Gardening Blog

Garden eye spy: Lovely lilies

Orange blooms are one of those things in nature that I am always immediately attracted to, which is curious really considering I pretty much ignore it in every other form. There is something about the rich burnt shade that captivates me. It is warm, strong, reassuring and strangely soothing all at once. So imagine my delight when July at last arrives and with it hundreds of gorgeous orange lilies.

Whenever I photograph a fabulous flower or plant I like to try and look at in a different way, as though I am seeing it for the very first time. This became especially true as I set about capturing an orange lily on camera, as they are seen everywhere and all too often classified as ‘ordinary.’ In my mind, however, orange lilies are like miniature sunsets, bursting with vibrant character. How can that possibly be ordinary?

{Laura L. Benn is the Multi-brand Web Content Editor at TC Media.  Follow her writing, photography and other creative ventures on her self-titled blog or via Twitter.}

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.

Lost and found

I’m forever losing things in the garden. I can spend ten minutes going back and forth the yard trying to locate the trowel that I just had in my hand. And despite owning three good pairs of secateurs, I’m pretty proud of myself when one is where it belongs in my apron.

I’m probably the only one this happens to. Maybe it’s just another symptom of my slightly scatterbrained existence. It’s usually harmless, at most mildly frustrating. I generally find what I’m looking for. Eventually. Even if it’s next spring.

But last week I lost something I don’t want to wait until next spring to find: my wedding band. It slipped off at some point, I’m pretty sure while I was in the garden. I’ve sifted through the piles of pulled weeds; nothing turned up. My usual patience with lost items is gone. I want to find that ring.

Chris has offered to track down a metal detector so we can keep up the hunt. It’s a great idea, but I do wonder what else will be found, once we actually go looking? Our house sits on the same land as the original community school did back in the day, so every once in a while we dig up a little piece of history, like this 1941 Canadian penny that recently turned up in my yard, King George and all. How many horseshoe nails will we find before my ring turns up?

I suppose it’s the unexpected finds–the things you weren’t looking for–that are the most fun, from volunteer plants and unusual wildlife, to coins and bits of farrier miscellany. I could wax philosophical here, about finding pleasure in the unexpected, taking life as it comes, not stressing out about things that don’t go according to your own little plan…

All true. But I really want my ring back.


Status report, post-storm

Thank you, hail storm.

Siding: intact.

Windows: intact.

Shingles: not so much.

Car: dented.

Van: dented. No broken glass. <relieved sigh>

Corn: surviving.

Broccoli: untouched!

Pumpkins: assaulted, but redeemable.

Trees: ripped up, leaves strewn over the lawns and streets; carrying on admirably.

Flowers: surprisingly, unsquashed! Floppy comfrey and Rudbeckia, but stems intact.

Nieghbors and friends: many much worse off.

Insurance claims: large.

Local glass companies: in for a busy week.

Gratitude: grown.

Respect for Mother Nature: intact.

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.

Dear deer:

Hello. I don’t know if you remember me; I’m the lady you’ve dodged on the highway numerous times, the one who lives in the big white house you mosey past on your way up into the hills behind town.

It’s been lovely to watch you wander through over the years, and I don’t mind you bedding down in the back pasture from time to time. I have not even begrudged you the chomps taken out of some of the beets last fall. Overall, the unspoken understanding between us has been honoured: I leave you alone, you come and go with a minimum of disruption.

Until this year. I don’t know why you have broken our peaceful truce, but it is clearly over: every single one of my pea plants has had the top neatly munched off. Every developing pod is ending up in someone’s stomach, and it’s not mine.

I haven’t offended you in some way, have I? Is it repercussions from the collision two years ago? Are you against the lilac hedge we put in? Is this a protest?

I know you need to eat. I’m perfectly willing to feed you. There is grass, and buttercups, and lamb’s quarters… heck, have some stork’s bill! It’s abundant, and I have no plans to eat it, as opposed to the peas.

I bear you no ill will, but you must identify the offending Bambi and get him in line or I will be forced to take action. I have netting; don’t make me use it.



Low-maintenance Monday: Astrantia major or masterwort

Astrantia major, commonly called masterwort, is also called Hattie’s pincushion. That’s because the ruby-red flowers look like pincushions. Master gardener and lecturer, Belinda Gallagher of Hooked on Horticulture, chose Astrantia major ‘Ruby Wedding’ as a superior plant choice in Gardening from a Hammock.

Masterwort lasts almost eight weeks in Belinda’s garden. “It is a very cool plant because it feels like a dried flower,” she explains. “When picked it lasts a long time in water.”
 The ‘Ruby Wedding’ variety is a deeper pink than the species, and provides colour in the shade in midsummer. The star-like flowers bloom June to August, and may even re-bloom in the fall. The leaves are interesting as they are dark green and deeply lobed. The starry flowers provide an intense, brilliant, ruby red colour.

Masterwort grows 60 to 70 cm high, with a 45- to 60-cm spread in zones 3 to 9. It has many uses in addition to providing colour in the shade. Try it as a filler anywhere in a sunny or shady garden, or in mixed containers. These long-flowering perennials are ideal when planted in borders or along streams. The cut flowers are outstanding and are easily dried for winter arrangements.

An added bonus is that slugs don't like astrantias, so interplanting them among other shade plants tends to repel the creatures. photo by Heritage Perennials

Astrantia major ‘Ruby Wedding’ 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.

How simple gardening is

I have so much to do in the garden right now, but we’re in the middle of a heat wave and I’ve completely lost motivation for weeding, raking, mowing… pretty much everything except sitting, and filling and emptying water glasses. I know things are only getting worse, but I can’t even care right now, between being overwhelmed and being hot.

I did spend some time with my first-grader, going through the marvellous stack of papers he’s brought home from school. (I know, they’ve been waiting for two full weeks. Sue me.) Amongst them I found this, which is now going to live, framed, in my shed, as a sweet reminder not to over-complicate the joy of growing.

It's one of these cut-it-out-and-put-it-in-the-right-order things. As fun as it is to revel in the details, sometimes it just comes down to this, doesn't it?





Low-maintenance Monday: Maidenhair fern

Adiantum pedatum is a name that rolls off the tongue like an ancient song or a musical chant. Yet it will mislead you. It looks dainty because of its delicate, doily-like, finely divided foliage, but maidenhair ferns are some of the toughest plants around.

Botanist, teacher and nursery owner Martin Galloway saw them on Newfoundland’s Table Mountain where the environment is toxic to almost every other plant. “They survive when it is very hot, extremely cold, and where there are no nutrients in the soil because of metals,” he says. “They also grow in deep shade beneath giant trees. Although the ferns look delicate and lacy, they are indestructible.”

Teacher and lecturer Frank Kershaw calls them tough as nails. “Any garden would appreciate a maidenhair fern.” Kershaw adds that it provides richness to the garden.

The maidenhair fern adds bright green foliage as well as texture to the garden. Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials.

The maidenhair fern grows 30 to 60 cm high and wide. It has a rounded clump of delicate, fan-shaped fronds with light green lacey leaves on purple-back stems. The fern thickens from the root. A thin leaf stalk emerges in spring liked a coiled violin head and contrasts with its fan-like sculpted leaflets.

An interesting fact is that these plants have water-repelling compounds in their foliage so water runs off the leaves. Even when the plant is immersed in water, the leaves remain dry.

For an interesting collection of plants with the same leaf shapes in a variety of sizes, Aldona Satterthwaite, executive director at the Toronto Botanical Garden, suggests planting maidenhair ferns and hellebores under fiveleaf aralia. These have similar leaf shapes, but different textures and sizes. Maidenhair ferns also contrast well with the bold foliage of hostas.

Adiantum pedatum 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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