezing at night, a bit of rain late Saturday, a lot of sun on Sunday. Pretty perfect.
Sunday morning there was a very light frost covering everything; I went out just before the sun hit and melted it away.
We have lots of rabbits around the County. I see them every year, all summer long, hopping into the tall grass along side roads, or in the middle of the driveway at night, eyes bright and ears tall in the headlights before they disappear into the shadows.
What I mostly see in winter are trails in the snow, sometimes ending at the base of a shrub, where the paw prints become muddled with their pellets and half eaten branches. In past years I’ve surrounded the tastier shrubs with cut buckthorn branches – one of the very few positive uses I will grudgingly ascribe to this invasive and really annoying shrub. I didn’t bother this past fall because the past two winters have been mild – rabbits had more appealing choices to nibble on. This year, with a return to normal snow falls, the varmints have targeted the tender young bark and dormant buds of their favourite woody plants.
Also targeted, interestingly enough, have been two purple kales – leaves and stalks – but not a green kale. Here’s a photo of them in September and one from last week. You can see the naked stalks of the purple kale stalk but the green one has simply died with nary a nibble. Weird eh?
End Note… Also seen last weekend —bits of rabbit fur, blood, guts….I think the local coyote may have discovered his or her own source of food this winter; perhaps my shrubs are safe after all…
Mid winter is often considered the best time to prune fruit trees:
- the tree is dormant so sap isn’t running;
- the cold means insects and fungal diseases aren’t going to enter the cutting wound;
- there’s no leaves so you can clearly see the branching structure
I only have three fruit trees: dwarf sour cherry (Romeo, Juliette and Crimson Passion, all from the ‘Romance’ series developed by the University of Saskatchewan), now entering their fourth growing season after planting. The first year there wasn’t much growth – I figure roots were getting established. The next year there were a few blossoms and some growth – I cut off two or three small branches last winter. Last year there was a lot of vegetative growth – branches going every which way (maybe that’s why these particular trees are called ‘bush’ cherries) plus a lot of flower blossoms. No cherries though – some started to form but then fell off while still green; I think it was just too wet last spring.
I needed to prune though and Sunday was the perfect day — not too cold and the snow depth had gone down enough to see where I wanted to cut. Plus, I wanted to spend as much time outdoors in the sun as possible. My goal was to leave branches that grow up, not down, sideways and diagonally. Here is the results for one of them – I hope I didn’t cut off too much.
Part of the beauty of winter is discovering shapes, textures, colours and relationships in plants that you can’t see in the growing season. Tree trunks growing in weird and wonderful directions. Fat buds waiting to burst. Bronzed coniferous foliage or bright red deciduous branches. The weathered leaf of this Cup Plant (Silphium perforliatum) is an example. From afar it’s just a deaf leaf. But up close, for me, on a silent, cold, frosty morning, it’s a mini sculpture. In colour or in black and white.
I know – the title of this post is a stretch – but I do love a catchy tautogram!
I’m always jealous of gardeners who can maintain a perfectly weed and disease free veggie bed beyond the end of June. You’ve seen pictures of them in glossy magazines (paper or virtual…) – lovely potagers or kitchen gardens, colourful, bountiful and beautiful. Something most of us, I suspect, fail to achieve beyond mid summer.
While at the Landscape Ontario trade show last week I spotted this raised bed. Raised beds aren’t new, I know, but it caught my eye because its shape is sophisticated yet it’s being used to grow edibles. If the walls here were made with natural stone instead of the more affordable decorative concrete block, this would be at home in a backyard in the toniest neighbourhood in town. If this was my raised bed, I’d likely have added Nasturtiums for colour (still edible though) and to soften the edges – but that would change the whole look, wouldn’t it? More to the point, a veggie bed like this just begs to be regularly weeded, harvested, watered, pinched back – all the things that can often get overlooked or ‘put off ’til tomorrow’ when the plants are far below eye level.
Kudos to the students at the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture for building this, demonstrating that ‘formal’ can also be useful – and for bringing your mini Monarch house to the show.
I follow quite a few gardening related blogs, websites and social media feeds and I’m constantly learning new techniques, questioning the validity of horticultural practice and discovering new plants and products. I love it when something pops up unexpectedly, or an answer to a question I had never thought to ask suddenly appears.
On Sunday both happened within minutes. Instead of just looking through my normal Facebook feed, I clicked around and selected ‘Most Recent.’ Up popped an entirely different set of posts: pages that the Facebook algorithm would not normally make visible to me without specifically searching for it. There was news from friends I thought had dropped off the face of the earth, only to realize they had simply dropped off the list of people Facebook thinks I should see. Likewise pages from organizations and groups I actually DID want to hear from – including one of the pages that help people identify plants.
The first post was from someone in northern California who wanted the ID of a plant I see often around here. A type of thistle (I thought) that has beautiful mauve flowers followed by a striking seed head. Turns out it’s not a thistle at all, but rather it’s called Dipsacus follonum, more commonly known as Teasel (or Teazle). This is an invasive biennial native to Europe, Asia and Northern Africa but naturalized throughout most of North America. The first year’s growth produces a rosette of glossy deep green leaves that are covered in soft spines (it’s thought the plant may be carnivorous). In the second year a spike is sent up that produces one to many thistle-like flowers. Tiny seeds spread readily and although it’s generally considered a weed, I find it very easily controllable either by mowing or pulling. It’s an important winter food source for the European Goldfinch and, to my eye, it’s quite beautiful. Here it is in my garden (after blooming) a few years ago.
A bit further down on my ‘Most Recent’ feed, from the same group, was someone asking to ID a lovely blue flower I had in abundance two years ago. The flower is similar to Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis) but grows on a one to two foot high stem and lacks the splash of yellow in the eye of the flower. I had tried to ID this plant when it popped up with no luck, until this morning, when there it was: Cynoglossum amabile, with a common name Chinese forget-me-not. I think they appeared in my garden after I spread seeds that had been distributed by some forgotten charity. Here they are – such a beautiful blue, eh?
So there you have it. Two plants identified and one lesson re-learned: remember to more regularly switch my Facebook feed to Most Recent!
I was pleasantly surprised recently to discover that Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is native to my part of the world. There’s so much of it around here I just assumed it, like all the despicable buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), was introduced. The University of Guelph can provide a lot of information about this small tree, and it has a lot of positive traits, including providing food for birds. My favourite thing about Sumac is the leaf colour in autumn and how the flowers turn and stay such a brilliant scarlet all winter. It realy is nature’s perfect antidote to an otherwise grey and white season.
The winter of 2013-14 was pretty bad — cold and a never ending series of ice storms. Blowing snow that closed local roads, trees down, shivering livestock. These swans seemed to take it all in stride.
I love it when various gardening associations or plant companies come up with their picks for “Plant of the Year.” If you haven’t already noticed, get ready to see gardening pages, sites, tweets, Instagrams (is that a real word?), Pinterests (again, can the word be used as a noun?) loaded with images of ‘The’ plant of 2018. Could be an annual, a shrub, a perennial….
The decision to designate often appears to be made by the large growers – the folks who propagate and sell plants – or by a plant association.
For example, this year the Perennial Plant Association in the U.S. says it’s Allium ‘Millenium.’ This is an interesting plant, and not just for the unusual way ‘Millenium’ is spelled. No spring ephemeral here; the glossy green leaves won’t die back late spring but instead remain throughout the growing season.
The flower-bearing scapes appear mid to late summer, rising above the 12 – 15 inch leaves, and produce 2” purple globes that are said to be huge pollinator magnets.
The plant company Proven Winners, on the other hand, has chosen a new Heuchera – Primo ‘Black Pearl’ (a cultivar of Heuchera villosa) as its choice. (They also have an annual of the year and a shrub of the year – Petunia Supertunia ‘Bordeaux’ and Weigela ‘Spilled Wine,’ respectively. All of these cultivars are trademarked.)
Across the pond in Germany, the Association of Perennial Gardeners has picked Hemerocallis as its Perennial of the Year. Not any particular cultivar – the entire species! I like that – no need to choose amongst colour, form, size or even how many chromosomes there are. Any daylily is great! For the Field to Table set, the Association for the Conservation of Crop Diversity (VEN) thinks the common rutabaga is the right choice, and wants “to share the knowledge of this classic vegetable with the world.”
The American Hosta Growers Association has decided that ‘World Cup’ is the Hosta of the year. This is a ‘Komodo Dragon’ x ‘Superbowl’ cultivar that “forms an upright clump of deeply cupped, moderately wavy, deeply corrugated, bright gold foliage.” It has purple flowers, if anyone is interested.
And for you rose lovers, the cherry-red
Lovestruck (Dicommatac) rose has been named Rose of the Year in Great Britain. This is a lightly scented, double-petalled floribunda rose, bred in Ireland, and said to have ‘outstanding health and vigour.’ At least in the British Isles.
Plants of the Year. At best, a great way to pique interest and introduce a new species or cultivar to the home garden. At worst, a marketing gimmick for fussy but pretty flowers that don’t live up to their promise.
Earlier this year, during a radio interview, the head of the Toronto Botanical Garden described gardening as a type of performance art. He was right, of course. That’s one of the fascinations of a garden – watching it change day to day, week to week, month to month and year to year.
Sure, you can create a space that never changes, using stone walls or pathways to maintain rigid boundaries, pruning hedges and shrubs the same way year after year. But even then, if you have trees, they will grow and conditions will change.
I, like most gardeners, like an evolving space. I enjoy the four seasons, the unexpected seedlings, moving perennials, planting bulbs, deciding whether to keep a growing shrub or prune it back or maybe even remove it.
The largest micro garden on our property is The Island. I’ve documented its changing patterns in 2017 – you can see it by clicking the tab above that says ’12 Months on an Island’ – or by clicking the link below. The Island will keep changing in 2018 and beyond and I’ll keep taking pictures of it. Hopefully my skills with a camera will also evolve!
These last days of 2017 have been really really cold but mostly bright and sunny. I’ve enjoyed bundling up and being outdoors snowshoeing or running along our well ploughed side roads while the garden hibernates under a think blanket of insulating snow. I’m experimenting with black and white photography – it’s ideal for this time of year I think.
Almost two weeks left of 2017, lots of time for more photos and gardening thoughts…but here anyway are a few of my favourite photos from this past year, a year I learned a lot about taking pictures, gardening and beautiful Prince Edward County.
One of my favourite trees is the Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera). Although some people give it a pass, saying it’s ‘messy’ or ‘short lived’ or ‘disease prone’ I say “Who Cares?” Just look at the gorgeous white bark, and marvel at how layers will peels off, only to reveal a new surface even more brilliant than the last.
I especially like to watch as young trees, with grey brown bark that makes them very similar in appearance to other Betula, start to turn white. You can see in this photo the trunk on the left is still quite dark, while the larger trunk in front, older perhaps by just a year, is revealing its bright mature colour.
Yes, in our (relatively) warm County it may live only 30 to 40 years, that’s quite possibly longer than I’ll be around! And it may get attacked by one bug or another – but very few trees these days are resistant to all insects. And it may indeed shed twigs and, gasp, leaves in fall. But really, who cares?
Solomon Seal is probably my favourite shade tolerant perennial. It has graceful arching stems with beautiful, dainty hanging flowers in spring that bees love; the leaves stay dark green all summer; it’s extremely drought tolerant and, in the autumn, everything turns first deep yellow then a beautiful orange/tan before leaves and sometimes whole stems collapse to the ground.
I never ‘clean up’ this garden – I let everything decompose as it falls. And then I wait for the new shoots to poke through this natural mulch and start the cycle again.
It’s official – winter is nigh
Snowfall has come, dark clouds are high
Leaves are all gone leaving branches so bare
Hoping these buds bring flowers to the air
*** These photos were taken about a week ago before the first frost and fist dusting of snow; today, almost all the leaves are either gone or very very brown…
Many years ago I received, as a birthday gift, what was immediately labelled the artifact. It’s an ancient manure spreader, purchased from a nearby farmer and slowly, while I was away for the day, pulled by tractor along the road and into our back field. What a surprise to come upon it!
I loved it then and still do – and have experimented with many ways to display it: letting wild raspberries, Goldenrod and other tall natives grow up in the middle; planting asparagus along one side; allowing it become almost entirely hidden by uncut grasses – just a corner or two peeking out.
I think I’ve settled on this – two Burning Bushes (Euonymus alatus) purchased and planted because the giver of the artifact loves them, and mow down everything else. I love this view of the artifact, especially in late October into November when the bush leaves do indeed appear to be in flames. I know design theory says to plant things in threes but in this particular instance, I think the third similar object is the artifact itself – its rusting spokes, wheels and body has become the third point in this triangle.
There’s not much left blooming in the garden these last few days in October – the only thing looking halfway decent are the patches of sweet Alyssum. The huge Zinnias, colourful Cannas and even the merry Marigolds are either withering away with the cold nights or had to be pulled to make way for bulb planting. (I know – a lot of people really hate Marigolds. I, on the other hand, really LOVE them and grow them every year; next year’s seeds are already dried and waiting in tiny envelopes for April germination.)
There are still a few delightful surprises though.
Finally, another Veronica – Whitley’s Speedwell. It holds a special place in my heart because the original small clump was given me by a dear lady in Toronto many many years ago. A large patch of it was growing up a slope by the sidewalk in front of her house and I admired it year round. Its original spot in my garden is still going strong and growing year by year. It’s generally drought tolerant (I’ve never watered it) although last year by the end of the summer drought only the fringes survived (it all grew back this year). But I’m really impressed by my new patch – started with just four hand-full’s pulled up from the original, it has now filled in to border the side patio.
AND – the best part – it’s evergreen. ALSO the best part is this new patch flowered en masse as usual in the spring but continued to send up dozens of individual, tiny blooms all year. Last week, for some reason, it just burst out again with hundreds of flowers. Weird and wonderful!
I think this Lilium lancifolium (a true Tiger Lily) is my favourite Lily – it’s growing in the shade of a large Basswood (Tilia americana) multiplying quite happily and is a welcome splash of colour mid August in an otherwise drab corner. The rounded petals are a perfect match for this week’s photo challenge!
It was a delightful surprise to see these planted outside a low rise apartment building in Toronto where nights are about to get very chilly! I love how the arching branches of this palm and the rounded bracts of the two Bromeliades contrast with the sharp lines and corners of the brick wall.
I have large patches of purple and white Liatris scattered around the garden – all originating from the seed of a few plants I purchased and planted 15 years ago. The height of the flower spikes vary year to year, depending on how much rain we get. This spring, with record breaking rainfalls in April and May, the Liatris was almost as high as an elephant’s eye. Let’s say it was as high as a medium size cow’s eye.
Except for this one stalk, which for some reason decided walk its own path, follow its own winding, curvy, horizontal road. By the time this photo was taken in mid August it was so heavy with flowers the tip was almost touching the ground.
I collected a lot of Liatris seed a few weeks ago and hope to add even more August height in years to come.
This is one of the reasons I love the bright yellow glow of Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) and one of the reason I cut it back in early summer — to encourage late season flowers to help feed a multitude of pollinators. How many can you spot?
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.
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:
- 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.
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.