{ Archive for the ‘bulbs’ Category }

May days and native plants

Amid the eye-catching blooms of springtime daffodils, hyacinths and tulips, some of our indigenous spring flowers tend to get overlooked. Many are classified as “spring ephemerals”, in that they grow, flower and set seed in their native forests and woodlands before deciduous trees have leafed out, casting them into deep shade for the rest of the growing season. Perhaps more subtle than Eurasian bulbs, they are certainly no less beautiful.

A good example of this is the great white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), which was adopted as the Floral Emblem of Ontario in 1937, seen here with native Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum, Zone 4) in the background.

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Spring fling

Spring is bustin’ out all over” …to mangle the Rodgers and Hammerstein song title ever so slightly. And after about a week of “normal” temperatures, everything seems to be popping out of the ground at the same time.

As if to prove it, a clump of our gorgeous native pasque flower (Pulsatilla patens, Zone 3)—native from Ontario to Yukon—is blooming at the same time as some neighbouring (squirrel-planted) broad-leaved grape hyacinths (Muscari latifolium, Zone 4) which are usually busy producing seed by the time the pasque flowers bloom.


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The first perennials to flower in spring

It’s always a neck-and-neck contest to see whether it will be the small spring bulbs (snowdrops, snow crocuses and winter aconites) or hellebores (Helleborus spp. and cvs.) that win the race to produce the first flowers of the new gardening season once the witchhazels have finished.

In my garden, the snowdrops won the cup this year, but when the white stuff finally melted, it revealed hellebore blossoms that had already partially opened under a thin, insulating layer of snow.

We often get mail at this time of year asking whether gardeners should remove the leathery overwintering leaves of hellebores, or leave them in place to die down naturally (as with daffodils and tulips). The answer is that it’s really a matter of personal taste. Some gardeners feel that the old foliage offers protection against spring frosts, while others say that the previous season’s leaves detract from the plant’s overall appearance.

You be the judge, here’s the “before snipping” picture of two separate clumps:

And here’s the hellebore on the right, several days later:


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Early spring blooms

Early spring is my favourite time of year. Gardeners across Canada are so starved for petals, that it’s always a thrill to see the first flowers emerging in our gardens. Most of us had to wait three or four weeks longer than usual this year, but the insulating snow cover protected our most precocious bloomers, who cheerfully thrust their flowers up through the cold soil the moment the snow had melted.

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The dangers of sending me to the hardware store

I’d just like to say at the outset that Chris is to blame.

He needed some more 1 1/2 inch screws for his current project. I was going into town. He asked me to pick some up for him. I agreed.

The trouble is, all the fasteners are towards the rear of our local Home Hardware, which means I have to walk past aisles and aisles of temptation in order to fill his request. I managed to ignore the racks of seed packets by the front door. I noticed, but did not stop to examine, the kitchen gadgets on special. I allowed my daughter to raid the paint swatches, as we are planning to fix her bedroom up this spring.

Triumph of triumphs, I got to the back of the store without picking up anything. I located the screws in question without incident. But on the return journey, there was birdseed. I mean, a lot of birdseed. Impressed at the varied selection I thought would only be found at a specialty store, how could I walk on? Such meticulous effort to feed our feathered friends must be applauded. Hence, a new suet feeder is hanging in our biggest spruce tree.

Suet brick holder, $1.99; Suet bricks, $4.97 for 3 (several varieties); both Home Hardware.

It would have stopped there, but I had to wait at the till for just a moment or two — long enough to notice that coir seed starter trays were on sale. And soil mix. And oh, that’s right, I should pick up some extra drainage trays. Two cracked on me last year, after all. And what’s this? Daffodil bulbs, just waiting for someone to force them for Easter? Why thank you, don’t mind if I do. They might not be ready by then, but need I repeat… daffodils.

After several weeks in the attic we'll have some buds!

Not the most grievous of financial infidelities, I know. But I was prepared for, and received, the eye rolling when I returned home with two shopping bags instead of a little plastic bin of hardware.

“Hey,” I said in defence, “Count your blessings. I could have come home with a new set of garden hoses. They were on the shelves.”

 

2-second garden tip: A trick to keep paperwhites upright

Today’s 2-second garden tip was first printed in the Winter 2006 issue of Canadian Gardening. It has been on the website ever since and every year I remind our readers of this clever trick. Here is a link to the original article that has a bit more info: Keep your paperwhites upright. And, here is our Pinterest-worthy tip:

2-second garden tip: Tucking in dahlia tubers

Today’s tip comes via garden writer Veronica Sliva. Veronica and I have known each other for a few years as members of the Garden Writers Association. In fact, Veronica was the regional director when we first met. We usually see each other throughout the spring and summer months at various gardening events, from Canada Blooms to the Toronto Botanical Garden’s annual Through the Garden Gate tour. That is, if Veronica is not off leading tours around the world for GardeningTours.com.

A prolific garden writer, Veronica creates columns and articles for both print and web (including CanadianGardening.com), as well as for her own website, A Gardener’s World.

Here is Veronica’s autumn-based 2-second tip:

‘Tis the season for holiday plants

With Remembrance Day behind us and Halloween firmly in the past, it is time for many of us to get into the full swing of all things Christmas.

I’ve got my poinsettia going, and my baby rosemary plants are putting on new growth. Now it’s time to try something else: forcing bulbs.

I’ve never grown an amaryllis or anything like that, but this year I thought I’d try paperwhites. I’m a die hard daffodil fan, so these cousins (Narcissus papyraceus) aren’t too far outside my comfort zone.

The little gift pack I stumbled across at Walmart for five bucks actually came with a pot and a disk of compressed coir, but many people plant the bulbs in a dish of water topped up with pebbles or marbles for stability. My kit says to plant them six weeks before you want blooms; most people on the Interweb say three weeks, so I’m doing it today and we’ll see.

I decided to ditch the coir and pot that came with the kit and do something prettier.

I put a shallow layer of stones in this (plastic-lined) dish, placed the bulbs, then covered them up to their "shoulders" in more stones and added just enough water to keep their bottoms wet.

I did find an intriguing tip for keeping blooming paperwhites from getting top-heavy –get them ever so slightly drunk. But as to why paperwhites are thought of as a Christmas flower, I couldn’t find any clues other than they bloom in December in warm climates. There doesn’t seem to be any special symbolism.

Poinsettias symbolized purity to the ancient Aztecs, and there’s the usual holly and ivy to represent eternity and resurrection. Evergreen trees fall into the same category. But amaryllis? Christmas Rose (Serissa or Helleborus, depending on who you ask)? Christmas cactus? We just seem to be looking for something alive and lovely in the dark winter months.

Fair enough. We were pretty excited when Chris got a zygocactus (Schlumbergera) blooming again.

Rosemary babies in the background!

At least, he’s the one who rescued the poor little guy. It was languishing in a corner after being relocated during the ever-present renovations, and he moved it to his studio where it gets bright, indirect light. He’s taking full credit for the transformation; I think he accidentally did exactly what it needed. 

But I’m not complaining. It’s pretty exciting to have so many things growing when there’s carols on the radio and four inches of snow.

Mystery tulip bulbs

In a hodge-podge corner of the front garden I have a bunch of different colored tulips. I’m still deciding what to do in this spot, so I’m content to let them go on doing their thing until I make up my mind, but I did decide quite a while ago one thing: I want to move the yellow ones over to where I’ve got some purple ones (I’m all about the complementary colors, you see.). Problem is, fall comes around, and I realize I have no idea where to dig to get the yellow tulips as opposed to the red or orange.

So this spring I was real smart. When the tulips bloomed, I reused the plant tags from the flats of pansies I bought to mark the bunches of yellow tulips so I could dig them up and move them this fall.
As in, now.
Well, I don’t know where those plant tags have gone, but they’re gone. I blame either children or hail.
Frustrated, I decided to dig anyway, trusting my memory (ha!) as to where the yellow ones had been. Approximately.

I found bulbs all right, but the question is, are they the right ones? Do I put them back and wait until next year to sort them out? Or do I take a chance and put them in their new home, and weed out any reds that might have slipped in?

I examined the bulbs carefully: no colour clue in the standard brown-covered cream. No little stamp on the outside stating the cultivar… oooo, wouldn’t that be handy? Or maybe little stickers like they use for produce in the grocery stores! There’s always a few of those persisting in the compost, so why wouldn’t they hold up to a few years in the ground? Somebody has got to look into the possibilities. I’m telling you, this could be a revolution in bulb management. Maybe not on the scale of the 1630′s, but it would change my little world.

Or maybe I’ll just stick em’ in the ground and cross my fingers.

 

Low-maintenance Monday: Allium ‘Schubertii’

The next long weekend may be in July, but the best fireworks this year come from the Allium ‘Schubertii’ in the garden. The purple flowers of this ornamental onion are showstoppers. Every gardener, blogger and writer eventually stumbles across the description of the large, globe-like flowers that are 15 cm in diameter. Visualize star-shaped, lilac-pink flowers that shoot out of the centre stem; a spherical shape comprised of hundreds of tiny flowers. Imagine a giant sparkler of a flower head caught in mid-bang with as many as 200 individual pink florets or a whimsical giant onion creating a spidery ball in bloom.

A Globemaster allium towers over the garden.

Many will agree that when it’s in bloom, any allium commands attention as it towers over the other plants in the garden. This particular allium will climb 60 cm on spindly stems and spread an amazing 30 cm. They make even more of a statement if grouped in clumps of three or more. And, they remind Sonia Leslie, one of the master gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock, of the stars and planets. She recommends these plus any and all alliums for a low-maintenance garden.

“These are members of the onion family, unappealing to squirrels or deer,” she says. Sonia assures us that you can’t go wrong with any allium as they last a long time in the garden and then the seed heads provide interest when they fade and dry. Allium bulbs are planted in the fall, bloom throughout spring and summer (depending on the variety), and then provide architectural interest throughout the fall and into the winter.

There are hundreds of varieties of alliums, from small to huge. Sonia recommends three varieties in particular to provide low, medium and tall heights and that provide blooms from spring until midsummer. They are: golden garlic allium (Allium moly ‘Golden Garlic’), giant allium (Allium giganteum), and, of course, our dramatic Schubertii allium (Allium ‘Schubertii’).

Allium ‘Schubertii’ is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

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