{ Archive for the ‘perennials’ Category }

Comfrey: garden superhero

I was given a big hunk of comfrey a couple of years ago by a friend who is an encyclopedia of medicinal plant knowledge. I never used it for the compresses or tea she recommended (sorry, Connie) and, as it is a rather bulky thing, I was tempted to get rid of it. I’d heard people complain about it spreading too, and wondered if I was better off without it.

That is, until I learned about some of its other uses, and its reputation as a nurse plant:

 

*Comfrey has an incredibly long tap root, and as such, gets down deep to all the nutrients int he soil that other plants simply can’t reach. It stores all this nutrition in its proliferous leaves. The wise gardener need only “chop and drop” the comfrey a few times a season, spreading the cut stems and leaves around the base of any and all plants as an all-in-one mulch/fertilizer.

*Comfrey draws beneficial bacteria and earthworms to its root.

*Comfrey is great to plant under fruit trees as it does not compete with the trees roots, but competes with other plants that would; it also draws pollinators.

*Cuttings of comfrey are excellent for kickstarting your compost.

*It can also be used for animal fodder.

As far as the issue of spreading, it seems the worst danger comes from cutting the roots, so no tilling for me. On the whole, I have the space and it’s earning its keep, so the comfrey is staying.

 

 

 

 

My patience pays off

Several years ago I fell in love with Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) when I read a magazine article about it. It was just the sort of sunny-plot, mid-height perennial I was looking for. When I redesigned my front garden four years ago, I put some in.

And waited.

Every year I watched it, to see if it would bloom. The foliage is similar to its cousin peas, and many times I was fooled into thinking the folding out leaves were flowers emerging.

But no, it has remained a non-descript bushy greenness though each growing season. One of my kids almost pulled it up, thinking it was an overgrown alfalfa.

I was beginning to think I had dreamt the images I had in my mind of what this plant was to become. I was this close to giving up on it, but thought I would email an expert at the Calgary Horticultural Society first. After all, maybe I was unknowingly undermining its success somehow:

Hi,
I bought a couple of False Indigo (Baptisia Australis) four years ago.
Every year they come up nicely, seem happy and vigorous, but they have yet
to flower, and don’t seem to be gaining any size. Looking over the plant
tag I saved, it indicates a height of 3-4 feet and mine have never been
more than 18 inches-2 ft tall. They are in full sun (some late afternoon
shade), and well protected from wind.
I have never fertilized them, but spread sheep manure and home compost
twice a year.
Any ideas for improving their performance?
Thanks
April Demes

 

I got this lovely reply this morning:

Hi, April,Thank you for your question!

Baptisia australis is extremely slow growing. It makes up for this by the
fact that it can live several decades if undisturbed.  (It has a long tap
root that makes transplanting and division difficult to do without harming
the plant).  It rarely blooms until 2 or 3 years after planting, and it
doesn’t typically reach its mature height until it is at least 3 years
old.  It sounds as if you’re doing all the right cultural things and that
you’ve planted it in the perfect spot.  If it is happy and healthy there,
then just wait it out – I’m sure you’ll be rewarded soon!  They are
definitely beautiful plants!

I hope this helps!  Happy gardening!

Sheryl
Editorial Team, Calgary Gardening
Calgary, Alberta
Calgary Horticultural Society - www.calhort.org
Find my blog Flowery Prose at www.floweryprose.com

 

The irony is, I went to check on my Baptisia just this morning, and look what I found:

See those little guys, almost looking like stalks of grain? Never seen those before. I think we’re in for some flowers this year!

Finally!

 

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.

Low-maintenance Monday: Creeping Japanese sedge

Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’, a low-growing, ornamental, variegated sedge is selected as one of the top ten low-maintenance plants by the illustrious gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock.

What makes it such a favourite?

The creeping Japanese sedge grows 20 to 30 cm and spreads between 30 to 45 cm in zones 5 to 9. It is a slow-spreading perennial with grass-like, arching stems covered with forest-green leaves trimmed in bright white or cream. It is grown for its foliage and for its ability to complement other plants.

Garden designer Kim Price of Kim Price Landscape Design Inc. likes it because it handles half sun or shade and flowers from June through July. “The variegated green and cream leaves provide interest throughout the season,” she says.

Creeping Japanese sedge can be used for an accent, border edging or groundcover. It also is a valuable addition to a woodland garden, in mass planting or in containers. Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials.

The creeping Japanese sedge ‘Ice Dance’ is as “fresh and green in January as it is in August,” says Jeff Mason who runs Mason House Gardens in Uxbridge, Ontario. “It looks like someone took a bunch of spider plants and plunked them in the ground.” This sedge spreads but is not invasive. It has white, creamy variegation with a relatively fine texture.

Aldona Satterthwaite, executive director of the Toronto Botanical Garden uses it to fashion a dramatic silver and white palette in her garden. She combines ‘Ice Dance’ sedge, lamium ‘White Nancy’ and variegated Solomon’s seal under an old silver-edged dogwood. She explains that the leaves of the sedge are trimmed in bright white, while the lamium has silver leaves with white flowers.

Creeping Japanese sedge 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.

Low-maintenance Monday: Giant goat’s beard

There is drama and there is high drama. Aruncus diocus or giant goat’s beard is high drama, looming up to 180 cm, bearing creamy-white plumes that rise above the dark foliage and brightening up the shady garden. Susan Lipchak, one of the master gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock, suggested both the giant Aruncus diocus and the smaller Aruncus dioicus ‘Kneiffi’, cutleaf goat’s beard, for the shade. “The Aruncus diocus is a dramatically bold plant because of its size – it looks like a giant astilbe,” says Susan. It holds its own beside a giant clump of tall grasses in her garden. This perennial stands between 120 to 180 cm and is spectacular in flower with its creamy white plumes and lacy leaves. It eventually forms a dense clump. The ‘Kneiffii’ variety is smaller, but still stands 90 cm and has finely cut leaves, which would suit a smaller garden.

This hardy perennial complements summer-blooming shrub roses, brunnera, ferns and hostas. Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials.

The giant goat’s beard is ideal for the back of a shady border or beside a pond. It needs room, as it will spread between 90 and 150 cm. Expect a strong statement from the creamy-white flowers June through July. Where the giant goat’s beard would be too large, the more compact cutleaf goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus ‘Kneiffii’) would provide the impact without the height. It is smaller at 75 to 90 cm high, but with the same spread.  It has finely cut leaves similar to a Japanese maple with creamy-white flowers June through July.

As an interesting aside, the male flowers produce showier and more erect plumes (I am not making this up) than do the plants with female flowers.

To get new plants, divide clumps in spring or fall, but be aware they do not like being moved.

Giant goat’s beard 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.

Low-maintenance Monday: Ligularia

It is difficult enough to find a plant that provides colour in the shady garden, but add the challenge of a bog or very moist soil, and you have your work cut out for you.

Let us introduce you to Ligularia. The Latin word ligularis or ligulatus translates as like a strap. It also translates more loosely to little tongue, referring to the tongue-like shape and linear nature of its petals. Ligularia is native to China and Japan, and grows in moist woodland areas along ponds and streams.

If planted in similar conditions, Ligularia will prove how happy it is by providing tall sprays of yellow flowers waving from strong stems. Since they are tall, they look best in the back of shady beds or at the edge of water gardens.

There are many species of Ligularia that provide architectural detail, colour and foliage including purple, burgundy and green. The two varieties of Ligularia that master Gardener Kim Price has selected for Gardening from a Hammock are Ligularia ‘Little Rocket’ and Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’.

Little Rocket’ (which isn’t so little) produces tall spikes of bright yellow flowers in midsummer, with some of the flower spikes 30 cm tall on top of the existing 90 cm plant. It grows in a clump of large, jagged green leaves with purplish-black stems.

These varieties of Ligularia complement one another. ‘Little Rocket’ (which isn’t so little) produces tall spikes of bright yellow flowers in midsummer, with some of the flower spikes 30 cm tall on top of the existing 90 cm plant. It grows in a clump of large, jagged green leaves with purplish-black stems.

The ‘Desdemona’ variety has purple colour on the underside of its leaf. Kim prefers them as focal point plants because their leaves are large and the rocket flower spikes catch the eye.

All Ligularia are ideal for the shady, moist garden. They can be used in many ways: as an accent, cut flower, a specimen, or to illuminate woodlands or ponds. It also attracts butterflies.

Ligularia 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.

Low-maintenance Monday: The blanket flower

Orange is currently a hot colour: orange jeans, tops, shoes and coats—bold, cheerful and friendly. That defines the orange in Gaillardia ‘Oranges and Lemons’.

Also known as blanket flowers, they are super-tough, perfect for benign neglect in heat and drought, and will tolerate poor soil. The daisy-like, tangerine-orange flowers call out for attention with their yellow serrated tips. Downy green leaves have a hairy texture. One of the most valuable features of this cheery plant is its long bloom, from early summer to late fall.

Blanket flowers make a vibrant cut flower. They attract butterflies and can be used in meadow gardens, massed in a border or as an accent. Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials.

Dugald Cameron, owner of gardenimport.com, selected the variety ‘Oranges and Lemons’ as one of his plant choices for the sun in Gardening from a Hammock. This plant provides a show of up to 75 extra-large, yellow-tipped, soft orange blossoms from midsummer on, he explains. If you do a little deadheading, Dugald predicts, they will bloom into the fall. This is a prairie native workhorse that thrives in poor, well-drained soil in the baking sun.

‘Oranges and Lemons’ grow 40 to 45 cm high and spread 30 to 45 cm in zones 4 to 9.  Other varieties come in warm colours of red, orange and gold and may be slightly smaller or larger.

Gaillardia ‘Oranges and Lemons’ 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.

Rescuing garden centre orphans

The height of summer hits and it’s inevitable: heat ravaged, root bound annuals get deeply slashed price tags. And I, being me, can’t help but take a quick gander through the rows of pallets and flats at the local big box.

This year I scored: a few weeks ago two plants from my wish list, wood forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) and an all-yellow Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule ‘Pacino’), were languishing away hidden among the dried-out grasses, begging me to take them home for a buck a piece. How could I refuse?

Back home though, reality set in. How would I keep this poor things from going even further downhill when I added transplant stress and a heat wave to their list of complaints?

Well, they lived for me to tell the tale, so I’ll tell you what I did: after transplanting them I top dressed them with a couple handfuls each of worm compost and watered them in well. Then, for about the first week, in addition to keeping them watered, I covered them with milk crates I have kicking around.

This is a trick taught to me by an old friend, now gone. It keeps the airflow at maximum while keeping the transplants in the shade while they get the feel of their new home, and is heavy enough that it doesn’t blow away like a cardboard box might.

After that first week, I took the crates on and off randomly for a few days to expose the plants gradually to the sun. They’ve been unprotected (but still watered well) now for a good five days and here they are:

 

 

They need a little clean up, but lots of happy growth going on. I’d call this rescue successful… do you think it counteracts the sow thistle I can’t seem to catch up with?

 

Low-maintenance Monday: The toad lily

Although it looks as if it could have been Photoshopped for a sci-fi cartoon, the toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta) actually comes from moist woodlands and high elevations from Eastern Asia to the Philippines. Its unfortunate common name, the toad lily, refers to the frog-like blotches and markings on the flowers. This is misleading, since the bright purple markings on the flower are intriguing rather than toad-like. The funnel-shaped white flowers are spotted with vibrant purple spots with matching centres. The stems are leafy and arching.


Despite their exotic look, toad lilies are easy to grow. What makes them a special perennial is not only the bright, unique flowers, but also their ability to bloom in shade from late summer to early fall. Not too many plants provide bright colour in the shade this late in the season.

The toad lily grows 60 to 90 cm high and 45 to 60 cm wide in zones 4 through 9. They can be used as an accent, a cut flower or in a woodland garden. Gardeners note that Tricyrtis hirta should be planted where they can easily be seen.

Master gardener Merle Burston chose the specific variety Tricyrtis hirta ‘Miyazaki’ in Gardening from a Hammock. “The starry, burgundy-spotted white flowers of the toad lily bloom down its stem in autumn,” she explains.

‘Miyazaki’ is a slightly smaller variety, 45 to 60 cm high, with a 45 to 60 cm spread. It grows in a compact green mound. 

The flowers of the toad lily have both male and female organs and are pollinated by insects. The clumps can be divided in early spring.

Tricyrtis hirta 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.

Low-maintenance Monday: Purple coneflower

When I was so much younger than today, I used to jump into projects two feet forward, head a little behind.  The purple coneflowers that are rising so regally in this hot, dry summer remind me of one of those days. The purple coneflower, or echinacea purpurea, was one of the few hardy, robust, blooming plants in my small, neglected garden when I read an article about how powerful the it is at boosting the immune system. Ever the Earth Mother, I dug up a giant clump and took the roots for a tonic. I followed the recipe and let the roots sit in an alcohol-based concoction for six months, after which I drained the liquid. The only problem was that none of my children or my husband would go near the muddy, foul-smelling tonic. Only later did I learn how to properly wash and cut up the roots.

Medicinal lore is only one of the reasons that the purple coneflower is one of our most popular native wildflowers. It gives in so many ways. Drought tolerant, it provides a show during hot, dry summers and blooms longer than most perennials, from summer through autumn. It can be used as an accent or a cut flower.

The purple coneflower is ideal for the middle or back border as it grows from 75 to 120 cm tall and spreads 45 to 60 cm wide anywhere from zones 3 to 9.  The purple, daisy-like flowers rest on coarse dark green leaves with an orange-brown central cone. The Latin name, echinacea comes from the Greek echinos, meaning hedgehog as the flowering heads are cone shaped. Petals often droop down in a graceful pattern.

Master Gardener Susan Lipchak, one of the many gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock, explains that there are now many hybrids of Echinacea available in orange, pink, yellow, white and lime green, and different flower shapes, but she prefers the tried and true native.

Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials

Bees and butterflies are attracted to the Echinacea purpurea, and the seed heads are attractive to American goldfinches during the fall and winter. “The sight of snow capping the seed heads during the winter is an unexpected bonus,” she says.

Aldona Satterthwaite, executive director at the Toronto Botanical Garden, also selected Echinacea purpurea, but the ‘Vintage Wine’ cultivar. This species has large purple-red flowers with a reddish-brown centre cone and non-drooping petals.

Echinacea purpurea 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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