Saturday, May 16, 2015

Duff & Donna Evers, Part 3: The Woodland & the Gate of Lost Marbles

Digging, weeding, planting, hefting and hauling loads of compost; gardening is often tough physical work! It's not a hobby you would intuitively think would be suited to someone in late middle life or even older.

If you've been following this series of blog posts, you'll know that now by now that Duff and Donna Evers have a very large garden, but what you may not realize is that they are both gardeners in their seventies. 

If Donna could interject right about now, she'd probably tell you that gardening keeps them fit and young at heart. She might even toss in a lighthearted joke about gardening saving them a fortune on a gym membership.

It may be a lot of physical labor, but gardening is also a passion; a love of plants and nature that both she and Duff share. 

In this, the final post of the series on their garden near Halifax Nova Scotia, we are going to look at the little woodland garden to one side of the house, and to the what Donna refers to as the "gate of lost marbles."

I am going to let Donna tell you the story of this part of the garden in her own words:

"This area started out with a cedar hedge between us and our neighbour. There is a path through the hedge for visiting back and forth, by both people and pets."

"On the edge nearest the lawn we planted a border of rhododendrons. In the area between these plantings, there were native hemlock, maples and poor spruce. Again, we weren't planning to garden in this area. Nature took care of the unsightly spruce, we limbed up the hemlocks and bought more plants. Another garden to fill."

"Now we needed a way in and out of this garden. Duff built arbors leading into the garden at both ends."

Miss Cleo makes a grand entrance.

"There is also an arbor halfway down the garden and an arbor with a series of window frames that runs along a retaining wall. I love the view of the lake through these 'window frames'. The arbors all support clematis or climbing vines. Clematis flammula is a wonderful scented late bloomer."

Anemone sylvestris

Anemone sylvestris has ferny foliage and white flowers in late spring. Anemone sylvestris looks wonderful in combination with Narcissus or tulips. It also helps disguise the bulb's dying foliage. This plant spreads quite readily. Full sun or light shade and moist to wet conditions are preferred. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9

Donna: "Trillium grandiflorum 'Flore Plenum' was a birthday gift from a gardening friend. I hold my breath every spring until it appears. Then there is mandatory viewing for friends, neighbours and even total strangers."

Donna: "Maiden Hair Fern, Adiantum pedatum is a shade lover, pest-free and looks good with everything. What more could you ask?"

Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum has arching black stems and fans of green leaflets. The foliage is great in cut flower arrangements. These ferns like rich, moist soil. You may find that they take several years to reach a mature size. Height: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.

Donna: "Anemonella thalictroides 'Shoaf's Double'. Just being able to let that trip off your tongue makes you a gardener. It blooms for about a month."

Anemonella thalictroides 'Shoaf's Double' is a plant native to woodlands that blooms in spring. It is easily grown in average, well drained soil, but its preference is sandy-humusy soil. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 7-15 cm ( 3-6 inches) USDA Zones 4-8

Primula kisoana alba

Donna on the subject of Primula kisoana alba: "I love the pink form too. They spread by runners, but are not invasive."

Primula Sieboldii

Primula Sieboldii is native to eastern Siberia, Manchuria, Korea and Japan where is grows in open woodlands and damp meadows. Primula Sieboldii likes free draining, soil that is rich in organic matter. Sun to light shade. Height: 15-30 cm (6-12 inches), Spread: 30-38 cm (12-15 inches). USDA Zones 4-9

Candelabra Primrose, Primula japonica is a group of woodland plants with fresh green foliage and a crown of flowers in late spring. They prefer part shade and moist or wet clay soil that is rich in organic matter. Height: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches), Spread: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9

In the background is Brunnera 'Jack Frost' with tiny blue flowers.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' has heart-shaped, silver colored leaves that are veined in a bright green. Sprays of blue flowers, which closely resemble forget-me-nots, appear in mid-spring. 'Jack Frost' can take more sun that many other types of Brunnera, but it prefers afternoon shade particularly in hotter gardening zones. Average garden soil is fine, but 'Jack Frost' likes moist conditions. Height: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm ( 12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.

There is a nice collection of rhododendrons and magnolias in this area of the garden.

Donna: "Magnolia Susan is one of "the girls" from the US National Arboretum. I like it because the blossoms open over several weeks and you always have a combination of dark buds and paler open flowers."

Donna's photo of Magnolia sieboldii 

"It would be difficult to pick a favourite magnolia. Magnolia 'Butterflies' has wonderful upright foliage. Magnolia sieboldii (shown above) is vase-shaped and suitable for a smaller garden. The outward facing blossoms are white with purple centres. In the fall, it has showy red seed pods."

Donna's photo of Magnolia 'Helen'

"We were given a collection of magnolia seedlings, started by a friend with seed crosses from the American Magnolia Society. These seedlings, which are now trees, caused great excitement when they first bloomed. The best of the lot is one we have named Magnolia 'Helen' after our friend's mother. It has caused a stir in the magnolia world. I think our friend would dig it up and take it home of the darn thing wasn't so big. He is working very hard at propagating this beauty."

"This area slopes to what was once an ugly divergent ditch, but is now my favourite spring tonic. Siberian iris, Skunk cabbage and native Interrupted fern fill in later. Right spot, right plant. Over the bridge behind "The gate of Lost Marbles" (no need to ask who has lost their marbles) is a compost area".

"We lifted the idea for the Gate of Lost Marbles right off the internet. The marbles really shine in February on a fresh fall of snow- a bonus we didn't expect. 

"The gate and the fence is covered with a grape vine that does double duty. It hides the compost bins and gives us wonderful grape jelly. A holding bed and a makeshift cold frame are also tucked behind the gate. A Red Haven Peach tree and Rhododendron schlippenbachii have somewhat elevated the status of this necessary, but unsightly part of the garden."

And so we arrive at the end of this three part series.

What a pleasure it has been to work with Donna Evers to put these posts together. She has put up with endless questions and has always replied to my emails with patience, warmth and a wonderful sense of humour.

Thank you Donna from the bottom of my heart!

To Canadian readers, Happy Victoria Day long weekend!
And to all other friends, have a wonderful weekend!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tree Peonies

What is it that focuses your attention on the gentle curves of a white flower? Is it the lack of colour that accentuates the shape and the translucence of a white petals? 

Whatever the reason, there is something magical about the soft lines of a white peony in flower. 

Years ago I saw the most exquisite white Tree Peony at the Royal Botanical Garden in Hamilton and I promised myself that, if I ever saw a similar peony for sale, I would buy it on the spot. 

By chance, I finally came across a single white Tree Peony last week. Fall is actually the best time to buy and plant any type of peony, but I was so taken with this beauty, I decided to overlook the season and the considerable expense (almost $50), and purchase it.

Fresh growth on my Tree Peony is carried on stems that are a soft magenta color.

Newly emerging green foliage is edged with a deep rose colour.

I have lots of experience growing herbaceous peonies, but none with Tree Peonies. Some research was therefore in order. I gave my peony a drink and left it on a garden bench in the sun, while I went inside to look up some basic facts.

I grabbed a coffee and sat down to read the plant tag as the first order of business. The first words on the label were a warning:

Before you plant
If you don't have a chance to plant your peony immediately after you purchase it, make sure it is in a lightly shaded spot out of the sun's direct rays while it waits to find a home in your garden. Don't allow it to dry out. Keep the soil in the pot moist.

Oops! I ran out to rescue my peony from the sunny bench where I had left it.

Tree Peonies are actually woody shrub. 

They come in colours beyond white: pink, red, coral, purple, yellow and blends of different colours. 

Tree Peonies grow slowly. It may take 5-10 years for them to reach their mature size.

Choosing a Site
Peonies of all types dislike being moved. Choosing the right spot for my new peony therefore required some careful consideration. Too much sun and the flower petals might fade. Too much shade and the peony would have weak, slow growth. Peonies also like some protection from the wind. 

And on top of all that, you need to keep in mind that a Tree Peony will require lots of room to grow. They can reach 4-7 feet in height and 4-5 feet wide! An ideal spot would be a sheltered location with morning sun and a little bit of dappled shade during the hottest hours of the day. 

Hmm.... where in my garden was there morning sun and light afternoon shade?

When best to plant a Tree Peony
The best time to plant any type of Peony is in the fall, but nurseries, like the one where I bought mine, often sell them in the spring.

Planting Preparations
Planting depths vary depending on the root type. Grafted tree peonies should be planted so that the graft is four to six inches below the soil.Tree peonies grown on their own roots should be planted so that the point at which the stems emerge from the root is 2" below the surface of the soil. Tree Peonies in a pot, like the one I bought, should be planted so that the soil in the planting hole is level with the soil in the pot. 

Planting a Potted Tree Peony:
Tree Peonies tolerate a variety of soil conditions, but prefer a neutral to slightly alkaline soil with good drainage. You should dig a planting hole that is a least twice the size of the pot in width and depth. Place some dirt back in the bottom of the hole. This will allow your peony's roots to grow out into loose soil. Take your peony out of its pot and place it in the planting hole. It is recommended to amend your planting soil with some compost and a handful of bone meal. Back fill level to the pot's soil. Mulch the plant to help keep down weeds and to allow your peony to retain moisture. Water well.

Once established Peonies are pretty drought tolerant, but during the first growing season it is important not to let your peony get too dry. When you notice your new Tree Peony could use some moisture, water it deeply. Try to avoid getting water on the foliage as it will encourage fungus.

Ongoing Maintenance
You can expect your Tree Peony to take 2 or even 3 years to settle in and bloom profusely. Remember these woody shrubs may take as long as 5 to 10 years to reach their full size. If this seems like a long time to wait, take comfort in the fact that peonies can live for 100 years or more

Try to avoid moving a peony as the plant will grow slowly while the roots reestablish themselves. If you must move a Tree Peony, move it in the fall

Begin at least 18" from the base of your peony, and work in a circle, loosening the soil with a large garden fork. Lift and secure the root ball with a piece of burlap. Cut off any remaining leaves, being careful not to cut any of the woody stems which will be responsible for next year's flowers. Move the peony to its new location, remove the burlap and replant your peony. Water well. 

Unfortunately it make take several years for the peony to recover.

Peonies don't need to be coddled, but they do benefit from regular applications of fertilizer and a top dressing of mulch. Mulch not only also serves to retain soil moisture, it helps to protect your peony through the winter.

In doing my research, I found a recommendations that, beginning in early spring of a peony's second year, it is a good idea to apply a fertilizer high in potash to encourage flowers to develop. A second and third application of a complete or organic fertilizer should be added after your peony finishes blooming and in mid to late fall. 
I think I will adopt this routine for all my peonies.

Prune a Tree Peony in early spring just as the buds are swelling. Begin by removing any dead wood. Prune back to a live bud or just above ground level. Here is a handy link to a video on pruning a Tree Peony:

Pests and Diseases
Good news! Deer and rabbits won't nibble on a Tree Peony. The only problem you might encounter is peony wilt or Botrytis, which appears in early spring just before Tree Peonies flower. If any stems collapse or spots appear on the leaves, remove them to help stop the spread of the infection. Fungal spores can over winter on old foliage, so a fall cleanup of all old peony foliage is an important practice to adopt.

If I pick the right site and take good care of it, my Tree Peony should well outlive me.  And I should be able to look forward to years and years of beautiful white flowers.

And the Winner is....

From my post on great new gardening books, I have a draw for a copy of Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time. 

Entries from the blog post and from the Three Dogs in a Garden Facebook page were all thrown into my little floral draw box. Hubby pulled out the winning name.

And the winner is....

Cheryl McMillian who entered the draw using Facebook. Cheryl I need to get your home address so I can get that book off to you in the mail! You can reach me at

I am still looking to get hold of Bonnie who won the draw for Grow Gardeners. If I am still unable to contact her, I will do a new draw from the remaining entrants.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

An Intrepid Plantswoman & Primula Hunter

Primula secundiflora (pink) and Primula sikkimensis (yellow)
Photograph by Pam Eveleigh 

Most people who have a passion for a special plant might start a small collection in their home gardens, but Pam Eveleigh's interest in the both the genus Primula and other alpine plants has lead her on journeys to exotic destinations like China and Tibet. 

"There are always interesting things to discover when looking at plants in the wild, new variations or even a new species," Pam tells me,"Finding a hybrid swarm of plants in the Sikkimensis Section in Tibet, along with at least one hybrid parent, was exciting. We also found Primula agleniana, a magnificent species with large flowers and interesting spear shaped leaves, by chance, when we managed to get up a side valley near Mt. Namcha Barwa (7,782m)."

When I happened upon Pam's website, Primula World, a reference on the genus primula for which she is known internationally, I was immediately intrigued by the gallery of primula images from such far flung locations. For whatever reason, I had always thought of Primulas primarily as an English cottage garden plant.

Photograph by Pam Eveleigh 

Primula vulgaris is in fact native to the UK, as well as a large part of Europe. It ranges as far north as Norway and as far east as the Caucaus Mountains, but Primula species native to Europe account for only a small percentage of the world's Primulas.

Pam:"There is a handful of European and North American species and a few outliers around Russia and Egypt, but 80% of all Primula species are found in the Sino-Himalayan area. Essentially they are Himalayan alpine plants. In total, there are about 350-400 recognized species depending on what authority you follow."

Making a study of Primulas in the wild, made travel to Europe and Asia necessary for this resident of Calgary, Alberta. 

Pam: "I am interested in the characteristics that distinguish between Primula species and the variations a species exhibits. I enjoy documenting this through images, and since we have very few species near Calgary, I must travel to do this. I am also interested in other alpine plants, so to go to places that are plant species rich is always exciting."

In 2007, Pam journeyed with a small group of like-minded primula enthusiasts to Tibet. 

Travelling by jeep, the small party followed the main highway from Shangri-La (previously known as Zhongdian) to Yunnan and on to Lhasa, with a side trip to an area southeast of Lhasa. (Map of the journey here.)

Primula cawdoriana
Photograph by Pam Eveleigh 

Pam: "We were very lucky to spot Primula cawdoriana growing on the cliffs beside the road. This species had long, deep purple-blue fringed flowers, lightly dusted with farina (a white powder). They grow right in the moss which covers the rocks, so they have plenty of moisture, but are well drained. 

Primula littledalei
Photograph by Pam Eveleigh 

"We also saw Primula littledalei which grows in quartz sand beneath overhanging rocks. These Primula only get moisture that wicks into the soil, not from directly overhead. The flowers are a beautiful delicate pink and the leaves are round, coated with farina giving the plants a tidy appearance."

Mountain in Sichuan
Photograph by Pam Eveleigh 

In 2009 and 2014 Pam visited the Yunnan and  Sichuan provinces in China. 

The Yunnan/Sichuan area is considered to be the centre of diversity for the genus Primula (see Pam's map for the 2009 trip and the map for 2014 trip).

Photograph by Pam Eveleigh 

Photo Collage by Pam Eveleigh 

Pam: "We were able to visit Muli, a semi-autonomous region within Sichuan, and see Primula vialii in the wild (shown in the collage above on the bottom left)." 

"Even though this species is common in cultivation, it is rare in the wild. I was also thrilled to see Primula faberi, an unusual wet meadow species with lovely yellow bell flowers (shown in the collage's upper right corner)."

Primula membranifolia from Yunnan

"In 2014, our focus was the Bullate Section species, but we happened to also find the areas where other species were first collected including Primula malvacea, Primula poissonii and Primula pulchella. "

"Using historical expedition information, we were also able to successfully find and photograph Primula ambita for the first time." 

This collage of images from Pam's European travels includes pictures of Primula veris (TR) on the top right, Primula marginata (LL) on the bottom left.

Pam's search for Primulas has also taken her to France, Italy and Austria. In 2011, she began a trip that started in Northern Italy and ended in Imst, Austria. The focus of this trip was a search for Primula recubariensis and Primula albenensis.

Pam: "In 2012, I joined John Richards (author of the book "Primula") and his wife Sheila for a trip to France and Italy. The primary reason was to look for Primula allionii, a species which is endemic to Maritime Alps. It was very late in the season for Primula allionii, as it blooms very early, but we did manage to find it still in flower near Trinita, Italy."

Photograph by Pam Eveleigh 

Like so many world travellers, Pam's garden at home in Calgary has been inspired by her travels abroad. Not surprisingly then, alpines and primula feature largely among her collection of herbaceous plants. I have to confess that I was surprised to learn that Primulas faired well in Pam's garden despite Calgary's weather extremes.

Pam: "Depending on the species, plants can take the cold temperatures of Calgary, even though our snow cover isn't reliable."

Primula allionii 

So what conditions do Primula's prefer, I wanted to know?

Pam:"Often Primulas are meadow plants that bloom in full sun in the spring before the other meadow plants grow tall. The taller plants help to shade Primula plants in the late summer, though the primula seeds are held in capsules on elongated stems that rise above other foliage to ripen in the sun. These meadows are wet in spring (though not stagnant), but tend to dry out in summer."

"Often people assume that they need to grow Primula in shade, but though there are many forest species that do like shade, most like the combination of wet and sun, rather than wet and shade. Shady places tend to be the moist part of our gardens, so that is why primulas do better there than in other parts of the garden."

Primula aureta
Photograph by Terry Mitchell

I asked Pam if she has a favourite Primula

"I have lots of favourite species!" she says, "Mostly I am attracted to the unusual ones, which are often difficult to grow, if they are even obtainable.

"My current favourite changes as I study different species. Primula aureta from Nepal has probably been on my list for a long time, as has been Primula kingii from Bhutan/Tibet."

Primula kingii
Picture by Margaret Thorne

Here in Ontario, my local nursery has maybe ten of the most commonly available cultivars of Primula on offer for home gardeners. I asked Pam why, when there were so many species of Primula, were there are so few cultivars available for purchase.

Pam: "Nurseries will carry what sells and depend on local suppliers. Specialist nurseries are more willing to propagate species to be able to keep supplying them, and to take chances on growing species from a small batch of seeds. They are a better bet for finding different Primulas to grow, but if you want to expand your Primula species collection, it is best to grow them yourself from seed."

Pam in a field of Primula fasiculata

Generally one doesn't associate gardening with adventure, but Pam proves that gardening can be as exciting as you chose to make it. And as someone recently reminded me, what you get out of gardening depends on what you bring to it.

Many thanks to Pam for sharing her photographs and the story of her travels.

More information and Links:

About Pam:
Pam Eveleigh is the founding member of the Calgary Rock and Alpine Garden Society (CRAGS). She is internationally known for her website: Pam is an avid hiker and photographer with a considerable knowledge of native flora.

Primula World was created by Pam Eveleigh in 2000. At the core of the website is a Species Gallery which contains several thousand images of Primula species, as well as relevant links to herbarium specimens and notes. The homepage blog includes Primula references and bits of information on different primula species. Click here for a link to the Primula World home page

Handy links to Primula World References:
• Primula Growing tips
Flower parts & features with photographs and a diagram
• How to grow primulas from seed
Propagation from leaves
• How to hand pollinate a primula