{ Archive for the ‘perennials’ Category }

Low-maintenance Monday: Solomon’s seal

“Solomon’s seal is one of those spring plants that make your heart beat faster,” Aldona Satterthwaite says about the perennial plant whose arching leaf and white drooping flowers signal spring. A master gardener, Aldona is executive director of the Toronto Botanical Garden and knows of what she speaks.

Fellow master gardener Belinda Gallagher of Hooked on Horticulture, agrees. “Solomon’s seal is my favourite plant of all times–today,” she says. “It takes dry shade, and is very elegant and graceful. I love the flowers, but particularly the arching shape of the stems. They emerge like sea serpents from the ground in the spring.” The native Solomon’s seal grows 60 to 70 cm both in height and width and grows well in a dry, shady spot from zones 3 to 9.

Solomon's seal adds grace to the garden. It can be featured as an accent or woodland plant, or used as a cut flower.

Delicate, white bell-like flowers hang from gracefully arching stems in late spring. The small flowers are self-cleaning and will drop off naturally. The foliage remains attractive all season, so the plant is virtually maintenance free. The stems even disconnect from the rhizomes on their own after a frost. But before that, the foliage turns a golden yellow.

Belinda explains that Solomon’s seal is usually misnamed in garden centres. The native and non-native (mainly from Asia) are often mixed together. “I like them all,” she says. “The variegated ones are wonderful, but take a longer time to mature and bulk up so people may be disappointed.”

To me that is a good thing, since that means they are less invasive in the garden. The variegated Solomon’s seal is my favourite, since its arching stems of green leaves are edged in white, brightening the shade. They are scented, which is an additional gift.

Note: The other recommended varieties of polygonatum in Gardening from a Hammock may not grow as quickly as the native species, but are valuable additions to any shade garden. Check out Giant Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum), which makes a statement in any garden as it grows from 90 to 120 cm high.

Solomon’s seal 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: Crocosmia

Have you ever been to a party where a beauty in red catches every eye in the room? In your garden, that beauty would be crocosmia. Devilishly beautiful, this perennial is aptly called ‘Lucifer’, familiarly known as crocosmia or montbretia.

“Crocosmia is the reddest of the reds,” says Frank Kershaw, horticultural teacher and one of the expert gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock. Frank uses this tall, dramatic plant as an accent against a green cedar background in his garden. The plant is 90 to120 cm high and spreads 30 to 60 cm.

Crocosmia can be used as an accent, border, or specimen plant. It also makes an outstanding cut flower. ~ Image courtesy of Marilyn Cornwell

Crocosmia forms clumps of deep-green, sword-shaped leaves with wiry, gracefully arched stems holding up spikes of brilliant flame-red flowers. Frank and his wife enjoy watching the hummingbirds that are attracted to the flame-red flowers in late summer and fall. These plants are most dramatic when planted in clumps.

Master Gardener Sonia Leslie also recommends crocosmia for the sunny garden, but a different variety: (Crocosmia x crocosmiflora). This crocosmia is very hardy with long, pale-green strap-like leaves, and branching stems that grow in a zigzag fashion.

Its showy orange and yellow flowers spread to make sturdy clumps of colour in late August and September. Each flower is about 5 cm across and the nodding cluster can be several centimetres long. Crocosmia dies back to the ground in winter in zones six to nine, only to regrow from its circular, flattened corms in spring. This variety of crocosmia is a little smaller, 50 to 60 cm, with paler green leaves and showy orange or yellow nodding flowers on slender, arching, zigzag spikes in late summer.

Crocosmia 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: Epimedium

The Rodney Dangerfield of plants, Epimedium, commonly called barrenwort or bishop’s hat, doesn’t get the respect it deserves. This underused plant is a superhero in the shady garden, providing colour and texture where few plants dare to go. Eight of the 17 expert gardeners interviewed in Gardening from a Hammock selected various forms of barrenwort for the shade garden. Although this perennial looks delicate, it is “tough as nails” says one.

It is a dependable, no-nonsense groundcover says garden lecturer Frank Kershaw. “It takes sun in the rockery and shade in the woodland and keeps its leaves into winter.” He adds that it is tough and flexible enough to flourish in dry shade. Depending on the variety, white, pink or yellow flowers appear from May to June while the heart-shaped leaves emerge bright green with a slight tinge of pink or red and later run a deeper green; by autumn they take on yellow, bronze or red tones.

Not only does this perennial form a lovely carpet of interesting leaves, but the flowers can work with many themes.

Epimedium comes in three colours: red (rubrum), yellow (sulphureum) and white (niveum). Aldona Satterthwaite, executive director of Toronto Botanical Garden, teams the yellow Epimedium with ghost fern, Bowles golden sedge and golden Japanese forest grass for a spectacular combination of colour, texture and interest in the shady garden.

Barrenwort is a lazy gardener’s treasure because it will grow under just about anything, including maple trees. Dugald Cameron, of gardenimport.com, recommends the variety ‘Frohnleiten’ because while the regular species has blossoms that hide under its leaves, this one holds its butter-yellow blossoms above the heart-shaped leaves. The glossy leaves are a bonus as they turn deep red in autumn.

Chalk Lake Nursery owner and teacher Martin Galloway adds that the old foliage of barrenwort crumples and covers the ground in winter through spring, at which time the new leaves rise above the old in company with the flowers. “It is slow growing but consistent, will live forever and is drought tolerant and tough,” he says.

All varieties of barrenwort are hardy, bloom in the shade and are an excellent groundcover or edging. They can brighten up a woodland garden in full or part-shade. Typically barrenwort grows 20-25 cm high with a 15-30 cm spread in zones 4-9.

Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ 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: Sedum ‘John Creech’

I don’t like all the work in maintaining a perfect lawn—mowing, re-seeding, weeding—and watering the lawn just seems wasteful. Our dog also does not help the cause.

In Gardening from a Hammock, the book I wrote with Dan Cooper, we were advised by several gardeners to “ditch the grass.” Teacher, biologist and nursery owner Martin Galloway suggested a sedum lawn instead; using a variety of sedums that would provide colour and texture with little need to water or weed. Although we may not all want to replace our lawns, sedums are most welcome anywhere in the garden. And if we were to choose a favourite, it would be Sedum spurium ‘John Creech.’

Commonly called stonecrop, this plant was named after plant explorer John Creech, a retired horticulturist from the US National Arboretum. On his travels to Siberia, he discovered this plant and obtained the original from the Central Siberian Botanic Garden in 1971. ~ Image courtesy of Northscaping Inc.

Like many sedums, ‘John Creech’ is low growing—only about five to 10 cm—and is a fast-growing groundcover, spreading 25 to 30 cm. It provides a green carpet of tiny, rounded, deep-green leaves with small clusters of pink, star-like flowers in late spring through early summer.

It is a favourite low-maintenance plant because, once established, you can simply forget about it. ‘John Creech’ is a workhorse in all kinds of soil from zones 2 to 9.  Although it is most commonly used as a hardy groundcover, it can be so much more. This modest plant needs a publicist to shout out its attributes. It can be used:

  • As a groundcover that works well on both flat and sloped areas
  • For edging
  • As an accent in a rock garden
  • In containers where it will cascade over the sides.

As well, it is non-invasive, keeps its colour in full sun, is deer resistant, drought tolerant and attracts butterflies. If that is not enough, here is the best part: the leaves are so dense that they choke out the weeds.

Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ 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.

Previewing plants from President’s Choice

The annual President’s Choice Lawn & Garden Insider’s Report luncheon is a hot-ticket event for garden writers, because we get to turn our plots into trial gardens. This year, a room at the Toronto Botanical Garden was turned into a greenhouse so we could preview all the hot new plants that we’ll find at garden centres this spring. And let’s face it, most of us will make it to one of Loblaw’s parking lot nurseries at least once. Who doesn’t love buying a chicken, a Joe Fresh T-shirt and a dahlia or two in one shopping trip? Plus, I have to say their plants are always top-notch and affordable. I was able to chat with some of the growers, as well as listen to them tell the whole group of us about their breeding programs and their latest innovations.

Here are just a few of the plants I’m excited about. I’ll be including others in a “Hot plants for 2012″ piece premiering next week! Also premiering next week is the Lawn & Garden Insider’s Report. Keep an eye out for it in stores!

1. Haskap berries
To be honest, I had never heard of these little gems until Signe Langford wrote about them in her 2012 “new edibles to try” piece. Apparently they taste like a cross between a raspberry and a blueberry. Apparently you need two different varieties to get adequate pollination. I got ‘Indigo Gem’ and ‘Indigo Treat’. Excited to see how they grow–and to taste the berries!

Haskap berries

2. Brunnera Jack Frost
This will be one of my first purchases from the nursery this year. Named “perennial of the year” for 2012, brunneras are deer-resistant and shade-loving. This will be a perfect plant for the back of my lot where the tree canopy casts a giant shadow for most of the day, and where the deer enter the yard if they’re in the neighbourhood!

Brunnera 'Jack Frost'

3. Suncatcher Pink Lemonade Petunias
Last year it was the black petunia. This year, it’s all about pink lemonade. The colour on these blooms is just so unique and pretty, and they’ll contrast nicely with most other hues.

Suncatcher Pink Lemonade Petunia

4. Lanai Verbena Twister Pink
This pretty little number is so unique with its ring of miniature, two-toned blooms around a hollow centre. These will be fantastic for pots. I have a cone-shaped bamboo wall planter that I bought at the Ideal Home & Garden Show in Hamilton. I think one or two are destined to be included in it!

Lanai Verbena Twister Pink

5. PC Vegetables in a Cage
President’s Choice always has great edible plant offerings for both small and large spaces. A couple of years ago it was the upside-down, hanging tomato basket, last year it was the salad bowl garden. This year they’ve introduced vegetables all potted up with a cage around them. All you need to do is add water!

PC Vegetables in a Cage

My overgrown perennial bed

This is the lovely flower bed Margo planted years ago.

It is full of traditional perennials like irises, peonies, daffodils, lilies, clematis, phlox, and lupins.

At least, I think it is.

It was on the bottom of the priority list last year.

I thought it could stand a little neglect, because it was so well established.

Now I am paying for it.

Have I mentioned lately that I wish death to quackgrass? I don’t even think Kathy Renwald could help me hide this one…

From grass to garden part 3 – after photos!

Based on our rough garden plan, my mom, dad, husband and I got to work on the Saturday of the August long weekend. While the boys worked on the wall, my mom and I worked on shovelling dirt and mulch to the new garden and placing the plants we had on hand.

Here, the wall is partially finished and you can see the big rocks we got from our neighbour that divide the existing garden from the new one.

I had put aside a few that I received at gardening events and the rest we divided out of my collection of perennials.

Here’s what we planted:

1. ‘Starbright’ mock orange: I picked this out at the annual President’s Choice Lawn & Garden preview.

2. This is a lovely ornamental grass that I planted after last year’s PC Lawn & Garden preview. I was able to divide one plant into three.

3. This rhododendron was shaded by a purple sand cherry and a couple of big trees in my neighbour’s front garden, so we rescued it and placed it front and centre. Hopefully it comes back next year because it has very pretty pink blooms.

4. The two shrubs you see pictured were planted in the original garden that was decimated after our sewer pipes were replaced. Luckily the workers dug them into another garden, so they weren’t lost forever–unlike my poor hens and chicks.

5. You can’t see it very well, but I bought this Proven Winners Black Lace Elderberry for about 80% off at an end-of-season Loblaws sale.

6. It’s not in this picture, but we later planted a Crimson Butterflies Gaura from Sheridan Garden Classics– courtesy of a Garden Writers Association luncheon I attended at the Toronto Botanical Garden. It took awhile, but these gorgeous magenta blooms finally appeared in late summer.

7. This is a type of sedum that my mom calls Dragon’s Blood. It is a lovely spreader in her Port Perry garden, so she had lots to spare.

8. This Autumn Joy sedum was transplanted from one of my back gardens.

9. Ellagance Ice lavender from Freeman Herbs: I also received this plant from my GWA luncheon where Freeman Herbs was a guest speaker.

Not shown in the photo are a couple of boxwood we planted at the very end of the yard by the sidewalk, a Silver Mound Artemisia schidtiana, a pink rosebush tucked up against rocks, some scented geranium from my mom’s garden and a couple of chrysanthemums that were tiny little seedlings when we first dug them up that developed into gorgeous, flowering fall blooms.

We celebrated all our hard work with a big family barbecue!

There are definitely still some holes to fill and once some of the smaller plants take root and grow, that will fill things in nicely, too. We are really happy with the results – and it seems the neighbours are, too, after all the compliments we’ve received. What feels so nice is the fact that we designed it ourselves.

Hopefully everything survives the winter!

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?

‘Tis the season

This is a painful time of year. There are so many plants languishing in greenhouses and parking lots, begging to be rescued from their uncertain fate. (Is it just me or does every big box store with any connection to domesticity now have a garden centre?) And it's not that hard to do the rescuing; everything goes on sale as greenhouse workers face the reality of overwintering or getting rid of all that greenery. One place I stopped last week had trees on sale for 70% off. Under these circumstances, don't you feel like you could nurse anything back to health? Don't you find yourself tempted to buy entire flats of stuff, and one of every bush you've ever thought about growing? Doesn't reason go out the window when you see those price tags and those drooping but still viable leaves? Come on, I know I'm not alone.

 Some of the sweet potato vines I rescued in my Canadian Tire planter (one of my prizes!)

Some of the sweet potato vines I rescued in my Canadian Tire planter (one of my prizes!)

One of the 70% off trees I saw was a weeping birch. I've always wanted one. My grandparent's front yard had one that was perfect for climbing and hiding in. All kinds of warm fuzzy feelings and happy memories surface at the sight of one or the mention of its name. But I made a $75 mistake a couple of autumns back on a weeping birch–got it too late, snapped the leader off in a moment of idiocy, and a late spring frost nipped the buds, well, in the bud. So I was a little more careful this time. I weighed my options carefully. Dozens of plants were jammed together like the proverbial sardines. I noted the mottled leaves, a sign of something not good, though I'm not sure what. The soil was overly damp and turning green. There were some dead twigs.

But it was a weeping birch. At seventy percent off.

The deciding factor ended up being the hour long highway drive home in our van full of kids. Nowhere to put the thing. Safely distanced from temptation now, I'm very glad I was delivered from evil. I will get my weeping birch, hopefully sooner than later, so that my kids can sit under the waterfall of leaves with a book and avoid their chores just like I did. But I'm determined to be patient and find a healthy one, even if I have to pay full price.

And for now, I'm happy with rescuing a bunch of sweet potato vines and coleus. At sixty percent off!

Tell me about your $75 dollar mistake, or your have-to-have-it plant.

Cool things to plant from PC

This past weekend marked the official launch of the President's Choice Insider's Report (Lawn & Garden edition). And as we head into the long weekend, you may want to check it out and make a list of all the great new flowers, trees, bushes, herbs, fruits and veggies that will be stocked at a Loblaw-owned store near you.

I had a bit of a sneak preview a couple of weeks ago at the annual President's Choice Lawn & Garden event. This year's plant preview took place in Beamsville where we had the opportunity to tour the greenhouses at the family-run Linwell Gardens and Freeman Herbs.

At Freeman Herbs: This particular greenhouse was All basil! I'm sure you can imagine how wonderful it smelled!

At Freeman Herbs: This particular greenhouse was All basil! I'm sure you can imagine how wonderful it smelled!

Here are some of the plants and products that I took an interest in for my own garden or that were too cool not to mention:

Sunpatiens
Impatiens no longer have to be confined to those shady areas of your garden. There's a new hybrid in town that does well in full sun.

Tumbler tomatoes
I had a nice chat at Freeman Herbs with Bob Martin from Martin Farms. I met Bob last year at a Stokes Best and President's Choice tasting event. He was excited about their tumbler tomatoes, tomatoes that were bred for hanging baskets–genius! I remember them being quite delicious. It's really neat to see something go from the test garden to the store. Another tomato that made it into this year's product lineup was red candy. It was one of my favourites from last year and I recently took one home after our magazine editor Erin did a veggie presentation. Also worth trying, the Kapelo peppers.

Starburst surprise petunias
I'm not partial to any one colour in the garden, but my favourite colour in everyday life is pink–pale or fuchsia, it doesn't matter. So I fell in love with these gorgeous, two-toned petunias and was lucky enough to take one of the luxuriant hanging baskets home. Last night as I was buying soil, I grabbed a couple more individual plants to go in my front garden along with some pale yellow beauties.

A pink Starburst surprise!

A pink Starburst surprise!

Starbright Mock Orange
We have a second story going up on the bungalow behind us, which has killed our privacy. My fingers are crossed the owners build a fence, but in the meantime, I'm going to build a living fence. Currently we have cedars (not including the ones I planted last year that died) and a mulberry tree (which is pretty, but messy). This mock orange will fill one of the vacant spots beautifully–the Insider's Report says it will grow to be about 10 feet tall–here's hoping!

They don’t look plastic!
Rather than sell their pots in something generic that you'll have to hide in one of your own pretty pots, PC has these fantastic, decorative planters that you can just plunk right in front of your house without shame.

Can you believe this is only $30!

Can you believe this is only $30!

Check out the PC Garden blog, written by City Gardening writer Lorraine Flanigan. It will give you even more ideas on what to plant from President’s Choice.

p.s. Many apologies for the delay between posts! I've been under the weather for the last two weeks. On the mend!

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