November 01, 2006

Easier than planting with a shoehorn

Well, I did it. I got the last of my spring bulbs into the ground! Tulips and mini daffodils, squills and irises, hyacinths and anemones, crocuses and alliums - when I write the list out I understand why it took me so long! This is the gardener's equivalent of having eyes bigger than your stomach...

The last planting session went smoothly because I discovered a little trick. Those of you who figured it out years ago can laugh quietly in front of your computer monitor, or loudly for all I care, I can't hear you. Just gloat with class, that's all I ask. Those of you who haven't figured it out yet, well, I'm about to pass on my newly acquired enlightenment, and you can all look sophisticated and experienced when you pass it on in your turn, and not have to put up with the gloaters. If you know how to do it with class, you could even do a little gloating of your own.

The trick is quite simply this. Jam your trowel in under the edge of a patch of ground cover, fold it back and pop your bulbs in. If they need to be buried a bit deeper, that's easily done. Then just fold the groundcover back over the bulbs and pat it back into place. Soooooooooooooooooo much easier than digging individual holes in all the tiny little spaces between your overpacked perennials. Well, between my overpacked perennials, anyway. When you don't have much space, you overpack plants because you don't want to deny yourself. Well, I do anyway. All you disciplined gardeners who know how to limit your palette and design with restraint can now have a turn to gloat too.

And you'll get another chance or two to gloat at my expense come spring, when I'm busy asking you to help me identify all those strange little green leaves popping up. I didn't keep any records of what I planted where. A disciplined gardener, I'm not.

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October 29, 2006

Green Thumb Sunday

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Palace Purple heuchera still in bloom in October.

Heuchera micrantha 'Palaca Purple' flowers

Previous post on the topic of Heuchera

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October 28, 2006

I succumbed to temptation

Hippeastrum 'Apple Blossom'In theory, I'm not buying any more plants now, right? I don't have much room, and besides, if I'm going to be moving there just isn't any point, right? Right.

Wrong. How could I say no yet again to an Apple Blossom amaryllis at supermarket prices? Especially when it was freshly arrived and hadn't had time to deteriorate under their tender care? My last amaryllis was a supermarket buy too, and it has been happily blooming for me for years now.

Which puts me in a dilemma. I have three sleeping amaryllises. When am I going to wake them up? One thing for sure, I'll do it one at a time, to stretch out the pleasure over the winter.

Did you know that there is no botanical necessity to push your amaryllises (say that three times quickly...) into dormancy? I put mine out every summer to charge up on solar energy, keeping them well fertilized with a high phosphorus fertilizer (the middle number represents phosphorus) so the bulbs will bulk up as much as possible. But I often let them keep growing when I bring them in. They happily keep chugging along and bloom on their own schedule somewhere around early spring. This year though, I left them outside quite late, and they reacted to the declining sunlight and temperatures by going dormant all on their own. I'll just leave them in their pots and store them in a cool, dark place until it's time to prod them into growth again. Say, one for Christmas, one for mid-February, and one for the end of March? That sounds about right, but I'm willing to bet I won't be able to hold out quite that long. Still, with both my Christmas cactuses (cacti, if you like Latin plurals) and my cyclamens sporting flower buds, I might be able to tough it out a bit longer, grey gloomy weather or no.

Previous post on the subject of Amaryllis

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October 27, 2006

Sitting pretty

I wish I could take credit for the little pumpkin, but I can't. Everything else was gathered from the back yard: heuchera and dogwood leaves, pine twigs and cones, and one tiny maple leaf that had not yet started curling. A nice centrepiece for my son's birthday!

Pumpkin and friends

I know it doesn't look like a professional arrangement, but I'll let you in on a little secret - I like it better this way. Somehow, if it's too perfect I almost don't see it anymore. Like all those models in make-up ads, they start to look the same and, as beautiful as they are, anonymously bland. I like to see a little quirky personality.

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October 26, 2006

Warm me up, Wilma!

It's starting to get chilly around here! See how red my cheeks are getting? You've got a nice warm fuzzy sweater, give me a big hug!

Oenothera fruticosa and Stachys lanata

As you can see, the sundrops turn red at the first light touch of frost. It was a very light touch too; the ones in the more sheltered back yard are still green and the roses near the house are still blooming.

Strangely enough, the tuberous begonias have been zapped and the hanging begonia hasn't. I don't know whether the hanging begonia is naturally tougher, or that the fact it's about four feet off the ground made the difference.

The lamb's ear, Stachys lanata, (alternative botanical names:, S. byzantina, S. olympica) is the common invasive variety. A neighbour gave me a couple of babies this spring in a supreme act of selflessness. I dug up the ones she would have weeded out and took them home... (It's always a bit of a warning when neighbours will happily part with a plant, you know.)

It was quite a shock to me earlier this year to discover that earwigs and sowbugs like munching on the leaves. You'd think the hairy texture would deter them, but no. I will have to remove the outside of the clump in spring to keep it under control, but I really do love the effect of the fuzzy grey leaves against the glossy green rose leaves behind them.

To my mind, lamb's ear is a great companion plant, providing a nice contrast in texture and colour to just about everything. On its own, it's not too exciting, but it does great backup. Doesn't have the voice for solo, but she can sure lay down a mean harmony. If I get fed up with its rambunctiousness, I'll probably go out and get one of the tamer cultivars. I just like the effect too much to give it up.

(Sorry I've been AWOL again. After being overly busy, I got overly tired and needed a couple of days just to rest.)

Previous post on the topic of Sundrops

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October 22, 2006

Green Thumb Sunday

Sunset and cat (photo credit to my daughter)

Sunset and cat

First snow (but still no frost!)

Snow on sedum

Previous post on the topic of Green Thumb Sunday

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October 19, 2006

Confessions of a cranky gardener

The weather's fair! The air is warm, the sun is shining! All's right with the world! Seize the day and the trowel and get your procrastinating butt out into the glories of nature and plant all those abused bulbs that have been sitting in their delivery box, lo these many days. Weeks.

Well, that's what I did.

But my back is not a happy camper and I quickly realized that planting those bulbs among the rosebushes was not going to be easy, even if I had a good back. The front beds needed a complete reorganization. Not going to happen.

I persevered and managed to get all the bulbs for the front squeezed into absurd little corners, discovering in the meanwhile that there are still spots in my garden that feel more like concrete than loam, despite all my attempts to amend the soil so far. These will get special attention with compost and leaves, but in the meanwhile...

Before heading back inside - and leaving the backyard bulbs for another day - I decided on the spur of the moment to pop the cannas out of the large pots at the end of the sidewalk. How hard could it be?

Stop laughing. It's not nice.

Those modest little tubers had exploded, giving no aboveground signs of it either, other than one puny little sprout. Not only had they anchored themselves with a ferocious determination to stay put, they had tangled their roots in with the ivy, geraniums and sedums as if to say, "I dare you!"

I was not to be outdone by mere tubers, and in the end I prevailed, growling and muttering, but I have never in my life had such difficulty prying plants out of pots. (Yes, that was growling and muttering, not cursing. I don't swear, but there are times when the temptation to do so is severe. This was one of those times. I'm glad you didn't choose that moment to walk by.)

Cana tubers

I've set them on newspaper to dry for a few days, and then I'll find the coolest spot I can to store them. Of course, after all of this I looked up cannas and found that most people recommend leaving them in the ground till frost has taken the foliage. Like, NOW they tell me. *grumble, grumble* Still, I have found many times that plants can be very forgiving, as well as illiterate, and as long as I don't let these babies either rot or dessicate, they should be quite impressive next year. Wish me luck.

Now I'll go nurse the scratches on my hands and rest my poor aching back. Why on earth do I do these things to myself? And there's still the back yard to do... *snarl* At least there's no roses back there.

Previous post on the topic of Cannas

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October 18, 2006

October bouquet

The refugees I am harbouring right now are not only in pots. When frost was threatening (an empty threat as it turned out), I ventured forth, clippers in hand, to bring in some of the nicer offerings of the October garden. In my case, that means roses, as the other inhabitants still sporting blooms are not the kind that prosper in a vase.

Refugee bouquet

Another tiny vase is filled with mini-roses exclusively. And seeing as the frost is holding off, I think I'll go out again in a few days and bring in another selection of just-opening roses.

This is a treat I don't indulge in during the summer. For one thing, it is easy to step outside and enjoy them whenever I want, and for another, my garden is just too small to be able to fill a lot of vases and still look good outside, especially because most of the perennials are just in their first or second year and blooms are still rather sparse. So I'm particularly enjoying this little display. Park a couple of candles around it and set it where the lace curtains form a backdrop, and it's almost as good as sitting in the garden.

Previous post on the topic of Roses

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October 17, 2006


They huddled by the back door, begging for mercy. So I let them in and they are now undergoing the fate of refugees everywhere, jammed together in temporary and inadequate accomodations while the government - me, in this case - decides what to do with them. Coleus and caladium, amaryllis and crown of thorns, ivy and oleander, cyclamens and ah yes, the cyclamens. These are not miserable, starving refugees at all. Their summer outside has agreed with them, and they are plump-cheeked and bright-eyed and much bigger than when they went out this spring.

Florist cyclamen

These are my seed-grown cyclamens, now about a year and a half old. I would be thrilled if they flowered for me, but the leaves are so beautiful, flowers are not necessary to attract admiring glances. I'll put them in a northeast window. I've tried southwest in the past, and they scorched. Although, come to think of it, having come in directly from outside, these ones might be able to handle it... Hmmm. I think I've talked myself into trying.

This tiny crown of thorns will definitely join its mother in the southwest window. These were cuttings I took as anti-theft insurance, (the big one was out front not far from a busy sidewalk) and it spent most of its summer tucked among garden plants as a cat deterrent. It stayed healthy, but didn't grow much in its not-so-sunny location. Crown of thorns often drop their leaves in response to an abrupt change in light and temperature, but after finishing their snit fit they grow a lovely new set, so it's not a major problem. So far the larger mother plant, much to my surprise, has accepted her new surroundings calmly, and other than cranking her flowers around to face the window, has maintained her poise admirably.

Crown of thorns cactus
I might even let the Christmas cacti in soon too. I noticed this morning that the big one is putting out flower buds already. Pregnancy is always helpful when trying to sway immigration officials.

Previous post on the topic of Cyclamens, Crown of thorns cactus

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October 16, 2006


You know what a foundling is, don't you? The whole "abandoned baby on the doorstep" thing? I bet you thought that only happened in 19th-century novels. Well, I'm here to tell you that it still happens today.

A couple of days ago, I opened my door on a chilly - though not freezing - day and I found this little darling shivering on my doorstep! I hustled in right inside into the warmth and took this picture to prove it.


I still haven't figured out if it's a boy or a girl. Or one of each.

What I do know is that I now have a potful of two varieties of pothos, which has got to be the closest thing to a foolproof houseplant in existence. It is very hard to make a pothos unhappy, although a severe spider mite infestation will do it. But pothos will survive low light, indifferent care, no fertilizer and even no soil. I've known people who have grown it for years in vases full of water.

I'm not too sure where this baby came from, although I have my suspicions. I am pleased to say that it is in perfect health. I've grown pothos before, golden pothos to be precise, which has a deep green leaf with bits of golden variegation to brighten it up. No golden pothos in this pot, but I will confess to having eyed the pale-leafed type with real envy at my local bank, so I am truly pleased to have my own. It's even better with the plain-leafed variety in the same pot for contrast.

I've also used pothos as a great filler in outdoor pots, although it does have to be handled with a little care in these circumstances. Full shade is best, or at least in a spot that gets afternoon shade. And it will have to be hardened off carefully, more to the light than anything else, or the leaves will scald. Start by setting it out in deep shade and expose it gradually to weak sunlight. Once it's acclimatized, morning sunlight should not cause any problems, unless you're in a hot climate with intense sun.

Now if I'm really lucky, one of my knowledgeable readers will come along and tell my precisely which varieties I have, which will save me doing the research. ;o) And in the meanwhile, I'll have to decide in what room to give this baby a permanent home.

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October 15, 2006

Garden portraits for October 15

Green Thumb Sunday

Unlike other parts of the province, we haven't had a proper frost yet, let alone snow, but we've gotten close enough to inspire different plants to pull on their autumn coats.

English ivy:

Autumn ivy

Cinnamon fern (the spinulose shield fern is still bright green and will stay that way all winter):

Cinnamon ferns in October

Who knew? Morden Sunrise produces beautiful orange rosehips:

Morden Sunrise rosehips

JoinGreen Thumb Sunday: Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Previous post on the topic of Cinnamon ferns, Morden Sunrise rose

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October 13, 2006

Chemical fertilizers

I have never been a fan of chemical fertilizers, at least not since I stopped to think about it for more than a second or two. Here is part of the reason why.

Dead zones can encompass areas of ocean 100,000 square kms in size where little can live because there is no oxygen left in the water. Nitrogen pollution, mainly from farm fertilisers and sewage, produces blooms of algae that absorb all of the oxygen in the water.
Thanks to Stolen Moments of Island Time for pointing me in the direction of this article.

Now I recognize that home gardeners individually don't have much of an effect; it's more agribusinesses that need to address the issue. But still, I am also a believer in the value of doing my own small bit to make the world a better place, and that includes not pumping my tiny little corner of it full of toxins and artificial chemical stimulants. Just like taking drugs, they provide an immediate rush, but you pay for it later in one way or another.

Yes, it was too cold to go out and garden today. ;o)

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October 12, 2006

Venturing out into un-English waters

Anybody up for a challenge? How about a Danish gardening blog? At least I think it's Danish. That's my best guess. Or Swedish. Even if you can't read a word of Hagedagbok fra parsellen i Bergen, the pictures are great. Like this one of brugmansia, affectionately known as brugs by those who grow them (I wish):


The blog includes videos, and fortunately uses Latin names often enough that you can know what you're looking at.

If French is more your cup of tea, Martine Gingras in the Montreal area has a marvellous blog/website/forum, that covers gardening, cooking and motherhood. She's become known as the Martha Stewart of Quebec and has even been written up in the newspapers. Click on the "Jardinage" tab for the gardening section.

Unlike Martha Stewart, she's not at all intimidating and has a wonderful warm style. Lots of recipes too, if you and your bilingual dictionary are up to the challenge. And she does all this with a full-time job and a toddler too. OK, so maybe she's a LITTLE intimidating.

Previous post on the topic of Recommended blogs and websites

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October 11, 2006

Everything's coming up roses

OK, that's a bit of an exaggeration. But every time I look out my kitchen window, I catch a glimpse of roses, and it provides that little jolt of joy that ensures I will not abandon gardening any time soon. On a cold, dreary, rainy October day like today, that's no small benefit.

The Morden Sunrise that I still have mixed feelings about is really at its best in cool weather. The flowers fade quickly in the heat of the summer, but now they can delight me for days on end.

Morden Sunrise roses

All my roses, in fact, are still blooming merrily away, seemingly oblivious to the waning of the season. The mini roses in particular are sending up thick sprays of new buds, bless their little hearts. I'm watching the weather forecasts carefully; when frost threatens, I'm going to go out and clip myself some bouquets.

Orange Kordana roses

In the back yard, the indefatigable Rozanne geranium is the star performer, rivalled by the grape-leafed anemone and the pink wax begonias, all of which are providing the colour I crave. The occasional bright red maple leaf drifts into the yard to provide an extra jolt. I don't think for even a second of raking them up; there aren't enough to smother the grass and the vivid splash of colour is welcome. I don't have enough autumn colour, but it's difficult to touch all the bases in so little space.

And those are the musings of a northern gardener who can only enjoy her yard through the windows today. But I've really got to get all those bulbs planted...

Previous post on the topic of Morden Sunrise roses, Orange Kordana roses

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October 10, 2006

Plants as natural air scrubbers

Larry at Growing Up, a neat little blog from another nurseryman (move over, Trey) has NASA's list of the best plants for scrubbing indoor air clean of toxic chemicals. I've read this information more than once over the years, but I'd forgotten where to find it. NASA has done extensive testing of plants as natural air filters in their quest to provide interior environments that are safe for extended periods of time. You sure don't want to have Sick Building Syndrome in outer space...

So tootle on over and find your plant shopping list for cleaner air, as well as a link to the original research. And if you live in Regina, Saskatchewan, you can tootle on over to the nursery, Sherwood Greenhouses, too and scold him if he doesn't carry all ten! ;o)

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Fennel seed harvest

My purple fennel plants didn't put on much of a show this year. I'm not complaining too much; a perennial has the right to settle in. Still, they did put out some nice flowers, even if the plants themselves were not impressive. Those flowers are all turning now to seed, so I went out and harvested those that were dry. They look a lot like caraway seeds at that point, for those who are not familiar with them. They're used in baking and sausage-making, among other things, and have a mild, licorice-like flavour. My mother-in-law is a great fan of fennel.

Here is a spray of seeds that are not quite ready.

Underripe fennel seeds

You can see that they are still green and plump. I'm afraid some of the ripe seeds did fall to the ground, so I'm going to have to mulch well with the leaves I'm already mooching off my neighbours to prevent having scores of eager seedlings in the spring.

Previous post on the topic of Fennel

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October 09, 2006

Guilt and remorse

I'm positively wallowing in it. And of course, you're dying to know why. You'll have a chance to appear understanding, while on the other side of the computer screen you're really thinking: "What kind of a gardener does she think SHE is?"

Well, a procrastinating, go-with-the-flow kind of gardener, that's what kind. Going with the flow isn't so bad, and I can usually get away with procrastinating somewhat, but I overdid it this time.

You see this?

Datura trimmings
That is the pile of the remains of my datura. The back-from-the-dead datura that I soft-heartedly allowed to stay in my garden. It filled an entire yard trimmings bag to the brim.

I kept saying I was going to remove it. It was growing too big and healthy, and despite the little fence I put in front of it, smothering my new hydrangea. But my neighbours - it must have been a plot - kept enabling my procrastination. "But it's so lovely," they protested and I foolishly listened.

Today being shirt-sleeve and shorts weather, I finally stopped listening to my own excuses and went and cut the whole thing out. At this point in the season it's hardly flowering anyway. I am not going to show you a picture of the hydrangea and the Oriental poppy that had been trying to survive under its exuberant canopy. They did survive, but they look so woebegone, it's going to take me a long time to live down the shame. *sigh*

The moral of the story is, brazen hussies take advantage of soft hearts. Don't listen to them. And next year, if the darn thing defies the odds and comes up again... Off with its head!

(When they tell you how nice gardeners are, they're lying. The best gardeners are brutal.)

Previous post on the topic of Daturas

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October 06, 2006

Chill out, CC!

And I will make sure you do it!

Schlumbergera bridgesiiCC, in this case is Schlumbergera bridgesii, known to most mortals as a Christmas cactus. And I am indeed making sure that it "chills out" in the most literal sense of the term.

Even as I am bringing in my various houseplants - oleander, crown of thorns cactus, hibiscus, amaryllis - the poor oppressed Christmas cactus remains shivering in the cold. I do plan on bringing it in on frosty nights, but I won't leave it inside until the days are frosty too, or until I get tired of moving it back and forth. This is not gratuitous sadism on my part. I have my reasons.

Christmas cacti are called that because normal bloom time is around winter. Declining light and temperatures are its cue to flower. So by making sure that it gets a good case of the shivers, I should be getting beautiful blooms just at that time of year when I'm starved for light and colour. At least it's worked the last few years!

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October 05, 2006

Paradise in a bathtub

Grapefruit treeCitrus paradiso, to be precise. And here you thought I was talking about some home spa experience, right? Well, maybe for my grapefruit plant(s). For once, I'm coddling my houseplants as I haul them in from the great outdoors.

Now, coddling in my mind is basic care in the mind of any responsible houseplant owner, but I'm not very good at boring maintenance things. (Hence my enthusiasm for perennials, which more or less take care of themselves while I sit and admire them.) I'm vowing to reform though.

Unlike last year, when I just brought my plants in from the great outdoors and plunked them in front of a window - and ended up with a nasty infestation of spider mites - this year I'm giving them the "treatment". So the grapefruit was gently placed in the bathtub and sprayed all over with soapy water. I couldn't find my insecticidal soap (stop laughing, I never claimed to be organized), but a little clear dish soap in a litre of water should do the trick. Then I laid it carefully on its side and sprayed the undersides of the leaves. I feel so responsible.

I decided not to repot it, as it isn't severely rootbound and I don't want to stimulate new growth at this time of year. I'll do that in late winter when new growth is starting and all things gardening are irresistible. I did pick off some of the lower leaves, along with the battered ones, to start giving it a more tree-like appearance, but I didn't get too ambitious. Not too much stress for the poor thing all at once.

These little grapefruits were started from seeds a few years ago and grew very slowly for a couple of years. This year I potted it in a mix of plain vanilla potting soil and sheep manure, and got serious about keeping it fertilized (or what passes for serious in my world) and it responded by doubling in size. I might actually be getting the hang of this.

Citruses in general are happiest in fairly arid climates, so overwatering is a good way to be nasty to them. They don't seem to mind getting pretty dry now and again, although I somehow think that keeping them that way for too long would not be appreciated.

If anyone has any experiences with citrus plants in particular or good advice to pass on, please feel free!

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October 02, 2006

Water Roots

It does happen that I succumb to vanity. Very seldom, of course. *ahem* But in those moments of weakness, I'll occasionally run searches to find out if anybody outside of the Technorati world has noticed my website. What can I say? It feels good to know people are listening, I guess.

Dieffenbachia CamilleIn one of those searches, I came across this very interesting site, Water Roots. The lady who set this site up grows all her houseplants in water, a system known as hydroculture. She has simplified the standard procedures and had good results, so she shares them with the world. Her photo gallery is very impressive (and extensive) featuring page after page of plants brimming with good health. I am green with envy.

Fortunately she doesn't just show off. She has lots of practical information on setting up the system, shopping for supplies, dealing with pests and so on. Check out her site and settle in for an enjoyable session. Be forewarned: you will develop a severe case of envy.

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September 30, 2006

I've been AWOL

Maple leaf and Jack FrostSorry about that. Between a bad cold, bad weather and plenty of distractions, I just haven't been able to wrap my head around gardening the last little while.

But I'm coming back. My focus is obviously going to shift for the winter. I plan on posting a little less than daily, spending some time sharing the better gardening sites with you, doing final evaluations on some of the inhabitants of my flower beds that got a little less attention through the gardening year and doing a little more thinking-about-gardening kind of posts. You will get a few of my misadventures with houseplants and the like. We'll just have to see how it all shakes out.

The first frost whitened our roofs last night in this part of town, but didn't work its way down into our protected yards. That's like a kick in the rear to get moving before it's too late.

September 22, 2006

Little green fingers

Muscari armeniacumMuscari aka grape hyacinths are strange little members of the spring-blooming bulbs. Strange, because unlike tulips or daffodils or crocuses, they like to poke up little green fingers in the fall, to get a head start on stocking energy.

And so they are the final installment in my list of new beginnings in the autumn garden. The little green fingers are poking up in all sorts of odd corners in my garden, many of them hidden by the riots of foliage around them, but visible if I stoop and look.

Grape hyacinths are a wonderful addition to the spring garden. They will tolerate rather more shade than many other spring bulbs and add a wonderful grace note of blue that harmonizes with virtually anything you throw at them. And they will come back and even increase year after year, which is something I always appreciate.

There's only one thing that calls to my mind the glories of an early spring garden better than grape hyacinth leaves - and that's my soon-to-be-delivered order of bulbs!

I can hardly wait!

Grape hyacinths in bloom

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September 20, 2006

Name that plant!

Oriental poppyThis little plant is yet another example of why my planning never really seems to work. I just can't resist the occasional impulse buy. This is probably why I am already facing the necessity of either getting rid of some plants or expanding my beds.

But back to the little plant. It is also an example of the new life stirring in the flower beds as the season winds down. You may recognize the crinkled, greyish leaves of a poppy plant and recalled that it is the Orientals that pull a disappearing act in the summer, only to pop up again as the season winds down. (You may also notice the little rosette of Oenothera fruticosa hiding to its left. That's one that I will be moving. Good thing I took a picture. I honestly didn't notice it when I looked with my own peepers.)

This is 'Beauty of Livermere', what I thought was an orange Oriental poppy when I bought it, based on the picture on the label, but apparently will really be red, according to Internet descriptions. I haven't seen the blooms yet, so my own evaluation just has to wait.

Oriental poppies, Papaver orientale, are the perennial member of the Papaver genus. There are others that make that claim, like Iceland poppies, but it's a little tenuous. Iceland poppies can behave much like annuals or biennials, reappearing more often from seed than from the root. Orientals, on the other hand, can easily last decades. I have a friend in her 80's who still has a clump she initially sliced off the edge of her mother's. She's given me seeds, but I was impatient... Don't worry, Audrey, I've saved them for the next house.

Orientals are also the biggest and the boldest of the poppies, silken beauty writ large. They bloom in mid-to-late spring, produce the big round seedheads that are decorative in their own right (and are often used in dry flower arrangements, au naturel or spray-painted) and then slowly die back, leaving a gap in the flower bed. The gap can be dealt with in various ways, like allowing tender annuals to grow over it, but I just plunked a potted coleus right on top of it. That meant frequent checks for new growth, but seeing as the light-weight pot kept blowing over whenever it dried out, I have not been obliged to curse my absent-mindedness. The new growth has started, and the coleus has been shifted to a new position on a stepping stone.

It's enough to make you eager for spring! I hope Alice grows poppies...

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September 19, 2006

New beginnings

As if to counteract my autumn melancholy, several of the inhabitants of my garden are reminding me that the slide toward winter is just setting up for next year's glories. Case in point: sundrops, which I have been known to call sunshine on a stick.

Sundrops have a slightly different modus operandi than most perennials. They rise from a basal rosette in the spring, and flower throughout May and June. So far, nothing exceptional. They spend the summer soaking up solar energy and then start sending out lateral roots that produce a fresh crop of basal rosettes in late summer, fall, and even throughout the winter. These are now popping up in various places throughout my flower beds.

Oenothera fruticosa
What makes them a bit different is that the mother plant will quite simply die away. No new rosette will emerge from its base; they will all emerge at a distance. Mind you, with other sundrops in the vicinity also sending out rhizomes, there's a good chance that new plants will take over the space anyway.

While sundrops are still in the rosette stage, they are very easy to pull up and move around. A rosette yanked by hand can be unceremoniously dumped in a small depression scooped out by hand, and recover quickly. They will pop up sometimes in places where you don't want them, but they're easily removed.

At this time of year, it cheers me to see something showing new life, so I just smile indulgently at them, as long as they're not infringing on the space of another perennial.

Previous post on the topic of Sundrops

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September 18, 2006

How to say sorry to a forget-me-not

And not your standard run-of-the-mill forget-me-not either: a water forget-me-not. Myosotis palustris syn. Myosotis scorpioides.

Myosotis palustrisIt looked really great back in March, didn't it? I don't normally buy flowering perennials in March - and I really don't recommend it either - but the horticultural students at Algonquin College were having their annual flower show and there was no way I could walk past this plant without buying it. It's not easy to find and I like it so much better than the standard Myosotis sylvestris.

"Why?" you ask. "What's so special about it?"

I always love it when you set me up for what I want to say like that.

Because this is a perennial, more or less evergreen forget-me-not, which will even rebloom a bit throughout the season. As the name might lead you to believe, it does prefer to stay damp, but it doesn't require boggy conditions. Dappled light in moist soil will keep it quite happy. It is more or less on the edge of its range here, so it's wise to make sure it's mulched during the winter if the snow cover isn't reliable. That's how I lost my last clump - a good thaw followed by a prolonged very cold snap did it in.

These greenhouse-grown perennials (I bought a white-flowered one too) had to be hardened off which was difficult to do when it was still basically winter. I'd almost succeeded very nicely too, and was leaving them outside even overnight as the weather warmed when we got a good cold night. I forgot to bring them in. Absent-mindedness is one of my worst garden pests, let me assure you. Unfortunately, they don't sell sprays for it.

The plants survived, but they were weakened and a bunch of opportunistic aphids moved in and clobbered them even further. I got rid of the aphids once I noticed them and then put the plants in the ground. My bleeding heart more than doubled in size from last year and overran the poor things. Are you beginning to see why an apology or five was in order?

Well, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to make it up to them. The survivors anyway. I'm digging up my meadow anemones with some real regret, but I just don't have a good place for them. They're too tall where I've got them in front of the Jack Frost brunnera, so I'll put the forget-me-nots in their place. It should make for a lovely cloud of blue come spring, with both the FMG's and Jack Frost displaying their matching blooms at once.

Previous post on the topic of Jack Frost brunnera, Meadow anemones

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September 15, 2006

Spring in the land of Oz

In the northern hemisphere, even if it is still technically summer (and the weather here is reverting to summer for a few days) in the heads of all gardeners at least, it is the season of decline. Annuals are tuckering out, most perennials are past blooming and the leaves are starting to look old. Our thoughts are turning to red leaves and yellowed grasses, dried seedheads and ripe berries.

Not so Down Under.

Nectarine blossoms

I've shamelessly lifted this picture from Alice's blog, A Growing Delight, but to do penance, I'd like to suggest you take a quick trip to the Southern Hemisphere to view her many other photos. You'll be treated to spring blooms, cockatoos at bird feeders, and lots and lots of sunrises. I know I'll be checking in frequently over the winter, just to refresh my eyes.

And I think Alice is such a charming name for an Aussie, seeing as my first introduction to Australia outside of geography classes came courtesy of Nevil Shute's novel A Town Called Alice. It must have been a really good read, because I can still recall scenes from it, more that 30 years later.

September 14, 2006

Shield ferns

Spinulose sheild fernI haven't written before about my spinulose shield ferns aka Dryopteris spinulosa (how's that for a name and a half?) There's a reason for that. They just don't draw much attention to themselves. They're not exactly superstars in plant catalogues either - I haven't seen them anywhere. These were dug from the wild and given to me, or I never even would have heard of them.

But they're solid little workhorses, providing dependable clumps of green in shady corners with the elegance one associates with ferns. Being semi-evergreen, the colour lasts a long time too. Semi-evergreen means that when the snow clears out in the spring, you will find green fronds in place. But they're bedraggled and flattened and you might just as well clip them off. A new crop is coming anyway.

Quite honestly, I would make no great effort to find spinulose ferns if I didn't already have them. But if I wanted medium-sized, dependable ferns, I'd happily spring for one of the close relatives that are more commonly available, like male ferns or wood ferns. In the meanwhile, I have them tucked into all kinds of corners as fillers. As any regular reader of this blog knows, I plant as tightly as possible, to make it as difficult for my cat as I can, so anything that will thrive in poorly lit, out-of-the-way corners is welcome. The one in the picture is pretty well the only one that gets a foreground role.

Previous post on the topic of Ferns

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September 13, 2006

Hope for the future

Wigelia and friends

I had to move around to find an angle to make this group look good. But in the future, when the variegated weigela has grown enough to dominate the corner, and the Sparkling Burgundy heuchera has bulked out a bit more, they will have enough presence to make this corner attractive from any side. The purply blue of the Rozeanne geranium and the purply red of the heuchera play just wonderfully off the chartreuse highlights of the weigela aka cardinal bush.

What is it about gardeners that we see not only what is, but also what will be?

Previous post on the topic of Weigela, Sparkling Burgundy heuchera, Rozeanne geranium

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September 12, 2006

Definitely better than alien eyes!

We'll just have to call her Annie the Alien, I guess. Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima' has opened her first blooms, and I love them! They'd probably make great cut flowers, but I don't have enough to spare.

Grape-leafed anemone in flower

We've been getting some cooler weather here the last little while, and Rozeanne has reacted by getting all blue. It really struck me when I went outside today. The pink flush normally so visible has diminished considerably. It gives a whole new meaning to turning blue from the cold!

Geranium 'Roseanne'

Previous post on the topic of Anemones, Rozeanne geraniums

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Thanks Stuart!

Stuart over at Gardening Tips 'N' Ideas showcased me as his gardening blog of the week earlier today. Much earlier, seeing as he's in Australia and it was still yesterday here. I always fine it interesting looking at blogs from Down Under. Although they don't have anything much of what I would call a winter - they're always so delightfully horrified when they get frost! - they are moving out of it about now, so they'll be all full of the enthusiasm of spring when we're winding down and feeling nostalgic.

Sometime about four months from now, Stu, I'll post a picture of the snowdrift in my flower bed out back, just so you can see what winter is supposed to look like.

He said nice things about my pictures too, which is pretty much guaranteed to get him on my good side. But really, the truth is, I mostly just point and shoot. I know how to use the macro and the auto-focus and Canon makes good cameras. My husband better hope I don't get too serious, because then I'll start wanting zoom lenses and such, and we'll never get to the end of it. Actually, I already wish I had one, but it's on the list of things I won't get around to any time soon. Too many higher priorities.

So tootle on over and have a look at what Stuart is up to. He had to revamp his entire site, as a certain publisher took offense at his Gardening for Dummies theme...

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September 11, 2006

One measly cluster!

Buds on Oleander neriumThat's all that my oleander is giving me in the new beginnings department! And that's all I've managed to squeeze out of it all year.

It's mostly my fault, of course. But I will plead my case; I put it in too shady a spot for two excellent reasons.

First, the front yard with its western exposure would have generated a lot more of the lovely, vanilla-scented blooms but it also would have increased the likelihood of my plant going for a walk with somebody else and not coming back! It's like toddlers, you have to watch them all the time.

I was perhaps being paranoid. Nobody walked off with the neighbours' hibiscus plants which were much bigger and nicer than mine. In my defence, they bought theirs already mature, while I started mine from a cutting. But back to the point, maybe I should put the pot out front next year, earning me bragging rights as well as being a better environment for the oleander. Two excellent reasons...

The other reason I had it in the shade is that it looked so nice up against the house. Call me an aesthete with a fine eye for composition. It won't be true, but it will make me feel good. In any event, the horticulturalist eventually won out over the aesthete, who grudgingly allowed a small move to the other side of the patio at least. Too little, too late, but I have been rewarded with this one small cluster of buds, which will likely not open till I've brought the plant inside. I have suffered worse fates.

Oleander buds take an astonishing length of time to form and eventually open. I've never actually timed it, but you need a calendar, not a watch, and expect to use more than one page. I'm still not sure I've managed to figure out the intricacies of growing them well, but seeing as they do manage to stay healthy and even flower when I give them enough sun, I must be doing something approximately right.

Having read conflicting information on fertilizing and watering, I chose the path of moderation. I water moderately and fertilize moderately and it seems to be working.

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September 08, 2006

Here's looking at you

In this, the season of endings, there are still new beginnings happening in Janet's garden.

Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima'

My grape-leafed anemone has produced a couple of clutches of flower buds, vaguely reminiscent of alien eyes, but promising to be so much more beautiful. Not that I have any personal experience of staring into alien eyes, you understand. I may be a bit of a science fiction fan, but not to the point of being delusional.

This is another candidate for relocation, as the foliage stays somewhat lower than I expected. In front of some lilies might be good, as the anemone would stay lower than the lily blooms earlier in the season, and mask the less interesting foliage later on.

Previous post on the topic of Grape-leafed anemone

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September 07, 2006

Halcyon days

Halcyon hostaHalcyon is such a wonderful word. It is invariably associated in my mind with the phrase "halcyon days of youth". It's a great word for a garden, too: tranquil, peaceful, joyful. So it's entirely appropriate that this is the name of the first hosta I ever owned. In honour of that fact, I planted another one when I moved into this house. (I do tend to get a little sentimental in my plant choices. They often have connections to former homes or particular people.)

Halcyon is a prize-winning hosta, and there are good reasons for that. Its thick sturdy leaves are slug-resistant and of all the blue hostas, it keeps its blue colour the longest. My picture, I'm afraid, doesn't do it justice. Like almost all hostas, it's tough and uncomplaining, and is happiest with only a little sunlight. The flowers, while unspectacular, are charming and much beloved by bees.

It is sterile however, so it won't set seed. This is an advantage if you don't want volunteers and a disadvantage if you do want them. It is also very slow to establish. In my last house, it took four years to get up to five eyes.

Immature Halcyon hostaAll this makes it sound like a rather placid member of the garden club, but it does have a quiet sense of humour, as I discovered last year. I'd bought a bare root plant by mail this time and I became quite convinced that they had sent me a mini hosta instead. The leaves were much smaller and narrower than I remembered them. I concluded it must be a Blue Cadet, seeing as it was the only mini blue this particular catalogue offered, and labeled all my pictures as such.

Well, it came up with bigger, wider leaves this year and I have since learned that an immature Halcyon does indeed look different. I could almost hear the darn thing snicker as I changed all my pictures back to the Halcyon label, both on my computer and online.

Still, no hard feelings. I'll probably move it to set it to better advantage to prove it.

Previous post on the topic of Hostas

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September 06, 2006

Gardening myth: dangerous raindrops

Raindrops on leafMyth: Don't water during the day, because water droplets on the leaves will focus the sun's rays and burn holes in the leaves.

This one was in the newspaper again last weekend. In print. In the gardening column. *sigh*

OK, let's stop and think a minute. How many of you found holes or burn marks spread over your entire garden last time the sun came out after a summer shower? Lift your hands. ... I thought so. By that logic, virtually every gardener who ever lived should have experienced massive burning at some time or another.

Now, I don't know about you, but when I use magnifying glasses to burn holes in paper, I have to hold the magnifying glass some distance above the paper to get the focus right. Putting the magnifying glass directly on the paper just doesn't work. So, when was the last time you saw water drops suspended in the air above your leaves?

Lesson: just because somebody says it, doesn't necessarily mean it's so.

On the other hand, it's true that it's not a great idea to water in the middle of the day, especially with sprinklers, because evaporation rates will be way up and you'll waste a lot of water. But your leaves will be just fine.

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September 05, 2006

Caladium schmaladium!

Red Flash caladiumI have a love/hate relationship with caladiums. The leaves are so cool and so striking, how can you not love them? And I do love them.

I also hate them. Stubborn little blighters!

I say this because the caladium corms won't sprout till they are nice and toasty warm. Now, I don't have all kinds of fancy equipment like bottom heaters to bring the little darlings up to their preferred temperatures, which are definitely significantly warmer than my preferred temperatures. There's no way I'm cranking up the thermostat to sub-tropical conditions for their sake.

Why don't you stick them on top of the fridge, you ask? Because it's you asking, I'll answer politely, instead of growling in frustration. My fridge is new, so it doesn't generate the heat the older models do, so parking caladiums on top of the fridge is a no go for me, and probably for most people nowadays. (If you've been wondering why you weren't getting the promised results for your caladiums or heat-loving seeds, now you know why. Your fridge is too efficient.)

I pot them up early just the same, hoping against hope. I put them in a sunny window, thinking the solar energy might persuade them. No dice. Weeks go by and nothing happens. So I determined to give up on the stupid things. Yeah right. Like I am going to throw out something living that has a chance. The last little corm that had survived past abuses got shoved unceremoniously into a pot with a bunch of other things and forgotten about.

When I got back from my vacation IN LATE JULY, two bright red leaves were there to greet me. That's how long it took. Sheesh! Why do I even bother?

Because those red leaves are sooooo pretty. And when you stop and think about it, shoving it into a pot with other things and forgetting about it is not that great an effort, now is it?

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September 04, 2006

Garden portraits for September 4

Ernesto's clouds and rain have not yet pulled out, so I won't do much labouring in the garden in honour of Labour Day. So here are a few of last week's sunnier photos.

Hibiscus bloom
Bloom on potted hibiscus.

Burgandy pansy
Burgundy pansy

Red Flash caladium
Red Flash caladium

Previous post on the topic of Hibiscus

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September 02, 2006

I am a heartless gardener

Literally. And here is the proof.

Bleeding heart clipped back In my mini-frenzy of cleaning up the other day, I started whacking back the shrivelled brown leaves on my bleeding heart. Then I said, "Why not?" and whacked back the yellow ones. It looked so pitiful after that, I just went ahead and cut off the remaining ones that still had a slight flush of chlorophyll left in them.

Which left me with two gaping holes in the same bed. Fighting the urge to plant something else in those holes wasn't easy, so I had to use the gardener's equivalent of a nicotine patch.

Pots in the flower bed

Filling in the gaps

The patio is looking pretty bare, but that's OK. One of the reasons I fill so many pots in the spring is for back-up like this. Even if many of them have been a bit of a disappointment this year, they still provide a few leaves and colour. And help me curb the urge to put in plants that would just get overrun next year. You fight your addiction any way you can.

Previous post on the topic of Bleeding hearts, Container gardening

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September 01, 2006

It felt like moving all of Siberia!

Even the queen of procrastinators eventually gets off her butt and moves. I could no longer stand the dishevelled clutter of the back bed and the gaping hole left by the removal of the overbearing, white fly-infested greater celandine in the side bed. You do get the connection, right? Too much stuff in one bed, big hole in another? I can connect dots too, and the obvious remedy was to move something from one place to the other. I'd been putting it off because August heat is not prime plant-moving season. Gardeners (this makes it sound like it's not just me, so humour me) are in a heat-induced stupor and it's hard on the plants. Which means gardeners don't have to confront their laziness, because the welfare of the plants comes first, right?

A couple of weeks of cooler weather was beginning to make that argument wear thin though, even to my own ears, so I seized the day and the shovel and sallied forth. I have determined not to buy any more perennials until the moving issue is settled, so the empty corner had to be filled with plants on hand. Not a hardship.

A Siberian iris that was supposed to be Caesar's Brother but which was inexplicably taller and lighter than the others (and naturally, at the front of the bed) was a natural candidate to be moved, so I dug the baby up. This wasn't easy. The soil was dry and dense (my lawn had cracks in it, as I realized during this whole procedure) so I had to lever the clump out from both sides with the shovel, through masses of deadnettle and Rozeanne geraniums. The clump just went into giggles of derision when I tried it with the trowel.

Once the clump was pried out of the ground, I split it up, just by cracking it apart with my bare hands.

Siberian iris divisions

Then I trimmed the plants back. This helps prevent dehydration, as the roots are in some shock after this kind of treatment and can't draw moisture up as well.

Trimmed iris

I popped them into planting holes augmented with sheep manure and bonemeal, then watered them in well.

In front of them went a tiny PG hydrangea I had grown in a pot from a piece that had broken off the bigger one I planted in the front this spring. And in front of THAT went a Patriot hosta, well chewed by slugs and totally overwhelmed by its overbearing neighbours in its previous location. I finished the job by sprinkling some bloodmeal around to keep the squirrels away, a necessary measure in this neck of the woods.

Newly planted corner

I want to boast a bit. That big chunk of bare dirt is uncovered primarily because the royal fern nearby lost most of its leaves as collateral damage in my war against white flies. I SUCCESSFULLY RESISTED THE URGE TO PLANT SOMETHING IN THAT BARE DIRT! This is significant, because one of my besetting sins is to overplant. I hate to see an empty space.

It took some compensatory measures, but more on that tomorrow.

Previous post on the topic of Siberian iris

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August 31, 2006

Sedum creeps up on you

Or at least it crept up on me. My original clump was grown from a few branches I brought home from a walk along the bike path. Someone had obviously "donated" their clump to the city because it grew only in that one spot, and it isn't exactly a native plant. The little branches got shoved unceremoniously into the flower bed using the poke and plant method. Fingers being the original all-purpose garden tool. They prospered.

I've had stonecrop in my garden for a number of years now, constantly moved around, new patches being started from a handful of cuttings. It doesn't get much easier than that. I stuffed quite a few into pots this year because I was getting a little bit tired of spending money on yet more plants, and this made for free and easy trailers.

Potted creeping sedumSome even got thrown in the pot with the cannas, although I had reservations. I think of stonecrops as nice, no-care, drought-resistant plants, and I was a little afraid they'd rot out with the constant watering regime that came with the cannas. But the price was right, and I had lots more where it came from.

Now I ask you, does that look rotted out to you? No, me neither. Note to self: "drought-resistant" doesn't necessarily mean "prefers it dry". Sedum spurium is obviously delighted to take advantage of near-constant moisture, rich soil, and frequent fertilizing.

I'm hoping Pennisetum reacts the same way, because I'm thinking that next year I'd like to reuse these same sedums with fountain grass and coleus and a white geranium or two...

What would a gardener do without fantasies about next year?

Previous post on the topic of Stonecrop

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