Saturday, September 13, 2014

Morning Glories

There are 187 different ways of not having Morning Glories. Actually, there may be more, but I've only been gardening for about 50 years.

The first and most effective way is to forget to buy the seeds early in March. If you don't get them then, they will be gone from the stores and you will waste an afternoon driving around looking for some, after which you will try to order them online and will discover that the cost of having them mailed to you is about equal to the mortgage on the entire property.

Almost as effective is to forget to plant the seeds once you have them. This method takes care of all years divisible by two.

Let's say you get the seeds and you do remember to plant them. Don't worry, you can still leave them in a hot window, forget to water them, cover them with too much soil, not cover them with enough soil, overwater them,  break the emerging shoots off by poking around in the pot to see if they have germinated yet, accidentally yank them out of the pot because they've grown into the curtain and you want to move the pots around to give the poor tomatoes a chance at the sunlight on the windowsill, knock them over when you try to shoo the cat out of the windowsill..... and so on. You'll be able to think of other ways for yourself.

Should you get them into the actual ground, it is probably the wrong time to do it and a late frost will get them. They come from Mexico (I think) so they don't deal well with arctic temperatures.

But occasionally, very occasionally, just often enough to keep you enslaved, you will have Morning Glories.

And you will remember why they are called Morning Glories.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Yellow, Yellow, Days of August

Now, before the muttering starts in the back row, let me assure you that I am quite well aware that some gardeners dislike yellow. Some even go so far as to avoid having any yellow flowers in their gardens. They moan about the yellow centres of certain blooms, and grumble about yellow-leaved hostas. Their gardens, in August, are symphonies of pinks and mauves and blues.

I am not one of them.

I love yellow and cannot imagine August without it. Since many of the August yellows are daisies, you can say I like yellow daisies.

Of which there are many, and many that get called Black-eyed Susan. There is a lot of confusion among gardeners about these. I hear even knowledgeable gardeners call things Black-eyed Susan that barely even resemble the real Susan.

One is Rudbeckia triloba. It is easily recognized - the only Rudbeckia with leaves divided into three substantial lobes.

By the way, I hear people saying 'Rude-eh-beck-ee-a'. Do not make this mistake! The genus is named after Olof Rudbeck the Younger. He was a friend of Linnaeus, who named the genus to honor both him and his father. So, 'Rud-beck-ee-a', please.

R. triloba is tall and gangly, with relatively small flowers held above the rough foliage. It isn't impressive in the garden, but can anchor an empty corner. A well-grown plant can be covered with flowers, but even then it suffers from a degree of stodginess.

The best, maybe only, way to propagate this plant is to grow it from seed. It has a taproot so doesn't move or divide easily.

Much more attractive is R. laciniata.The form we usually see in the garden is the variety 'Herbstsonne' and yes, that is spelled correctly. If you need to say the name out loud, try to get into a German mood first and divide the word into three almost-syllables, as in 'Herbst-sonn-eh'.

It too is tall. In fact, there is some thought that it may be a hybrid with R. triloba, but nobody is really sure. It comes true from seed, so perhaps it is not a hybrid. The plants are mounds up to about 3', and the flowers stand well above that.

The petals droop gracefully and can be surprisingly large. A flower would be 6" across if the petals stood straight out. Each bloom lasts quite a while, and many can be open at once. It is a good cut flower, too.

Unfortunately, the flowering stems do tend to get blown over by the wind or bent down by the rain. If you want them to stand up you'll have to do some work with stakes and string.

Probably one of the most popular and best-selling perennials of all time is Rudbeckia fulgida variety Sullivantii, cultivar name 'Goldsturm'. This plant is the nurseryman's dream. It is rock-solid hardy, totally perennial, looks good in a pot, always blooms and for a long time, always the same size, grows in sun or semi-shade, grows in dry or moist soil, is easy to propagate, so what's not to like?

Here is one separate plant to show the form and shape. It has substantial basal leaves and many stems. The flowers are totally uniform and held well up in the air. The colour is a strong chrome yellow, tending a bit towards orange.

In evening light, the flowers are much more orange, almost luminescent. It looks wonderful among tall grasses.

This is R. fulgida, common name 'Orange Coneflower'.

'Goldsturm' spreads by producing multiple crowns, and by seeding itself around. If I understand it correctly, we are not supposed to call the seed-grown offspring of named cultivars by the parent's cultivar name, so let's just say that once you have a plant of R. f. s. 'Goldsturm', you will soon have many not-Goldsturms. They will look and act exactly like the parent.

The thing not to like about this is that it does get a bit boring.

Much more interesting, to my mind, is the real Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta. Here is a picture comparing the stems of R. hirta and R. fulgida. The former has lots of rather prickly hairs, the latter only a few and they are much softer.

The other big difference is that R. hirta is a biennial. It puts up a cluster of basal leaves in the fall, then produces its flowers the next summer. It is totally hardy and very easy to grow. Just leave the small plants where you like them and leave them alone. You can transplant them when they are still small, but they don't like it.

There are quite a few cultivars for which you can buy seed. One of my favourites is (was, really), Cherokee Sunset. It was (is) fully double and a cheeky yellow-orange. It's offspring will vary wildly, so if you want Cherokee again, you'll have to buy new seeds. I grew some from seed once and since then I've enjoyed the many variations in the flowers of R. hirta not-Cherokee Sunset.

The lower picture on the right, by the way, is very similar to the one called 'Toto', but of course we're not going to call it that.

And now, drum roll please, the real Black-eyed Susan, R. hirta itself, plain and unimproved and growing as it grows best, in the wild with Goldenrods and grasses.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Garden Luck

I was musing about luck as I worked in the garden yesterday. It was a beautiful day, sunny but cool with a small breeze to keep the bugs down. Since I'd worked hard at my pottery all the previous week, I decided to take the whole day off and just garden. It was what I call a Freedom Day. Free to do what I feel like, and no pesky to-do list!

The first thing I felt like doing was finishing moving a few cactii. Some years ago I bought eight or nine different varieties of Opuntia from Gardens North. They did fairly well in the sandy area behind the Studio and while they didn't get very big, several of them did bloom. They didn't really impress me - I liked the architectural quality of their pads, and was tickled to think we had hardy native cactii, but as a garden design element they were a big ho-hum. It didn't help that they were hidden by some ornamental grasses. Anyway, I noticed this year that they were looking a bit punk and realized that not only were the nearby pines dropping needles all over them, but also they were shading them. Monday I decided to move the cactii and while I'm not totally happy about their new location, I think they'll do much better there. Full sun, excellent drainage (hardly any soil, really, and that on top of sloped bedrock) and plenty of air.

Of course, when I put the spade under to lift them, they did what Opuntias do best, that is, they became many Opuntias. I just planted all the clumps together as they were in the first place. With luck they should be more impressive next year.

Speaking of next year, I was lucky about a certain Daffodil. Three years ago I moved a path and the bulbs of a certain daffodil were in the way. I dug them up and planted them (temporarily of course) in the back of the vegetable plot. They did very well there, tripling in number and blooming better than ever. Last August I dug them up and dried them off and put them in the garage for re-planting in the fall. In April I was poking around looking for something else and guess what. Nicely frozen and then dried daffodil bulbs. Arrggghhhh!

Not sure of the name anymore, but 'Avalon' comes to mind. It is not a 'perfect' or 'show' daff, but the soft pastel peach trumpet is pretty. It's sturdy, too, and shows up well in the early garden.

I was most annoyed with myself. I don't like waste and I don't like it when I do something that dumb and beside, I was sorry to lose my pretty pink Daff.

To my delight, it seems I hadn't dug up every bulb, and this spring there were two flowers. Such luck! I dug them up and re-planted them yesterday, not forgetting them again!

(By the way, if you haven't ordered yourself some new spring bulbs yet, there is still time..... Botanus  is a BC company with a nice selection. They have some of the smaller bulbs too, which are always fun.) You could get a few bulbs of narcissus Rip van Winkle', for example.

 Rippy, unlike his namesake, is always up early. One of the first Narcissus to bloom. It opens green and brightens to a chrome yellow. It's small, only a foot high, and I'm sure you can find an inch or two of space for a bulb or two.

 You can point him out to visitors, and they'll look at you strangely when they think you won't notice, and you can laugh inside.

 Growing things from seed is always fun, and often the only way to get a certain plant. In 2011 I brought a few seeds of Mimulus ringens, square-stemmed Monkey Flower, back from a hike. Two of them came up, and in July of 2012 they bloomed in their pot. Hmmm, I thought, how nice, a couple of plants of that Monkey Flower, I must find them a good damp spot.

Did I get around to planting them? No, of course not. It was  August before I looked for them and then they seemed to be gone. Rats. A native species I didn't have and here I'd lost it again.

Well. This spring there was one sprout of something in a little plastic lid under the bench where I keep the fern babies. It looked sort of like Purple Loosestrife which comes up everywhere but not quite. The way the leaves attached to the stem seemed different. Also, Purple Loosestrife stems aren't square. To my delight, it was a plant of Monkey Flower!

It's planted now. Won't waste that luck again!

And I discovered some new luck yesterday, too.One of our native thistles (did you know that Canada Thistle isn't native?) is Swamp Thistle, cirsium muticum. I didn't realize it was a biennial and neglected to save seeds. Not one plant last year, and I missed it because it is quite a dramatic plant and looked well behind some pale daylilies. All thistles are dramatic, but this one is both dramatic and graceful. It's supposedly common in our swamps, but I have never seen it in the wild. I was given the seeds and told the plant could get 10' tall but that was all.
Each plant has many flowers, and they form an elegant candelabra shape. Mine only got 6' high, but were impressive.

So today I was delighted to find one plant blooming at the edge of a patch of Jerusalem Artichoke. The 'chokes' are a pest and will have to come out someday soon, but I'm so glad a seed of Swamp Thistle found a home there.

Now that is gardening luck!

Monday, August 11, 2014

An August Mixture - of Weirdness

I'm back. I hope. Too much 'life' going on the past couple of weeks: I'm really hoping I can now go back to my admittedly self-centered quiet life. I worked hard to make pottery for our local Market's Garlic Festival (biggest and best Garlic Fest in Eastern Ontario, really and truly) and it went well. I sold lots of garlic pots, told quite a few people that no, they could not buy my garlic-design pillows, gave away many many garlic-themed bookmarks.... lots of fun, lots of really nice people who stopped to chat, but boy, was I tired yesterday! In bed by 9pm!

Next thing is this Saturday - my local arts group is putting on an outdoor arts festival (yes, everything's a festival these days) and I'm kind of in charge of the layout, the setting up and so on. It's in a large fenced field which is normally the Large Horse Ring for the Carp Fair. After having had thousands of cars parked on it for Garlic Fest, it'll be interesting to see what state the grass is in. Only a gardener would think of that, I guess.

Meanwhile, I'm finding it an unusual year for a number of things. I tend to get kind of irritated when people proclaim it a 'weird' year for this or that, you know, as in 'this is such a year for weird weather' because when I go back and check, no it isn't. Weather is weird every year. So I hesitate to say it, but really, this is a weird year in a couple of ways. One is the bugs.

Oh, the bugs. I have never suffered so many mosquito bites. Usually we have a crop of the darn things in May and another one in August. The May ones are large and make loud zoomy noises and you hardly notice their bites until they start to itch. The August ones, however, are tiny, silent, and must have blunt stingers because their bites really hurt. They don't itch afterwards, but maybe that's because I feel the bite in time to smack them and so they don't get to load me up with mosquito poison. Anyway, they hatched in July and late July and early August and now mid-August..... hard to paint pots when you have to whap yourself on the leg or whatever every few minutes. Can't keep them out of the Studio because I refuse to keep the door closed. I like the airiness of the open door too much. Apparently there are about 40 species of mosquitoes here, and I'd say they are all doing very well this year. (How can you tell a Canadian in the summer? He's the one hitting himself every couple of minutes.)

Another thing I can't keep out of the Studio is the snake. Oh, the snakes this year! This is a Northern Water Snake, about 3' long but fat and dark and cranky. He seems to figure we are partners. I provide the mice, and he eats them. So far so good, but does he have to come in to the Studio in the afternoon when I'm trying to be peaceful and paint bees on my pots? Then I can't get him out. I've gotten to the point that I just pull my feet up to the top rung of my stool and wait for him to circle the room, sniffing all over in his snaky way, and then slither out again. If I try to persuade him to leave he gets quite aggressive, curling up, shaking his tail (in his daydreams he's a rattler) and darting his head at me. Being as brave as I am, I immediately shriek and run. Sometimes I see him near the pond, no doubt hoping for a frog to eat. Yuck.

And speaking of mice.... this morning early I looked out the kitchen window while the coffee brewed and watched first an Eastern Phoebe pecking bugs off the driveway, hopping around and then flying off with a juicy grasshopper, and then a fat brown mouse darting along in and out of the juniper branches hanging over the path. Funny how they scurry, sort of hunched up to be smaller, in little bursts. Wonder what their wee shiny eyes actually see. Most years I see a few mice, this year I find them while weeding. And they're all fat  and sleepy. Must be lots of seeds and berries. My cat, by the way, considers them in the nature of remote-control toys and chases but never catches them.

Nor does she catch chipmunks, of which we have a zillion this year. I thought for a few days that I might get an actual tomato from one of my 6 plants, but now I see it has been nipped off and is lying on the ground, yellow on one side, with a large bite taken out on the other. Sigh.

And weeds. I'm arranging for someone with machinery and know-how to come and cut the stuff that's taking over my driveway and he said he's never seen such a year for weeds. He's right. The drought in 2012 led to enormous seed-set in 2013 which has now led to a bumper weed crop in 2014. Wonder what 2015 will bring.

Whatever it is, it'll be weird!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Visit to "Beyond the Edge: Artists' Gardens"

I finally had a chance to go and take a look at "Beyond the Edge: Artists' Gardens", an 'Agri-art' installation arranged by Canadensis, the Canadian Botanical Garden Society. I went Thursday afternoon and it was a lovely cool breezy day, perfect for a walk around a field.

I wasn't quite sure just where it was, but expected to find some sort of large sign. Unfortunately there wasn't one and I turned off Prince of Wales Drive into a lane that leads down to one of the Rideau Locks. Coming back out I spotted a sign about Beyond the Edge and pulled over. The large wire gate was closed and the fence was well peppered with 'No Parking' signs but I decided to risk it anyway. This is what I saw in front of me:

Going closer, I read the blurb about the project and inspected the map. I read it mostly to get my bearings, missing the significance of the large green rectangle in the middle of the map....  I headed off to the right along the mown 'gosh, this must be a path' strip.

I admired a number of picnic tables (very typical of the genre, all of them) and several huge bright blue garbage cans (statements about our modern culture, perhaps?) and eventually arrived at a small garden-like plot with a number of stick teepees.

This was "From Seeds to Soup: Meet the Cucurbita Family", by Deborah Margo. Having met them before, I moved on.

Far off on the horizon I spotted colour and headed over. I came to "Mood Clusters", by Glynis and Deirdre Logue.

This turned out to be a collection of 5-sided boxes with various colourful plants growing in them. I had to read the sign to learn that these are 'psychoactive' plants....hmmm. But they looked nice, the plants were healthy and the colours were agreeable. The layout apparently relates to the shape of a molecule that occurs in our brains and helps us feel happiness.

I would have felt more of that happiness if the grass and such around the bases of the planters had been trimmed.

The sign encouraged the visitor to 'take a seat to gently touch the leaves for scent'. Where, I don't know, because there were no seats, and many of the plants did not have aromatic leaves.

Onwards. I couldn't seem to pick up the mown path again, but headed over towards the Red Barn.

On my way there, I discovered the second part of the display called "From Seeds to Soup".

I was on the path again, but had clearly gotten a bit muddled. I altered course and made it to a little picket fence-edged garden stuck in the hay field called "Our Lady of Complete Protein" by cj fleury. At first glance, I thought it was a garden of corn and sunflowers, but closer inspection showed that the tall leaves

in certain of the beds inside the fence were not corn. I had to read the sign to learn that they were millet. I also learned that the garden was a reference to the book "Diet for a Small Planet" by Frances Moore Lappe. The large metal sculpture rising above the plot represents "Mother Earth's Fecundity". I stepped back and took the photo above.... . being so far separated from the other displays, the surrounding landscape necessarily became part of the art piece, but  perhaps not with quite the message the artist intended.

The next piece was Karl Ciesluk's "Mechanical Spiral" which I approached from the side away from its information sign:
Having just had the word 'Protein' planted in my forebrain, the hay bale put me in mind of another type of protein. Nothing in the piece itself made me dream that this was in any way a comment on the realities of farming, either 'over 175 years ago' or today.

I also couldn't see it very well. Being only 5 1/2feet tall, I couldn't look down on it, and as you can see above, the grasses and such pretty much hid the spiral. Perhaps if the grass strips had been narrower and the mown strips wider, it would have been clearer.

The last installation was "Red Oak Labyrinth":

Under a beautiful Red Oak, Barbara Brown had installed a walking labyrinth based on an ancient and mystical design using short pieces of split ash wood to delineate the path. At the centre there was a nice cool bench, with notebooks where you could leave a comment:

I sat there for a while and read some of the comments. Not being a labyrinth-ite, I couldn't really enter into the feelings expressed in some of the comments, but I was happy that some people seemed to find meaning in the project. I also enjoyed the cool breeze, the lack of mosquitoes, and the chance to sit for a bit.

It is very difficult to know what to say about "Beyond the Edge". Perhaps I should just mention some hopes for the future and leave it at that.

I hope they will move the intrusive and distracting garbage cans and water containers to where they won't be so visible. The picnic tables, also, could be grouped near the road or back near the Red Barn.

I hope next time they arrange the displays much closer together. Spreading them all around the edge of such a large expanse leaves them all lost in what is essentially a neglected field. I did go back and read the sign to check up on the significance of the green rectangle in the middle of the field, but there was little information beyond the fact that it was an Ag Canada research project; in other words, that the organizers couldn't get the use of the whole field. Given that situation, it would have been much better to place all the displays in the area near the road and around the Red Oak where the labyrinth was.

I hope they invest in some small signs with directional arrows so that those of us who come when the paths haven't been cut for a while won't get lost.

I hope that the OBG group will soon spend some money and make an actual entrance, with a large sign, at least some parking, and information about the group.  If they are serious about having a Botanical Garden, it is high time they started to act as if they are.

But more than anything else, I hope that next year they will invite area gardening groups, gardeners, and artists, to propose displays. Proposals should be carefully evaluated, both as to their intellectual content, and as to their visual (or aural or sensual) content. Intellectual content alone is not enough. Art that depends on a written explanation is only a written explanation.... a picture may be worth 1000 words, but 100 words are only 100 words.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

July in the Garden of Delight

In many ways, July is a difficult month in the garden. The weather is of course one factor: if it isn't a drought, it is a monsoon. This year we've been lucky enough to escape both, at least so far, but we've still had some torrential rains.

But of course what is hard on one plant is good for another. The roses are totally bedraggled after yesterday's heavy rain, but the red Monarda are looking fine. I have some growing in front of the huge leaves of Ligularia dentata 'Desdemona' (which, by the way, is exactly the same as L. dentata 'Othello', hmmmm, did someone get their Shakespeare confused?) and the two harmonize wonderfully. Luckily, the Monarda is finished blooming long before the Ligularia throws up its harshly yellow-orange ragged daisies which clash dreadfully with the red-purple leaves. You can always cut them off, of course.

Both plants like damp soil, so in dry years they struggle.

A painted turtle seems to like the grouping too. She's been hanging around for a few days now. Probably laying eggs, but the darn chipmunks usually find those. I waited and she obligingly came out of the flowerbed and onto the gravel of the driveway, but I couldn't convince her to put out her front feet. Not sure what that is all about! Were her feet tired from digging?

She's pretty tame, comes out to see what I'm doing it seems. Turtles apparently like lettuce so I'm going to try her with a leaf or two.

Another plant that is pretty happy with all the rain we've had is Spigelia marilandica, or Indian Pink. I wasn't too sure it would be hardy here, but my plant has come through two winters so far and seems to be getting larger. It's not native here in the Ottawa area, but is south of us. The plant is about 18" tall. The flowers do have a very, well let's say, odd, shape. The bunched anthers could be a moon rocket....

Right near the Indian Pink are two plants that have me in a bit of a quandary. One, the Stephenandra, is a very determined, light-green-leaved, arching-stems shrub. It forms low but dense prickly mounds. In the right place it makes a useful green blob. The rose, Dortmund, was a tiny seedling, on its own roots, and was planted several feet away. Naturally the two are now hopelessly intertwined. My quandary? Every time I see the Stephenandra I remember the kind friend who gave it to me.... and every time I see the rose I remember the nasty person I bought it from. For no reason, this lady felt the need to criticize me for growing roses that were not on their own roots.... it left a bad taste and over time I've quite taken against poor Dortmund. In my previous garden it was a favourite as it climbed happily all over a cedar fence. Can I like a rose that keeps bad friends?

Speaking of friends, another one gave me this sedum and I love the way it has seeded itself in among the rocks in the rockery. It does need restraining sometimes, but then, Cecilia is a pretty high-energy person so it fits!

So many of July's flowers are yellow. I wonder how people who refuse to have yellow flowers in their gardens manage July? Or August?

These orange lilies, while not yellow, look great in with the grasses. I love the way the grasses sway in the wind, now hiding, now revealing, the sturdy lilies.

These lilies were a gift too, but not from a friend. They were a prize I won for something or other once and since I'm not that fond of lilies, I stuck them in the sandy area behind the Studio. They've done magnificently there! Fully 4' tall, and a dozen blooms per stem. The original three bulbs are now at least six, too. Maybe I need to like lilies better!

There are some orange lilies in the Crabapple garden, too, but they are redder, have dots on the inside of the petals, and are quite short. For the life of me I can't remember where they came from. I must have planted them, but the mind is blank....
As it is about this plant:

It came up in the middle of a patch of Hyssop. If you know what it is, please let me know! I should know, it looks familiar, but the name escapes me.

Last, but not least, I'm enjoying the Gaillardias and the Anthemises. Both self-seed and come up all over the place, but the variations in their colours are endlessly fascinating.

If your garden needs a smile, get some Gaillardias!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Garden Discipline

Maybe I'm not disciplined enough to ever be a good gardener. I started this afternoon with a quick walkabout, making careful mental notes of the work that had to be done. It was obvious that the Herb Garden was in bad shape, overgrown, full of non-herbs, with a whole bed of chives that had finished blooming never-mind-how-many days ago.... a mess, in fact. I made a neat list of the (many) garden jobs that need to be done and put and put Fix Herb Garden right at the top.

I started by cutting the chives right down to the ground. You might as well, the old stems will turn yellow and fade away anyway. Cutting them right back leaves a bare space for a bit, but they soon put up new fresh stems and will look alright for the rest of the summer. I have the usual magenta chives, but I also, thanks to some kind friends, have some pale pink and some white ones. And I grew some really tiny ones from some seed exchange seed, only about 5 or 6 inches tall, with flowers the size of small marbles. But they all need to be cut right back or they'll seed everywhere. Having done that, and remembering that they had already established an outpost in the Rockery, I went to cut those back as well.

Three hours later I was ready for a shower, having had a fine time weeding a corner of the Rockery.

 Now tomorrow, for sure, I'm going to tidy up the Herb Garden. That is, if I don't spend hours mooning over the Roses, which are opening and looking gorgeous even though the bushes are very short after the cold winter and which certainly need to be photographed.

Or admiring the Digitalis grandiflora 'gloves':

Or the wild hairdo flowers of the Honeysuckle that has climbed to the top of the birch tree:

 Or getting into any of the other fine activities that distract me from my careful to-do lists. Oh well, the great thing is to have an up-to-date to-do list. How else would you know what job you weren't getting done?