{ Archive for the ‘perennials’ Category }

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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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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Beautiful blooms at the Toronto Flower Market

The Toronto Flower Market returned to the city this past Saturday, May 10. From beautiful bouquets of locally grown tulips and potted campanulas to mini phalaenopsis and succulents, there was lots to see and buy! With so many beautiful blooms on display, I thought I would share a few of my favourites.

{Potted campanulas, Tony’s Floral Distribution}

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Follow Friday: Fashion Illustrator Grace Ciao

Like any other instagram-aholic, I love finding new and creative accounts to follow. So, when I came across a talented fashion illustrator and her unique use for beautiful blooms, I immediately hit “follow” (and you should, too!).

Toga Jumpsuit
{Image: Grace Ciao}

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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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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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Bookworm: Five-Plant Gardens by Nancy J. Ondra

If you’re a gardening newbie and haven’t a clue where to start, pick up Nancy J. Ondra’s Five Plant Gardens: 52 Ways to Grow a Perennial Garden with Just Five Plants. Gardening expert Ondra provides 52 easy-to-execute garden plans, each using five well-considered plants that grow nicely together.

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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:

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?
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!

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!



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