{ Archive for the ‘native plants and wildflowers’ Category }

Join Canadian Gardening at the 2014 Toronto Flower Market!

The Toronto Flower Market returns to the city this Saturday, May 10. Debuting at its new location in the heart of Queen West (1056 Queen St. W. between Ossington and Dovercourt), this outdoor flower and plant market brings stalls of bright blooms to the city just in time for Mother’s Day.

{Illustration by Courtney Wotherspoon}

To help celebrate the start of its 2014 season, Canadian Gardening will be participating in the festivities and we’re inviting you to join, too!
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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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Ever heard of a huckleberry?

Other than the famous Finn, I had never heard of a huckleberry until I moved to southern Alberta. Apparently it’s an appellation given to many small fruits, Solanum melanocerasum (garden huckleberry) being one of the more common (a cousin to tomatoes and potatoes). However, if you hear ‘huckleberry’ around these parts, chances are it’s not the nightshade that’s being referred to, but one of the Vaccinium species which grow wild here.

I had not so much as even tasted a huckleberry when my friend Tina invited me to come picking with her at the Castle Mountain Huckleberry Festival. Yes, an entire festival for huckleberries. I had no idea.

They look a lot like blueberries, but taste more like a saskatoon. (And you need to know what those are too.)

It’s held at the local ski hill, with music, food, the whole deal. They even sell lift tickets so you can pick from the top of the mountain all the way down.

Say hi Tina! The reddish foliage you can see are the huckleberry bushes.

Part of our haul. We baked them up in a fruit crisp, which disappeared too quickly for me to take pictures.

We heard from other more seasoned pickers that the crop was not as plentiful this year as most, but we still had a good time. It’s got me thinking about growing some Solanum melanocerasum to see how they compare, and so I could have them right here without the trip and the hike. But at the same time, isn’t the hunt part of the fun?

 

 

The war on weeds: goat’s beard

My dad was over this morning, helping Chris in the garage, and he asked me, “What is that pretty yellow flower you’ve got growing along the driveway? Can I pick some to take home to Mom?”

Much to my dismay, the plant in question will never win me any florist’s contracts, despite Dad’s favour.

It is Tragopogon dubius, otherwise known as goat’s beard (or sometimes yellow salsify or oysterplant) and it is a nasty, tap-rooted, fluffy-seeded nuisance.

Not to be confused with Aruncus dioicus, a tall, bushy perennial which bears the same moniker, the goat’s beard in question is not a garden desirable.

The plant also known as goat's beard.

A Eurasian import, goat’s beard has naturalized through much of North America thanks to a dandelionish habit: downy parachutes taking its seeds hither and yon. Apparently, as the dandelion, the roots can be eaten in various ways, but around here its only destiny is the garbage can. Except for the ones Dad did take home for mom.

I’ve got nothing against wildflowers here, I quite enjoy them. It’s just that it’s kind of depressing to be working hard babying the baptisia, lilies, and peonies, nurturing the young trees, keeping all (all, all) the grass mowed, and to have it go unacknowledged, unmentioned, while the attention goes to this runty little upstart.

My oldest scolds this naughty plant for stealing the spotlight.

 

 

 

Low-maintenance Monday: Speedwell

It is almost impossible to pass by a garden and not notice the showy, violet-blue flowers of Speedwell, especially when offset by yellow Black-eyed Susans. It is a showstopper. The dramatic ‘Sunny Border Blue’ Speedwell has violet-blue spiked flowers on emerald green, textured foliage. The colours are long lasting, from mid-summer until late summer or early fall. They make an artistic statement when mass planted.

Master gardener Kim Price, award-winning designer of Kim Price Landscape Design Inc., chose this native plant as one of her favourites for the sun in Gardening from a Hammock. She appreciates the tidy plants as spikes of blue flowers rise above compact mounds of foliage. She explains that although the tall flower has spikes with lots of blue blooms, it stands erect and can withstand dry conditions.

This variety grows 30 to 45 cm high and wide in zones three to nine and can grow even taller in ideal situations. Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials.

This low-maintenance plant is a workhorse: it can serve as an accent in the garden or as edging in sun or part shade. As well, it is ideal in cottage or meadow gardens and attracts butterflies and bees.

Consider planting it with yellow flowers for contrast such as Rudbekia (Black-eyed Susan), the yellow lily Hemerocallis ‘Stella de Oro’ or Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ (tickseed).

Speedwell 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.

The war on weeds: Hairy nightshade

Cleaning up after our carrot pulling, I found these lovely presents sitting in the soil.

Obviously the seeds of somebody plotting the downfall of next year’s garden adventures. They must be stopped!

A little digging and I found the culprit:

The dirty little sneak in question turns out to be Solanum sarrachoides: an annual weed in the same family as potatoes, commonly known as hairy nightshade. It only propagates by seed, luckily, although once I started looking, there were more little green orbs winking up at me than I was ready to live with. I don’t know if they’re mature enough to germinate (the full-grown berries are brownish coloured) but I’m in no mood to be lenient.

This is where kids come in real handy. I convinced my five-year-old that these little fruits were a favourite food of fairies and sprites, and gave her a bucket. Twenty minutes later, she had gathered a surprising number of berries and was busy making a fairy feast (over on the concrete, where it will be easy to stage a Santa’s cookies-style cleanup).

She’s entertained for a good hour, I’m freed of the pesky seeds in the garden, the fairies get fed; everybody wins.

 

 

Garden eye spy: Marvellous mushrooms

In the first ‘Garden eye spy‘ photo post, I mentioned how gardens always seemed magical to me as a little girl. So when I happened upon this sweet little mushroom standing bravely by itself on the side of a busy road, that sense of mystery once again came rushing back.

Photo by Laura L. Benn

Thoughts of Alice in Wonderland danced through my head as I set to work photographing this magnificent plant that looks like it grew straight out of a fairytale. Wild mushrooms always appear to be bursting with character and become lovely features in a garden space, don’t you think?

{Laura L. Benn is the Multi-brand Web Content Editor at TC Media.  Follow her writing, photography and other creative ventures on her blog, Acquired Taste or via Twitter.}

In which I solve the mystery of the yellow water lily without much detective work

At the end of June, I took a little trip to Whistler where I visited various gardens and growers (stay tuned for more articles and blogs). As per usual when I travel west, my eyes popped open at about 5 a.m. as I was still on Toronto time. I remembered that Nita Lake Lodge, where I was staying, offers free bike rentals to guests. So, I headed downstairs, grabbed a bike and took a little jaunt along the Valley Trail before breakfast. I didn’t see much in the way of gardens as I was mostly pedalling through forest, but I did happen along a few of these amazing yellow water lilies (that’s what I called them at the time). I crouched there for awhile, not just to take a picture, but to marvel at how different they were. Each flower was like a little tea light holder with a matching yellow candle in the centre. I didn’t really think about these little gems again until I was flipping through some back issues of Canadian Gardening magazine yesterday. Lo and behold, I was able to ID my flower!

Yellow Pond Lily

I wasn’t far off with the name. According to the June/July 2002 issue, I spotted a Yellow Pond Lily. Here’s what was written about it:

Ponds, marshes, quiet streams and lakes from Newfoundland to the Yukon are home to the yellow pond lily (Nuphar variegata). Blooming between June and September, the four- to 6.5-centimetre, bright yellow blossoms are highly visible. Large, heart-shaped leaves, 38 centimetres in length, are produced from thick rhizomes, which are a favourite food source of moose, muskrat and beavers. Zone 2.

Mystery solved!

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!

A colourful nesting box for bees

After the recent Garden Writers Association luncheon at Canada Blooms, I came home with new books to read, new products to try and new plants and seeds to plant. However one of the items I was most excited about was this:


Except mine is pink and white. The reason I’m excited about it is a few weeks ago I watched a documentary called The Vanishing of the Bees at the Evergreen Brickworks. It was followed by a panel discussion by three bee experts. I had a great chat afterwards with J. Scott MacIvor, a PhD student studying wild bees. He’s set up nest boxes like this one all over the city so that he can monitor wild bees for a research project. Because I’m moving, I couldn’t really commit to being part of the project, but I’m excited to put this little guy in the garden where I end up. The pollen bee nest shown here is available at Armstrong & Blackbury Horticultural Products. The website explains quite thoroughly how to put it in your garden and maintain it.

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