29 October 2010

Skywatch Friday and a Blaze of Late-Autumn Glory

As with many of my friends and fellow gardeners around North America, I've been dealing with some erratic autumn weather this October. A week or so back, I despaired of having any real good foliage colour in the garden. But the past few days, the wind has died out, we had a couple of very good rains, the evenings have been cool and the days warm. Thursday we were bathed in a crystal blue October day here in the Annapolis Valley, and my camera and garden called me to come out and visit.

The past couple of years, my Hamamelis 'Diane' hasn't displayed much for fall colour because the wind has beaten the foliage off. But this year, the plant has been settled in and growing since 2007, it put on a lot of growth over the summer, and decided to reward me in just the past couple of days with some very satisfying colour.

Much smaller in shrub size at this time, but no less beautiful, is the native witchhazel in my garden, Hamamelis virginiana. It has cast its leaves, but a couple of them lay gleaming in the soggy grass nearby.

It's always fun when you learn about a new plant, acquire that plant, and then discover it in many different locations. This is the Gro-low Sumac (Rhus aromatica), which I read about in the course of doing my book research and which I soon after located and planted. There are a number of these low-growing sumacs planted out in Wolfville, and as they start to put on their fall finery, you can see why. I'm partial to the common Rhus typhina, always, so I knew I'd love this one too.

While I love lilacs in general, most of them flower and then are sort of uninteresting the rest of the season. Not so the dwarf Korean lilac, Syringa meyeri 'Palibin'. Not only does it sometimes put up some late-season blooms, it rewards me with a lovely buttery foliage colour, sometimes suffused with pink. I notice when checking the spelling of the cultivar name that many people don't report fall colour in their 'Palibin', so I don't know whether it's because we have colder weather, or what the story is. But you can bet I'm going to find out.

My hydrangeas are putting on some really interesting colour displays this year, and the most spectacular showoff is the awesome 'QuickFire'. I don't even know how to describe these colours other than mesmerizing. This shrub is planted not far from Miscanthus 'Malepartus', which is actually doing a good colour echo right now.

Some of the perennials are taking this opportunity to throw a few more blooms. The always tenacious catmint 'Walkers Low' is covered in drifts of tiny blue-lavender flowers.

And there are still a few amazingly blue stems of Eryngium planum, flat sea holly, sending up a cooling contrast in the lower front garden.

Finding a flower on my Ozark sundrop (Oenothera missouriensis) this afternoon was a complete surprise and thrill. Even though a bit bedraggled by last night's rain, the flower is still marvelous.

The warm weather prompted quite a bit of insect activity, including this moth on a fall chrysanthemum.

And to finish off the day, the sun rewarded us with an awesome Bay of Fundy sunset, the perfect way to celebrate Skywatch Friday.

27 October 2010

Wordless Wednesday: A little light reading...some great books (I hope!)

24 October 2010

Fabulous Foliage, and Spotlight Saturday...on Sunday.


To coincide with my Chronicle Herald column for today, I thought I'd blither on a bit more about the joys of foliage for autumn. But before we get too far into my rhapsodic ramblings about leaf colour, a brief public service announcement. It's been far too long since I did a 'SpotLight Saturday' post, primarily because life got in the way what with garden season being full steam ahead, coupled with book writing and other work that pays the bills whilst book writing...Something had to give, and so the amount of time spent reading blogs fell off. Now that gardening is winding down and the days are much shorter, there's more time to read...and I like to encourage and promote other blogs, so I'll try to do these more often.

I first became aware of Dirt Gently's Horticultural Adventures because the blogger appeared in my Twitter feed as a new follower. Naturally, as a Douglas Adams fan I was completely smitten with the blog title...and a quick visit showed me this was a fun blog to follow. Great photos, and some self-effacing humour about gardening skills. The blog was only started in September, so a little encouragement from fellow bloggers is always a good thing.

Disclosure: I look after the blog for Baldwin Nurseries, and it's a work in progress. Baldwin's is one of my favourite nurseries in the province, and Robert is a good friend who loves plants, especially natives and those that are good for pollinators. So while 'he' may not comment much on other people's blogs, I do hope you'll visit and leave comments for him to enjoy. And come see the nursery, of course. It's getting a bit late in the season now, but he has plenty of great shrubs for fall and winter colour.

For those of you in Canada who watch CBC, Rob is participating in Debbie Travis's show All for One, tonight at 9 pm. I know very little about the show as I'm not a fan of home decorating shows, but I do know that tonight's show was shot in Windsor, NS. So I hope fans will tune in!

Which brings me back to blathering on about foliage. Dawn redwood (Metasequoia) is one of my favourite of non-native trees, with its graceful growth habit and interesting history. Before the needles of this deciduous conifer fall, they turn bronzy gold, and their spring colour is also bronze toned. The winter interest is in its striated, striking bark and elegant form.

A four-season beauty, the native red-osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) has some excellent colour in its foliage. Once the leaves drop, the twigs show off brilliant red colour all winter. The cultivar 'Flaviramea' has golden twigs. You need to keep this shrub well-pruned so that it has plenty of new growth--older trunks lose their winter colour.

This photo is NOT mine. Although I have two burning bushes (Euonymus alatus) in my garden, getting decent photos of them has been a challenge since they began turning colour, because of the incessant wind. So I decided to turn to Google for help, and chose this Botany Photo of the Day shot so as to also promote UBC's excellent website. In today's column, I mention how I receive regular emailed photos at this time of year, wondering what "that" shrub is with the great colour. This is "that" shrub.

I wholeheartedly recommend ninebarks to everyone wanting a great four-season shrub. Most of them have interesting coloured foliage all gardening season, deepening to richer shades as autumn comes on. This is 'Diabolo', a purple-leafed cultivar that is an excellent, hardworking, easy care shrub.

The deciduous azaleas turn colour before losing their leaves, although they've been highly annoyed by the wind this autumn and have been more battered than colourful. This is an unnamed variety from Bill and Sharon at The Willow Garden. I have a number of their tough, beautiful rhododendron and azaleas, including several crosses that haven't been named.

Kolkwitzia is one of those plants that some refer to as old-fashioned, commonly planted and just sort of "there" in the garden. I love it for several reasons, not the least of which is the delicately luminous colour in fall foliage. 'Dreamcatcher' has richer colouring throughout the season, but mine was mown down by an errant lawnmower last year and is slowly recovering. So this is the common variety, given to me by a friend several years ago.

Barberries are excellent for fall colour. This is a seedling shrub from one of the purple leafed varieties in my garden. It's getting redder day by day.

Although the fall colour of my copper beech isn't showstoppingly brilliant, I include this photo for another reason. Beeches and oaks display a trait known as marcescence, meaning they retain their foliage for months after it has died. Usually it's younger trees that will do this, and my copper beech is only a few years old. Come winter, its coppery-brown leaves will look quite interesting--especially when there's a four-foot snowdrift surrounding the tree!

Many perennials will display some interesting fall colour as they wind down for the year. This is 'Alma Potchsche' New England aster, flowers faded but foliage still providing me with a smile.

And to wrap up, the always-wonderful foliage of Virginia creeper, catching some rays of sunlight on a day when the wind WASN'T screaming--a circumstance that has been rare this autumn, as I've mentioned before.

The montage at the top of this post includes Miscanthus 'Malepartus', showing great tints in its foliage; euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow', which I'm hoping is going to make it through the winter here with a little care; and 'Brilliance' autumn fern (Dryopteris), which has gorgeous foliage all through the growing season.

Okay, it's over to you, fellow bloggers: what are your favourite plants for fall colour?

22 October 2010

Skywatch Friday: The last rose of summer...or not?

Since autumn's official arrival, we've had an amazing amount of wind here on the upper Bay of Fundy. Wind scouring in off the Bay can be hard on plants, tearing foliage off (especially when accompanied by heavy rain) and sometimes doing serious damage to plants and other structures.

This rose, however, photographed in one of the small communities a little further down the shore from Scotts Bay, is oblivious to the weather, still blooming in late October. I have roses still blooming too, but this one right on the shore deserved accolades. So it's my choice for Skywatch Friday.
Meanwhile, it's another windy day here, and the Bay is roiling and threatening accordingly. Hard to believe it's the same tranquil body of water that we go fishing on in warm weather. Those days, probably, are done for this year. And it looks like we're heading into a record breaking season of wind. Keeps the dust down, right?

21 October 2010

Punting garden gnomes & other true-ish tales: How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack


The following is a true story.
I dislike garden gnomes immensely. I don't know if I suffered trauma as a child by having one fall on my foot, or if I was stalked by one as a college student studying horticulture, or what the rationale might be. All I know is that I've never seen the appeal of them, and that one on television flogging some travel site makes me want to punch the television. There were never any gnomes in my family's gardens, and suffice it to say there have never been, nor will there ever be, any in mine.

A few years ago, I was on a plant hunting expedition in Labrador, which is the northern part of Newfoundland, the part stuck to the rest of North America. Through some sort of series of errors, the place where we were all staying was overbooked, and I was the (not) lucky one who got to stay somewhere else...which was at the worst B & B I have ever encountered. Between the musty bed and bedclothes, the religious homilies festooning every wall, counter, and other surface, and the shower/bath with no mat and the world's slipperiest tub (I still bear the scar on my shin), it was, quite frankly, the night from hell. About 4 am, I gave up trying to sleep in the musty, too-hot room, packed up my suitcase, and left, planning to sleep in my car the rest of the night. I'd already paid for the night, lest anyone think I skipped out. I wouldn't do that, no matter how peeved I was.

But out by the parking area, there were two stupid, tacky, cement gnomes, sitting there in their very gnomeness. In the dark, I encountered one by banging into it with my sandal-clad foot. This just increased my irritation. Both gnomes were then gnocked over. It might have been the wind.

At least I didn't do what one of my friends said I should have done, the next morning after having breakfast with the rest of them. His idea was that I should have kidgnapped one of the gnomes and taken it to Gros Morne, placed it on the summit of the mountain. Gno, thank you. I would never pollute Gros Morne in such a way. There's rules against degradation of nature, you know.

All this is by way of prefacing my review of Chuck Sambuchino's new book, "How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack." It was sent to me several weeks ago by Ten Speed Press, and I just got around to reading it this week.



I had long suspected that gnomes were an evil lot, bent on world domination. It's as plain as the gnose on your face that they're also in cahoots with the evil goutweed, which grows just the right height for gninja gnomes to hide in. Can you see the evil little devil hiding in this patch of goutweed? GNo? Works well, doesn't it?

Okay, the book. It's hilarious and creepy, all at the same time. It depends on your sense of humour, (or in some cases, lack thereof). Sambuchino writes well, and while the tone is deeply serious to reflect the danger lurking in lawn warriors, the reader can't help but hope that the author didn't bite his tongue too often whilst writing, as it was firmly planted in his cheek.

Do YOU know how to gnomeproof your yard and garden? Do you know how to secure your home so that these little monsters can't get inside for an attack? Sambuchino leads us through everything you need to know about coping with these insidious, nefarious creatures. You can survive when they attack, and Sambuchino proves how they inevitably will get cocky enough to make an attempt on your life. Fortunately, he's the man with the answers, though I was expecting some reference to duct tape and plastic sheeting in there, too.

A mention of the Battle of Thermopylae should give the history buff amongst readers some understanding of how to oppose gnomes in battle. There's even some recommendation about how to dispose of the dangers of "roaming gnomes." My personal favourite is to dispose of said creatures in the Laurentian Abyss, one of the deepest parts of the Atlantic Ocean, but in case of emergency, probably leaving a gnome at the door of any mall on Black Friday will do the trick.

Now, let me stress, this isn't high-faluting "Litter-a-chur", nor is it an essential for the gardener's library in order to increase one's gardening abilities. What it is, is very good fun, a nice addition as part of a gift basket or as stocking stuffer for a gardener or for anyone who has ever muttered about the clutter of gnickgnacks on lawns and in homes. We all need a little more humour in our lives.

And far, far, fewer gnomes.

20 October 2010

Viburnums for Autumn Brilliance


Autumn is a season that many of us view with a mixture of joy and dread. The rainbow of foliage colours is usually particularly satisfying at this season of fading flowers and shortened days, and among the deciduous allstars of fall colour are the Viburnums.

Many of us think automatically of the snowball bush (V. opulus) when viburnums are mentioned, to which I go ick,pooh, yuk! I’m not crazy about this species because it’s very prone to attack from pests, and I don’t find the plant all that interesting. But that’s a personal taste—and what in gardening isn’t personal?
For our garden, I initially tended toward native species because birds love them so much and I was sure of their hardiness in my yard. In the past few years, emboldened by success with a doublefile and a fragrant species, I'm intent on adding others to the mix around our property.


Viburnums come in a dizzying number of species and cultivars, and I don’t profess to be an expert where they are concerned—just that I love them, which is a good start. You do have to watch the hardiness zones, as some are very frost tender here and aren't suited for the colder areas of the province. But we have plenty of choices for our gardens.
There are two of the more ornamental (i.e. commercially easily found) viburnums I couldn’t be without: the doublefile viburnum, (photo above) with its pagoda-like structure and lacey white flowers. There are several different cultivars available--I've pretty much decided mine is 'Summer Snowflake' rather than 'Mariesii'.

Since the only thing better than one doublefile viburnum is two, I've pretty much decided that next year, I'll add 'Newport' doublefile to the back garden too. I saw it showing off its fall colour at a friend's recently, and that was enough for me.

I love the fragrant viburnums, and have a hybrid Carlecephalum near my office window, where its fragrance can lull me in late spring and early summer. The fun thing with these shrubs is that you can tell this autumn what next year's bloom will be like, because the flower buds are large and obvious now. It's been so windy the past few days, I haven't gone out to take photos, however, so you'll have to take my word for it for now.

I really like V. 'Onondaga' which has great burgundy bronze colour in its new spring growth, and in its flower buds too. It has lobed leaves something like a highbush cranberry, and also has flowers somewhat similar to the doublefile or highbush cranberry viburnums, flat clusters of lacy white blooms.

Some years, we don’t get a huge amount of fall colour from our viburnums, mostly because that ever-present wind rips leaves from many of our shrubs and trees before they can get really going. However, where we lose the foliage show sometimes, the fruit of the shrubs remains colourful, and provides much-needed food for birds, which are a major part of our garden.

V. nudum var. cassinoides is the Witherod or wild raisin (photo above), a native shrub that has reddish foliage in spring and gorgeous red to purple fall foliage. White flowers in the spring give way to pink fruits that eventually turn deep rich blue, before the birds swoop in to dine on them all. It was one of the first shrubs I learned to recognize as a child, although I thought the berries were toxic, probably because they are almost the same shade of blue as Clintonia.

Viburnum dentatum or arrowwood (photo at top of post) is a tough, winter hardy species that works well as a tall hedging or screen plant for a windbreak as well as having ornamental qualities. Its common name comes from the fact that its straight stems were formerly used by First Nation peoples for the shafts of their arrows. Arrowwood has blue-black fruits in the fall and foliage that varies from yellow to coppery orange and red. 'Chicago Luster' and 'Blue Muffin' are two popular cultivars of this native shrub.
V. trilobum, the highbush cranberry, is not a cranberry at all but is a native shrub in much of Atlantic Canada. It’s attractive as a specimen plant or even as a hedge, and its white blossoms are followed by blood red, fleshy fruit and red-purple autumn colour. Although the species grows to twelve feet tall, the cultivar ‘Compactum’ reaches only half that height.

If you're looking for an excellent book on the wonderful Viburnums, do check out Michael Dirr's excellent reference book by the same name. Published by Timber Press (of course), it's an invaluable reference book, written in Dirr's wonderfully encouraging and chatty style, and illustrated numerous photographs as well as with paintings done by his wife. Just be aware--viburnums can be habit forming.
Have you been lured into the wonderful world of viburnums yet?

15 October 2010

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day meets Skywatch Friday

Despite the fact that I managed to think it was Wednesday when it was actually Thursday, I do know it is has been a beautiful October so far. Yesterday, however, we had the first tremour of frost here on the mountain--not enough to be a killing frost, but enough to remind the plants in our gardens of what's coming.

There is still a surprising amount of bloom happening in my garden. I decided to combine some of the blooms into collages because it's easier on my readers than putting up umpteen individual photos and making a loooonnggg post. Above, delicate blue nigella flower and foliage; the well named wallflower 'Pastel Patchwork'; Nepeta and tradescantia flowers; the still dazzling 'Sungold' buddleia.

The bees continue to be very glad about the asters and related flowers: top, 'Alma Potchske' and 'Purple Dome'; bottom, gallardia and a New England aster bathes in the sunlight.

Brilliant red cardinal flower serves up a huge punch of colour; the soft white flowers of eupatorium 'Chocolate', and the glassy berries of arrowwood viburnum 'Chicago Lustre'.

Oh, those echinaceas, rudbeckias, and more asters! A veritable rainbow: 'Secret Desire', 'Green Jewel' and 'Flamethrower' echinaceas; a bee feasting on a common rudbeckia; and the dainty flowers of aster 'Lady in Black'.

Lots of hot pink and magenta providing a little warmth against those cool mornings: a persicaria (name unknown); sedum 'October Daphne'; bee in 'Hansa' rugosa rose; a cluster of 'Martin Frobisher' Explorer roses, and one valiant annual poppy...

Now, to put the Skywatch in this post...unsettled weather in recent days has made for some spectacular skyscapes. Thunderstorms, hail, humidity, galeforce winds...such is the nature of October in the Annapolis Valley. Now, if I can just keep my days straightened out...

10 October 2010

Other People's Gardens: Flora's seaside dream

Since I haven't had a chance to do one of these posts for a while, how about a visit to one of those wonderful, perfect gardens: You know the kind I mean, Other People's Gardens. To my mind, everyone else's garden IS perfect, and a teaching exercise, and a joy. This time, we're going to my friend Flora's garden, not far from Yarmouth, NS.

Flora's garden is sort of like mine in that it is challenged by living near the sea--wind and salt spray are a fact of life in Sandford. Her back garden is surrounded by a fence that acts as something of a windbreak, although if things were as wild this weekend at her place as at ours, she'd need a fence 20 feet high to buffet the wind.

This garden is steadily evoloving and growing and changing with each year. Flora swears every year that she's not buying/accepting any new plants this year, but none of us believe her...and all of us help to feed her habit. She enjoys a mixture of old fashioned garden varieties as well as newer ones, and is quick to share with others. I now have a young Deutzia 'Codsall Pink' compliments of Flora.

I love to watch Flora's garden changing with the seasons. From the eruption of the bulbs every spring, to the blooming of her many roses and other flowering shrubs, to the changing of foliage colour in the trees, this is a garden with the art of 4-season interest totally mastered.

Some areas of the garden shimmer with cool pastels in perenials, grasses, and shrubs like the beautiful rose cascading beside the barn.

Other areas are warm with rich hot colours in helenium, astilbe, phlox and foxgloves.

From Flora, I learned that we can move plants regularly til we find a place that really suits them. She laughingly says they get bored looking at the same sights all the time, and appreciate a change. I use this for an explanation when I decide to move plants. Works every time.

This garden has something fascinating to look at everywhere you look, from low-growing heucheras and hostas to the tall, elegant lilies.

Lilies do very well in Flora's garden. Well, everything seems to do very well in her garden.

The fountain sings its soothing song all day, a perfect counterpoint to the birdsong and the bees feasting in blooms around the garden.

It's entirely possible that I am slightly jealous over this wonderful blue hydrangea. It's a beauty, as is the pink one, and the huge, enthusiastic whiteflowered climbing hydrangea.

Cascades of roses tumble from shrubs and ramblers all around the back garden.

Flora's garden is a little warmer than mine, so she has some things come into bloom a couple of weeks earlier than I do, like her various tall phloxes...

But like in my garden, the cool sea air means that blooms also last much longer. Her aconitums are magnificent.

Flora's garden is a rich mixture of flower colours and shapes, foliage textures and sizes. It's a living, joyful place, and one of my favourite gardens. It's a garden of joy, which is just what a garden should be--and its bounty has been shared around most of the county, and beyond. For after all, gardens are best when they are shared with other gardeners, aren't they?

Great Gardens and More

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