Monday, May 23, 2011

The Gardens at St. James Park

The Gardens at St. James Park in downtown Toronto looked absolutely beautiful this weekend. I took advantage of a break in the rain to walk by and take a peek. The flowers were enough to make me forget all about our cold, soggy spring.

It seemed to me there were tulips by the thousands. The gardens are modest in size but appear expansive, largely because only one tulip type is featured. Everywhere my eyes landed, there were more and more tulips. A great effect.

The featured tulips were deep pink with a white-edged petal. Remarkably there didn't appear to be any squirrel damage.

Different varieties of tulips were planted outside the main beds including this beautiful selection featuring dramatic curves in a pink blush. There was also a deep shade bed which appeared to be a work in progress and two large beds that were more naturalistic in style but I could barely tear myself away from the main show.

The gardens are right beside St. James Cathedral which is a very impressive structure for those whose interests lean more to architecture and history.

I'm not sure if the city or a garden club plants and looks after these gardens. Whoever is responsible deserves a great big thank you. I'll be sure to visit this park again in summer to see what's growing. If it's even half as lovely as the tulip display it will be well worth the visit. If you ever find yourself at King and Church give yourself a few minutes to enjoy this beautiful space.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Showcase of Native Plants

The rain and cool temperatures have been great for the garden. Everything is looking lush and the blooms are lasting for a long time. The woodlanders like the native tiarella cordifolia above are especially beautiful right now.

Geranium maculatum or wild geranium has done very well. The blooms are abundant and the foliage is spreading into a lovely ground cover. The geranium is growing under a mature fir tree so it receives considerable shade. The soil is poor and the root competition fierce but the wild geranium is taking it in stride.

Here's another shot of the wild geranium. For a plant that produces such a delicate little blooom it's actually quite tough. This is a native plant of Ontario.

It took about three years for the wild columbine to take off but now that it has there is no stopping it. I started with a handful of plants and allowed them to self-seed over the years. They have established a lovely ring around the base of the eastern redbud. The columbine gets almost full sun in early spring before the tree canopy fills in, plunging the garden into almost full shade. Aquilegia canadensis is another great native.

I'm on a roll with the native plants. This wood poppy (stylophorum diphyllum) was a volunteer, nestled in among the wild columbine. These plants seed themselves so willingly. It makes me wonder why they aren't thriving in the wild.

Every shade garden needs some Solomon's Seal. Check! This was a pass-along plant and it keeps on giving and giving. After only a few years I have already divided it a few times. It's a very elegant plant that is great for shade. I'm not sure what variety of Solomon's Seal this is but am fairly sure it is one of our natives and a lovely one at that.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mitella Diphylla: Mitrewort or Bishop's Cap

Mitella Diphylla is a fabulous little plant for the woodland garden. It enjoys spring sunshine and is among the first perennials to bloom sending up sprays of stems covered in miniature white flowers. When the summer heat kicks in it prefers shade. The flowers fade but the neatly mounded light green foliage remains throughout summer. It prefers moist soil but does quite well for me in average to dry soil.

From a distance the flowers create a white haze above the foliage. It is really worth getting up close to see the flowers. They are reminiscent of snowflakes. I have never seen this plant available at garden centres. I picked it up a few years ago at the High Park Native Plant Sale. There is always a great selection of natives available. While I love to gawk at all the newest plant selections to see the latest, greatest colour or the biggest, fanciest blooms, I find I am often more thrilled with the understated beauty and sheer reliability of native plants.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wood Poppy: Stylophorum diphyllum

A few years ago I bought a passport to the annual Open Gardens Toronto. I found myself in a shady Annex garden with a double wide lot (wow, does it get better than that?) The gardener had a great selection but one plant and its story captured my imagination. There were a few of us garden tourists gawking at the plants when the homeowner started talking about her wood poppies. She had a small drift of these woodland beauties and announced that it was quite probable that she had more wood poppies growing in her backyard than were growing wild in all of Ontario. Its sad predicament was enough to convince me to grow the wood poppy but there's more than a sob story to recommend it. The deep yellow bloom, not fully opened in the picture above, looks really stunning in dappled shade and full shade. Although short-lived, the blooms are plentiful. Peak blooming time is right now, early spring, but flowers appear sporadically throughout the summer.

The flower buds provide quite a bit of interest because they are covered in fine white hairs. They appear on on stems about a foot high. The foliage is impressive featuring large lobed leaves. Wood Poppy is described as a plant of moist deciduous forests which makes its performance in my garden somewhat of a surprise. It is growing in the driest and most soil-poor section of my garden: right under a mature fir tree with a soil depth of maybe two or three centimeters. It gets a few hours of early morning sun and is then plunged into deep shade for the remainder of the day. Apparently, these growing conditions are perfect for my wood poppies. They are thriving.

In just a few years my small plants have grown into impressive clumps. They are beginning to form a dense ground cover. The wood poppy is famous for self-seeding. I have found seedlings doing very well in some very tough spots including a sidewalk crack. I'm hopeful that my wood poppies will continue to multiply eventually surrounding the base of the fir tree which has been a barren wasteland for years.

I'm glad I visited that Annex garden. The gardener shared a wood poppy seedling with me and provided some inspiration. I was intrigued enough to seek out and purchase a few more plants. Maybe one day I'll be able to claim Ontario's largest wood poppy population.