Saturday, December 31, 2016

Garden Dreams

In summer we garden, in winter we dream...

And today was particularly good for dreaming! It snowed pretty much all day, soft fat flakes which fell gently until a gust of wind suddenly blew them all sideways like a curtain. I went out and wandered around, dreaming, enjoying the soft air and the romantic look of the trees half hidden by the falling snow.

And the small trees, so tender, so hopeful, so noticeable now as they never are in the summer.
spruce, pine, beech in snow
 I love how the snow, and it is deep this year, covers the garden and lets me see the shapes and forms around me.

Next year, I must think more about the overall structure of my garden. Should that cedar clump go? Where should I put the yellow-fruited crabapple I absolutely must get... does that level of the hillside need to be a little higher...  can I get used to those grasses that look miserable all winter or is it time for a massive excavation project... ah, the pleasures of dreaming, with none of the actual effort!

I wish you all the best for 2017, and hope you will have time for garden dreaming.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Merry Christmas to All

Christmas greeting with raven and crabapples

I hope you are all enjoying this Christmas season as much as I am! The snow is beautiful, the garden is safely asleep. All my pottery orders for this year are done and I have many plans for next year. While I miss my late husband very much, I am taking joy in the visits of dear friends and much-loved family. As I decorate the house with pine boughs and oak leaves, deep brown cones and Santas collected over the years, I am aware of how blessed I am in my life here in the woods.

I wish I could share it with all of you; meanwhile, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a very Bright and Happy New Year.

Monday, December 12, 2016


On rose hips,

And crabapples,

On fences,

And shrubs,

On Coneflower and

Black-eyed Susan seed heads,
Snow re-writes the story of the garden.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Last (For This Year) Look At Asters

Last Asters... there's a pun in there somewhere but I can't think of it. Never mind, there are some Asters which, while quite common in the Ottawa area, are well worth looking at.

Asters can be very difficult to identify. Several species have very close cousins which look much alike, making them hard to tell apart, and in all cases growing conditions can really affect how a plant looks. Several species can vary from only a couple of inches tall in bad situations to several feet tall in good situations. Flowers can be very variable in colour and size. And to make it even more of a challenge, Asters are notorious for crossing and back-crossing. Hybrids are quite common, often the results of our native Asters crossing with non-native garden Asters. 

short white native aster Symphyotrichum lateriflorum calicoLet's start with possibly the least common, at least in gardens, Calico Aster or Symphyotrichum lateriflorum.  This is one of the earliest to bloom, often showing up in wild places in early July. It isn't very tall, usually less than 18", and the flowers, while numerous, aren't impressive. What is fun about them, though, is that the centres, which in the Compositae are the actual flowers (disc flowers as opposed to the merely decorative ray flowers), start yellow and fade to reddish mauve and then brown. All three colours are on the plant at the same time, giving it a motley appearance and its name, Calico Aster. Calico is easy to cultivate. It develops rosettes at ground level in the fall, which are easily uprooted and moved. It doesn't spread particularly, although it sometimes seeds around. It likes dry sunny situations.
Large-leaved Aster collage Eurybia macrophylla

Slightly, but only slightly, more common in gardens is Large-leaved Aster, Eurybia macrophylla. When it does occur in a garden, it is either a woodland garden or the gardener has some sort of ulterior motive. It spreads a lot and takes serious managing. In the wild it is found in open spots under trees or along verges. It can form large carpets of its dry raspy leaves.

Usually, only a few plants in a patch will put up flower stalks, although this varies according to the clone and the growing conditions. In the woods you might see a patch 50' across with only 5 or 6 stalks. A couple of years ago I happened to be in a campground in Algonquin Park and I was surprised to see a large patch with many flower stalks and nicely mauve flowers. The flowers are more usually white. I later got some seeds and now I have a small patch growing along my fence row which this year produced one stalk of mauve flowers.

Large-leaved Aster spreads by stolons which are right at or just below the surface. You can restrain it by removing these, but be warned, they put out new ones all summer long. No keeping this one down!

native white aster Heath Aster Eurybia ericoides
Another uncommon one is Heath Aster, Eurybia ericoides. Its name comes from the many many small leaves (reminiscent of heather) all along the stems and in among the flowers. Not that it is easy to find them once the flowers open because Heath Aster in bloom is a cloud of white. It is about 2 to 3' tall, bushy and sturdy. Once established, it will be covered in white froth from early September to October. Definitely a late bloomer, but so welcome in the fall border. It spreads like all Asters, but is easily enough controlled. In too-dry situations it is apt to mildew although that never seems to affect the blooming and you won't see it anyway.

The description of Heath Aster in the field guides makes it hard to identify, but once you have seen a plant you won't have any more trouble with it. Its overall appearance is very distinctive.

Lance-leaved Aster, Symphyotrichum lanceolatum, sounds very similar in the books, but is quite different in the field. It is taller than Heath Aster, going up to a good 3', spreads to form a patch rather than a large clump, and blooms quite a bit earlier. The stem leaves are long and narrow, hence the name.

S. lanceolatum is useful in the wild garden. It fills its space, mingles with whatever is around it, and looks healthy all summer long. You can keep it in its assigned space by pulling the stems you don't want, they come right up and you can either start more patches or add to your compost collection. It likes a fair amount of sun but isn't fussy.

Different clones of this one can have slightly different appearances, some taller, some shorter, the occasional one pale pink or pale mauve, some stems soft and 'bendy' and others very stiff and straight.

Now let's look at a pair of Asters, one of which is very common here, and the other which is more common than you might think.
native aster symphyotrichum cordifolium
Heart-leaved Aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium, is probably the Aster you will see the most of if you hike in the woods in the Ottawa area. It starts blooming early and continues late. The heart-shaped leaves in rosettes pressed to the ground are everywhere it can find some sun, openings in the woods, along driveways, roads, fields, even our gardens. You have probably pulled it as a weed!

In the pictures above, note the heart-shaped leaf partway up the flowering stem. Only the leaves right at the flower branches are oval, all the others are clearly heart-shaped.

It us usually a soft blue-mauve, but can be white and occasionally, pale pink. It mixes well in the border, and like all the Asters, is much appreciated by the bees and wasps. A large plant can be filled with happy buzzing from several species of bees.

Close in appearance, but a different species, is Symphyotrichum ciliolatum, Lindley's Aster or Fringed Blue Aster. At first glance you might think it a slightly bluer, slightly 'looser', slightly more spreading Heart-leaved Aster, but look again.
The leaves partway up the stems are pointed oval, not heart-shaped, and have winged stalks. Leaves near the ground, while still clearly oval, will not have the 'wings'. S. ciliolatum gets a bit taller than S. cordifolium, maybe 3' to its 2 1/2', and the flowers are held farther apart, giving an airier and more graceful effect. In the garden it behaves exactly the same as its cousin.

Last, but absolutely not least, this is New England Aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae. Yousee it, lots of it, every fall, in every old field and neglected edge in the Valley.

native aster New England Aster

Easy to grow, a nice 'presence' in the wild garden or even the traditional border, and you can find a number of colour forms for sale in the nurseries. Some of the varieties sold in the nurseries were developed in Germany, which means that they may not bloom here until very late in the season. The only one of these that I have is called 'Andenken an Alma Potsche' which mouthful I usually shorten in my mind to 'Alma'. She is an unusual deep coral red. Not an easy colour to mix into a garden, and she blooms so late there is little to accompany her. If it is chilly enough, Alma is quite red, otherwise she comes out deep coral.  The colours shown above all appeared naturally at my place and I am trying to preserve them. The white one in particular is gorgeous. This year it bloomed spectacularly behind a patch of deep pink Turtleheads. It would have been a garden triumph except that I also had a tall white-blooming hosta there and the hosta flowers threw everything off. Next year, somebody is moving.

Another clone I have, which has fine amethyst-coloured flowers, blooms very early. It opens its first blooms in July, and continues through until well into September. It too will have to move next spring as it is at the very edge of the garden and keeps getting stepped on, but it is definitely a keeper.

So, some of our native asters. There are more, but they are fairly rare and some of them are not very impressive, garden-wise. All are beloved by the pollinators, all help give a garden a sense of 'place', all are excellent plants for slightly back in the border, and all bloom late when you really need them. Asters, frustrating but wonderful!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Just A Ramblin' Girl...

In my last post I promised to take a look at some of the dry-land asters, but I'm too restless today and will postpone that one to maybe next week. Today I'm going to wander around in my patch and look at whatever catches my eye. Some days just aren't meant to be focused, some days are meant for ramblin'.

The Herb Garden is looking good. We had a little rain, and the plants have all responded by perking up and looking green again. I'm surprised by the roses - they seem to have all put out some new and very tall stems, straight up in the air (except Iceberg, of course, which sends it long shoots out horizontally to catch the gardener's ankles), with clusters of flowers at the tops. This one, Mary Rose, went up into the Crabapple tree. It looks a bit comical, one pink rose surrounded by a heavy crop of red crabapples, but I guess it beats the 'lollipop' look of the other bushes with their flowers waving in the air six feet above the rest of the bush.

The red thorns on the nameless one beside Iceberg are amazing.

When I started the garden here I decided, firmly and definitely, not to have either Roses or Bearded Iris. I have 23 Rose bushes and at least that many Iris.

Moving over to the edge of the Rockery I nearly stubbed my toe on a plant in a pot. I had purchased a nice bushy plant of a Persicaria, a cultivar named 'Golden Arrow', which has nice yellow-green leaves and small red flowers. It is supposed to stay under 18". I carried the plant around for a bit, mentally testing it in a number of places... then got the spade and dug a hole and got some compost and improved the hole and stuck the plant in and tamped it down and got some water and watered it, and stepped back, and, drum roll please, it was immediately obvious it was in the right place!

It's the round yellowy clump just above the middle in this not very good picture. It fits just right and should look even better next year when it expands a bit.

Funny how sometimes you get it right. I suppose it's also funny how often you don't, but maybe that isn't actually funny.

Planting this one plant did mean digging out about a pailful of Ajugas, something I consider a bonus. It would have been easier with a garden fork, but I don't have one right now. Broke mine the other day trying to lever out a largish rock. I seem to keep breaking my garden forks in the fall, when  I can't buy a new one because the stores don't carry them in the fall.


My Winterberry bush has two berries this year. Since this is a 100% increase over last year, I am not going to get discouraged.

The stems of False Solomon's Seal, now to be known as a Maianthemum, are elegantly arched, holding their messy heads of berries close to the ground. The squirrels and chippies always eat them, but they seem to wait for them to ripen. It's curious how the berries ripen at different rates.

Several of the Cardinal Flowers bloomed pink or pink-and-white. I grew them from seeds collected near the Marsh and planted them around the little pond in the Sampler Garden. They need more sun and bloomed quite late.

Several people got small plants of this from me, and I fear they will have been disappointed. I like the pink ones, but if you want red, well, oops.

The stems on the Virginia Creeper are beautifully red. Here the berries are still green, but in a few days they will be dark purplish blue. Virginia Creepers don't bloom (and have berries) until they reach a certain age, then they sometimes fruit quite prolifically. This has been a good year for them, maybe they like drought?

Red stems on the Sumachs. I like their furriness, but hate their spready-ness. Sumachs have every intention, I do believe, of taking over the world. Sort of like Ajugas.

I wonder what would happen if you planted a patch with all the bad spreaders - Sumach, Ajuga, Geranium sanguineum, Goldenrod and so on- would they achieve a stable state, a sort of 'detente cordiale', or would they annihilate themselves and then get replaced by something kind and gentle like maybe a race of Violets? Not that I'm going to try it, I really don't think the Violets are very likely.

Lovely stems on the Apocynums. The leaves turn a bright yellow, too, giving quite a fine effect a bit later on. This is another candidate for the field of spreaders.

A lone plant of Agastache foeniculum, Anise Hyssop, has snuck in among a patch of Heart-leaved Aster. This Agastache has a wonderful licorice scent and makes great tea. Just put a few leaves in a pot, with maybe a few lemon-scented leaves like Lemon Verbena or Lemon Balm, and pour on boiling water. Refreshing to drink and it will remind you why you have a herb garden. Not that the Agastache will stay in the garden, but you'll find it somewhere nearby.

These two are tucked in under the skirts of a (also very spreadish) shrub Rose. I'm not sure which Rose this is, it was sold as R. caroliniana and it might be but I haven't checked. The flowers on this rose are single and lovely (what rose isn't?) but it's real beauty is its hips.

That brings me back to the front door... it's been a fine ramble!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

More About Asters

There is always more about Asters, isn't there? Living with Asters is a bit like living with kids - every time you think you have something figured out you discover something else that throws all your ideas out on their ears. Asters are always that one step ahead of us...

I took a short walk down to the edge of my Marsh and inspected some of the Asters in bloom now.

One (former) Aster, now to be known as Oclemena acuminata, is Whorled Aster. It's a handy one for the woods garden as it does very well in shaded and dry conditions. It spreads mildly, unlike some members of this clan, but is easily pulled if it gets out of bounds. It's short, about 16" high, always looks healthy, and blooms late.

The flowers are a sort of 'shabby chic' for the garden.

This one, with a much prettier flower, is Purple-stemmed Aster, or Swamp Aster, Symphyotrichum puniceum. It likes life damper, and sunnier, than what suits Whorled Aster. You see it quite often at the edges of marshes or streams, rising above all the shorter plants.

The flowers are comparatively large and usually some shade of blue. I have only once seen a white one, and have so far managed to keep my mitts off, but I'll visit it once the seeds ripen. Easy to grow, but it does need moisture.

Another one that seems to like a bit of water at its feet is Flat-topped White Aster, Doellingeria umbellata. This flower cluster isn't really typical, usually they are more flat-topped, but I liked its graceful posture. This Aster can get quite tall; I have it over 6' in the back of my property although the ones here are only about 3'. The books say 'single stalks' but it does form colonies, somewhat like Goldenrods do. A big, robust plant for a wet spot, much loved by bees, wasps and other wingy things.

When I went to photograph the Flat-topped Aster above, I also found a number of plants of what I think must be Symphyotrichum ciliolatum, Fringed Blue Aster. Hard to be sure, but the leaves and flowers are as described in the books. It's the habitat that doesn't match. J. Semple in Cultivated and Native Asters of Ontario calls it a 'calciphile' and describes the typical habitat as 'open woods'. Here it grows along the edge of the marsh (probably acidic) and quite near the water.

Here's one which I can't identify. Tall, about 4', well-leaved all the way down, sturdy and healthy looking, it has spread to be a large patch here. It's in full sun, fairly damp, poor soil. The stems all have some degree of 'zig' to them, and most have the dark spots you see here. The flowers vary from white to very pale pink.

Any guesses?

And if you like guessing, how about this one? I found a number of these beside the Marsh. They tended to be about 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall, single-stemmed, with rough but healthy leaves. The flowers were all white, with the centres (the disc flowers) starting out yellow, becoming purple, and then fading to brown. Quite large for an aster. The leaves are also fairly wide for an aster and clasp the stem at their bases.

Could this be Eurybia radula, Rough-leaved Aster? That's not supposed to occur here, only being known from further North.The leaves fit the description, the flowers sort-of fit, but the location is off.

Wonder what it is...

Next post  I'll take a look at some of the dry-land Asters I have here, and if you think you're confused now, just wait!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Looking Back...

Actually, I'm not so sure I want to look back at August! It was hot. It was dry. Very hot, and very dry. It was all I could do to keep up with watering the things in pots and the few ferns I had managed to get planted early in the summer, but general weeding and gardening was pretty much impossible. The Hillside was hard as a rock, no weed came out without serious efforts with large tools and/or explosives... the Sampler Garden was full of slightly wilted things I really didn't want to know about, and planting anything new was just a short cut to a dead something new. So it was a month just to endure; come to think of it, that's not so unusual for August.

Let's look on the bright side, of course there was one. August is Daisy Month, no question, and Daisies are Yellow Flowers, also no question, so I put together a mix of Yellow Daisies just to enjoy their variety. A lot of these are seedlings from a long-ago package of Rudbeckia seeds. The variety was called, if I remember rightly, 'Cherokee Sunset'. The flowers were supposed to be yellow/orange and double but I got no doubles and very few straight yellows. But the seedlings still appear all over the place and I like the different shapes, sizes and colours. I threw in a few other daisies just for fun.
yellow daisy collage
Nothing exotic here, just dependable performers. Do you know them all?

One curious thing, which I had not noticed before, is the way Rudbeckia fulgida flowers nod at sunset. Every evening when I left the Studio to go back to the house I went past several clumps of these in the Herb Garden and it really looked odd. Every morning they were brightly upright again.
Have they always done this and I never noticed? Or is it something to do with the dry summer? This is the one that was so popular a few years back, called 'Goldsturm'. The books don't tell you, but be warned, it seeds around like the dickens.

Coneflowers, Echinacea species, seemed to actually like the dry weather. My yellow one, E. paradoxa, bloomed it's head off, more flowers on the plant than I've ever seen before. I grew a few seeds from it last year, and they finally bloomed. I expected more yellow Coneflowers but what I got instead was a bit humorous. I got dingy pale buff pinkish flowers shaped like E. paradoxa, that is, with large drooping petals, and colours somewhere between the purple of the purple Coneflowers and the yellow. Luckily some of the other plants in the patch were quite lovely, including this pale pink one.
echinacea purpurea pale pink daisy

My E. tennesseensis bloomed for the first time. Every plant had flowers that started out with a 'crook' to their necks, then straightened out. The flowers (and the plants) are much smaller than E. purpurea, and more delicate. The colour is a rich pink-violet.
My Sand Hill garden was a mess. The Horsetails and the Coreopsis (daisies again) and the grasses spent the summer in mortal combat. I'm not sure if anybody won. It actually looked not too bad, but the part of me that insists on weeding felt tired just looking at it. Surprisingly, a lot of small Delphiniums came up in between all the 'weeds', as did a lot of brown Foxgloves. Yes, brown. This was Digitalis ferruginea. It is a narrow spire of brown and pale cream flowers, long-lasting and actually quite attractive. It mixes with grasses very happily.

Had enough pinkness and yellowness and daisy-ness? Here's one of the small Delphiniums as a palate-cleanser:
Now let's forget August and look ahead to September and, hopefully, eventually some rain.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Small Incidents in a Large Garden

Sometimes you just have to ignore a few things. Ignore the weeds. Ignore the plants that are in the wrong places. Ignore things chewed to the ground by the deer... just ignore everything except the beauty in whatever is in bloom.

A few days ago I equipped myself with a nice cup of hot coffee, freshly made, dialed my 'Ignoring Ability' up to 'High' and set off to wander around my garden for a bit. Nothing really amazing was in bloom, but there were rewards nonetheless.
One of the first things I saw, unfortunately growing in my front steps but what the heck, we are ignoring that, right, was a white Borage. I've had this version of the usual blue Borage for quite a few years. It seeds itself under the Crabapple trees and can get quite huge - three feet tall is not unusual. The flowers are glistening white. But will it grow in my Herb Garden? Of course not. Never mind, this one in my front step is blooming beautifully and I can always step over it.
Not too many Hollyhocks left this year. I really like the very dark one (which they call 'black' but of course it isn't, it is really dark red) but its seedlings tend to be lighter shades of red. This one has held down the corner of the Herb Garden for quite a few years now.
Moving down the driveway to the Rockery, I see that one of the many yellow daisies is in glory. This is, I think, Inula ensifolia.The foliage is very bristly but it is a great plant for the larger rock garden. It fluffs itself over the rocks very nicely and blooms for several weeks.
Looks like the deer left me one lily. The picture looks a bit impressionist - some day I'll learn not to take photos in full sun. Not today, though!
Actually, this photo kind of works. The Yuccas are getting ready to bloom and the flowering stalks made a nifty pattern against the dark trees behind them.
The Fireweeds are pretty well finished, but I was interested to see that most of the flowering stalks drooped over at the top. I've never seen this before, so it must be because of the dry summer we are having. We've had some rain in the last few weeks, but what with the very hot days and the low humidity I think the soil must be very dry. For sure the Marsh is very low this year. The beavers are having to drag trees a long way, maybe soon they will have to import water too.
Echinacea paradoxa is doing well. It must like dryness. I grew some of the seeds from this plant a few years ago and the variety in the seedlings is amazing! I thought they would all be yellow, but some are peach and one is quite orange. Of course all the seedlings are growing in the path... must mark the good ones and move them.
Did you know there is one yellow Pink? This is Dianthus knappii. Not a very bright yellow, but pretty anyway. It looks better than this picture shows, I took that in full sun too. It's about 18" tall and undemanding.
Up against the Studio wall I like the way the geraniums are filling in around my dish totem. It was made by a friend and she calls them 'totems'. Since I make tableware pottery, it has a lot of meaning for me. Plus I just like the way it looks.
Orange Milkweed is about to bloom. I'm really happy to see more plants, it is finally spreading. I've got it in pure sand, very dry, full sun. Awful conditions, just what it likes.
Coming back through the Herb Garden, I'm struck by the colour combinations. The Lavender, Stachys, Rudbeckias, Coreopsis, all are set off by the bright purple-pink Petunia you can just see at the top of the picture. The Spirea is the same shade as the Petunia but has almost finished blooming here. I don't much like Spirea bushes, but rescued this one because I liked the deep rose colour. Anyway, the Herb Garden path looks pretty good here, and we can't see those weeds moving in on the paving stones, can we?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Some Sad News

Dear Readers,

As some of you may know, my dear husband, Robert has been ill for some time. In May of this year, his health became even more precarious.

Sadly, he passed away on June 17.

I miss my companion of over 50 years more than I can say. Even though he was never himself involved in my garden, he was always ready to admire a new planting or listen to my enthusiasm about a newly discovered plant or critter. He didn't much like hikes, but he did enjoy exploring our property here. Somehow, this helps me feel that his spirit is still here.

It has been a difficult couple of months, but I plan to get back to writing and working in my garden and my pottery studio.
One of my favourite pictures of Robert. Here he is admiring the view from the ridge above our marsh, with Jake and Kip (hiding). It was taken a few years ago, but I like to remember him as he was during that walk in the woods.

We have finally had some rain, the sun is shining, the roses are blooming... we will carry on.

Stay well,