{ Archive for the ‘maintenance and techniques’ Category }

Four more early summer bridging plants

I’ve been looking back at some of the garden pictures I’ve taken over the past month or so, and in particular at the plants and shrubs that bloom after the spring glut, but before main season summer-flowering species take over during the hottest part of the year. These are useful “bridging plants” that prevent flower beds from looking empty as one season gives way to another.

In fact, they’re so useful for maintaining a steady stream of flowers that I intend to bulk up my stocks for next year, beginning with Mayapples:

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Taking over nicely from springtime hepaticas, trilliums and Jack-in-the-pulpits are our native Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum, Zone 4) which produce fragrant white blooms underneath their leafy green “umbrellas.” I grow them in full shade in moist, humus-rich soil where they spend the summer with various ferns and monkshoods; dryer soils will result in plants going dormant in midsummer. Spreading slowly via underground rhizomes (or stems), any unwanted plants are easy to pull out.

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Living Mulches: Two Great Groundcovers for Shade

One of my favourite groundcovers for shade is sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum, Zone 3) which spreads slowly but surely via short underground rhizomes. It bears fragrant cymes of star-shaped white flowers for several weeks in early summer, and while its spread may be indefinite, it rarely grows taller than 10 centimetres. Even when not in flower, sweet woodruff remains attractive with its circular whorls of leaves that hug the ground and provide the perfect backdrop for larger plants.

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Transitioning from late spring to early summer

It’s with a certain sadness that I bid adieu to the last daffodils to bloom in my garden. Known botanically as Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus (Zone 4), they bear flowers with small, red-rimmed golden cups (or coronas) that are surrounded by pure white recurved petals (known as perianth segments). Native to Switzerland and commonly called “old pheasant’s eye”, their blossoms are deliciously fragrant, and a perfect example of a genus going out with a bang rather than a whimper.

Apart from Switzerland, one of the best places to see old pheasant’s eye growing wild is in northern England, up to the Scottish Borders where—in a climate not unlike that of their homeland—they have naturalised over hundreds of years, and now cover entire hillsides. All you have to do is follow your nose, as you’re likely to smell their sweet scent before actually clapping eyes on their breathtaking flowers en masse. They’ll naturalise in Canada too (albeit more slowly), providing you let them set seed and allow their leaves to mature.

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Happy National Gardening Exercise Day!

Did you know that June 6 is National Gardening Exercise Day (NGED). Not only is gardening a great way to relax and unwind, it also builds muscle and burns calories!


You might not realize the amount of good exercise you can get while working outside in your garden; container gardening, weeding, lawn care, pruning and preparing planting beds are just some of the many ways you’re staying healthy and active while outside.

In celebration of NGED, here are some great tips for staying healthy while in the garden.

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National Sun Awareness Week

After what felt like an eternity of cold winter weather, the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and we can all get back out into the garden.

Whether you’re building raised flowerbeds, mowing the lawn or simply enjoying afternoons on the patio, we can’t forget the importance of summer suncare – and what better way to remind us than the Canadian Dermatology Association’s annual, nationwide Sun Awareness Week.

Before heading outside to enjoy the warm weather, here are a few helpful tips you should remember.
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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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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:

2-second garden tip: Add a peony hoop now

The second 2-second garden tip in our new Pinterest series comes from Amy Andrychowicz who writes the Get Busy Gardening blog. Amy and I met and hung out at the annual Garden Writers Association Symposium this past summer in Quebec City. What really impressed me about Amy is that for her day job she is a software developer, yet she has devoted what I’m guessing is a lot of spare time (and passion) to create gorgeous gardens around her Minneapolis, Minnesota home (USDA zone 4b!). She also finds the time to regularly update her blog with lots of great gardening tips. Now that winter is coming, Amy will be turning her attention to her indoor garden. Apparently she has a big collection of houseplants, succulents and tropical plants.

I have to admit, I first saw this tip on the Get Busy Gardening Facebook fan page. I asked Amy if she would mind if I turned it into a 2-second garden tip, which she happily agreed to. Voilà!

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