31 October 2007

And then there was frost.....

How perfect that on this clear, cool, calm last day of October, we should get up this morning and see that there was frost; not on the pumpkins, which are on the doorstep and somewhat warmed by the house, but in most of the garden, the silver spangles were showing. This sunflower was taking its final bow of the season, although it still has a few seeds left for hungry birds.

Even as I walked around the garden with camera in hand, the signs of frost were melting in all but the most shaded areas. It wasn't the hardest of frosts, because a few hours later, a stroll around the yard showed a surprising number of annuals were carrying on; the osteospermum and venidium daisies, for example, were smiling up at the sunlight, while the yellow impatiens said, 'so long, and thanks for all the seaweed'...and melted into mushiness.

So even though it's not the big, brutal, kill-everything-even-the-weeds frost, we've definitely passed into the end stages of this gardening season.

We could be overwhelmed, of course, and there are moments when we feel that way. Sunday was a fine (though much windier) day, and I cleaned up one bed and tucked in a few dozen of the gazillions of bulbs purchased earlier. SEveral days ago I had taken a walk around the yard, looking at the various beds and all the things on the 'to-do' list that should be done...and then I remembered that gardening isn't meant to be a stresser, but a pleasure. Which it is...but sometimes we allow ourselves to be intimidated by the "dreaded shoulds" in our gardens, just as we do in other parts of our lives.

Sometimes, we need to just take some deep breaths (of fresh air, be it tinged with bonfire smoke or with the last rose of autumn) and remind ourselves that what gets done, gets done...and what doesn't, isn't the end of the world. When I work in a slower, more contemplative manner, it frees my mind up to play with words and ideas, to craft out stories, to plot and plan and prepare, so that when I return to my keyboard to write, the words tumble out. That hour I stole from the computer pays off in big dividends.

My mantra for completing whatever garden cleanup gets done this fall? One bed at a time. It's a great way to feel like something is accomplished, to look at one bed and see it cleaned up--however you define cleaning--and prepared for a winter's nap.

Cleanup chores for our garden include getting as many weeds out as possible; cutting dead annuals off at ground level (if they're planted out) or consigning them to the compost (if they've been in containers.) I cut down some of the perennial stalks, usually only if seedheads are spent or gone and the stalks dry and uninteresting. Many perennials provide food for overwintering birds, and shelter for beneficial insects. Plus what plant doesn't look great with a rime of frost or a dusting of snow on it?

Although there are still quite a few flowers blooming around the yard, the day is coming when we'll rely on the evergreens and on berries to provide flashes of colour out of doors. Indoors, we turn now to promises of spring...in this case, in the form of "winter tulips' purchased yesterday at a store in town. The purple of these small tulips appealed to me, with their bright yellow stamens and graceful touches of blue at each petal's base. I figure a fresh bunch of flowers once a week isn't an exorbitant luxury. Wouldn't you agree?

29 October 2007

Lavender blue…lavender green

Reading fellow garden-bloggers’ recent reports of hard frosts, I expected to find a garden turning to mush when I went outside earlier today. The banshee wind that has been rattling this old house for the past few days had a definite bite to it, but it actually kept us from that killing frost. We did get some cold damage to some of the more tender annuals, but looking at them brought on no regret. It is, after all, nearly the end of October, and some of these annuals have been growing in containers here since late April. It’s time.

But there are still gifts to be found and cherished, sometimes surprising gifts. I’ve mentioned roses, delphinium, coneflowers putting on repeat performances but the best surprise was one I found this afternoon.

A single sprig of lavender in bloom, its rich colour a foil for that coolly grey-green foliage. This particular plant flowered earlier, and quite well; what possessed it to throw up this mid-autumn gift, who can really say, but it was like the smile of a sunflower. I debated only momentarily before deciding to pick it and bring it in my office; a single stem in a pewter kenzan now graces the clutter of my desk.

Lavender. The very name evokes a romantic, clean fragrance, a glorious burst of purple haze in the garden, memories of scented closets, lace sachets, bees drunken on nectar. I think it may be summer incarnate, although its fragrance is not the heavy richness of a rose or a heliotrope or a brugsmansia.

Lavender is an ancient herb, with natural habitat in such diverse locales as Greece, France, Morocco, Egypt and India. It’s not known what peoples first discovered the uses of the plant, but Dioscorides, a Greek physician of the first century AD, makes note of lavender in his writings. Interestingly, although we hear the term “English lavender” used by several companies, lavender is not indigenous to England, and probably was brought to that country by the invading Romans.

According to herbalists, the plant’s essential oils are useful for treating burns, headache, insomnia and depression, to repel insects, and as a general-purpose antiseptic. In medieval times, when personal hygiene was less important or possible than today, people often used highly scented herbs such as lavender as “strews”; stems and flowers of a plant were strewn over floors so that when they were trodden upon, their fragrance was released (and hopefully compensated somewhat for less pleasant odours!) It's often used in herbal knot gardens and topiary and other designs where some formality is desired, but works splendidly just massed in a perennial border too.

Lavender plants CAN be a bit problematic to grow, but the secret is to give them plenty of sun, good drainage, and not too fertile a soilAs with most herbs, lavender likes a poorer soil, and if you overfertilize, the plants won’t be nearly as fragrant. They hate wet feet, and cold, soggy soil through the winter months will do them in. Here in much of Atlantic Canada they can be winter-killed by lack of protective cover in the winter, but mulching them with straw, hay or evergreen boughs will help get them through. Cultivar selection is important too; here, I can grow Lavender angustifolia cultivars including Munstead, Lady, Twickle Purple and Hidcote. Others such as the fancier Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas ssp pedunculata) shown above are just not hardy in my part of the world unless grown in containers.

I happen to like lavender in just about any form; in soap, lotion, shampoo, or pure essential oil; in tea, seasoning, and sweets (if you’ve never had a lavender chocolate, you can’t imagine the decadence, but lavender oatcakes are equally wonderful.) Mind you, the products need to use REAL lavender and essential oil, not these hideous synthetics that you find in products from dryer sheets to dish soap to ‘aromatherapy’ hand cleaners. Give me a break. Aromatherapy is valid and fascinating, but it calls for using real essential oils, not cheap synthetics.

But in my experience the best way to cherish lavender is to have a small box, a sachet or a dish of potpourri that is nothing but pure lavender florets. I keep sachets in my office, in our bedroom, even in the car and in my shoulder bag, because I find the fragrance revives my spirits, and reminds me of warm summer days.

Which today certainly wasn’t. But summer will come again. And so will the lavender, blooming in earnest.

Meanwhile, however, I’ll cherish such gifts as found flowers.

What found floral surprises have delighted you in recent days?

28 October 2007

A Pittance of Time for our forces

Although it's not yet November, poppies are starting to bloom on lapels in my province, and the veterans are showing up in malls, selling those tokens of remembrance.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter asked what we Canadians celebrate Remembrance Day for on 11 November--meaning is it the same as Armistice Day in the US? It depends on which country you're in, what it's called; Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Armistice Day...but it's for the same reason in each country; to honour the men and women of our respective country's armed forces who served in both World Wars, (and here in Canada, also the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam war, because some of our forces were in those events too). For those of us with loved ones in the armed forces today, we pause to think of them as well.

In Nova Scotia, this is a statuatory holiday, with schools, businesses and institutions such as the postal service and banks closed for the day. Thousands turn out for services in communities large and small, and I am always so gratified to see how many children and youth are attending the services again.

I am no fan of war, or war mongering rhetoric. But there have been times when military action has been needed, and men and women have answered the call...and continue to do so...and those people I will always honour and remember. I go to the service in Canning, then go to the cemetery in Berwick where my grandfather, his daughter and her husband--who served in WW1 and II, respectively--are buried, and lay wreaths for them. My family continues to have members who serve, and who have seen service overseas in peacekeeping missions and other operations; from Vimy Ridge to Kandahar, we remember.

The most powerful--and poignant--tribute to our veterans is the song "A Pittance of Time" by Halifax singer/songwriter Terry Kelly. Before you take a few minutes to watch the video, here's the explanation behind the song.

On November 11, 1999 Terry Kelly was in a Shoppers Drug Mart store in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. At 10:55 AM an announcement came over the store's PA asking customers who would still be on the premises at 11:00 AM to give two minutes of silence in respect to the veterans who have sacrificed so much for us.

Terry was impressed with the store's leadership role in adopting the Legion's "two minutes of silence" initiative. He felt that the store's contribution of educating the public to the importance of remembering was commendable.

When eleven o'clock arrived on that day, an announcement was again made asking for the "two minutes of silence" to commence. All customers, with the exception of a man who was accompanied by his young child, showed their respect.

Terry's anger towards the father for trying to engage the store's clerk in conversation and for setting a bad example for his child was later channeled into a beautiful piece of work called, "A Pittance of Time".

Some of the lyrics speak to the concerns of our world today, as well as remembering those of yesterday.

It takes courage to fight in your own war.
It takes courage to fight someone else's war.
Our peacekeepers tell of their own living hell.
They bring hope to foreign lands that hate mongers can't kill.

Take two minutes, would you mind?
It's a pittance of time,
For the boys and the girls who go over.
In peacetime our best still don battle dress
And lay their lives on the line.
It's a pittance of time

In peace may they rest,
Lest we forget why they died.
Take a pittance of time.

From the Lyrics, available here.

WARNING: It's a good idea to have tissues handy when watching this video. I have seen it many times--and even if I were to watch it a dozen times in a row, the tears would come every time.

Will you take a pittance of time this coming 11 November?

27 October 2007

Colour for a cloudy day

It's one of those drab, chill, dreary and of course windy days that is a harbinger of the NO-month, NOvember...days like this can fill my heart with dread and make me want to retreat to the comforts of hearth and home. I want to drink tea (or wine, or single malt, depending on the hour) and dive into a book, a catalogue, a magazine, a garden blog....ANYTHING to push back the darkness of the outside and make me remember that such days do pass.

But I was brave. I put on a bright red vest (lest one of the buck-fevered hunters out today mistake me for a deer) and my turquoise crocs, and camera in hand, went out to look around the garden (for those who have asked, my camera is a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, and it's smarter than I am!--but I'm more creative than it is)

I am constantly delighted and charmed by the poppies in our garden; not only for the artistry and colour of their irrepressible blossoms, but the exuberance of their flowering. It's late October, and I'm still finding them popping up and putting their brilliant faces out to show. With Remembrance Day rapidly approaching, it seems appropriate that it's the scarlet corn poppies (Papaver rhoes) that are festooning the yard with their brilliant, life-blood coloured blossoms.

Months ago, in my recommendations for favourite garden centres in the region, I admitted that though I go most often to Blomidon Nurseries (they're one of the closest to me with a website), I didn't have a great photo of the nursery. Well, I've been teased about that by some people (hi, Michelle!) and so here is a fall-swept photo of the entrance; granted, there's been a bit of frost, and some trees have relinquished their leaves, but this is a welcoming and wonderful nursery. I was a tiny bit alarmed that the Christmas shop is being constructed, but on the other hand, I LOVE their Christmas shop, and I don't expect to see any blue poinsettias there, either.

Blue, however, is my favourite colour in flowers (that would be my mostest bestest favourite colour, as opposed to other favourite colours like green, purple, magenta....) and I was amazed to find that Black and Blue sage is still not only blooming, but blooming madly! Can you tell which way the wind is blowing? It rarely stops here this autumn, which is a bit irritating, but a fact of living on a hill above the Bay of Fundy.

The fact that the sage is still in bloom, plus the fact that this silly plant has finally put out a whole whorl of flowers, convinces me that we have YET to experience a significant frost. This surprises me, as I was sure that there would be damage Thursday and last night. But the sage is quite cold sensitive in my experience (though Kate reports hers rebounded after an early Regina frost) so perhaps there was enough wind overnight to keep the frost at bay. This Dr. Suess-like plant is Lion's Tail, and I've shown it before--but this is the first time I've had more than a couple of florets showing in any of the flower heads. Being a mint relative, I'm hoping it will reseed, and also that it will come on more quickly next year. The whimsical gardener in me wants to create a Dr. Suess garden to compliment the chocolate and wine bed. I can think of a number of good plants for such a garden, can't you?

A housekeeping note; I'm doing some reorganizing to my blog, and have added an Amazon link for some of my favourite gardening books, because I regularly am asked for recommendations on books. This seemed like a not-too-obtrusive way to share my enthusiasms. So I hope you'll check them out occasionally, and enjoy!

26 October 2007

Learning to See, and asking for feedback

The past couple of weeks have been really busy in my personal and professional life, and consequently most of the writing I've been doing has been to pay the bills (so I can buy more bulbs, obviously!) I'm also taking a photography course from the owner of our local camera shop, who is not only a good business owner and marvelous photographer but an excellent teacher. I'm of the school of my-camera-is-smarter-than-I-am because I've never really mastered the art of dealing with exposure, shutter speed, etc; I set things on auto in most cases and hope for the best, which is kind of a waste of an SLR camera's abilities. So it was time, and I'm learning lots.

What I really love about using this camera--especially when I take the time to use the tripod so that there won't be too much shake--is how I'm learning to see differently. The camera sees more than we do, I think, because it simply records what's in front of it--and we don't notice all the nuances of what's in front of our eyes until we see the photo, be it on a screen or on an actual print.

Sometimes, of course, we can't help but see. Behold the breathtaking beauty of the Japanese Royal Azalea, Rhododendron schlippenbachii, at my friends Sharon Bryson and Bill Wilgenhof's home, The Willow Garden in Antigonish. This plant stopped me dead in my tracks and incited instant plant lust...its flowers are lovely enough, but this fall colour made me exquisitely happy. Isn't it marvelous how it just leaps out from around its relatives and says, "here I am, worship me!"?

Although it's still early to tell how much damage we had, last night brought a touch of frost to our yard. Happily, I had spent some time yesterday afternoon repotting and tidying up the houseplants and bringing them indoors. Like others, I may possibly have too many houseplants for the space I have, but like others, I simply can't resist them. Especially flowering plants, which help me get through the dreariness of winter with their brilliant colours and forms. I love the electric colours and graceful blooms of cyclamen, which I tend to plant outdoors for the summer and fall months and then purchase new each fall.

But I also am soothed by the meticulous geometry of succulents such as this dramatic black aeonium, which has delighted me for several years now. The succulents prefer a lot of light to grow well, and that's sometimes a challenge in the house here, although currently everything is in my office where it will get south and east light.

If you had to pick only a couple of plants to grace your home, what would you have? An exquisite orchid? The dramatic and unusual Staghorn fern? A dish garden of cacti and succulents?
I have other questions too, as I'm preparing research for some upcoming stories, and who better to ask than other gardeners? These questions will be going out to my newsletter subscribers too, so if you're one of those you have a heads-up on the next edition.

This summer has been, in some ways, the summer of my gardening discontent--not because of weather or plants or soil or anything like that but because of health issues that have seriously limited my ability to work in my beloved garden. It's been frustrating, but it's also sensitized me to the challenges faced by other gardeners, whether they are older than me (I'm forty-something) or have illnesses or physical limitations. And because I've had one or two other gardeners ask about how to make their gardens less labour intensive so they can putter but still enjoy, without being overwhelmed by weeding, dividing, moving, pruning, composting, weeding, fertilizing, etc etc--chores they may love but find harder to do--I'm throwing the discussion out to others.

What CAN we do to simplify our garden labours? Again, I'm stressing that this is mostly for reducing heavy labour for those who can't work for hours in their yards--but it could also be applicable to families where both parents are working, or young parents with not a lot of time, but who still want the joys of a garden.

What are your thoughts, fellow gardeners?

25 October 2007

Tally ho!

We're taking a bit of a break from the garden this entry, and getting exercise of a different sort. Doesn't this look like fun? Let's join them. You need a horse, English tack and attire, especially boots and helmet, and a sense of adventure. It's the weekly gathering of the Annapolis Valley Hunt, a group of dedicated and enthusiastic equestrians who meet on Sundays throughout the fall, and ride to hounds over some of the most beautiful country in the province.

I've ridden with this group a few times, though not in the last few years; my horse isn't used to travelling fast in large groups and I don't ride English any more due to my knees. I can't see turning up in English gear and a western saddle, though I suppose I could borrow my friend's Australian stock saddle....But this is a hectic, demanding pace and you and your horse must be fit, because the hunts normally last three hours or so, and there's a lot of cantering and galloping--and frequent rest stops, of course.

Now, before anyone worries--no wild animals are injured in the hunt. This is a no kill hunt, known as a drag hunt, where the hounds are trained to follow a special trail (the drag) over kilometers of terrain. Each week the hunt is hosted at a different location, and the hosting member arranges the trail, gets permission from various landowners for the members to cross lands. At hunt's end, the hounds are rewarded for their hard work with meat scraps before returning to their kennels.

Before the hunt, perhaps you want to school your horse a bit, to make sure he's listening to your commands. Heels down, knees against the saddle, into hunt seat position please, and can-ter! Can you feel the horse's exhileration as he gallops across the field? And yet when his rider asks him to whoa, he does, and stands quietly too. He's a fine horse, a big handsome warmblood...makes my horse look small in comparison.

The club welcomes new members, guest riders, and any sort of horse; I've seen draft horses, ponies, Appaloosas (there's a paint on this ride), Arabs, Morgans, quarterhorses, and of course the usual thoroughbrd/warmblood mixtures.

Although some of the riding is fast, there are frequent breaks, called checks, to give the Master of Fox Hounds and his Whippers in a chance to rest their hounds, as well as the horses. Sometimes a hound, especially a young one, will get distracted and go off on a separate trail, and then the whippers-in will go and herd the straggler back to the rest of the pack. The hounds all wear radio tracking collars too, so there's no chance of having one get lost somewhere. They're lovely animals, extremely well behaved and smart; the only problem I found was trying to take their photos, and having them all come to me to give doggy kisses and get pats.

When the hunt is complete, the riders and horses and hounds return to the hunt host's home; the animals are seen too, and then everyone gathers for a potluck meal, known as the breakfast--even though it's late afternoon. This is a nod to hunting tradition, where hunts generally go first thing in the morning; but the AVH members prefer to have an afternoon event because members come from a variety of professions, from farmers to teachers to veterinarians to homemakers.
Every time I go to watch and photo the hunt, I wonder if I can get my horse and I fit to go...maybe next year my knees will be better. If you are a rider, and ever get a chance to join a hunt for a ride, go--because as one rider told me long ago, it's about the most fun you can have on a horse. And that's a perfect description of a Sunday afternoon's exercise.

20 October 2007

Further bulbacious beauts

Do you suffer from acute bulbitis? It strikes without warning. You go into a nursery, ostensibly to pick up a dozen more snowdrops or crocus or tulips of a specific colour...and suddenly you find yourself with another couple of hundred bulbs of various species, colours and sizes. That's my story and I'm sticking to it...even if it took me going to two garden centres to relieve the symptoms of bulbitis yesterday.

What followed me home this time?
Tulips, of course: Apeldoorn Elite; (bicolour Darwin, red-orange flushed with gold, sometimes showing hints of fuchsia)
Tulip 'Curley Sue' a deep purple fringed type
Jackpot, deep purple with white edging
Carousel (a delightful fringed beauty with rosey 'flames' on a creamy white flower)
Marilyn (lily flowered, similar white and rose colour scheme) Marilyn was my former mother-in-law's name, in whose memory I planted a butterfly garden, which unfurls with a procession of flowers and shrubs all season. It starts out with some daffs and brightly coloured tulips, (last year including Toronto, Apeldoorn Elite and a couple of others), then aprocession of perennials and flowering shrubs keep things going. It seemed like the right way to remember a very remarkable woman.

Species tulips, the small but marvelous showoffs: Tulip saxatilis a dainty beauty in soft pink
Tulip humilis violacea (don't you love its black heart?)

Other bulbs:
Crocus Advance (purple and gold)
crocus, mixed purples and whites for naturalizing)

Muscari Blue Spike: This double-flowered grape hyacinth is so cool, with almost-fringed flowers and of course that wonderful sweet scent. So I needed more of them.

A. ostrowski (small, deep rose, late)
A.sphaerocephalum (deep purple, medium height, late)
Al. moly luteum (small yellow fireworks, really cool)

Itis reticulata (blue)
Iris danfordiae (yellow)
The small early-flowering irises delight me; they're about the second bulb out of the gate in the spring, barely having their foliage above the ground before bursting into bloom with purple, blue or yellow flowers about three inches across. Wonderful, and they multiply gradually; but I prefer to add a few new ones every couple of years just to ensure their delightful presence.

More snowdrops, Fritillaria meleagris, and oh yes, a couple dozen Leucojums I stumbled across. What I haven't picked up any of this year is daffodils and narcissus. Not that I don't love them--we do--but we have lots, and they are all naturalizing very nicely around the yard. What I'd like to know from others, however, is what they think of the 'pink' daffs, those cultivars with pink trumpets or coronas. Are they pink for you, and are they as reliable about naturalizing? I had a few once, years ago, and they were more salmon-orange than pink. They might still be around (I can't remember!) but I'd like to try again if they really ARE showing pink. So what has your experience been with them?

18 October 2007

The ritual of bulbs

It was one of those perfect autumn days here in beautiful upper Scotts Bay, Nova Scotia. The wind wasn't blowing excessively and the sun was warm, and it seemed like a good time to go outside and putter in the garden a bit. My puttering included cutting off stalks of some perennials and spent annuals, pulling some weeds, planting my Blue Nootka false cypress, and getting ready to plant bulbs.

I'm not quite as hard-core a bulb-buyer as some of my blogging comrades, but usually I end up putting in a couple of hundred bulbs of various species and varieties. They are, after all, a true blessing when they start to emerge in spring. We're just about at the end of our tethers, having dealt with snow or rain and other nasties, cold weather, dreary weather, short days and long nights, defrosting cars, icy roads, no flowering things outdoors...and then suddenly, one day we look out and there's a crocus or a snowdrop or an aconite popping up. And suddenly, we realize that we're going to make it through the winter after all.

Because we have some drainage issues in much of the garden, I haven't had any success in the past with winter aconite. Thus the first bulbs to come calling in our garden are the graceful, cheery snowdrops. Maybe they aren't all that colourful, being snow-white with those little chevrons of green. But they're alive and flourishing and so welcome; and seeing them, I know that others will follow.

Snowdrops are slow to multiply in our gardens, perhaps because I've inadvertantly dug them up by accident. The doubles are doing well, though they were a bit overwhelmed by having a big dump of snow land on them this spring just after they got up and started blooming in earnest. I'm told they're fragrant, but I never pick them and never get my nose down that close to the ground to check this for sure.
In the book Dear Friend and Gardener, letters written between Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd, our two correspondents are regularly waxing eloquent about various species and cultivars of snowdrops. When I first read this book I was surprised at the varieties they talked about, because here, I think we can get two types: single and double. But in England, and perhaps elsewhere, there are many more choices. There was an article this spring, I think in Horticulture magazine, about snowdrops, and I did appreciate some of the subtle differences. That's one of the things I like about snowdrops, their subtle and graceful nature.

These little beauties are well named, being called Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa). We need to plant more of them because they are only along the southern side of the house, and I love their china blue flowers facing skyward. I have some of the pink cultivar as well, and while they're pleasant, they don't do it for me like the true-blues do. Over a period of time, they have colonized and are making a nice wash of colour, but I don't often see them at local nurseries, and since I haven't ordered bulbs by mail for some years, I have to take what I can get locally.

I refer to these sorts of bulbs as 'small wonders.' They aren't huge or flashy, but rather quiet punctuations of colour nestled close to the ground. They're easy to put in using a dibber, of which I have several models. One I particularly like handmade, turned hardwood that was beautifully sanded and polished, then stained and varnished. It's almost too lovely to use in the garden, but it has been used as a model in various photographs. Another is wooden with a steel tip, ideal for poking through grass so that we'll have a flurry of flowers in the lawn before it greens. But if you do naturalize with bulbs in your lawn, remember you have to avoid mowing the grass for a few weeks after the bulbs are past, to allow the foliage time to ripen, which creates food for next year's blooms.

Whether you call these scilla or squill, they are great for satisfying that craving for blue flowers that so many of us have. Where the glory-of-the-snow turn their faces to the sun, scilla are more shy, with nodding flowers in a deeper shade of blue, I'd call it gentian, myself. These also naturalize, and you often see them planted together with various yellow daffodils or narcissus, which makes a nice contrast.

One of my favourite springflowering bulbs is the checkered fritillary, also sometimes called snakeshead lily (Fritillaria meleagris). These have always delighted me because of the unique checkered pattern in their flowers, (except in the white ones which are just plain snowy white but also delightful. I have to call them checkered rather than snakeshead as my longsuffering spouse has an intense dislike of snakes and doesn't even like to hear a plant called by that description. Besides, they're far too pretty to be named after a reptile (even though *I* like snakes just fine!)

This photo was taken at a friend's garden, as I only planted Crown Imperial Fritillaria once; it flowered the first year but didn't return, and I haven't gotten around to finding a better place for it. But I so love the rich green foliage and those brilliant scarlet-orange flowers, so this tells me I have to smarten up and try planting a few of them in the area that's being turned into a rock garden--it has the best drainage, and also gets good sun but shelter. Now of course, can I find bulbs this late in the game, that's the next question?

Do you plant alliums? I find they're very much underutilized, and that's a great pity because they're so expressively unique, with a whole range of flower colours from green to purple to pure white to true blue. I'm putting in a pile of Allium cristophii (Star of Persia) as well as additional Sicilian honeybells (Nectaroscordum siculum) and some giant purple alliums, and whatever else I find when I go back to the nursery for more bulbs.

Leocojum, or snowflake, come in several types; this is the late-spring flowering variety, and I like them as much as I do snowdrops, perhaps because they do remind me of snowdrops but are much larger and come at a different time. More are going in this fall because I only planted a few maybe three or four years ago, and I think several have been lost by overzealous gardeners mistaking them for grass. It happens, sometimes. I've done that with alliums in the past too. Oh well, to garden is to err, and to err is to be human...isn't that how the saying goes?

Now we're going from the subtle spring stalwarts to the brash, brilliant and jubilation-inducing colours of the tulips. For the most part, I treat tulips as annuals, adding new ones each fall. Triumph and Darwin tulips will come back for me, and sometimes the Fosterianas will too, but others tend to dwindle away rather quickly. Species tulips also do just fine for me, providing I remember where they're planted and don't go trying to put something new in the same spot. We have a nice large clump of T. tarda, but also some T. batalini and other species, and this little darling, T. hageri 'Little Beauty.' And isn't it a beauty?

Fringed tulips are delightfully different, and I plan to repeat planting them, preferably in a rich colour like this. I'm not a fan of yellow, white or other pastel tulips, at least not in our garden--I like them fine in other places, and for sure they're marvelous planted out in huge drifts like they do in Ottawa during the tulip festival in May. That festival, very well known in Canada as well as other parts of the world, celebrates the long friendship between the Netherlands and Canada. During WWII, several members of the Dutch Royal family took shelter in Canada for several years. Princess Juliana gave birth to a daughter while in Ottawa, and the maternity ward in the hospital was temporarily declared Dutch territory so that the child could be said to have been born in Dutch territory. After the war was over, the government of the Netherlands sent 100,000 tulips to Ottawa as a gesture of appreciation, and that was the start of the yearly tulip festival. What a great way to celebrate a friendship between two countries. I think of that every time I put a tulip in the ground.

This is Carnival of Nice, a nice enough tulip, although I often see it planted with Monsella, a red-and-yellow double which doesn't do it for me. I like Carnival, but putting it with Monsella wouldn't be my prime choice for colour combinations, because I see too many gardens with red and yellow tulips lined up like little soldiers, and that's one of those gardening peeves that might work for some but isn't going to happen in our garden. However, this on its own is very striking, and would also work nicely with a deep wine or red or pure white tulip. Or whatever else makes you happy, right?

Now, THIS is my idea of a perfectly exciting, jubilant, exquisite tulip. It's Apricot parrot, and I first saw it at Ouestville Perennials several years ago. It was love at first sight, too. Last year I put in a dozen of these glorious bulbs, and they put on a marvelous show this spring. I especially like how the apricot colour changes to a rose as the flower ages, and the petals look like the dress of a flamenco dancer. Absolutely perfect.

What am I putting in for tulips this year? The elegant green-on-green viridiflora, Deirdre; Uncle Tom, a double late tulip that is among the darkest-wine out there; Roccoco, a parrot tulip in deep rich red with greens; Greenland, another viridiflora, this one hot fuschia pink and green; and Orange Emperor, a brilliant rich Fosteriana that we have had before (and which have finally dwindled out after about five years. Now...these are the bulbs I have on hand at this time; what I'll come home with after the weekend, it's hard to say, but stay tuned for more details.

14 October 2007

Garden Blogger's Bloom Day--October!

Well, we've come around the calendar once again to another Garden Blogger's Bloom Day. Hard to believe that a month ago, I was romping around Gros Morne and the wilds of Labrador, and here we've been home for four weeks already. (Incidentally, the pink, white and green flag hanging from the fence is the unofficial flag of Newfoundland, and for some history on that, check out the Newfoundland Independent, a unique newspaper in my homeland..)

Of course, it's even longer since the heady bloom days of June and July, but interestingly, here we have had NO frost yet--and consequently, some plants that were flowering then are either flowering AGAIN or, in the case of some annuals, are still going at it. So without further ado, let's get to the show.

Leading the pack is a unique Osteo--it's called Astra Pink & Yellow, but right now it's more a coppery colour--perhaps a nod to the weather, which though frost free IS cooling down. This plant has never hesitated since being planted in a container in May. The secret? Seaweed fertilizer, regular deadheading, and occasionally a little shearing back. I'm tempted to take a cutting and keep this one going overwinter, in case I can't find it next year.

Remember how I wrote on Garden Blogger's Muse Day that Camus said autumn was a second spring, with every leaf a flower? Imagine my amusement when just a few days later, Lord Black of Crossharbour quoted the same line in his sketch on Rick Mercer's Report. (if you're not a Canadian, this reference will probably pass you by, but the sketch was very funny for many of us). Anyway, I present as part of our bloom report, the deep fall foliage of Physocarpus Coppertina, a ninebark that is rapidly becoming a favourite. Until a couple of weeks ago, the foliage WAS mainly copper coloured, but it's deepening now, and the shrub itself, planted in May, has done very well. Behind it, one of the PJM rhododendrons is also having some foliage colour change, while the variegated Calamagrostis has turned tawny gold.

Right in front of the Coppertina is one of my Echinacea 'Green Envy' plants--and yes, it is STILL flowering! Is it any wonder I've adopted this for the bloomingwriter masthead? (and for my computer desktop...and for a photo on my wall..)

We showed the rich colour of Sour Grapes penstemon a few posts ago, but given that the plant has about quadrupled in size this summer, and is flowering its little head off, I thought it was due an encore.

Tee hee. Speaking of sour grapes...these may never get ripe before a hard freeze! Of course, I planted the vine several years ago just for the sake of having it, and have never done anything with it much in terms of pruning. It's here mostly for the benefit of birds, but my wag of a spouse suggested we wait til a freeze then make Ice Wine. No...I think I'll leave that to Domaine de Grand Pre, and others with the skill. I love the look of the grapes out in the garden, though, whether they ever ripen or not.

This lamium is called Purple Dragon, and I quite like it and hope it spreads nicely where it's planted, near a collection of hostas and astilbes.

Along with the fiery red, orange and bronze helenium, we have this very tall and very yellow variety. It's just now approaching full bloom, and while it's not my favourite colour, I love heleniums and hope more people are learning to appreciate them.

The vibrant gold-green foliage of Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate' works so perfectly against the purple-blue of the flowers of this 'widows tears'. We have probably half a dozen cultivars here, and this is one of my favourites.

Mystery solved! How absent-minded am I. I bought this clematis a few years ago because its name--Josephine--is a nickname my father and mother sometimes called me. Not a name I particularly like, but when another gardener suggested the name to me in an email, the light came on, as it was a plant I bought not long after my father's diagnosis with Alzheimers. It's still flowering its head off, mostly with single blooms, but a few doubles to boggle the mind and delight the eye.

I hope these lavatera self-seed, because they have been marvelous. Pink isn't my favourite colour, but the flowers attract bees like crazy, and it was great to watch nectar-drunk and pollen laden bees stumble from flower centres even yesterday.

This is a weird plant, and still not really flowering. It's Leonotis, or Lion's mane, a real Dr. Suess plant, but I think we just don't get enough heat to make it flower well. The plants are huge and vigourous, and resemble a monarda--to which they are related--but are barely sticking out their eccentric flowers.

Care for a lily, anyone? Yes, that's a lily in bloom in mid October. It's one of the bulbs I got this spring from the Lily lady; some of the others have been a disappointment, not even sprouting, but I'll give them another season before I call them a writeoff. I might have planted them too deep, or broken the tips in planting; anything is possible with plants, isn't it?

A pause for some gratuitous autumn colour--the exuberant fall mum contrasts brilliantly with the deep purple of Ipomea 'Blackie' sweet potato vine. This plant has also performed superbly, and I'm sorely tempted to bring it indoors for an attempt at overwintering.

Yet another reason to plant grasses: spectacular, jawdropping autumn foliage colour. This clump of Miscanthus purpurescens hasn't gotten around to flowering yet, but the colour is better than the two clumps that ARE flowering, the same as last year (when it did flower eventually.) Why this plant is later than others, who knows?

We seem to be having a repeat flowering of our male Holly; curious, because the female is heavily laden with berries, and the female Ilex verticillata have their first berries too. Not sure what the cause is, unless being bumped by the scaffolding once too often during the painting project upset its sense of time.

Still on my list of star performers is Limelight Hydrangea. I'm sorely tempted to put another Coppertina ninebark near this plant--wouldn't that make a splendid colour combination?

Time for a little different colour: how about the sky blue of a delphinium--along with the foreground of a LOVELY demonstration of flowering wild mustard, kale, or rocket--whichever name you call it by, it's a bit of a pest, but the bees love IT too, so I've held my peace with it and let it be...for a few more days. The delphinium are reflowering in several spots, due to having been cut down promptly after their first bloom.

I know we haven't even really gotten close to a freeze yet because this Black and Blue annual sage is VERY cold sensitve, and here it is still throwing up flower stalks like there was no end to summer in sight. This has been a stellar performer this summer, and I've been pleased to see at least two magazines profile sages this season; annual or perennial, there are marvelous salvias or sages for every garden.

And finally, just as we started with the blue of my front garden's fence--a colour that recurs throughout the garden--we'll finish up with the Virginia creeper festooning the back arbour. The garden IS assuredly winding down, and looks like the vestiges of a party--in desperate need of a little cleaning up--but that will have to happen a little later in the week. Today we had rainshowers intermittently--just enough to keep me from doing anything outdoors--but I did buy new bulbs, about which we'll talk later on this month.

Search Bloomingwriter

Custom Search