Gardening Blog

My alien succulents–find your own at a succulent and cacti show this weekend!

This past spring at Canada Blooms, I attended one of Marjorie Mason's seminars where she spoke about xeriscaping. It was inspiring to hear how some of Marjorie's land was originally very sandy and through continuous mulching she was able to feed her soil and make things grow. Part of the magic is also knowing which plants will thrive in drier conditions. That's where xeriscaping comes in — choosing plants that can adapt to a dry environment and finding native varieties that have already adapted to the growing conditions in your particular area. This was a really helpful seminar for me as the soil tends to be very sandy in front of my house and I came away with some great ideas.

hensandchicksSucculents, such as hens and chicks, do very well in dry conditions as they retain water in their leaves, stems and roots. Last year I planted some hens and chicks out front in an area that gets a lot of sun and that can become rather dry. I've included a photo to show how they've spread and spawned (I say `spawned` because these sweet alien-looking flowers sprouted out of my little cluster and ‘spawn’ seems to be an appropriate description).

You can look for your own interesting succulents and cacti this weekend at the annual Ontario Cactus & Succulent Society (OCSS) Show at Sherway Gardens. Hundreds of rare, unusual and expertly grown cacti and succulents will be on display and there will be experts available to give you more information about xeriscaping and to provide valuable growing tips. Maybe you, too, will be able to find that perfect succulent for a dry spot in your garden.

The irises I thought would never bloom!

I finally grabbed these photos off my camera after writing about how I was worried my irises wouldn’t bloom. As you can see, they did just fine. I wished they would last the whole summer!

These ones I knew would bloom, but I thought I'd share them anyway!

These ones I knew would bloom, but I thought I'd share them anyway!

The blooms on these purple beauties are magnificent! And they get so top heavy, they fall right over!

The blooms on these purple beauties are magnificent! And they get so top heavy, they fall right over!

Did your irises bloom for you this year?

A few weeks ago my leaves on my irises were lush and green, but not a bud was to be found. Then one little bloom made it's way up in a completely different place in my garden, so I was wondering why I didn't have any blooms on the others! In a panic (OK, I’m being overdramatic–I’ll say out of curiosity), I consulted Anne Marie, who gave me some very helpful advice. Then, lo and behold, a couple of rainstorms brought forth the giant purple buds on my beloved irises and they’ve been blooming ever since.

In any case, I thought I'd share Anne Marie's tips for any readers who were not lucky enough to have blooms this year.

These are probably a type of bearded Iris. They should bloom reliably for you each year unless…

  • They have been moved or were divided last year (they take about three years to get back to full bloom again).
  • They are now too shaded; they need at least six hours of full sun.
  • The soil is too rich or too lean; too much nitrogen fertilizer can cause them to have little or no bloom and lots of foliage.
  • They are planted too deep; the rhizome should be peeking through the surface of the soil.
  • They are overcrowded; this will cause fewer blooms.
  • They have been attacked by an iris borer–look for shriveled or sunken rhizomes where the iris borer has done its damage.
  • They are being grown in too soggy of a location; they prefer to be slightly dry.

I definitely need to thin mine this year and will be following the tips in this article to divide them.

Too much of a good thing?

blogimage32All of us rejoice when a plant in our garden does well. But sometimes it does too well–who among us doesn’t have a surfeit of one thing or another? Take wood anemone (Anemone nemerosa) at left. Now this is a lovely woodland plant, but it’s a rambunctious one. A gardening friend passed some along to me a couple some years ago, and I’ve been yanking ‘em out ever since. The plant has leaves very like that of masterwort (Astrantia major), which is another plant I grow, so it fools me into thinking it’s the more polite plant. Until I see its pretty white flowers, which are a dead giveaway. I do like wood anemone, but it spreads like mad with running, underground roots that form new plants even if only the tiniest bits are left in the soil after you yank it out.

Like many of my other invasives, I’ve moved some wood anemone to the front garden where only the very toughest plants survive in the rootbound soil under the Norway maple. Survive? The darn thing is colonizing! Meanwhile, the area out back that I thought I’d thoroughly cleared last year has a fine new crop of plants. Sigh. You have to give it marks for perseverance.

A few weeks ago, I was volunteering at an advice clinic at Islington Nurseries in Toronto’s west end–part of what I do as a Master Gardener. One man came in clutching a small fistful of leaves. “This noxious weed is everywhere in my lawn and in my flower beds,” he fumed. “I don’t know what it is and I want to know if there’s anything I can put on it to kill it dead.”

blogimage2I took one look and saw that he was holding a handful of as-yet-unbloomed forget-me-nots. I was able to reassure him that these plants are self-seeding annuals, and if he didn’t want any next year he could simply mow them down before they set seed. There was no need to spray them with anything.

Personally, I love forget-me-nots, which sow themselves merrily in my garden hither and yon. Once their bloom is past its best and the plants look almost mouldy and seedy, I simply pull them out and shake the seeds where I want them to come up next year. It’s as simple as that.

blogimage1Sweet woodruff is another plant I was delighted to welcome but now slightly less so. This is a pretty little groundcover that’s at home in a woodland garden and covers itself with starry white flowers every spring (seen left, with a few forget-me-nots thrown in for good measure). It has a dainty, almost frothy appearance.

Unfortunately, it’s also a rampager in my garden, though easier to keep under control than the wood anemone. I foolishly planted some in a little semicircle area where I wanted to create a patchwork of low groundcovers in different colours and textures, and the sweet woodruff is trying to muscle them all out, including the expensive clump of Canadian wild ginger (Asarum canadense). Naughty, naughty! I’ll have to get out there next week and show it who’s boss. (And yes, there’s plenty growing in the front garden as well.)

I never knew there was such a thing as seed tape!

Do you ever find that you discover a word or a new invention and all of a sudden, you see it everywhere? Well yesterday, Anja, CanadianGardening.com’s web editor, was telling me about seed tape, a handy little invention that allows you to quickly and easily sow your seeds in a row, equally spaced, no fuss, no muss! Well today as I was scanning some design blogs, I came across a way to make your own. Linked from Craftzine.com, this slideshow on the instructables site shows you how to do it step by step. I wonder if this would keep my squirrel “neighbours” (I say “neighbours” in lieu of the expletives I call them in private), away or if they’d have a field day pulling out these strips and dragging them around the yard…

Canada Blooms finds a new home

This morning it was officially announced that next year, Canada Blooms will take place at the Direct Energy Centre located in Exhibition Place. This is a fabulous choice of venue, most notably because of the accessibility for visitors and vendors alike. I can just picture gorgeous floral displays in the vast, sunny hall. And you won’t feel like you’re descending into a cave when you head into the show.

It was also announced that the theme will focus on passions, whether it be a passion for plants and gardening or a passion for the environment, food, design, etc. I find this a little ambiguous as everyone who attends is quite obviously passionate about gardening and everyone who is involved with creating the gardens is passionate about their craft. It will be interesting to see how this theme is interpreted visually among the exhibits.

Is cilantro a perennial?

I was puttering in my herb garden a couple of nights ago and among the helicopters I was having to pick out of the dirt from the giant maple next door were two little cilantro plants. They are not in the same place as my cilantro plant from last year, but they’re in the general vicinity, so my guess is that when the plant went to seed in the fall, a couple of little seeds survived the winter! Hm, I always thought that cilantro was an annual…

Waifs and strays

img_2939Most experienced gardeners know it’s best to invest in a well-grown, top-quality plant. Well tended plants have the vigour and stamina needed to make the successful transition from nursery pot to garden. Once in awhile, though, I’m drawn to a less-than-stellar specimen at an end-of-season sale. Something about it telegraphs, “please give me a chance,” and I do.

Take the tree peony shown here, which was little more than a stick when I scooped it up a couple of years ago for $4. The few leaves it had were healthy and green, so I gave it a little talking to, a bit of TLC and planted it in the ground. This year, it’s powered up into a big, beautiful plant and rewarded me with more than a dozen massive, brilliantly hued blooms.

img_2963Ditto this Japanese maple, which I rescued quite late one fall for $20. A few of its branches had been broken off and it was a bit lopsided, but basically it appeared to be healthy and just needed some gentle pruning. I placed it in the back of the garden where its spindly condition wouldn’t be so noticeable.

Plain old Acer palmatum is the most commonly sold and hardiest of the Japanese maples in our Zone 6 Toronto climate, and I figured it had more of a fighting chance of surviving that first winter than some of the fancier, more finicky, cut-leafed marquee types. I was right. This once-scraggy example is now well on its way to becoming a graceful, shapely small tree.

Of course, I would never buy a plant that is clearly diseased or really needs to go to that great garden in the sky, and neither should you. But it’s fun to adopt a promising mutt and see it grow into a champion.

Another thing I love about gardens is the way mystery plants crop up in unexpected places. These may be gifts from the squirrels or the wind.

img_2931img_2967A lone candelabra or Japanese primula (Primula japonica, far left) appeared in the garden this year. I didn’t plant it, but it seems to have made itself right at home. And columbine (Aquilegia spp., left) in various colours seeds itself hither and yon, including in between the patio pavers.

A couple of doors up, the neighbours have a fine show of Allium giganteum, below. I grow various types of alliums as well, but not this one. However, I now have several of these in my front garden, courtesy of the squirrels (and inadvertently, my neighbour. Luckily I live on a very friendly street).

img_29461Take a look around your garden and see what unexpected gifts you might find out there. And keep your eyes open at the nursery for those orphan plants that deserve a good home and a fighting chance.

Looking forward to picking salad from my garden

Ever since I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver last year, I've been inspired to grow more than just a couple of tomato plants and the odd herb. It seems I’m not the only one… every newspaper and magazine has been extolling the virtues of urban vegetable gardening of late. And with the wealth of information out there, picking your dinner from your yard doesn’t seem so unattainable. I now have a new garden all laid out and I can't wait to plant what I hope will be a bumper crop of veggies.

I've got the seedlings that made it through my fungus gnat infestation–hot peppers, fennel and cilantro–as well as some heirloom tomato plants currently growing in my sister's apartment; a couple of promised plants grown from Gina's tomato seeds–carefully saved each year by a friend’s mom (apparently they yield giant, juicy and delicious fruit!); and a few other plants to join my seeds–a zucchini, a green pepper, and a strawberry (though I may save this for a different spot). I’m also growing beets, beans and a few other treats from seed.

Still on my list are tomatillos, since they were so successful in my yard last year. Apparently my parents, who also grew them, have a bunch coming up in their garden already. I had read that they reseed themselves, but I haven't seen any sign in my own garden so far. Either way, I want to be able to make my own salsa verde again.

There are definitely some lessons I've learned since last year's growing season, the most important, I think, revolving around feeding my soil.

I've also consulted Canadian Vegetable Gardening written by Douglas Green. I love Douglas` stress-free approach to gardening and how the book devotes a couple of pages to each vegetable, making it easy to consult and gather the necessary tips. I had a chance to chat with Douglas recently about gardening when I interviewed him for a Homemakers.com story on growing herbs and took away some helpful tips from that conversation, too.

Another resource I've been consulting is the notebook I took to Canada Blooms. I attended a seminar by Ken Brown who, like Douglas, has a very laid-back, resourceful approach to gardening, yet still reaps tremendous rewards all season long.

I noticed someone in our forums recently had posted her three favourite reference books for veggie gardening, so I added my two cents.

What are your favourite veggie gardening resources?

Have your rose questions answered–live!

Until now my questions about my rosebushes have basically been centred around how to prune them without getting hurt. One of them is an ominous-looking beast and the other is catching up. However, armed with some helpful advice from Anne Marie, a new pair of protective rose gloves from my sister and the latest issue of Canadian Gardening, with its illustrated guide to renovating roses, I feel ready to tame the beast(s).

If you have some questions about your own roses, Canadian Gardening magazine’s editor-at-large, Stephen Westcott-Gratton will be in our forums for an hour tomorrow to address your rose queries live!

Hope to see you there at 1 p.m. EDT!

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