May 31, 2006

Loyal subject of the royal fern

Roayl fernThe royal fern, also called the flowering fern, was new to me last year but I suspect we are beginning a long and happy relationship. No doubt you will find one growing in every shade garden I have the pleasure to put together in the future. It has such a lovely presence in the garden, even when it's being crowded by an enthusiastic neighbour. Just like Liz, she puts up with the local yokels with quiet dignity. I am going to move that neighbour over to the left to give her majesty a bit more room to spread though.

Fertile fronds on Osmonda regalisThe name "flowering fern" comes by virtue of the fact that the fertile fronds are not entirely separate, as they are in cinnamon ferns or ostrich ferns. Rather the tips of a few select fronds develop into fertile segments, making it appear almost as if the fern were flowering. Another one of the Osmundas, claytoniana, develops its fertile segment right in the middle of the frond. Hey, every good family has a nutbar or two...

Neither one of my royal ferns developed the "flowers" last year, likely because they had been moved. I'm not sure the one I transferred into a pot a little while back will produce them this season either. This is not a fern that likes to be dug up too often. On the other hand, it will tolerate more sun than most other ferns.

osmunda fibersAll of the Osmundas form a large fibrous mass at their base, known as the osmunda. (Wonder where they got the idea for that name?) Don't even begin to think about dividing it! Unless maybe you use a chain saw. Florists apparently use it for growing certain orchids when they want a soil-less base.

Greater celandine in full flower

Greater celandineThis is what greater celandine looks like when the mature plant is in full flower. It will go like this until frost without faltering. The variety I have, 'Flore Pleno', is a spontaneous mutation that sports double flowers. The single-flowered variety is apparently more common.

Click on the title of this post to see the previous post on greater celandine.

May 30, 2006

Crown of thorns cactus

Euphorbia milliiI call this the plant only a man could love. And the fellow who originally gave me a piece of his definitely loved it. He didn't believe in pruning and it had grown into this great monstrous thing that looked like an escapee from a horror movie, with drooping, spiny branches on a plant three or four feet high and almost as wide. I would take guests around to gawk at it on his front porch in the summer, and their jaws inevitably dropped. He had grown his from a cutting his now deceased mother had given him, she in turn having received it from a neighbour who'd brought it over to North America from Vienna decades ago, so this is a plant with a lot of history.

So meet Euphorbia milii, the crown of thorns cactus. Despite the name, it was not found in Palestine two millenia ago, being a native of Madagascar. As a member of the vast and varied Euphorbia genus, it has the characteristic white sap that can irritate your skin. Seeing as you can't get up close and personal with this fellow without heavy gloves on, that rarely causes problems.

To take a cutting, I get a good grip on one of the sturdy thorns and nip off a branch with pruners or sturdy scissors. After I rinse away the white latex with water, I leave the cutting to dry for at least a couple of days so the end won't rot. Then I just stick it in potting soil (carefully!) and keep it a little on the damp side until new growth appears. It's an easy-care plant and while it prefers normal care, will get by quite nicely with a little neglect. Given enough sun and a bit of fertilizer it will produce little orangey red blooms, but for me, they are not the highlight. There are a lot of newer cultivars available with showier, more numerous blooms for which it might be worth making an effort to stimulate bloom, but I've never tried very hard.

The crown of thorns cactus will react to stress (especially when brought back inside in the autumn) by dropping some or all of its leaves, but it recovers quickly and the new growth is quite attractive, particularly if the plant has been pruned to a nice shape. I haven't been too successful in shaping this one, but in the past I've had some beauties. I tend to give them away when they get large and start over with fresh cuttings.

Mine is now occupying a strategic position in my flower bed that used to serve as a corridor for cats. "Used to" is the operative term. Felines recognize someone with larger claws and keep a respectful distance.

Squirrel protection revisited

Girosa lilly damageFor the most part, my pop bottle cloches worked very well this year. They did get blown around a bit a few times, as I wasn't careful to twist all of them into the soil. Some enterprising squirrel took advantage of the temporarily uncovered state of this Girosa lily to bite a chunk out of the side. Fortunately, he missed the growing tip so the lily will still grow and flower, albeit with some pretty mangled-looking leaves. As they grow out, they will each display the same tooth marks along one side, much like the paper doll chains and snowflakes we made as children.

Conclusion, the pop bottles are worth the bother, although I should have taken more care to anchor them. One of them which couldn't be pressed into the soil better I held in place by anchoring four long twigs around it, with the curve of the twigs hugging the bottle. I obviously should have done that for this one also.

May 29, 2006

Jack Frost brunnera update

Jack Frost brunera blossomsMy Jack Frost is now in full bloom. This doesn't really qualify as "clouds of blooms" yet, seeing as this two-year old plant is just flowering for the first time, but it gives a hint of the beauty to come in future years. You can see the resemblance to forget-me-nots.

In praise of mini roses

Hit Parade mini-rose budsMini roses are another of my favourites. You get so much bang for your buck! Last year at Easter I bought a little pot of red Hit Parade roses. Later in the spring, I separated the four plants and placed them separately in the flower bed. They each grew to be bigger than the original pot of four. They are now studded with buds and preparing to explode into over the next couple of weeks. And they will bloom right through to frost. The only fertilizer they have received is composted manure and a once yearly sprinkling of Epsom salts.

I've had good experiences with Hit Parade roses before, finding them to be pest and disease free, as well as flowering very abundantly. This year I've added Orange Kordana to the mix and am hoping that they will prove to be just as successful.

May 27, 2006

Bad hair day in fern corner

furn cornerA messy green tangle. Fortunately, that doesn't apply to my hair. It's gray enough now that I get offered senior discounts and seats on buses that I don't need or deserve. Gray is not cool but it's better than green.

What it does apply to is the former state of my "fern corner". They looked good as the emerged in the spring, showing off their coloured stems, but once fully unfurled they were a uniform green and the diversity of forms made for a tangle, not a contrast. Clearly something had to be done.

Osmunda regalisSo I dug up the fern in front - a royal fern - and seeing as I was much too fond of it to say goodbye, I throned it in a large pot. Now I can appreciate its stately presence and lacy foliage at their just merits.

I am not an accomplished garden designer, but I do know that contrasts in colour and shape please the eye, so I looked for something that would stand out against the ferns and, at the same time, make them more noticeable. Huechera 'Sparkling Burgandy'I found what I was looking for in a Sparkling Burgundy heuchera. Its decidedly purple colour and rounded, slightly ruffled leaves could not be more different from the finely cut ferns with their tender green. Even the lilies of the valley add something, with their solid patches of green. Once this heuchera has had a year or two to settle in, this corner should be exceptionally beautiful. I'd like to find some hardy cylamens to spread at their feet or, failing that, a silver splash of spotted deadnettle could do the trick.

May 26, 2006

A picture of the side bed

Side bed in Janet's garden
No useful information in this post. I just thought we were due for a pretty picture. It ain't perfect, or even mature, but it makes me happy.

The joys of townhouse gardening

Dead arborvitaeAt least in our town, "urban densification" is the new buzzword. Urban sprawl, i.e. ever new suburbs encroaching on farmland and wilderness is out, denser neighbourhoods are in. This, of course, means a lot of apartments - not a gardener's dream - and townhouses.

For me one of the advantages of townhouse living is that it prevents me from spending my whole life tending an over-large yard. One of the disadvantages is that I am thrown in close proximity to a lot of people who have doubtful concepts of civic responsibility. Many of my neighbours are obviously of the opinion that it doesn't really hurt anything if their beloved pooch gives the local shrubs an occasional sprinkling. And if their pooch were the only one doing it, perhaps it wouldn't matter. Problem is, quite a few of them think this way.

In the summer, the dogs concentrate their efforts on the exterior of the numerous large planters set out front and no real damage is done. In the winter, my little arborvitae was an irresistible target and I didn't really realize it until the damage was clearly visible.

What to do? First of all, be thankful I bought a very small one, so I'm not out of pocket very much. I doused the poor thing regularly once I was aware of the problem, but it was too little, too late. I considered trying to talk to the neighbours in question, but I don't even know who all of them are and there is no guarantee they will take effective action. A flyer campaign? A lot of time and effort for very unlikely results. Phone the city? Yeah, as if the darling doggies are going to sit and wait for the by-law officer to turn up. (Please don't get me wrong. I truly like dogs.) I finally decided that a physical barrier was the best way to peace with the neighbours and health for my plants. So I put in a simple folding wire fence (you can see it on the right in the photo), the tallest I could find. It doesn't do anything to deter squirrels and little to slow down cats, but it keeps dogs and delivery people out.

Now I have to dig out the dead shrub and replace it, all without trampling the existing plantings. Fun...

May 25, 2006

Poor pulsatilla!

PulsatilaIn gardening, like in real estate, the mantra is "Location! Location! Location!" It may not be everything, but you can't succeed without getting this part right.

Case in point: my Pasque flower. It was given to me last year while in full bloom. Tough little plant that it is, it survived the move nicely and provided colour and interesting seed heads in my brand new and mostly empty flower bed. But as the season went on, the neighbour's sandcherry leafed out and seeing as the house wasn't facing due west as I had thought, the mature shrub threw a lot more shade on that bed than I expected. And then the rather large annuals I had planted in that bed (datura and four o'clocks) basically grew right over it. Not exactly optimal conditions.

Pulsatilla vulgairsI'm paying for it now. Spring-flowering plants, be they bulbs or perennials, need the energy stored during the previous growing season to produce their flowers so early in the new season. Although my plucky little pulsatilla came up on schedule and revelled in the elbow room of a bed free of annuals (for now), it just didn't have the resources from last year to flower this season. I got the hint and moved it to a sunnier location.
I have solemnly promised the poor little thing that it will have its new territory all to itself. It's getting its full dose of sunshine this year.

Meanwhile, back in the old bed, its place has been taken by a Palace Purple heuchera, which will cope much better with partial shade than the sun-loving Pasque flower.

May 24, 2006

A tale of two cuttings

OK, so it was actually two divisions, but I liked the snappy title. My apologies to Dickens.

Geranium sanguinium albumThese two little plants were placed the same day in the same pot. One was a healthy little piece of the original plant, which had been snuggling up to a meadow rue and had to be moved to give them both more room. The other was the mother plant that had died back after greening up this spring, leaving its two daughters behind. No point in leaving a dead plant in the ground, I figured, so out it came. But when I pulled the brown stub up, the roots looked like they might still have some life in them, so I decided it was worth a try to save it.

Now for reasons unknown to me, the healthy little offset has languished, turning rather more bluish than it was originally and, while it hasn't died, it has also not grown at all. The dead-looking stub has stayed dead-looking, but all around it is healthy new growth coming up from the roots.

The moral of this story? Don't be quick to decide a plant is dead. Gardening lore is filled with stories of uprooted plants flourishing in the compost heap, bulbs finally sprouting after two or three years of hiding underground, and plants "dying" in the summer, only to sprout happily the following spring.

The other thing I get out of this story is the ridiculous names that some plants are saddled with. This one, white bloody cranesbill a.k.a. Geranium sanguineum 'Album' is a prime example. The cranesbill part makes perfect sense; like all other plants in this genus, the seed pods are shaped like the bill of a crane. Some bright light decided that the purply pink flowers deserved the name 'bloody' though the only place you are likely to see blood that colour is in a Star Trek episode. When the white variety was developed or discovered, it couldn't be given a new name because it wasn't a separate species so 'White' was tacked on the front. Talk about a name designed by a committee! The Latin binomial just mirrors the whole process. And of course, "binomial" means "name with two parts" and this one has three...

Fortunately none of this matters when you admire the flowers and like kids in a sandbox, the plants don't ask each other about last names. They just play happily together.

May 23, 2006

All-purpose spray saves the anemone

Grape leaf annemoneAnemone tomentosa 'Robustissima' is quite the name and it was largely on the strength of that name that I bought this plant. "Robustissima" means very robust and I figured that was a pretty good guarantee that I was getting a tough-as-nails plant despite its deceptively fragile-looking flowers. Well, tough as nails it may be, but even nails can rust.

As each leaf has emerged this spring, it has promptly acquired unpleasant dark colours that it is not supposed to have. It is a plant that normally appreciates a moist setting, but we have had double the normal amount of rain this month. When you combine the almost unceasing rain - how do they survive in Vancouver!? - with the heavy clayish soil that most of Ottawa is built on, this tough little plant is gasping for help.

Janet to the rescue.

Anemone tomentosumThe dark colours didn't look quite like mildew, but I figured it was probably something fungal nonetheless, given the circumstances and the fact that this same plant had healthy foliage last spring in somewhat dryer conditions. Now the cheapest, easiest way to deal with - or better yet, prevent - mildew and its ilk is with a baking soda solution. Seeing as I have both a limited number of spray bottles and with such a small garden, not enough plants to empty most of them over the season, I added the baking soda to my favorite home-made pest repellent. After picking off any leaves that looked beyond hope, I've been spraying the poor little anemone as well as an equally unhappy-looking bee balm during breaks in the rain, and they have both perked up admirably.

To make this spray, you measure 2 tbsp. (30 mL) Murphy's Oil Soap, one capful of yellow mouthwash, and 1 tsp. (5 mL) baking soda into a one litre spray bottle and top up with water. Spray on anything that is inclined to mildew, like phlox, bee balm, anemones, or anything that critters like to munch on, as rabbits and squirrels don't like the taste. Renew about once a week or after a rain.

I've also found it effective to stop tom cats from marking their territory. Before my female cat was fixed, the local toms would spray the wall by the back door till the odour was enough to make you gag. Spraying the wall with this solution broke them of the habit.

Now if you'll excuse me, it isn't raining today (yes!), and I've got plants to spray.

May 22, 2006

Loreley's siren song

Lorelei iris
After showcasing a couple of new introductions, I'm going to do a 180 and introduce you to Loreley. This cultivar dates from 1909, so she definitely fits in the tried and true category!

Last fall my neighbour gave me a few rhizomes which had been languishing in her shady back yard. I wasn't counting on getting too many blooms this year, because I figured the rhizomes couldn't have bulked up too well in those conditions. Nonetheless, a couple of flower stalks have gone up and I am pleased no end. Most irises prefer a full sun location to soak up the energy they need for flowering. Siberians can tolerate a fair amount of shade, and crested irises flourish there, but that's a topic for another day.

This iris is also a good example of how "firsts" tug at our hearts, along with anything our grandmothers grew! When I was planting my first garden I grew almost everything from seed, mainly out of economic necessity. But I did rescue a sad-looking little iris from a clearance bin for about 25 cents, and popped it in front of the house. With the resiliency typical of bearded irises, it was soon flourishing and moved with me to my next house. It spread so enthusiastically, I was able to fill a cutting garden with the extras and my vases overflowed in spring with sprays of fragrant irises.

So when my neighbour offered me an iris that definitely didn't fit in with the colour scheme of the only sunny bed I had, I jumped at it. As it happens, this is the same cultivar that graced my yard and vases years ago, so there was no possible way I could say no!

And for those of you who love to know the history of names, the Loreley (or Lorelei) are the German equivalent of the sirens that lured Ulysses and his men in the Odyssey. The Loreley would perch on the cliffs of the Rhine river and sing sailors to their doom. This Loreley sang to me too, but fortunately to my nostalgic pleasure, not to doom.

May 21, 2006

Rozanne has also captured my heart

Perenniel geranium RoseanneHere is another recent introduction that has swept me off my feet, the famed Rozanne geranium. You can see the subtle marbling of her leaves at this point, but her real attraction is her non-stop flowering. She will start producing her purple blooms soon and go right through to frost without a break.

Rozanne does like to sprawl, so she's particularly effective as a "weaver", winding among taller plants and blanketing the ground at their feetPerrenial cranesbill 'Rozeanne' with Lillium longiflorum 'Snow Queen' with attractive foliage and sweet flowers. You can get a bit of an idea from this somewhat fuzzy photo from last year although the young plant was a little skimpy compared to what it will be this year. I also liked the pairing with the shiny leaves of the sweet basil right next to it, which just got better as the season went on.

I plan to add more Rozannes to other parts of the garden, to help provide some visual unity in my rather eclectic garden. Rozanne doesn't set seed, which is why she flowers for so long, but she can be divided in spring or fall. Geraniums in general can be propagated from cuttings, so I will probably experiment with a little ground layering also. Much easier than potting and misting and applying rooting hormone.

May 20, 2006

I really, really love this plant!

Brunera macrophila 'Jack Frost'My garden has lots of the tried and true in it, and I won't buy something just because it's new. So many of those highly touted new introductions turn out to be busts. But there are a couple that have captured my heart in the last two or three years. First is the aptly named Jack Frost brunnera or Siberian bugloss. The one you see here, in its second year, shimmers in the darkest corner of my yard. I had it in a brighter spot but it wilts when afternoon sun hits it, so I moved it to its present shadier location. It's now preparing to bloom, when it will demonstrate why another name for brunnera is false forget-me-not. After it's finished blooming it will put out more large leaves that will look even frostier. Enough to make you start jumping on couches.

I've seen Looking Glass, a sport of Jack Frost, which is supposed to be even whiter, but I liked it much less. There is less green veining, which diminishes the contrast. And even worse, the "white" looked more like dingy grey to me. Maybe it brightens up as the year goes on, but its early spring appearance, at least, is not appealing. If you have a more positive experience, be sure to post a comment.

May 19, 2006

Liberal bleeding heart!

Dicentra spectablis 2006They bloom liberally, they grow liberally, they reseed liberally, ya just gotta love 'em!

Dicentra spectabilis 2005The reseeding liberally part I don't know from personal experience; I'm an incurable deadheader. But the picture at right of the same bleeding heart in 2005 gives ample evidence of the growing liberally part. It was such a pretty little miss, but she's definitely put on weight. Next year, she will be a monster. And I will love every little bit of her!

In recent years, I have not had much difficulty with the foliage dying down early, although I really can't tell you why. It's been staying green for me well into autumn, so I haven't had to devise strategies for hiding it or filling in gaps. When I had one in a somewhat sunny location, I seeded cosmos around it, and they would get big just about the time the bleeding heart was getting ratty and screened it very effectively. Hmm, maybe a less sunny location has something to do with the foliage lasting longer.

Bleding hart blossomsI've also been known to pop one of my larger planters into the garden to fill in the hole. A mature Dicentra spectabilis takes up a good square metre, which makes for pretty big shoes to fill. Some people don't think she's worth the effort, but I am definitely too smitten to care.

May 18, 2006

Constant gardener, not

Hybiscus sinensisNow you may foolishly believe that I'm a fantastic gardener, trowel always in one hand, spray bottle in the other, and that all my beds are always beautiful, every plant lush and bursting into blossom at the slightest excuse. Problem is, it jest ain't so. In actual fact, I much prefer looking at my flowers to fussing over them. One of the reasons I am so fond of perennial gardening is that if you give a plant halfways decent conditions, all you really have to do is sit back and watch it grow, giving it a little helping hand now and again. And if you don't feel like giving that hand today, it usually doesn't matter too much. Tomorrow will do just fine.

But potted plants live in highly artificial environments, so you can't just sit back and let Nature do its thing. You have to water, fertilize, watch for pests... and tomorrow is often too late.

So it's never too much of a shock when one of my insufficiently pampered babies throws a hissy fit because I've fallen short in the pampering department. The same plant that produced the beautiful bloom at the top of this post now looks like this:

Stressed leaves on Hibiscus sinensis
Behold the result of ignoring the spider mites on the grapefruit tree snuggled next to it (they were just barely noticeable, no big deal, right?) and then putting the hibiscus out for the summer. "I can handle one, I can handle the other," she screamed, "but there is NO way I am going to put up with both! How can you do this to meeeeee?"

I now have the choice of soothing the sobbing prima donna or showing her the door. I'm not a fan of prima donnas. Got no respect for hissy fits. But those velvet red blooms are SOOOOOOO irresistible and she's got a big fat flower bud going even in the midst of her distress...

So like dutiful lovers everywhere, I will bow to her wishes and pull out the insecticidal soap. "Now, now, baby, don't cry..."

I mean, how can I put a pregnant lady out on the street?

May 17, 2006

Jacob's Ladder update - in full bloom now

Polemoneum 'Bresingham Purple' and Lammium macculatumIt's not planted in the brightest spot, so it's leaning toward the light a bit. In this photo, you can see the colour of the stems much better. I find that spotted deadnettle is most effective near plants with blue, grey or purple tones. When this newly planted deadnettle has grown around Jacob more fully, the combination should be stunning.

Ever heard of Greater celandine?

Chelidoneum majus blossomsA few years ago, I spotted these in a wooded area beside one of Ottawa's famous bike paths and was intrigued. So I scooped up a few seed pods and threw the seeds carelessly into a pot on my back porch with a Thai hot pepper plant. And ignored them. Much too late in the fall, I transplanted the resulting young plant into a corner of the yard and the rest, as they say, is history. Or it will be, once I finish telling you about it.

Young greater celandine plantLike any typical perennial, it entered its full glory in its third year. And then I moved (story of my life). I transfered a young volunteer to my new digs - literally ;o) - and this is what it looked like in its second year, right about this time of year.

Chelidonium majus is a vigorous plant that grows wild in this part of the world. It grows with a vengeance when given a semi-shady garden environment, having less competition from surrounding plants and more reliable moisture levels than it would in the wild.

Chelidonium majasFast forward one year. This thing is rivalling my bleeding heart, it's got so big! I'm almost afraid to see what it will look like next year!

Greater celandine is not a prima donna; it isn't appropriate for centre stage but it's a great back-up to splashy Oriental lilies. And it doesn't make prima donna demands. It has always been pest-free, disease-free and trouble-free in my gardens. It does reseed, but it's controllable. And it flowers generously non-stop from May till frost. But with the small amount of space I have at my disposal, I'm keeping my eye on it. If it grows out of bounds, it may have to go anyway.

May 16, 2006

Licorice tea, anyone?

Anyse hysopThis poor plant has been schlepped around from one place to another, but it doesn't seem to be complaining. I originally grew it from seed a few years ago, then moved it to our new place last year. It got too leggy where I had it in mostly shade (it doesn't mind partial shade, but enough is enough!), so I moved it to one of the few spots in the backyard that gets significant sun. But that was prime real estate and a variegated weigela signed a long-term lease this spring so the anise hyssop was evicted.

Now, anise hyssop - at least the species - is not the most beautiful of plants but there are a couple of reasons it was hard to part with, so I moved it to a pot. First, it turns into a small bush and provides some welcome mass in a new garden where almost everything is spindly. By its sheer mass, it was a focal point in the garden. Secondly, it's a highly fragrant plant that smells beautifully of licorice when you ruffle the leaves and makes a wonderful tea. Thirdly (yes, I know I said a couple, but I'm cheating) it is a great favourite of bees and I find it amusing to watch them working the spikes of purple flowers.

Unlike some other members of the mint family, it doesn't spread by runners. As you can see by the surface of the soil, it self-seeds rather generously but the seedlings don't grow very vigorously unless they're in an excellent position, so they're very easy to control.

All in all, I'd say that Agastache foeniculum is more at home in a herb garden than an ornamental border. The cultivar 'Golden Jubilee' with its yellow leaves, or the hybrid 'Blue Fortune', which looks very pretty in photos, could be a different matter.

May 15, 2006

Oleander and full-scale battle

Oliander nerium blossomAhh, the sweet scent of vanilla! Ahh, the clusters of rose-like blossoms! Ahh, the oh-so-Mediterranean look of potted oleanders! Argh, the joys of scale!

What is scale you ask? Well, follow my dirty fingernail to the answer. Scale is a nasty little sucking insect, that like barnacles on a hull, latch onto your plant for dear life. They particularly like to hide on the underside of the leaves, right by the central vein, where the sucking is sweetest.

Getting rid of scaleA few little spots of scale here and there are not going to threaten your plant or your sanity. The problem is, a few little dots left to themselves quickly become quite a few little dots and can turn into a full-scale infestation. (Oh no! There she goes again!) In the spirit of "a stitch in time saves nine", the easiest way to deal with scale is to simply scrape it off with a fingernail. My two oleanders flank my chair on the patio, so I just have to turn my head and reach over. This is usually enough.

Oleaner neriumBut when I have been inattentive - like over the winter - they can multiply to the point where I can't keep up. That's when I bring out the big guns. Cepacol. Yes, you read right, good old yellow mouthwash. Listerine will do just fine too, as long as it's yellow. Last spring I brought my freckly oleanders outside and sprayed them liberally with yellow mouthwash. A few days later, the scale flaked off instead of squishing - a sure sign it was dead. I then had the entire summer to remove them at my leisure, a few little scrapes at a time. Dead scale doesn't breed. I haven't had to repeat the treatment since.

Sure there are pesticides that will work, although not very many. Scale's hard shell makes it difficult to kill. But the mouthwash is probably considerably easier on the environment, and anything you don't pour into your spray bottle can be used to freshen your breath.

By the way, do you think the bags of leaves add anything to the Mediterranean ambiance?

May 13, 2006

Jacob's Ladder

Polemoneum 'Bressingham Purple' blossomThis little beauty opened its first bloom a few days ago. I don't know if this is the normal bloom time for this variety, the hybrid Polemonium 'Bressingham Purple', as it's a new purchase and was already in bud when I bought it. It's probably not too far off, as my FIL's Polemonium reptans is also starting to flower.

In my previous garden I had a flourishing plant of P. caeruleum which I had started from seed (not hard to do) which really delighted me with its beautiful flower colour, long bloom time and decorative leaves. So it was hard to resist this cultivar when I spotted it on the perennial shelves.

Bressingham Purple Jacob's laderI have it planted in dappled shade where it will get midday sun. Jacob's ladders in general prefer part to full sun, although in warmer climates somewhat shadier is better. It's also important that it be in a damp, woodland type soil. This is not one to plant with your cacti.

The colour of the stems doesn't show up very well in this slightly older photo; they are actually dark to the point of being almost burgundy. I am also impressed with the number of flowering stems on what is probably just a second-year plant.

What have your experiences with Jacob's ladder been?

Yes, but is it art?

Protecting lillies from squirelsWhat do you think of my low-budget garden art? Yes, I share your opinion. I don't think the gardening magazine people will be beating a path to my door any time soon.

The pop bottles are obviously there not for esthetics but for a practical purpose: protection from squirrels. Although lilies are notoriously toxic for cats, the adorable but frustrating tree rodents consider newly emerging shoots to be a gourmet treat. I learned this the hard way when I first moved into a squirrel-infested neighbourhood a number of years ago, and had all my lilies chewed off to soil level within three days of breaking ground. The next year I devised my pop bottle cloche technique and have only lost one in the intervening years. As soon as the lily emerges, I pop on one of these cloches (sorry, couldn't resist), and remove it when the lily plant is butting against the top of it. At this point, the squirrels will almost always leave them alone. The cloche is made by simply cutting off the bottom of a 2L bottle. It's important to remove the cap to allow for some air circulation.

Pop quiz question (I am on a roll today): why is the soil covered with large pine cones?

May 12, 2006


My latest preoccupation has been identifying a number of native ferns given to me last year (thanks Bill!). As they emerge in the spring, their differences are more strikingly obvious.

Furns: Osmunda regalis, Dryopteris spinulosa, Osmunda cinnamomeaThis trio shows the kind of variety that you can get.

The brown one on the left is Osmunda regalis - royal fern.

The green one to the right is Dryopteris spinulosa - spinulose shield fern.

The chartreuse one in the back is Osmunda cinnamomea - cinnamon fern.

Senstive fern - Oncolea sensibilisOnoclea sensibilis - sensitive fern, is busy unfurling in an obscure spot behind my bleeding heart (hmm, I may have to move it) and adds a fourth colour to my fern palette with its decidedly reddish cast.

The sensitive fern gets its name from the fact that it is very sensitive to frost, unlike the semi-evergreen Dryopteris genus. Let us hope we get no late frosts this year!

Janet's Garden

Janet's back yard gardenThis blog will be an attempt to share what's happening in my garden in a way that might be useful to other gardeners.

I do my gardening in a small townhouse yard in USDA Zone 4a. Here you see my largest (!) bed in early May 2006. This is only its second season, so shrubs and perennials are still youngsters.Janet the gardener