Friday, September 26, 2014

A Visit to a Flower Farm

Though Oldham's no longer have a farm in Huttonville, we still see our old neighbours each Saturday when we visit the Brampton Farmer's Market.

A few weeks ago I stopped by the family's busy market stand to buy a bouquet of dahlias and got an invitation to go out to see the work they had done at their new farm near Rockwood Ontario.

What gardening enthusiast would down such an invitation?

And so it was that I found myself standing chest deep in a big field of dahlias one 
beautiful Sunday morning.

This is a busy time of year at the flower farm.

The dahlias are at their peak and it was all hands on deck at corporate headquarters (a.k.a. the barn).

There was the odd slacker (this is Maya asleep on the barn floor), but everyone else was busy cutting and packing flowers for a big order when I stopped in to visit.

Out in the field, the dahlias were looking spectacular.

Dahlias range widely in height and foliage color, as well as bloom size, variety and shape. "Dinner plate" varieties may have blooms as large as 12" in diameter.

Dahlias tuberous-rooted perennials native to Mexico and Central America. They tolerate a wide range of soil types, but like well drained conditions (too much moisture will cause the tubers to rot). Always grow dahlias in full sun. 

Tubers should be planted in the spring after all danger of frost has been passed. The proper planting depth for dahlia tubers is 10-15 cm (4-6 inches). 

Taller varieties may end up needing to be staked later on. If you are not careful however, the stake can damage tubers so it is a good idea to position your stake at the time of planting.

Place your dahlia tuber horizontally in the planting hole with the eye pointing upward. Dahlias are heavy feeders so it is a good idea to mix in some organic matter and a handful of bonemeal when you plant them.

To promote a compact, bushy plant, pinch back your dahlia once it has grown about a foot high. It is also a good idea to feed them every two weeks before they begin to set bud with water soluble, bloom promoting type of fertilizer.

Side buds at the end of each branch can be removed if you want to encourage larger flowers.

The farm also produces other flowers like these zinnias and snapdragons.

Gladiolas used to be an important flower crop, but the family 
tells me that they are not as popular in recent years.

Growing Lavatera as a cut flower was an experiment tried
for the first time this summer.

Lavatera trimestris: Lavatera are annuals that are easy to grow from seed. You can start them indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost or sow them directly outdoors two weeks before the last frost date. 

Lavatera dislike being moved, so avoid moving young plants if possible. Grow them in moist, average soil (rich soil will lead to lush foliage and fewer flowers). In growing them myself, I discovered that full sun is best. These are tall plants that may require some staking. Height: 2-4' Spread: 2-3' USDA Zones: 2-9.

Dahlia, 'Wizard of Oz'

Pompom dahlias have a ball-shaped flower that makes me think of a honeycomb. Pompoms come in a rainbow of colors and have nice long stems that are perfect for flower arranging.

Dahlia 'Yellow Pow'

Dahlia 'Jess'

Dahlia 'Jess'


In an upcoming posts, we will look at "Dinner plate" dahlias, as well as a few of the other flowers grown on the farm. I will also have some tips for storing dahlias over winter to pass along.

More Information:

Butt's Berry & Flower Farm

5838 5th Line
Rockwood, Ontario
(519) 856-0270

You can't beat the freshness of locally grown flowers!

Delphinium, dahlias, and a variety of other flowers are grown on the farm. Orders for special events such as weddings are welcome.
There is no catalogue at this time, but dahlia tubers are available for purchase each spring. 
The farm also produces a wide range of vegetables, pumpkins and berries.

Visit the Butt's Berry& Flower Farm Facebook page

Avoiding Common Problems with Spring Bulbs

I did this post up for Hometalk and thought I might repeat it here as well:

Q: Squirrels are digging up and eating my tulips bulbs! What can I do?

There tend to be lots of squirrels looking for an easy meal in my backyard every fall. Here is what I have learned to do to prevent them from adding my tulips to the dinner menu:

1. Do not place your bulbs on the surface of the ground while you dig the hole to plant them. Squirrels have a good sense of smell. You might as well put up a sign, "Tulips planted here. Please dig." Instead place your tulips in a basket or plastic bucket while you work.

2. Don't make it easy for squirrels to dig up your bulbs. Plant tulips deeply. Forget the little hand trowel and go get a shovel. You are more likely to dig to the proper depth with a shovel. On average tulips should be planted to a depth of 6-8 inches. (As an added bonus tulips planted deeply are more likely to bloom reliably year to year.)

3. After you dig down and place your bulbs, backfill the hole and firm down the soil really well with your foot. Most squirrels will go for food buried just under the surface of the soil. If the little beggars do have the nerve to try to dig for your tulips, at least you have made it difficult for them by planting deeply and compacting the soil. Most squirrels will move on to much easier quarry.

4. Disguise the area where you planted your tulips by covering the surface with mulch or leaves as a final way to hide your buried treasure.

5. I have never resorted to repellents, but if you have squirrels that are determined pests, you may want to try an organic repellent (available at your local nursery). I have also read that red pepper flakes sprinkled on the surface of the soil are a great organic deterrent.

6. If all else fails, plant bulbs that squirrels don't like to eat. Examples include: daffodils, alliums, scilla and hyacinths. (Note: I have had squirrels dig up my daffodils and discard them uneaten on the surface of the soil, so I have also learned the hard way to plant my daffodils deeply.)

Do you have a great method of deterring squirrels from eating tulips bulbs? Please share in the comment section below!

Tulip 'Angelique'

Q: Last spring's bulbs produced only foliage with no flowers. Where did I go wrong?

1. Most tulips only bloom reliably for a year or two so you may have done nothing wrong. If you want a longer lifespan from tulip bulbs try Darwin or species tulips. Darwin hybrids not only have big, showy flowers, they are known to bloom from 5 to 7 years. And unlike their more flashy hybrid cousins, species tulips are long lived and will naturalize when planted in a sunny, well-drained spot.

2. Make sure to double check the light requirements before you plant your bulbs. Tulips, for instance, need full sun. Sunlight feeds the foliage and that energy is stored in the bulb to produce next spring's flower. If your tulips are planted in shade, the bulbs may not have stored sufficient food to make flowers.

3. Deadhead after flowering. If you don't remove spent blooms, tulips will put all their energy into producing seed instead of storing food for next year's flowers.

4. Do not remove foliage after the flowers fade. Allow the foliage to die down naturally so the bulbs will have a chance to store enough nutrients to produce next spring's blooms.

A mix of Daffodils and Narcissus from last May

5. Poor blooms on daffodils may mean that the bulbs have become crowded and need division. Dig up daffodil clumps following the spring bloom time, separate individual bulbs and replant them several inches apart.

6. As daffodil bulbs age the "mother" bulb multiplies each year. The mother bulb eventually dies and it sometimes takes the offspring bulbs a few years to reach flowering size. To encourage the young bulbs to mature, apply a granular high potash feed and liquid fertilizer each spring after flowering.

An Allium up close and personal

Q: Deer are treating my spring display of bulbs as an all-you-can-eat buffet. What can I do? 

Try planting bulbs that don't appeal to deer: grape hyacinth, Siberian Squill, daffodils or alliums.

Q: What should I look for when buying bulbs?

Look for firm bulbs that show no signs of being shrivelled or soft. The larger the bulb the larger the flower- is a good general rule.

Q: When is it too late to plant bulbs?

1. Ideally, I think it is a good idea to get your bulbs planted in September/October.  That being said, I notoriously snap up bulbs at clearance sales in late October and often get them into the ground as late as mid-November (my garden is Zone 6).
But when is a bargain not a bargain? Late fall weather is often unpredictable and there have been occasions when the ground has frozen before I could get my clearance bulbs into the ground. I learned to limit my clearance bulb purchases to only those I know I can plant immediately.

Q: Can I leave potted bulbs outside all winter?

This is another lesson I learned the hard way. Last year I left potted bulbs outdoors and by spring they all had turned into a soggy, rotten mess. In colder zones like mine, it is best to put potted bulbs in an unheated garage or shed. Keep an eye on them to make sure they are damp, but not wet. In warmer zones (Zone 8 or higher), you can leave them outdoors all winter.


Q: How can I force bulbs for inside the house?

Paperwhites are one of the easiest bulbs to force and do not require a period of chilling. In recent years, I find that most other types of spring bulbs are readily available in stores and are so darned affordable that I don't go to the bother of forcing them myself. If you do want to try to force your own however, most bulbs can be forced if you refrigerate them for a period of 10-15 weeks in a paper bag. When placing your bulbs in the fridge, make sure your bulbs are not stored near fruit or vegetables which can emit an ethylene gas that is harmful to bulbs.

Q: Can I replant forced bulbs outside in spring?

Most forced bulbs won't bloom again as they have used up all their energy. I have however, had some luck with forced hyacinths purchased in late winter. I remove flowers when they fade, keep them in a sunny spot and continue to water the foliage. When the weather warms up to above freezing, I move the hyacinth pots outside and let them acclimatize to the outdoor temperatures. Then I remove the bulbs and plant them in the garden. Some have come back the following year. Have you had any luck planting forced bulbs in your garden?

Please share any other bulb planting tips you may have! We'd all love to know what has 
worked in your garden.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Secret Garden: The Backyard Fairy Garden

In this, the final post in the series on Carole's garden, we will take a tour of the 
garden at the back of the house. 

There is no obvious fencing here. On the contrary, the forest surrounding backyard slips almost seamlessly into a cultivated space.

Gravel paths, like spokes on a wheel, lead you inside Carole's garden 
and to the raised pond that is at its heart.


One of the unique and distinctive features are the decorative frames which mark off the perimeters of the garden. Carole tells me that the frames were:

"... developed from a reprinted book offered by Lee Valley Tools called 'Beautifying the Home Grounds' that was originally published in 1926. We designed it together and my husband built it. I wanted something to define the edges of the garden and to add some winter structure as well. We started with the higher, larger section at the back as the focal point of the garden. As we came forward, we made the sections smaller with less segments."

Yarrow, Achillea 'Coronation Gold'

The decorative frames also serve as supports for climbers like this Clematis.

Clustered Bellflower, Campanula glomerata (Sorry, Carole wasn't sure of the particular cultivar, but says that this type of Campanula is well-behaved and is not an aggressive spreader.)

Dwarf Purple Bellflower, Campanula

Pink Yarrow, possibly Achillea 'Wonderful Wampee' which is part of the same Tutti Frutti series of Achillea as 'Pomegranate', which you can also see in if you scroll down just a bit further. 'Wonderful Wampee' has soft pink flowers and is a nice, compact plant. Full sun and somewhat poor soil with good drainage. Height: 45-70 cm (18-27 inches) 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). Hardy USDA Zones: 4-9.

Penstemon 'Dark Towers': Height: 60-90 cm, Spread: 45-60 cm. Full sun. Normal, sandy or clay soil are fine. Average to dry conditions. Zones: USDA 3-9

Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster': is often overused in commercial settings, but is still a wonderful ornamental grass. Soft, feathery green plumes appear mid-summer and mature into wheat-like spikes.  Trim to the ground in early spring. Height:120-150 cm (45-60 inches), Spread: 60-70 cm ( 23-27 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

I asked Carole if there was any significance to the fairies in this part of her garden. She replied that there is " real signifigance, other than I like them."

Rose Campion, Lychnis coronaria: is a short lived perennial that re-seeds. The plant has a low mound of soft silver-grey foliage and magenta or white flowers. Full sun and average soil. Height 60-90 cm when in flower. Spread: 40-50 cm. The flowers have no fragrance, but butterflies like them.   Drought tolerant. Zones 3-9. 

Yarrow, Achillea 'Pomegranate': was bred to be a compact, bushy Yarrow. Full sun and somewhat poor soil with good drainage. Remove faded flowers to promote a second flush of blooms. Height: 45-70 cm (18-27 inches) 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). Hardy USDA Zones: 2-9.

Veronica 'Eveline': Height: 45-50 cm, Spread: 30-40 cm. Will tolerate part shade, but blooms much better in full sun. Normal, sandy or clay soil are fine. Moist soil is preferred, but it will tolerate average conditions. Deadhead to encourage repeat flowering. Zones: USDA 4-9

In the foreground on the right:
Euphorbia polychroma 'First Blush': has foliage that is green and white with pink variegation. Full sun and moist, well drained soil. Yellow flowers in spring. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches). Hardy: USDA Zones 4-9.

Monarda 'Petite Delight': I have this Monarda in my own garden, and despite its tendency to develop powdery mildew mid-summer, it is a really nice plant. Most Monarda are tall, whereas this one is short and compact. (Use this Monarda at the front of a flower border.) The flowers are a pretty shade of mauve. Unlike many taller varieties, which start to become a bit bedraggled as the flowers mature, the flowers on 'Petite Delight' always look attractive. 
Full sun with a bit of light shade in afternoon is ideal. 'Petite Delight' grows in a variety of soil types and likes average to moist conditions. When flowers fade and the foliage gets spotty, cut the plant back to promote fresh growth. Height: 25-30 cm (20-12 inches) Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). Hardy USDA Zones: 3-9

Yellow Verbascum with red Monarda and yellow Heliopsis daisies in the background.

Catmint, Nepeta x faassenii 'Six Hills Giant': Prefers sun and somewhat dry conditions with good drainage. Height: 90-120 cm (36-48 in), Spread: 60-90 cm (24-36 in) Cut the plant back 2/3 in July to promote fresh growth and more fowers. Hardy USDA zones 3-8.

I hope, with my photographs, I have managed to covey what a pleasure it was to 
spend a bright, summer afternoon in Carole's garden. 

Have a wonderful weekend!