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

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.

Latin, shmatin. It’s pretty.

My garden is inherited from a wonderful woman named Margo. When we bought this place she toured me around and identified most of the plants growing here. Some she didn't know, several I've forgotten, as I had too much faith in my used-to-be-good memory and never wrote any of it down. Over the 8 years we've lived here I've stumbled into identifying most of them–none of them are anything really fancy (a clustered bellflower, a couple different sedums, an ornamental hops vine, some lupins). As a self-educated gardener, I feel I have progressed from that naive tourist to a middle-weight who can make a pretty good guess on many things.

 Happy bee on Mystercus planticus "Tall Yellow Stuff" with Echinacea looking on.

Happy bee on Mystercus planticus "Tall Yellow Stuff" with Echinacea looking on.

But escaping my casual attempts to name it is a tall, fluffy golden-flowered perennial, affectionately known as “the tall yellow stuff.” Every once in a while I've flipped through a few guidebooks and gone in circles on horrible plant identification websites. I have seen it growing here and there and have always asked the gardener in question if they knew what it was. Each answered with some variation of “don't know, it's always been there; I call it the tall yellow one.”

When I was in Slocan Valley, Uncle Heinz took us to a neighbor's garden. While touring Susan Appleby's beautiful yard (which really deserves its own post) I spotted the unknown plant again. She had already proved her mettle to me, and so I had high hopes she could solve my mystery. But: “Oh, I dunno, I just call it the tall yellow stuff. Been there for years.”

Dang.

Then, whilst going through old gardening magazines discarded from our local library (I glean them for information and ideas and collect the cuttings in a scrapbook/plan book) I found an article on sunflowers (Heliopsis, Helianthus, and Helenium all) and there it was! A picture of what looked a great deal like my tall yellow stuff!

This photo shows the immature blossoms as well as a full one, and the upper, single, leaves.

This photo shows the immature blossoms as well as a full one, and the upper, single, leaves.

`Flore Pleno` perennial sunflower, said the caption. I scanned the text for more and found a pretty accurate description of my John Doe. But, wouldn't you know it, even the venerable Patrick Lima wasn't completely sure of its identity.

The lower leaves. It splits in three at the left, and then the center part becomes three-lobed.

The lower leaves. It splits in three at the left, and then the center part becomes three-lobed.

My plant's leaves don't quite jive with most of the pictures I've been able to find, but it's hard to see detail and I've yet to find a description that goes into leaf shape and position. So I could be on the completely wrong track, but for the first time I have a little something to go on. Not that I'm overly worried about it. It would be kind of fun to nod sagely at some other gardener's question and grace them with my wisdom, but I'm not going for the championship in botany. I'm just curious. Those unknowns kind of pester me. But even if I never find its true identity, experience has taught me that if I call it “the tall yellow stuff,” most people pretty much know what I'm talking about anyway.

Can you identify my mystery plant? Do you know of a good plant identification website?

Purslane taste test

This morning while I was out weeding, I decided I'd set aside some purslane and try it with my lunch before serving it to my unsuspecting husband as I mentioned I would do in yesterday’s post. As I washed my weeds, I chewed a couple of leaves. I detected a hint of that lemony flavour John Kallas talks about in his book Edible Wild Plants. They tasted very similar to my mesclun mix that I planted this spring.

I added the ends of the stems and their leaves, which are supposed to be the sweetest, to a mixed greens salad with cherry tomatoes and my homemade balsamic vinaigrette. With all that company, I didn't really taste the purslane, but felt good knowing I was getting an extra dose of omega-3s.

An edible weed discovery

Out of all the weeds I have to pull, I didn’t realize I was composting a nutrient-dense super food. Purslane is a succulent with a reddish root and little shiny green leaves with more omega-3s than kale and lots of antioxidants. It also happens to love my yard. Apparently purslane is very popular in the Mediterranean, but here in North America we haven’t quite gotten used to eating this weed that likes to pop up in dry places like sidewalk cracks. After reading the chapter on purslane that we’ve excerpted on the site from the book Edible Wild Plants by John Kallas, I pointed out the weed to my husband. He seemed a little dubious about eating something that doesn’t come from the boundaries of our vegetable garden, but I might sneak it into a salad this week. Shh, don’t tell!

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