going to seed…

Ironweed seedhead Oct 11 2017 b

Ironweed – Vernonia noveboracensis

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!).

 

wildflower seedhead Oct 11 2017

unknown – what am I??

Goldenrod seedhead Oct 11 2017

Goldenrod – Solidago

Echinacea Seed heads Oct 11 2017 a

Echinacea purpurea

Big Leaved Aster seedhead Oct 11 2017

Big Leaved Aster – Eurybia macrophylla

 

 

In Praise of a Not Very Spectacular Native Shrub

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.

1 Symphoricarpus albus Snowberry July 22 2017 a (2)

Symphoricarpos albus – Snowberry in July

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.

4 Shileau & Snowberry Sept 19 2017

Shileau steals the spotlight from the Snowberry

7 Early Fall Favourites

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’):IMG_3067_edited-1

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:Garlic Chives Sept 20 2017

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:Evening Primrose & New Englanfd Aster Sept 19 2017 3

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:Colchicum Sept 20 2017

 

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:Sedum spectbile - morning dew

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:reblooming white Iris Sept 20 2017

Six ‘Weeds’ My Garden Can’t Be Without

 

Solidago, Goldenrod

I love the horizontal, architectural structure of Goldenrod

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.

New England Aster Aug 27 2017

New England Aster

Sky Blue Aster 2 Oct 7, 2012

Sky Blue Aster

 

 

 

 

 

 

#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.

 

 

Mullein

#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.

 

 

 

 

bee in Queen Anne's Lace

#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.

 

Favourite (almost) Fall Flowers

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.

Big Leaved Aster Aug 19 2017

Big Leaved Aster, Eurybia macrophylla:  an individual plant isn’t much to look at but when you have masses of them together at the edge of a woodland garden the effect is stunning.  An Ontario native plant, if grows in dry shade!!!

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:  Sedum spectabile

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:

Kale

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.

 

Native vs Non Native gardening

Butterfly & Zinnia cm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the first paper, that studied pollinating insects:

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

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

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

 

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

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

Sunflower August 2017

Time to revel in Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia Laciniata, August 19, 2011

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

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

Rudbeckia

R. hirta & R. fulgida in same patch

 

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

 

 

Rudbeckia laciniata Aug 6 2017 a

Rudbeckia laciniata

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

 

deadish Rudbeckia July 29, 2012

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