Wednesday, March 31, 2010

True Blue: Dwarf Iris "Cantab" Garden Debut

Every morning I pull back the bedroom curtain and peek outside to see what kind of day it's going to be. This morning a flash of blue caught my eye. I raced downstairs and outside into the front-yard shade garden to discover the Dwarf Iris "Cantab" in bloom. I would just like to say "Wow!"

It's only about as tall as my pointer finger but what an impact! It's the bluest bloom I've ever had in the garden and it is unforgettable (even my husband who rarely takes notice of anything horticultural remarked on the colour.) I planted 48 of these bulbs last fall. I can't wait to see each and every one of them show their true blue colours.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Drifts of Crocus: A Gardener's Optimistic View

I was on a mission when I went into the backyard this afternoon...probably something to do with taking care of the garbage or recycling. My mission was immediately aborted and promptly forgotten when I saw the crocus in bloom. Suddenly I was on a new mission: get the camera!

I have always loved these miniature marvels of the garden. They are bright and cheerful and very insistent about the fact that winter is over. There is only one drawback I can think of when it comes to crocus: you need hundreds upon hundreds of them to really make an impact.

Well, hundreds upon hundreds of crocus bulbs can get very expensive, very fast, so over the years, I've been content to watch one or two, sometimes even three, crocus pop up here and there. I figured I'd leave them to their own devices.

During all those years while I wasn't looking, the crocus began to multiply. Where there used to be one or two blooms, I am now finding six, seven, or even eight blooms.

Then it dawned on me: the garden was no longer home to a scattered handful of crocus. It was home to drifts of crocus. Two whole drifts of them.

By the standards of any self-respecting garden book or magazine, my drifts would generously be described as, oh...let's say modest. But for this optimistic gardener, these are some of the finest looking drifts of crocus ever.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Canada Blooms: Better than Ever

Wow and wow! That's the best way to describe Canada Blooms 2010. While the show has left me feeling a bit disappointed and underwhelmed in the past, this year I was really impressed. The new venue at the Direct Energy Centre is far more friendly and welcoming than the cavernous and sometimes dungeon-like Convention Centre. There seemed to be a renewed interest in real plants and people who love plants: horticultural societies and garden clubs got a whole aisle to themselves this year. And all of the really big showy gardens seemed modest, realistic, and attainable compared to the "I'll-never-be-able-to-afford-that-garden-ever" types of gardens that I expected to see. In other words, there were beautiful gardens to see and wonderful ideas to borrow.

"Sea Urchins" by Nippaysage Landscape Architects of Montreal was easily my favourite display. There's simply no way to go wrong with that many tulips. Gorgeous.

"Yellow Beacon," the Canadian Cancer Society's garden, featured a wall of daffodils.

The "Down to Earth" garden billed itself as "a studio garden of earthly energy and edible plants. A place to work, play, create...whatever your passion." It caught my eye with its use of lush ferns and awesome masks.

"Seen Unseen" featured plantings in oil drums to draw attention to Canada's Boreal Forest and how it's being affected by the rapid growth of energy production from the Tar Sands. Gardens with a "message" (like last year's horrible plastic pot landscape) usually make me roll my eyes and groan, but I found this one to be especially effective. The cold, steely drums contrasted well with the warmth of the plantings, suggesting incompatibililty. The size of the drums compared to the plantings also suggested, to me at least, that in the battle of the tulip versus the Tar Sands, the tulip won't win.

Edibles were everywhere, including this edible landscape that can only be described as cute. I just love that little mushroom path! Bright red cherry tomatoes featured prominently in several displays. I was very happy to see the City of Toronto promoting urban agriculture through backyard and community gardens. The focus on edible landscapes as something beautiful in and of itself was such a refreshing change from past years where some of the gardens seemed to be defined only by pavers and patio stones.

There was a lot to see on the floral design front including this eye-catching orchid display. Outstanding!

While there was a lot of creative, avant-garde design, this display of white roses won me over for its simplicity. Classy and classic.

I managed to resist temptation and walked away from Canada Blooms empty-handed. However, if this handmade copper water tree had been for sale I would surely have taken it home. It was just beautiful, as it simulated the sight and sound of rain falling through an oak tree.

Hellebore "Ivory Prince" was the perennial star of Canada Blooms. It was abundant in several gardens as were tulips, daffodils and rhododendrons. All were beautiful, of course, but wouldn't it be amazing to see a garden show in June or July when more plants could strut their stuff? Maybe some day. In the meantime, Canada Blooms 2010 gets a big round of applause from me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Snowdrops and Seeds

The first bloom of the year! Hurray! This snowdrop in the backyard garden made my day.

Inside, the kitchen greenhouse is good to go. I had planned only to assemble it today. Then it occurred to me that a seed station isn't much without some seeds. Good thing I picked some up at William Dam Seeds last weekend.

It's still a bit early for planting so I decided to start with peppers because they need a good, long growing season. I haven't had much luck with peppers in the past (I have only ever successfully harvested one bell pepper over two seasons as a veggie gardener.) I love them enough to try again. Up first is Hungarian Hot Wax. Look at those colours! The pepper is described as long and tapered with medium heat. It starts off yellow and turns orange red.

I simply could not resist the Flame Hybrid. The presentation on the seed packet made me stop and look twice. The peppers are described as very pungent and hot; 12 cm long and just over 1cm wide. It is a Thai pepper. I love Thai food!

The sun is shining down brightly on the kitchen greenhouse and those pepper seeds as I type this. Would it be too much of a garden cliche to declare that this is going to best garden season ever?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Colourful Inspiration at TBG

I love perennials. They are crammed into every available space in my garden. From about May to November they look absolutely fabulous. Through most of the winter the sedums, coneflowers, black-eyed susans and globe thistles stand tall, braving the elements. Right about now, though, everything is looking...well... like a horticultural horror show. There's nothing to see but mud.

I would much rather have a winter garden that looks like this. For one thing, it's not all the colour of dirt. I found this little bit of inspiration at the Toronto Botanical Garden. It made me want to introduce some year-round colour to my garden.

Cornus Sanguineum "Winter Beauty" caught my eye from across the garden.

Its twigs have an orange-red to almost pink quality about them. The picture doesn't do them justice. The twigs were like a glowing beacon, beckoning me to start planting for a four-season garden.

The Golden Scots Pine or Pinus Sylvestris was golden, of course. I was planning to add some evergreens to the garden this year. I'm that much more excited knowing that evergreens don't necessarily have to be green.

Pieris Japonica "Mountain Fire" can certainly light up a gloomy late-winter garden. In spring, new growth emerges as a fiery red and the shrub also drips with pendulous creamy white blooms. And how's this for a bonus: it doesn't mind shade. Adding just these three shrubs to my perennial border would improve the garden infinitely. So that's where the garden budget will go this year: shrubs that provide winter interest.

If I'm lucky, the budget will also allow for the purchase of a Magnolia "Elizabeth." The fuzzy buds on "Elizabeth" were the size of small plums! I didn't even mind that the buds were grey, my favourite colour for describing our interminable winters. The sight of those buds was breathtaking and only made me more eager than ever to get planting again.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Gold and Gardens

I'm thinking of a new colour theme for the garden this year. It's either going to be red and white... or maybe gold... as in HOCKEY GOLD!!! YEAH!!!! WHOO HOOO!!! I wish someone could bottle the incredible feeling of euphoria and national pride that swept across our country last night. Just think of everything we could accomplish riding that wave of synergy. Congratulations to Team U.S.A. for a fabulous game. Congratulations to all the athletes for bringing their best to the Vancouver 2010 Games and showing the world exactly what they are made of. You should all be very proud.

Now, back to gardening. March 1st has arrived in style. Although there is lots of winter and bad weather left to endure, on March 1st I always feel we've made it through. It was an absolutely stunning day with above zero temperatures, sunshine to spare and blue skies. For me there was no better place to be than outside to survey the garden.

The miscanthus sinensis "gracillimus" or maiden grass looked nice all winter. It's time to cut it back. After two years in the garden, it has yet to produce flower plumes. I'm hoping this is the year.

The foliage of Hellebore "Ivory Prince" looks healthy and fresh under the snow. "ivory Prince" will be among the first perennials to bloom in the garden.

It's going to be another good year for the "Ludwig Spaeth" lilac. I can't wait to experience its fragrance once again.

The buds of the serviceberry shrubs add a touch of red to the garden. They will produce white blooms in early spring followed by tasty berries in June. It's always a challenge to get to the berries before the birds and raccoons do.

The beech is still holding onto its brilliant copper leaves which provide a much-welcome splash of colour in the winter garden. In the summer, its leaves will be a dark purple. Last fall, the tree's leader put on about three feet of growth! That's enough that it should block the view of an unsightly laneway and make the backyard feel like a little forested retreat.

The red twigs of the cornus alba "Elegantissima" stand out amid all the brown in the garden right now. Some of its older branches have turned a bit brown and unsightly. Nothing a little pruning won't fix.

And speaking of unsightly...this is the worst of the garden right now: a muddy patch under a huge balsam fir. It has always been difficult to plant here because of shallow soil and root competition. Last year, though, I helped some woodlanders move in here including wild geranium and red baneberry. A tovara virginiana or jumpseed plant did well here last season so I hope it returns for a repeat performance. Maybe it will sprout some friends that will weave themselves into a ground cover. I would be very happy with that.

It's so good to be back thinking about gardening again. It leaves me with an absolutely golden glow.