June 30, 2006

Impressing the neighbours with much less work

Brunello and BeckyDon't you just admire those people who can grow magnificent specimens of exotic ornamentals that nobody else would dare? Gardenias in parched northern apartments, tulips in muggy sub-tropics, rhododendrons on the northerns plains. You know the kind of person I mean. They invariably succeed in impressing even non-gardeners.

I am not that talented. Maybe I could be. I don't know, because I'm not focussed enough to find out. Semi-daily mistings and elaborate structures for winter protection exceed my attention span. I'm lucky to remember to bring in my begonia tubers after the first light frost and before the first killing frost.

If you are like me, there is hope for you. You can have the kind of garden that neighbours thank you for anyway, by following a few simple principles.

1. Choose plants that are happy to live where you put them. Take into account your climate, the soil and light and moisture conditions of the particular place you want to put them, and the kind of pests that are prevalent in your area. This does require a bit of research, but not all that much. If you put a plant where it is naturally happy, you won't have to fight nature to keep it happy. Two of the simplest methods are checking out what other people in your area grow successfully and seeing what the local nurseries sell a lot of. If you want to have a highly unique garden, this is bad advice. If you want to have a beautiful one that won't die every time you turn your back for 10 minutes, this is great advice.

2. Go organic. Really. As well as being much more environmentally responsible, it's easier. You can fertilize with compost or manure any time and plants will pick and choose what they need, when they need it. No more trying to remember when exactly you have to stop pouring on the fertilizer to promote winter hardiness, or which number has to be higher for which plant or at what concentration and frequency it has to be applied. It's like the difference between providing a well-stocked pantry and trying to get the ingredients in the IV right. It's rare in life that you can combine laziness, virtue and efficacity, so take advantage of this opportunity!

3. Mulch. And I don't mean with rocks. There are some instances where mulch isn't a good idea - like in a bed full of plants that love poor, dry soil. Everywhere else, lay down a layer of thick, organic mulch. You will spend less time weeding and watering, and your soil will get richer from year to year instead of poorer.

None of this takes garden design into account, but trust me, you don't have to be a genius to do a perfectly acceptable job in that department either.

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Lily Parade - Part 4

My fascination with all things Lilium continues.

Apricot-colored Asian lilly
These two unnamed Asiatic lilies opened their first blooms this morning. The burgundy one is actually more intense in colour, but my photographic skills are not up to the task of rendering the colour more faithfully.

Burgundy-colored Asian lilly

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June 29, 2006

Elegant Lady is a class act

Elegant Lady lilyI took one look at her face and I was smitten.

I turned the page in the catalogue, and there she was, taking up half the page in all her pink splendour: no trashy bling, no screaming neons, just quiet, sophisticated elegance.

My fate was sealed. I hadn't heard of pink Easter lilies before, but I didn't need any additional hype to persuade me. The picture did it. And if I should be tempted to grow indifferent, her perfume would woo me back. Unlike the smell of Oriental lilies, which I tolerate with some difficulty mainly because I'm smitten with lilies, the fragrance of Lilium longiflorum, whether white or pink, calls me to bury my face in the blooms.

This is one lady who will get invited to every garden party I ever hold.

I did about overwintering. Hydro Ottawa had done some digging in the fall and left their mess untended to over the winter, creating a low point just outside this bed and a puddle of icy water for a few days this spring. Despite my nervousness, Elegant Lady pulled through just fine, although Snow Queen just behind her seems to have suffered some.

Prices have been dropping since I first saw her, so finding your own Elegant Lady shouldn't be too great a burden on the pocketbook.

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Lily Parade - Part 3

Lemon Pixie pot lily
This charming little pot lily, Lemon Pixie, opened its first bloom this morning.

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June 28, 2006

Sunshine on a stick

Oenathera frutticosaThat's what I sometimes call my sundrops aka evening primrose. I personally hate the name "evening primrose", which the whole genus Oenothera has been saddled with because of the one or two species that actually open at night. My neighbours have Oenothera acaulis, which unfurls at dusk in a dramatic display that is over in less than a minute. Sundrops, on the other hand, close up at night, so evening primrose is the height of nonsense in the nomenclature department. Sundrops it is.

Sundrops have been accused of being invasive, a label which Oenothera missouriensis apparently deserves. These however are O. fruticosa, and while they spread enthusiastically, they are easy to control. When a clump has covered the amount of space I want it to occupy, I remove a full outer ring after they've bloomed. Just before winter, I'll pull out any I find excessive. In early spring, I'll again tug out any that are out of place and sometimes move them to an empty spot to let them flower before I pull them up for good. This is not nearly as much work as it sounds like; the roots are very superficial and a quick tug on a rosette takes care of it. They are very tough too; those weeded out by hand can be planted elsewhere without missing a beat. Once they send up the flower stalks it's trickier though. The stalks are brittle and will often break, so any moving is better done early or late in the season.

These ones are in their full glory right now, although they are poorly positioned in a corner that is too crowded. The garden editor will be working on it soon, but I'm going to let the sundrops have their day first.

All in all, I love these cheery, unpretentious little garden stalwarts who will accept a wide variety of conditions without complaining. I'm willing to do a little tugging for the pleasure of their presence. And an added advantage of sundrops is that they will irritate any gardening snobs in the vicinity, who have declared war on yellow flowers. Unless, of course, they're echinaceas...

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June 27, 2006

The best laid plans, Part 2

Begonia pendulaHere is another chapter in the chronicles of why my garden planning seldom works. This beautiful hanging begonia was advertised as pink. OK. Whatever. Admittedly the picture showed dark pink in the catalogue, but I wasn't expecting a vibrant coral red. Not that I dislike the colour, but it's rather overwhelming the apple-blossom pink wax begonias on the ground beneath it.

Hanging begonias - Begonia pendula - are, as far as I can tell, just tuberous begonias with a cascading habit. I am open to correction from any avid begonians.

As such, it is a good idea to pinch off the smaller, female flowers (the one I am holding in the picture) to allow the showy male flowers to grow larger. It should probably be done before they get this large, mind you. It's probably a little too late to make any difference for the ones in the picture. In my defense, I pinched off a lot of smaller ones at the same time.

When the first frost has damaged the leaves, I'll be bringing all my tuberous begonias in for the winter. I don't have a good cool, dark place to store them, but I can guarantee you it won't be the warm furnace/laundry room again! Don't ask.

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Just showing off - Jack Frost

Brunera Jack Frost
I can't help it. This plant gets even more beautiful after flowering, because that's when it puts out its biggest, frostiest leaves. Brrrrrr!

This particular specimen is only in its second year in my garden, grown from a bare root.

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June 24, 2006

Thalictrum whatever

The best laid plans of mice and gardeners... It's enough to make you throw up your hands in despair!

Yellow meadow rueI had ordered Lavender Mist. Thalictrum rochebrunianum, if it matters to you. Clouds of little purple blossoms in late summer when my garden is sorely lacking in bloom. Better yet, it's a tall, elegant meadow rue that doesn't need staking and has a narrow footprint. Seeing as it didn't bloom its first year in the ground, my anticipation this year was all the more intense.

I started getting nervous when the buds started appearing in June. My nervousness wasn't helped by the fact that the meadow rue was flopping all over the place and refused to straighten out once staked. But I was willing to cover a multitude of transgressions, all for the sake of those lavender blooms.

Well, you've seen the photo. I got Thalictrum flavum, a nice enough yellow meadow rue, but not what I ordered. If I phone up the company I ordered it from, they will very nicely offer me a credit (but I don't want to order from them again) or a replacement, which will have to wait till next year of course. So I would be able to put it in the ground next spring and it would bloom a good year after I've moved away.

At least the bees are happy.


Partridge berry - Mitchella repansThis charming little native creeper, Mitchella repens came along for the ride with ferns from the woods. It is blooming now in obscure corners of my back yard.

The tiny flowers with hairy petals come in pairs and if both are fertilized, they will form a single, lobed, bright red berry that can easily persist for a year. The leaves are also evergreen. I find partridgeberry to be a slow grower, although, like most creepers, the stems will root easily on contact with the soil. I have it here in a very woodsy kind of environment, as you can see by the leaves and the pine needles.

Partridgeberry is quite a tough customer, but will not survive in a dry setting. Don't ask me how I know. Cuttings can be taken and rooted simply by sticking them in damp soil elsewhere in the garden. This is definitely a plant for lovers of the subtle and the natural. If your tastes run more to peonies and brugmansias, you may want to pass on this one.

Unless you're like me, and you love them all...

June 23, 2006

Borrowed views

The wonderful thing about borrowed views is that you don't have to give them back! They are more or less on permanent loan. If the borrowed views are eyesores, then the terrible thing about borrowed views is that you can't give them back!

Borrowing the neighbor's clemmatisBorrowed views, for those unfamiliar with the term, are the things in your neighbours' yards that, whether you much like it or not, become part of the visual landscape of your yard. The chain link fence running down one side of your back yard, the magnificent elm you feast your eyes on every morning, the rusting car in the next driveway: all are borrowed views. And it's an essential part of garden planning to take them into account.

In a townhouse, borrowed views are literally only steps away. It is my good fortune to be able to "borrow" the neighbours' magnificent clematis and purpleleaf sandcherry. Other than providing me with flowers to ogle, this means a couple of things on the practical level for me. First, I have to take into account the shade cast by the sandcherry once it's leafed out. And as I push this flowerbed further forward (which I firmly intend to do if we end up not moving) I will carefully avoid planting anything with purple leaves in close proximity and at the same time, try to echo it a little further away. I'm already doing this a bit with a Palace Purple heuchera that you may be able to make out in this photo a bit. In short, I will have to harmonize with their plantings much as if they were my own.

And now that I've stopped to think a little longer about this, planting a semi-shade vine on the grey wall around the corner from the clematis would help give it more weight. For this I would have to ask permission: the soil may be mine, but the wall is the neighbour's.

Wonderland by night

Garden by torchlight
OK, so "Wonderland" is definitely an overstatement. But isn't it wonderful, nonetheless, how torches and candles transform a space? Even the cheap furniture doesn't seem so bad!

June 22, 2006

Cats in the garden

It amazes me how often gardeners are also animal lovers. Honestly, you think we'd know better. Although we rage about the damage inflicted by squirrels and earwigs and deer, some of the most destructive pests in our gardens are there with our permission.

Cat in the gardenMeet Cleo. As far as cats go, she's pretty sweet. If it weren't for her unfortunate tendency to prefer my flower beds over her litter box, we could cohabit my garden in perfect peace. Well, except for her other unfortunate tendency to hunt anything smaller than herself, but that's a subject for another day.

The very best way to deal with digging cats is to set up a corner where they are actually allowed to do their thing. At a former house, I planted an enclosed square with various invasive plants - ostrich ferns, violets and goutweed - and "seeded" the back of it with offerings from her litter box. She and any visiting cats faithfully confined their efforts to that part of the garden and if a few plants died - hey! I knew they'd all be back come spring.

The problem with my little townhouse yard now is that there is no out-of-the-way corner I can use in this fashion. So if you look to the right of Cleo in the above picture, you'll see a couple of the other methods I've had to resort to. The soil is mulched as heavily as possible with pine cones, which are free for the taking all over the neighbourhood. They break down very slowly, so I haven't had to supplement much since last year. But in places where they are a little thin, a determined cat will fight her way through anyway. So if you look very carefully again at the photo (click for a larger view), you will see that there are short lengths of rose canes emerging from the pine cones. Twigs would have done the trick quite well too, although then I probably would have needed more of them. Rose canes lying on the ground have never been too effective for me; the cats pick right through them. But a small forest of vertical twigs or canes deters them. And the natural colours blend in so nicely, you have to look closely to notice their presence at all.

There are a couple of drawbacks to the pine cone method. Emerging plants can get stuck and it is a royal pain to add other mulch, but at least Cleo won't be killing any more of my prize plants.

June 21, 2006

Out with the old, in with the new

Tiny Hicks yewBalanced on a tiny stepping stone, gingerly placing my feet in the rare spaces big enough to accomodate them, (no cracks about the size of my feet! I just pack my plants too tight) I finally did the deed.

The king is dead, long live the king.

The poor little arborvitae, victim of a thousand chemical attacks from local dogs, was pried out of the ground and gently laid to rest. No autopsy was performed and the cause of death is in some dispute. The next-door neighbour, for one, thinks that underwatering had more to do with it than dogs. Seeing as she's not a dog owner, I can't dismiss this as an attempt to evade guilt, but I am not convinced. Still, on the off-chance there might be some truth to what she's saying, I decided to replace the little bush with an equally little but somewhat less thirsty yew. A Hick's yew, to be precise, one that's supposed to stay in reasonable bounds, which is absolutely essential in my tiny yard.

I realize that in much of the States, yews are considered pretty ho-hum. But they are not standard issue here, many species not being hardy this far north, and the others pushing the northern limits of their hardiness range. They're almost exotic! Seeing as this is a pretty sheltered location, I decided to run the risk of winter dieback because the deep green glossy needles will be such a great foil for the Oriental lilies planted in front of it. At least they will be ten years from now. Hey, I wasn't going to shell out for a big one, when survival is in some doubt! In the meanwhile, I'm growing the purple fennel in behind it to provide the height I want in that corner. Winter interest will slowly grow into place, if all goes well.

Lily Parade, part 2

Wine colored Asian lillyThis unnamed Asiatic lily opened this morning.

Elegant Lady lillyThis first bloom of the pink Easter lily 'Elegant Lady' (Lilium longiflorum) had some difficulty opening properly. The scent of these, like the white Easter lilies, is heavenly.

June 20, 2006

Butterfly factory goes bust

Chewed up fennel plantWho would have thought that butterfly larvae would be such demanding charges?

A word of warning. One small fennel plant is not enough to accomodate two small black swallowtail caterpillars. They grow faster than the plant does. When I checked on their progress a few days ago, the fennel was looking alarmingly outclassed in the race against the caterpillars, so I decided I'd better get a few more plants. (The things we do for our pets!) They were going at clearance prices at a grocery store garden centre, so the sacrifice wasn't too burdensome, but by the time I got the new plants home, the caterpillars were nowhere to be seen. I parked the newcomers in the same corner, hoping the little critters hadn't got too far and would be lured back by the scent.

No such luck.

The original fennel plant is starting to put out new growth, unhindered by its voracious tenants. Unfortunately, I'd kind of fallen for the pretty little caterpillars, so it isn't much consolation. And, on top of it all, I feel like a rotten mother.

I hope my father-in-law will be impressed by the gift of a couple of fennel plants. I certainly don't have room for them if nobody's going to be trimming them for me.

June 19, 2006

Not yet the Container Queen

Potted royal fern et alMy approach to containers is best described as slap-dash. Planning, no matter how hard I try, never seems to quite work, and so I cobble things together.

I did a lot of cobbling this weekend.

But I'll pretend I'm a designer and talk instead about creating unity through repetition of elements. ;o)

The little violas that got stuffed willy-nilly into several different containers can be part of this game, as can the leftover trailing alyssum and balsam seedlings that got put almost everywhere. Cuttings from creeping Jenny, sedum and deadnettle will also provide some trailing elements as well as the much vaunted unity.

The tuberous begonias, which were planned, demonstrate why my planning seldom works. The four yellow non-stops I started a few weeks ago promptly developed different coloured leaves and stems, which means that I have no clue what colour blooms I will eventually get. And I discovered why one of them was growing so slowly. The stem had actually detached from the tuber (!) and was busy rooting itself again!

The pink wax begonias, like the balsam seedlings, were also planned, and have been spread over several containers and a couple of beds, helping to knit everything together. With any luck, a month from all of this will look quite charming.

Brunello opens the lily season

Brunello Asian lilyHot on the heels of the roses come the lilies. This year the vibrant red-orange Brunello has the honour of ringing the opening bell.

June 17, 2006

A trio of portraits from the back bed

Oenothera frutticosaSundrops demonstrate why they are aptly named

Thalictrum rochebrunianumBuds on lavender mist meadow rue

Roseanne cranesbillRozanne's first bloom just opening

And that's all that this bone-weary gardener has the energy for today.

June 16, 2006

Geraniums lack snob appeal

Pink ivy pelargoniumHow many articles have you read lately on container gardening that contained a sentence along the lines of: "Geraniums are just so passé!"




I happen to like geraniums. And marigolds, and impatiens, and alyssum, and - forgive me - even petunias. You see, there's a reason the old standbys are the old standbys. They grow well, flower lavishly, look good and don't argue back. Ivy pelargoniumAnd I, for one, can't see for the life of me why that shouldn't be enough for me to love them. The most important criteria for me when I plant something are: does it look good, does it make me happy, and will it survive? I really don't much care whether some diva somewhere thinks it's "hip". (Just in passing, my kids say that anybody who says they're hip has just proved they're not. At least we agree on one thing!)

Some of the creative new containers I've seen make me drool, they're so beautiful. Others - well, they just look like a jumbled mess. Even in glossy professional photographs with exquisite lighting they just don't do it for me. Am I the only one who thinks the king is naked?

Do fads and fashion have any place in the garden? Well, I'm certainly not against trying something new. And I do try to get some variety from year to year with my annuals. But it seems to me there's something fundamentally wrong with one-upsmanship in any context. Potted pelargoniums with Rosamund Cole cannaSo when I decided to try putting Rosemond Cole cannas in my big terra cotta pots this year, I fronted them with white and red geraniums. Sure, three out of five neighbours had red geraniums too. But they look good, they make me happy and they will survive the furnace-like conditions just off of the parking lot.

And just to make today's posting a little more useful than a mere rant: I put wadded newspaper in the bottom of virtually all my containers before adding the potting soil. In addition to preventing the soil from trickling out the bottom, it has much the same effect as the moisture crystals that are all the rage. It helps hold the moisture in the pot and reduce the frequency of watering.

Again, not much snob appeal here unless you happen to think that using everyday materials to achieve the same results as spending money on high-end products has a certain elegance to it.

June 15, 2006

Front bed

Can you tell I was starved for roses when I moved in here?

Rose garden
The first flush of Morden Sunrise roses has faded to pink, the big white trusses are Iceberg, and the little red ones are Hit Parade.

Fighting earwigs

One day about 20 years ago, my husband came back from buying pesticide and announced, "The guy at the store said earwigs will arrive next year." Huh? Well, "the guy" was right. Apparently these little darlings got off a ship from Japan and worked their way slowly across the continent. The next year I saw my first earwig, and although I'm not particularly squeamish about bugs, it grossed me out. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say, and I'm no longer grossed out by them (OK, just a little), but they certainly don't inspire affection. They are on the extremely short list of things that I can kill without the slightest twinge of remorse. (For those of you who are unhealthily curious, houseflies, mosquitoes and lily beetles are the rest of the list. I even feel sorry for slugs, if you can imagine it.)

Now a variety of experts will insist that earwigs feed on decaying vegetable matter and aphids and are therefore beneficial. They are probably right most of the time. But if earwigs are short of the appropriate decaying materials, or if temptation is just too strong, they are only too happy to reduce any tender foliage and a number of flowers to lace. I wish I'd had an expert with me the night I went out to do battle with the slugs that were eating my baby marigolds down to a stub and found them covered in earwigs instead. They are also fond of coleus, salvia, nasturtiums (especially the flowers), monkshood flowers, pepper plants (not deterred by hot ones) and just about anything with thin enough leaves. And this is a list just from my personal experience.

There are several ways of dealing with earwigs. I generally ignore them until they start causing damage, because in small numbers they don't do enough harm to bother with them. But when I find leaves reduced to lace, I take action.

Earwig patrol: I go out around 10:00 at night with a flashlight and a one litre spray bottle filled with a 10% ammonia solution plus a teaspoon of dish detergent. I do the rounds of damaged plants, spraying any earwigs and slugs I find. The ammonia kills the slugs on contact, and the soap will kill the earwigs within a few minutes. I'm inclined to believe that they leave some kind of chemical trail like ants, because if I do the rounds a second time, I will find a fresh crop of earwigs chomping in the identical places, right down to the precise leaf. You can also do this with a bowl of soapy water and knock both slugs and earwigs into them, but that requires three hands or a willing partner in pest hunting, both of which tend to be in short supply for me. A flashlight mounted on a hard hat would help, but the neighbours think I'm weird enough already.

Diatomaceous earth: I sprinkle this anywhere I'm reasonably sure the earwigs will be crawling, with my favourite place being under potted plants on the patio where they will often hide out in the daytime.

Traps: The easiest that I know of, (and as you may have noticed, I am a great fan of easy) is to partially sink a shallow container, like a tuna can, in the soil, with a layer of soya sauce and a layer of cooking oil. The smell of the soya sauce apparently attracts them and the cooking oil makes it impossible for them to get out and probably smothers them. Anyway, if I've got an earwig infestation going on, it will be full of dead earwigs in the morning.

The Earwig Stomp: Put on your favourite dance music (optional) and stomp on them as they skitter across the patio or sidewalk. You won't get great numbers this way, but it's emotionally satisfying and burns off calories. Do wear shoes...

June 14, 2006

Work that old black magic!

Sedum spurium 'Voodoo'Voodoo stonecrop. An evocative name. Dark, smoky purple leaves calling up images of dark, smoky rooms, redolent with incense and... OK, so I don't know anything about voodoo and it shows. (Do they use incense?) But you have to admit, it was an inspired choice of a name for a purple-leafed creeping sedum and the seeds were even on clearance. Of COURSE I bought them.

The seeds were easy to germinate and might have been easy to grow on if I'd paid them proper attention. I didn't much, to tell the truth. I mean, it's sedum, right? One of the easiest things to grow in the garden, verging on weed status. How hard can it be?

Somewhat harder than I expected. Despite my neglect, I was able to put four little plants into the ground at summer's end, expecting something of an explosion. Any other sedum I've ever grown exploded. These ones didn't.

When the snow melted this spring, I was down to two little plants. Briefly. And then there was one... (Anyone for a rousing chorus of "99 plants of sedum this fall"?)

And that one has soldiered on with all the enthusiasm of a conscript. It has sullenly accepted to expand ever so slightly, but you really do need photo records to be able to make out the growth at all. Do I really need to say that I am disappointed and won't recommend it? Winter hardiness might be an issue here, but I would still expect the lone survivor to have put on a bit more weight since the end of winter. This may be the Great Frozen North, but the last vestiges of winter disappeared a good two months and some ago, so I'm not accepting excuses.

This would be a really great plant for an indoor terrarium or any environment where glacially slow growth is a plus. As for me, I'm not impressed. But being a softie at heart, I'll give it a chance anyway. It's not like it's taking up too much room.

June 13, 2006

Mini roses yet again

Red Hit Parade mini-roseIt's rose season in Ottawa! Hit Parade is strutting its stuff, and very fine stuff it is too! This photo shows what was a single plant from one of those little potted roses they sell around Easter and Mother's Day. In one year it has expanded to many times its original size. And the others are much the same, except for the ones that got trampled.

I can't say enough good things about these little beauties. They experience almost no winter dieback, even without protection (although a tough winter might be a little different), they have had no problems with pests or disease and they flower abundantly from late May through till frost. They don't require dead-heading, though I often remove fading flowers for purely esthetic reasons.

It's not fair to compare the Orange Kordana I just put in, because they're a full year behind the Hit Parades. So far, they've been settling in well, with healthy new canes starting to appear.

Orange Kordanna rosesIt is fair to say that I don't find them very orange. They looked relatively orange at the garden centre, next to cherry red roses. But at home they are near the scarlet Hit Parades and in that context the difference in colour can be made out if you stare long enough. Unfortunately, that kind of nuance is tricky to catch with a camera. In real life the Kordanas look redder than they appear in these photos.

In all fairness to the breeders, they weren't the ones who called them orange. I checked their website and this wasn't one of the names they used, so it's just a descriptive term, not a name. But it really was stretching it a bit.

June 12, 2006

The beautiful Iceberg rose

Iceburg roseThis Iceberg is melting... me. Wonderful winter-hardiness; recurring flushes of brilliant white, delicately fragrant blooms that hold up for many days even in summer heat; glossy, disease-resistant foliage; what's not to love? It's not for nothing that Iceberg was inducted into the World Federation of Rose Societies' Hall of Fame in 1983. It is essentially the gold standard of white floribunda roses (and climbing roses, because there's a climbing version, too).

white Iceburg rosesThis is therefore an excellent rose for people who don't like to fuss over persnickety plants, or who simply don't have the time to. Those who get a great deal of pleasure out of growing things their neighbours can't are advised to look elsewhere. I do water it thoroughly once a week, because it's in the rain shadow of our eaves and I did pile up potting soil around its base for some winter protection. Most of the canes that were exposed to the air all winter came back without the slightest hesitation anyway. Granted, it was a mild winter. That, and a light pruning in the early spring was all the special attention it got. A little top-dressing with aged sheep manure was applied to the entire bed, so it got that too. And that's it.

My biggest complaint about Iceberg is that the white is so pure, that it can be difficult to catch with a camera. It simply reflects too much light back to the lens. I wouldn't even attempt it on a sunny day.

All-purpose spray working on scale too

This is just a quick note to follow up on my scale posting. When I was out spraying my anemone against sooty mildew with my all-purpose spray, I figured I might just as well try it on the few remaining spots of scale on my oleanders. It worked like a charm. And it seems to have eliminated the spider mites on my tropical hibiscus too. I had been planning on using insecticidal soap, but the all-purpose Murphy spray was handy. Handy is good.

So, in case anyone is keeping score, the spray is good for:

  • preventing mildew
  • helping plants that already have it
  • stopping rodents from gnawing on plants (on the basis of what others have told me)
  • stopping tomcats from spraying a particular spot
  • killing scale (at least the kind that infests houseplants)
  • killing spider mites
Follow the links for the formula.

June 10, 2006

Morden Sunrise is beautiful, but...

Morden's SunriseGorgeous, ain't it? It's pictures like this that made me buy Morden Sunrise in the first place. I wanted orange, and THIS was ORANGE!

I mounded used potting soil around it for winter protection, seeing as this area under the eaves doesn't retain any snow cover. (Talk about a pain - literally - to remove it in the spring, but that's another story!) Only one stem that stuck out above the soil came back, and it's been very anemic in its growth. But thick healthy canes grew up from below the soil's surface, so all was not lost, although it's hard to see how the bush will get much bigger from year to year.

Morden's Sunrise as it fadesBut there is a little issue of the fading blooms. You see, Morden Sunrise is not really orange. It's a yellow rose with pink overlaying it on the outer part of the petals, which creates an orange effect. Briefly. Very briefly. Especially in the summer heat, the yellow fades out, leaving a pink rose with a white heart. Not too terrible, I suppose, but when you wanted an orange and purple border, it doesn't fit too well. The blooms are pink a lot longer than they're orange, although that's not too long, seeing as they decline quickly. And worst of all, you will get both colours on the bush at the same time, and in my insufficiently humble opinion, they clash.

Morden Sunrise rosebushSeeing as I have it planted in a rather hot location, the fading happens very quickly, except during cool weather. Seeing as there are repeated flushes of bloom, from late May till frost, some of them are in cooler weather and I can enjoy the orange a little bit longer. Still, I think this one is better planted in a polychromatic, informal border in somewhat cooler conditions. And although it's part of the ultra-hardy Morden series, it would probably benefit from some winter protection, although reliable, fairly deep snow cover would probably do the trick nicely.

I would love to give an unqualified recommendation, but I can't. This one is a good looker who reveals her character flaws all too quickly.

June 09, 2006

Butterfly factory

Caterpillar on bronze fenelI picked up a small purple fennel plant the other day and was amused to see two tiny black and white caterpillars on it. In fact, every fennel available at that garden centre had at least one resident caterpillar. In about a week, they've perhaps tripled in size and moulted into a different outfit. I'd been warned - or promised, depending on your viewpoint - that Foeniculum vulgare was a regular caterpillar factory for the black swallowtail, so that's what I'm hoping these little guys are. I'm going to let them stay, unless they threaten to obliterate the plant. Next time, if you're lucky, you might even get a picture of the plant!

I've had conflicting reports on its hardiness here, but if datura can come back... My Italian mother-in-law is a great fan of fennel seeds, so I should be able to impress her when I turn up with seeds in the fall.

June 08, 2006

Tiny weigela in bloom

Veriegated wiegela, cardinal shrubThe tiny little variegated weigela I put in earlier this spring (you know, the one that evicted my anise hyssop) has, to my great delight, decided to grace me with a few blooms, as a hint of future glories. This picture was taken a couple of days ago, and the flowers have since started deepening into their pink colour.

Not yet the Compost Queen

Well, I finally did it. I cracked open the lid of my composter and started spreading. Admittedly, the term composter is a generous one. It's actually a green plastic garbage can. It was full to the gills and I even had stuff waiting to go in, so it was well past time I got this done.

Composting is one of the most simple and natural things in the world. You let organic matter - dead leaves, grass clippings, garden trimmings, vegetable scraps and the like - rot down and return to the soil, where a wonderfully complex web of microorganisms make the nutrients available to the plants again, leaving some indigestible fibres to permanently improve the structure of the soil. To my mind, one of the marvels of nature. And the whole process works wonderfully without any human intervention, at least in theory.

If I had a large yard with suitably obscure corners, I'd just build a small series of piles, turn them occasionally and let nature do its thing. But my yard is about 14' by 20' and there are no obscure corners. My challenge is to do the composting in a reasonably esthetic manner, without producing any unwanted smells. Unfortunately, those two goals tend to run in opposition to one another. If you encase your compostables, air can't get in at them, which makes them much more likely to stink. Unencased compostables are not high on the esthetics scale.

So I used my plastic garbage can, with a few tiny holes drilled in the sides to provide a bit of drainage. I thought that the occasional stir with the garden fork would be enough to keep things sufficiently aerated and I would have beautiful, crumbly compost come spring.


I am happy to report that my efforts were not an unmitigated disaster. Neither were they an unqualified success. The top layer of stuff was not rotted down, which I fully expected. I scooped it off and put it aside to go back in. The next layer was semi-rotted and not something I planned on spreading in an ornamental bed. So it too was put aside. We are down past the halfway mark now and what is left is definitely black, but not exactly sweet smelling and there are still the occasional chunks that are recognizable. But it's usable, so I use it. The last couple of inches were, well, rank. They were down below the level of my pitiful drainage holes and were unpleasantly reminiscent of swamp water.

Lessons learned?

#1 - When all you have is one garbage can composter, you want to facilitate breakdown as much as possible. From now on, I am going to shred any newspapers I put in. (I don't have any ready supply of leaves year-round, unless I want a permanent stockpile in garbage bags. Not esthetically acceptable. So I use newspaper to balance out all those garden and veggie trimmings.) Things like thick stems didn't break down very much - not a surprise - but if they resist decomposition too long, I'll have to stop putting them in.

#2 - I need better drainage. This was taken care of on the spot. I enlisted the help of my son, David, who took our largest drill bit and put four holes on the bottom of the garbage can and about 16 more scattered randomly on the sides, to permit a little more air to get in. These were a lot bigger than the pinholes that were in there before.

#3 - The weight of the incoming compostables will not crush eggshells into nice, fine little bits. If I want them crushed, I'll have to do it before I put them in.

#4 - I am definitely going to have to turn the darn thing more often. *sigh*

#5 - Cotton socks and rags don't break down very well in these conditions. I might as well forget it.

#6 - It's worth trying again. Just a little smarter this time.

#7 - Cracking open your composter is best done on a drizzly day when the neighbours aren't out to smell it. Today was such a day. :o)

June 07, 2006

Resurrection in the flower bed

Angle trumpetSometimes very strange things happen in a garden. At times brave gardeners will push the envelope, trying to grow things that shouldn't survive in their zone. (Where is Robert Service when you need him? "Strange things are done in the summer sun, by the folks who till the soil..." or something like that.) But sometimes a brave plant will take matters into its own hands and push the envelope without human intervention. This is such a story.

I am always looking for ways to keep critters out of my flowerbeds. Not the bumblebees and earthworms and such, they are most welcome. Cats are more welcome on my couch. So when I moved my crown of thorns cactus outside for its summer sunbath, I got the brilliant idea to park it, pot and all, at the back of one of my front flower beds, right in the middle of a prime cat corridor. Cleo, our resident feline, immediately had to check it out and proved the efficacity of this kind of barrier, to my great satisfaction.

But a few days later, I noticed the pot was listing forward. Not being one to puzzle over mysteries needlessly, I didn't stop to question how it got that way, I just set about to rectify the situation. Imagine my surprise when I found a vigorous clump of yellow shoots pushing up hard from the soil and unbalancing the pot. What on earth! Or, more accurately, What in earth!

I hadn't planted any perennials there. I was sure of it. A week of waiting let the little leaves green up, but I still didn't recognize them. I checked all my perennial seed packets, but nothing I had would have produced this kind of clump. I finally took my dilemma to the Name That Plant! forum where the resident experts and sometimes one of the rest of us usually nail an ID within 30 minutes, given a decent picture to work with. My post went unanswered for hours.

Finally one very puzzled fellow opined that the leaves looked like young brugmansia or datura shoots growing from a root, but that this would be highly unlikely in my zone.

DatruasNo way! Because I had, as a matter of fact, grown daturas in that bed last year. The carpets of datura seedlings I'd been digging up for the last three weeks were ample reminders. (I've mulched that bed now, enough is enough!)

As unlikely as it may seem, one enterprising datura, taking comfort from its proximity to the house no doubt, managed to survive our winter (admittedly a bit of a wimpy one) and was coming back bigger and better than ever! The new leaves look quite a bit different from the mature ones, but the stalks are right, and the smell of the broken leaves is right too.

I've got a lot of respect for survivors. If I can figure out a way to let it stay without it overwhelming the little PG hydrangea which has taken up residence in the middle of that bed, I'll let it stay.

June 06, 2006

Cinnamon fern

Cinammon fern

Cinamon fern unfurlingCinnamon fern, Osmunda cinnamomea, certainly deserves its name! The fertile fronds look like they are made of ground cinnamon, adding a welcome touch of spice to a green, shady spot.

Like the other osmunda in my garden, the royal fern, the cinnamon fern develops a tough fibrous root ball that is clearly visible and makes it easy to identify. It is said to spread by rhizomes, but I certainly haven't seen any evidence of this yet. It definitely is not in the same league as ostrich ferns, which spread to the point of being invasive.

A rather strange thing happened with one of mine this year. The fertile fronds on both my cinnamon ferns, which are side by side, emerged during a prolonged period of cool, rainy weather (twice as much rain as normal), one slightly sooner than another. Osmunda cinamomeaUnder normal circumstances my fern corner does get a couple of hours of midday sun. When the rain finally stopped, we got a brief heat wave and the browning fronds wilted immediately. They just weren't used to light that intense. On the larger of the ferns, it must have caught them at a particularly vulnerable time; they have never recovered. The other came back nicely and has had little trouble since.

If you like the elegant vase shape of ostrich ferns, but would like something that keeps to its allotted space, the cinnamon fern is a great choice.

June 05, 2006

Cyclamens can't read

Cyclamen persicum flowerWhen my kids were small, they steadfastly refused to behave the way the child-rearing books said they should. They couldn't read, and didn't know what typical behaviour was supposed to be. Much the same thing can be said about plants. They will often go along with what the experts say, but at other times will quite happily forget to conform. My cyclamen was a case in point.

First of all, it refused to be entirely happy inside in the kind of light described as ideal. You can see how the leaves are not laid out all flat and beautiful. Nonetheless it would flower unceasingly for me through the entire winter, on through spring, with only the briefest pause in summer. I got at least eleven months of bloom out of it. I would put it out in the summer in a mostly shady spot to expose it to brighter light and help the leaves to perk up. But dormancy was not on its agenda. It didn't care what the books said, it was bound and determined to go all year.

I began to think it might profit from a little persuading. Surely this year-round marathon couldn't be good for it. So I put it in a dark spot and stopped watering. In the meanwhile, I took the seeds I had recently harvested and sowed them, with excellent germination. Soon afterwards I read that growing cyclamen from seed was very tricky. Oh. Well. Fancy that. I had put my tiny pot in the butter compartment for a couple of weeks to provide a wee bit of stratification and when I brought it back to room temperature, the seedlings just popped out of the soil.

Florist's cyclamen seedlingsGood thing they did too. My cyclamen rotted in storage. Meanwhile the little seedlings grew on slowly, with the ones in the northeast windows doing the best. The one that grew the best of all was the one that sat in water most of the time, another no-no.

So now I have put them all outside, half of them directly in the flower bed, and the other half in pots. The leaves are looking much better with shorter stems and better colouring and hopefully, some of them will produce blooms for me this fall.

And I will never, ever try to force them into summer dormancy.

June 03, 2006

Morden Sunrise and Siberian iris in bloom

A couple of pictures to make up for the lack in the last posting.

Siberian iris'sSiberian irises

Getting rid of groundhogs

Persuading groundhogs (or woodchucks if you prefer), skunks and other burrowing beasties to move on is something that a lot of gardeners have to contend with. In my experience with skunks, and with the experience of numerous neighbours with groundhogs, there is a very simple, effective and rapid solution. And it's free!

Simply pour human urine around the entrance of the offender's burrow. The interloper will decide the neighbourhood has gone downhill and move to new quarters in less than 24 hours. This probably works with smaller burrowers also, but I can't speak from personal experience. Then plug up the entrance thoroughly so it won't tempt the next critter waddling through. Some stone rubble in there makes it less likely that someone else will dig it up within the week.

I just put a jar in the bathroom and ask the menfolk to fill it up. Others have been known to go the direct application route, but don't you dare go telling anybody that I recommended it! I don't want to be held responsible for the downhill slide of your reputation!

June 02, 2006

Peach Flambé got flamed

Peach Flambe huecheraI am trying to establish an orange and purple theme in my front beds. It's not working very well, but I keep trying anyway. So when one corner of the bed turned out to be shadier than expected, making some plant shuffling necessary, my thoughts turned immediately to the new heucheras. Orange foliage! I hadn't been too impressed with Amber Waves or Marmalade but the pictures of Peach Flambé were too much to resist.

The bareroot plant I put in struggled though. As the first tiny leaves emerged, they would promptly get chewed. Slug bait and nocturnal checks for earwigs didn't help and eventually, the poor thing succumbed. I was bound and determined to get my Peach Flambé, so I got a big healthy potted one, which is what you see in the picture. One way or another, I will win!

I did notice as I removed what was left of the old rootball that there was a large number of pillbugs and sowbugs in that bed. These are not normally considered a problem in the garden, but when there are too many bugs and not enough decaying plant matter for them, they will chew on living material. This bed doesn't have as much mulch on it as the others, so I'm thinking that if I put down a layer of dried leaves (I still have some left from fall) topped with aged manure and/or compost, that should give the critters something more constructive to do with their time as well as improving the quality of the soil.

It's amazing how many pest and disease problems can be solved by creating healthy soil. It's not a quick fix, of course, but the best one in the long run. In the short run, this larger heuchera has enough of a head start to hold its own. And I will have to learn to be more attentive to my bare root plants.

June 01, 2006

The Canadians are invading!

Meadow anemoneThis little beauty, Canadian anemone, showed her face yesterday for the first time in this garden. I am really in love with the pure creamy colour of her petals (technically, sepals) and could hardly wait to see her again. The picture, unfortunately, does not do her justice.

Yet meadow anemone aka Canada anemone, a native North American plant, is said to be invasive. I find that label a little excessive, seeing as it's on the endangered list in three states. It does indeed spread by rhizomes, but it takes a few years to get established and probably would not reach pest status unless it had ideal conditions.

Annemone canadensisI have always found that the first year I transplant this into my garden, it struggles mightily. This was as good as it got last year. Sometimes it dies back altogether. But the next year it comes back a little healthier and by the third or fourth it starts to spread somewhat. Of course, I have been growing it in rather heavy soil, which may be slowing it down somewhat.

Anemone canadensis is a woodland plant, despite the name "Meadow anemone" and does best in damp, humusy soil with partial or dappled shade. I have seen it carpeting several square meters in a natural setting, but it definitely hadn't taken over the whole woods. If you've grown this and consider it wannabe goutweed, please let me know. That hasn't been my experience.

Captain Kirk and crew

Captain Krik hostaI've been very happy with the performance of this hosta. The central chartreuse sections will get creamier as the season progresses.