Gardening Blog

Volunteers

Things in my veggie patch are finally starting to green up after a chilly spring here in Alberta, and I when I went to check on things this is what I saw:

Lovely, healthy pea plant, right? Right. Except this is the corn patch. See it there in the front, all two-to-three inches of it?

Apparently, more pea pods than I realized made it through the winter and got dug under enough to sprout. Someone <ahem> must have also put some ripe sunflower heads in the compost, because they’re all over the place too.

Now here’s the thing. These ‘volunteer’ peas are twice the size of the ones I planted on purpose. I haven’t gotten around to planting any sunflowers yet, and the volunteers are already eight inches up. So are they weeds, to be yanked with the dandelions? Or do I let the peas climb the corn, assuming the corn (‘Speedy Sweet’) catches up to all that robust growth? The sunflowers coming up close to the broccoli might offer just enough shade to keep the brassicas happy through the hotter parts of summer. Or will the volunteers suck all the water and nutrients and compromise the things I intended to grow? I’ve tried companion planting before, with good success, but it was always… you know… on purpose.

I’m still thinking about it. And getting Jefferson Airplane in my head every time I do… but the more I think, the more I’m reminded that my intentions and Mother Nature’s should probably be meeting somewhere in the middle.

Low-maintenance Monday: Japanese painted fern

It is no accident that so many of the gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock included Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’) in their recommendations for an interesting, low-maintenance garden. It is one of the top ten plant picks.

This colourful fern is one of those plants that gets along with just about everyone, brightening a shady area and making almost every other plant around it look better. No wonder it is a must-have for the shade garden.

Japanese painted fern is compact, growing between 30 and 60 cm high and wide. It has deep burgundy leaf stems with olive-green arching fronds lit with silver. Each plant has its own unique colour and pattern. Although native to Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan, it does well in zones 4 to 9 here. Master gardener Merle Burston asks: “with this growing in the shade, who needs flowers?”

Although it can stand alone in the garden, Japanese painted fern is a favourite dance partner. Its upward reach and shape provides interesting contrast for plants with downward arching forms, such as Solomon’s seal.  It looks dramatic when set against any dark green background or with other plants that pick up its burgundy colour, such as red Japanese maple, maroon Heuchera, black-purple Cimicifuga simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, or chocolate-purple Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford.’ It lights up an area with its silvery shimmer. Consider it as an accent, a specimen, for edging or as a woodland plant. But by all means consider it for one of your prized shade plants.

Japanese painted fern 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.

Rain: we’re never happy

Three weeks ago, everyone was saying, “We sure could use some rain.” And now that it’s pouring (and hailing, with funnel clouds and all), everyone’s saying, “It’s so wet! What we really need is some heat to get the crops and gardens going!”

Though it feels like a bit of deja vu, here I am talking about the weather again. But I don’t want to complain today. No, despite my nagging compulsion to get outside being thwarted by the unbelievable wet, I am here today to pay homage to the rain. Where would we be without it? Really, think about that for a minute.

So in the spirit of gratitude, here’s some tunes for your rainy day party… or if you’re needing moisture in your neck of the woods, maybe have yourself a little rain dance.

http://8tracks.com/aprildemes/rainy-day

 

 

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.

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.}

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