{ Posts Tagged ‘perennials’ }

While you’re waiting… plant some of these! (Part 1)

In my penultimate look at perennials that bridge the gap between spring and summer, I recommend some superb flowers that are tailor-made for carrying your garden through the seasonal transition until the main glut of coreopsis, daylilies, echinacea, hydrangeas, garden phlox and Shasta daisies open their blooms as the mercury soars during the dog days of summer.

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Living Mulches: Two Great Groundcovers for Shade

One of my favourite groundcovers for shade is sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum, Zone 3) which spreads slowly but surely via short underground rhizomes. It bears fragrant cymes of star-shaped white flowers for several weeks in early summer, and while its spread may be indefinite, it rarely grows taller than 10 centimetres. Even when not in flower, sweet woodruff remains attractive with its circular whorls of leaves that hug the ground and provide the perfect backdrop for larger plants.

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The first perennials to flower in spring

It’s always a neck-and-neck contest to see whether it will be the small spring bulbs (snowdrops, snow crocuses and winter aconites) or hellebores (Helleborus spp. and cvs.) that win the race to produce the first flowers of the new gardening season once the witchhazels have finished.

In my garden, the snowdrops won the cup this year, but when the white stuff finally melted, it revealed hellebore blossoms that had already partially opened under a thin, insulating layer of snow.

We often get mail at this time of year asking whether gardeners should remove the leathery overwintering leaves of hellebores, or leave them in place to die down naturally (as with daffodils and tulips). The answer is that it’s really a matter of personal taste. Some gardeners feel that the old foliage offers protection against spring frosts, while others say that the previous season’s leaves detract from the plant’s overall appearance.

You be the judge, here’s the “before snipping” picture of two separate clumps:

And here’s the hellebore on the right, several days later:


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Early spring blooms

Early spring is my favourite time of year. Gardeners across Canada are so starved for petals, that it’s always a thrill to see the first flowers emerging in our gardens. Most of us had to wait three or four weeks longer than usual this year, but the insulating snow cover protected our most precocious bloomers, who cheerfully thrust their flowers up through the cold soil the moment the snow had melted.

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Bookworm: Five-Plant Gardens by Nancy J. Ondra

If you’re a gardening newbie and haven’t a clue where to start, pick up Nancy J. Ondra’s Five Plant Gardens: 52 Ways to Grow a Perennial Garden with Just Five Plants. Gardening expert Ondra provides 52 easy-to-execute garden plans, each using five well-considered plants that grow nicely together.

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My overgrown perennial bed

This is the lovely flower bed Margo planted years ago.

It is full of traditional perennials like irises, peonies, daffodils, lilies, clematis, phlox, and lupins.

At least, I think it is.

It was on the bottom of the priority list last year.

I thought it could stand a little neglect, because it was so well established.

Now I am paying for it.

Have I mentioned lately that I wish death to quackgrass? I don’t even think Kathy Renwald could help me hide this one…

The plot thickens

img_2889Of all the seasons, my grandmother loved spring the best. I’ve always been an autumn girl myself, but as I grow older I’m growing more partial toward spring as well. It’s a celebration of renewal; nature’s annual affirmation of faith in the future of this planet.

As you can see by this photo of a corner of my back garden taken this morning, everything is growing by leaps and bounds. Later in the season my patch will mostly be in shade, but I’ve learned to embrace this.

So what should you be planting right now? I’ve carefully put in a few more ferns and hostas, but cautious Clara here is keeping a watchful eye on other emerging perennials before I plant more stuff, because it’s oh-so-so easy to be over-hasty and dig up or damage plants that are simply slow to get started.

And personally, I never buy tender annuals until after Victoria Day, which is early this year. This week, Toronto has had some nippy nights with frost warnings, so I’ll likely wait awhile before I go shopping for my favourite tuberous begonias, which are such beautiful plants for shade. Use your judgment and don’t buy too early if it’s cold where you live.

A corner of my front woodland garden.

A corner of my front woodland garden.

But there’s absolutely no need to feel gardening-deprived. Because across much of the country this is the ideal time to put in perennials, shrubs, trees and evergreens; in fact, you really want to shop for those as early as possible for the best selection. One caveat–to optimize sales, perennials in nurseries and garden centres are often forced into full bloom out of their normal cycle. Keep this in mind when shopping. Once established, unless it’s an early spring perennial such as brunnera, it’s unlikely your plant will bloom at this time in your garden. Nor will all your plants bloom at once! It’s best to do a bit of research before you buy so you can plan for a sequence of bloom throughout the season. And once you’re at the nursery, choose perennials that are bushy and compact with strong stems and loads of growing points and buds, as opposed to tall and lanky and in full bloom.

It goes without saying that spring is a very busy time for garden centres. Once there, even super-organized gardeners with itemized lists are likely to be seduced by something fabulous and unexpected, but that’s part of the fun.

Aimg_28661s a master gardener, part of my commitment involves putting in a minimum of 30 volunteer hours a year. And there’s nothing nicer than doing that while being surrounded by top-quality plants. So in the past several weeks I’ve had the pleasure of advising gardeners at Islington Nurseries in the city’s west end, and helping at the Toronto Botanical Garden‘s plant sale, which was held last week. Paul Zammit, the new director of horticulture at the TBG, brought in some dandy plants. Some of the choicest specimens were scooped up by the mad keen plant nerds on Day One, but there was plenty from which to choose on Day Two as well, which is when I put in my shift. One of the biggest bargains there was this magnificent serviceberry clump, which I scooped up for my daughter’s garden. The price? Just $19.99. I should have bought more.

Good Ideas for Small Spaces

Every spring, Loblaw companies generously invites garden journalists from Toronto and southern Ontario to a luncheon and preview of their new President’s Choice plants, garden equipment, accessories and decor (to check where they’re available in your area, go to presidentschoice.ca). There are always some good ideas to take away, not to mention armloads of fabulous plants they give us plant piggies to trial at home.

This year, a couple of things struck me as being great for gardeners with limited space, such as a tiny urban lot or a balcony.

One of these is a President’s Choice clematis that offers two types in one pot. Developed by Britain’s famous Raymond Evison, it’s guaranteed for one year and sells for $24.99; mine combines wine-red Rebecca with periwinkle-blue Cezanne, both hardy to Zone 4. Double the colour punch, but takes up the same space as an ordinary clematis.

Another smart idea is a handsome, square planter of herbs. The one I picked up is ready-planted with sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley and chives–just the thing to pop on the back deck near my kitchen. (Or on your apartment balcony?)

img_2892However, my favourite item, shown here at the side of my house, is this compact, rectangular rain barrel. I bought it yesterday for $74.99 on sale at my local Loblaw store, and will hook it up to my downspout this week. I don’t have enough space for one of those huge round standard-sized rain barrels, but this is just the job, and will help keep rain away from the foundation of my house. The brown colour blends in with the brick of my house, but you could always paint it something else with one of the new paints that adhere to plastic, such as Krylon Fusion.

And of course, there’s nothing better than soft rain water for your plants.