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!