28 November 2010

More garden all-stars: New to my garden in 2010

Continuing on with our lovefest of plants that have performed well in my garden this year, we'll turn our attention to some of the 'new-to-me' plants that have been delightful in 2010. I'm sure you all know the sensation of discovering a new variety of a particular genus that you've not seen before, or trying something that you've seen elsewhere and couldn't find locally, or just deciding to give something another try. It's one of the best things about garden, the endless sense of discovery.

Epimediums are seriously underutilized around here, although those who know them love them and rave about their virtues. The thing about epimediums, also known as bishops cap and barrenwort, is that they're early bloomers, coming on in late April to mid May. In containers, they will bloom even earlier, so sometimes they've past their bloom period before most people start coming out to garden centres. Many gardeners who don't know what they're looking at will be less than impressed to see 'only' foliage, so that's why epimedium are often left on the benches at nurseries. There's a lovely variety of flower colours as well as leaf size and colouring; these are beautiful groundcovers and highly recommended.

A few years ago, I spotted yellow waxy-bells (kirengoshoma) growing in a garden in Truro, and got very excited. Until that point, I'd only read about these beauties in books, which isn't to say there aren't plenty of them growing here--just that I don't get out to nearly enough gardens. One of the joys of yellow waxy-bells is that they're late blooming, putting in an appearance in late summer or early autumn.

Another underutilized perennial is the beautiful masterwort, Astrantia. Masterwort is a member of the umbellifer family (Apiaceae or Umbelliferae), which makes it related to queen Ann's lace (Daucus), sea-holly (Eryngium), parsnips, dill, and carrots...and goutweed. It's a charming, well behaved perennial, forming nice mounds of handsome foliage and sprays of flowers in pink, greenish-white, or red to burgundy. A contrasting ring of petal like leaves, or bracts, surrounds the tiny florets, and makes them eyecatching and cherished for use in floral arrangements. A friend of mine says she has seedlings all around her garden from her plants, but I haven't been so fortunate with mine.

I've had a white-flowered dittany, or gas plant (Dictamnus) for a few years, but this year found the purple form for sale at a nursery down the Valley from here. The thing about Dictamnus: make sure you plant it where you want it, because it hates being dug up and moved. It's slow to settle in, but well worth the wait to get the spectacular, fragrant blossoms.
Although my previous attempts with a tree peony were not very successful, I decided to try again this year. Gardening colleague and nursery operator Lloyd Mapplebeck told me to tip a clay pot or a bucket over the woody stem of the plant after leaves drop and the ground freezes, to help protect the graft union for several years until the tree peony is well established. I meant to do that today, but came in the house too early. Tomorrow, the pot goes into protect-the-peony mode.

The very well named 'Brilliance' autumn fern is actually brilliant from the beginning of the season, when its new growth unfurls, until now, when it's preparing to go into resting mode. I tried this one last year but didn't have a real healthy plant to begin with, and it didn't return. This one was beautiful when planted and grew moreso over the season.

If you love to have pollinators around your garden, you need to have both the veronicas and their relatives the culvers roots, Veronicastrum. This is 'Red Fox' veronica, the bright pink blooms of which are often covered with bees and other pollinators. Last post we mentioned the new variety 'Purpliscious', but 'Red Fox' is an older, and still very popular, cultivar.

This is a relatively new variety of Echinacea, 'Tangerine Dream', which could become one of my very favourites because it's so definitely, defiantly orange. Very eyecatching in the perennial border, especially since it's near several other strongly-coloured bloomers, including 'Red Admiral' cranesbill and a host of other echinaceas.

Panic grasses don't have the showiest of flowers, but they have very graceful sprays of petite flowerheads along with handsome foliage that may be blue or green in colour, red- or wine-tipped. There are quite a few cultivars available around here, including 'Heavy Metal', 'Shenandoah', 'Rotstrahlbusch', 'Cheyenne Sky', 'Dallas Blues', and 'Thundercloud'. You can't have just one. At least, I can't.

A brief dip into shrubs to round out the day. This is the February daphne, D. mezereum, which was introduced to Nova Scotia with the settlers from Europe. It has highly fragrant flowers (they don't come out quite so early here) which turn into brilliant scarlet berries, but remember to take care with these plants: they are highly poisonous in all their parts.

One of the lepidote rhododendrons, R. russatum, is trying very hard to become my favourite ericaceous plant. As far as I know its flowers have the most blue-tinged colour of any of the hardy rhodos for our area.

Having waxed excitedly happy over 'Sungold' buddleia a number of times, no one will be surprised to find me still praising the beauty of this honey-coloured, fragrant flower. I'm preparing to mulch the base of mine with evergreen boughs and hopefully one of them will come through our winter.

One of the coolest evergreens I know of is the Siberian cypress, Microbiota decussata. In summer, the foliage of this low-growing conifer is a bright green, but as cold weather advances, the foliage turns bronze to purple. It's a tough, obliging evergreen, and one that should be used far more than it has been.

The fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) is related to our common sumac but as you can see it's quite different in appearance. It is a low-growing, spreading shrub, with interesting leaves and brilliant autumn colour. This variety is 'Gro-low', and I like the way it's used in some plantings around Wolfville, underneath taller shrubs and trees like flowering crabs. I haven't noticed any fragrance in my shrub's foliage, but I'm impressed with everything I've seen about this plant, so I hope for many years of pleasure from the one I planted this spring.

23 November 2010

Perennial All-stars: New and Nice in 2010

Working on an assignment over the past couple of days took me through recent 'events' in my iPhoto libraries, which as you can imagine are chock-a-block with photos of plants. The outburst of colour did my heart glad, especially as we continue with the drearies (interspersed with light snowfalls that are indicative of what is to come). Naturally, I thought, why wait til the end of the year to do a retrospective? Let's have at it now! So here, gentle readers, are some of the best and brightest of perennials from my gardening season of 2010.

No one who hangs out here regularly will be surprised to see 'Hot Papaya' echinacea leading the pack. Echinaceas are one of my favourite flowers, hands down, and I've been fascinated by the rainbow of colours we've seen over the past few years. Of course, no one has yet developed a blue echinacea, despite the rumour to that effect back in April.

For the purists among us, some of the plants I show here aren't brand new, but they're decidedly new to my garden. I last tried Stokesia, or Stokes' aster, about ten years ago, and couldn't get it to overwinter because it kept being taken out by soggy clay. This year, I had the brainwave to plant it near the echinaceas, and it settled in and thrived. I'm highly optimistic that it will reappear next year--I have it well marked so I don't inadvertantly try to weed it.

Heaths and heathers are fabulous for their foliage as well as for their flowers, but this is a new and particular favourite of mine, Erica 'Irish Lemon', bought at Bunchberry Nurseries in Upper Clements. The name charms me, as do the huge flowers (for an erica) and the foliage is decidedly handsome.

I regularly sing the praises of heleniums, those stars of the late-season garden. It's been gratifying to see more and more nurseries carrying these plants, and carrying new and interesting cultivars, such as this petite charmer, 'Ruby Tuesday', purchased at Ouest-Ville Perennials in Ouest Pubnico. (That would be West Pubnico for the Anglais among us).

Vernonia or ironweed is a lateseason delight, and is beloved of pollinators, so those two facts make it a must-have in my garden. This is V. crinita 'Purple Bowl', which I found for the first time this year at Briar Patch Farm and Nursery in Berwick.

You know what it's like when you spy a plant and you stop dead in your tracks and absolutely have to have it? That's what happened when I saw astilbe 'Color Flash Lime' this past spring. I bought two of them, I liked it that much, for its foliage more than for its pale pink blossoms. The foliage gradually turns more lime green as summer advances, but it's a delight, just like its relative, 'Color Flash'.

Thanks in no small part to the tutelage of Frances at Faire Garden, I've gotten sort of confident (not too confident as that might cause hubris) with hellebores, and have added some new cultivars since the initial successes with 'Ivory Prince' and H. purpurascens. This year, I fell under the spell of 'Golden Sunrise' hellebore. Can you see why?

I looked for a photo of the foliage of Eryngium 'Jade Frost', showing its bluegreen, cream, and pink early growth, but couldn't find it. Given to me to trial by Dugald Cameron of GardenImport in 2009, it came into its own this year with fabulous clusters of silvercream flowers and bracts, which gradually enrich to metallic blue. Fabulous, fabulous plant. It seems to be acting perennial so far (touch wood) so I'm hoping it returns as vigourously next year.

Amsonia, or bluestar, is a highly underutilized perennial, at least in my neck of the woods. I've had A. tabernaemontana for at least a decade, and find it an excellent and no-maintenance perennial. I've never divided it, moved it, or done anything else to it except plant it and enjoy it. This year, I got my hands on the cultivar 'Blue Ice', which has somewhat broader-petaled flowers (seen here), and am happy to have it too. Next year, I'm hoping for a big flush of interest in amsonias, as the Perennial Plant Association have named Amsonia hubrichtii their plant of the year for 2011.

This is a completely new-to-me perennial this year, given to me by plantsman extraordinaire Lloyd Mapplebeck of Hillendale Perennials in Truro. This is Patrinia, a tall, later flowering perennial that works well with vernonia and eupatorium (ironweed and joe-pye weed).

Lloyd also insisted I try this delicately yellow anemone, Anemone palmata 'Luteum'. It bloomed for a long time, and was a big hit with the bees.

The veronicas and salvias are also a big hit with pollinators, and I was delighted to find this interestingly coloured variety, 'Purplicious', at Briar Patch. Veronicas are such fabulous plants, with such a delightful range of heights, flower types and colours. You can't have just one or two. I think I have upwards of a dozen.

My friend Lorraine Beswick gave me the remarkable yellow scabious, Cephalaria gigantea, back in the spring after I went gaga over it last year in her garden. It did marvelously for me this year, and I'm hoping for seedlings to share with others.

Rounding out today's lovefest, a cool little geum that swept me off my feet in midsummer when I saw it at a nursery somewhere in the province. This is 'Eos', the first geum I've seen with lime-green foliage, which makes a spectacular foil for the brilliant scarlet orange flowers. I'm going to nurture this one over winter, and hope that it will be as stalwart a performer as are 'Mango Lassy' and 'Cooky'.

Have you grown any of these plants? How have you done with them?

19 November 2010

Getting your amaryllis to rebloom

November is a funny month, and I mean funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha. Days when the sun is out and everything is awash in golden light, I appreciate and even revel in the natural world around me. Days like the last few, which have been varying shades of grey with sometimes heavy rain, make me want to pull the covers over my head, drink coffee and read books until the sun comes out again. That’s okay, except such behaviour doesn’t pay the bills! We are, however, rewarded sometimes with splendid sunsets, and those cheer me and give me something to celebrate for Skywatch Fridays.

Thank you for all the comments and suggestions following my previous post. To follow up with a request I had via my Facebook Fan Page, I know that many people are perplexed with trying to get amaryllis to rebloom. I normally have no problem with getting them to come around in subsequent years, providing two things:

1. That I didn't water-force them. I find forcing bulbs of any sort in water will so exhaust them that it's not worth the effort to try to bring them around again. The exception would be if you planted your amaryllis bulb into soil after it finished blooming, so that it could take up nutrients and store them.
2. That I'm using quality bulbs, such as those sold by Halifax Seed, Botanus, or GardenImport. Those cut-price bulbs at grocery stores, bigboxes, etc? They're generally lower-grade, smaller bulbs and while they might come back in subsequent years, I find the better the quality the more likelihood of success.

So, for reblooming: after your amaryllis bulb has finished blooming, cut the spent flowerstalk off and let the foliage grow through the winter. When the risk of frost is past (late May here in my part of Nova Scotia, may be earlier or later where you are, put the pots of amaryllis outside for the summer, watering occasionally if needed.

When the leaves begin to fade, and before autumn frost, remove the bulbs from their pots, cut the leaves back to the neck (the top of the bulb from whence the growth comes), clean the dirt off and store the bulbs in a cool, dry, dark place for 6-8 weeks. Some people leave them in the pots, but I like to give them a complete break from any temptation to grow. Remember to store them somewhere that is free of any ripening fruit; apples, pears and other fruit give off ethylene gas as they ripen, and this gas can kill the flower embryos inside bulbs.

At the end of 6-8 weeks, replant your amaryllis bulbs in fresh potting mix, and bring them into a well-lit, but not hot, location; I normally put mine in the east-facing windows of the kitchen or office. Usually, the bulbs will start to grow shoots within a couple of weeks, and flower within 6-8 weeks of this replanting.
I stress that USUALLY, amaryllis bulbs will behave in this manner following such treatment. Not always. And then there was the time I forgot they were downstairs (in my defence, it was the autumn of major surgery) had bought several new ones...and found the old ones quite dessicated, some months later. They made good compost.

18 November 2010

Almost Wordless Wednesday on Thursday: Forever Autumn

My apologies for being silent the past few days. As many people know, I'm going to have a new book coming out in late winter or early spring next year through Nimbus Publishing. We're into the latter stages of editing before it goes to press, and combining that with my regular work that pays the bills...I'm a wee bit swamped. Or feeling windblown and defoliated, like this tree at my alma mater, the Nova Scotia Agricultural College. Please bear with me, and I'll be back to my normal chatty self as soon as possible, which includes visiting plenty of other blogs.

I'll leave you with a question: what sorts of topics would you like to see covered here on Bloomingwriter in the coming months? We bloggers tend to post more during the winter months when we can't do so much gardening outdoors, so we read, talk, sleep and dream about plants and gardening. I have promised some info on how to get an amaryllis to rebloom, so look for that coming up fairly soon.

14 November 2010

Plants & Pages: Gaspereau, the Giller, & Gardening.

The past few days since author Johanna Skibsrud won the Giller Prize for her novel The Sentimentalists have been somewhat surreal, at least in book-lover-land. Many of us were delighted that a young writer had been given this big boost (and large cheque), and thrilled to bits that our local artisan publisher, Gaspereau Press, had been the ones to publish her AND nominate her for this award. However, many of the so-called Toronto intelligentsia have had their knickers in a right twist because Gaspereau hasn’t had thousands of copies already printed and ready to go to the bigbox stores like Amazon and Chapters. In some cases, I think there's more than a little Green Envy going on (matching the exquisite Echinacea of the same name in the photo above).

There has been a lot of bashing of Gaspereau over this, often by people who don’t know what they’re talking about, but unfortunately also sometimes by people who ought to know better. I won’t even touch the whole judgery tempest except to say I hope the Giller committee tightens its rules about behaviour by judges prior to the winner’s announcement.

The team at the award-winning Gaspereau Press are known for their commitment to quality publishing and printing. Their books are created by hand on old-style printing presses, using beautiful papers and interesting types. I have a number of their books in my permanent library, and have read many others. This isn't a diss at other publishers--I have lots of quality books from many quality publishers. Gaspereau is just...different, in the best of ways.

Andrew and Gary can produce about 1000 copies a week of any particular book. They are working away at meeting the sudden demand, but here’s the interesting thing. Although the book hasn’t been available on Amazon, it’s been at a number of independent bookstores. Until the last day or so (I haven’t checked today), The Box of Delights in Wolfville had copies. I’ve seen Twitter comments reporting purchases at other indie bookstores around Canada. There’s also an e-copy available for purchase and download for those who use Kobo readers. (I don’t like ebook readers myself but that’s merely my personal tastes, nothing else. )

So those who are loyal to local book stores are or have been, in many cases, able to sate their desire to read this book right away. Others are content to wait, or to download an electronic copy and then buy a print copy later. The wailings about how much missed opportunity the writer is having because everyone can’t buy it Right! This! Minute! are primarily coming out of Toronto, where the street of the bank barons (Bay Street) is littered at night with homeless people sleeping on subway vents.

Regular readers of bloomingwriter can be forgiven for being puzzled about my passion, as a writer, for standing up for the publisher instead of totally saying “Oh poor thing,” to the writer, and offering hankies to the handwringers whining on the pages of the national newspapers. Well, books are an odd subject in commerce. Bookstores can order them in, and then return unsold copies to the publisher at a later date. So what happens if Gaspereau prints 50,000 copies of a book and has 30,000 copies returned to them? Can you say fiscal disaster?

Bigbox stores have a certain amount of clout, but they also can be bullies, in just this regard. To drawn an analogy between two of my passions, books and plants: I know of several nurseries in this region who had been contracted to grow certain types of plants or cut flowers for the bigbox stores. When BogBoxX store cancels its contract, or declines to renew for subsequent years, the grower is stuck with massive amounts of certain types of plants, which they can’t always market quickly in a reasonable amount of time. See nurseries exit the business. This isn’t a situation known only to my region—I imagine most parts of the US, the UK, and beyond have seen similar situations.

The bigboxes buy in bulk, and set the prices they want to pay, often less than it costs to produce a product, whether a plant or a potato or a well-printed novel. We (gardeners, readers, eaters, everyone) don’t make enough fuss about low-quality crap from China, or produce flown in from thousands of miles away and grown under questionable conditions, or plants sold here that were grown in some warm part of the US (which means they won’t thrive here), or any other number of quality-versus quality concerns. Want something ordinary, the same as thousands or millions of others have? Go to a bigbox store. Want something special, unique, wonderful and less than quotidian? Get it from a local nursery, or from a publisher with a passion for creating not just commodity, but actual heirlooms and works of art.

In Gaspereau’s case, as was noted by another writer (I can't remember who or I'd put the link up), they filled the orders to their independent customers long ago, when Amazon or Chapters didn’t perhaps bother to order any copies in the first place. Loyalty breeds loyalty. The bigboxes know nothing of loyalty, so it puzzles them when a small publisher doesn’t fawn over them and impoverish itself to meet their demands.

After a couple of days of reading obnoxious articles in the Post and Globe, people around the country began to post rebuttals and defend Gaspereau's integrity. Some writers are, like me, recognizing that it's a complex story and are hoping that all will be happy soon despite the complexities of the story. No less a sage than Rex Murphy put up an excellent article in the NaPo, including this thought:

I can hear all the objections to this perspective — it isn’t sensible, it isn’t practical, it’s so unfair to the author. In answer to the first two complaints: I say, let’s have a lot more of what isn’t sensible or practical, at least as those qualities are perceived in our fame-besotted, Jersey Shore world. The last objection, that it’s unfair to the author, is more difficult to deal with. Maybe there’s some consolation in the fact that her winning is, precisely because of this story-controversy, now quite singular, and so her book will be all the more welcomed when it does show up in the stores.

Gaspereau, after all, is merely taking a stand for the book — the book itself, as a beautiful object, as a piece of art. I would have expected, even at the higher altitudes of the Giller constituency, some fellow-feeling for that perspective and some respect for the idea that art doesn’t — necessarily — always kneel before commerce and fame.

My friend Ami McKay, a best-selling author and also a Gaspereau-published writer, wrote a post that included a letter to the Globe from another writer, which says, in part:

That Gaspereau Press has been reviled for this incredibly beautiful act of faith is a stunning collective failing of our collective imagination--but it doesn't surprise me given how debased our relationship with art has become. I do have to agree with the final sentence of today's editorial: "The true measure of any book's success is not a prize but its ability to connect with readers."

Johanna Skibsrud is going to be just fine, what with her Giller cheque, her UK agent and contract, and the thousands of copies of the book that have been and will be sold. Gaspereau has a plan to solve their publishing bottleneck which will hopefully make most everyone happy, including their bookkeeper. Andrew and Gary are to be commended for cherishing books as things of permanence and beauty, not merely tossaways to be composted along with the day’s newspaper. And for doing the very best they can for all involved. That's how they roll.


Gaspereau announced this morning that Douglas & McIntyre has acquired the trade paperback rights to The Sentimentalists and will be printing 30,000 copies at once. Gaspereau, meanwhile, will continue to create the handmade copies for purchase by those who desire a unique item. Group hugs for all involved (yes, including Toronto, of course). We love it when a plan comes together.

12 November 2010

Tulips and Narcissus and Alliums, oh my! More Burblings on Bulbs

With a long-awaited improvement in the weather, it's time to return to talking about plants instead of other matters. Not that the other matters aren't important, of course--just that with a name like Bloomingwriter, one would expect that most of the discussion here would be about plants.

This time we're looking at larger flowered spring bulbs, the ones that tend to make a big splash of colour: tulips, narcissus/daffodils, and alliums. There's still plenty of time to plant bulbs, and you can still order from some companies, although the best selection is already sold. If you bought your bulbs already and it hasn't been fit to plant, remember to store them in a cool dry place but away from ripening fruit, which can kill bulb flower embryos.

You'll notice quite a few white-flowered varieties in this post, for several reasons. One, despite the fact that these plants flower after winter is past, I actually relish the sight of pure white or white-mixed flowers against a backdrop of gradually greening landscape. The White Hood daffodils in the preceding photo are one of my favourites, and multiply like crazy year after year. Likewise, the poeticus narcissus (pheasants eye) in the second photo from the top is a late blooming favourite, highly fragrant and unusual to look at.

Additionally, the good people at the International Flower Bulb Centre provide garden writers with a box of bulbs every autumn, and for two years in a row we received a host of white-flowering bulbs, including the miniature, doubled Sir Winston Churchill daffodil.

This means that I can usually remember the name of the bulb, if it was planted in the last couple of years, because I've made notes and kept them all in one place. With some of the other bulb varieties, like this pinkishsalmon and yellow bicolour daffodil, I don't remember the names, sadly.If you do, please feel free to suggest in the comments!

When growers make reference to pink daffodils, this is what they mean; usually a white or soft yellow ring of petals surrounding a cup of pinkish, salmon, or pale rose. I THINK this is Pink Charm, but I've had it from years and it suffers from LostLabel (LOLA) syndrome. It's a beauty, freshly different from the standard yellows, yellow and white or yellow and orange options.

Daffodils and alliums share something in common: both are quite deer resistant, because either the bulbs are toxic (in the case of daffodils) or highly distasteful to eat (in the case of alliums). Both are an excellent alternative, along with the fritillaria we mentioned last time, if you are plagued with deer or other animal problems. This is one of my favourite alliums, 'Caeruleum', which means blue. And it certainly is blue. Many alliums will self seed and multiply over the years, and this one does, but never invasively.

For something amusing and unusual, look for 'Hair' allium. The green tendrils emerge first, and can be quite attractive especially if planted with something that provides a strong, large textured foliage as a backdrop.

Star of Persia (Allium Christophii) is amazing for its late blooming, round balls of starry flowers, which later become excellent seedheads for later season interest.

And now, the tulips. There are so many different species, divisions, and colours of tulips, we can't draw attention to them all here. But there are a couple of things to know. One, deer love them. Two, many tulips, to bring the best bloom, like this Apricot Parrot above and the Flame Parrot at the top of this post, need to be treated as annuals and planted yearly. The main exceptions are the Triumphs, the Darwins, the Fosterianas, and the species tulips.

Species tulips tend to be small, low growing, and less showy than their flamboyant cousins, making them ideal for front of border or in rock garden plantings. This is Tulipa turkestanica, which produces clusters of small, white flowered flowers with yellow centres. Species tulips will often colonize if they're happy, although they are slower to spread than other bulbs.

This is a happy spring mixture including some parrot tulips (with the ruffled, flounced petals) some pheasants eye narcissus, and in the centre, one viridiflora tulip, possibly Deirdre, which is a green on green variety.

These are called lily-flowered tulips, easily identifiable with their vaselike shape. This variety is 'Marilyn', planted in honour of my late mother in law.

The slowly opening 'White Parrot' is a later blooming variety that looks something like a white peony as it opens.

The insides of tulips are often gorgeous, as you can see with Tulipa hageri 'Little Beauty'. This darling grows only 4-6 inches tall, with shimmering violet petals that flex open in sunlight, then close up with the onset of evening or cool weather. They work well in amongst crocus, snowdrops, and dwarf iris.

Finally, a couple more white-flowered tulips: the double white Mt. Tacoma, which looks even more like a peony with all its ruffled petals; and the clean green and white lines of 'Spring Green', a viridiflora that has been quite robust for me. My personal favourites are the viridifloras, the parrots, and the tiny, demure species.

One more thing. If you're heading out to plant bulbs this weekend, please promise me that you will plant them in groups of 5, 7, 9...not in straight rows like little soldiers? And try doing one or two colours at the most ina grouping, rather than a jumble of colours. You'll get more bang for your bulb that way.

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