03 May 2016

Succulents don't suck!

It's been close to 40 years since I first fell for succulents in a big way. Probably the first one I ever saw would have been the common but beloved Jade tree, Crassula argentea, although I cannot be sure of this. I know I was smitten with them when I was in my first year at the Agricultural College, and that smitten-ness has never waned. Back then, there were a number of succulents including several massive jade trees growing in one of the greenhouses, and I learned how to propagate these easy, colourful and rewarding plants for myself. 

I remember the challenges I had finding a lot of different types in stores, and the challenge of finding just the right container to make a 'dish garden' of succulents and cacti. It was also a challenge to grow these plants in a dorm room, but since I usually had dozens of plants in my room, I persevered. Some died. Some prospered. 

Flash forward to today, and the popularity of succulents has come surging back in recent years. There are so many genera, and species, and varieties, so many colours and textures and forms...they're hard to resist! Or so I tell myself as I look around my house, where dozens of plants are waiting for warm weather so they can bask outside for a few months. 

Here's an example of some of the great colours--succulents aren't 'just' green! This is related to the faithful jade tree, a different species, cultivar 'Campfire'. Look at that colour...

 The big secret to growing succulents well? Plant them in a well-draining medium (extra perlite or coarse sand is helpful) and don't plant them too deeply. Most importantly: Do not overwater them. They contain moisture in their leaves and related structures, and if they get too much water, they will rot and collapse, and that will make you sad. I tend to water mine about once a month in winter, and they do very well for me. This is Fenestraria, also known as babytoes, which is one of the odder looking species.

I also love cacti, although I don't have nearly as many as I do succulents. All cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti--the term 'succulent' refers to any plant with the ability to store water in specialized tissues for long periods of time. And although you may think of succulents and cacti as being plants of deserts and other hot, dry areas, the truth is there are species found in many different climates, and numerous species that are hardy to Atlantic Canada. I have an opuntia (prickly pear) cactus that is hardy here, and numerous sedum and sempervivum varieties grow outside in my gardens. But I find the more exotic and tender species more alluring, which is why I have a houseful of them. 
Several of my cacti are flowering at the moment, which pleases me greatly. What does NOT please me, however, is the penchant that some succulent growers have for gluing strawflowers onto their cacti to make it look like they are flowering. Then there are the dyed ones, but that's just so appalling I can't even rant about it. 

The yellow-flowered succulent in the clay pot (photographed last year) is a Aichryson laxum, tree of love. Apparently, this plant is a biennial and dies after flowering unless deadheaded. The plant I have has not got that memo, because it has never stopped flowering since last summer, and today I trimmed all the scraggly flowers off it and put it outside for a few hours to wash it off and rejuvenate it.

 Who needs fake flowers when the blossoms of succulents and cacti are so gorgeous? Mine flower quite faithfully, like this Pachyveria 'Claire', which is just starting its bloom cycle. Pachyveria? What's that? It's apparently an inter-generic cross between Echeveria and Pachyphytum. There are also Graptoveria, (cross between Echeveria and Graptopetalum) and Graptosedum (cross between Sedum and Graptopetalum). And probably more inter-generics coming down the pike, too!

This is Kalanchoe tomentosa, also known as the panda plant, which is one of those succulents I've known and loved forever. I try to keep it far away from my cats, or else it will become the cat-hair-panda-plant! 

One of the many charms that succulents hold for me is their patterning. They grow in spirals, called Fibonacci spirals or the golden spiral, due to some mathematical stuff that makes my head hurt, so I just say they grow in spirals and aren't they awesome? Other plants exhibit this as well--think of the seeds in a sunflower, or the cones of evergreens, the petal arrangement of a double rose, and so on. They please me--maybe if someone had pointed this out to me when trying to drill math and geometry into my head, I would have done better at it! 

 It has been many years since I've had a grafted cactus (the orange and green one on the right of the photo. I succumbed to one a couple of weeks ago in part for use in my talks on succulent container gardening at Saltscapes Expo, and I'll use it at other talks coming up at Bloom and Scotian Gold. The colourful cactus on top is a Gymnocalycium, commonly called a Moon Cactus, and can be red, yellow, or orange like mine. The bottom is usually a section of Hylocereus, one of the less spiny, night-blooming cactus. It is vital not to overwater these plants, and to remember that if the top dies, it will NOT grow back, as with any grafted plant.

 This tree of succulents is on display in the greenhouse at my friend Alice's Ouest-ville Perennials, and is made up of a number of different succulents, planted into moss wired around an inverted tomato cage. I love it, although it has to be freshened up in the spring as the large echeveria rosettes can get straggly looking over winter.

About the only problem I sometimes have with my succulents is some aphids, but they are easily enough controlled with some insecticidal soap or a good bath of cool water over the plant (then making sure it is well drained and dries back out quickly. In the winter, some of them get stretched looking but I move them from window to window to make sure they all get plenty of light, and that gets them through. Another couple of weeks and I will move them outside, and put them on a wire shelf unit with no saucers under their pots, so that if it does rain, they drain out quickly. And I'll be dividing some of them to share with fellow succulent fans!

What about you? Do you have a fondness for succulents?

17 April 2016

Local Xpress, Expo, and plants galore

 We are only a few days away from our 12th annual Saltscapes East Coast Expo, so it's really, really busy in my world. More on the Expo later.
However, I had to catch up with a blog post both to tell you that and to tell you about my column in the Local Xpress.
Here's the thing. I don't belong to a union, never did and never will. However--I support the journalists who are out on strike at the 'paper of record' in Nova Scotia (which I will not name nor link to, but I have written a column there for many years). As long as my friends and colleagues are out on strike, I am withholding writing for the paper. I did, however, offer to provide columns to the web-based paper the journalists have formed, the Local Xpress, for the duration of the work stoppage.
Now, I am tremendously busy, and gardening season is begun, so I don't know how often I will be able to do these columns. But the first one is up today and I wanted to include hotlinks to the nurseries involved in the first story, plus more photos. I've decided to link to their Facebook pages because they're all on there, and some don't have regular websites anymore.

The photo above is of hellebores, and one of the best selections you'll find anywhere is at Briar Patch Farm and Nursery in Berwick.

Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia) was perennial of the year a few years back, and rightly so. This is 'Blue Ice', a cultivar of amsonia that looks fabulous in mass plantings, with its pale blue, starry flowers. It's a favourite at Oceanview Home & Garden in Chester

I acquired a very fine plant of Bear's Breeches last year from a private collector, and when my friends from Ouest-ville Perennials in West Pubnico saw it they had to add it to their nursery offerings. 

 I've shared my enthusiasm for Bidens 'Fireburst' in the past, and I'm very pleased that several nurseries have it this year, including Bloom Greenhouse and Garden Centre in Hammonds Plains.

It's also very well known that I adore echinaceas, and many nursery operators share that enthusiasm, too. One of those is Lloyd Mapplebeck at Hillendale Perennials in Truro, who thinks that the All Americas Selection 'Cheyenne Spirit' is simply fantastic. All the flowers in the above photo, except the double in the background, are from several plants of this echinacea. You can see why it's a winner in our books! 

 Several of the nursery owners are excited about baptisias, and I love their gorgeous, elegant flowers and foliage so this is just a gratuitous chance to share another image of Baptisia 'Dutch Chocolate'.

Here's a unique, hardy and beautiful tree that we're seeing in more streetscapes as well as gardens. Ginkgo is an ancient species and a gorgeous one, with elegant foliage that turns butter yellow in fall. It's a favourite and new-to-Scotia Gold Country Garden in Coldbrook

Oxydendron, also known as sourwood tree, is native to eastern North America and related to rhododendrons, pieris, and blueberries. It has cascades of lily of the valley-like white flowers in summer, then its foliage turns incandescent in the fall. It's no wonder that Jill at Bunchberry Nurseries  in Upper Clements is enthusiastic about it. 

Yellow Waxy-bell is a gorgeous and late-blooming perennial, with soft yellow, nodding flowers. It likes a little shade and good moisture, and does well in my garden--and now is available at Baldwin Nurseries in Falmouth. 

This is a unique and very attractive annual called Silver Sand, (Calocephalus), which I first saw at Glad Gardens in Waterville some years back. Daina was not able to source seed for a few years but has it again now. Glad Gardens reopens for the season this Thursday, but I'm going to get my plant tomorrow...because I need it for this weekend!

Daina at Glad Gardens and I share a deep and abiding love for succulents and cacti, especially in container plantings. One of the talks I'm doing this weekend is about gardening with succulents in containers, so I'll be toting a variety of plants with me to Halifax Exhibition Centre to show to others. I'm really pleased to let you know that there will also be gardening talks by Cathy of Bloom Greenhouse, Allan Banks of Harbour Breezes Daylilies and Japanese Irises, and Carol Goodwin of Beneath the Boughs Woodland Plant Nursery and Pottery. Hurray for the gardening season. 

One final note: There are many other nurseries in Nova Scotia, but I didn't hear back from several of them, and some of them I just didn't have time to contact before deadline. But hopefully I'll have more to say about those soon. 

02 April 2016

Spring is springing in Nova Scotia!

So I missed a blog post earlier this week, but with good reason--we're getting ready for our 12th Saltscapes Expo, April 22-24 at Halifax Exhibition Centre (the former Exhibition Park), and to say we are busy is an understatement. We're also busy getting the magazine ready to go to press. For those who have never been to an Expo, it's kind of like the magazine comes to life at the Park. Here's a short video to explain it a little. 

For more information, tickets, etc, you can check our our website.  

I'll have more to say about Expo probably next week, (a teaser about my seminars at the show, but now, let's get back to plants. I've mentioned before that we've had a relatively sensible winter, and we've had some very mild spells. So it's beginning--spring is unfolding slowly outside. If you go inside greenhouses, like I did today, it's unfolding a little more quickly. Let's take a peek indoors and out! 

 I took today off from fact-checking, copy editing, social media work, newsletter writing...in fact, I took off, first for West Pubnico and Ouest-ville Perennials, my friend Alice d'Entremont's wonderful nursery. As soon as I got there, spring greeted me (even more quickly than did Alice and her cats!). The first thing I saw was the quilt of spring bulbs, primarily snowdrops and crocuses, in the front yard.

 This Corkscrew Hazel (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') is in full glorious catkin production. I noticed some trees alongside the road earlier today also in catkin, probably poplars. Hurray for spring!

One of the hellebore species, I think the so-called stinking hellebore (Helleborus foetidus), and so-called because the flowers can be fragrant, but the foliage smells pretty skunky when it gets crushed. We can deal with that with such striking flowers. 

In Alice's rock garden, a cluster of dwarf iris (probably I. reticulata) are guarded by a stone cat (as opposed to the real ones who live there).

I confess to a small bit of winter-aconite-envy, as I have never been particularly successful in getting these to grow for me. Alice has the right idea--she has them planted in her rock garden, where they get good drainage. Note to self for this fall...try, try again. They are such dainty little bulbs and so cheerily yellow. It was raining today but I didn't care--I was just happy to be out among plants! 

Several years ago, the Nova Scotia Rock Garden Club had Pam Eveleigh of Primula World for workshops and presentations.  Some of us came away completely smitten with primula, and those of us who attended her workshops also came away with plants and seeds. Alice has propagated quite a few of them, including the gorgeous yellow auricula...

And this species, which I bought but which is still out in the car and it's raining too hard for me to go back out there tonight! 

And another auricula primula. These three all came home with me (they insisted--but in my defence, I will use them at Expo in a couple weeks time.) There were a bunch of other plants that followed me home because I also stopped to see my friend Jill Covill at Bunchberry Nurseries in Upper Clements, but those will have to wait for the next post. 

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