Saturday, September 17, 2016


Garlic chives blooming in fall.

Right now there isn't a whole lot blooming in my small herb garden, but the garlic chives are making up for any lack of blooms and are flowering handsomely.

Bees seem to love the little white stars. There always seems to be at least one on the flowers in the company of a few little black ants. The long tapered leaves of garlic chives are broader than regular chives and the blooms are much larger. Their taste is oniony with a hint of garlic.

This year I switched from common chives to 'Profusion' chives (which I got from Richters, a Canadian nursery and mail order company that specializes in herbs). The mauve flowers are sterile and do not set seed. In the past, I've had to cut my chives back hard after they flower to to rejuvenate the foliage and to prevent them from seeding everywhere. Profusion Chives seem to stay small and compact throughout the growing season. Simply remove the faded flowers and you're good to go.

The Toronto Botanical Gardens. 
They weren't marked, but I think these are Allium 'Giganteum'.

As well as these edible members of the onion family, there are ornamental alliums as well. This June I was lucky enough to visit the Toronto Botanical Gardens when the alliums were in flower.

The Toronto Botanical Gardens

The Toronto Botanical Gardens

Allium christophii 

Allium christophii up close and personal.

The Toronto Botanical Gardens

I was particularly struck by the fact that the alliums had been grouped into small clusters. The effect was soft and cloud-like. 

Private garden Mississauga, Ontario

Of course you don't need a large garden to group your allium bulbs. I thought they looked wonderful in this much smaller garden that I visited in last May (visit this garden here).

Myself, I've always had a tendency to dot them around the garden with other flowering bulbs just as you see here:

Private garden, Toronto Ontario

Old unknown variety

I've primarily shown the tall round balls, that one usually associates with ornamental onions, but there are many colors, shapes and sizes available. For instance there are shorter, bushier alliums as well (see above).

Nodding Wild Onion, Allium cernuum

The colors range from white, pink, yellow, mauve, purple and burgundy. As well as the rounded flowers typically associated with the tall ornamentals, there are more oval shaped blooms and floral fireworks of the kind you see here.

Joe's Garden, Brampton, Ontario

When flowers are finished, Alliums turn into magic wands. The decorative seed heads add a nice architectural element to any flower bed.

Millenium seedheads

You do have to keep a watchful eye on the magic hidden in those wands. Alliums can be prolific self-seeders!

Alliums beginning to open in a Toronto, Ontario garden

If you haven't done so already, fall is the time of year to order and plant allium bulbs. With all the inspiration I found this summer, I'd like to take better advantage of the wide range of colors, shapes and sizes these members of the onion family offer. So I called in the advice of an expert.

Pam Dangelmaier is co-owner and manager of Botanus, a mail-order bulb and plant company located in Langley, British Columbia. It's hard to choose from the nice variety of allium bulbs Botanus has on offer in this fall's catalogue. I had to begin my questions by asking Pam if she has a personal favourite.

"I love Allium sphaerocephalon," Pam says, "Not only is the deep burgundy color enticing, it is also a literal 'bee-magnet'. As a bee keeper, I am always looking for easy to grow plants that the bees love and this one ticks all the boxes."

Allium 'Millenium' blooms in mid to late summer. Look for this allium at your favourite nursery.

Alliums that flower in late spring pick up where tulips leave off and bridge the gap nicely between spring bulbs and early summer perennials, but there are some alliums that bloom in the summer as well. 

I asked Pam for some advice as to how best to use alliums throughout the full gardening season. Here's her suggestion:

"Allium 'Ivory Queen' is a nice dwarf variety that blooms in early summer. Follow these up with a gorgeous display of Allium bulgaricum and Allium giganteum. Allium 'Millenium' produces large chive-like blooms in mid to late summer that make great additions to cut flower bouquets. All are easy to grow and maintain and look fantastic in any garden (or container)."

Allium 'Ivory Queen' (left) has creamy white globes on stems that are about 4" tall making it a great option for underplanting taller varieties. Bloom time: Mid-spring. Full sun/partshade. Planting depth: 10 cm (4 inches), Height: 10 cm (4 inches), Spacing: 10 cm (4 inches). Other attributes: Bee-friendly, fragrant, makes a good cut flower, drought tolerant and deer-resistant. USDA zones: 5-9.

Allium 'Giganteum' (right) has mauve-purple flowers is one of the tallest alliums available. It requires full sun and well-drained soil. Bloom time: Late spring.  Planting depth: 20 cm (8 inches), Height: 100 cm (40 inches), Spacing: 30 cm (12 inches). Other attributes: Bee-friendly, fragrant, makes a good cut flower, drought tolerant and deer-resistant. USDA zones: 6-9.

Allium bulgaricum

Allium bulgaricum  has fragrant pink bell-shaped flowers that hang in downward curving umbell. Bloom time: Late spring. Planting depth: 10 cm (4 inches), Height: 90 cm (36 inches), Spacing: 10 cm (4 inches). Other attributes: Bee-friendly, good cut flower, drought tolerant and deer-resistant. USDA zones:6-9.

Allium 'Millenium' has compact, upright foliage and mauve flowers. Bloom time: Mid to late summer. Full sun. Look for this allium next spring at your favourite nursery. Height: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches), Spacing: 25 cm (10 inches). Other attributes: Attractive to bees and butterflies, drought tolerant and deer-resistant. USDA zones: 5-9.

Alliums planted in among some hostas.

As well as being great self-seeders, tall ornamental Alliums do have one other drawback: their foliage can be somewhat untidy looking especially as they begin to go dormant. I asked Pam if she had any suggestions for hiding this less than appealing attribute:

"It's true, the foliage is usually not very attractive and actually begins to yellow and fade before the flower heads bloom. A great 'trick' is to plant them in amongst low growing perennials and ground covers such as hostas, grasses and hardy geraniums."

A white allium in my garden.

Once you've got your alliums selected, there is only one more issue: where to plant them and with what?

The where is easy: alliums like full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.

Allium 'Purple Sensation' and Euphorbia polychroma in my garden.

The other partners are Euphorbia 'First Blush' (variegated in the middle foreground) with Euphorbia 'Bonfire' which is to the middle left.

One plant combination I have in my own garden is to mix Allium 'Purple Sensation' with a trio of Euphorbias. The three Euphorbias are nestled together at a corner I pass frequently.

Purple alliums mixed with pink Columbine is another pretty combination.

Eryngium (Sea Holly)

I asked Pam if she had any suggestions for plant combinations as well:

"One combination I love is Allium sphaerocephalon with Eryngium (Sea Holly). The burgundy and the blue look awesome together! I also think taller growing alliums such as 'Purple Sensation' and 'Mount Everest' pair nicely with hostas and perennial grasses."

Many thanks to Pam for taking a moment to answer all my questions at a very busy time of year. I hope you have found some inspiration to start your fall bulb planting!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. 
I benefit in no way from any purchase you might make from Botanus.

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Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Sounds of Summer

In her latest post, Jean Godawa writes about cicadas, whose mating call is one of the sounds we  so closely associate with summer.

Labour Day has passed, signalling, for many, the end of summer. But the cicadas in the maple tree outside my window clearly don't follow the same calendar that I do. These insects that are usually associated with the dog days of summer, are still loudly buzzing away.

Cicadas are large, wide-bodied members of the true bug order Hemiptera, growing up to 5 cms (2 inches) long. The most common species in my area, the dog day cicadas (Neotibicen canicularis), certainly live up to their name, being active during the sultry days of July and August.

Despite their size, you are more likely to hear these large creatures than to see them; they spend  most of their short adult lives high in the trees.

Using abdominal muscles and drum-like membranes called tymbals, male cicadas make noise to attract females for mating. The sound can be heard more than a kilometer away and can reach up to 120 decibels; that's louder than the sound produced by a motorcycle or power saw.

After mating, female cicadas lay eggs in small branches that die off and fall to the ground. The immature cicadas (nymphs) burrow into the ground and feed on plant roots for at least 2 to 5 years. We hear these loud insects every summer but the documented broods (numbered I through XIV) have predictable, staggered cycles, some as long as 17 years depending on the species.

Periodical cicadas (Magicicada spp.) have life spans of either 13 or 17 years. They are easily distinguished from other cicada species by their red eyes and reddish wing veins. Brood V emerged this year in the northeastern U.S. and the offspring of this brood won't be seen or heard until 2033. Brood VI will emerge next year in Georgia and the Carolinas. No data is available for the presence of periodical cicadas in Canada, while dog day cicadas, with much shorter life spans, are quite common in Ontario and Quebec.

Carolina locust (Dissosteira carolina)

Periodical cicadas have mistakenly been called 17 year locusts but are completely different from actual locusts, also known as grasshoppers (Orthoptera).

Large groups of cicada nymphs can cause serious damage to young tree roots and in an emerging year, thousands, if not millions of adults laying eggs can damage tree branches. In general though, cicadas are not considered an economically important pest, nor are they dangerous to humans.

When mature, cicada nymphs crawl out of the ground and onto tree trunks where they latch on and molt their exoskeleton to become winged adults.

You can often find these abandoned "shells", or exuviae, in early or mid-July on the ground or at the base of trees. You can see from these, the large, strong front legs that nymphs use to dig through the soil.

Adult cicadas use a straw shaped mouth to siphon sap from trees but they don't eat much and only live for a few weeks as adults, dying off with the summer.

While cicadas may munch on tree roots in our yards, some people advocate using large groups of cicadas to our advantage. They are, according to some scientists, a logical food choice for humans, since they belong to the same group of animals (Arthropods) as shrimp and lobsters. I admit that, in the interest of scientific curiosity, I have eaten insects. Most had kind of a nutty flavour. But I would much rather listen to the cicada song than have one for a snack. As long as I can hear them buzzing, I can be assured that summer is definitely not over yet.

About Jean GodawaJean is a science teacher and writer. She has been writing science-related articles for print and online publications for more than ten years. Jean holds a degree in biology and environmental science with a focus on entomology from the University of Toronto. She had conducted field research in the tropical rainforests of Asia and South America.

Many thanks again to photographer Ken Sproule and the wonderful people at for curating such an extensive catalogue of insect photographs.

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Coming through a Drought: the loses, the surprises, and the things I learned

Here we are in early September. It is 30+ degrees today and it hasn't rained in over a week. Normally the heat and the lack of rainfall might not be so bad, but most of the spring and pretty much all of the summer has been hot and dry, dry, dry!

Usually I have to do some watering each August, which tends to be dry month, but this summer I have had to water for most of the late spring and summer.

The front garden minus the picket fence which is still patiently waiting to be painted. To tell the truth, the garden looks a bit messy without the fence to provide a backdrop.

Standing tall, with pale pink flowers and a red eye, is a Rose of Sharon. The warm blue spires are an Agastache 'Blue Fortune'. Below it, with tiny blue flowers, is a Calamintha.

Rose of Sharon with Calamintha below it.

 In the middle distance is a white Potentilla (read more about this shrub here). In the far distance is Switch Grass, Panicum virgatum 'Northwind'.

The window box just inside the back gate needs watering daily.

A hazy view of the back garden.

One of my favourite containers and a snail I got at the Dollar Store.

Another hazy view of my four raised beds (hidden under foliage) and two of the dogs.

Scrap with Piper in behind.

This watering can which I planted up in this post has held up fairly well.

Phlox paniculata 'Pixie Miracle Grace' is a nice dwarf variety of Phlox.

The circular garden at the back of the yard.

Sedum lining the walkway into the centre of the circle garden.

Sedum Matrona and Rudbeckia

I try to water deeply rather than frequently. I reason that nature doesn't provide rainwater everyday, so why should I?

Usually I start early in the morning at the very back of the yard and shift the sprinkler around the garden over a period of several hours. This means dragging a hose out a little over 100 ft to reach the very back of the yard. Thank goodness the front garden is fairly small in comparison!

But despite my efforts to keep the garden green, there has been losses. Just look at my poor Ostrich Ferns! Generally speaking, ferns throughout the garden have suffered.

 But despite appearances, there is still some hope for effected plants...

Phlox paniculata 'David's Lavender'

The hose doesn't easily reach this particular Phlox. This is how it looked in better days and here is what it looked like at the beginning of August:

Phlox paniculata 'David's Lavender'

I was worried I had lost it. Amazingly enough, the roots held on to wait until we had a little rain mid-August.

Phlox paniculata 'David's Lavender' on the left and Phlox paniculata 'David'

And now there is fresh growth (see picture on the left). It seems the growth above ground was sacrificed to keep the roots below ground alive.

One odd thing: the white phlox that you see pictured on the right is adjacent to the one that nearly died. The white phlox is doing well and is even blooming. Adding to the mystery is the fact that the two phlox are cousins: Phlox 'David's Lavender' and Phlox 'David'.

There have been a few surprises as well. A trio of slow-to-establish, early spring bloomers: Gas Plant (Dictamnus fraxinella), False Indigo (Baptisia) and Blue Star (Amsonia) haven't had a bit of extra water and they have come through the drought like real troopers.


Another surprise is that some varieties of a plant have faired far better than others. All Astilbe like soil conditions to be on the most side, but some cultivars appear to fair better in a drought than others.

Usually I struggle to get any of my Astilbes through the driest part of a summer. I was thinking of giving up on Astilbe altogether, but recently I added several cultivars with larger, lighter green leaves and they are surprisingly okay.

A more healthy Ligularia 'Britt Marie Crawford' (on the middle-right) 
in Chen's garden in Milton, Ontario

This discrepancy is also true of my two Ligularia. Again, all Ligularia like moist soil, but one variety is doing okay while the other has all but disappeared. The darker Ligularia 'Britt Marie Crawford' is still rather sad, but it has faired much better.

The lesson I take away is that not all cultivars are created equal when it comes to drought. Don't write-off growing a certain type of plant until you have tried a few different varieties.

Here is a list of perennials that have really suffered:

• Astilbe (all the darker-leafed varieties have all but disappeared)  
• Betony (has looked woeful unless watered regularly)
• Japanese Ferns (have all died back, but are recovering)
• Ostrich Ferns
• Peonies (often look wilted)                                
• Daylily ( are more sparse than usual)
• Primrose (looked sad most of the summer)
• Phlox (wilted or dead looking unless watered)
• Joe Pye Weed (half its normal height)
• Parsley (very poor harvest)
• Japanese Forest Grass (sad)
• Sweet Cicely
• Hellebores
• Primroses
• Hostas in too much sun

Here is a list of plants that have done fine:

• Euphorbia
• Baptisia
• Dainthus
• Monarda
• Agastache
• Gas Plant
• Blue Star
• Ornamental grasses
• Turtle Head
• Goat's Beard
• Meadow Rue
• Iron weed
• Yarrow
• Sedum

You may remember how I planted up this strawberry hanging basket. Despite regular waterings it couldn't take the dry weather. So moved it to a new spot were it gets morning sun and light afternoon shade. It's recovered beautifully.

The lesson I take away here is to move (if possible) a plant struggling in drought to a spot that offers some relief from the sun's hottest and most drying rays.

Freshly watered birdbath planter (how to here).

Overall this summer has been a bit of a harsh reality check. Sadly, global warming is upon us! I am now thinking that there are some plants that I am not going to be able to grow.

This breaks my heart a little bit because, I have always loved interesting and unusual plants. If I plant likes more moisture than my small part of Southern Ontario affords, I have always been willing to do a little coddling just for pleasure of having a few special things in my garden. With the garden as a whole now requiring regular watering, I am questioning how practical it is to continue to have plants that don't fit with the new reality.

Who wants to be faced with an unhappy looking plant? Surely it is better to work with the existing environmental conditions than to fight them.

I just hope we all get smarter, so global warming doesn't get any worse!

More Information and Links:

A Few Water Wise Tips:

• Water in the early morning when temperatures are cooler and the sun is lower in the sky for less water evaporation.

• If you improve your soil with compost, the organic matter will slow down the movement of rainwater through the soil allowing plants to get what they need.

• Mulch also helps to slow moisture loss from the surface of the soil.

• Keep weeds at bay. You don't want your garden plants competing with weeds for moisture!

• If you can afford it, a drip irrigation systems will deliver water right to the soil. Much of the water from a traditional sprinkler system evaporates into the air.

• Think about collecting rainwater in a water barrel.

• Group plants that like moist conditions together to make watering faster and easier.

• Healthy plants require less waster! Feed the soil with compost, well-rotted manure or leaf mould for happier, healthier plants.

• It is making more and more sense to choose drought tolerant perennials and shrubs. Plants that are native to your area are also a good option as they are adapted to your region's climate conditions and soil.