30 July 2010

Why we love plants, part the 'leventy-'leventh


It is no secret that those of us who love plants understand one another quite well. While those who LIKE plants might think we're a bit much when we get excited over a perfect wildflower or a new plant catalogue, those of us who are total plant addicts understand perfectly why someone else would geek out over a new echinacea or a different heuchera or a heritage variety of leaf lettuce or seventy different types of tomatoes. Maybe not everyone loves echinacea 'Green Envy' as much as I do, but we plant people all have plants that make us extraordinarily happy.

I find myself firmly straddling all worlds when it comes to garden plants AND wild plants. New cultivars of garden plants often make me rapturous with excitement and plant envy. Old favourites make me joyful, even those that exasperate me because I can't get them to grow properly for me (yellow hollyhocks, anyone?)

I don't need to bring home every plant I see, however. My practical gene kicks in from time to time, and while I love Rudbeckia 'Prairie Sun' (photo, above), I know it will behave more likely than not as an annual and not return. So I'll enjoy it in other gardens or at nurseries, or in photos, and that's just fine.

Sometimes we're too busy or too preoccupied or we're looking up in trees or out at the water and we don't always notice the wonders going on under our feet. Or we don't recognize what we're looking at. I wonder how many people have walked by Indian Pipe (Monotropa species) and not noticed their ghostly heads rising up out of the ground. Probably plenty of us, while others, like me, carefully bend over and put our cameras down close so we can catch a little of the magic of a chlorophyll-less plant. I never get tired of seeing these mysterious, bizarre plants.

Then there's the sheer, almost unutterable joy of seeing a rare, endangered, and exquisitely beautiful plant growing, even thriving, in its natural habitat. You won't see Sabatia kennedyana in my garden, or in any garden centre. In fact, most of you will never see this remarkable little wildflower, ever. But my fellow plant addicts understand perfectly, even without seeing it, why I was so excited--and even a little bit teary--to see my very first Plymouth gentian with my own eyes. Not just in photos. Not just in the poster of coastal plains flora that is on my office wall. But actually living and breathing in front of me. I couldn't get a photo exactly in front of it because I didn't want to get any closer, lose my balance, and fall over in the water, or get too close to the flower. So I worshiped from a respectable distance, and trusted my camera to do its best to catch it for me.

Maybe if everyone shared that sort of joy that I feel in seeing a single rare flower, our world wouldn't be in the mess it's in. Seeing a plant like this rare beauty gives me hope. It really does.

29 July 2010

Busy as a Bee...or maybe three!


It's been busier than life as this bee the past couple of weeks. Figuring I have had only a couple of days off in the past four months, I decided it was time to take a little partly-me time. So with Lowell and the rest of the family guarding the family homestead from invasion by giant hogweed, I headed out this morning to visit a number of sites before ending at my good friend's place in Sandford, outside of Yarmouth.

Along the way, I called in on several friends gardens, garden centres. Photos were taken. Plants were dug up. Plants were purchased (for the friend I was going to visit, mostly. Honest.) Among the ports of call a garden in Greenwood that has a truly impressive collection of graceful grasses, from tiny baby grasses only a couple of inches tall to giant miscanthus. I want this grass, the Arundo donax (forget its cultivar. )Not invasive here, though I read that it gets rambunctious in other gardens.

At a friend of a friend's garden, we were dazzled by his selections of grasses, including the giant Miscanthus giganteus. Here it is attempted to eat him. We nicknamed it 'Audrey Too.'

Around lunchtime, I stopped in Annapolis Royal and after checking out my favourite store, 'Charade,' I went down to the farmer's market where I discovered a woman doing a wonderful art using painted paper tole reproductions of monarch butterflies. I was so totally delighted with them, I bought one for a gift and may have to go back and get a second one for me. This woman's brochure includes a little story about why she started creating jewelry and sculpted works of art using monarchs as her inspiration. It was a nice story.

Short post because I'm way tired, and tomorrow is another busy day. Opps. Make that, today is another busy day. You just never know where we might turn up, but I can guarantee there will be plants involved. And for those of you who are interested, I saw purple hydrangeas tonight. We'll see some tomorrow, for sure.

21 July 2010

Pollen on my nose and other true stories


Mid- to late-July until August finds me dealing with a peculiar condition. It manifests itself as yellow, orange or rust coloured stains on the end of my nose. The diagnosis is easy to make, and the condition not at all serious. It means it's daylily and lily blooming time again, and I'm sticking my nose into as many flowers as possible.

Remember when there were only a handful of daylily colours and forms available? Or so we thought. There are actually thousands of named cultivars, probably thousands more that are unnamed or mislabeled. I first saw a huge display of hemerocallis cultivars at Red Lane Gardens, in Prince Edward Island, about a decade ago. That was the beginning of my love affair with these durable, versatile plants.


When my friends Wayne Ward and Wayne Storrie decided to develop a daylily nursery, I couldn't have been more excited for them. Canning Daylily Gardens has been steadily growing for the past few years, and tonight little Wayne told me that they have 1200 cultivars on display in their gardens. They don't yet have that many for sale, but they have somewhere around 700, I believe. Certainly there is something for everyone.

While I know some of my plants by name, others have caused me some confusion over the years. Tonight I got smart and took a half dozen with me down to Little Wayne to get them identified. My plan is to map out where they all are so that I don't have to go through this every year. The beauty in the top photo is one of last year's purchases, 'Inherited Wealth.' The wine-coloured one above is 'Dark Star'. In my garden, it's almost as tall as I am, about 5 feet.

'South Seas' is one distinctive daylily, though this photo doesn't do it justice. Its colour is a vibrant coral/salmon, with hints of pink, and awesome fragrance. It sends me running across the grass to smell it when it begins to bloom.

'Mateus' is a prolific variety, and I have divided mine and planted it in several other spots. It too is fragrant, and I like the pale midribs and ruffled edges to this beauty.

When 'Ice Carnival' first came out, it was proclaimed as being one of the closest to truly white daylilies available. It may depend on what your soil is like, but to me it's more the colour of lemon pie filling with the meringue whipped into it. Softly yellow, very soothing.

It took a while to figure this spider out, but it's 'Wind Frills'. It didn't bloom last year; the Waynes gave it to me several years ago when I was still uncertain about whether I liked the spiders or not. I like this one, that's for certain.

This is 'Shango', which was one of last year's purchases. I love the varieties that are a mix of rose and gold, for some reason. And the very dark ones. And the ones with the dark eyezones. And...

Here's one with dark eyezone; 'Wineberry Candy', which is in my wine and chocolate garden.

When I take photos of daylilies, I invariably focus on the flowers because the only drawback to these fabulous plants is their ordinary foliage. Unfortunately, you can't see the size of the flowers to scale. This is 'Chicago Royal Robe', we think, but I've had it since the first year I planted daylilies here. Not a big flower, but it sure is floriferous.

Not the best photo, but in the foreground is 'Smuggler's Gold', while in the midground is one of my favourites, 'Swiss Mint', another nearly-white variety with exquisite fragrance.

Slugs have been a problem on some varieties, and had tried to get a good grip on the edge of 'Destined to See', another of my favourites. It doesn't have much scent, but with all those colours it's okay.

Somehow, the photography gods smiled on me today and I caught 'Roses in Snow' showing off its true red colour very nicely. There's only one problem: it's not displaying the white edging as much as it is supposed to. The Waynes aren't selling this one anymore, probably because it is such a diva, but I'm keeping mine because I love the rich red velvet even without the white accents.

This little fellow didn't have a name when I bought him for 5 bucks from a plant table five or six years ago. He's dependable, with a huge number of blossoms and a long bloom period, and I've taken to calling it 'Yellow Duckling' because it blooms near the spot where the ducks come up to eat their feed.

'Tani' is a real pretty little star--actually, she's not that little, boasting big flowers when they are fully opened. I was impatient and took her photo before the blossom had finished unfurling.

I love the quaint, funny, and sometimes truly bizarre names attached to some of the daylilies by their breeders. This, for example, is called 'Romeo is Bleeding.' I forget now where I bought it, and it doesn't come up as fancy as some photos show it, but its rich colour and whimsical name made it a star in my garden.

This is just a few of the daylilies that are responsible for my pollen-nose. There will be more to come in future posts; one of the cool things about these plants is how they just pop into bloom over night or in the early morning, so each morning presents me with new jewels to gaze at. And new blossoms to get my nose into.

18 July 2010

I like Spikes...

One of my favourite garden writers/designers/plant people is Dutch master Piet Oudolf. He writes in a very approachable way, his design ideas make perfect sense to me (where the writings of some others tends to obfuscate what they think they're trying to tell us) and he focuses on structure and texture as much as on flower colour. I am learning, slowly but surely, from reading his books and looking at gardens he has designed and talking to others who like his work.

From him, I've been learning to focus as much on the shape of plants and their flowers as on their bloom and foliage colours. Right now, I've been intensely interested in plants with spike-like flower shapes. I can't give you the whole logic behind them other than they give a nice vertical effect in my gardens. And even the ones that are shorter than I am do that. The delphinium and the veronicastrum (above) are not shorter than I am.

I have several different types of agastache, also known as hyssop and hummingbird mint, around the gardens. Waiting anxiously for 'Golden Jubilee' to come into bloom, but for now, the standard blue-flowered types are just fine.

I have four different types of ligularia around the garden, including 'The Rocket', which is busily doing its thing, rocketing skyward with spikes of brilliant yellow flowers. Interestingly, some of the others, including 'Othello' and 'Desdemona' have larger individual flowers, not spikes like these. I'll show them off in another post.

It's entirely possible that this is a wild mullein, as I don't remember buying this one. And I'm okay with that. Talk about structure! This plant's flower spike is taller than I am, and its velvety leaves are striking even when it's not blooming. The pollinators love this plant, which is good enough for me.


I have half a dozen hardy sages throughout the gardens, including this lovely pink one, the name of which has long ago gone into LoLa-land.


This purple sage is probably 'Mainacht' but I really don't know. What I do know is that it works very well with the yellow aconitum that flowers at the same time. Many of the sages will rebloom if you deadhead them faithfully.

This is Japanese bottlebrush, or Sanguisorba. I have two different species, (or maybe cultivars, as they have LoLa too). They're real charmers and I think rather underutilized perennials.

Some people cut the flower spikes off their lambs-ears (Stachys byzantina), because they think they're ugly. I find the bees like them so very much that I leave them on the plants until they are spent. (Disclosure: this is actually a clump at the Rock Garden at NSAC, not my patch).


Despite the fact that aconitums are very toxic and should be handled with care (such as using gloves when working with them), they are one of my favourite plants. Mostly because I don't go around eating garden plants (for those who don't understand my sarcasm, media in my part and other parts of Canada have flipped out in the last week or two about giant hogweed, which has only been around here for about a hundred years or so, and IS toxic, and DOES spread, but people, have a little common sense...end rant) Anyway, to continue: I like monkshood a lot, for the shape of the plant's flower spikes, for the bloom colours, for their long-lasting appeal...this one is 'Stainless Steel', nicely framed against one of our rambunctious clematis.

Veronicas are very nice plants for adding shorter clumps of vertical flower spikes and hot colour. Butterflies and bees and hummers love them too. This is 'Red Fox', possibly my favourite.


And this is wooly speedwell. I have several varieties just coming into bloom, including the new-to-me 'Purplicious', which is looking very promising for being a flower colour between pink and this blue-purple.


We'll cool things off a little bit now with the petite, pale yellow blooms of the straw foxglove, Digitalis luteum. My D. grandiflora, the larger-flowered yellow foxglove, isn't blooming just yet. D. parviflora 'Milk Chocolate', the chocolate foxglove, is just beginning to open its flowers.


This white mullein, (Verbascum) has been in the garden for about ten years now. It pops up here and there from seed, and is beloved by my precious pollinators, and is an easy perennial to grow for me. So what's not to like?

13 July 2010

Blessed...bee the pollinators at work

This is one of those days that is not only hot, it's what my longsuffering spouse calls 'stinkin' hot', meaning there is not even a whisper of a breeze to stir the air and cool the spirit. After trying to do a little deadheading, I decided he was right, that it was too hot to do anything except look and listen. So I picked up my camera and went for a stroll around the gardens.

The first thing to catch my attention was a lovely, if speedy, hummingbird moth in the delphinium. He was speedier than me, and by the time I could switch settings, he had switched plants to somewhere I wasn't.

I don't spray the gardens with anything but water, or occasionally water mixed with liquid seaweed fertilizer (which I find deters the aphids that love the honeysuckles so much.) I know there are pesky critters around the gardens, but unless they happen to be a slug right in front of me, I just ignore them. Because for every critter that might be a nuisance, there are thousands that are beneficial. Even when they look like they might be naughty.

Disclaimer: I am not an entomologist. Not even close. I know the names of a couple handfuls of species, can recognize a bee from a wasp from a fly USUALLY (there are sneaky bee-mimics that can confuse) and know a few butterflies by name. But I know there are thousands (probably millions) of beneficial pollinator insects, and that's good enough for me. Like this handsome bee climbing around on the inula.

And some of the creatures hanging out on Astrantia 'Lola'. We'll see more of them in a few minutes.

Question: does anyone recognize this creature on the knautia flower? I've had them around for a few weeks, and they seem benevolent, though odd. You can't see this without maybe a higher resolution photo, but the antennae resemble those of moths, with fringes on them.

Addition: Thanks to Marguerite from Canoe Corner, who identified this for me as the black wing moth Ctenucha virginica. I always say bloggers are a wealth of information...this just proves my point. Thanks, Marguerite!

No pollinator on this veronicastrum when I snapped its photo, but a hummingbird had been zipping to flowers on another stem just seconds before. They're also very active little monsters today.


This lovely flowering allium (what species, I do not know, but it came from the Netherlands Bulb Info Centre last year) is about three feet tall, and happily festooned with a variety of flies and other visitors.

Did you know that astrantia is an umbellifer? Which is now called the Apiaceae family rather than the Umbelliferae (which is a far pretty and more descriptive name). Umbellifers include parsley, dill, carrots, Queen Anne's lace, and oh yes, that 'wicked' giant hogweed that the media has its knickers in a twist over. Must be a slow news week. Anyway, yeah, astrantia, also called masterwort, is related to all of those plants, but is one of the most lovely plants in my garden. And I think one of the more underused of perennials at least around here, although it's gaining in popularity every year as more people see how dandy a perennial it is. And the polilnators think it's dandy, too.

I think this is a bee-mimic fly, but whatever it is, it's enjoying the flowers on the Ilex verticillata, also known as winterberry or Canada holly. I just hope my males and females get their acts together and flower together, so there will be berries this fall.

Let's return for one more look at the astrantia. Oh, there are more visitors there. Despite my sticking my face (and my camera) right in their faces, no one got alarmed. And I never get stung by the bees who frequent our gardens. Maybe they know that I've put this all here for their use and pleasure. And vicariously, for my pleasure too.


11 July 2010

Local nurseries and great food


What do you do when it's too muggy to work in the gardens, too sticky to work in the house, and definitely too rainy to do much of anything but wait for plants to bloom? (Like Hot Papaya echinacea)?


We get in the car and go off to nurseries, of course. What's a little rain when there are plants to go looking at?
I hadn't been down to Ocean View Garden Centre in Chester for a couple of years. I'm really sorry that was the case, but it's been rectified now. And how! What a terrific place, even in a rainstorm (which is what we had when we arrived there.)

They've expanded their garden centre enormously in the past couple of years. It was always good, but now it's amazing. Because it was raining so hard at times, I didn't take many photos or explore the whole thing. Having seen their perennial catalogue, I knew there were certain plants that I didn't have that they did have. Which would solve the problem of MY having them.

I did walk around one display garden, that included a variety of perennials, including an impressive collection of grasses, which are just starting to flush into flower now. More about grasses in coming posts.

It's always a thrill to discover plants that I haven't heard of yet, or hadn't expected to see locally yet. Like this echinacea, 'Secret Passion'. I happen to like the double echinaceas--well, okay, I have never yet met a coneflower I didn't like, except the Meadowbrite series, and that's only because they do not do well here. But when I saw this one, a dwarf, branching beauty with orangy-pink flowers...well, I gave up on the umbrella. One can't juggle purse, camera, umbrella, tray of plants, AND pick up more plants to put in tray. Rain-rinced hair is a good thing, isn't it?

Anyone remember the band 'Tangerine Dream'? I can't name a single song off the top of my head, but I'll always remember their existence because of this striking coneflower by the same name. I think I like echinaceas better than electronica. No question, actually.

For those of us who are fond of pollinators and native plantings, here's a new-to-me Veronicastrum, or Culver's root: 'Roseum'. I had white and blue forms but had never seen pink before. Til now. Tee hee hee. Glad hubby doesn't mind waiting in the car, listening to the radio, staying dry while I squish around in the rain picking out plants.

When I buy coneflowers, the first thing I do is cut off any current blooms (sometimes buds, too), to give the plant more chance to focus on settling in roots and developing strong foliage and stems, so that LATER it can bloom fabulously. This is 'Meringue', a new and welcome addition to my green-flowered cones. Today I picked up several others, but you're going to have to wait til they bloom to be introduced to them.


On our way home from Chester, we stopped in New Ross at a little place called 'Vittles'. Where we had the best fish and chips we'd had in a long time. Now, sadly, I didn't think about taking photos of our supper til it was half done, and it wouldn't have looked so great with tartar sauce and ketchup on hubby's portion. So you're just going to have to take my word for it that this little place, with its fresh fresh fish and home-made home fries, is a jewel in 'real' restaurants. It's only a little more than half an hour from our place, so I know we'll be visiting there at least once a month...and hopefully you will too! You can make a day of it; visiting Ocean View in Chester, touring around that lovely town, heading to Ross Farm Museum, and finishing up with fresh seafood at Vittles. What's not to love?


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