Saturday, July 31, 2010


I've always liked the tall Yarrow called, I think,' Gold Plate'. I grew some from seed and put a group of them in the hillside garden and I've liked them there. They provide a bit of muscle in what could be a flabby setting of Phlox, Shasta Daisies, blue Veronica and such.(There are also a lot of Coneflowers in that border, but they are over to the one end.) The Yarrow's fairly sharp mustard yellow is a bit jarring, but there is such as thing as too much good taste.

A plant of wild Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, wasted no time in joining its cousin. Since it bloomed a very clear crisp white I left it. It's not visible from the front of the border, but when you go around the back, up the rock steps, it's there and fits in well with it's slightly shorter stature, dusty green foliage, and rather open flower clusters. A Yarrow is of course one of the Compositae, so what looks like a flower is really a group of small flowers, called florets, each of which is itself composed of a group of even smaller flowers. Confused? Sorry. The thing we call the Flower, in a Yarrow, is a corymb, and is composed of multiple Heads, each of which is composed of two types of flowers - Ray flowers, and disc flowers. Each one is actually a tiny Daisy. There is no end to the designs, combinations of designs and groupings of combinations of designs in nature.

Just as there is no end to the hanky-panky that goes on behind the scenes.

My yarrows have now produced an intermediate form. It has the shape and size of 'Gold Plate', in fact it might even be a bit taller, the greyish foliage of the Wild Yarrow, and a colour right in between the two. It is a soft but distinct yellow. When I look at the individual heads closely, I see that the disc flowers (the ones in the centres of the flower heads) are pale yellow, while the ray flowers (the 'petals') are white.

I just checked the books. Apparently, 'Gold Plate' is a variety of Achillea filipendulina. Also listed is a plant with pale yellow flowers like my seedling called A. 'Taygetea' which it describes as 'a hybrid of uncertain origin, probably between A. millefolium and A. clypeolata'. Hmmm. I don't have A. clypeolata around, as far as I know, and in any case the leaves on my plant look different from those in the book. The leaves on my plant look exactly like the leaves on 'Gold Plate' only with the colour of the A. millifolium leaves.I can't tell whether the ray flowers of the plant in the book are white like on my plant. In any case, I guess it's safe to say my plant is 'of uncertain origin'.

The Yarrows are coping well with the drought this summer, another reason to like them.

They can be cut right to the ground after they bloom (and they stay in bloom a good 3-4 weeks), or you can cut each flowering stem off at ground level. If you have only a few plants and enough time, you can cut the individual stalks, but if you have lots of plants or little time, you can just give the whole thing a bean shave with the garden shears. My kind of plant!

The pink, red and rust coloured Yarrows, by the way, are of quite different parentage, and behave very differently, at least for me. They are much shorter, need to be divided every year to keep them from running out, and do not do at all well in a drought. I keep one clump going in the Herb Garden just to be able to say I have Yarrow.

Friday, July 16, 2010

A Word from the Trowel

Hi Folks,

This is Lis's Trowel speaking. If she's going to leave me out all night with my head stuck in the sand in the Cactus Patch, well, no more Ms. Nice Trowel, I've kept my mouth shut long enough. Who do you think does all the work around here, anyway?And don't tell me not to be bitchy, I'm blunt at one end and sharp at the other so what do you expect?

What's with this Cactus Patch thing, anyway? Doesn't She know that this is zone 4? Cactuses (yes, I know the La-di-das say 'cactii', but that's not us, is it?) are desert plants. They do not grow where snow covers them about half the year. They like to be hot, not cold. This is not a desert, except maybe a cultural desert. Mind you, She does listen to the CBC in the Studio, maybe that counts for something, but given how little classical music is left in their programming, I'm not sure that it's much. It's so bad that in the afternoon She turns the radio off, which leads to Her humming while She works.... not pretty, I assure you. But I digress. My point is, it's not cactuses that want to grow here.

Bugloss wants to grow here. Viper's Bugloss, Echium vulgare. A perfectly good plant with no airs or graces. It has nice blue flowers, too, which you can't say cactuses ever have. Oh, and it's prickly, too. So, why does She insist on pulling it out and leaving those Opuntia fragilis wusses in the ground?

Opuntia fragilis 'Potato'. Sheesh. Who ever heard of a plant called 'Potato'? Except maybe a potato, I guess. A lumpy green thing, that's all it is. Never a flower, nooooo. 

Another thing that wants to grow here is Bladder Campion, Silene cucubalis. Now, there's a name for you. Sounds like another vegetable, doesn't it. Anyway, She keeps trying to get rid of it but it's pretty smart. It has its roots down way deep and they're kind of grippy so it's impossible to pull them up. Hee hee. Even spraying them with a nasty weedkiller doesn't bother them too much. They come right back. I like those guys, tough is the word. Not like that Opuntia polyacantha that She keeps fussing over. It shrinks every winter and looks like s..t in the spring but thanks to all the fussing it does look a little better by about now. It did bloom once, too. For about three minutes early one morning before anybody was out of bed to actually see it.

Crown Vetch, Viccia cracca, wants to grow here too. It gets pretty cosy with Opuntia basilaris var. aurea, which is smart because She can't hardly get it out from between the prickles without pulling out most of the cactus pads. At least that thing blooms. Large yellow flowers, which I think look pretty good with the blue Vetch flowers. Fetching, in fact.

Oh, apparently Crown Vetch, Bladder Campion and Bugloss aren't 'native', whatever that means. Well, excuse me. 

Oh, oh. I hear we're going to weed the Cactus Patch this afternoon. Ow, my poor skin.... ow, my handle, ow....

White Alkanet

Like a lot of collector-gardeners, I like the unusual forms of things. If the plant is normally green, I want the yellow version. If it is normally yellow, of course I want the green version! (And if it comes in seven different colours, I want all of them, but that's a different story.)

So while I like the regular dark blue Alkanet, naturally I like the one with white flowers even better.

Now Alkanet, Anchusa officinalis,  an Herb sometimes used in dyeing, is not a particularly impressive garden plant. The leaves are raspy and mid-green, the stems are lanky, and the flowers are small. Numerous, but small. Still, I like it because the stems weave themselves in with other plants in the border and poke their bright blue flowers out here and there. They look pretty good with Daisies, Shasta or otherwise, or among Lamb's-ears or between stout Peony bushes. This spring, they happened to bloom at the same time as some very late tall white Tulips, and the effect was something to see. They do however seed around badly. I pull the ones I don't want, obviously, but I've been leaving some that bloomed in either paler blue or white. In one area I have white ones pretty much coming true from seed. Heh, heh.

(If anybody would like some seeds of White Alkanet, drop me a line.)