Thursday, July 12, 2018

The New Dwarf Hydrangeas

One of my favourites Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Lime' in with some other flowers 
in a late summer bouquet.

Just when I finally think I have everything planted, I see that hydrangeas are 50% off at a local nursery (Terra Nursery for anyone that happens to be local). What hydrangea lover resist such a deal? So of course I came home with two of the newer dwarf cultivars and am contemplating a run back to the nursery to buy a third one.

I absolutely adore Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens. They flower reliably from mid-July and look terrific right into the fall. Both types of hydrangea bloom on new wood, so there is no worry of flowerbuds dying overwinter (as they always seem to do for me on any type of Hydrangea macrophylla or Mophead hydrangeas). You can prune them as needed in early spring to remove last seasons flowers, any crossed or damaged branches and to adjust their shape/keep them compact.

In case your interested in a little bargain hunting yourself, here are some of the newer varieties of Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens to watch for:

The Dwarfs (starting with the smallest):

Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Wee White'Photo courtesy of Proven Winners 

Smooth Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Wee White' is the same type of hydrangea as the classic and much-loved 'Annabelle', but in a very petite form. The flower are cream colored and the stems are nice and sturdy.

Part sun to sun (minimum of 6 hrs. of sun)
Moisture: average (Mulch recommended to help conserve water)
Blooms on new wood (Prune in early spring. Cut the entire plant by one-third its total height)
Height: 12 - 30 Inches
Spread: 12 - 30 Inches
USDA zones: 3-9 

Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo'

Last summer I added a Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo' on either side of the back door. So far I am super pleased with them.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo' forms a low rounded mound of green foliage and has white flowers that turn pink in the fall.

Part sun to sun (minimum of 6 hrs. of sun)
Moisture: moderate moisture required
Blooms on new wood 
Height: 30-36 Inches
Spread: 36 - 48 Inches
USDA zones: 3-8 

Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Mini Mauvette'. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners 

Smooth Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Mini Mauvette' has deep, pinky-mauve flowers and sturdy stems that keep the large flowers from flopping. 

Minimum of 6 hrs. of sun
Moisture: average (Mulch recommended to help conserve water)
Blooms on new wood (Prune in early spring. Cut the entire plant by one-third its total height)
Height: 30-36 Inches
Spread: 36 - 48 Inches
USDA zones: 3-9 

Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Limetta'. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners 

Smooth Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Limetta' has a dwarf, rounded habit and lime-green flowers. The blooms lighten to a soft greenish-white before becoming jade-green for the rest of the season. 

Minimum of 6 hrs. of sun
Moisture: average 
Blooms on new wood 
Height: 36 - 48 Inches
Spread: 36 - 48 Inches
USDA zones: 3-9 

Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Quick Fire'. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners 

I had the full-sized Hydrangea paniculata 'Quick Fire' in the back garden and was so happy with its performance (in particular its drought tolerance), that I bought the dwarf version when it came out a couple of years ago. Like its big brother, 'Little Quick Fire' has done very well.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Quick Fire' flowers earlier than most other hydrangea paniculata. The blooms are white and then turn a fiery shade of pink as the fall approaches.

Part sun to sun 
Moisture: average (good drought tolerance once established)
Blooms on  new wood 
Height: 36 - 60 Inches
Spread: 36 - 60 Inches
USDA zones: 3-8 
Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Ruby'. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners 

This is one of the hydrangeas I bought on sale. The flowers are a deep reddish-magenta and I thought that it would look nice adjacent to a wine colored Ninebark and a pink 'Invicibelle Spirit'. The tag says full sun, so I am a little worried that it might not get enough sun where I planted it, but we'll see. I can always move it next year if it is unhappy. 

Smooth Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Ruby' opens to a two-toned combination of bright ruby red and silvery pink. The foliage is quite dark and flower stems are nice and strong. 'Invincibelle Ruby' is adaptable to most well-drained soils.

Full Sun 
Moisture: average
Blooms on new wood 
Height: 36 - 48 Inches
Spread: 24 - 36 Inches
USDA zones: 3-9 

Hydrangea paniculata 'Little lamb'. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners 

Hydrangea paniculata 'Little lamb' blooms mid-summer with cream colored flowers that become pink as fall approaches. It is adaptable to a variety of soils, but will be happiest in good, loamy soil. 

Part sun to sun 
Moisture: average (with some drought tolerance once established)
Blooms on new wood 
Height: 48 - 72 Inches
Spread: 48 - 72 Inches
USDA zones: 3-8 

Hydrangea paniculata' Zinfin Doll'. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners

Hydrangea paniculata' Zinfin Doll' is a bit like the full-sized Hydrangea paniculata 'Pinky Winky'. The flowers are pure white and then turn bright pink from the bottom up. As the weather cools, the flowers age further into a dark pinkish-red.

Part sun to sun (minimum of 6 hrs. of sun)
Heat Tolerant
Blooms on new wood 
Height: 54 - 72 Inches
Spread: 54 - 72  Inches
USDA zones: 3-8 

How to Choose a Dwarf Variety?

Smooth Hydrangeas, Hydrangea arborescens have broad, dome-shaped flowers and greenish, somewhat flexible stems. They need a minimum of six hours of sun (the exception being hot climates where some afternoon shade is beneficial). Based on my own experience, they really resent dry conditions, so keep that in mind as well. A layer of shredded bark mulch will help these shallow-rooted hydrangeas to conserve moisture, but if you're in area like mine where July and August are always dry, you may have to provide supplemental water.

Hydrangea paniculata have rounded or cone-shaped flowers and brown, woody stems. In colder zones like mine, they prefer full sun, but in warmer garden zones, they would appreciate a bit of afternoon shade. Like Hydrangea arborescens, they like moist, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. If soil moisture is a worry, 'Little Lamb' and 'Little Quick Fire' are two somewhat drought tolerant options. Hydrangea paniculata' Zinfin Doll' is heat tolerant for those gardeners south of me.

Both the blooms of Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens are unaffected by the soil's pH level.

Generally Hydrangea paniculata require a light annual pruning. Smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) require that you cut the entire plant by one-third its total height early in the spring.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Bombshell'

This is the second hydrangea I bought. Hydrangea paniculata 'Bombshell' has a similar flower shape to 'Bobo' from Proven Winners and also matures into a rose-pink. It's a prolific bloomer that flowers earlier and longer than most other panicle hydrangeas. 

Part sun 
Water regularly to keep soil evenly moist
Blooms on new wood 
Height: 24-36 Inches
Spread: 36- 48 Inches
USDA zones: 4-8 

'Bombshell' seemed to be the perfect replacement for a hydrangea I lost mysteriously last fall after ten years or so in the garden. 

How about you? Are you still doing the odd bit of planting?

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Many thanks to Proven Winners for some of the photos in this post.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Yarrow: A perennial that can handle Heat, Drought & Poor Soil

If you are sitting on our front porch, you can't help but notice the industrious little ants scurrying across the flagstone walkway (Piper, our youngest Sheltie, finds them fascinating and likes to poke at the tiny black ants with his nose). There are actually two ant colonies–one at the far end of the pathway and one a little closer to the porch.

I prefer not to wage war on the creatures with whom I share my garden, but this feeling of good will was challenged a few summers back when one of my favourite phlox began to die mysteriously one stem at a time. A quick investigation revealed it was the ants and their earth-moving ways. I refuse to resort to pesticide, so I began to experiment with plants that might live in harmony with the two well entrenched colonies.

Yarrow in my garden.

That brings me to the main subject of todays post–Yarrow. Yarrow was one of the few plants that seemed to survive the ant's constant excavations (sedum groundcovers are another). The Yarrow actually seems to appreciate the sharp drainage provided by the sand soil the ants bring up to the surface.

Yarrow is a tough, drought tolerant perennial that likes a hot, dry, sunny location. Unlike so many perennials that like rich fertile soil, Yarrow is quite happy in average to poor soil (provided there is good drainage). If your garden soil is too rich, you may actually find that your yarrow flops.

Full sun is essential. Too much shade and Yarrow can become leggy.

Mid-summer Yarrow produces a profusion of round, flat blooms that are composed of of tiny, daisy-like flowers. Colors include yellow, pink, cream, peach, terra cotta, red and maroon.

Yarrow makes a great, long-lasting cut flower. It's also a great everlasting flower that can be hung to dry. Simply cut your flowers (morning is best) and tie them with a bit of twine. Hang them in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight until the flowers are dry to the touch.

One final reason to grow Yarrow–bees and butterflies love this flower!

Growing Yarrow from Seed

Plant Yarrow seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost date. Sow seeds on the surface of moist potting soil and gentle press down. Place the tray in a warm, sunny location in the house. Your seeds should germinate in two to three weeks.

Myself, I prefer to buy small potted plants in the spring. Yarrow may bloom that first summer, but I find it takes a full season to really get established.

Achillea millefolium 'Cerise Queen' in my garden.

Growing Yarrow

The most important factor in being successful with growing Yarrow is giving it the conditions it requires; full sun, good drainage and average to poor soil. If your soil is heavy, add some organic matter and even some fine pebbles to improve the drainage.

Water well until your yarrow is established. Once it has settled in, you'll find Yarrow is very drought tolerant and may only require supplemental water during times of extreme drought.

Unlike most perennials, Yarrow doesn't require any fertilization.

Yarrow can look rather tired after it flowers. I've found it's best to cut the whole plant back hard. It will look awful for a couple of weeks, but you'll be rewarded with fresh green growth and maybe even a second flush of flowers in late summer/early fall.

Divide Yarrow every three to five years in the early spring or in the fall.

Pests and Diseases

Yarrow is pretty resistant to pests, but aphids can occasionally be an issue. A good blast of water from the hose can dislodge the aphids. If the problem persists, you can use an insecticidal soap.

Powdery mildew and rust can also pose a problem. To eliminate the possibility of mildew, avoid watering the foliage, if possible, and allow for good air flow between plants.

Achillea millefolium 'Strawberry Seduction'

Invasive Tendencies

Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium can be invasive and is considered by many to be an aggressive weed. Underground rhizomes can colonize a flowerbed and will sometimes will even spread to the grass.

Achillea millefolium was introduced to North America in colonial times from Europe and Asia. Since that time it has escaped from gardens to naturalize along roadsides and in fields.

To control Yarrow's wandering ways, pull up any of the wandering underground stems in the spring just after it rains (the ground is softer after a rainfall). To eliminate the plant's spread by seed, deadhead the flowers before they set seed. Yarrow seeds remain viable for years!

Different Yarrows to watch for:

While the species plant Achillea millefolium spreads by underground rhizomes, many of the modern cultivars and hybrids have improved features like stronger stems, larger flowers and a clump-forming habits.  

I have made a note in each of the descriptions below as to which varieties are clump-forming and which types are more likely to wander. 

Achillea 'Moonshine' is a classic Yarrow that has pale yellow flowers and silver-grey, fern-like foliage. This cultivar is non-spreading and makes a nice clump. Full sun. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

A closer look at the foliage of Achillea 'Moonshine' 

Achillea 'Little Moonshine' is a shorter version of 'Moonshine'. It has the same canary-yellow flowers and silver-grey foliage, but on dwarf plant. This cultivar is also non-spreading and makes a nice clump. Full sun. Height: 30-35 cm (12-14 inches), Spread: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Achillea millefolium 'Hoffnung' has yellow flowers that fade to cream and green fern-like foliage. This cultivar is inclined to spread, so locate it carefully. Full sun. Height: 50-60 cm (20-23 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Achillea Anthea is a British hybrid that has yellow flowers tinged with peachy-orange and silver-grey foliage. This cultivar has a non-spreading habit. Full sun. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

Achillea millefolium 'Little Susie' has rose-pink flowers and green fern-like foliage. This cultivar is inclined to spread, so reduce the size of the clump each spring. Full sun Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

Achillea millefolium 'Saucy Seduction' has reddish-pink flowers and green fern-like foliage. This cultivar has a spreading habit. Full sun. Height: 50-65 cm (20-25 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Achillea millefolium 'Strawberry Seduction' has orange-red flowers with a yellow centre and green fern-like foliage. The spread of 'Strawberry Seduction' is less aggressive that the species Yarrow. Full sun. Height: 45-50 cm (18-20 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Achillea millefolium 'Colorodo' is a strain that produces flowers in shades of red, pink, white and peach. This variety is inclined to spread, so you ought to site it carefully. Full sun. Height: 45-50 cm (18-20 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Achillea millefolium 'Cerise Queen' has cherry-red flowers and green fern-like foliage. This variety is also inclined to spread, so its growth will need to be curtailed each spring. Full sun. Height: 45-75 cm (18-29 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm (23-29 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

Companion Plants

Yarrow looks great with a whole range of sun-loving perennials that bloom mid-summer. Mix them in with ornamental grasses,Veronica, Sedum, Echinacea, Daylilies, Shasta Daisies, Lychnis and Rudbeckia.

Pink and a red yarrow mixed with other perennials. Private garden Uxbridge, Ontario.

Achillea millefolium 'Strawberry Seduction' and Veronica 'Eveline'

Achillea 'Moonshine' in the middle distance. Private garden Uxbridge, Ontario.

Achillea 'Moonshine'  with Veronica 'Eveline'. Private garden Uxbridge, Ontario.

 Soft pink yarrow mixes nicely with purple, white and orange flowers. 
Private garden Uxbridge, Ontario.

Plant type: Perennial

Height: Depending on variety 12-29 inches (30-75 cm)

Spread: Depending on variety 14-29 inches (60-75 cm)

Flower: A range of colors including pink, cream, red, yellow, peach, terra cotta and maroon

Bloom period: Summer

Leaf: Soft, fern-like foliage

Light: Full sun

Divide: Early spring or fall

Problems: Aphids, powdery mildew, rust and stem rot

USDA Zones: Depending on variety from 2-9
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Friday, June 22, 2018

Will Large Cottage Gardens like this one Disappear One Day?

"The truth is that all gardens are transitory– more like our lives, less like architecture: we build them to give the illusion of permanence. In this way too they resemble our lives."
from Transitory Gardens. Uprooted Lives by Diane Balmori and Margaret Morton

Elderberry, Black Lace Sambucus

In a brief email, Jane Dykstra told me she was embarking on a whole new chapter in her life and wasn't looking back. Her garden, which had been open to the public for almost twenty years, was closing and the sale of their farm property was about to be finalized.

I struggled a little with this news. How could anyone leave behind a garden they had laboured so long to create, I wondered?

Malva sylvestris 'Zebrina'

This is not the only example where the gardener is retiring from a large, high-maintenance, cottage-style garden. I have already shown one such property this spring, and have yet another which I hope to post in the coming weeks. Baby boomers are getting older and it is unclear if there is a generation of younger gardeners to replace them. All this has me wondering if large, cottage-style gardens might become a thing of the past.

In Jane's case, she wants less work and more time to lavish on her twelve garden children. She hasn't given up gardening, she's just planning to do so on a much smaller scale. The garden Jane named "Carpe Diem" will go to a new owner, who may or may not be a gardener with enough time, energy and enthusiasm to maintain the extensive flowerbeds. Chances are a large part of Carpe Diem may be grassed over.

I love the mosaic that makes use of pieces of broken china and decorative tiles.

The cutting garden.

Annual poppies.

Carpe Diem translates as the "the pleasures of the moment without concerns for the future." The phrase "Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero" advises us to "Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future."

How prophetic that choice of name seems given the garden's uncertain future!

Gardens are indeed transitory which always seems to be at odds with our love of permanence and stability. We like to build things that last and create things that out live us. Without a caretaker, a garden will fill with weeds as Mother Nature reassumes command.

Is devoting yourself to making a garden a waste of time then?

Some might think so, but I doubt very much that Jane would agree with them.

Centranthus ruber 'Albus' 

An old tub filled with hosta.

Hidden just behind the stone patio is a little pond.

There are a number of these piles of stones known as "cairns" in Jane's garden. In ancient times, a cairn was a landmark or trail marker. 

Campanula and pink peonies.

Gardening is not a whole lot different from other creative pursuits.

When a writer finishes a novel, he or she sends it to a publisher with fingers crossed and then moves on to write new stories. Same thing with artists. They create a painting and move on to the next challenge. 

That is exactly what I think Jane has done. She's acted on her ideas and given Carpe Diem her heart and soul for almost twenty years. Her work is finished. The garden has given her all it can give and now she's ready to move on.

The rose and iris garden at the front of the house.

Do you see the bird nest? It is tucked discreetly in among the stonecrop sedum.

Rosa glauca has marvellous grey foliage.

Believe it or not, Rosa glauca is a rose you grow for the foliage. (To see the full shrub scroll back two pictures.)

Rosa glauca is a species shrub rose that has glaucous, grey-green foliage. The roses are single five petaled flowers that are slightly fragrant. The tall plum rose canes have few thorns. This rose likes rich, well-drained soil. Full sun. Height: 6-8 ft Spread: 5-7 ft. USDA zones 2-8.

There is a generous deck that runs from the back door around to the side of the house.

The shaded patio at the back of the farmhouse.

A hanging basket–literately!

I am sure you will join me in wishing Jane all the best in her new endeavours. Gardening is a transferable skill, so I am sure her new smaller garden will be terrific in its own right.

For the rest of us, her garden is a good reminder that nothing is forever. So make the most of your time in the garden this summer and enjoy every moment!