A Tale of Two Tuteurs

Everyone in my family LOVES Morning Glories (Ipomoea purpurea or, by some,   Convolvulus purpureus).  What’s not to love in waking up to a trellis or fence covered in sky blue flowers?

I’ve never grown them before because I don’t have a suitable fence and I’ve seen that the vines can get 15 or 20 feet high – I can’t imagine a trellis that high and I’m not a fan of attaching string or wire from the eaves to the ground.  Early this spring though I had a DIY idea – create an obelisk or tripod using maple saplings, each around 15 feet high, that I had culled from the woods.

The fancy name is woodlot management, but really it’s just me sawing or lopping away when I think trees are growing too close to each other.  I want to open up the canopy so that the various species can grow thick and strong, not just tall and spindly from being too close for comfort.  Aside from the dreaded buckthorn, maple is the dominant tree here so I tend to pull out a lot in late winter or early spring.

So we made two tuteurs – a tuteur is a fancy name for, in this case, tripods. One was for Morning Glories and the other for scarlet runner beans.  It was a simple construction project – use a drill to screw the tops together a few feet from the tips (I wanted to leave some of the small branches at the top – make it look interesting) and also to attach cross branches about five feet up.  Then we tightly wound gardening twine around the joints for extra strength.  We ‘planted’ first each tripod leg a foot or so in the ground and then I watered in seeds around each leg.

Tripod joints

In theory, should’ve worked like a charm.  One of the neat things about gardening; however, is that plants, living things that they are, don’t always grow according to plan.

 

Shleau and Bean Tripod Sept 4 2017

And so it is that the runner bean tripod has remained almost naked all summer. The beans never grew more than a foot or so high and even though there were scarlet flowers and pretty nice looking beans it was a huge disappointment.  There was enough water there; marigolds, zinnia, tomatoes and parsley were all quite happy in the same space.  Perhaps the seed variety was mislabeled? Perhaps I misread the packet??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The morning glories, on the other hand, once it warmed up here, took off like the proverbial rocket.  The vines have reached to the sky and now dangle every which way, giving the structure a wonderful whimsical Suesical look.

6 Morning Glory tripodSept 4 2017

Unfortunately, flowers have not appeared to help make our mornings glorious.  Nada.  Not one.

When I read about morning glories I see they like poor soil (perhaps too much alpaca manure added?) and some varieties wait until September to bloom.  But it is September and I can’t spot a single bud.

Some might say both these garden structures were garden failures.  I prefer to look at them as learning opportunities.  Will I try again next year?  You betcha.  Looking forward, more than ever, to waking up to glorious mornings!

Resiliency…

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.

Hemerocallis Catherine WoodburyMock range & Foxglove June 18 217Shileau & Bridlewreath June 10 2017

 

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.

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