Gardening Blog

Mystery tulip bulbs

In a hodge-podge corner of the front garden I have a bunch of different colored tulips. I’m still deciding what to do in this spot, so I’m content to let them go on doing their thing until I make up my mind, but I did decide quite a while ago one thing: I want to move the yellow ones over to where I’ve got some purple ones (I’m all about the complementary colors, you see.). Problem is, fall comes around, and I realize I have no idea where to dig to get the yellow tulips as opposed to the red or orange.

So this spring I was real smart. When the tulips bloomed, I reused the plant tags from the flats of pansies I bought to mark the bunches of yellow tulips so I could dig them up and move them this fall.
As in, now.
Well, I don’t know where those plant tags have gone, but they’re gone. I blame either children or hail.
Frustrated, I decided to dig anyway, trusting my memory (ha!) as to where the yellow ones had been. Approximately.

I found bulbs all right, but the question is, are they the right ones? Do I put them back and wait until next year to sort them out? Or do I take a chance and put them in their new home, and weed out any reds that might have slipped in?

I examined the bulbs carefully: no colour clue in the standard brown-covered cream. No little stamp on the outside stating the cultivar… oooo, wouldn’t that be handy? Or maybe little stickers like they use for produce in the grocery stores! There’s always a few of those persisting in the compost, so why wouldn’t they hold up to a few years in the ground? Somebody has got to look into the possibilities. I’m telling you, this could be a revolution in bulb management. Maybe not on the scale of the 1630′s, but it would change my little world.

Or maybe I’ll just stick em’ in the ground and cross my fingers.

 

Garden eye spy: Monarch butterfly

As I do my best to enjoy the final few days of summer and navigate through the inevitable change of seasons, I find myself exhilarated for the crisp, comforting colours of fall. While relaxing on a beach over the long weekend and allowing the sun to bake into my bones I was joined by the fluttering presence of a burnt orange butterfly — the regal Monarch.
I was delighted by my delicate friend and thought him a very fitting companion to send out the summer with and welcome in the autumn. After all, his colors are very fall-like indeed. What are you looking forward to this fall?

(Laura L. Benn is the Multi-brand Web Content Editor at TC Media. Follow her writing, photography and other creative ventures on her popular blog LLB {words + photos}  or via Twitter.)

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.

Oh, deer!

If anyone happens to let a herd of deer loose on the fourth floor of TC Media, they won’t be coming near my area. It’s not because I’m hiding a stash of deer-resistant bulbs amongst my gardening books and back issues of Canadian Gardening magazine. Rather, our web editorial director, Cath, had a container of Bobbex deer repellent under her desk that was accidentally kicked over by a colleague. The area is awash in eau de putrescent eggs, fish meal, fish oil, meat meal, garlic and clove oils, among others—all very effective, I’m sure, at repelling deer from a large backyard. A backyard full of fresh air that would help the odour to dissipate. That is not the case here.

Cath is stoically working at her desk, but it is pretty stinky over there. We thought we’d ask if anyone has advice on eliminating the bog-of-eternal-stench smell from carpet. Febreze and baking soda have failed miserably. Any advice is great welcome!

Garden eye spy: Magical magenta

The composition of a flower is almost magical, but even more impressive is its vibrant colour. Take this beautiful blossom for example. It is completely and utterly natural. There is no dye involved in its beauty, no fabric interfering with its dressage. It just is.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all follow nature’s example a little more regularly in our own lives? Rather than be distracted by labels and fancy packaging, we should slow down and observe our own individual beauty for what it is — ours. What is your favourite colour in nature? I am definitely partial to this magenta tone!

(Laura L. Benn is the Multi-brand Web Content Editor at TC Media.  Follow her writing, photography and other creative ventures on her blog, LLB {words + photos} or via Twitter.)

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.

 

 

Carrots and memories

It’s time to dig the carrots, which means Grandpa is on my mind, as he often is. I think it’s time you met him properly.

Yes, he took this picture himself, with a timer. Don't ask me how Mr. Spry got into position in time.

Hi, Grandpa, circa 1985! Great pants, by the way. Meet the Canadian Gardening community circa 2012. I was just telling all of them that I am thinking about you, because I am pulling up carrots. I didn’t thin very well this year, so there’s lots of tiny ones, like the ones you used to give me as you thinned. Do you remember me following you down the rows, waiting patiently as you trimmed the tops with your pocket knife and brushed the soil off? There was nothing like the taste of those little carrots.

I study this picture of you more than you might imagine, hoping to distill some of your knowledge from the little hints it contains: boards laid down to protect the soil and tiny seedlings, the hoses laid out in straight lines. What are the plants I can see? What was the chicken wire for? And what were you painting when you decorated those shoes?

I wish I’d had more time with you, to enjoy you and to learn from you, but here we are. And anyway, I think most of what you’d have wanted to teach me is right in those straight rows, plain as that mischevious smile, and deep down in the taste of those carrots.

I’m pulling carrots today, and though I am annoyed with myself for not thinning earlier and letting the stork’s bill get the upper hand, I still have a smile, because you’re around. And I’ve got a couple of little girls following me, munching away just like I did.

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.

Getting great layers

I am still working on the design of my front garden after three years. I intended to have a plan and plant accordingly, but as it turned out, by the time the Bobcat showed up, only the basic foundation plants were firm in my mind. The rest has kind of evolved and morphed over the seasons, which has actually been a lot of fun. I’ve learned a lot about coordinating bloom colors and times, plant heights and spacing, and the impacts of weather patterns for my space.

One of the things I’m still trying to get a handle on is what I call layering: using plants, hardscaping, and decor to create pleasing levels and depth in the garden. This involves the principles of form, texture, proportion, and scale. It’s pretty easy to put tall delphiniums behind shorter roses if you’re looking at the space head on, but what if they are viewed from the side? What if it is a space you intend to walk through, as well as around or beside, with views from many angles?

I was mulling over this particular design challenge when we went for a hike last week in the mountains. Mother Nature tends to inspire consistently, and she didn’t let me down. I came upon this scene and a few things clicked into place. This picture doesn’t do it justice, but I’ll show you anyway.

What you are looking at here is perfect layering. Bearberry and junipers cover the ground, tiny little tendrils reaching out right to the stone walkways and easily navigating slopes, providing a living mulch with texture and color. Behind this layer, and breaking through the rear of it, are the (remnants of) wildflowers, giving more color in their season and adding height. Next are the small shrubs, in this case potentillas, bringing the eye up to the large conifers which anchor the scene and provide shade for the lower plants.

Pretty basic, right? But here’s a couple things a learned from this simple scene:

1. The trees are in the “back” of this picture, but they’re not in the “back” of anything on this mountainside. The position of everything can be described in relationship to each other, but outside the photograph, there is no ultimate, overarching orientation to this scene. It is anchored by the trees, and the path gives it some line, but it is more a circle than anything else. I’ve been thinking too linearly (is that a word?), with my house at the “back” and the street to the “front”. How can I think in circles? What are at the centre of my circles?

2. It pays to take several steps back. I tend to analyze my garden from about five feet away. This scene struck me from at least thirty feet away. What will I see if I pull back and let my eyes  go just a little out of focus, so the shape and colour of things stand out?

3. Light and shadow can play as strong a role as leaf and stone.

4. I really, really, do love bearberry, and I am willing to wait for it to grow.

So that’s my little design lesson from the expert. As you head outside this long weekend, pay attention to what Mother Nature has to teach you. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

 

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.

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