September 30, 2006

I've been AWOL

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

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

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

September 22, 2006

Little green fingers

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

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

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

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

I can hardly wait!

Grape hyacinths in bloom

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September 20, 2006

Name that plant!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 19, 2006

New beginnings

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

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

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

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

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

Previous post on the topic of Sundrops

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September 18, 2006

How to say sorry to a forget-me-not

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 15, 2006

Spring in the land of Oz

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

Not so Down Under.

Nectarine blossoms

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

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

September 14, 2006

Shield ferns

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

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

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

Previous post on the topic of Ferns

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September 13, 2006

Hope for the future

Wigelia and friends

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

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

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

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September 12, 2006

Definitely better than alien eyes!

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

Grape-leafed anemone in flower

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

Geranium 'Roseanne'

Previous post on the topic of Anemones, Rozeanne geraniums

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Thanks Stuart!

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

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

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

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

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September 11, 2006

One measly cluster!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 08, 2006

Here's looking at you

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

Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima'

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

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

Previous post on the topic of Grape-leafed anemone

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September 07, 2006

Halcyon days

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

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

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

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

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

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

Previous post on the topic of Hostas

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September 06, 2006

Gardening myth: dangerous raindrops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 05, 2006

Caladium schmaladium!

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

I also hate them. Stubborn little blighters!

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

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

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

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

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

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September 04, 2006

Garden portraits for September 4

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

Hibiscus bloom
Bloom on potted hibiscus.

Burgandy pansy
Burgundy pansy

Red Flash caladium
Red Flash caladium

Previous post on the topic of Hibiscus

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September 02, 2006

I am a heartless gardener

Literally. And here is the proof.

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

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

Pots in the flower bed

Filling in the gaps

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

Previous post on the topic of Bleeding hearts, Container gardening

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September 01, 2006

It felt like moving all of Siberia!

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

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

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

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

Siberian iris divisions

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

Trimmed iris

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

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

Newly planted corner

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

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

Previous post on the topic of Siberian iris

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