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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August 28, 2006

Happy pot heads

I don't know about you, but looking over my potted plants around this time of year is a rather discouraging exercise. And no, I'm not going to tell you about it in detail. There's only so much battering my ego can take.

Fortunately, there is an encouraging story or two, so that's what you're going to hear today. Maybe I'll feel better afterwards...

CyclamensSome of the happiest pot-dwellers I have right now are my seed-grown cyclamens. The tiny bulbs have been happily putting on weight and putting out beautifully marked foliage that earn them a spot at my place even without flowers. The ones I put in the ground have put out fewer, but larger leaves. Cyclamens are supposed to prefer cool weather and even to go dormant in hot weather, but I find they are very happy to spend the summer outside, even when it's blisteringly hot. They are also perfectly happy to sit with a puddle of water in their saucers, though all the books will tell you to pour it out. I usually do eventually, but it's only to do my bit in keeping the mosquito population down - the cyclamens thrive with wet feet.

HipeastrumAnother tender bulb that thrives on a summer outside is the amaryllis aka Hippeastrum. This particular plant, which I've had for quite a few years now (about six) has survived the trauma of being separated from her daughter bulbs very nicely. The foliage grown outside tends to be much less floppy because of the greater light intensity. I haven't yet decided whether I'll force this one into dormancy soon to stimulate a Christmas blooming, or whether I'll just let it continue growing to bloom on its own schedule, some time around Easter.

Yes, folks, you heard right. You do not HAVE to make your amaryllis bulb go dormant. The only point of the dormancy is to be able to impose your schedule on the bulb, or to save the space indoors that a mature amaryllis (or several) will take up.

And yes, that is yet another self-sown anise hyssop at its feet. I let the volunteers (and there are many when it comes to this Agastache) grow a bit, then make another batch of licorice tea out of them, iced of course at this time of year.

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Garden portraits with a difference

Going to seed is not always a bad thing. Although I tend to view deadheading as a form of recreation - the winding-down kind - sometimes I let things go a bit, either out of persnicketiness or even a genuine desire to harvest the seeds. So here is a series of garden portraits with a difference.

Seedpods on balsam
Impatiens balsamina has projectile seedpods, like all the impatiens family, which I suspect is how they got their name. Brush up against one of these babies when it's ripe and it will pop open, shooting the seeds quite a distance. They don't turn brown to let you know either, so the best way to find out is to squeeze them very, very gently, with your hand wrapped around to catch the flying seeds. If the seeds are brown, they're ripe. If they're still white, they're not, and you squeezed too hard. The seedpods on the more common impatiens are similar, but dark green and shiny. I find they tend to set very little seed earlier in the season, but when it starts cooling off, they grow me all kinds of little pods.

Seedpod on Lemon Pixie lily
I missed deadheading a single Lemon Pixie lily earlier this year and when I noticed it, I left the seedpod there on a whim. I've never saved lily seeds before, so I don't have any experiences to share with you. I may even try to grow them just to see what I get out of it. Probably something different from Lemon Pixie, but it could be good anyway.

Thalictrum flavum seeds
These are the seeds of yellow meadow rue.

Seedpod on Patriot hosta
A single flower on one of my Patriot hostas set seed this year. I'm letting it go out of curiosity. Again, this is a first for me.

Bulbil on Brunello lily
This is a bit of an oddity. When I first noticed it this morning, I thought a garden snail had crawled all the way to the top of one of my Brunello lilies. But when I took a closer look, I realized it was a bulbil, a sort of mini-bulb that grows in the leaf axils of certain lilies, especially tiger lilies. I was taken aback. I'd never heard of bulbils on an Asiatic lily before, and only one of the plants - the biggest and strongest - had produced any and even then, only two. Click on the picture for a closer view.

Previous post on the topic of Balsam, Lemon Pixie lily, Meadow rue, Brunello lilies

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August 26, 2006

My last word on daturas

How is this for one honkin' big bouquet?

Datura inoxia bouquet
We don't normally think of daturas as cut flowers. Or at least I don't. But the winner of Survivor - Ontario has done its surviving with so much vigour that I'm obliged to whack off a couple of major branches every week or two just to get in the front door, and to give my PG hydrangea a chance of surviving. Rather than just pitching the trimmings in the compost, I throw them in my largest vase and enjoy them for a few days indoors. The smaller buds usually get dropped, but the bigger ones will proceed to open on schedule, and will normally last longer than outside, being away from the sun. (For an idea of the scale of the bouquet, each blossom is wider than my hand. The table it's on is 3 feet wide.)

The little wire fence I erected in lieu of stakes is straining severely under the weight of the plant which is now about 6 feet tall and leaning more and more toward the light. I am probably going to have to uproot it in a couple of weeks when the angle is too great. And then I will shovel prune the whole thing. I love it dearly, but I just don't have the space. In an ideal world, I'd give it a good 9 square feet in full sun (where it wouldn't lean) underplanted with spring bulbs. They wouldn't object to being smothered from July on, the late-rising datura doesn't require copious watering so the bulbs wouldn't get rotted out when they're dormant, a win/win scenario. I may yet do it in the future.

Datura meteloides seedpodIn the meanwhile, I will collect fresh seeds, even though I already have some stored, because it might be several years before I plant them again. The seedpod you see to the left is not ripe yet, but it won't look much different when it is. It will be a bit bigger, but it will split and spill the seeds without advance warning, while it is still green. There will normally be some clinging to the inside (they look like large pepper seeds) but if I want to catch more of them, I can just slip the foot from some old pantyhose over it. The thorns (which are usually too soft to cut but stiff enough to be uncomfortable) will hold it in place.

My very last word about datura is that it is indeed toxic and hallucinogenic, as you may have heard. No part of the plant is safe to ingest. But no matter what you may hear elsewhere, it is safe to handle. I do it barehanded all the time. It has to be taken internally to be dangerous. Even then, minute quantities won't have much of an effect, unlike castor bean seeds. I wouldn't keep it if I had pets or small children that liked to chew on leaves or teenagers stupid enough to want to try it for a high. Seeing as I have neither, I've grown it with no problems whatsoever.

Previous post on the topic of Daturas

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August 25, 2006

Annuals that didn't work

Lobularia maritimaWhile we're on the subject of how not to grow things...

I started several annuals in flats and plugs this spring, to be fillers in the flower beds. Very few of them worked. The sweet alyssum caught hold eventually, but that's about it. The poppies and California poppies both have languished, barely growing and producing sparse, tiny blooms, if any. The African laceflower (Ammi majus) has mostly disappeared, and even the balsam hasn't done too well, except for the ones I sowed directly into the flower beds.

So what did I do wrong this time?

First, I sowed too late in the season. And I sowed outside. If you want to sow outside, you should do it very early in covered flats, aka wintersowing. The poppies I sowed in cardboard tubes (a home-made equivalent to peat pots), to avoid disturbing their roots later on, but it didn't help much. They survived, but never flourished.

Second, I put them into beds where I hadn't yet solved my earwig problem. In my defence, I hadn't yet realized that's what the problem was. Be that as it may, the laceflower in particular got chewed up almost as fast as I put it in the ground.

Other than that, I honestly don't know. I could succumb to perfectionism, and feel miserable about this. But there are more important things in life to feel miserable about, so I think I'll just feel glad that, while far from perfect, my flower beds are still providing beauty to the neighbourhood and a lovely place for my morning coffee.

Which won't stop me from trying to do better next year!

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August 24, 2006

How not to grow a hardy geranium

I have not been kind to my bloody cranesbill. So it has responded in kind, rewarding me with one measly blossom all year which I didn't even manage to capture on film, er, in pixels.

Well, if you can't be a good example, be a horrible warning. So here it is, your primer on how not to grow Geranium sanguineum. Album in my case, which is Latin for white, because my bloody cranesbill is white. I feel a rant coming on, but I've already done it, so I'll spare you. (The flowers in the picture are alyssum, so don't be fooled.)

Geranium sanguineum 'Album'Pack the plant in tight between larger taller plants that won't give it much of a chance. Tell yourself that the cranesbill will squeeze between the lily stalks and give them a pretty little cloud of white to emerge from. Tell yourself whatever you like. The plant isn't listening.

Plant and/or divide and/or move around your bloody cranesbill in the spring. It blooms relatively early, so this will put it off and you won't have to contend with any distracting flowers.

Let your cat -or dog - dig in close proximity to freshly transplanted specimens.

Despite having followed the preceding instructions to the letter, my bloody cranesbill is still alive and green and fresh-looking, so I haven't quite mastered the art of killing it, although I've certainly done quite well in depressing it.

I'm going to make a last attempt to grow the stuff properly. The one I moved out front will stay. It suffered mainly from being moved at the wrong time, so it will probably do fairly well with benevolent neglect. The poor crowded specimen in the back will get moved. In the fall, not the spring. Either that or I'll remove the meadow rue that's crowding it, seeing as I'm pretty unhappy with the meadow rue anyway. Sigrun has pleaded with me to leave it, so maybe I'll move it elsewhere and give it a second chance.

Previous post on the topic of Bloody cranesbill

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August 23, 2006

Garden portraits for August 23

Orange Kordana bloom close up. The orange is most vivid when the flower is fresh and then fades to a more reddish colour.

Orange Kordana bloom

The lacy bloom of the fennel plant, beloved by bees and other pollinators.

Flower of purple fenel

Datura blossoms open in the evening and last until the sun hits them. This one, shown in the late morning, is curling up and will soon wilt as the sun hits it.

Datura innoxia bloom

Late summer colour. That coleus has been a lifesaver!

Late summer colour

Previous post on the topic of Orange Kordana mini roses, Purple fennel, Datura, Coleus

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Next year - or not

There's a sort of melancholy settling over my garden as mid-summer moves into late summer. I don't have enough fall bloomers, although the roses, daturas, four o'clocks, Rozanne and a few annuals are keeping enough colour to be somewhat respectable. My grape-leafed anemone is sending up its first flower scapes, so I'm looking forward to those blooms, although they will just be a hint of what is to come in future years. But most of the perennials are done for the year, the bleeding heart foliage is turning yellow and the freshness of spring is a distant memory.

Needs fixingAnd there's a melancholy settling over the gardener too. Gardeners learn to take a bit of a long view, at least if they deal with trees, shrubs and perennials. There is a definite satisfaction to putting something in the ground, but the real payoff is a year, or two, or ten down the road.

And therein lies my problem. I am probably moving next summer, so I have to keep curbing my impulse to plan, to plant, to improve. There isn't much point in doing any of that. The next owner could very well tear it all out, so although the gardener in me is crying out for rudbeckias and asters, the realist in me keeps saying, "Forget it, chickie. All improvement plans are shelved!"

The frustration is exquisite. I haven't even got this garden properly established and I have to rein myself in. And I am discovering more and more how much gardeners think and dream of next year, because I'm having to be as ruthless with those dreams as if they were weeds.

I consoled myself by ordering bulbs. At least I will be able to enjoy them for one spring.

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August 22, 2006

Winning the cat war

Kitty cat, kitty cat, where have you been?
Down to my litter box, where did you think?

I am declaring victory in the war with my cat! It was a hard-fought battle, but my superior weaponry prevailed in the end.

Pine cones piled liberally in her favourite corners, the occasional batch of twigs and branches planted vertically in the beds, and potted plants snuggled in between perennials to provide physical barriers in those tempting spots without striking any discordant notes.

I am one happy camper, er, gardener.

Happy cat

Of course, cleaning out the litter box more regularly hasn't hurt either.

Previous post on the subject of Cats in the garden

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August 21, 2006

Busy as a bee - or not

We all think of bees as indefatigable little workers, slaving away non-stop. But every now and again there's a non-conformist.

Bee takes a snoozeLike this one.

This fat little bumblebee was sleeping on the job, on a warm mid-morning in August. Bees have been known to sleep right on the flowers when the evening temperatures drop below their functional level and resume in the morning when the sun warms them again, but this little lady had no such excuse. She snoozed for so long I had time to go back inside, find my misplaced camera and take several shots.

It's not the first time I've caught bees sleeping on the job. I suspect that they are more likely aging bees who just really need a break, but I have no way of verifying that. If any of you are beekeepers or entomologists, please fill me in.

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August 19, 2006

Becky beckoned and I came running

Being the Perennial Plant of the Year isn't always a guarantee of a marvellous plant. Once you take into account different growing conditions and different tastes, one man's fish is another man's poison. Lists of favourite and least-favourite plants on gardening forums often contain the same names. "Goldsturm is lavish in its bloom when the garden is winding down." "It self-seeds all over the place. I hate it." "Russian sage is a beautiful ethereal plant." "It flops and looks bedraggled."

Becky Shasta daisySo even if Leucanthemum 'Becky' was the Perennial Plant of the Year for 2003, I wasn't prepared to jump on the bandwagon. But after hearing a lot of rave reviews on gardening forums, I decided that adding Becky to my garden was a bit of a no-brainer and I bought a plant in June. Within a week or two it was blooming. It's tuckering out now, but it's been a good run. Non-stop bloom for a good seven weeks is awfully hard to beat.

The plant had a single stem when I bought it, but new growth at the base took little time in appearing. The flowers you see in the picture all come from the single flowering stalk (and they're just the tail end - there were more before), so next year's show should be quite spectacular. Unlike oxeye daisies, which spread by rhizomes and can be a bit invasive, Shasta daisies like Becky are clumpers. My only concern is that the heavy soil of Ottawa might be a bit hard on it in the spring, but seeing as it's planted fairly far back in the bed where it's drier, I'm quite optimistic that it will overwinter just fine.

Earwigs have been rather fond of the pollen, but damage to the petals has been minimal. I have seen no other signs of disease or pest damage. After a first season in the garden, I am very pleased with Becky's performance. Let's see how it does over winter and spring, which is always the acid test in a northern climate.

Here's Becky with her friend Brunello in June.

Becky and Brunello in June

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August 18, 2006

Orange Kordana roses

Orange Kordana rosesThe orange Kordana mini roses have been flourishing and are just about to launch another flush of blooms. This is my first year with them, so I wasn't too sure what to expect. They have been doing very well, perhaps too well! They are several inches taller than the Hit Parades, which means I am going to have to move them. They're almost as tall as my Iceberg rosebush, for crying out loud! The front of the border just isn't working too well for plants of this height.

Previous post on the topic of Orange Kordanas

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Ha! I knew it!

Prevention MagazineLeafing through the current issue of Prevention magazine, I was scanning the 25 points in their anti-aging article. #4 was "get a pet."

"Harumph," thought I, rather petulantly. "What about 'get a garden?' That should easily be just as good as getting a pet." Even as I grumbled to myself, I turned the page and there it was: Number 8.

8. Stop and plant the roses
Gardening or being around plants bears fruit. In one study, blood pressure jumped in workers given a stressful task--but rose only a quarter as much if there were plants in the room. And patients who had a view of trees as they recovered from surgery left the hospital almost a day sooner than those with a view of a brick wall.

It doesn't get much more official than that.

But we knew it all along, didn't we? Still, I'm willing to bet they would have found even more benefits from actually DOING the gardening, not just being around plants.

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August 17, 2006

Comments on gardening blogs

Hanna of This Garden is Illegal is wondering why gardeners don't leave comments more often on gardening blogs. I sometimes wonder the same thing, but I think part of the reason is that people who go to gardening blogs are primarily gardeners and not bloggers. Most of the blogosphere is a great web of discussions, with constant references to posts on other blogs or in the news and very active - often extreme - discussion going on in the comment section. I get the impression that most of the visitors to my gardening blog are not really part of that culture. Am I right or wrong? Why do you comment or not comment?

And if any of you are interested in issues outside of gardening, please check out my other blog, The Walrus Said, where I reflect on topics outside of gardening. And leave a comment if you have something to say, even if it's on an old post. I, at least, will read it.

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Borrowed clematis

ClematisSometimes a borrowed view becomes a borrowed plant.

This generous little clematis twined its way over from the neighbours' when I wasn't looking, but I can't say that I'm complaining too much!

Previous post on the topic of Borrowed views

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August 16, 2006

Rosa incognita

Rose from rootstockSome girls just don't know when they're not wanted. We dug this baby out this spring and quite a job it was too. The root was so thick and woody we had to go at it underground with a pruning saw! But even that wasn't enough to keep it from coming back.

I'd given this rosebush a chance when I moved in, in case the lack of flowers was due to a lack of care. But after a season of pampering, there still wasn't a single flower to be seen and it was obvious this was a rose coming back from rootstock. Despite my respect for tough survivors like this one, I do want at least a minimum of a show, so out it came.

Not that I'm surprised it came back. We'd left chunks of root in the ground, because it was just too hard to dig it all out. I'll just keep cutting it back until the root has starved to death, much as I do with other perennial weeds. I'm very leery of adding more toxins to the environment and snipping it back every now and again really isn't that much of an effort.

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Roseanne geraniumRozeanne is in her full glory now. I've had to whack her back a couple of times, as she was lying all over the lawn. (Boy, if you reread that, it could sound really bad!) If she wants to overpower the sedum and lamium, that's OK by me; they were there to fill in until the other things hit their stride anyway. I'll pull them out in a month or two and plant spring-blooming bulbs there, knowing that Rozeanne will take care of covering the dying foliage later in the season.

Previous post on the topic of Rozeanne geranium

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August 14, 2006

White flies - the good news and the bad

It looks like my battle with white flies is coming to an end much faster than I expected. After digging out the infested greater celandine, there were clouds of the little critters all over the garden, settling especially on the royal fern and the bleeding heart. So I sprayed them quite liberally with the all-purpose spray, expecting to have to do this repeatedly for a while to get rid of them. As it turns out, I can't find any more live ones to spray. Awww, shucks!

That is the good news. And now for the bad news:

Crispy royal fern

The royal fern obviously resented being doused in the spray. I'll trim away the shrivelled leaves, but I doubt if there will be any permanent damage. It's probably going to look pretty rough for the rest of the season though.

The sensitive fern got a little spray on it too, and it is also looking a bit crispy, so this might be a generalized problem with ferns. In the future, I'll make sure that I don't spray ferns with the all-purpose spray. If need be, I'll do an experiment or two to find out which of the active ingredients they're objecting to - the mouthwash, the soap or the baking soda - so I'll know what I can safely use on them. I may not need to; I've never had a problem with ferns that required spraying before.

So any fans of the all-purpose spray, be warned. Keep it away from your ferns.

Previous posts on the topic of all-purpose spray, white flies and royal fern

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August 12, 2006

Time for four o'clocks

Yesterday I beat back the gorilla-sized datura that was terrorizing my tiny front bed to give the PG hydrangea and the four o'clocks a chance to breathe. I am telling you this, of course, merely as a ploy to give myself a chance to talk about four o'clocks alias Mirabilis jalapa. But you already guessed that, didn't you?

Four o'clocksFour o'clocks are tender perennials usually grown as annuals in Canada. Their somewhat fragrant little trumpets open in late afternoon - hence the name - and come mostly in vibrant pink and yellow, although white and apricot are sometimes seen too. The occasional plant is unable to make up its mind between yellow and pink and will bear flowers in both those colours, as well as blooms that are "broken", showing both colours without mixing them. All of these will appear at the same time on the same plant, which I honestly didn't believe until I checked it carefully myself.

The way I prefer to use four o'clocks is to seed them over spring-blooming bulbs and around the Asiatic lilies that die back earlier in the season. They'll get off to a slow enough start to let the bulbs strut their stuff without competion, then hide their dying foliage before it gets to be too much of an eyesore. This doesn't work as well with the very early bulbs, but is great for mid-to-late season tulips and the like.

Last year's datura/mirabilis comboThey are also a great companion to evening-blooming daturas, echoing the shape of the flowers, but providing a size and colour contrast.

Four o'clocks aren't particularly drought-resistant, but they'll let you know when they're thirsty with limp leaves and spring back none the worse for wear when you water them. They are advertised as full sun, but as is often the case, will take considerably less if they have to.

They are very, very easy to start from seed just about any way you like: winter-sowing, starting indoors, sowing directly in the garden, or just letting them reseed themselves. Easy is good. The seeds look like little black grenades and sowing them would make a great project for kids, as they are big enough - about the size of large grapefruit seeds - to be easy to handle and have an excellent germination rate, even after several years in the fridge.

Four o'clocks are also tougher than you may have been led to believe. I've had self-sown seedlings happily survive a spring snowfall and one time even had one grow back from last year's root. (I'd mulched rather heavily with leaves before the ground froze, although not with the goal of saving the Mirabilis.) You can, if you wish, dig up the thick, fleshy root in the fall and save it to plant out in the spring, but seeing as I have never done this successfully, I can't tell you anything more about it. Truth be told, they are so easy to grow from seed, I haven't bothered to try saving the roots more than once.

After all that, I guess I don't really need to tell you that four o'clocks somehow manage to work their way into my garden almost every year.

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August 11, 2006

Ants and aspartame

And now for something completely different...

AntDoug Green is asking for people to participate in an experiment. After hearing that aspartame was an effective ant poison, he researched it on the Net and discovered that all references led back to only one source. He'd like all interested parties to try fighting ants with aspartame and send him a report on the results so we can find out how reliable this information is. Click here to go to his site and read the details.

Ants are not normally a serious pest in the garden, so I normally leave them alone. If they're swarming a particular plant, I look closely. It's often a sign of scale or aphids, so they can be a useful indicator. My benevolence dissipates quickly when I find them in the house though. An effective, eco-friendly ant trap can be made by mixing icing sugar with Borax and leaving it in a shallow container along the path the ants take. It will take a few days to be effective, so be patient. Mixing baking soda with icing sugar is also supposed to work, but I find it to be somewhat slower. Your mileage may vary. Who knows, aspartame might be another effective solution. I have no idea if it qualifies as eco-friendly.

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August 10, 2006

Canadians and Voodoo

I wrote earlier this year about my meadow anemones aka Canadian anemones which are considered by some to be invasive. Invasive is one of those terms that gets used differently by different people, so I thought I would show before and after photos to help the evaluation. To the left, my clump in June, to the right, the same clump in August.

Canadian anemones in JuneMeadow anemones in August
They have been expanding much more enthusiastically than they did at my last house, which is probably due to the fact that I have been much more pro-active in improving the soil this time around. I've had to start pulling up around the perimeter already, as the anemones have been trying to spread into the brunnera and into the lawn, which is admittedly very patchy at that spot.

I have deliberately planted a number of "spreaders" because tightly packed plantings are part of my "cat management strategy", fully expecting to be replacing them bit by bit over the years. I wanted good coverage quickly. It looks like I may have to consider pulling up and possibly eliminating these anemones sooner than expected.

You may recall the very different problem I was having with my Voodoo stonecrop, that of the smoky purple foliage. Sedum spurium is normally a very quick spreader, although very easy to pull up, so not what most people would consider to be invasive. Most of my seed-grown Voodoos didn't survive the winter and the tiny specimen that did make it wasn't exactly prospering.

Sedum spurium 'Voodoo' in JuneVoodoo stonecrop in August
As you can see from these June/August photos, it has managed to put on a little weight, so there may be some hope for it after all. It looks like Voodoo is made to order for those people who like their plants on the timid side and if it ever bulks up sufficiently, it might make a good replacement for the more enthusiastic ones that tend to encroach on their neighbours. I do have concerns about its winter hardiness here, so I'll likely take a cutting this fall to overwinter inside as insurance. I'd be curious in knowing how gardeners in warmer zones have fared with this cultivar.

Previous posts on the topic of Canadian anemones and Voodoo sedum

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August 09, 2006

The dirty deed is done

Uprooted greater celandineMy greater celandine has been uprooted and bagged. I was absolutely appalled to see how bad the white fly infestation really was! Many of them migrated to the bleeding heart and the royal fern, so daily sprayings are probably going to be part of my routine for a while. *groan* I hope I will not pay too dearly for not noticing this infestation much earlier. I've never had a white fly infestation in more than a single potted plant, so this was quite a shock to my system. Mind you, there are some very happy spiders in my garden whose webs were in the direct line of flight of panicking white flies.

In the photo, you can see the white fly damage on the leaves, which were very sticky from the honeydew produced by the flies. You can also see the vivid orange sap, characteristic of greater celandine and believed by herbalists to be a remedy for warts.

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Overwatered containers

Here is graphic evidence of the results of overwatering on potted begonias. The pots on the left were sheltered under the eaves, the ones on the right got the full brunt of several successive thunderstorms. These pots were planted to be identical and other than the different exposure to rainfall, have had identical conditions.

Overwatered begonia on right

Overwatered begonia on right

My hanging begonia has suffered a similar fate. A week of over-zealous watering by my plant-sitter followed by days of heavy rain was extremely hard on them. Normally, my habit of putting wadded newspaper in the bottom of my pots to hold the soil and moisture in is successful, but this year it seems to have caused problems for some of them.

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August 08, 2006

Battling invasives

Over at the Willow Garden, they're fighting Clematis orientalis and have provided a step-by-step picture guide of how they're doing it. I was particularly intrigued by how they covered the plastic with soil, to make their weed-fighting efforts more esthetic.

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Garden portraits for August 8

Salvia nemorosa 'Marcus'
Now that the earwig population has been reduced to a reasonable level, this much-abused Marcus salvia has put forth a lot of healthy new foliage and even the occasional spire of blooms.

Ladybugs are always welcome at my house. You won't hear "Fly away home" from me!

Begonia semperflorens
The humble wax begonia.

Rosemund Cole cana lilly
Rosemund Cole canna in bloom

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The last straw!

OK, enough is enough! The greater celandine is going to go, probably today. Leaf and root, it is coming up and getting stuffed unceremoniously into a garbage bag. It won't even get the chance to justify its existence by feeding the compost bin.

Have you ever noticed how you can look at something and not see it? It occurred to me during my morning coffee, after the caffeine had started to kick in and lubricate my brain again, that there were white spots on the greater celandine. (Somebody has really got to invent a snappier name for that plant! Chelidonium majus isn't any friendlier.) I had been staring in that direction for a good 15 minutes without seeing them. So I moved over to take a closer look and discovered - yikes - white flies!

...The only good thing about white flies is their colour - an incredibly pure white. The eggs, tucked on the underside of leaves, are almost too small to see, once they hatch, they damage leaves and suck sap, weakening the host plant and inviting infection. Not only that, they exude honeydew, attracting other pests. Yellow sticky traps can be helpful to prevent an infestation from taking hold, but they're not too effective once a population is established.

The decision when I saw them was instantaneous. You could practically hear the snap of the camel's back. White fly can be battled, but it involves spraying insecticidal soap or my favourite spray on both sides of the leaves and repeating twice a week, in case any of the eggs survived. Seeing as the flies tend to take to the air when the foliage is disturbed, it's tricky getting them all. For a treasured plant, it's worth the effort. For one that is hogging too much space and has survived only by virtue of my procrastination, there is no way.

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August 07, 2006

Urban gardening and the fine art of camouflage

Those of us gardening in restricted spaces face some unusual challenges. When all you have is one small rectangle, it is really heartbreaking to sacrifice any of it to a garden shed.

So you don't. That's when a barbecue comes in handy. Yes, you heard correctly. A barbecue. It is amazing how much stuff you can hide under the skirts of a barbecue cover, particularly if you've only got one propane tank. Like a bag of manure, a compressed bale of potting soil, a garbage bag, various stakes and empty pots.

A folding chair screens the compost "bin" and a chair bedecked with plants provides some distraction from the gas meter and various tools tucked in behind it.

This is a low-budget strategy (OK, so it was a no budget strategy - I'm not willing to put money into patio furnishings right now) but people who are actually willing to spend money can do some very nice things.

So if you've done some garden camouflage you're proud of (beating mine shouldn't be too hard), let me know about it and I'll see if I can post about your solutions or link to them, whatever works best.

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August 04, 2006

August 03, 2006

Technical difficulties resolved...

with a new modem and a new "slam", for you technogeeks who would actually understand that. I understand the modem part.

My apologies for the delays, but I haven't been able to get online very often in the last two days, and then usually for about five minutes at most.

Pretty in pink

Take out your pinking shears, ladies! And men (and other non-sewers), take a look. Pinking shears are scissors with zigzag blades, that cut cloth to a - gasp! - zigzag edge. This lessens fraying, in case anybody was wondering why we bother.

Chinese pinksSo when somebody many years back was admiring the flowers of the Dianthus genus with their highly serrated petals, it was a natural to label them "pinks". One thing led to another, as often happens, and sooner or later the name for these charming little flowers was popping up on whatever their equivalent of Crayola crayons was. And so the word "pink" migrated from scissors to flowers to colour. (The French also named the colour in question after a flower - "rose".)

Now, not all pinks are actually pink, but most of them are, at least in part. They run the range from white to crimson, with pretty well all the shades in between. Some crazed hybridizer some day will undoubtedly develop an orange pink which will become the must-have plant of the year until everyone discovers that it can't survive a winter in Georgia, let alone Saskatchewan. Sound familiar?

The rest of us are just happy with the ones we have. I only have two kinds in my garden at present, with a third unlikely to survive its transplantation just prior to the full fury of July heat. (Never look a gift plant in the mouth, I always say.) My Chinese pinks are officially annuals, but they will pull through a winter rather nicely if given some protection. Mine even made a desperate attempt to come back for a third year this spring, but they hadn't been sheltered at all and couldn't make it through the vagaries of spring weather in their weakened state. Fortunately my deadheading had been a little sloppy last year, so their children are now growing happily in my pots.

Dianthus barbatus or Sweet Williams are the only species in the genus that are officially biennials. William may be sweet, but he doesn't think much of officialdom and will cheerfully come back a third or fourth or fifth year if he approves of his living conditions. I finally pulled mine out at the last house, because it was mostly white and I needed more colour. William wasn't volunteering to bow out on his own.

Dianthus deltoides 'Arctic Fire'I put in a little clump of the Arctic Fire variety of Dianthus deltoides this year. It is a perennial that will come true to seed, but will also bloom itself to death if you let it go. So I sheared mine back after collecting a few seeds, and it is still throwing up the odd little bloom to thank me. It is said to spread well without becoming invasive. I hope that this is true, because its tiny little flowers create a better effect en masse and they've kind of grown on me.

All pinks prefer full sun, but many will get by very happily with somewhat less and sometimes even considerably less. They are delightful, no fuss plants, that seem almost impervious to pests and disease. You can draw your own conclusions, but mine have a standing invitation to return, even if officialdom says their lease has expired.

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August 01, 2006

Technical difficulties today...

I've spent hours today, first with the phone service provider, then with the Internet service provider, plugging and unplugging phones, moving the modem from one jack to another, swapping phone cords... We're not at the end of it yet, but after many hours of trying, I finally got online at least.

All of which is to say that I hope things are back to normal and this blog back on track tomorrow. My apologies.