29 May 2010

Focusing on Foliage (mostly)

Like many of you, I definitely need more hours in the day. I'm into the last month or so of mad panic before my book deadline plus regular work plus the gardens, and oh yes, the weather is NOT cooperating. Wind, wind, wind and more wind. Still, I work inside like a maniac for a few hours, gird up my loins and go out in the wind to do battle until it drives me nearly around the bend. Hopefully, the weather stabilizes a bit, SOON, please and thank you.

Despite my needing to do a LOT of weeding and still some dividing and moving, things are looking quite well. There are many plants in bloom, some of which will surprise those of you in decidedly warmer climates. These 'Spring Green' tulips are just coming into their own, and I still have other tulips in bloom here and there around the gardens.

We who are primarily landscape gardeners (as opposed to kitchen/food gardeners) get very excited and happy over flowers, of course. But I have been gently stressing the need to focus on foliage as well as blooms. Flowers are great, but they come and go, and if you have a perennial border where most everything blooms at the same time and has unexciting, lance-leafed foliage, it's understandable if you think you've got nothing much going on. But when you remember to add plants with interesting foliage into the mix, there's always a great show happening.

Happily for us, plant breeders have been developing great plants with marvelous foliage as well as cool blooms. I'm going to show you just a few things from my garden, many of which are new to the garden this year for one reason or another. Above is the tiarella 'Pink Skyrocket'. If you google this plant looking for images, you'll find plenty of focus on the flowers, but I think the foliage is just as attractive.

My favourite Jacob's ladder, hands down, is Polemonium 'Stairway to Heaven'. Mind you, I have 'Purple Rain' as well as 'Snow and Sapphires', but the foliage of this one just gets to me. In the early spring, I posted a photo that really showed off the new colours in emerging foliage; now, some six weeks later, it's still a stunner, though less there's less pink in the leaves.

This is a new-to-me Pennisetum, or purple fountain grass, 'Fireworks'. The pennisetums usually aren't hardy here, but I gave one to a friend of mine to see if he can overwinter it. Mine are currently in pots, and I don't care if they even put up flowers later in the season. The foliage is great enough.

My friend Rob Baldwin is determined to convince me that I can grow a Japanese maple or two or six on my property. This is a seedling he grew of 'Osakazuki', which is normally a green one with coral/pink colour in its new growth and amazing fall colour. We're interested to see whether this will turn more green as the season progresses. Oh, and if I can overwinter it or not. Speaking of Rob, he now has a blog for his business, Baldwin Nurseries; I'm looking after it for the time being, and it's a work in progress, of course, but please do come and visit.

I like the juxtaposition of the somewhat climate-delicate Japanese maple with this particular specimen of Labrador tea, Ledum groenlandicum (or Rhododendron groenlandicum, depending on which taxonomist you listen to). This is from seed collected on our trip to Labrador in 2007 with Dick Steele; however, it's from plants growing just over the border in Quebec at Blanc Sablon, where the ferry from Newfoundland comes across. My buddy climbed a rocky, wind-scoured cliff to collect seed from the Labrador tea clinging to a very sparse soil, while I sat in the car holding our place in the ferry queue and had 14 conniption fits waiting for him to come down off the hill, preferably in one piece. I'm not awfully worried about THIS marvelous native plant overwintering in my garden, given what its parent plant was growing in.

Jubilation! I finally found a nice pot of Aster lateriflorus 'Lady in Black'! I've been looking for it for several years, as (ahem) I inadvertently dug mine up a few years back, thinking it was a wild, weedy species. Also known as the calico aster, this has tiny dainty flowers in late summer, but it's the foliage and flower buds that rock my socks. I will be marking its presence VERY carefully, so as not to lose it again.
I haven't planted 'Lady in Black' yet, and I might just plant her behind Campanula 'Dickson's Gold' just to make another one of those striking black-and-gold foliage displays that I'm very fond of.

Ferns, of course, do not flower. They don't have to. Even the regular ostrich fern makes me extremely happy, but the Japanese painted ferns are, in a word, exquisite. This is a crested form, Pictum-Applecourt', and as you can see the ends of some of the frond pinnae are crested or tasseled-looking. I only have a couple of cultivars of athyriums, but I can certainly see getting more of them in the future.

From the cool-shade environs of the ferns, we bounce over into the hot and dry rock garden where most of my sedums and sempervivums hang out, along with a few flowering things like several spurges, a lewisia, and prairie-crocus, pulsatilla, which is just wrapping up its bloom session. Although I love the flowers on the various sedums, I've mentioned before that I really wouldn't care if mine ever bloomed, just because I love their foliage so much. You can see a wee bit of 'Angelina' on the left-hand side of the phot0; then there's 'Frosty Morn' and 'Purple Emperor clumping sedums, and in the bottom left-hand corner, a semp I just got from Jane at Woodlands and Meadows, 'Sir William Lawrence.'

This is a new-to-me creeping sedum, 'Coral Reef'. The foliage is, in a word, gorgeous. I've just planted it and am waiting to see if putting it into the ground changes its colour much, as sometimes happens with plants that have been in containers for a while.

I have a number of sempervivums, most of which I don't know the names of, either because they were sold merely as semps, or they've got NOID/Lost Label syndrome. This one is seriously cool, because the babies are like little beachballs that roll down off the hen and take root in the soil. It tickles me to look at it. Some might say I'm easily amused. I'm okay with that.

Okay, fellow plant geeks, here's a mystery for you. The same day as I got 'Lady in Black' aster, I got my greedy little hands on Astilbe Color Flash Lime. And there was another astilbe with gold foliage at that nursery, and all of the pots of that particular one were mislabeled as a thalictrum. This is that mystery plant, settled into the shade garden alongside other astilbes, actaeas, trolliuses and thalictrums. I actually wrote to Tesselar, the breeders of Color Flash Lime, sending them a photo of this plant and wondering if it was the same one, just mislabeled. I heard back from them saying they thought the foliage was too gold in colour to be their cultivar, but to track it when it flowered. So, I hand it over to you: has anyone heard of any other astilbes with golden foliage? Is this perhaps just a Color Flash that has reacted to soil pH, or fertilizers, or cold, and gone more gold? Any ideas? I love a good mystery....

26 May 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Bee-peeking

25 May 2010

A little midweek miscellany...

Actually, these photos were taken on Monday, rather than midweek--but you get the point. I like to wander around the garden, camera in hand, and see what's new and exciting each day. The fun part about the garden at this point in spring is that there are still new things emerging while others are half-grown and flowering, and still others are beginning to wind down.

It's no secret that I love poppies of all kinds. The first to bloom in my garden are the Icelandic poppies, which come in a nice array of fresh, warm colours. This photo doesn't do justice to the colour of this particular poppy, which is vibrant deep salmon as opposed to 'just' hot orange. It's new to the garden because most of my Icelandics are yellow and it was time to introduce some other colours.
A lot of the veronicas are known for having spikes of tiny flowers, but this one is a little different and quite wonderful. It's Veronica gentianoides, and it is the first to bloom in my garden. Its pale blue flowers are accented with deeper blue and pruple lines, plus it has that wonderful chartreuse throat and blue stamens. It's been a faithful bloomer in my garden for about a decade: I divide and move it around occasionally and it always settles in nicely.
Sometimes, a plant simply doesn't need to flower, because its foliage is so glorious. This is Filipendula ulmaria 'Aurea', with vibrant gold foliage. It should be in a little more shade than it is because the foliage does burn in too much hot sunlight (see the browning in a few leaves on the left hand side of the plant). Behind it is Actaea 'Pink Spike', which I think is tied with Actaea 'Black Negligee' for having the deepest black foliage. They make a good foil off each other.
Fragrance is extremely important in my garden, and I was very glad to locate some wallflowers (Erysimum) on the weekend. While the fancy coloured ones don't seem to be quite as fragrant as the old fashioned yellow and orange varieties, I can't resist them. This is 'Apricot Twist'.
And this is the well-named 'Pastel Patchwork', easily my favourite wallflower ever. The flowers remind me of a lantana or a pulmonaria, in the way they change colour as they mature.
This basket of three different colours of annual alyssum (and some spiral rush in the centre for accent) was totally irresistable to me--had to have it for the bees and hummingbirds. And for me--I love the fragrance of alyssum and put this on the stem where I can enjoy it as much as the pollinators do.
Still waiting for me to find the right place to plant it is 'Gro Lo' fragrant sumac. The flowers are tiny and not fragrant--the foliage and twigs give off a scent when they are bruised or broken. It's supposed to have tremendous fall colour and will grow only 1-2 feet tall although it does naturalize like its common sumac sibling. That's okay with me. What's cool about this plant is that it can be monoecious OR dioecious. I'm not sure which mine is yet.

Several years ago, I saw the royal azalea (Rhododendron schlippenbachii) displaying incredible fall colour at The Willow Garden in Antigonish. I had to have one, and came home with one tucked in the car a couple of weeks ago. It's now blooming, but I don't so much care about the flowers as I do the foliage. However, I'm in no hurray to see the fall colour display--we're just nicely into high spring here, with things bursting out all over.

Funnily enough, the weekend was blisteringly hot in the Valley, but we had fog Sunday and most of Monday, which also brought a little moisture to the soil. It's astonishingly dry in the parts of our garden that have good drainage, which makes me worry about those who live in the Valley where they don't get the fog we do. It could be a tough summer for farmers.

23 May 2010

Extraordinary Light, Petals and Feathers

There's nothing like a computer disaster to throw one's carefully organized work schedule right out the window. And unlike those Gen Xers and Yers (Is that a word) whose dexterity with texting on phone keyboards is phenomenal, I'm not much of one for writing using only my thumbs. So I've fallen way behind with reading blogs, posting to my own, and so on. To say nothing of my own work. Happily, my period of being electronically unhorsed is over and tomorrow is a holiday, meaning I can do a marathon of catching up.

Being in electronic pergatory for a few days didn't deter me from poking around the gardens, stalking flowers and feathers and foliage with my cameras--when it wasn't too windy, or too foggy, or too late in the day. The other night, things just conspired together to work rather nicely, and I spent some time looking at leaves with sunlight filtering through, as with the katsura foliage above.

In probably all of the rest of Nova Scotia, the shadbush (Amelanchier) has finished flowering--mine, however, is just at the peak of its bloom. This is one of my favourite native species, and for those who like a large shrub/small tree with three strong seasons of interest, the amelanchier is an exquisite choice. Bronze foliage in spring, dainty white flowers that turn into tasty purple-blue fruit (if you get to them before the birds do), great fall colour--what's not to love?

Another native that does my heart good, this one a perennial--Solomon's seal, Polygonatum. The hummingbirds love this perennial, which spreads slowly to form elegant colonies. At least, it spreads slowly in my garden--I would actually not complain if it picked up the pace a little!

Many of you ooohed and ahhhed over my photo of the opening flower on my tree peony; they're such ephemeral beauties, as tonight, the petals are beginning to drop from my plant. This is supposed to be 'Kinkaku', which has flowers rather coppery coloured and similar to the nonstop begonia 'Fire'. This isn't Kinkaku; possibly it's High Noon? Any ideas? (It came mislabeled from the nursery, so it's a mystery to us. )

Proving that biggest flowers aren't necessarily the best, the charming blooms of my tiny epimedium 'Lilafee' have now opened. I hope this one spreads like gangbusters, because as I wrote in an earlier post, I'm crazy about epimediums, and 'Lilafee' is small-but-mightily beautiful.

My cushion spurges are erupting into their full glory as well. Above is 'Lacey', one I've had for four or five years now. I love its cool bicolour foliage against the acid yellow flowers and bracts.

And this is 'Bonfire', and it's puzzling me somewhat. At both my mother's and at another friend's, this plant has a lot more golden-orange to its flowers than does mine, which is as you can see distinctly avid yellow against the purple lower foliage. Maybe it's a soil acidity thing; maybe mine is just so newly opened whereas the others have been open longer. I'm going to watch, because I'm curious that way.

Five years ago, I bought this spring flowering perennial sweet pea from Lloyd Mapplebeck in Truro--I believe the correct name is Lathyrus vernus. It's not fragrant, it doesn't want to be divided (having that typical legume tap root) but hummingbirds zip to it and it makes a happy burst of purple-blue in my front garden.

There are a lot of courting songbirds (and other birds) in our gardens these days, although we don't think we've seen this Rose breasted grosbeak's mate yet. He certainly does enjoy our feeders, though!

Last Sunday, the male hummingbirds arrived, and demanded we get our feeders up for them, STAT! We happily did that, and they've been feasting at the feeders as well as on spring blooms since then. We saw the first females on Thursday, so we can expect lots of aerial displays, acrobatics, squeaking and battles as the courting and family making goes into high gear.

Spring is such a perfect season. Even when it's windy, or foggy. I hope all of you are enjoying spring as much as I am. Most days, that is.

15 May 2010

Talking and Writing and All Things Plants

Like the old Jackson Browne song, I'm pretty much "running on empty" these past few weeks. It's been madly busy as I've been working like a maniac on the book, plus beating the garden into submission, plus been on the road giving talks, plus being on the road visiting nurseries and garden centres and friends. Everything has to do with plants at this time of year. I talk about them, write about them, read about them, take their photos, sigh over other people's photos of them, swap stories with others about their plants, work with them, flop in the grass and stare at them happily. I'm quite plant-obsessed.
Happily, lots and lots of people share this obsession. Like the Friends of the Garden at NSAC, who tend to the magnificent Rock Garden on the campus. I've written about this garden before, and will do so again. I was there this morning in between taking photos of someone for one client and heading off to Pictou County to give a talk to a group of like-minded plant addicts. It was grey and cold and threatening to rain, but I didn't care. The spring gentians were in bloom. More on the Garden in the next few days. After I catch up on some sleep. I hope.
In New Glasgow this afternoon, I went with a friend to West River Greenhouses after my talk. Though I had sternly told myself I wasn't buying any more plants until I got some of what is at home planted, it didn't quite work out that way. This photo doesn't do this Calluna 'Spring Torch' justice, but I took it tonight in my kitchen with my little camera. The spring foliage is green with new growth in orange, pink, gold...I nearly went into orbit when I saw it. Naturally, I had to have it. I do promise a better photo in the sunlight with some (hopefully) fairly accurate colour.
And the colour is somewhat off on this zonal geranium too, but I had to show it to you. It's called 'Vancouver Centennial' and when I read about it somewhere recently, I knew I'd be very, very happy to make its acquaintance. It looks like it's singing 'O Canada' rather than 'I Believe'; it's a plant for all Canadians, with those maple-leaf like leaves. I don't even care if it blooms. It's just seriously cool.
And speaking of seriously cool--and seriously generous and wonderful--look at this watercolour painting that the members of the Highland Garden Club in Pictou County presented to me this afternoon after my talk! I LOVE it: it's by local (Pictou County) artist Lyn Sue Wice, and it and the handmade card they gave me with it just made me warm all over. Gardeners are such generous souls! The thing about giving talks, or about writing about plants, is that I learn so much from others who share their experiences, wisdom, plants and more with me. And that's the joy of sharing this obsession for green growing things with so, so many people.

That's it for today...I'm truly running on empty and plan to spend Sunday sleeping in, allowing LongSuffering Spouse to cook me breakfast, ignoring the phone and email for the day, and then puttering in the garden if the weather is good and in the greenhouse if it's not. Maybe I'll even put together a bloom day post, only slightly late. I hope everyone has a lovely restful happy day, exploring your own happy plant obsessions.

14 May 2010

Skywatch Friday: Cape Split's Voice of the Moon

For this Skywatch Friday, a wee bit of geography and more than a wee bit of gratitude. We live near the top of the upper Bay of Fundy, home of the world's highest tides. But we don't just have splendid water; we have splendid geography, including the basalt stacks that compose Cape Split. This rocky promontory with its 400+ foot cliffs juts out like an apostrophe from the western side of Nova Scotia's shoreline. It also creates some amazing tidal phenomena. Things can be all very serene, as they do in this photo, which I took from a Coast Guard Zodiac on my way back from a visit to the survey vessel CCGS Matthew, several years ago.

(photo not mine, but I can't remember if it's from NS Tourism or a local photographer. Have had it for years.)
Twice a day, the mighty tides swoop into the bowl created by the 'comma' of Cape Split, into the waters of Scotts Bay. As all that water moves around the end of Cape Split, a riptide is formed; one that runs at about 8 knots.
A view of the end of the Split from the Minas Channel side of the Bay. The tide is just starting to run, and though it looks sort of serene on the surface, it's anything but. This is a wild place to be; the Bay's floor can go from being just a few dozen feet deep to over 300 feet in just the time it takes to draw a breath, and that also contributes to the dancing water.

During the turning of the tide, the rips create whirlpools, eddies, 'dancing water', currents that are not safe for small vessels, and that can give even experienced mariners bad moments. (You should come through here in a dungeon of fog as well as a run of tide. Been there, done that, in a lobster boat a few years back. Whew.)

I thought it appropriate to mention the Split and the tidal tantrums today, as just a few days ago the Bay almost claimed a couple of victims. A lobster boat got into mechanical trouble not far from Cape Split, and started sinking. The captain and his two crew members were airlifted to safety by the Search and Rescue team from 14 Wing Greenwood, our local Air Force Base. The boat is now on the bottom of the Bay. Boats, however, can be replaced. Human lives cannot.

While I don't know the fishermen involved in this particular event, my longsuffering spouse is a retired lobsterman, and he knows the waters of the Bay and just how treacherous they can be. He also knows the captain of the vessel that got in trouble, but even if he didn't, there is a bond among fishermen as there is among many dangerous trades, from firefighters to miners to pilots. And the many coastal communities along the Fundy shore--both in New Brunswick and here in Nova Scotia--are deeply connected to the waters that surge past us daily. So we're all very grateful to the SAR crew, and to Glooscap and any other gods that might have been watching, that the voice of the moon--as some call the tidal roar that calls around Cape Split during the changing of the tide--didn't create a very different outcome.

10 May 2010

Epimedium Excitement

One of the things I wax on and on about when giving talks or writing about plants is about the importance of loving foliage as much as flowers. If we select our garden plants with an eye to interesting foliage as well as marvelous blooms, we will never lament about the "midsummer meltdown" or about a lack of interesting things happening in the garden. Foliage is sometimes subtle, sometimes spectacular. Sometimes, it's almost more important than the flowers on a plant.

Epimediums make me very happy, especially now that I have some established in my garden and doing well. Their flowers are lovely, but they aren't what you call flamboyant, not like a big puffy peony or a perfect rose or a swath of lilies. No, epimedium flowers make you pause, flop on your tummy on warm dry grass, and take time to admire these small wonders. If you're at all prone to flights of fancy, you might think these are the equivalent of daffodils for the "wee folk" that inhabit some gardens. That's what struck me today, studying the flowers of this E. sulphureum species; yes, I know they have four petals, not six, but I'm sure the garden fairies aren't all botanists.

For most people, the epimediums--or if you prefer, barrenwort, bishop's cap, mitrewort, or fairy wings--are past blooming by now. In my garden, they're just pushing through the ground, or, as in the case of the new ones that trailed home after me on Saturday, they're sitting in the greenhouse waiting for the blasted winds to come down from gale-force so they can join those already in the garden. This is E. youngianum 'Niveum, with pure white flowers, one of the new ones, which I found--among many other treasures, though I resisted and didn't buy everything that caught my fancy--at Pleasant Valley Nurseries in Antigonish. This is a wonderful nursery, and I don't get to visit nearly often enough, but Phyllis and her staff do a great job of carrying a wide selection of reasonably priced, interested, and healthy plants. (Their new website is under construction, so it doesn't have a huge amount of information yet. You'll just have to go visit!)

From fellow plant geek, professor and inspiration Lloyd Mapplebeck in Truro, I picked up this wonderful E. x versicolor 'Sulphureum' to give to a friend who I think needs to get into these plants too. You saw the flowers up close in the top photo--now you can see the wine tinges of colour in the mostly heart-shaped leaves. These plants will gradually form nice little ground-covers in moist, partially shaded sites. Lloyd did tell me a couple of years ago that we can grow epimedium in more sun than other regions because we don't get so hot here in the summer. While they are quite resistant to dry soil if they're in shade, they want more moisture if they're going to be in a more sunny site. I tried doing just that and had great success after some frustrating tries in earlier years. Lloyd doesn't have a website yet, but you can see him every Saturday at the Truro Farmer's Market, along with several other plant enthusiasts. And he'll give you directions on how to get to his place. I know how to get there, but not so much how to tell others how to get there.

I'm sort of hard pressed to pick an absolute favourite mitrewort, but I am very charmed by 'Orange Konigin', or Orange Queen. Maybe that's because it was the one that first bewitched me and so I had to have it and am happily entranced by its flowers.

E. x rubrum is a nice plant, with very pretty cherry-red flowers lined in white, just as if they were the cap of some clergy. Leaves are a very brilliant green just edged in wine, and I like this one in more sun because its darker colour tends to disappear in shade.
And then there's this little charmer, E. grandiflorum 'Lilafee.' The leaves are significantly smaller than other species and cultivars, especially to start with, and boast a rich wine tinge to young foliage, which is meant to be mostly evergreen. The flowers are a lovely purple mauve colour and have long spurs, more like a miniature columbine than a daffodil now that I think on it some more. I've seen them describes as looking like little purple spiders, but I'm not a real arachnophile; Never mind about Charlotte's web, I'm more inclined to think Shelob's lair when dealing with spiders. 'Lilafee' came from Jane Blackburn's Woodland and Meadows nursery in Clifton, just outside Truro. She was set up at the site where I was giving a talk, and will be at the Farmer's Market in Truro starting next weekend. It's well worth visiting her nursery, especially if you have a longsuffering spouse with a fascination for trains, like Jane's husband does. Their gardens share space with some of Andrew's train memorabilia, including several actual train cars. It's a wonderful place to visit.
Like my other expeditions, Saturday was extremely satisfying--not only did I get to visit three 1/2 nurseries, I got to meet up with some wonderful people at the Bible Hill Fire Hall for the Central zone meeting, where I was speaking on four-season gardening. Including, of course, foliage. Before landing in Truro, however, I made the run to Antigonish, went to Pleasant Valley, and then on to Bill and Sharon Wilgenhof's place, The Willow Garden where a number of rhododendrons and hardy azaleas got into the car. The official Willow Garden plant sale is NEXT weekend but when I explained that I couldn't get there next week because of other obligations, Bill and Sharon kindly dug my rhodies and azaleas, plus some monarda and digitalis to add to my collection. Bill likes to walk me around the garden and show me what he's doing--he's a total inspiration and plant person, rather like my late friend Dick Steele--and only a few years his junior, too. Gardening keeps you young, obviously.

And though it was a day early, as I went past Trenton/Stellarton/Plymouth/Pictou, a shadow crossed my heart. 18 years ago, on May 9, 1982, the Westray Mine exploded due to a combination of deadly methane gas and coal dust, killig 26 miners. I didn't have time to stop and pay my respects on Saturday at Their Light Shall Always Shine Memorial Park. But circumstances have me returning to Pictou County next week for a meeting with other gardeners, and I'll stop and leave a pebble on the big memorial stone to remind them that we honour and remember them always. And we swear to our politicians, "Never Again."

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