Friday, September 22, 2017

Winter Aconite, Eranthis Hyemalis


Winter Aconite like to bloom in the sunshine. They don't mind the cold though. These small woodland plants are early risers that often peek up from under a light covering of snow. To take advantage of the bare limbs of the trees above, they rush to flower.  Like crocus, the cup-shaped flowers face upward, opening into the sunlight. 

By the time the tree canopy opens fully casting them into shade, the flowers have already done their job. The bees have come and gone pollinating the tiny yellow flowers. Little green seed pods begin to appear among the dying foliage. Having set seed, Winter Aconite slips quietly back into dormancy. 

Members of the buttercup family, Winter Aconite, Eranthis hyemalis are native to the deciduous woodlands of the Balkans, Italy and southern France. Short, reddish-brown stems propel the flowers above any snow or leaf litter. Each yellow flower has a fringe of leaf-like bracts. Lobed green leaves emerge to replace the spent flowers. 



Winter Aconite scattered in a lawn.
Planting

To mimic the natural habitat of Winter Aconite, plant them under deciduous trees or shrubs. One of my neighbours also has them scattered through his lawn. They seem perfectly happy flowering among the fresh blades of grass each spring. A white magnolia provides them with welcome shade through the summer. 

Like most woodland plants, Aconite prefer humus-rich soil. Though the plants go dormant in the late spring, they like to rest in soil that is cool and moist, but well-drained. Their tubers never like to dry out completely. 

As with bulbs, Aconite are planted in the fall. Soak the tubers overnight in a shallow dish of water and then plant the them 2-3" deep and 3" apart. Choose your location carefully. They prefer not to be moved once planted in the ground.

If growing conditions are favourable, Aconite will self-seed and naturalize to form a colorful colony.

Snowdrops bloom at the same time as Winter Aconites.


One of my Hellebores blooming in early April.

Companion Plants

My camera gives me a time stamp that tells me that my Aconites were blooming on April 4th this year. On that same day, I also photographed white snowdrops, iris reticulata, purple crocus and the first of my Hellebores flowers in bloom. Any of these plants would look great paired with Winter Aconites. 

I can imagine a group of white hellebores with a carpet of the little yellow flowers at their feet. A more unorthodox pairing would be to mix Aconites with black hellebore– a sort of bumble bee color scheme. (Read more about Hellebores here.)

Pulmonaria 'Blue Ensign' would make a nice companion plant for Winter Aconites.

Pulmonaria 'Opal' has pale blue flowers.

Lungwort, Pulmonaria is an early perennial that likes the same moist, shady conditions as Aconites, so I think the two plants would also be great friends.

An all-blue Pulmonaria like 'Blue Ensign' or 'Opal' combined with snowdrops and Aconites would make for a classic mix of white, yellow and blue.

Eranthis hyemalis are an important source of pollen for hungry bees that have been 
waiting all winter for warmer weather.

For me Winter Aconites are a welcome sign that spring has finally arrived. They're a cheerful sight that always lifts the spirits after a long winter. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Garden of Wayne & Carolyn Luke



Wayne and Carolyn Luke always loved to poke around in gift shops, attend local auctions and antique shows. Their collection of antiques grew and eventually the couple decided to open their own store. They started small, but the business quickly grew and expanded into two stores, one in Port Perry and the other in Oshawa.

Then, after thirty years in retail, Wayne and Carolyn decided it was time to retire.  


A vintage plant stand at the front of the house.

A metal urn filled with annuals sits adjacent to the front door.

Petunias and white and mauve trailing Verbena. 

The front of the tiny shop.

They sold the business, but Carolyn and Wayne didn't retire from retail altogether. Instead they set up a little shop at the end of their driveway. The commute to work took mere minutes and the little store was the perfect spot to continue to sell garden ornaments and an ever increasing array of Wayne's handiwork. 

Birdhouses were among Wayne's earliest creations. His unique designs were expressions of his love of old architecture and sometimes included birds that Wayne carved himself. Over the years he handcrafted many of these whimsical birdhouses and they always sold well. 

After a time, Wayne began to wonder what else he might make. Yard sales and auctions became a ready source of raw materials for his artistry. He began to work with rolls of barbed wire, wooden finials and staircase spindles. Repurposing and transforming these found objects in imaginative ways became a passion.

The shop's wares spill into the adjacent garden. The large copper stepping stones were created using parts from old farm equipment.

 A container planting at the side of the house.

To one side of the shop is a little gravel courtyard. The contents of the hanging baskets and container plantings change from year to year. This summer Carolyn is growing tomatoes using 
Wayne's homemade metal cages.


There was no master plan for their country property. Instead, Carolyn and Wayne's garden has evolved over the past twenty-five years. 

Even now, there are changes– roses are a recent addition and the Luke's find that they are slowly moving away from growing their own vegetables. Now in their seventies, vegetables seem to demand too much labor and fresh local produce can be easily sourced.

The wooden arbors in the garden were designed and made by Wayne.

Beautiful urns, decorative plant stands and metal topiary forms that the Luke's have collected over the years are scattered throughout the garden. 

In amongst these traditional flourishes are humble objects that Wayne has repurposed. The decorative metal discs that form stepping stones in the gravel pathway are a perfect example. 

Two layers of landscape cloth were laid down to form the foundation of the gravel pathway. Any weeds that dare to pop up are sprayed.


The building visible in the near distance began as a treehouse for the grandkids, but one night a black bear visited the backyard and the terrified grandkids refused to sleep there ever again. 

So Wayne closed in the lower level of the treehouse and the little building functions as a shed these days.

Placing an urn filled with annuals right into a flowerbed is a great idea. Not only do the flowers add a bit of color, the urn elevates that color up to eye level.

Peony



The roses were Carolyn's idea. This summer Wayne fed them with chopped banana peels and the roses really flourished. 

Banana peels are a great source of potassium, phosphorus, calcium and other minerals that roses (and other plants) need. 

There are a number of ways to use banana peels in the garden. You can chop the them into small segments (1/4 inch pieces are good) and bury them in the soil around the perimeter of your plants. As the peels decompose, they add valuable nutrients to the soil. 

You can also dry banana peels and grind them into fertilizer. To dry the peels, cut them into long strips and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Put your oven on its lowest setting and leave the door ajar. Leave the peels in the oven until they are dry (about 8 hours). Grind the peels using a small food processor, coffee or spice grinder. Sprinkle the ground fertilizer on the surface of the soil or gently incorporate it into the dirt.

A vintage urn and stand filled with Canna Lilies and ivy.

A small arbor leads to an open grassy area.

As trees planted in the garden's early days have grown and matured, the backyard has become quite shady in spots. Initially Wayne filled these shady corners with a variety of hosta, but these days he is experimenting with ferns and other more unusual plants.  

The Limelight hydrangeas, that you see above, have become one of his favourite shrubs for some of the part-shade areas.

A detail of the garden ornament shown in the last image.

One of Wayne's birdhouses.

As well as working with wood, Wayne likes to create with metal. This clean-lined bird feeder is one of his more contemporary designs.

Ivy spills from the basket of a cherub at the centre of the gravel pathway. 

A mix of different hosta planted along the perimeter of the back of the house.



In business and their home life, Carolyn and Wayne have always worked closely together. Their garden reflects a little bit of each of them. Their creativity and a keen eye for beautiful antiques has combined to make a terrific garden.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Spring and Summer Snowflakes, Leucojum



It's time to start thinking about buying spring bulbs for fall planting, so I thought I would do a series of posts featuring some of the more unusual possibilities.

Image from the free digital archives of the New York Public Library.

Leucojum are native to Western Asia and Europe, where they are found in damp woodlands and along streams.

There are two are two main species of Leucojum. Spring Snowflakes, Leucojum vernum usually bloom a few weeks after Snowdrops and go dormant in summer. Contrary to what the common name suggests, Summer Snowflakes, Leucojum aestivum bloom mid-spring.


Leucojum form a vase-shaped clump of long, narrow, dark green leaves. Their arching stems carry nodding, bell-shaped flowers with a little dash of green or yellow at the end of each tepal. These tiny, white bells have a light fragrance.

Leucojum like full sun to part-shade and rich, moist, well-drained soil. Plant them anywhere you might plant ferns, daffodils or narcissus.

Leucojum will tolerate some dryness during the summer, but in the spring period of growth and bloom, they need consistent moisture. If there is less than 2" of rainfall in any given week during that time, it a good idea to give them a deep watering.

To assist Leucojum with getting through the dry summer months, mulch them with some compost to keep the soil moist and cool.

 Leucojum are deer and rabbit resistant. Pesky squirrels don't like them either.

Leucojum and white daffodils planted in a row under some Crabapple trees at the 
Toronto Botanical Gardens.

White daffodils at the Toronto Botanical Gardens.

Planting


Plant Leucojum bulbs 3-4" deep and 4-6" apart. 

You'll find that a single or small group of bulbs won't be impressive. It's better to plant Leucojum in groups of a dozen or more bulbs.

Once established in the ground, they prefer not to be moved or disturbed.


Naturalized in large drifts they can look spectacular.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Visit to Willow Farm Grasses



I began my walk around Willow Farm Grasses in what appeared to be a wildflower meadow. 

Later I found out that the original plan for this open field was to develop a hardwood forest bordered by irises and yellow Rudbeckia. 

But on the warm hazy day in late August, when I visited the nursery, the wildflowers and tall grasses obscured any sign of the young native hardwood trees.


I have to say that there was something about this flower-filled meadow that felt so relaxed and free. 

Most cultivated spaces are meticulously edited and are ruthlessly governed by gardeners like myself. Left to her own devices, Nature is by contrast, so much more welcoming! 

I don't know that I will ever hand my garden over entirely to Nature, but sometimes I marvel at how easy gardening would be if I were to do so...

The reddish tassels of the tall Miscanthus purpurascens have a slight metallic sheen 
that glistens in the sunshine.

Spotted Knapweed, Centaurea stoebe is a non-native member of the Asteracea family.


Willow Farm Grasses, located in the tiny village of Bognor, is a pleasant drive north of Toronto. I asked Karen Young, one of the enterprise's two partners, to tell me a bit about the nursery.

"Willow Farm Grasses," says Karen,"is an almost 50 acre piece of land that is shaped like a long rectangular bowl. (The Big Head River flows through the bottom of the bowl on its way to Georgian Bay via Meaford.) 

"My partner Caroline and I had always wanted a farm where we could develop a plant business of some kind. After outgrowing our Guelph gardens, we developed a check list of must-have's for the move: A farmhouse with some character, lots of land, and water on the property. A two-year search lead us to Bognor, a place neither of us had heard of before. We took a leap of faith and bought the farm. It's been the best decision we ever made."


The window boxes that add a splash of color to the front of the greenhouse are actually old ammunition boxes.


They are filled with a mix of Coleus, blue-flowering Lobelia, white Alyssum 
and Sweet Potato Vine.



After my walk through the meadow, I toured the nursery beds where ornamental grasses are grown in great huge blocks. The softness of the tall grasses as you walk through them and the rustling sound they made in the breeze was late summer magic.



I asked Karen what it was about grasses that made her want to create a nursery devoted to them.

"It is hard to say why I love grasses so much," she replied,"At first, I was smitten by their texture, form, colour, and movement. But the more I have worked with grasses, the better my understanding has become of the many ways they enhance the garden landscape."

"Grasses can act as the traffic signs leading you through a garden. A drift of low growing grasses can direct you along a winding path. A bright variegated grass can call you to explore the back of a garden.  A specimen in the border, can provide a textual contrast enhancing the virtues of surrounding perennials and shrubs. The incredible beauty and versatility of these plants, in my mind, is unmatched."



Japanese Blood Grass, Imperata cylindrica

Next year I hope to make my own gardenbed where ornamental grasses are a key feature. I asked Karen for some advice on how to begin:

"The best thing you can do for ornamental grasses is is get them off to a good start. This means selecting the right grass for the right site. Once that has been established, the following pointers should be kept in mind:

• Amend the planting hole with compost or composted manure.... if the new plant is a division from a larger plant, then bonemeal can be added to the mix as well."

• Sun-loving grasses require a minimum of six hours a day to perform well. Average soil with good drainage will suffice for the vast majority of varieties. 

• Do not over fertilize ! Too much nitrogen can cause soft growth and taller grasses will be prone to falling over when stressed with the wind or heavy rain."

Karen's List of Grasses for Sunny locations:


Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue'
                         'Sea Urchin '

Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio'
                                 'Gold Bar'

Switch grass, Panicum virgatum 'Blood Brothers'
                                                     'Northwind'

Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln'
                                            'Piglet'

Blue Oat Grass, Helictotrichon sempervirens

Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium

Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepsis

Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'
                                                                           'Eldorado'
                                                                           'Overdam'



Soft-stem Bulrush, Scirpus validus  

Soft-stem Bulrush, Scirpus validus is a wetland plant that can form large colonies in marshes, streams and ponds. The stems are topped with a hanging inflorescence. Like all bulrushes, it provides food for birds. Height: 1.5- 2.4 meters (5-8 feet), Spread:1.2-1.5 meters (4-5 ft). 


Karen's List of Grasses that are Shade Tolerant:


Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'

Chasmanthium latifolium

Hystrix patula

Molinia caerulea 'Variegata'

Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold'
                                  'Aureola '
Carex sp.  'Everest'
                  'Banana Boat'


While the majority of the land that surrounds the nursery is open and sunny, the area adjacent to the house is the exception. 

Here mature trees shelter the house from winter winds. They also create the perfect conditions for a shade garden.

Hostas and Ferns are happy in the shady area next to the front of the house.





To the left of the house, the area opens up once again to the sun.

In the distance is an interesting native plant. Grow Silphium Perfoliatum not for the yellow flowers (which are rather unremarkable), but for the plant's huge stature and it's unique, cup-shaped foliage. 

The leaves of Silphium Perfoliatum form a "cup" around a central stem giving the plant its common name Cup Flower. To the delight of birds and insects, rainwater collects in this shallow leaf basin. In the fall, Goldfinches love to devour the seeds.


Cup Flower, Silphium Perfoliatum likes full sun and moist soil best. Height: 120-240 cm ( up to 8'), Spread: 60-90 cm. USDA Zones: 4-8.

At the side of the house there is a small flagstone patio. 

Grasses make great foundation plants. They are far more practical than traditional conifers that can become huge and unmanageable.

To the left and right side of the picture are clumps of  Silver Spike Grass or Frost Grass, Spodiopogon sibiricus. In the middle (near the red door) is Autumn Flame Grass, Miscanthus purpurascens.

Silver Spike Grass or Frost Grass, Spodiopogon sibiricus has dense foliage that looks a bit like bamboo. It is native to the grasslands of central China, the grassy mountains of Japan and northeastern Siberia. Silver Spike Grass grows poorly in hot, dry locations. It likes moist, well-drained fertile soil. Full sun. Height: 90-150 cm (3-5 feet) Spread: 90-100 cm (1.5-2 feet) USDA zones: 5-9.

Autumn Flame Grass, Miscanthus purpurascens forms a clump of upright green leaves that turn flaming orange-red in autumn (particularly in warmer zones). Tall spikes of pinkish-red flowers fade to be silvery plumes that can last through the winter. Full sun or light shade. Height: 120-150 cm (4-5 feet), Spread: 75-90 cm (2.5- 3 feet) USDA zones: 5-9.


One of the great things about Karen and Caroline's farm are the views of the rolling hills of Grey County. In a few weeks time, the trees will look spectacular dressed in their fall colors.

While it's pretty, Obedient Plant, Physostegia virginiana is a perennial  that spreads aggressively. Consider carefully before you plant it. Karen and Caroline have planted it all on its own.

Giant Reed Grass, Arundo donax Variegatain in the foreground.

Giant Reed, Arundo Donax 'Variegata' is a warm-season grass that has grey-green foliage streaked with bands of cream. It likes moist soil and will even grow in standing water. In frost-free areas it will remain evergreen (USDA zones 9-11), but in more northern zones, it will die back to the ground in winter (zones 6-7). Height: 12-15 ft (3.6-4.7 m), Spread: 8-10 ft (2.4-3 m). USDA zones: 6-10.


A pathway takes you from the nursery to a terrace with a stunning view of the surrounding countryside.

Phlox paniculata

Pennisetum orientale  'Karley Rose' on the left.

Pennisetum orientale  'Karley Rose' has smoky, purple, bottlebrush spikes that glow when backlit by the sun. This grass forms a mound of arching foliage and is more cold tolerant than many other varieties of Pennisetum. Once established it needs only occasional watering. Full sun. Height: 75-90 cm (2.5-3 feet), Spread: 60-90 cm (2-3 feet). USDA zones: 5-10.


Many readers will look at these pictures of wide open spaces and be think that grasses are for large gardens only. Not at all!

"Many grasses would indeed overwhelm a small suburban garden, so selecting the right variety is key, " says Karen,"Luckily, there is still a great number from which to choose if scale/space are a concern."

I'd add that a grass is a great substitute for a shrub. I'd consider using an ornamental grass anywhere you might use a shrub. Grasses can have a light, airy appearance (Switchgrass, Calamagrostis is a great example). In a small garden this see-through quality can make a grass seem less big and bulky than a shrub.

Echinacea pallida

Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum

Red Switch Grass, Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' forms an upright clump and has foliage streaked with maroon. Tiny reddish flowers appear in August and are attractive all winter. Trim back to 4 or 5 inches above the ground in spring. Full sun. Non-invasive, clump forming grass. Height: 80-90 cm (31-35 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.

Drought Tolerant Grasses:


Andropogon gerardii

Bouteloua gracilis

Calamagrostis sp.

Festuca glauca

Miscanthus sinensis

Panicum sp.

Schizachyrium scoparium

Sesleria caerulea 

Sporobolus heterolepsis

An old outbuilding and the remains of a barn's foundation in the field below the terrace.

Two grasses set against the foundation of the old barn: Autumn Flame Grass, Miscanthus purpurascens and Blue Lyme Grass, Leymus arenaria.

Blue Lyme Grass, Leymus arenaria has steely, blue-grey foliage and is a spreading grass that needs some control. One of the ways to use it is to put it in a large container. Arching tan spikes appear in the summer. Cut the foliage to the ground in fall or early spring. Very drought tolerant. Full sun. Height: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.


I also asked Karen for a bit of seasonal advice. Here's what she has to say:

"I cut back all my grasses in the spring. With pruners, trim to a brush-cut-like appearance approximately 6 to 8 inches above the ground.  (I prefer to cutback grasses in the springtime because then I can enjoy the movement, colour and texture of the grasses throughout the winter. Also, the grasses provide shelter and seed for wildlife). 

"Grasses with semi ever-green foliage, such as blue fescue and blue oat grass, should be "combed" with a leaf rake in the spring. There is often a skirt of dead foliage lying against the soil with these varieties. This too should be removed."

Astilbe


Hydrangea paniculata 'Grandiflora' or PeeGee Hydrangea, a Spirea (peeking into the foreground on the left), and Japanese Blood Grass,  Imperata cylindrica (on the right)."Thanks to lack of moisture and some robust pruning by the deer, this hydrangea has remained small," Karen says.


I had a wonderful afternoon wandering around the garden at Willow Farm Grasses. And of course I had to bring a little something home with me for my own garden.

If you'd like to visit the nursery and garden, now is one of the best times to do it. The grasses are at their best and autumn color can only make the hills of Grey County all the more spectacular.


More Information:

Willow Farm Grasses
597326 Grey Rd. 29
Bognor, ON

Willow Farm Grasses is a 48 acre hobby farm in the Big Head River Valley. The gardens and nursery are home to 95 varieties of ornamental grasses. Visitors are welcome to wander around the garden, which features perennials and display beds. There are also winding trails that lead to the river. Nursery plants are for sale to the public. Group and bus tours are welcome.

Open: 9am-5pm Friday-Sunday, May 19th to Oct 22nd