29 August 2009

When bad things happen to good gardens...and other woes

The symmetry and beauty of flowers does a lot to calm us when we're in the middle of turmoil. I love nigella, and this white one does a great deal to just make me feel better about life in general. Although Hurricane Bill wasn't so much of an event, it did manage to make a mess in the garden. And this has been the week of electronic tantrums, too.

My digital SLR camera is acting up so it's on its way to the shop to be cleaned and checked over. That's annoying enough, but the real fun was Sunday morning when I went to wake up Oggy, my MacBook Pro laptop...and there was no video. Turned out that there was shortly afterwards no computer activity at all, because the motherboard had fried. THREE HUGE CHEERS, however, for my Applecare Extended warranty, which replaced the motherboard that would otherwise have cost over $1000.00 Canadian.

A public service announcement to those with Intel-based Mac laptops: apparently, the fans that are supposed to keep the computer cool aren't set high enough (at least in older ones like Oggy). However, there is a small, free program called sncFAnControl that you can download and install, which controls the fan RPMs. I do not know if this is an issue with new laptops, but ask your Apple technician if you have concerns. Mine is certainly running much cooler since its new motherboard and this program were installed. Hopefully my electronic storms are over with! It's no fun trying to read or write blogs on an iPhone, and my hubby's old computer just makes me cranky. Spoiled, that's me!

Back to the story of the garden. Not-really-hurricane Bill did bring a LOT of rain and wind, but the most annoying thing was that the wind changed direction a few times, and managed to create a greatly disheveled garden. Happily, the coneflowers weren't damaged, just made to lean a little, which I've since corrected with a few bamboo stakes and some plant velcro.

To reward me for my labours, 'Mac n Cheese' has really gotten its colour, and sure does look like that particular dish. 'Tiki Torch is in the process of opening, but we're having post-tropical Danny here today so it's bleak and rainy.

Inula (sometimes called Elecampane) is an odd plant, a relative of sunflowers and coneflowers, and a shy, retiring little fellow--regularly reaching well over six feet tall in our garden. It was a staple of Acadien potager gardens, but I have yet to find out definitively why. It was apparently used to treat as diverse ailments as sciatica and colds. Whatever the case, I like the plant's stature and flowers, and it's in a spot where it can get as tall as it wishes.

We grow a fair number of clematis, which do well here because the soil is clay and well mulched, so the roots get the 'cool feet' that they want, while the rest of the plant gets the 'warm head' part of the equation. This species regularly stretches up ten feet (and would go higher if the trellis was taller.

Being a digital shot, the photo looks more purple than the wine the flowers really are.

The little yellow-flowered C. tangutica is still flowering--and growing--profusely. Not as showy as some of its counterparts, but I love the seedheads, which hang on til well into late autumn unless the wind beats them off.

This is Clematis integrifolia 'Caerulea', one of my favourites. Some allow it to ramble across rock walls, but we have ours more or less on an obelisk, (where it has grapevines and a rambunctious rudbeckia relative keeping it company.

Late summer means that the Brazilian vervain (V. bonariensis) is in bloom. I'm going to make carefully where mine are, and not disturb the ground around them in spring, so that they'll reseed. Mine are seedlings given to me by a friend (and much beloved because they're a favourite flower of butterflies, too).

The helenium is also flowering where its in full sun. Other plants, that are in more shade and also taller species, won't be coming on for a little while yet.

Although the monarda is still enthusiastically blooming, and was unphased by the winds, I think that our hummingbirds have packed up and left. Maybe they read about post-tropical Danny, which has brought rain today and possibly wind later. NO matter. It's a good day to catch up on my blog reading. The garden work can wait til a drier day.

21 August 2009

Have I told you lately how I love Echinaceas?

We interrupt your possible weather tantrums for some important news...bloomingwriter is absolutely crazy about coneflowers, and they're approaching peak bloom in her garden.

I can't repeat often enough that one of the absolute ultimate perennials in our garden is the coneflower. I loved them when we had only two choices, (purple and white); I lost my mind for them when the new colours started appearing. My favourite? You'll see in a bit.

Although this was not the year for getting much done in the garden in spring and early summer, I did manage to addfew new and new-to-our-garden varieties this year, of course. Of those, several haven't yet flowered but are working on it: Meringue, Twilight, and Tiki Torch were all somewhat traumatized when I got them, and are just rallying now. This has been a complaint for other gardeners; that some of the new colours of cones are rushed into production so quickly that the plants are weak when sent out to nurseries. Maybe they should be allowed to grow on for a year and then sold. That would be my opinion.

So far, I'm loving the rich colour of 'Tomato Soup', shown here with a fading flower, one approaching maturity, and several just getting going. This one is planted near 'Summer Sky' and 'Sundown', but I can't get a great photo of all of them in one shot for colour comparisons because they're just that far apart, in various stages of flowering, and so on.

I've been watching the past few days as 'Mac n Cheese' starts to flower. It looks to be almost the same shade as 'Harvest Moon', but we'll see what happens after the weekend. Why after the weekend? Stay tuned below...

This is still my favourite of the new coneflowers, and has been since I brought it home in 2007: 'Green Envy'. I love everything about this cone; its colour, its vigour, its LONG bloom period; it'll still be putting up stems in October, if the past two seasons are any indication.

Equally charming, though different, is the double 'Coconut Lime.' This plant is very vigourous and floriferous this year, though a second plant that was struggling last year is still sulking this summer.

I know not everyone loves the double coneflowers because the central florets obscure the cones But I like the exuberance of 'Pink Double Delight' a great deal. I have another double pink that is suffering from Lost Label syndrome, and I believe it's 'Razzmatazz', which seems to have more reflexed petals than this one.

Speaking of reflexed petals, here is 'Harvest Moon', from the Big Sky series. Its sibling, 'Sundown', is at the top of this post, with leaf-cutter bee slices taken out of several petals. In the background of this photo is 'Sunrise', which is pale yellow and hiding behind the moon.

Here's 'Summer Sky', and I have to say the sky did show these shades last night when the sun set. Tonight, not so much.

This is possibly my second-favourite coneflower because of the message it presents. 'Hope' was created as a tribute to those who have had breast cancer. I've taken it as my avatar in several sites, including on Facebook, and will be changing here, too. The flowers are just gorgeous, and anytime I get one with that green eye staying pretty green I'm happy. Must be part Irish, or something.

We may be needing the luck of the Irish here in Nova Scotia in the next couple of days, because there's a weather tantrum headed this way by the name of Hurricane Bill. While this amuses me a bit because we have a friend named Bill who reminds me of a hurricane, I don't think any of us need a hurricane to come calling. It may hit the south shore of the province, all coasts, or miss us entirely. But I hope that everyone and everything, from coneflowers to hummingbirds to cottages to boats, will stay safe over the next couple of days while the weather forces make up their minds.

16 August 2009

Lilies in the (Annapolis) Valley

I mentioned a couple of lilies in my last post, but since then, they've all started popping open in earnest, and the yard is awash with fragrance and colour. Mind you, with the Oriental lilies I have, the colours are mostly variations on a shade of pink, but that works fine for me. Let's have a walk around the yard and smell them all, shall we? We'll begin with Orienpet 'Purple Prince', which is still looking mighty fine.

How I figured out which were which: I went back and looked through a list of bulbs I got from one small company, looked at their photos versus my photos, and have made a note yet again of where the heck they all are. This one is named after a Dutch opera singer (which wouldn't be my choice of musician genre to name a plant after, but anyway): 'Willeki Alberti' is very vigourous and is just beginning to open up her huge blooms.

Actually, 'Willeki Alberti' ties with 'Stargazer' as being the last Orientals to open this year. 'Stargazer' isn't as tall as it normally is, but has plenty of flowers. I'm thinking seriously about ordering 'Yellow Stargazer' this year, but I refuse to deal with one particular mailorder company here in Canada, so hope I can find it elsewhere.

'Acapulco' is out in the back garden making a colourful contribution along with some very (powdery mildewed) monarda, and hot pink coneflowers and phlox. But 'Acapulco' is definitely the strongest colour in the group. And the most sweetly scented.

It took me a long time to figure out that this is actually 'Tom Pouce', but its not as vigourous as some of its kin and is in a little less sun, so the colours aren't as strong as some have. It's actually been rather daunted by the enormous Clematis recta 'Purpurea' beside it, which has to be divided and moved next spring.

Having no such qualms about being overwhelmed is 'Cobra' oriental lily, growing enthusiastically alongside one clump of 'Raspberry Wine' monarda. This monarda is very very vigourous but I have it planted in half a dozen sites and am encouraging its vigour. You'll see why in a bit.

We had a look at 'Zagora' orienpet the other day, when the flowers were first opening. It's definitely a favourite.

You can see why; along with very striking flowers, it's prolific, and tall; the shorter stems are newer growth. I think more orienpets need to come live here.

Making nice with Sidalcea (prairie mallow, checkerflower) is the stunningly awesome 'Dordogne' oriental lily. Behind it is also my 'Black Lace' sambucus, which has gotten inspired this year and shot skyward. This is a nice grouping of plants but I can't claim design talent. I just planted the lilies where there was a gap in things growing.

Okay, I mentioned the bee balm earlier, and that we have a LOT of it around the yard. We also have a LOT of globethistles, which can be seedy and vigourous but smell great, have neat architectural appeal, and also are a great magnet for butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds.

And the hummingbirds are extremely active and voracious right now, and are drawn to all the different monardas we have (which aren't that many: we have 'Jacob Kline', 'Raspberry Wine', 'Bluestocking', and one other that looks sort of like 'Bluestocking'. The white one went among the missing, and I don't have the pretty candy floss pink one that many people have. But the hummingbirds are happy with what we give them. And I'm happy with what they--and the rest of the garden--give us.

11 August 2009

Sheer exuberance: The garden in high summer

In my last post I remarked about the crankiness of the weather this summer, and how it sort of compensated by creating humungous and gorgeous hydrangeas. There have been other plants that have reacted rather marvelously too.

For one reason or another, getting good photos has been a challenge some days. It's either been grey/foggy/dreary, or else I've been busy and haven't been able to get outside until the light is all wrong--too high in the sky, too low in the sky, or some other problem. I'm not a good enough photographer to compensate for those things, but tonight, the weather, the light and my macro lens and tripod united to help me get some pretty cool photos.

Large flowered clematis grow really well for us here, probably because the damp keeps their roots cool. But I happen to love this small-flowered tangutica clematis for its profusion of bloom and its fireworks as the flowers give way to seedheads.

Sunflowers are an instant smile to me, no matter what colour or size they are. I never get tired of them, although I neglected to plant any this year so we're reduced to a few freerange plants in the greenhouse. I was never good at math, but I love the geometric patterns of a sunflower's heart, and the subtle changes in colour as we head out to the rays.

I cut off all the spent flowerheads on my geums a week or two back, and 'Cooky' has rewarded me by putting up a few new flowers. The plant has gotten huge, too, so I'm hoping it plans to hang around for a few years.

Our coneflowers are coming on nicely now, but I'll have more to say about them when I get some more photos in just the right light. The sun was behind the house and was causing some neat effects just because of the way I had the camera positioned for this photo, but I want to get the subtle shadings of some of the coneflowers in just the right light. So expect yet another post on cones from me soon.

Talk about floral fireworks! The nice tidy geometry of the flowers and bracts of flat sea holly (E. planum)is especially cool when juxtaposed with the utter joyful lunacy of Allium 'Hair'. I planted half a dozen bulbs of 'Hair' six or seven years ago, and they continue to multiply nicely. They aren't huge or showy, but they're a lot of fun.

The Asiatic lilies are finished and the highlight of the Lilium season has begun: the Orientals and Orienpets are beginning to bloom. Their fragrance is intoxicatingly wonderful; I can be walking in some part of the garden and stopped in my tracks by the awesome fragrance.
My only problem is that I am not sure which are which. I bought quite a few bulbs a couple of years ago, but as so often happens, I've forgotten where I planted them. This could be 'Cobra'. Or 'Dorgogne'. Not everything is in bloom yet so I can't do a compare and contrast routine.

This is Orienpet 'Purple Prince', which was given to me by a grower from Truro/Bible Hill. I'm besotted. It opened up a few days ago and is just getting better and better. Only one problem; it's quite heavy, and one small stem with only one flower on it fell over before I could get it staked. The slugs devoured it right down to stamens and carpal. They haven't gone after the rest of the flowers yet, but i'm considering breaking out the diatomaceous earth tomorrow just to be safe.

And this is either 'Zagora' or 'Caravan'; I know I bought both and planted them somewhere...what I know for sure is this, coupled with the nearby bee balm, sea hollies and globe thistles, makes the bees and hummingbirds totally giddy. And makes me giddy too. And I'm all right with that.

06 August 2009

Quite a year for Hydrangeas

One of my favourite novels is one that came out some years ago by writer Bailey White. Quite a Year For Plums is a delightful read, (and a novel I re-read regularly), but I especially love the title, and borrowed from it because it seemed apt for this post. Hydrangeas have the Greek for 'water' (hydra) in their name, and this year, all the water we're getting seems to be inspiring them more than usual.
I don't grow mopheads as a rule (the exception comes below) but I enjoy seeing them grown well, and this year they seem to be exceptionally well-grown down along the Acadian shore of the province from Yarmouth, through Clare and up to Annapolis Royal. Most are blue, but in looking through my photos of the past few days (during which I was on a roadtrip with my mother), I realize I LOOKED at dozens of blue mopheads but didn't photograph ANY. I did, however, photograph some of the striking purple hydrangeas that show up around Yarmouth.

I first saw these about three years ago, and nearly went off the road gawking at them. And I first saw them in late October that year, when frost had affected them somewhat. Here, however, is what they looked like on Tuesday, showing off their purple colours beautifully. Hydrangeas will turn purple when the soil is not too acid and not too alkaline (and depending on the cultivar; deep pink or deep blue varieties turn the richest shade of purple).

This is a flowerhead of the same hydrangea, taken three years ago in late October. They're astonishing, aren't they?

I sneaked a shot of this softly blue mophead hydrangea at the Queen Anne Inn in Annapolis Royal yesterday morning before breakfast. There weren't many buds on this one, suggesting that it's one that forms flower buds on old wood, and likely killed mostly to the ground during the winter-from-hell we had.

I highly, HIGHLY recommend the Queen Anne if you're staying in the Annapolis Royal area. It's one of my two favourite Inns in the province, the other being the Blomidon Inn here in Wolfville where they have a huge and wonderful display bed of hydrangeas, including this beautiful blue mophead.

Back in my own garden, there are mostly lacecaps and paniculata-types, along with two suckering, exuberant Annabelle-type white snowball type hydrageas. This is a blue lacecap in need of some acidifying help in the soil. I think it's 'Blue Bird' because its foliage turns handsomely red in autumn; Rob Baldwin of Baldwin Nurseries gave it to me a few years ago with orders to cold test it. It's doing just fine, Rob!

This is 'Blue Billows', another lacecap; it's in a different bed and is holding its blue petal colour just fine, thank you. The only problem with this shrub is that it hasn't grown as tall as some and is behind other, more exuberant plants. I haven't had the courage to move it.

Along with the lacecaps, I'm very fond of the paniculata type hydrangeas, including Limelight (with green flowers). This is 'Quickfire,' the earliest paniculata type to bloom. As its flowers age, they will turn rosy pink, and they speckle as they turn from white to pink. The florets are really, really large this year.

'Quickfire' is shooting up a lot of new growth and flowering at the same time. It'll flower until frost, or at least last year it put on a whole lot of new flowers in late summer/early autumn. I've been trialing this plant for several years and really like it.

This is an Annabelle/snowball type (H. arborescens). It suckers a lot, and blooms like a mad maniac. I have two of them, and this one I cut back hard last year. It had only a few blooms last year. This year, it has exploded in size and in bloom. The other one got its pruning this year so it's only putting on a small display this summer at the other end of the bed. The flower heads aren't as large as 'Annabelle' but they don't fall over too much, either.

Another view of my snowball hydrangea, along with some Jacob Kline bee balm and the slightly-overwhelmed Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Mariesii' (doublefile viburnum) off to the left. On the right are the huge leaves of a plant I've loved to hate for a couple of years, but which is redeeming itself this year.

That plant is the mophead hydrangea 'Endless Summer'. I've loved to hate it because it's been sullen for a couple of years. Last year, I took the shovel out and warned it that it had one. more. summer. in which to prove itself, or else it was moving to the compost heap.

Well. It's gone nuts. It's not flowering yet, but it's formed a lot of flowerheads and promises to put on a show. I think this is a definite case of being a hydrangea that needs a LOT Of water. Other summers, it's wilted some on days with hot sunlight. (Yes, we do get a few of those days. Today is one). This year, the ground has stayed wet, the plant hasn't wilted at all and it's growing like a triffid. It's perhaps being inspired by being between the snowball hydrangea and 'Limelight' paniculata hydrangea, which I pruned hard this spring and which also went completely nuts as a result. (We'll see photos of it soon. Right now it's just forming its flowerheads.) Anyway, 'Endless Summer' looks like it's finally going to live up to its promised hype of the past few years.

Quite a year for hydrangeas, indeed.

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