Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Boys Learn to Swim (the hard way!)

Piper took just one look at the brown ducks gliding effortlessly across the mirror-smooth surface of the lake and he forgot all about his aversion to water.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while probably remember how much Scrap loves to play in the sprinklers.

Piper, on the other hand, absolutely hates the water. If he sees me pulling out the garden hose, he cowers on the porch until the tap is turned off and he knows the coast is clear.

A bath is his worst nightmare come true! If he thinks he’s about to be groomed and bathed, he plots his escape and hides from me.

In late August, we took a vacation trip to northern Ontario. Our destination was a campground just outside the town of Sturgeon Falls. 

A couple of hours north of Toronto the landscape changes quite perceptibly. The hills get taller and deciduous trees give way to pine and fur. Traffic thins out the further you go. If there was any doubt about the wildness of the landscape, yellow signs begin to pop up warning drivers about the possibility of encountering a wandering moose. 

Have you ever seen a moose? 

I haven't. The whole way north, I kept hoping we might catch a glimpse of these huge, lumbering creatures, but the only excitement we experienced was a family of wild turkeys scurrying from one side of the highway to the other.

After a long day in the car, the dogs were restless. The clerk manning the front desk at our hotel in North Bay told us there was a leash-free park nearby. Perfect! 

So off we went to Champlain Park on the shores of Lake Nipissing.

That's where Piper saw the brown ducks. Squirrels and large birds are enemies you ward off in Piper's mind. He took one look at the small flock of brown ducks and forgot all about his dislike of water.

The ducks weren't exactly worried about the barking dog. They simply moved a little further out into the lake and quack, quack, quacked their disdain from a safe distance.

 Scrap modeling a lifejacket.

Neither Piper nor Scrap can swim. Whenever we're out in our canoe, the boys sport canine lifejackets. Should they ever have the misfortune to tumble overboard, the lifejackets would keep them afloat.

It's a comfort to know that the lifevests would save their lives in such an eventuality, but they wouldn't spare the dogs from being in a state of complete panic. It would make it much easier on them if we could ease their fear of water.

So we didn't discourage Piper from charging into the water after the ducks that day. We even had them fetching the ball just off the shore at Lake Nipissing.

A bend in the Sturgeon River.

The following day we arrived at our final destination– the campground in Sturgeon Falls. After we unpacked our camp gear into the cute, one room cabin, we decided to go for a swim even though the grey clouds overhead were spitting rain.

Dogs were not permitted to swim at the campground's tiny beach, so we skipped the usual precaution of the lifejackets. When we discovered that we were the only crazy people swimming in the rain, we let them off-leash so they could watch us swim from the safety of the floating wharf.

Big mistake! The Sturgeon River is both wide and deep. A few feet from shore the sandy bottom drops away into deep, dark depths.

I bravely took the plunge into the cold water while my husband stayed behind with the two boys. The dogs were transfixed by the sight of me floating in the water. Barking madly, they followed me along the wharf jostling one another for the best vantage point.

Not five minutes later Scrap lost his balance and fell in. I am not sure who was more shocked him or me! You might think that instinct would kick in and Scrap would begin to dog paddle, but no. I watched with horror as he began to sink like a stone.

Thank goodness I was just inches away! I reached down and grabbed Scrap by the scruff of the neck. In one quick movement, I hauled him back up to the surface. 

Treading water, I held Scraps up as he recovered his composure. Unfortunately, he is almost 40 lbs. After a minute or so of treading frantically, I had to let go and pray he would swim on his own. As one final gesture of assistance, I propelled him in the direction of the shore.

Instinct finally kicked in and Scrap began to paddle the water furiously with his front paws. My husband, who had dashed into the water at the first sign of trouble, reached out and dragged him back to safety.

In hindsight, we should have foreseen the possibility that the dogs might accidentally fall in the water.  Lesson learned the hard way! From that moment on, we resolved to use the lifejackets whenever the dogs are anywhere near water.

Thankfully Scraps wasn't at all traumatized by his ordeal. In fact, he waded back into the river a couple of minutes after he was taken to shore. I guess if you're a furry beast cool water is always a relief in the heat of summer.

We put our new rule into practice the very next day. This time it was Piper fell into the Sturgeon River. You should have seen the look of shock on his little face!

The lifejacket did its job and kept his head up above the water. In this instance, instinct had enough time to register and Piper began to paddle. Unfortunately, he chose to head in the direction of the wharf floating high in the water rather than the safety of the beach, so he still needed rescue! Luckily the lifejackets have a handle across the back that allows you to lift the dog out of the water in a pinch.

Even if Piper eventually becomes a confident swimmer the brown ducks, like those on Lake Nipissing, have nothing to worry about. If threatened, they'd simply take to the air.

It's highly unlikely that Piper will ever learn to fly!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Yellow Wax Bells for Shade

Soft, butter-yellow flowers in early September are a great reason to grow Yellow Wax Bells, Kirengeshoma palmata.

Initially, the flowers look a little like clusters of fat, round yellow berries. As they mature, the blooms elongate into a tubular, almost bell-like shape (hence the common name). Once they are spent, the flowers are replaced with curious looking, three-horned, brownish-green seed pods.

This woodland perennial, native to the mountains of Japan and Korea, has stiff, upright stems and the round shape and proportions of a small shrub (fairly similar in size and shape to a common Spirea).

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.

The attractive foliage is yet another reason to grow this plant. The large, medium-green leaves are coarsely toothed and deeply lobed. Wax bells are members of the Hydrangeaceae family, so not surprisingly, the foliage closely resembles that of an Oakleaf hydrangea.

As you can see from my photo, this plant is not immune to insect damage. Slugs and snails can be an issue.

One other issue with regard to the foliage is the danger of a sudden and unexpected dip in the temperature in the early spring. The emerging leaves can be blackened by a surprise frost. If this happens, you can cut the foliage back to the ground and your Wax Bells will recover. I prefer to cover my plant at night if there is a frost warning.

The heavy blooms of this perennial hang down making it advantageous to plant Wax Bells where they can be viewed on an upward angle. This is a lesson I learned the hard way! Originally I had them planted behind some shorter perennials and the flowers were entirely lost from view. So this spring, I moved my Wax Bells to a new hillside location where they overlook what will be a small waterfall and stream in the very near future.

In terms of light, my Wax Bells are planted on the outer edge of a tree canopy. They get a little sun in the morning and then they are in bright shade for the remainder of the day.

To make Yellow Wax Bells truly happy, you really need moist, rich soil. If your growing conditions are on the dry side, as they are in my garden, be prepared to water your plant regularly. A run of dry weather and the foliage of my Wax Bells sulks miserably. A top dressing of mulch helps to a degree, but I find supplemental water is necessary in the hot, dry weather of mid-summer.

Plant type: Perennial

Height: 90-120 cm (35-47 inches)

Spread: 75-90 cm (29-35 inches)

Flower: Butter-yellow

Bloom period: Late summer/early fall

Leaf: Maple-shaped leaves

Light: Part-shade

Growing conditions: Moist, rich, somewhat acidic soil

Move or Divide: Spring

Problems: Slugs, snails and earwigs

USDA Zones: 5-8

Companion Plants

Yellow Wax Bells work with any woodland plant, perennial or bulb that likes moist, part-shade.

Spring perennials might include:
• Primula 
• Lungwart (Pulmonaria)
• Foam Flowers (Tiarella)
• Virginia Blue Bells (Mertensia virginica)
• Wood Anemone (Anemonella thalictroides)
• Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
• Bloodroot, (Sanguinaria canadensis)
• Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
• Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)
• Geum

 Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart' 

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina), Leucojum aestivum, Brunnera variegata

Foam Flowers (Tiarella)

Spring bulbs might include: 
• Snowdrops
• Camassia
• Daffodils
• Erythronium 'Pagoda'
• Anemone blanda
• Fritillaria
• Leucojum aestivum

Very much a work in progress! The waterfall will eventually start just behind the Lobelia (#3) and will flow into a small stream. It will pass under two footbridges and empty into a pond on the other side of the yard. Plants already in place include:
1. Dogwood tree 2. Ninebark shrub 3. Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) 4. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart') 5. Self-seeded Pulmonaria 6. Miniature Hosta 7. Geum 8. Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) 9. Astilbe 'Chocolate Shogun' 10. Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo' 11. Carex 12. Hydrangea Paniculata 'Little Lime' (that I just about killed when I forgot to water it during one of the recent dry spells!) 13. Repeated Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) 14. Brunnera (with a couple of miniature hosta at its feet that will eventually need to be moved.) 15. Yellow Wax Bells (Kirengeshoma palmata). The purple flowers (not numbered) are Phlox 'Purple Flame'.

Dwarf Goat's Beard, Aruncus 'Misty Lace'

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) 

Piper on the second bridge swishing the Eupatorium 'Chocolate' with his tail. 

Astilbe 'Shogun' and two types of Heuchera

The blooms of Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo' start off white and then age
 into shades of cream and rose.

Summer/fall options might include:
• Ferns (Japanese and native)
• Heuchera
• Ligularia
• Perennial Lobelia
• Goat's Beard (Aruncus) 
• Hydrangea
• Monarda
• Phlox
• Native Lobelia
• Eupatorium 'Chocolate'
• Bugbane (Actea simplex)

You may have to do a little searching to find Yellow Wax Bells, but I think you'll find that they are well worth the hunt (P.S. A local source would be Lost Horizons just outside of Acton)!

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Monday, August 20, 2018

One of my Absolute Favourites

This plant is one of my all-time favourites. It's tall and elegantly green for most of the summer. Then, come mid-August– just as you're feeling desperate for a little color– the soft lavender flowers begin to open.

Wild Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa is North American native that can be found in fields and along roadsides. It's a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), but don't worry, it's a clump-forming perennial. It does spread slowly by underground rhizomes, but the plant's roots are near to the surface of the soil and are easy to remove where unwanted.

Give this plant full sun with a little afternoon shade in southern garden zones. You'll find it's not a fussy plant and is quite happy in average garden soil. It will even tolerate quite poor soil and dry conditions. 

Monarda fistulosa is a skyscraper that can reach up to 5 feet. Unlike modern hybrids, Monarda fistulosa is more prone to outbreaks of powdery mildew, but I have yet to have a problem (Perhaps this is because my garden is quite dry in the summer. If your garden gets lots of rain, you may have more of an issue with powdery mildew).

There is always the hum of bees around this perennial. Butterflies love it too.

My front garden.

Phlox paniculata 'Eva Cullum and Phlox paniculata 'David's Lavender' (above) can be 
seen in the background of the previous picture.

Looking along the driveway.

The leaves and flowers of this plant are edible and can be used in both salads and cooked dishes. The dried leaves and flowers can also be used to make an aromatic tea.

Plant type: Perennial

Height: 2-5 ft

Spread: 3-4 ft

Flower: Lavender

Bloom period: Late-summer into early fall

Leaf: Toothed, aromatic blue-green leaves

Light: Full sun to light shade

Companion Plants: Ornamental grasses, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Phlox

Divide: Spring

Deer resistant

Problems: Provide good air circulation to avoid powdery mildew

USDA Zones: 4-9

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Lesser-Known Rudbeckia

I've done a 180-degree flip when it comes to Rudbeckia. At one time, it was the main feature in my late-summer garden. Then, cheerful though it was, I got tired of it and decided I wanted to favour flowers with cool shades of pink, purple and blue. So I ripped out most of the Rudbeckia and planted things like Veronica and Catmint.

I don't regret giving Catmint or Veronica more play in my garden, but I found myself missing the Rudbeckia. Like Phlox, Sunflowers and Echinacea, it is a quintessential late-summer flower. The bright yellow flowers look great mixed with purple Phlox and pink Echinacea.

With this change of heart, I find myself reconsidering the many different types of Rudbeckia.

Before we take a look at some of the more unusual types of Rudbeckia, I think it's worth a quick look at the tried and true. One of the most popular is Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldstrum'.

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldstrum' has golden-yellow flowers with a black centre. It will easily grow in average garden soil. It likes sun but appreciates a little light afternoon shade. Removing spent flowers will prolong the display of blooms into the autumn. This perennial has a slow spreading habit but is easy to remove where unwanted. Height: 60-75 cm ( 23-29 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

There is also a more compact version available:

Rudebckia fulgida 'Little Goldstar' was bred to be an improvement on 'Goldstrum'. It blooms profusely on a smaller plant that stands just 14-16 inches tall. It's an easy-to-grow perennial that will prosper in average garden soil with normal moisture conditions. Height: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches), Spread: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

While this is a cute little Rudbeckia, in my opinion, it does not have quite the same bright punch as 'Goldstrum'. The yellow petals of 'Little Goldstar' are smaller and the dark centre is more dominant.

And finally, there is Rudbeckia hirta. These are short-lived perennials that bloom in the first year from seed that was sown in the early spring. Often you'll see them sold as annuals to brighten up fall container plantings. Rudbeckia hirta is easily grown in average garden soil. They like full sun and moist, free-draining soil. 

Now let's look at a few of the more unusual Rubdeckia starting with a couple of tall perennials:

Rudbeckia pinnata growing in the Lucy Maud Montgomery Memorial Garden.

Drooping Coneflower or Grey-headed Coneflower, Rudbeckia pinnata has yellow petals that hang down and an erect brown cone. This plant has long flower stems and hairy, divided basal leaves. It likes rich, moist, but well-drained soil. Full sun. Height: 2-5 ft (50-150 cm), Spread: 2ft (45 cm). USDA zones: 3-10.

Rudbeckia Maxima

Rudbeckia Maxima is a native of the Southern U.S. It has really interesting grey-blue foliage and tall brown-eyed daisies that don't require staking. This perennial grows in average garden soil in full sun. It too prefers soil conditions to be on the moist side. Height is a whopping 150-240 cm (59-94 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Little Henry'

The next two Rudbeckia I want to show you are shorter but are still quite tall and upright.

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldstrum'

So often you see closeups of flowers when a plant is profiled, but I really think it is important to consider the size and shape of a plant when you're doing your planning. 

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldstrum' is a round, bushy plant. In contrast Rudbeckia subomentosa 'Henry Eilers'  and Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Little Henry' are upright and narrow.

Rudbeckia subomentosa 'Henry Eilers'. Lucy Maud Montgomery Memorial Garden

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Henry Eilers' has flowers with narrow yellow petals with dark brown centres. The foliage apparently has a light vanilla scent. Full sun with a bit of light afternoon shade. Height: 120-180 cm (47-70 inches) Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Little Henry' is very similar to 'Henry Eilers', but is shorter.

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Little Henry'

Rudbeckia subtomentosa 'Little Henry' is a tall, upright plant with quilled yellow flowers with brown centres. 'Little Henry' blooms from midsummer into fall and is attractive to butterflies. It will grow in a range of soils types and tolerates moist to fairly dry growing conditions. Full sun or light shade. Height: 80-90 cm (30-35 inches) Spread: 55-60 cm (20-23 inches) USDA Zones: 4-9.

This next Rudbeckia has become my new favourite. Not everyone shares my good opinion–many would describe Rudbeckia triloba as a weedy native plant. It's a short-lived perennial (annual in my garden) that you might see growing wild along roadsides, in damp woods and along streams. 

What I think is charming about this Brown-eyed Susan are the flowers. The yellow petals are shorter and less pointy than those of Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum'. This makes for a smaller, rounder flower and more dainty bloom.

This is just one single plant!

Rudbeckia triloba is a short-lived perennial that is native to much of Eastern North America. It tolerates light shade and is easily grown in average, moist, well-drained soil. Deadhead the flowers to encourage new flowers and to prevent unwanted seedlings. Attractive to butterflies. Full morning sun with some light afternoon shade is ideal. Height: 75-100 cm (29-39 inches), Spread: 60-75 cm (23-29 inches). USDA zones: 4-8.

My front garden.

Looking along the front of the garden you can see hints of the yellow Rudbeckia flowers. 
Monarda in the foreground.

Rudbeckia triloba is a tall plant with an umbrella shape. One of the unexpected things I like about this Rudbeckia is the contrast of its green foliage with the dark, reddish-brown stems. 

Originally I had it planted in the back garden, but last fall I spread some seeds in the front yard as well. It now adds a little sparkle of yellow in among the pink and purple Phlox. 

Grange Hollow Nursery 

One of the best ways to grow tall Rudbeckia triloba is amongst other plants it can lean on. In this example, it was grown alongside Mountain Fleeceflower, Persicaria.

My backyard garden.

This next Rudbeckia becomes a bit of a tangled mess, but the mix of colors is very striking. It's another type of Rudbeckia triloba and has a similar umbrella of flowers.

Rudbeckia triloba 'Prairie Glow' has bi-color blooms. It is a short-lived perennial with a tendency to liberally reseed itself. It is easy to grow in average or moist, well-drained soil. It's tall, and a bit floppy, so it is good to give it some support (or grow it next to a plant it can lean on). Full sun. Height: 90-120 cm ( 36-48 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (24-36 inches) . USDA Zones 3-10.

Rudbeckia triloba 'Prairie Glow' offers a nice contrast between its bright green leaves and its deep purple stems. This too is a short-lived perennial that reseeds itself. To contain the spread of seedlings, I chop off the flowers as soon as they have set seed. Then I sprinkle the seeds over the surface of the ground in the fall. 

If you like order and hate unwanted seedlings, this might not be the plant for you.

Companion Plants

Rudbeckia with Echinacea and Russian Sage in the Lucy Maud Montgomery Memorial Garden.

Rudbeckia looks great with a whole range of late-summer perennials including Phlox, Echinacea, Russian Sage, Helenium and ornamental grasses. 

 Rudbeckia with ornamental grasses in the Lucy Maud Montgomery Memorial Garden. 

 Rudbeckia with Helenium (foreground orange), Russian Sage and Pink Phlox.
Public park in Brampton.

Rudbeckia with Phlox and Daylilies

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