Friday, April 27, 2012

The Letters E and F

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea is quite possibly one of the North America's most popular native wildflowers. 

Echinacea purpurea prefers full sun, but will grow in a variety of soil types. 
75-85 cm tall with a similar spread.

Though there are many new cultivators, the old tried and true varieties are still my favourites. 

Euphorbia polychroma 'Bonfire'

The letter 'E' is also stands for Euphorbia. Though I now have several varieties of Euphorbia in my garden, Euphorbia polychroma 'Bonfire' is still my first choice. 

'Bonfire' is a mounded, low-growing plant. The foliage emerges green in spring and quickly transitions into a deep maroon. It has golden-chartreuse blooms in late May-early June that are very striking against the backdrop of deep, maroon leaves. It prefers full sun, will grow in a variety of soils and tolerates average to dry conditions. 30-40 cm tall.

This is 'Bonfire' in my garden in late May of last year. 

'Bonfire' looks wonderful well into fall.

Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow' The plant has wonderful gold and green variegated foliage, with fresh shoots that are tinged with coral red. The plant blooms on variegated bracts with tiny, red flowers. 
It prefers full sun and grows to 50 cm.

I added Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow' last summer, after admiring on several gardening blogs. 

Sadly, I have to report that even after a mild winter 'Ascot Rainbow' looks very bedraggled. The jury is out on how well this beauty will do in my northern garden.

Euphorbia Polychroma prefers full sun and is adaptable to both dry and moist growing conditions. This plant also has a neat mounded shape. Euphorbia Polychroma likes 
sandy, well drained soil. 30-40cm tall.

Also new to the garden, is Cushion Spurge or Euphorbia Polychroma.  Deep yellow bracts will hopefully appear later this spring. 

So far, this plant has come through a Canadian winter much better than Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow'. I can't wait to see the foliage turn brick-red next fall!

Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow' growing in David Tomlinson's garden called Merlin's Hollow

I gave Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow' a try in the garden a few years ago, but found that it refused to stay put and started to wander. Though I loved the orange flowers bracts, I ripped it out. 

Then last June, I admired this same plant at David Tomlinson's garden called Merlin's Hollow. I asked David if he found that the plant spread uncontrolled, but he reported no problems with it. 

Now I am wondering if I was a bit paranoid when I pulled it out of my flowerbed! What about you? Do you have any experience good or bad with Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow'?

The letter 'F' is for fern and in this case a native fern. Ostrich ferns, Matteuccia Struthiopteris grow in great drifts on the forest floor in a swampy area near our home. 

They are also my favourite fern in the garden. The foliage has a wonderful cinnamon-like scent.

I love watching their curled, serpentine heads unfurl each spring.

I find these ferns indispensable for shade. Though they prefer moist soil, Ostrich Ferns do seem to tolerate the drought that always comes in late Ontario summers. They reach 1-2m in height and definitely require rich soil.

Ostrich Ferns are apparently the preferred species to eat, although I have never harvested their tender fiddleheads. I prefer to enjoy them all summer in the garden.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

That's one Amazing Looking Leaf!

Many people would think that a plant identification marker that reads "insignificant rose pink flowers" might make a gardener dismiss that plant altogether. After all, aren't beautiful blooms what we gardeners covet most? 

Of course, the opposite is true! Experienced gardeners soon realize that flowers are fleeting, but foliage is in the garden for the long haul. And attractive foliage not only provides color, it can also add interesting texture and form.

While some perennials are old friends, Heuchera and I are still getting to know one another. 

In recent years, the garden Heuchera that we know as commonly as Coral Bells has been enjoying frenzied hybridization and can now be found in an amazing array of colors. The new hybrids are often expensive and I have done my best to resist them, but their fantastic leaves never fail to catch my eye as I stroll down the isles of my favourite nursery. 

Adding to temptation, their tall stocks of bell-shaped flowers always seem to nod and wave at me, "Hello, you there! Come over here and admire us. Aren't we just so delicate and pretty? Forget your resolve not to spend too much money. We so want to go home with you!"

'Purple Petticoats' in my front garden.

Here is what I have learned about Heuchera so far. 

Soundly in their favour, is the fact that Heuchera form neat round mounds. Most bloom in spring or early summer, but there are late blooming varieties as well. 

Not all Heuchera have the same light conditions and so you really need to pay attention to the recommendations on your plant markers. (I learned this the hard way!) Some like full sun to part shade, while others prefer part shade to full shade. All varieties like a bit of afternoon shade and somewhat moist, well-drained soil enriched with some organic matter.

In my garden, I find that frost tends to heave Heuchera out of the ground over the winter. I have read various techniques for dealing this. One school of thought recommends gently pushing them back into the earth, the other recommends re-plating them. If you have any thoughts on this, I'd love to hear them.

Let's take a look at some of the varieties available, shall we?

Up close and personal with Heuchera 'Lime Marmalade'

Heuchera 'Lime Marmalade' has ruffles lime colored leaves and a large mounding habit. 
Part shade to shade. 25 cm tall

 'Berry Marmalade' has large ruffles, deep-purple-black, leathery leaves with a silvery vein. Height 30 cm. Drought tolerant. Full sun to part shade. Insignificant rose pink flowers.

 Similar looking, Heuchera 'Dolce Blackcurrent' as dramatic two-tones leaf of bold purple with sterling 
silver accents. Height 35 cm. Sun to part shade.

Heuchera 'Ginger Peach' has large crimped and crinkled leaves that are a blend of apricot and rose, with bronze highlights.  Height 40-45 cm and small ivory flowers. Full sun to part shade.

The leaves of Heuchera 'Encore' start out with a deep, rose-purple color that have a light silvering on top, darker veins and reddish-purple undersides. They mature to a lighter rose, with a heavy silver overlay and smoky purple veins. White flowers June to July. Height 30 cm. Part to full shade.

Heuchera 'Marmalade' has foliage ranging in color from umber to deep sienna. Red-brown flowers. Sun to part shade. 40 cm tall. 

Heuchera 'Sashay' has cut, ruffles leaves that are green on top and burgundy underneath.  Full sun to part shade in moist well drained soil. It is an award of Garden Merit winner.

Heuchera 'Midas Touch' has ruffled and fluted peach and gold foliage. Part shade to shade.

I am going to end this post, with a few planting strategies that I admired in local gardens last summer. Idea 1: Plant a single color en masse. 

Close-up of Heuchera 'Obsidian'

The Ruttle Garden, Brampton, ON

Idea 2: Plant heuchera in a row at the front of a border.

Here the tiny white flowers of 'Lime Rickey' play off the dark burgundy of the heuchera behind it. 'Lime Rickey' has chartreuse leaves in spring that turn lemon-lime in summer.

Looking back the other way, the dark stems and rose flowers of this burgundy heurchera (apologies, I don't know the name of the burgundy variety in this case) standout beautifully on the background of vivid green of 'Lime Rickey'. 

The Spragette Garden, Brampton, ON.

Idea 3: Mix them in with other perennials near the front of a border.

Here pink astilbe (in the center) is the perfect counterpoint for the red Coral Bells and the fine flowers of the heucheras behind it.

A closer view of one of the Heuchera and a purple campanula. I think that this one is 
Heuchera 'Silver Shadows'.

The leaves of these dark burgundy heuchera (lower right corner) add drama to this late fall planting at Edwards Gardens in Toronto.

One final idea: Incorporate Heuchera in a container planting where you can appreciate those colorful leaves up close. Here Heuchera 'Lime Marmalade' is seen with the deep pink flowers of a Bleeding Heart peeking through. Lamium 'Anne Greenway' in the foreground.

 I am linking this post to Garden Walk Garden Talk's W4W. This Wednesday's word is 'Inspiration'. Color and texture are big sources of inspiration for me and heuchera is one perennial that has both in spades. Included in this post are several planting ideas that I hope will serve as inspiration for adding heuchera to your garden. 
To see other inspired posts, please click the link: Garden Walk Garden Talk

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Untamed Garden: Book Review and Giveaway

The Untamed Garden is a book that was inspired by a summer squash. 

The sexy, rounded bottom of a butternut squash, seen squeezing provocatively through the boards of a wooden fence in an alleyway in downtown Toronto, became the subject of a newspaper column, and then the germ of an idea for the book. (see the naughty butternut squash here.)

The moment you pick up The Untamed Garden, you know you are in for a treat. The book is small; intimate in your hands. 

The title is handwritten in pen and ink in broad, looping strokes. Peeking out from under the plain brown wrapper is a hint of the scene of a sumptuous feast, with Greek or possibly Roman figures seen cavorting among a sea of rose petals. 

The book binding is hot pink!

In this, her seventh book, master gardener Sonia Day takes an intimate look at our love affair with plants using a mix of myth, botany and plant lore.

The book unfolds in a series of thematic chapters that journey from "Innocence" and "Anticipation" to "Seduction" and "Rapture". Marking each chapter is a lovely illustration opposite a full page of some juicy color.

The author writes, "The truth is, the plant world is drenched in sex. Passionate, urgent, unabashed sex. Buds swell suggestively. Phallic stalks thrust skyward."

Peppered throughout are entertaining antidotes, love potions, and samplings of Victorian ideas on the "language of flowers".

One of my favourite parts of the books is the introduction, possibly because it is here that author is the most personal. 

Sonya is 19 in these early pages of the book. The occasion is the unfolding of her father's night-blooming cereus, an exotic and beautiful plant that flowers once a year and for only a few short hours at night. 

The scene is set beautifully, "It's a humid night in the tropics. The air is heavy and sweet like honey. The only sound, apart from the cicadas' high-pitched whine, is the clink-clink of the ice cubes as we sit in the patio, sipping rum and coke....And waiting."

 Sonia writes, "Subliminally or not, I think that my father's passion for his cereus made me want to become a gardener myself."

Another thing that I particularly liked about the book is the authors wit, humour and clever turn of phrase. 

Of peonies she writes, "...with their blowsy D-cup blooms strutting atop those precarious chicken-leg stems they are (to modern eyes at least) the Dolly Partons of the garden. Like the country singer, they can come across as a tad vulgar and over the top, yet that's the secret of their indefatigable charm too..."

She continues, "Those thin stems never seem to be able to prop up those too-weighty blooms for very long...and the mess they leave behind can severely test your patience. Yet despite this defect, you will rarely meet anyone who dislikes peonies. On the contrary. To most gardeners, they are heaven sent objects of adoration."

What can I say? Read the book. I promise that you will never look at plants the same way again!

I have contacted McClelland & Stewart, the book's publisher and they have generously provided me with a copy of the book The Untamed Garden A Revealing Look at our Love Affair with Plants to give away to one lucky reader.

If you would like to be included in the draw for a copy of the book, please leave a comment below. If are too shy or perhaps unfamilar with leaving a comment, but would still like to be included, please feel free to drop me a line by email and I will be glad to include your name in the draw. 

The winner will be drawn this coming Monday at 10 pm (my time). Look for an announcement of the winner early in the week. Many thanks to McClelland and Stewart for providing a book for this giveaway. 

Good luck everyone and have a great weekend!

More Information and Links:

I am linking this post to Holley Garden's monthly book review club. To see a roundup and review of some other fabulous gardening books, be sure to click the link: Roses and Other Gardening Joys.

About the Author of The Untamed Garden:

Sonia Day is a well-known writer and garden columnist for the Toronto Star newspaper. The Untamed Garden is Sonia Day's 7th book. 

Sonia  lives on 48 acres in rural Ontario where she maintains a huge garden and considers growing big fat globe artichokes to be her greatest gardening achievement. Her homegrown garlic is also apparently in high demand and gets her invited to a lot of dinner parties. Favourite flowers: Poppies, Peonies and Pinstripe Petunias. 

Watch a short video on Sonia's country garden here: Sonia Day's Garden

For a list of book signings and appearance dates click here.

Images in this Post: With the exception of the author's photo and the book cover the images are my own. Image 1: Rose from a private garden in Brampton, ON. Image 2: Tree Peony, Humber Nursery, Brampton Image 3. Close up of a amaryllis. Image 4: Amaryllis Image 5: Tree Peony, Humber Nursery, Brampton 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My Double Flowering Almond

Last year, a heavy rain shower carried off the delicate blooms on my Double Flowering Almond before I had much of a chance to take any pictures. 

So when I noticed yesterday afternoon that it had come into flower, I grabbed my camera as soon as we finished super, and ran out in to the garden determined not to miss it another opportunity.

The Almond is a bit battle-scared and misshapen having once served as a winter food source for some unknown animal and possibly the possum whose bleached, white skull I discovered one spring peaking out from under the garden shed.

It is a tall V-shaped shrub with stiff upright branches, as you see here. 

Now about 5 years old, it stands about 6 feet tall and is about 5 feet at its widest point.

As afternoon quickly became evening, the last of the sun's rays seemed to catch and hold 
on the soft, pink petals.