{ Archive for the ‘annuals’ Category }

Fall seeding in the sandbox

Late this summer, my friend Halli led me through her fading garden collecting flower seeds for me to bring back from my visit. Many of the plants she showed me were planted by her grandmother, self seeding annuals that have thrived for years outside the family home. There were nasturtiums, poppies, blanket flowers, sweet peas, and bellflowers. Some were familiar, some were new, and all got me excited about adding them to my own garden.

 

Then I got home and life took over.

I took the seeds out of the plastic I brought them home in, but the plate where I spread them to dry got knocked over, and the little slip of paper where I had noted the description and identity of each seed went missing. I moved the seeds to a safer location, and forgot all about them.

Now, here we are, the beginning of November, and I’m feeling guilty. I can’t waste this gift, but we’ve already had a couple of snow falls. The ground is starting to freeze. Should I hang on to them until next year, and hope they are still viable? Shall I give them an artificial winter in the fridge?

To the rescue: what I call my “sandbox” (an idea I think I gleaned from Marjorie Harris)–a little spot of ground specifically left empty for playing, experimenting, and housing the random plants that jump into your hands at the greenhouse. Mine is in a little corner of the front flower bed, out of immediate view, but close enough to where the action is that it doesn’t get forgotten. I think it will make the perfect way station for Halli’s seeds. Loosely sown on the soil surface, scratched in just a little, they should ride out the winter in the way they were meant to, and in the spring (hopefully) I will have a riot of new faces to sort through.

Replacing the leaves that naturally gather in this corner will add some winter protection.

Previewing President’s Choice plants

When the outdoor garden centre suddenly appears in my local Fortinos parking lot, I know that it’s time to plant (or almost time). Last week I got to preview what these garden centres (Fortinos, Loblaws, etc.) will be selling at an event to launch the garden edition of the President’s Choice Insider’s Report. By the way, the report officially comes out today!

I’ve had some great luck with President’s Choice plants over the years. Favourites include the Gigantico columnar basil, which keeps me well-stocked with pesto through the winter, a strawberry hanging basket that produced strawberries for me all last summer and the dahlinovas, which are stunning in containers.

Here are some of the plants I’m looking forward to trying in my garden this year:

PC Gigantico Begonia, Go-Go Rose Bicolor: These two-toned beauties are destined for my containers!

PC Campanula Purple Get Mee: The purple blooms on this perennial are supposed to come back until the fall. I'm hoping to create a lush carpet of purple in one area of my garden.

PC Heuchera Amber Lady: This is my first heuchera. I love how all the rich colour is in the foliage - no blooms required!

PC Miniature Fountain Grass - Burgundy Bunny: I can't wait to see how this grass turns to a rich burgundy shade later in the season.

PC Pixie Grape Pinot Meunier Hardy Vine: I'm curious to see how many grapes this dwarf grapevine will produce. Not enough to make wine, I'm sure, but hopefully enough to eat!

PC Might 'Mato: What I'm probably most curious about planting is the Mighty 'Mato, a grafted tomato plant that will likely grow to be taller than me. The one at the preview was enormous. I brought home three to try.

PC Shrimp Braid: I probably won't get one this year, but I'd be remiss if I didn't show this intriguing tropical plant. You can display it outdoors over the summer and then bring it inside come winter.

Poppy day

It’s almost Remembrance Day, and I’m slightly annoyed.
Excuse me while I grab my soapbox.
The Halloween sugar rush hadn’t even gotten up to full steam before I started seeing Christmas show up in the decor and on the shelves around town. What’s up with that? Remembrance Day has become the forgotten holiday, the little afterthought on the commercial calendar. I mean, it’s not even two weeks after the candy carnival, and there’s a full six weeks to brough-ha-ha over the mid-winter festival of your choice. Can’t we take a measly eleven days to focus on the lessons of history? To acknowledge the freedom we have to be over the top about pagan and religious observances? Maybe we don’t like to look death and war in the face. It’s not pleasant. But isn’t it important?
Okay, my soapbox is back under the bed. This week, after being inundated with leftover candy and resisting the premature onslaught of tinsel, I attended the pre-Remembrance Day ceremony held at my children’s school. I found myself appreciative of the respect shown there, but left wondering what I could do to more fully recognize the holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to add Remembrance Day to the list of commercialism casualties. But I wish I had a pot of Papaver rhoeas in my house right now.
They’re an agricultural weed in Europe, which is why they grew so readily on the graves of the dead in Flanders. Some enterprising soul could probably make a go at providing us live plants to go with our fake lapel pins, with the proceeds going to the Legion, or Unesco, or something.
There are many poppies out there, and I enjoy my Iceland poppies (Papaver nudicaule) in the summer. But I’m wishing for a little shot of the red ones right now to offset all the snow and help me remember Poppy Day. Maybe next year I’ll be thinking ahead and time it right to do it myself, but for now, I guess I’ll be content to pay my respects with a replica poppy, and all of my heart.

Pretty pots

I generally avoid container gardening. I am far too unpredictable in my habits (and memory) to consistently keep pots watered, fed and happy. And having so much available space, I’ve never felt pressed to plant in containers.

But I succumbed to temptation when I saw these lovely little things at IKEA this spring.

SKURAR Hanging planter IKEA

At $2.99 for the table-top version (4″), and $4.99 for the hanging one (5″), it was easy to justify 6 of the first and two of the second. I know, I know, I could have bought one nice big one for the same money, but would it have pretty lacey cutouts? Would it??

I’ve got a couple of them planted up for teacher gifts, and the rest are living in my front porch. They make me smile every time I see them, and I haven’t forgotten to water them… yet.

For the hanging pot, I tried a 'Blutopia' Bacopa, 'Peter's Gold' Carpet flower (Bidens ferulifolia), and a Silver Licorice vine (Helichrysum petiolare).

'Tycoon blue' Flossflower (Ageratum houstonianum), a not-yet-bloomed 'Mojave Tangerine' Purslane (Portulaca grandiflora) and a dwarf lemon try out my new IKEA pots. The lemon will likely need more space before long, but we'll see how it goes.

 

 

Previewing plants from President’s Choice

The annual President’s Choice Lawn & Garden Insider’s Report luncheon is a hot-ticket event for garden writers, because we get to turn our plots into trial gardens. This year, a room at the Toronto Botanical Garden was turned into a greenhouse so we could preview all the hot new plants that we’ll find at garden centres this spring. And let’s face it, most of us will make it to one of Loblaw’s parking lot nurseries at least once. Who doesn’t love buying a chicken, a Joe Fresh T-shirt and a dahlia or two in one shopping trip? Plus, I have to say their plants are always top-notch and affordable. I was able to chat with some of the growers, as well as listen to them tell the whole group of us about their breeding programs and their latest innovations.

Here are just a few of the plants I’m excited about. I’ll be including others in a “Hot plants for 2012″ piece premiering next week! Also premiering next week is the Lawn & Garden Insider’s Report. Keep an eye out for it in stores!

1. Haskap berries
To be honest, I had never heard of these little gems until Signe Langford wrote about them in her 2012 “new edibles to try” piece. Apparently they taste like a cross between a raspberry and a blueberry. Apparently you need two different varieties to get adequate pollination. I got ‘Indigo Gem’ and ‘Indigo Treat’. Excited to see how they grow–and to taste the berries!

Haskap berries

2. Brunnera Jack Frost
This will be one of my first purchases from the nursery this year. Named “perennial of the year” for 2012, brunneras are deer-resistant and shade-loving. This will be a perfect plant for the back of my lot where the tree canopy casts a giant shadow for most of the day, and where the deer enter the yard if they’re in the neighbourhood!

Brunnera 'Jack Frost'

3. Suncatcher Pink Lemonade Petunias
Last year it was the black petunia. This year, it’s all about pink lemonade. The colour on these blooms is just so unique and pretty, and they’ll contrast nicely with most other hues.

Suncatcher Pink Lemonade Petunia

4. Lanai Verbena Twister Pink
This pretty little number is so unique with its ring of miniature, two-toned blooms around a hollow centre. These will be fantastic for pots. I have a cone-shaped bamboo wall planter that I bought at the Ideal Home & Garden Show in Hamilton. I think one or two are destined to be included in it!

Lanai Verbena Twister Pink

5. PC Vegetables in a Cage
President’s Choice always has great edible plant offerings for both small and large spaces. A couple of years ago it was the upside-down, hanging tomato basket, last year it was the salad bowl garden. This year they’ve introduced vegetables all potted up with a cage around them. All you need to do is add water!

PC Vegetables in a Cage

The pre-autumn slump

I came home from vacation to find more than a bit of a mess in my garden. Three weeks of heat and a temperamental irrigation system meant that things didn’t get watered consistently and all the annuals are dead or flat-lining. I thought I’d gotten the weeds under control, but they were back, seeding their fool heads off. The peas were overripe, the broccoli bolting, the onions flowering. Sigh.

Half of me wants to start a flurry of work and get things ship-shape again (or finally, depending on your perspective), and the other half of me wants (gasp) winter to show up early to hide all my sins, and just start again next spring. (If the “s” word starts falling in the next 48 hours, I guess you can blame it on me.) I’ve spent the week trying to catch back up. Some things have gotten done, but the list is getting longer instead of shorter thanks to the fall chores starting to arrive.

I thought I’d cheer myself up by planting some trees. A neighbor gave us some seedlings he cleaned out of his windbreak: three maples, two ash, and a random crab apple. I got four in the ground, watered and mulched, and then it started raining. While out there, I also realized that four trees at the very back of our property which we were told were baby Manitoba maples when we put them in 6 years ago, aren’t maples at all. They’re ash trees. I’d taken some one’s word and never looked closely again until now.

I feel like an idiot.

And my garden is a mess.

And it’s raining. Okay, that’s actually kind of good, just not what I was hoping for…

Maybe things aren’t that bad. It’s just days like this that make me think I’m a better writer than I am a gardener. At least, I hope I am.

Wow. I’m sure I’ll get out of this funk when fall sets in properly; it’s this in-between that’s getting to me. Anyone want to join me at the greenhouse tomorrow to look at the pretties? Maybe I’ll choose some fall bloomers to disguise the travesties in my front yard. That should get me through until it’s dry enough to work again.

And please forgive me for even mentioning the season coming next.

I’m all about the pansies

I’m not a fan of annuals. Too much work, too much expense year in and year out. I have a few exceptions: cosmos, because it reseeds so readily I don’t have to think about it; calendula, because it’s calendula; and pansies (Viola × wittrockiana cvs.), because they are so early and so pretty.

There’s kind of a dead spot in my garden between the crocuses fading and the daffodils, tulips, and miniature irises blooming. In between, the only color is provided by the first dandelions. While this does mesh with the purple/yellow color scheme I’ve got developing in my front garden, some traditional pansies would perk up the yard in a much less weedy way.

Yesterday, I mentioned this to Chris and he came back from an appointment in town with two flats of pansies–enough to fill my new planters (see below) and tuck in around the still-waking-up plants. (He wasn’t in the doghouse, or anything, he’s just that great.) They’re just the spot of color I was looking for. I have neighbors who are yanking out Johnny-jump-ups constantly (the wild flower, commonly known as heartsease, from which pansies were cultivated), but if I had them volunteering, I don’t think I’d mind at all. I kind of hope these ones go wild and reseed. They make me smile, those little bearded faces, and remind me of a song I learned as a child:

Little purple pansies touched with yellow gold,

Growing in one corner of the garden old;

We are very tiny but must try, try, try,

Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

In whatever corner we may chance to grow,

Whether cold or warm the wind may ever blow,

Dark the day or sunny, we must try, try, try

Just one spot to gladden, you and I.

What can I add to that? Life just seems better with a smile on my face and pansies in the garden.

Let's hope she doesn't drown them with love... bonus points if you can identify the origin of my new planter!

My garden's report card: the annuals

In a recent column, Canadian Gardening magazine’s editor-at-large, Stephen Westcott-Gratton, wrote up a report card for his garden. The recent change in the weather from mild and pleasant to downright frosty has inspired me to reflect on what worked — and what didn’t — in my own garden.

Now I definitely need to practice my botanical photography, but here are some photos of my favourite plants this year. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to take a photo of some before they started going downhill, so those I’ve just listed at the bottom.

I planted my Picotree Cosmos around the edge of my vegetable garden to create a lovely, tall border behind my veggies. Now I suspect some of the seeds were carried off by the squirrels because I didn't end up with much of a border, but nonetheless, I'm very pleased with the fuchsia and delicate pink blooms that are still gracing my garden.

I planted my Picotree Cosmos around the edge of my vegetable garden to create a lovely, tall border behind my veggies. Now I suspect some of the seeds were carried off by the squirrels because I didn't end up with much of a border, but nonetheless, I'm very pleased with the fuchsia and delicate pink blooms that are still gracing my garden. Grade: A

Lantana from Home Depot

I bought this Lantana (a Lucky Red Hot) from Home Depot on a whim one weekend and it took over! You can see it shading my ornamental grass. But the flowers were lovely and it didn't require much water to survive in my dry, sunny front garden. Grade: A+

Other successes:

  • My herb garden. Most of my herbs came from the President’s Choice Lawn & Garden Centre at my local Loblaws and a PC event I attended. For the first time I used almost all my fresh herbs in my cooking (which is incredibly satisfying)… the only ones I didn’t use were my lemon thyme and my sage. Grade: A+ (I give my cilantro a D because both the plants started from seed and the plants that just appeared in my garden died)
  • My Red Antirrhinum majus Snapdragon. This one flowered on and off throughout the summer and was a little finicky, but well worth it for the gorgeous crimson blooms. Grade: B+
  • Kong Rose Coleus from Pape Garden Centre. This lovely plant drew my attention because of its lime green, fuchsia and purple foliage. I planted it beside an Irish moss I bought at Sheridan Nurseries. The squirrels carried away the moss, but left my lovely Coleus behind. Grade: A+
  • Begonias – I had a peach and a fuschia and both were gorgeous! Grade: A

The plot thickens

img_2889Of all the seasons, my grandmother loved spring the best. I’ve always been an autumn girl myself, but as I grow older I’m growing more partial toward spring as well. It’s a celebration of renewal; nature’s annual affirmation of faith in the future of this planet.

As you can see by this photo of a corner of my back garden taken this morning, everything is growing by leaps and bounds. Later in the season my patch will mostly be in shade, but I’ve learned to embrace this.

So what should you be planting right now? I’ve carefully put in a few more ferns and hostas, but cautious Clara here is keeping a watchful eye on other emerging perennials before I plant more stuff, because it’s oh-so-so easy to be over-hasty and dig up or damage plants that are simply slow to get started.

And personally, I never buy tender annuals until after Victoria Day, which is early this year. This week, Toronto has had some nippy nights with frost warnings, so I’ll likely wait awhile before I go shopping for my favourite tuberous begonias, which are such beautiful plants for shade. Use your judgment and don’t buy too early if it’s cold where you live.

A corner of my front woodland garden.

A corner of my front woodland garden.

But there’s absolutely no need to feel gardening-deprived. Because across much of the country this is the ideal time to put in perennials, shrubs, trees and evergreens; in fact, you really want to shop for those as early as possible for the best selection. One caveat–to optimize sales, perennials in nurseries and garden centres are often forced into full bloom out of their normal cycle. Keep this in mind when shopping. Once established, unless it’s an early spring perennial such as brunnera, it’s unlikely your plant will bloom at this time in your garden. Nor will all your plants bloom at once! It’s best to do a bit of research before you buy so you can plan for a sequence of bloom throughout the season. And once you’re at the nursery, choose perennials that are bushy and compact with strong stems and loads of growing points and buds, as opposed to tall and lanky and in full bloom.

It goes without saying that spring is a very busy time for garden centres. Once there, even super-organized gardeners with itemized lists are likely to be seduced by something fabulous and unexpected, but that’s part of the fun.

Aimg_28661s a master gardener, part of my commitment involves putting in a minimum of 30 volunteer hours a year. And there’s nothing nicer than doing that while being surrounded by top-quality plants. So in the past several weeks I’ve had the pleasure of advising gardeners at Islington Nurseries in the city’s west end, and helping at the Toronto Botanical Garden‘s plant sale, which was held last week. Paul Zammit, the new director of horticulture at the TBG, brought in some dandy plants. Some of the choicest specimens were scooped up by the mad keen plant nerds on Day One, but there was plenty from which to choose on Day Two as well, which is when I put in my shift. One of the biggest bargains there was this magnificent serviceberry clump, which I scooped up for my daughter’s garden. The price? Just $19.99. I should have bought more.

Good Ideas for Small Spaces

Every spring, Loblaw companies generously invites garden journalists from Toronto and southern Ontario to a luncheon and preview of their new President’s Choice plants, garden equipment, accessories and decor (to check where they’re available in your area, go to presidentschoice.ca). There are always some good ideas to take away, not to mention armloads of fabulous plants they give us plant piggies to trial at home.

This year, a couple of things struck me as being great for gardeners with limited space, such as a tiny urban lot or a balcony.

One of these is a President’s Choice clematis that offers two types in one pot. Developed by Britain’s famous Raymond Evison, it’s guaranteed for one year and sells for $24.99; mine combines wine-red Rebecca with periwinkle-blue Cezanne, both hardy to Zone 4. Double the colour punch, but takes up the same space as an ordinary clematis.

Another smart idea is a handsome, square planter of herbs. The one I picked up is ready-planted with sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley and chives–just the thing to pop on the back deck near my kitchen. (Or on your apartment balcony?)

img_2892However, my favourite item, shown here at the side of my house, is this compact, rectangular rain barrel. I bought it yesterday for $74.99 on sale at my local Loblaw store, and will hook it up to my downspout this week. I don’t have enough space for one of those huge round standard-sized rain barrels, but this is just the job, and will help keep rain away from the foundation of my house. The brown colour blends in with the brick of my house, but you could always paint it something else with one of the new paints that adhere to plastic, such as Krylon Fusion.

And of course, there’s nothing better than soft rain water for your plants.