31 December 2007

top ten plants--annuals

Well, we here in the Maritimes have decided to ring in the new year with another enormous snowstorm. At dark, more than a foot of snow had landed on the deck (which my longsuffering spouse had cleaned off this morning from yesterday's snow...or was it the day before's snowfall?) Whatever the case, there's heaps, and heaps of snow out there, and more to come, making me really glad that I finally got those bulbs in the ground last week. So now, we'll finish out the old year with my favourite annuals--at the moment, that is!

Hummingbird mint is just as its name suggests; a magnet for hummingbirds, but also for butterflies, and for gardeners who are thrilled by its lemony-mint fragrance. This is one of the 'Acapulco' series of Agastaches, and flowers from spring until the snow buries it (in which case you dig the container out of the snowbank and bring it indoors.)

You can grow Anagallis monelli (blue pimpernel or poor man's weatherglass) from seed; it's a sprawling plant that does well in containers or in front of borders, and of course this blue is just beyond exquisite. There are orange cultivars available now, as we discussed in the wonderful postings about orange that some of you loved...and others loved less. )

Salvia 'Black and Blue' was a star performer for me this year, better than it's ever done. It doesn't like cold weather in the spring, but after it gets well established and has been growing all summer, it handles the pre- hardfrost weather of autumn really well. The black stems and calyces are a dramatic foil for the bright green foliage, and we've already seen how I am about blue flowered plants.

Earlier in the autumn I showed several photos of this gold-foliaged bacopa (or sutera) and said I couldn't remember its cultivar name. Finally I found it; this is 'Copia Golden Leaves', which I like better than 'Gold n Pearls' because the flowers are lavender rather than the all-too-common white.

Twinspur, or Diascia, are nice hummingbird magnets too. Usually we see them in shades of rose through to red, but this one caught my eye last spring. It's called 'Pumpkin', and was a strong performer all summer and fall, even when I forgot to deadhead it to prolong bloom.

This is an underused perennial in a lot of gardens, and I can only think it's because the foliage and flowers have a strongly unpleasant scent to them. Despite this, lantana is a butterfly magnet too, and a plant I have to have in at least a few container plantings. What really appeals is the way the flowers change colours, often showing three or more shades in the same cluster of florets.

Regular readers know that in the annual world, this plant is as delightful to me as is 'Green Envy' echinacea. All of the African daisies are particularly appealing to me; possibly because their complex flowers have so many subtle details to them, but this venidium is a favourite, and a plant that isn't available nearly often enough from nurseries. Available also in red and orange, the silver green foliage makes a nice contrast to the metallic sheen of the flowers.

Another African daisy makes the top ten, this one an osteospermum, 'Astra Pink Yellow.' I think it's really well named, don't you? Its hardiness has been astonishing too, given that I threw several pots of osteos into the compost when the non-tropical-storm event Noel was due back in November; and they kept flowering until they were buried by snow, like other hardy annuals we enjoyed this year.

I don't like petunias one little bit, at least for my own garden. They're messy, smelly, need deadheading, and just don't do it for me--yet I love them in other people's gardens. On the other hand, callibrachoas tickle me. They flower peacefully without needing deadheading, hummingbirds and butterflies love them, they come in some dazzling colour combinations, including this one, which is called 'Purple Sunrise', which I found new to the area this year and really like. A bit different colour taste than my usual inclinations, but maybe that's why I like it!

Nemesia are another annual that can be grown easily from seed, and come in a wide range of colours. If you want consisant and strong colours, try the 'Sensatia' series of fruit flavours. This year, I grew 'Raspberry', 'Lemon' and 'Cranberry' but there are at least three or four others in this Proven Winners series of yummy annuals. Most of our annuals are grown in containers, with the exceptions of the 'free range' poppies, sunflowers, nigella and violas.

We here in Nova Scotia are going to be among the first on this continent to arrive at 2008 (Newfoundland will be half an hour earlier) so from our house to all of you, all best wishes for a Happy New Year, and great gardening in 2008!

29 December 2007

top ten plants--perennials

To go along with my column in Sunday's edition of the Chronicle Herald (which you can read here for one week), I'm expanding on that discussion with a top ten roundup of each of my favourite annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs. I'll ask for your patience in getting the remaining posts up, as I'm down with another nasty bout of my recurring illness, and am having a hard time getting things done. That said, I've managed to create a post of top ten perennials; as I see them right now.

Yes, that's right. Our tastes change, and we might be very fond of a plant for years on end, then see something new and different (or something old and different) that changes our opinions. Take astilbes, for example. Until a couple of years ago, I wasn't impressed by them particularly, although I liked their foliage well enough. Then I saw them grown really well, saw the many variants in flower colour AND foliage colour, and realized they'd do well in my damp, shady areas. Now I just love them, although I don't have them listed in this top-ten list.

In fact, making a top ten list of perennials is really hard, because in order to be accurate, it would have to be the top twenty three or so. I did one top-ten list (which was thirteen) back in March, which focused only on genera (Euphorbia, Eryngium, etc). This time, I'm going to mention specific cultivars where possible.

But just one thing before we start: please don't ask me where to get them! I often get email from readers wondering where to get X plant; and while I do try to note where I bought such and such a plant, it doesn't always happen. I sometimes forget, or lose the label or note. Plus nurseries do run out of stock. And I don't have a Rolodex in my head of every nursery's inventory. The advice I give to gardeners is to make requests of your local nursery, if there's a specific plant you have your heart set on growing and you need to see brought in.

Now, without further ado...this year's top ten perennials are:

Of course, those of you who read bloomingwriter regularly EXPECTED this, didn't you? Echinacea 'Green Envy' incited envy in most of us this past year, and hopefully it will be much more available next year. I never met a coneflower (be it Echinacea, Rudbeckia, or Ratibida) that I didn't love, but this one just knocked my socks off. It flowered until late October, too.

Daylilies are workhorses in the garden, able to take just about any sort of growing conditions. This beauty is Hemerocallis 'Destined to See', and I like it so much I bought three plants of it!

There are a number of wonderful sea hollies that grow well in Nova Scotia, but one of the most elegant is Erygium alpinum. Where some of its relatives are quite prickly, the bracts of this one are soft, and a lovely true-blue rather than purple.

Foliage is as important in our garden as are flowers, and a star performer this year was 'Frosted Violet' heuchera. It's not the newest or the fanciest, but it grew to an impressive size in our "chocolate and wine" garden, and was still looking handsome in late October, when this closeup photo was taken.

Yes, I admit it. I have a fixation for blue flowers, from hepatica and scilla in spring until the last flower of the autumn flowering gentians. I was inspired to try growing these by an extremely talented alpine gardener who lives on the South mountain, across the Valley. This is Gentiana septemfida.

Are you sensing a blue theme here? (and I avoided including Meconopsis in this list because it's such a challenge for many gardeners). This is Aconitum 'Stainless Steel' monkshood, a handsome perennial for the back of a border. It grows to nearly 5 feet tall in our garden, and covers itself in these cool blue flowers. One caveat; monkshood IS toxic in all its parts, so don't let children or dogs get at it. Cats seem to know better.

Masterworts, or Astrantia, are another of those plants I came to adore only a couple of years ago. Once they settle in, they are consistant performers, flowering well into autumn, and there's something about these complex yet dainty flowers that just exudes peacefulness. There are numerous colour variants available, with flowers in shades of white through rose to wine, as well as at least one cultivar with variegated foliage. Ours are all planted in shade to part shade, but they'll take a sunny spot too (and probably have even more flowers. )

Another foliage star! This is 'Bonfire' euphorbia, a new polychroma type spurge. It's well named, because its golden flowers and bracts light up especially well against the deep burgundy foliage. Readers know I'm a bit of a spurge nut (or euphoric about euphorbia, as this past post indicates) so it's my happy duty to test out new spurges whenever possible.

This is a must-have perennial for anyone who loves blue; it's Corydalis elata, rather than the more finicky Corydalis flexuosa. The electric blue flowers last for weeks on end, and while it doesn't bloom forever like C. lutea, its a great plant for the front or mid area of the border. And it's fragrant, bringing butterflies, hummingbirds and bees to it like crazy.

Lastly, (and number 11, if we count the Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' at the beginning of this post) is Asclepias incarnata, or rosy butterfly weed. And no explanation as to why I love it is necessary, is it?

28 December 2007

top ten plants--trees

Tis the season for 'top ten lists' of hits and misses, plans and prognostications. Since I don't make New Year's Resolutions, (because they just set us up for failure) I thought I'd do a few lists; of my personal top ten favourite trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Let's start out with the biggest and most impressive--trees.

Dawn redwood Metasequoia glyptostroboides: This is one of those fascinating trees that have become popular in recent years. Long thought to be extinct, it was ‘rediscovered’ in the early 1940s in China, and now is a much cherished ornamental tree in many home gardens and arboreta. It’s one of those rare deciduous conifers; similar to the larch, it drops its needles in autumn. New growth is a soft bronzy-green, the growth habit flowing and sweeping, and the bark peels attractively. What’s not to love?

Red maple Acer rubrum. Everything about this native tree is delightful; one of the first trees to flower in spring, it’s well named because its flowers, twigs, seeds, and petioles are all tinted red. Of course, its red foliage in autumn is marvelously electric, in shades that are difficult to describe. Not to be confused with the tiresome, and non-native, ‘Crimson King’ Norway maple. It’s true that I have a hate on for Norway maples (Acer platanoides) of all sorts, because they’re just not great trees, are subject to tarspot fungus, spread far too quickly, and are used by lazy landscapers and city planners far, far too often. Whoops, that was a slight rant, wasn’t it?

Catalpa or bean tree Catalpa bignonioides. I took a leap of faith this past summer and planted a catalpa, because while they can be a bit iffy in our zone, they are just such wonderful, graceful trees. Their flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds; and now, in winter, their long, slender seed pods, that do resemble string beans, cling to the branches, providing great winter interest.

Weeping Nootka falsecypress. Chamaecyparis nootkatensis. I’ve seen this plant recommended for use in hedges, which I can’t imagine; to me, it’s a perfect specimen tree. One of my gardening friends has one that’s about twenty five feet tall, and it’s one of the most lovely trees I’ve ever seen. Its cones are attractive and unique, too; taking two years to mature, they’re curious little 4-scaled structures. Just to make things interesting, the botanical name of this tree has been moved to Callitropsis, but many still refer to it as a Chamaecyparis. I actually have C.n. 'glauca', which is the blue-foliaged form.

Ginkgo or maidenhair tree Ginkgo biloba. I like having living fossils in our garden, which is why we have a small bristlecone pine (life expectancy, 4000 years), a dawn redwood, as mentioned above, and a ginkgo. I look at my small ginkgo, and imagine it growing 270 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth; that’s longevity! The common name of maidenhair tree comes from the fact that the leaves (somewhat) resemble the leaves of the maidenhair fern, although the two are not related.

Horse chestnut Aesculus hippocastanum. This is the favourite tree of my longsuffering spouse, who planted several with his grandfather decades ago on the home property. When we bought our property, I gave him a 4 foot tall horsechestnut; nearly nine years later, it’s growing into a fine tree and flowered last spring for the first time.

Paul’s Scarlet Hawthorne Crataegus 'Paul's Scarlet'. I love the wild hawthorns that naturalize around our province, in part because they’re beautiful, in part because they provide food and shelter for many different speces of birds. This particular hybrid appeals to me because it forms a nicely sized, but not overbearing, tree; about 25 feet tall at maturity. Ours has only been planted for a couple of years but it flowered for the first time this past summer; just a couple of sprays, but those rich carmine flowers get to me every time!

European Copper beech Fagus sylvatica Purpurea Group. Beeches are handsome trees with lovely smooth bark, and attractive foliage. There are numerous ornamental varieties, but my favourite is the purple, or copper beech, with purple foliage that sometimes looks coppery. A friend of mine has a weeping purple beech, but I’m content with the regular form. Recently, however, I’ve been tempted greatly by the tricolour beech, although it’s very pricy.

Red oak Quercus borealis or Q. rubra Another native tree, and one that is not for impatient gardeners. Its life expectancy can be up to 250 years, but it doesn’t take that long to get some size; they grow fairly quickly, which is good, because I just planted one this past summer, and want it to hurry up! The red oak, like the red maple, has fantastic fall colour, and I’ve noticed that many trees locally are still holding quite a few of their leaves, now a handsome bronzy colour.

Shadbush, Chuckly-pear Amelanchier, various species. As a child, I knew this as Indian pear or chuckleberries back in Newfoundland, and learned just how delicious the seedy fruit are. One of the earliest-flowering trees in spring, new foliage is a soft bronzed green, and the snowy white flowers contrast nicely. Berries are much loved by birds, and fall foliage colour is brilliant crimson. While there's currently just one tree in the butterfly garden, next spring I intend to add some Amelanchier to the native areas of our acreage, along the edges of the pasture; there's always room for more trees.

Yes, trees can be slow to grow, but you know the old saying. "The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the second est time is today!"

27 December 2007

Reds flowers for the holidays! Part 2

What does a person do when she's knocked flat--and I do mean FLAT--by another bout of diverticular disease? She eats the antibiotics the doctor prescribed, sleeps, and catches up on reading...and blogging. As we head into the weekend and the new year, I'll be doing my top ten plants (in annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees!) but first, another dance with red flowers.

Seems that others feel the same thing I do about red flowers; they're lovely, but don't need to be in vast quantities to make a point. And they can be hard to mix in with other colours unless you're doing something like a sunset garden, with oranges, golds, yellows as well as reds. But they are wonderful. This rose is one of the hardy roses, probably an Explorer, or possibly 'Linda Campbell' or 'Hunter'. It comes from a friend's garden, so maybe she can confirm what it is.

This is one of only two truly red rose I have in our garden (we have plenty of magenta flowered cultivars, which are often labeled as red.) It's Robusta, and an easy to care for shrub rose that just quietly flowers all summer long. It's never shown any sign of blackspot possibly because its leaves are the tough, shiny type that spores would slide right off of. (the other red rose in our garden is Parkdirektor Riggers).

Do you ever see plants that you like, but that somehow you just canNOT remember the name for? This is one of mine. Its botanical name is Anthyllis vulneraria coccinea (maybe that's why I can't remember its name!) also known as kidney vetch or Lady's Fingers. When I was doing a search to confirm its name (I did have it written down as Anthyllis in one of my photos), I learned that it's a member of the Fabaceae, formerly the Leguminosae, also known as the Pea family. Other horticulturally valuable members of this family include lupines, blue false indigo (Baptisia), yellow false lupine (Thermopsis), Mimosa, Acacia, sweet peas (Lathyrus), and of course clover, vetch, alfafa, peas and beans.

I've sung the praises of this African daisy, Venidium/venidio, in previous posts; it flowered until mid-November when one of those snow dumps put an end to its career. The other plant is a million bells, or Callibrachoa. I don't care for petunias, but I LOVE callies!

And here's a reprise look at the red flowered Venidium. It fascinates me that this flowering annual, similar to Osteospermums and Mesembryanthemum, keep going until well into autumn, long after other annuals have packed it on for the year. One of these days, I hope to go to Namaqualand in Africa and photograph the wildflowers in bloom. Meanwhile, I'll enjoy growing them at home.

I had a couple of unsuccessful sessions with red-flowered lobelias until a couple of years back, when I planted a new one in the part of the garden that has the best drainage. Since then, it has done very well, and of course its colour is a real draw to hummingbirds.

An old-fashioned peony, probably Rubra Plena, with wonderful fragrance and great flowering ability. Our peonies range in colour from white to soft pink through to the deep magenta/red forms.

Yes, I know I've mentioned and shown photos of poppies time and again. But really, how could anyone resist these freerange flowers when they simply selfseed and flower wherever they feel like it?

26 December 2007

Reds flowers for the holidays! Part 1 of 2

Given that we're in the Christmas season for another week or so, even though that day is now over, I thought I'd brighten up the airwaves with a post on red flowered plants. Red is a challenging colour to photograph with a digital camera and get accurately; having something to do with the sensors in the camera (but I'm no professional photographer so I won't try to explain it.) My experience has been that I get the most accurate colour if there's not tooooo much bright sunlight around.

Red isn't a colour I use much in the house, in clothing, or, it seems from searching my photo files, in the garden. Perhaps this is because some red flowers are so overused, and badly overused. Instances that spring to mind include the red geraniums or salvia planted out en masse at gas stations, or red tulips (usually paired with bright yellow) planted in platoon-straight ranks. It's not that I don't LIKE red...but it wouldn't be listed as one of my favourite colours.
However, this red tulip above is one that I do like, very much, mostly because it's enhanced in its appeal by being fringed as well as red.

Technically, this tulip could be considered purple and white (and I don't know its name--it's an older file and I don't think from our garden). But I include it to show the range of what DOES get considered as being red by some. And I just love the tulip too, so if you know what it is, please tell us!

Primroses come in some delicious colours, including pure red, but where the red-and-yellow tulip combination makes me cringe, this planting of bicolour primroses makes me happy; it's a nice burst of different colour in the late-spring garden, when many pastels are saturating the world around us.

This is one of my favourite spring-flowering shrubs, the quince, or japonica (Chaenomeles); the redder the flowers, the more I love them. They flower just about the same time as the hummingbirds arrive back here, and I've watched them diving around the flowers looking for nutrients. Mine haven't fruited yet, but they're young, and not large. Some people sneer at these plants as being common; but they're a lovely burst of colour in my world.

I need an assistant when I go taking photos; I'm so busy photographing, I don't have time (or hands) to write down the names of every plant, if it IS labeled or the owner knows the name. So I'm not sure which of the newer red azaleas this is...it was at a nursery and next year it will be in my yard!

There's nothing fancy about this simple daylily, but I like its happy red colour. Many of the reds have contrasting throat colours, in orange, green, or yellow.

This is Hemerocallis 'Night Beacon'. I have it paired up with a deep wine-maroon daylily (Disraeli) and the contrast between the two works really well when they're both blooming.

This sweet William dianthus is popular with both butterflies and hummingbirds. And with humans who love its spicy-sweet scent.

We have hundreds, probably thousands, of free-range annual poppies all over our property. While some of them are the large, double, peony or lettuce poppies (Paeonia somniferum, yes, that one but I won't name it lest the plant-nazis come calling), we have plenty of P. rhoeas, corn or field poppy, cultivars splashed around the yard too. To me, poppies invite macro photography or simply macro-looking, to admire their complexities.

While shrub potentillas leave me mostly flat, because they've been overused by lazy landscapers for too many years, the perennial types make me really happy. This is the beautiful Potentilla 'Arc en Ciel', which does come in a dazzling rainbow of red-yellow-orange flower colour shadings. It's a bit tidier than some of the others, which tend to sprawl in ungainly fashion around the bed, but they're all very floriferous and long-blooming, too.

Yarrows are wonderful plants, but they've posed challenges for me in the past because they demand good winter drainage, or else they just won't return. I've solved this (I hope) by planting this Achillea 'Paprika' in a raised bed, where it should have sufficient drainage to entice it to return and perform brilliantly again next year. Or so I hope.

Part of the reason I hope for the 'Paprika' survival is because I have it colour-paired with this rich red helenium, or Helen's flower. I know fellow bloggers are fond of helenium too, and together, hopefully we can spread the good news about this late-summer, easy-growing perennial.

Stay tuned for another post on reds shortly!

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