Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Three Late Bloomers

As expected, the snow did come. It was beautiful, white, fluffy, did its usual sitting-on-top-of-seed-heads-looking-cute thing, looked picturesque on branches and shrubs, generally made the world look like a new place, and so on, but we are going to skip right over all that and take a look at a few plants that flower very late in the season.

You can't of course do anything about them this year, but you can make a big note, and underline it, in your garden notebook, to get them for next year.

My first suggestion is Geranium 'Rozanne'. Whatever its ancestry, it probably does not include the dreaded G. sanguineum, so you don't have to worry about it taking over the world, er, your garden. It sprawls, usually gracefully, draping itself around the legs of taller perennials. It looks wonderful twined in with one of the taller ornamental grasses, or around a clump of Siberian Irises. You do want to place it at the front where you will be able to admire its large flowers.

'Rozanne' starts blooming in June, goes on all July, takes a short break in August, and surges back with a burst of fresh blue flowers in September. It is still in full bloom in November. After a frost its leaves develop attractive yellow and red edges and the flowers, which are, in my opinion, already bluer than the other 'blue' geraniums, are bluer than ever.

She's best in a well-drained spot and fairly lean soil.

My second suggestion for the very late garden is a Bugbane. I am  embarrassed to admit that I've totally lost its label so have no idea what the nursery called it. I just went through a whole box of old labels - labels whose plants have died, duplicate labels, labels I simply didn't want to have to look at in the garden, in other words, labels sans plants of all kinds, hoping to find a clue to this one's name but with no luck.

I was surprised to see how many labels I have called $39.99.

Anyway, this 'Bugbane' is a form of Actaea simplex, and you won't have any trouble recognizing it at the nursery or in a catalogue. The foliage is yellow/green, the plant is fairly short at less than 3', and it blooms late. So late that you will be surprised to see it blooming at all. The frothy bottle brush flowers are held above the foliage and appear just when the glorious red leaves of the Maples are floating to the ground. As I recall, the plant itself sits quietly at the back of the low border all summer, just looking yellowish green and bushy, then in September you will notice spikes of what looked like pale green pearls held above the leaves. You may think they are seedpods at first, but no, they are buds. A week later, well into October, the plant will be furnished with a good number of white spikes.

 My third suggestion is Aconitum Fischeri. It is the only Aconite I know that isn't 'miffy'. It doesn't disappear for no reason.... it doesn't get smaller and smaller every year until you can't find it anymore... it doesn't forget to bloom in years with an August in them....

The fleshy or tuberous roots are easily enough divided, which is a good thing as this plant looks best in a substantial patch. It will take shade, but prefers some sun.

A. Fischeri gets to about 3' tall, and the flowers tend to be in clumps rather than spikes like those of other Aconites. The colour is a pure rich blue, warm, but not purple. The foliage is clean and medium green and looks good all summer.

My three fall bloomers look wonderful together, or associated with good foliage plants like grasses or ferns. All are adaptable and easy-going and make October and November much easier to get through.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Waiting For Snow

There is a hush over the woods today - no wind, nothing moving, the birds still. Across the beaver pond a small mist hangs among the tops of the tall pines. The pond itself lies quietly in its hollow between the rocks, the reeds not moving, no ripples, and no ducks today. Kip, in the lead as always, stops and waits for me to catch up. He's staying close today.

We are waiting for the snow.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fletcher Fern Trail - Major Progress!

First, let's just get that frog down*.

Long story short, I ran into trouble with the planned William J. Cody Memorial Fern Garden back in 2012. Partly my fault, partly politics, but work came to an abrupt halt. Much discussion, thinking, committee work later the Emerald Ash Borer did an end run and destroyed the Ash Woods and the Fern Garden with it. While what happened to the Ash Woods was rather awful, this did open the door to a new plan for the Fern Garden and late this summer it was decided to have it as the back of the Backyard Garden. This area was just being reclaimed and a Fern Trail looked like a good fit.

Here is what the area looked like in August:

Undergrowth had been cleared but the space was pretty empty and undefined. The view above is to the east. The view to the west included the slope up to the upper pond:
The obvious steps were an invitation to kids of all ages to rush up to the pond, poke around annoying the frogs, trample the Ostrich Ferns and then step on the planted sedges on their way back down.

I figured the east side could be the Mixed Woods area, the west side could be the Dry Rocky and the Wet Boggy areas, and the middle could be the Transition area. Since I hoped to rescue some ferns, particularly those donated by others, from the Ash Woods, I started with the east side.

Isabelle Nichol, the Model Backyard Garden Manager, arranged to get the spruce tree's lower branches trimmed back, and for a couple of Algonquin landscaping students who wanted to work some volunteer hours to  remove some old black plastic and wheelbarrow in lots of wood chips to make a mulch barrier at the back of the space. It was wonderful how much better the space looked after that was all done! I spent a couple of hours one rainy Saturday and used white and yellow rope to mark off spaces to plant ferns.... then the students dug these over and added compost.
 Joan Darby came and together we moved almost all the ferns from the Ash Woods into their new homes.
  A day or two later, Jay from Jaydell Landscaping came with his crew and installed a wonderful stepping stone path.

The Mixed Woods area is on the right and the Transition area is on the left in this picture. The path goes around in a semi-circle to enclose the Transition area, and return to the main garden.

The next area of attack was the slope to the upper pond. We moved the sedges.... collected rocks from the Dept. of Ag's massive rock pile.... dug down to solid ground for the lowest row of rocks and made a rock wall:

I would have liked more slab-shaped rocks, but by back-filling the wall with other smaller rocks and tightly  packing soil in behind it is probably pretty sturdy. Here you see it with some of the rock-loving ferns planted. Marginal Wood Fern is scattered around and some Polypody Ferns are installed at the top (hard to see here). On the right there are a few Walking Ferns and others which need shady rocky spots. We'll see if they establish before winter, but if not we'll re-plant in the spring.

The students moved the Ostrich Ferns, Malcolm ("I'm the shrub guy") pruned a huge overhanging shrub, and we re-planted the sedges.

  What you see here is the start of the Wet Boggy area. I dug out the oval you see, about 2' deep, then laid down old pond liner. I poked a couple of holes in the bottom and a few more about 6" down from the top. Then I re-filled it with a mixture of the sand from the hole, peat moss and topsoil. This is an invention by someone called Holman, so is called a Holman Bog. It's a trick to provide a spot that stays damp (even wet) in an area that would normally be dry. After re-filling, you cover the edges, plant and water well. You can't really see it, but the plants thinks they are growing in a bog. Here you see some Marsh Ferns, Crested Ferns and a few other things which I hope will 'take' before winter:
Meanwhile, I had impulsively mentioned to Isabelle that a stump would be a nice focal point for the middle area and she loved the idea. I knew when I said it that I had such a stump, but now I was in a quandary - I liked that stump in my own garden! I looked all over my place for another one, but they were all huge and wet, or had trees still attached, and were too heavy or too far away to move. I mulled it over for a while, but just when I'd almost decided there was nothing for it but to give away my lovely stump, I realized it was in the way of a path I wanted to make anyway. Then I was happy to find it a new home! Gordon, another of the Fletcher volunteers, came and helped me move it into my truck. Here it is:
 That's me in the middle, with Joan Petit on my left and Joan Darby on my right. You can see we're pretty pleased with ourselves!

Isabelle came to see how things were going - she's pretty pleased about the stump, too!

Team Joan dug two more bogs, one of each side of the stump in the centre bed:

Eventually there will be three Cinnamon Ferns in front of the stump and three Interrupted Ferns behind it. Some of these were donated by Dan Faber, an early supporter of the project, and I'm happy we were able to rescue his plants.

They look pretty small right now, but small things grow!

* Mark Twain once said that you should start every day by swallowing a frog. Once you'd done that, your day was bound to improve!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fall Frenzy

Every fall, round about this time, there are three things that just about drive me into a frenzy.

The first one is Beavers. I know we are supposed to admire their industriousness, but I wish they had some sense to go with it.  Every fall yet another pair of hopeful young beavers, bride and groom of the toothy set, decide to set up housekeeping in the marsh. Every fall they scour the edges for edibles to store for the winter. They mow down whatever poplars, maples, ashes or birches have managed to become large enough to have visible bark. There are no longer any pale or white-barked trees within dragging distance of my marsh or the beaver pond, and there haven't been for a long time.

Every January they run out of food.

The second thing that drives me into a frenzy is leaves. New leaves on plants that recover from August in the cool of September, so clean, so tender.... glorious red leaves appearing on the sumacs... leaves whirling down when a gust of wind shakes the maples... bright yellow leaves picking out the milkweeds along the driveway... each leaf I see seems more beautiful and magical than the last. I come home from a walk clutching handfuls of  leaves and with yet more pictures of leaves on my camera. In the pottery studio I press leaves into clay and make leaf-shaped pickle dishes (anything can hold a pickle), and make bowls and plates with leaf designs on them. For a few weeks, I am in love with leaves.

The third thing that drives me into a frenzy is asters. Quite a few asters (now re-named Symphyotrichum by the taxonomists) are native to the Ottawa Valley and quite a few non-native ones are sold in the nurseries, so we have a wealth of asters to enjoy. Just looking at one species, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, our New England Aster, we have a lot of choices. I've been collecting forms of S. novae-angliae for a while now and have 6 or 7 different types.

The reddest one on the left is one I purchased. It is called 'Andenken an Alma Potschke' which is a bit of a mouthful so I just call her Alma. Dear Alma is certainly different, but I find she blooms a bit later than the others some years she misses the party.

The one the bee is enjoying is pure white. The buds are a soft yellow, the foliage is light green, the stems are slightly lighter green. No red or blue pigment anywhere in this one. It's one of the tallest ones, too, reaching 6' easily.

The middle picture is the most common colour, a lovely reddish violet you have to call Amethyst. This is the perfect colour to stand out among the yellows, reds and russets of autumn.

The pink form is also fairly common, although this one is paler than most.

I have one plant that starts white, with a yellow centre, then darkens to pale mauve with a reddish centre. I'm suspecting some hanky-panky by its parents although in all other ways it is a typical New England Aster.

The last one is semi-double. It has more than the usual number of petals (really ray flowers), but not on every head. About half the heads on the plant are normal, the other half have extra petals. Does that make it a semi-semi-double?

New England Asters are absolutely no trouble to grow, in fact you may find the biggest problem is stopping them from growing, and no autumn garden should be without them. If the leggy stems bother you (the lower stem leaves are usually dried up by the time the plant blooms, this is perfectly normal), plant something shorter in front of them. If their height, and they can be tall, is a problem, shorten the growing stems a bit in early June. They will branch, have more blooms, and be shorter. They may bloom a week later, though.

Then there are the mosses..... wait, that's four things. Maybe later, right now I have to go and cool my head.

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!