Gardening Blog

The great gardener’s paradox

I can not win.

My daughter gave me a fridge magnet last Christmas that reads “Gardening forever, housework whenever“. It makes me smile. And I try to live by its wisdom. But the other demands on my time don’t seem to appreciate my priorities.

I spend a lovely, productive day in the garden, then come back inside to realize all the stuff I forgot to do in other aspects of my life. Unopened urgent emails, un-refilled fish tank sucking air through the filter… what’s that? You children want to eat?

So I shift gears, try to repair my negligence a little. Get the laundry put away, make the phone calls I’ve been putting off, help with the Social Studies diorama. But before I know it, four days have passed. The garden is jealous of my attention, and pouts, and the dandelions seed with abandon. Never mind the annoyed greenery in the porch, still waiting for me to get them in the ground. They might as well have their leafy stems crossed and their flowery brows knitted into a scowl.

I’ve had a little chat with my house, and my garden, my business files, and the piece of my soul called “mom”. We’ve negotiated. We’ve guilted. And this is the plan we came up with: One half hour, every day, minimum, in the garden. Enough to keep things together, without everything else falling apart.

Think it will work?

How do you keep a balance?

 

 

Garden eye spy: Otherworldly beauty

Do you ever stop to admire a pretty bloom or interesting plant and find yourself almost in disbelief that such beauty is of this world? I often find myself thinking exactly that when I’m out and about viewing the world through my camera. It focuses your vision upon one tiny spot of life, forcing you to really see it in a way you may have never considered before.

Photo by Laura L. Benn

Take this evocative lilac-coloured flower for example. See how it seems to glow with an effervescent glory, flaunting its delicately poised petals without shame? I’m not sure how many times I’ve walked by it on my way home from work, but now that I’ve stopped to really appreciate its presence it seems almost too good to be true.  What plants have you discovered lately?

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

Low-maintenance Monday: Allium ‘Schubertii’

The next long weekend may be in July, but the best fireworks this year come from the Allium ‘Schubertii’ in the garden. The purple flowers of this ornamental onion are showstoppers. Every gardener, blogger and writer eventually stumbles across the description of the large, globe-like flowers that are 15 cm in diameter. Visualize star-shaped, lilac-pink flowers that shoot out of the centre stem; a spherical shape comprised of hundreds of tiny flowers. Imagine a giant sparkler of a flower head caught in mid-bang with as many as 200 individual pink florets or a whimsical giant onion creating a spidery ball in bloom.

A Globemaster allium towers over the garden.

Many will agree that when it’s in bloom, any allium commands attention as it towers over the other plants in the garden. This particular allium will climb 60 cm on spindly stems and spread an amazing 30 cm. They make even more of a statement if grouped in clumps of three or more. And, they remind Sonia Leslie, one of the master gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock, of the stars and planets. She recommends these plus any and all alliums for a low-maintenance garden.

“These are members of the onion family, unappealing to squirrels or deer,” she says. Sonia assures us that you can’t go wrong with any allium as they last a long time in the garden and then the seed heads provide interest when they fade and dry. Allium bulbs are planted in the fall, bloom throughout spring and summer (depending on the variety), and then provide architectural interest throughout the fall and into the winter.

There are hundreds of varieties of alliums, from small to huge. Sonia recommends three varieties in particular to provide low, medium and tall heights and that provide blooms from spring until midsummer. They are: golden garlic allium (Allium moly ‘Golden Garlic’), giant allium (Allium giganteum), and, of course, our dramatic Schubertii allium (Allium ‘Schubertii’).

Allium ‘Schubertii’ 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.

Pretty pots

I generally avoid container gardening. I am far too unpredictable in my habits (and memory) to consistently keep pots watered, fed and happy. And having so much available space, I’ve never felt pressed to plant in containers.

But I succumbed to temptation when I saw these lovely little things at IKEA this spring.

SKURAR Hanging planter IKEA

At $2.99 for the table-top version (4″), and $4.99 for the hanging one (5″), it was easy to justify 6 of the first and two of the second. I know, I know, I could have bought one nice big one for the same money, but would it have pretty lacey cutouts? Would it??

I’ve got a couple of them planted up for teacher gifts, and the rest are living in my front porch. They make me smile every time I see them, and I haven’t forgotten to water them… yet.

For the hanging pot, I tried a 'Blutopia' Bacopa, 'Peter's Gold' Carpet flower (Bidens ferulifolia), and a Silver Licorice vine (Helichrysum petiolare).

'Tycoon blue' Flossflower (Ageratum houstonianum), a not-yet-bloomed 'Mojave Tangerine' Purslane (Portulaca grandiflora) and a dwarf lemon try out my new IKEA pots. The lemon will likely need more space before long, but we'll see how it goes.

 

 

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.

Garden eye spy: New perspectives


The great outdoors has always been a magical place for me personally. Ever since I was a little girl, immersed in storybooks of secret gardens and enchanted forests, I have adored spending time amidst pretty blooms, swaying boughs and luscious, thick grass, discovering a whole new world of tiny creatures and wondrous happenings.

That is why I am beyond thrilled to present today a new column here on the Canadian Gardening blog, entitled ‘Garden Eye Spy.’  Each week we will showcase a new photograph and a new perspective from which to view a garden space, once again capturing that childhood sense of wonder that so often becomes lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

This charming snail fellow caught my eye moseying his way around a flowerbed border, an adorable reminder that gardens are not meant for rushing around in, but rather meandering through with care. Who knew a snail could instill such spring garden inspiration? Have a wonderful long weekend everyone!

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

Lovage, that loveable herb

I toured the garden this evening after finishing prepping the veggie beds (three points for me!) and ended up doing another hour’s worth of random weed pulling, tidying, and assessing. I discovered, to my dismay, that my sage has all succumbed to public enemy number one (quack grass, for those new to my gardening adventures) and that my parsley has disappeared entirely (rabbits?). Add this to the basil I killed in the windowsill already, the tarragon that was inadvertently dug up last fall, and the savory that called it quits in the shade, and things are looking downright sad in the herb department for me. As in, the chives are alive. I was wallowing in a little black-thumb pity party when I rounded the corner by the garage and met with this sight:

Lovely lovage, in all its bushy glory, happily reminding me I’m not a complete failure. I picked a spring and inhaled the sharp, clean celery scent and a smile returned to my face. I don’t know what I’m making for supper tomorrow, but lovage will be involved. And possibly chives.

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.

Gardener’s toes and a Mother’s Day note

So I was edging the veggie patch this week with some help from my almost-twelve-year-old daughter. I was cutting, she was pulling away the  hunks of sod, and the hunks were raining soil down around our feet, as hunks of sod will sometimes do. And these words came out of my flip-flop sporting offspring:

“Oh, man, there go my summer feet.”

Three things went through my mind in quick succession:

1. This girl has finally turned girly if she’s worrying about her pedicure

2. That’s what you get, child, for your lousy choice of footwear for the occasion

and

3. My definition of summer feet and yours are very, very, different.

This is what I think off when I hear "summer feet." Alas, she, and her feet, are a little bigger now.

Indeed, I looked down at her fancy polished nails, and even flecked with bits of crumbly black they did look rather lovely and fun. I glanced to my own feet, booted for the occasion, and imagined what I would find there at the end of the day. I don’t need to describe it, do I?

As the summer goes on, I know the dirt will keep sneaking in under the nails, the calouses will thicken, and I will so not be ready for my close up without some serious intervention. And my hands? Ditto. Dried up, beat up.

There are lots of good products out there for cleaning and moisturizing geared specifically to gardeners, but I’ll share my favourite homemade trick with you, guaranteed to trade in “gardener’s” summer feet for “fancy” summer feet:  mix a little olive oil with a couple of tablespoons of regular white sugar until you have a nice paste. Massage your feet and/or hands for a few minutes with the mixture. It will moisturize and exfoliate at the same time. (You can add a little essential oil if you like; lavender is nice for relaxation, peppermint for refreshing tired toes.) Rinse with warm water.  Enjoy.

Side note: to all the ladies out there who have borne children, adopted children, loved, taught, scolded, or spoiled children, or intend to do so someday: Happy Mother’s Day! I’ve already gotten one of my gifts: a new compost rake (aka dandelion or thatching rake) I’ve been wanting. But my favourite Mother’s Day gift is when we all go for a little hike behind our town and hunt for wildflowers. That’s what I’ll be doing Sunday afternoon. Do I have it good? Oh yes I do.

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.

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