Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sowing Seeds in Summer

This is not my white picket fence, but I wish it was!

How pretty are these hollyhocks?

I've tried a few times to grow Hollyhocks from nursery-bought seedlings, but they have never done well. Who knows what's gone wrong? Perhaps it as simple as not having found the perfect spot for them to be happy and prosper. I haven't given up just yet. There is something about failure that brings out the stubborn in me.

I spotted this pretty display of tall, statuesque Hollyhocks when we drove through Uxbridge, Ontario recently. They have given me fresh inspiration to try, try again. This time I am going to grow my hollyhocks from seed. The single form of the flower are said to be more resistant to rust, so those are the seeds I am going to try growing.

Generally we think of spring as the time for sowing seeds, but I have found that summer is the perfect time for starting a range of flowers including. 

Foxgloves are a good example. They're a biennial flower that produce a rosette of green leaves the first summer and tall, stately flowers the following spring. Then they set seed and finish out their life cycle. 

Foxgloves grow naturally on the edge of woodlands, so the conditions they like best are part-shade and rich, well-drained soil. 

Foxglove in my herb garden.

Growing Foxgloves from Seed:

You can find Foxglove plants growing in pots at your local nursery, but the most cost effective way to grow them is from seed. Start Foxglove seeds from mid-May to as late as mid-July. Usually I sow them sometime in July in a small nursery bed. Then in late summer/early fall I move the young seedlings into their final positions in the main garden.

It always amazes me that tiny foxglove seeds produce such large flowers. The seeds are as fine as a grain of sand! If you are sowing your seeds in the garden, begin by turning your soil over and adding some compost. Rake it even. 

Foxglove seeds need light to germinate, so don't bury them! Instead scatter the seed as evenly as you can over the surface of the soil. Gently rake the seeds in making sure not to cover them. Finally water them with a very, very gentle spray. Be patient. Foxglove seeds will take 20-30 days to germinate.

Thin your seedlings as you would a vegetable crop. You'll have less Foxgloves, but they will be larger and stronger plants. In the second year, your Foxgloves will produce flowers, and trust me, they are well worth the wait! 

One caution: Foxgloves are poisonous, so if you have pets that like to nibble in the garden, growing foxgloves is probably not a good idea. (Read more about poisonous plants here.)

Growing Canterbury Bells from Seed:

Canterbury Bells are another biennial that I have successfully grown from seed. They like full sun with light afternoon shade and moist, well-drained soil. 

Sow them in late spring or early in summer (get started right away if you want to plant them this year). Like foxgloves, they need light to germinate, so sow them on the surface of the soil. Keep the soil moist until they germinate 14-21 days later. In the first year, they grow a rosette of leaves and in the following summer, they produce the pretty bells you see here. 

Canterbury Bells grow about 18-36 inches tall. The flowers range in color from pink to white to purple.

Growing Sweet William from Seed from Seed:

Sweet William is a biennial I've admired in other gardens, but haven't grown them myself from seed. I must see if I can remedy that this summer. They like sun, and rich, well-drained soil. (Note: There are also perennial forms of Sweet William as well.)

As with Foxgloves and Canterbury Bells, sow biennial Sweet William in the spring or summer if you want flowers the following year. Prepare the ground by adding some compost and then sow the seeds on the surface of the soil. Cover lightly with soil (about 1/8 inch) and gently give them a good soak. Seeds should take 10-14 days to germinate. If you want to transplant your seedlings, do it in early fall.

Sweet William bloom in late spring/early summer. Colors include white, pink, maroon, purple and bi-colors. The plant grows a low mound of green leaves with flowers on tall, upright stems. In flower they reach a height of about 12-14". 

Hollyhocks at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, ON

Hollyhocks are actually a short-lived perennial, but they act as a biennial. They grow leaves the first year and flower in the second. On average hollyhocks live for two years, but if you deadhead the flowers, the plant may store enough energy to last as long as three years. Cutting them back to the ground in the fall and mulching around the crown may also help extend their life.

Some varieties grow 2'-3', while others can reach a height of as much as 6'. Hollyhocks come in an array of colors that include white, pink, yellow, red, maroon and black. As well as the classic single form that I have shown here, the flowers come in many petaled forms as well.

Hollyhocks at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, ON

How to Plant Hollyhocks Outdoors:

Hollyhocks need full sun and moist, rich well-drained soil. Begin by preparing the planting area by adding some compost or aged animal manure to improve your soil. 

Hollyhocks have large round seeds that should be planted just below the surface of the soil (about 1/4 inch). This best mimics their habit of self-seeding by dropping their seeds to the ground. Keep the soil moist to encourage the seeds to germinate, which usually occurs in 1-2 weeks

Hollyhocks naturally re-seed themselves in the late summer, so I figure that would be the best time to think about planting my seeds. From everything I have read, Hollyhock seedlings don't like to be moved, so I plan to sow them directly along my picket fence. 

Trail garden at the university of Guelph.
Pests & Diseases:

The bad news is that hollyhocks can fall pray to a number of insect pests including Japanese Beetles, sawflies and spider mites.

Hollyhocks are also susceptible to rust and powdery mildew. Usually fungal problems first appear on lower leaves and spreads upward. To avoid issues with rust, plant hollyhocks in an open spot that offers good air circulation. It is also a good idea to avoid splashing the leaves, so water them at ground level.

Lupins in my back garden.

I should also mention that summer is a good time to think about collecting seeds.

The Lupins in my garden have set seed, so I also hope to gather and sow them into a new position in the front garden. Like Hollyhocks, Lupins are a short-lived perennial. I have a feeling the flower would be fuller and more generous if I had moist conditions, but I am happy enough just to have them in my dry garden.

Lupins need a period of cold which mimics winter to germinate. I'll prepare an area in the front garden and sow them sometime in August.

Wish we luck with my latest attempt at growing Hollyhocks! 
(If you've had more success than I have, I'd love to hear any of your tips and tricks!)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

You Love Joe's Garden!

The problem with garden profiles, that you often see in magazines or on garden blogs like this one, is that they capture a garden at single point in time. But gardens are not static things. They change constantly. So in a series of posts that I'll show you over the course of the summer, I have gone back and revisited some of the gardens I photographed previously in the late spring. The hope is to give you a better sense of a garden's evolution over the course of a growing season.

Of all the gardens I have ever featured on this blog, Joe's garden is by far one of the most popular. Based on page views and pins, you love Joe's garden! 

'John Davis' Explorer Rose in June
Early July

In June, Joe's garden is filled with roses. (To get a more complete picture, you can see Joe's June garden here. You can see the garden in early July here.)

In July, the roses begin to rest through the hot, dry days of mid-summer and a wide assortment of perennials take over where the roses have left off. Here is a island flowerbed from the front of the house in late July:

1. Phlox paniculata 'Pink Flame and 'Peppermint Twist' 2. Heuchera  3. Brunnera 'Jack Frost'  4. Pulmonaria  5. Sedum  6. Variegated Phlox  7. Annual Candytuft  8. Hosta

Early July
Echinacea in Late July.
Late July

As well as the flowers, foliage is key factor in the success of any of Joe's plantings. In the background of this picture, the spiky foliage of a bearded iris looks spectacular long after the flowers have finished. 

The combination of blue-green and cream has an echo in the foliage of the hosta in the foreground.

As sunny as a yellow flower might be, the golden foliage of this hosta looks perfect paired with the silver leaves of a (1.) Brunnera 'Jack Frost' and (2.) the tiny purple flowers of perennial Campanula and (3.) annual Canndytuft.

Annual Candytuft, Iberis Umbellata: Height 30-40 cm. Full sun. Flowers range from white to pink and mauve. Annual Candytuft flowers within a couple of months from seed.  It is taller and less compact than its perennial cousin.

Nestled in next to the Candytuft is another great foliage plant Jacob's Ladder 'Stairway to Heaven'. Here is what it might have looked like blooming in spring:

Jacob's Ladder, Polemonium reptans 'Stairway to Heaven' has variegated foliage that is blushed with pink in the cooler days of early spring. The flowers are pale mauve-blue. Afternoon shade and moist conditions suit this plant best. Height: 25-40 cm ( 10-16 inches), Spread: 40-45 cm (16-18 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Early July
Phlox paniculata 'Bright Eyes' in late July.

In the backyard, Phlox continue to be a important perennial in Joe's July and August garden. 

Phlox paniculata 'Peppermint Twist': Height: 35-45 cm, Spread: 30-40 cm. Full sun. Does equally well in moist or dry soil. Normal, sandy or clay soils are fine. Attractive to butterflies. USDA Zones 4-9.

Phlox paniculata 'Pink Flame' has fragrant medium pink flowers with a dark rose eye. Height : 30-50 cm ( inches), Spread: 30-40 cm. USDA Zones 4-9.

Echinacea 'Southern Belle': has magenta pompom flowers. Does equally well in moist or dry soil. Normal, sandy or clay soils are fine. Attractive to butterflies. Full sun. Height: 50- 90 cm, Spread: 50- 75 cm. USDA Zones 4-9.

Balloon flower, Platycodon grandiflorus is a great perennial to have in any mid-summer garden. This is a tall, upright perennial that has a carrot-like root. The inflated looking flowers pop open like balloons, hence the common name. Colors range from blue to pale pink to white. Depending on the cultivar you choose, Balloon flowers will grow as tall as 60-75 cm (23-29 inches) and spread as much as 30-40 cm ( 12-16 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

Early July
Early July
Late July

I hope you have found a few new planting ideas in Joe's mid-summer garden.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

How was your June Garden?


How was your June garden? Mine at it's moments, but there is still lots of room for improvement. I'd like to see less of a lull after the tulips are finished and better companion plantings for the peonies and roses that come later in the month.

Whenever I'm stumped as to what to change or add, I turn to other gardens for inspiration. The gardens at the Toronto Botanical Gardens always inspire me. Let's take a look at what was blooming there in mid-June. 

Let's start off with a look at the alliums. I have lots of Allium 'Purple Sensation' dotted throughout my garden. It looks nice to have them interspersed among the other perennials, but it hadn't occurred to me to group alliums together until I saw this mass planting at the TBG. Gathered together like this, they make a billowy clouds of purple.

Alliums are odd flowers, if you ask me. They look soft and razor sharp all at the same time. I believe these particular alliums are Allium ' Christophii'.

Star of Persia, Allium 'Christophii' is a perennial bulb with umbels that are 10-12 inches in diameter. The star-shaped mauve flowers have a bit of a metallic sheen. Full sun and average, well-drained soil are perfect for these alliums. 'Christophii' may be left for years until fewer blooms indicate the bulbs have become crowded. Separate crowded bulbs after the foliage dies down. The flower dries also well. Note: handling or cutting the plant may cause some skin irritation. Wear garden gloves if you have sensitive skin. Height: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread: 15-22 cm (6-9 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.


As well as these closeups, I wish I had stepped back to take a picture of this great native plant. 

Gillenia a little larger than a Spirea and a bit more upright in its growth habit. The leaves are bright green and the stems are red, but the real reason to add this perennial to your June garden is the profusion of white flowers it produces.

Gillenia trifoliata: A tough, long-lived native plant with reddish stems, narrow leaves and white star-shaped flowers. Height: 60-120 cm, Spread: 60-75 cm. Full sun or light shade. Prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil. Good fall color. Zones: USDA 4-9

There are so many new and exciting cultivars of Baptisia to choose from these days! A June garden ought to have a least one Baptisia, don't you think?

Astrantia major 'Roma'. Read more about Astrantia in this blog post.

Peonies at the Toronto Botanical Garden

Looking at these single white peonies with their frilly petticoats, it is easy to see why all white gardens have become so popular. Sunlight plays off white petals so beautifully.

The peonies I have in my own garden have little in the way of companion plantings. I'd like to remedy that. Here are a few combinations I noted.

Peonies look great with a backdrop of deep blue Salvia.

Paeonia lactiflora 'Crinkled White'

Planted in front of any peony, Amsonia 'Blue Ice' looks terrific. This is a combination I've already experimented with in my own garden, but it seems to be taking a couple years for my Amsonia to really get established and flower.

Amsonia 'Blue Ice' has starry blue flower and leathery green foliage that becomes golden in the fall. Average moisture conditions and garden soil are fine. Height: 35-40 cm ( 14-16 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Peonies and Catmint at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Peonies and Catmint are another great June combination. 

I have say that I have become a big fan of Catmint. It blooms for an extended time, has great grey-green foliage, and if you cut it back hard, it can go on to have a great second act in late to mid-summer.

Last year I added quite a couple of the newer, more compact cultivars to my garden and I am really pleased with them. Catmint, Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low' is still an excellent choice, but I find that these newer varieties work really well at the front of a border. Here are a two:

Catmint 'Junior Walker' is a sterile dwarf form of 'Walker's Low'. The periwinkle blue flowers appear in June and last for weeks. Full sun and average garden soil. Cut back hard to encourage new flowers. Height: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches), Spread: 80-90 cm (31-35 inches). USDA zones: 5-9. 

Catmint 'Prussian Blue' has the same blue flowers on a plant that has a tidy habit. Again, cut back hard to encourage new flowers. Height: 35-45 cm (14-18 inches), Spread: 45-75 cm (18-29 inches). USDA zones: 5-9. 

Penstemon at the Toronto Botanical Gardens.

The delicate trumpet-shaped flowers of Penstemon start blooming toward the end of the month. They bloom for a number of weeks and look great with Veronica or Salvias.

 Penstemon 'Husker Red' has foliage that is beet-red in spring and fall and somewhat greener in the summer. Butterflies love the flowers, which are such a pale pink they are almost white. Full sun. Normal, sandy or clay soils are all suitable. Average to moist growing conditions. Height 75-90 cm, Spread: 30-45 cm. USDA Zones: 3-9.

Phlomis tuberosa 'Amazone' at the Toronto Botanical Gardens.

Super tall, this perennial always stands out in any June garden.

Phlomis tuberosa 'Amazone' is a recent introduction to North America, so the bad news is that this particular cultivar may be a little hard to track down and find. When not in flower this plant makes a large mound of coarse green leaves. Flower shoot skyward on these incredible reddish colored stems. Once finished flowering the spent flowers continue to add architectural interest well into winter. Normal or sandy soil that is on the dry side is best for this plant. Full sun. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.

June seems to have passed in the blink of on eye! 

Already a new month has begun with a fresh set of challenges. Yesterday afternoon I startled baby bunny who ducked back back into the undergrowth. Then I noticed one of the first of the Japanese Beetles on a newly opened white rose. 

Monarda 'Purple Rooster' in my herb garden.

Thank goodness there is usually a balance of forces at work in the garden! As I walked to the back of the yard, I noticed that the Monarda in my herb garden has the prettiest grape colored flowers. I think I may just have a new favourite!