Sunday, March 15, 2020

A Late Summer Visit to Lost Horizons Nursery

Any serious plant collector in the Greater Toronto area should be able to give you driving directions, but if you aren't watching carefully for the sign, Lost Horizons Nursery is fairly easy to miss. The nursery, which specializes in rare and unusual plants, sits back from the road and is largely hidden by dense brush. As you head out of the little town of Acton, travelling west on Highway 7, the only hint of this plant lover's paradise is the sign on your left and a glimpse of the nursery owner's home peeking out from amongst the trees.

Should you be lucky enough to visit, take a stroll through the display garden before you go shopping. To find it, wander through the rows of plants, past the hoop greenhouses and over a little wooden bridge. There you'll find yourself in a garden that feels intimate and private in comparison with the more public side of the nursery.

This isn't a "garden" in the traditional sense of the word. For the suburban homeowner, familiar with flowerbeds bordering an expanse of lawn, strolling around the property will feel more like a walk in the woods. On the surface, this planting style feels very casual and informal in comparison to the typical home garden, but make no mistake– what feels quite natural and woodsy is actually carefully edited. The selection of materials and planting combinations have all been well considered.

You may not want to replicate this relaxed style of garden, but there are lots of ideas that might inspire your own plantings at home.

As I walked down this gravel path, it was impossible to miss the solitary, rather striking peduncle of white oriental lilies, but what really captured my imagination was something much more subtle and sophisticated–the interesting mix of foliage textures and colors. The view would fall flat if it wasn't for the deep red of the Japanese maple and Barberry (on the middle left). 

Experienced gardeners know that flowers are fleeting and foliage is around for the long haul. You quickly learn to try to vary the foliage color, shape and texture. I, for one, have always relied heavily on perennials with variegation and colorful foliage to counter the dominance of the color green. This little corner of the display garden was a nice reminder that larger, more structural plants like shrubs and trees continue that interplay of colors and texture above basic ground level.  

While the cream and green of this variegated Knotweed are very attractive, I caution you that this is an aggressive perennial that can spread quickly if left unchecked. Better to try something like the Acer seen in an upcoming photo.

Why have shrubs and trees always tended to slip down my list of priorities? 

They're expensive! My budget feels like it stretches further when I buy perennials, but that's a bit shortsighted. In fact, the one thing I regret most, ten-plus years into making my garden, is not investing more in trees and shrubs back at the beginning. So I'll pass on the wisdom gleaned from my oversight.

Isn't this a lovely view? In the distance, you see a clay pot sitting in front of a wooden bench. Sometimes simple is the best way to go.

I'm not sure of the name of this specific hosta, but there are quite a number of new introductions that have a nice ruffled edge. 

While I love color, I have to say that all this green feels so serene. In parts of the garden where the palette is more restrained, texture becomes the star.

Shape is another design element that is often overlooked. Here the rounded leaves of Solomon Seal contrast so beautifully with the tall, delicate fronds of the fern behind it.

A butterfly on Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata.

Here the tall yellow spires of a Ligularia make the perfect backdrop for the pale lavender trumpets of a number of different hostas. In the lower-left corner, there is a Sedum about to bloom.  On the right, the big, silvery-green leaves of a Brunnera stand out next to the fine, lime-green foliage of the hosta just behind it (on the middle right). 

All the foliage has a different shape, color and texture. Together they make a pretty picture.

Ligularia 'The Rocket' has toothed leaves and dark, erect stems bearing yellow flowers. This plant needs moist, rich soil to be happy. Clumps may be divided every three to four years in the spring. Slugs can be an issue. Full sun to part-shade. Height: 120-180 (47-70 inches), Spread: 80-90 cm (31-15 inches). USDA zones: 4-9. (If you are looking for a smaller plant consider 'Bottle Rocket' or 'Little Rocket'.  

I love the way the Ligularia flower finds a color echo in the foliage of a Japanese Maple.

Carnival Hedge Maple, Acer campestre 'Carnival'

Carnival Hedge Maple, Acer campestre 'Carnival' is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub with a nice rounded shape. In the spring the leaves emerge with a blush of pink. As the summer progresses, the leaves mature to be green with cream variegation. This is a slow-growing cultivar. Height: 10 ft., Spread: 10 ft. Hardy to USDA zones 5.


Yellow Wax Bells, Kirengeshoma palmata is a great foliage plant for moist, part-shade. It has pendulous butter-yellow flowers and medium green foliage that is shaped like a maple leaf. Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches), Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches). USDA zones: 5-8.

You may be too far away to ever visit Lost Horizons Nursery, but I would encourage you to visit local public or private gardens on organized tours this spring. There is no greater inspiration than seeing a garden firsthand.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

New Perennials for 2020 from Terra Nova Nurseries, Inc. + Some Old Favourites

It's a gorgeous day here–sunny and warm enough for the snow to be melting. Though it feels like spring has arrived, I remind myself that it is only the first of March and winter may not be done with us just yet.

 You can see the tangled growth at the base of the lilac in this shot from June 2019.

Even though it is just a common lilac, the flowers are pretty and very fragrant.

Despite the pockets of snow, the dogs and I spent a good part of yesterday afternoon out in the garden. The temperature was mild enough for me to ditch my winter jacket and get to work pruning a neglected lilac. While this is not the proper time of year to prune a lilac (you could cut off all this year's flower buds if you aren't confident in what you're doing) I find it helpful to get a headstart on simple tasks like removing spindly suckers before I get overwhelmed with a long list of other pressing spring chores. That and it's nice to be puttering around outside in the sunshine!

Like me, I am sure you are beginning to draw up a spring wishlist. What interests me these days are plants with unique foliage and flowers. With that in mind, I've put together a list of new introductions from Terra Nova Nurseries that have captured my imagination. And as I promised earlier in the year, I'm also going to highlight some older introductions I think are worth seeking out.

A word about Terra Nova® Nurseries. They use tissue culture to propagate and grow both annuals and perennials.  Based in Canby Oregon, they have introduced over a thousand new plants to market.

As a wholesale propagation nursery, Terra Nova does not sell directly to the public. On their website, they have a handy page that will help you locate a retailer in your state or province that sells their plants (Sadly for Canadians on the East Coast and in Saskatchewan, Terra Nova is underrepresented).

Some of the New Plants for 2020

Geum Tempo™ Rose from Terra Nova® Nurseries

Geum Tempo™ Rose has dark rose-pink flowers on short, dark stems. Moist, loamy soil is prefered. Long bloom time. Full sun. Height: 8-21 inches, Spread: 12 inches. USDA zones: 5-9.

Sedum Peach Pearls has burgundy leaves and rose-gold flowers. Even in its first year, this sedum produces multiple flower crowns. 'Peach Pearls' likes soil with good drainage. Drought tolerant and attractive to pollinators. Full sun. Height: 14-20 inches, Spread: 24 inches. USDA zones: 4-9.

Veronica Vespers™ Blue has blueish-purple flowers. A long period of bloom begins in late spring and runs into mid-summer.  It prefers moist soil with lots of organic material and good drainage. Full sun. Height: 9-13 inches, Spread: 11 inches. USDA zones: 4-8.

Heuchera Northern Exposure™ Sienna has green foliage when it first emerges in the spring. In summer, it becomes a mix of sienna and orange with greenish margins. Fall sees it revert back again to green. Rust resistant. Moderately well-drained soil and average moisture conditions. Full sun to part shade. Height: 13-22 inches, Spread: 21 inches. USDA zones: 4-9.

Other Perennials that Caught my Eye:

Of all the perennials on my list, I would love to get my hands on this one the most! I find Thalictrum to be a terrific option for part-shade. This type of Meadow Rue has lovely ferny foliage, dark stems and star-like flowers. I have the mauve flowering variety but would like to add a white flowering version:

Thalictrum Nimbus™ White has clouds of white flowers and fern-like foliage. The flowers age to lavender-pink seed heads. This perennial prefers moist, humus-rich soil but adapts well to average soil with good drainage. Part-shade. Height: 28 inches, Spread: 16 inches. USDA zones: 5-9.

I have a quite number of Bleeding Hearts, but I don't have this cultivar with its combination of golden leaves and white flowers.

I can just imagine Dicentra 'White Gold' mixed in with tulips and daffodils. Beautiful! Again, it's a great option for the shady area of your garden (although, based on experience with similar 'Gold Heart', I would recommend part-shade for the best leaf color).

Dicentra 'White Gold' has heart-shaped white flowers and golden leaves on a vigorous plant. This perennial prefers moist, loamy soil. Part to full shade. Height: 24-30 inches, Spread: 36 inches. USDA zones: 4-8.

When you're a plant collector, it's hard to resist adding more of your favourites:

Geum Petticoats™ Peach has semi-double peach flowers on a compact plant with green foliage. Moist, loamy soil is prefered. Reblooms. Full sun. Height: 10-12 inches, Spread: 20 inches. USDA zones: 5-9.

Every year I try to invest in at least one new hosta with interesting features. Here are two with very attractive reddish-purple accents:

Hosta 'Purple Heart' has glossy lime-green foliage with red-purple at the base of each heart-shaped leaf. 'Purple Heart' has a neat, uniform growth habit and good slug resistance. Full shade. Height: 15-24 inches, Spread: 30 inches. USDA zones: 4-9.

Hosta 'Raspberry Sundae' is a compact hosta with creamy-white variegation through the centre of the leaf. It has deep burgundy petioles, leaf bases and flower stalks. Its flowers are deep lavender-purple. Part-shade to full shade. Height: 9-23 inches, Spread: 21 inches. USDA zones: 4-9.

Yet another personal favourite is Penstemon (I already have Penstemon 'Husker Red' and 'Dark Towers'). Many of the newer introductions aren't hardy here, but I was very excited to see two that are reputed to be tough, hardy perennials:

Penstemon Dakota™ Verde has violet flowers on dark stems. Seed heads are a lovely dark burgundy color and the foliage takes on a purple tinge in the fall. Average, well-drained soil is fine for this perennial. Full sun. Height: 12-24 inches, Spread: 18 inches. USDA zones: 3-8.

Penstemon Dakota™ Burgundy has violet flowers. This penstemon is shorter and more compact than popular 'Dark Towers'. Average well-drained soil and moisture conditions are fine for this plant. Full sun. Height: 12-24 inches, Spread: 18 inches. USDA zones: 3-8.

I thought I would also throw in a few annuals that caught my attention. Some people struggle with Rex Begonias, but I seem to have good luck with them. I keep them as houseplants year-round in an east-facing window. Each spring, I divide them and move the divisions outdoors to fill part-shade containers.

I often take cuttings in the fall and keep Coleus over the winter as houseplants. Last fall I didn't have a chance to take the usual cuttings, so this spring I am definitely in the market for some new plants. Here are a couple I am going to watch for:

I hope this post has inspired you to add a few plants to your own wishlist for 2020. 
Have a wonderful weekend!

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Friday, February 28, 2020

Gifts from the Garden: Dried Flowers in Winter


I know I promised to return to regular posts, but so far, I have only managed two in 2020. Sorry about that! My sister was here for a visit from Ireland, so a number of renovation projects demanded all my time. In the end, not everything got done for her visit, but I am pleased with what we did manage to accomplish.

It was lovely to spend a little time with my sister Nancy. For most of our adult lives, we have lived on different continents. Though we talk often, time spent together is much less frequent than I'd like. 

Outside my window, light powdery snow is swirling around in a wicked wind like a swarm of angry hornets. Warm spring days are over a month into the future, so its a bit early to be thinking about starting seeds. Instead, I tend my little indoor garden that sits along a window ledge overlooking the same snowy landscape.



Any flowers are a welcome sight on these bleak winter days– pots of yellow daffodils, fragrant hyacinths or bunches of cut flowers from the grocery store. 

While fresh is best, dried flowers can be just as pretty. In February, it was a pleasure to pull out a small vase filled with the strawflowers I had dried last fall. Dried flowers have fallen out of fashion in recent years, but I am hoping they are finally going to be making a comeback. (Hey, who would've guessed that macrame would come back into fashion in such a big way!!)

Recently, I have been really inspired by the work of UK florist Lindsey Kitchin (see thewhitehorseflower on Instagram). Take a quick look at these lovely creations that mix flowers, foliage and berries; herehere and here

I love the wide variety of materials used and the simple velvet bows that adorn many of her arrangements. I find myself flipping through catalogues with a mind to planting more foliage and flowers that might be dried for next winter.

After I took down the Christmas decorations in January, I dug out the dried flower wreath I made last fall and hung it up in the freshly painted dining room. 

The mauve, pink and purple flowers never seem to fit with autumnal shades of yellow, orange and red, but right now in the dead of winter, those cool colors feel appropriate to the season, and at the same time, cheerful enough to foretell the arrival of spring.

Artemesia ludoviciana 'Silver King' is a spreading perennial that has fragrant, silver-grey foliage (As this is an aggressive perennial, I would not recommend it be mixed into a perennial flowerbed. It's better grown in a large tub). Drought tolerant when established. Full sun. Height: 75-90 cm ( 29-35 inches), Spread: 60-75cm (23-29 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

I started this project with a Grapevine wreath as my base. Then I wedged in pieces of Artemesia that I had grown in the garden and dried (I prefer not to use wire or glue to hold my dried materials in place. I like to dismantle and reuse my grapevine wreaths when they get dusty. If you prefer something more secure, apply glue to the base of each stem or wrap the flowers in with wire).

Best Foliage for Dried Arrangements

Artemesia 'Silver King'
German statice or Goniolimon tataricum
Sea Lavender, Italian statice or Limonium latifolium
Seeded Eucalyptus

Whether you are making a wreath or an arrangement of flowers in a container, you need a good foundation of foliage on which you can build the final project. Of all the materials you will need, this layer requires the greatest amount of material. 

I often see delicate Sea Lavender in the floral section at the grocery store, but it is fairly pricy. It is hardy here, so Limonium latifolium is one of the perennials I'd love to add to my garden.

Sea Lavender, Italian statice or Statice latifolium forms a low mound of leathery green leaves. Clouds of wiry, upright stems carry pale lavender flowers in summer. Pick the stems just as the flowers begin to open and hang them to dry. Once established this perennial is very tolerant of hot, dry sites. It dislikes being moved or divided. Attractive to butterflies. Sandy, well-drained soil is prefered. Full sun. Height: 60-75 cm ( 23-29 inches), Spread: 60-70 cm (23-27 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

German statice or Goniolimon tataricum is quite similar, but the dried branches are a bit more prickly. Again there is a rosette of leathery green leaves and upright branches of flowers in summer. Sandy, well-drained soil is prefered. Drought tolerant once established. Full sun. Height: 25-40 cm (10-16 inches), Spread: 30-45cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

Seeded Eucalyptus, which has grey-green foliage, is readily available through florists or at the grocery store. I simply hang it to dry.

Best Seedheads for Drying

Annual Poppy, Papaver somniferum
Love-in-the-Mist, Nigella damascena
Seedheads of Ornamental Grasses

Top left to right: Amaranth, Sea Holly, Celosia. 
Bottom left to right: Gomphrena, Yarrow and Lavender.

How to Dry Flowers

Air Drying

The best method for drying flowers varies according to the flower, but hanging them to upsidedown is one of the easiest methods for drying a wide array of flowers. It is best to harvest flowers when they are just beginning to open. Pick them on a dry day in late morning after any dew has evaporated or in the early evening. 

Generally speaking, I remove the leaves from the flower stems (dense foliage can affect good air circulation around flower bunches and cause stems to rot rather than dry. Leaves can also become quite brittle when dried). An exception to this rule might be roses. The leaves are brittle, but rather pretty when dried. I only clear away the foliage at the base of the stems where my elastic band will sit.   

Simply bind small bunches of flowers together with an elastic band. This is better than string as the elastic will adjust to the shrinking size of the stems as they dry. Any dry place out of direct sunlight will do to hang your flowers. (Keeping them out of the sun is the best way to preserve the flower's color.) Depending on the bloom, it can take a week or more for flowers to dry (flowers that are successfully dried will have papery petals and stiff stems).

The Best Flowers for Air Drying

Baby's Breath, Gypsophila paniculata
Cock's Comb, Celosia
Globe thistle, Echinops
Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla mollis
Larkspur, Consolida ambigua
Lavender, Lavandula
Roses, Rosa
Sea Holly, Eryngium
Statice sinuatum
Strawflower, Xerochrysum bracteatum
Yarrow, Achillea

A few of the many flowers that can be dried using silica gel or sand. Top row left to right: Peony, Foxglove, Bachelor's Button. Bottom Row left to right: Calendula, Delphinium and snapdragons.

Silica Gel or Silca Sand

I haven't used silica gel in years, but I do still have a box of it somewhere in the basement. Silica gel is useful for fleshy or many-petaled flowers with a high moisture content that doesn't respond well to air-drying techniques. Silica (silicon dioxide) absorbs and holds moisture. You may be most familiar with the little pouches of silica that are often found at the bottom of paper boxes. Silica gel can be found at Michel's, Lee Valley Tools and online.

To dry flowers using this method, place an inch or so of silica gel at the bottom of an airtight plastic container. Remove the flowers from their stems and place facing upright into the silica gel. Long flowers like Amaranth can be placed on their sides. Sprinkle a little more of the gel in among the individual flower petals. Seal the box and place it in a dry spot out of the sun. Check on the flowers every few days to see how they are drying. It may take as little as a few days to a week. (Note: flowers left too long in the gel may become so brittle they will fall apart).

I have never tried it, but apparently, you can speed up the process of drying flowers in silica sand with the microwave. Check out this FTD tutorial for more details.

A Few of the Many Flowers that might be Dried with Silica

Bachelor's Button, Centaurea cyanus
Calendula, Calendula officinalis
Carnation, Dianthus caryophyllus
Feverfew, Tanacetum parthenium
Foxglove, Digitalis
Marigold, Tagetes
Peony, Paeonia
Rose, Rosa
Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia
Snapdragon, Antirrhinum
Sunflower, Helianthus

How Long do Dried Flowers Last?

I have had dried flowers in a glass-fronted cabinet in the living room for over a year. As long as you place them in a dry location out of direct sunlight, wreaths last for months. Dust seems to their main enemy.

Growing Three of my Favourites

If I had to choose three of my favourite flowers to work with, they'd be Strawflowers, Statice and Gomphrena (also known as Globe Amaranth).

Strawflowers (seen above) are easy to grow yourself from seed.

Strawflowers, Helichrysum bracteatum are wildflowers native to Australia. These sun-loving flowers are actually short-lived perennials (USDA zones 10-11) but are generally grown as annuals in more northern climate zones like mine. They are easy to grow from seed in any hot, dry site. Height: 30-40 cm (12-18 inches) Spread: 24-30 cm (10-12 inches).

Here in Canada, where the growing season is shorter, it is a good idea to start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost. If you are in a more temperate zone, you can plant seeds outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.

Note: If you aren't able to grow your own Strawflowers, you may still be able to find flowers to dry in the fall. Look for them at your local Farmer's Market or even at your neighbourhood grocery store. 

The petals of Strawflowers have a papery texture even before they are dried. The stem is quite fleshy in contrast and becomes a bit brittle when dried. 

Harvest strawflowers before the flowers are fully open. The blooms will continue to open during the drying process. (Quite often the flower heads are cut from their stems and a florist's wire is inserted into the flower to act as a stem. If you were preparing the dried flowers for sale or if the flowers will be handled a lot, I would think about replacing the dried stems with florist's wire.)

Statice, Limonium Sinuatum is not the most attractive of plants, but it does dry really well. I usually buy inexpensive bunches at the Farmer's Market. If you want to grow it yourself, Statice can also be grown easily from seed.

Statice, Limonium Sinuatum: There are a number of varieties of Statice or Limonium. Limonium sinuatum is a tender perennial (annual here) that has papery blooms on stiff green stems. Full sun.  This plant prefers well-drained, sandy loam with dry to medium moisture. Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date or sow directly outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. Height : 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches). Hardy USDA zones: 8-10.

Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena has clover-like flowers. Pinch back young plants to encourage a bushier habit. Attractive to butterflies. For the best results, harvest flowers as soon as they are open. Stripe off any foliage and hang them upsidedown in a dry place out of direct sunlight. Gomphrena seeds have low germination rates, so soak seeds first for best results. Poor soil with good drainage is best. Full sun. Height : 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches). Hardy USDA zones: 8-10.

I am looking forward to ordering some seeds and experimenting more with dried flowers in the new year.