Gardening Blog

Good night, sweet earth

As I sit writing this, the first snowfall of the season sits on the lawn, and the radio is announcing a heavy snowfall warning for our area.

I’m sorry friends, it’s here.

We’ve been having such a pleasant, warm autumn that I’ve just been working steadily away, weeding and mulching and digging carrots, with nary a thought of full-on winter. The last few days, however, have been a flurry of activity: Chris mowing and finishing up the drip cap on a window we just replaced, me planting bulbs and gathering forgotten tools back to the shed. It’s amazing what little white cartoon crystals on the internet weather forecast will do.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this will melt in a few days, and I can finish digging up the beets, not to mention that most of you are probably still veritable ages away from winter proper. Just consider me your early-warning system: time to finish up. Time to tuck in your tenders, cover up select conifers. The earth is stretching her leafy-treed arms and getting ready for bed. So enjoy some relaxed late-night conversation with your garden, talk about your plans for when it awakes. Make it some hot chocolate, and kiss it goodnight.


Good night.

Sleep tight.

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.

R.I.P., broccoli

I am in mourning.

I have been faithful with my application of Btk on all my brassicas this year, so no cabbage worms for us. I got all that stork’s bill under control (okay, most of it) and put down some good mulch. When I left the veggie garden alone last week to focus on the flower gardens and a few fall projects, the broccoli was just starting a new flush of strong growth, and I was smugly dreaming of a fall reaping of lovely green heads.

When I returned to see if they were ready for cutting, this is what I found.

Those little black spots are flea beetles, for the uninitiated. They got to my fall crop before I did. Ravaged it. Inedible.

This is what I get for feeling smug. ‘Pride cometh before the fall,’ and all that.

Or ‘Fall pride cometh before the flea beetle…’


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.

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.



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