Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

A most unexpected bloom has been greeting me every morning for the last few days. It sprouted right outside my front door so I see it every time I exit or enter the house. I think it's a daisy but I can't know for sure.

It turns out that my heavy duty winter boots, rated to -30 degrees celcius, have treads in the shapes of flowers on the soles. I didn't know this when I bought them. Now that winter is here and my boots leave trails of flowers wherever I go I think "what a lucky purchase." I can enjoy these icy flowers all season long as each step leads me closer to spring.

Have a very merry Christmas and happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hidden Garden in the Lane

Over at Toronto Gardens, one of my favourite blogs, the topic this week is Hidden Gardens: Toronto's Alleyways. It's all about the wonderful wildflowers and weeds one encounters when trekking through the back lanes of Toronto neighbourhoods. It made me immediately nostalgic for summer and my own laneway garden. I call it my laneway garden but, truth be told, it has nothing to do with me other than it sprouted next to my laneway parking spot. The "garden" is comprised of an enormous stand of goldenrod (which apparently has no problem growing in gravel) and an even more enormous bittersweet nightshade vine, an invasive and poisonous weed that grows far and wide.

I've tried to grow ornamentals in the lane only to be met with failure. The conditions, invariably, prove too harsh. And it doesn't help when drivers drive over my would-be garden. But let nature take its course and it is amazing what can happen. The nightshade vine dripping with red berries is quite the site to behold. The vine had been growing for several years already when this picture was taken.

The berries even added a splash of dramatic colour in the dead of winter. Alas, this garden is no more. While the goldenrod is more than welcome to stay, I removed the nightshade vine this fall. It was getting a little (okay, a lot) out of control, creeping into the neighbours' eavestroughs and under some of their garage roof shingles. I also felt a little guilty for allowing a plant with such a nasty nature to thrive for so long simply by neglecting to weed the laneway area. I'm glad the vine is gone...but it sure was beautiful while it lasted.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beautiful Bok Choy

This beautiful bok choy ended up in a stir-fry dinner last night. It thrills me to no end that I am still harvesting veggies from the raised beds in mid-November (notice the ruffled lettuce and dark green spinach in the background.) I tried bok choy for the first time this year and am very pleased with the results. The spring crop was very successful. The autumn crop is well on its way to surpassing the results of spring. Bok choy can be directly seeded into the garden. It produces a harvest when temperatures are still quite cool in spring and just as they are cooling down significantly in fall. I suspect that with a little bit of shade, bok choy might produce into the warmer summer months. A novice veggie gardener looking for something easy and tasty to grow should consider bok choy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Still Blooming

The calendar says November but the garden doesn't mind. Attention shifts to fall foliage colours at this time of year but I'm thrilled to say there is lots still blooming.

The calendula seem to be taking the cold evenings in stride. A light frost this morning made the calendula even more delightful. I love the variety of colours.

These flowers came to my garden courtesy of Connie at Notes from a Cottage Garden. Thank you Connie for making a usually dreary November than much brighter this year. I'll be sure to save some seed so I can enjoy these flowers again next year.

The calendula enjoy full sun all day long. Blooming right alongside them is the lesser calamint. Towards summer's end this little plant is covered in white blooms that are barely visible through the swarms of bees and other insects that love it so much. In fall, the flowers are more of a violet. They are as plentiful as at the height of summer and the fragrance is as intense as always.

Even in the shade, the blooms keep coming. The toad lily tricyrtis lasiocarpa is a stunner. The blooms are as impressive as the buds, of which there are many. I will protect this plant well this winter as it described as a toad lily for warmer climates. That certainly doesn't apply to my garden in February.

The toad lily "White Towers" has returned reliably for a few years now. It takes its time getting started in spring but is a reliable performer once it gets going. The spotty foliage is of interest all season long until the blooms take to the spotlight starting some time in October. There are flower buds at regular intervals along the entire length of the toad lily stems. As one cluster of blooms fades, the next comes into bloom. As a result, this plant produces blooms for a month or more.

Also still blooming in the shade is the bugbane. If it were standing up straight, this plant would easily reach five feet. I have it in very dense shade, however, so I find it grows at more of an angle as it reaches for the sun. I had three of these remarkable plants at the start of the summer but a team of painters wiped out two. I am hoping they reappear next year. I am very tempted to move them to a sunnier spot to achieve a more upright appearance.

I also grow "Black Negligee" bugbane. It is a much shorter variety, topping out at about three feet. The name refers to the dark foliage. Out of three plants only one bloomed. I fear my shade really is too dense to allow these plants to thrive so, again, a move to a sunnier locale may be in order.

The calendar says November but there is lots still blooming. Maybe I'm finally getting the hang of the all-season garden.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Four Seasons of Serviceberry

When I first started gardening, a successful season meant blooms from May to August. That's simply not good enough anymore. I crave colour in the garden as early as March and as late as November. Serviceberry (amelanchier canadensis) is a wonderful shrub that helps to extend the season and provide year-round interest.

One of the best features of serviceberry is its outstanding fall colour. All of the photos here are of foliage from the same shrub.

The colours are so lovely as they mingle together. Together they give off a glowing warmth that is very welcome as the days grow shorter and the nights grow cooler.

In spring, the serviceberry is among the first shrubs to herald the arrival of sunnier days.

By June, the shrub is absolutely dripping with berries. The berries start off green, turning a bright red for a few days. The berries then mature to a deep purple. This is a no-mess shrub. Left to their own devices, robins will feast on every last berry, whether on a branch or on the ground. Fortunately, there are lots of berries to go around. For several weeks each summer, breakfast comes with a side of serviceberries. One day, there will be enough for a serviceberry pie.

In winter, the serviceberry has a pleasing form. I add my own colour during the darkest and dreariest months. In my Zone 6a Toronto garden, serviceberry has been a problem-free, four-season delight. If you have a little extra room for something special in your garden, serviceberry is a great choice.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ornamental Cabbage in the Fall Garden

This year I decided to grow some ornamental cabbage from seed. I got a very late start...July to be I wasn't especially hopeful that my efforts would amount to much. Happily, the cabbage plants don't seem finicky about calendar dates. They have reached a fairly substantial size. The largest are more than a foot tall and more than a foot in diameter. The smallest aren't that much smaller. I grew the plants in my raised veggie beds. Today I moved them to the front yard garden where they are nestled in among the geranium "Rozanne."

The plants haven't developed the wildly colourful centres of pink, purple and white as seen on the seed pack (blame the late start) but there's still plenty of time in the growing season, especially since these guys don't mind the cold. Even without their colourful centres, the plants are quite bold in their appearance and add interest as "Rozanne" begins to wane. They are right up against the sidewalk so I hope the neighbours enjoy the view.

A trip to the garden centre to pick up some compost revealed that ornamental cabbages, similar in size to mine, are going for $10 or more each! That makes me feel pretty good about a seed pack I picked up for $1.69.

Update: I'v been doing some more research on ornamental cabbage and it turns out I planted the seeds at just about the right time. Most websites suggest planting anywhere between 6 and 10 weeks before the first anticipated hard frost. As for the brightly coloured centres of the plant, I can expect to see them as the temperature drops. Cooler days and nights enhance the colour of the cabbage. I thought I would be able to enjoy these plants until about Halloween, but it turns out they don't mind temperatures as low as 5F or -15C. That means there could be colour in the garden right until the end of the year! My $1.69 investment is looking better and better.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Horticultural Showdown Success!

Make no mistake about it: there's a competitive spirit among gardeners. This past weekend, I invited green thumbs on my street to show off the best, biggest, most beautiful and just plain weird fruits, veggies, or flowers growing in their garden. I dubbed the event a friendly "Horticultural Showdown." The only rule was that participants had to have grown their own entries. I placed a collection of zinnias and my entry, the beet to beat, on a table in front of our house and waited for the fun to begin. It wasn't long before the entries started rolling in and the table started getting crowded.

There were so many beautiful entries like this collection of leafy greens, celery and apples. Until the showdown, I don't think I had ever seen anyone grow celery successfully in the city.

These green beans were a foot long!

A beautiful basket of potatoes reminded me of how much fun it is to grow potatoes.

The chayote (pronounced chay-OH-teh) squash was easily the most memorable entry of the day. This was the first time I had ever seen one. This is a plant native to Mexico but apparently very easily grown by the lady down the street.

Neighbours were invited to cast a ballot for their favourite entry. In addition to all the fabulous edibles I've shown you, neighbours also entered roses, a berberry, a venus fly-trap, a collection of herbs, a collection of massive kale leaves, beets, carrots, and hot peppers. Third place went to this collection of tomatoes and peppers.

Second prize went to a beautiful berried branch of mahonia grape. Everyone wondered if the tightly clustered berries were blueberries. You can see the branch on the left side of the picture (click to enlarge). First prize went to the perfect pumpkin on the right. Not only was it a great size and vibrant orange colour but it was entirely unblemished. How did the squirrels and raccoons miss it? There was much hooting and hollering as the winners were announced. They each collected a modest prize of some seeds or spring bulbs that I scrounged up. It was an incredibly fun day even if the beet to beat never stood a chance.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Beet to Beat!

The neighbours on my street have been working together for the past few weeks to organize a street festival and car-free day. Our street will closed to traffic for an afternoon of fun including a bike parade and dog pageant, stilt walkers and street hockey. My contribution is our street's first ever horticultural showdown. I have invited neighbours to submit entries of the biggest, baddest, most beautiful or just plain weird fruits and veggies they have been growing in their yards. I'll be showcasing this giant chioggia beet.

The beet has quietly occupied a space in the raised veggie beds since about April. I've placed a fork and a quarter next to it to give you a sense of how large and hefty it is (I wish I had a scale.) I'm very pleased with this beet, especially since last year's beet crop was a total bust. Once the veggie competition is over, I'll be pickling this bad boy so it can be enjoyed for months to come. My neighbours are starting to come through with their entries. A lady down the street has entered a mammoth tomato and a hot pepper that's at least 1 foot long. And my mother has a collection of gargantuan beans that have to be seen to be believed. I'm hoping for lots more entries. It should be a lot of fun. So far the standard has been set high: this is the beet to beat.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Absentee Blogger Returns with Tales of the Gentian

So, how is it possible to get from Tulip Time to late summer without a single blog entry? A simple equation explains this unexpected turn of events.

Home renovations + an active seven-year old + a persistent throat infection and fatigue + a summer of giving tours in other people's gardens = the absentee blogger.

Remarkably, Blogger tells me gardeners have continued to check in through the blogging drought. For your patience, dear readers, thank you.

Despite the complete lack of entries, much has been happening in the garden. The garlic crop was incredible. Annuals were a bigger part of the garden than ever before. And, I've gone a bit conifer crazy. There has been a definite shift to more woody plants in both the full sun backyard garden and the shady woodland out front. Happily, there will be much to blog about in the cold months ahead.

I was coaxed out of my non-blogging stupor by colour. The closed gentians (gentiana clausa) began blooming a few days ago and the iridescent blue of the flowers caught my eye. The colour is very reminiscent of the Dwarf Iris "Cantab" which awakened the gardener in me in early spring.

The gentians are planted amid the "Orange Queen" epimedium. Through careful garden design (also known as happy coincidence) the foliage of the epimedium and gentian are a nearly identical chartreuse colour. As a result, the taller gentian stems seem to emerge from the centre of the chartreuse epimedium carpet, almost as if the two plants were really one. This chartreuse futher provides an outstanding colour contrast to the blue gentian flowers.

I was so delighted to see these blue beauties this year. I was doubly delighted to discover that closed gentians blooms in tiers. Not only will you find a cluster of blooms at the end of the stem, but there are blooms that emerge from each whorl of leaves present on the stem. There are only a few secondary, tiered blooms this year. I expect the performance of the flowers will improve in subsequent summers. Their late summer bloom time is also appreciated. With the exception of the bugbane which is still to bloom, everything else in the garden faded long ago.

While researching gentiana clausa I learned that these North American natives are considered the flowers of wet meadows and woodlands. I have provided my gentians with some supplemental watering this summer. Even so, it has been very hot and dry. The gentians have taken their dry shade location in stride and appear to be content. I am happy to say that another impulse purchase has paid off.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tulip Time

Considering the squirrel population around these parts, it has been a really great year for tulips. I love the drama of this almost black tulip, variety unknown.

The dwarf species tulip "Little Beauty" has finally bloomed despite my suspicions that it may never make an appearance. Its skinny, strappy foliage hugs the ground while the bloom is only about an inch or two high. Tulip Saxatilis, which was planted at the same time as "Little Beauty" last fall, is still missing in action.

The long-stemmed red tulips in the foreground have been blooming all week. The "White Cloud" tulips in the background just opened up within the last two days.

Here's another bunch of long-stemmed red tulips. The red flowers really pop out against the emerging green foliage of the garden.

Of the three species tulip varieties I planted last fall, Turkestanica was easily the strongest performer. Even though its flowers have long since faded, Turkestanica impressed me so much I'm including a picture here and counting it among the biggest tulip successes of this spring.

Obviously the garden isn't overflowing with tulips. I've always been averse to planting them because of the earlier mentioned squirrel situation. This spring's success stories, however, are encouraging. Maybe next year, with some careful selections and clever companion planting to deter the squirrels, there will be even more tulips to enjoy at tulip time.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Garden Debuts, Old and New Favourites

There's lots that new and blooming for the first time in the garden. First up is the epimedium that was added to the front-yard shade garden last spring. There were no blooms last year, so I was absolutely thrilled to see the flowers this morning.

The blooms of "Orange Konigin" are a delightful coppery-orange colour. They are so small that it was difficult to get a good photograph of the flower. Epimedium are great plants for dry shade (lucky for me, 'cause that's where I've planted them). As a bonus, they tolerate drought. In a few years, the sprays of flowers should create an orange haze above a good mound of foliage.

Sticking with the miniatures, daffodil "Minnow" is in bloom. At only about 10 inches tall, this is a diminutive daff. The bloom is only about the size of my thumb.

It is very possible that "Minnow" is in fact "New Baby" but I won't know for sure until "New Baby" blooms. Whatever it's name, I love it.

Tulipa Turkestanica is blooming for the first time. I am so glad I planted this species tulip. The squirrels haven't touched it and the blooms are spectacular in a carefree kind of way. It's a bloom that looks great without looking like it's trying to look great.

Sadly, Turkestanica's companions have yet to make an appearance and I'm beginning to think they might not bother. Tulipa Saxatilis and "Little Beauty" are nowhere in sight.

The smallest new bloom in the garden is Bishop's Cap or Mitrewort. I picked up some Mitella Diphylla at a native plant sale last spring and immediately divided it into six plants.

While it was difficult to get a good picture, these plants are really very charming. The flower stems stand tall with confidence.

The Tete-a-Tete daffodils are new to the garden and already a favourite. How could I not love these? They have been blooming for three weeks already! They look great on their own but next to a pulmonaria they look outstanding. I have grown pulmonaria for years and never give it enough credit. Now that I've seen it with miniature daffs, I think I have a new favourite combination.

The serviceberries are blossoming. Serviceberry has been a favourite for a few years now. At one time, it was one of the garden's earliest bloomers. Now, it has taken its place in line behind some of the flowers mentioned above. Still, I love it for its creamy white blooms that lead to a colourful June display and an even more colourful autumn display. In June, bright red berries against deep green leaves make me think of Christmas. And fiery orange fall colour make this shrub unforgettable in autumn. I love serviceberry.

Bloodroot is relatively new to the garden but a veteran compared to some of the bulbs debuting this spring. It has such a pretty bloom and the foliage is very impressive (sort of like an extremely large fig leaf). My only complaint is that I can't get enough of it. There have only been a handful of blooms this year. I want a colony. I think dry weather is certainly a factor.

I am happy to say that the garden has had something in bloom since the end of March. Just as one bloom is fading, another is taking up the slack. So, I've come to realize that "Succession Planting" is not a myth. You really can have plants bloom one after the other so that there is always something of interest. It has been a great start to spring, with old and new favourites making the garden come alive.