Monday, April 27, 2020

Rue anemone, Anemonella thalictroides

Before Humber  Nursery closed for good in the fall of 2019, they had three short benches dedicated to native plants hidden in a back corner. Unless you went out of your way to search for natives, or somehow managed to wander inadvertently into this section, this modest collection might easily escape your notice. 

I've long been a fan of native plants. Every spring I'd make a foray into this less-travelled part of Humber's perennial greenhouse. One of the purchases I made was this little charmer. 

Fast forward to the present when I wanted to do a post on this delicate little plant. Darned if I could find the plant tag or remember its Latin name! Down a rabbit hole of research I fell! Turns out there are a number of similar-looking Anemones. I knew for a fact that it wasn't Anemone canadensis (a very aggressive plant that I also grow in my garden). I was also certain it wasn't Anemone Nemorosa (which is native to Europe and has pointed leaves). Maddeningly enough, the flower looks a lot like another native, Anemone Quinquefolia, but if you look closer, the leaves aren't as deeply lobed (compare Anemones here). Frustrated, I began to look back through my own blog posts and there I finally found it: Rue Anemone, Anemonella thalictroides. 

Anemonella thalictroides is native to the eastern part of North America. It's a spring "ephemeral" which is a plant that awakes, leafs-out, blooms and sets seed all before the heat of summer begins to settle in. Then they go dormant until the following spring. 

Rue anemone has tiny white flowers and bright-green leaves.  Like so many spring ephemerals, this plant likes the dappled shade of deciduous trees and rich, loamy soil that is slightly moist. Anemonella thalictroides bloom for a period of about six weeks and then goes dormant, especially if the areas where it is planted is hot and dry.

Anemonella thalictroides first emerging at the end of April.

If I haven't convinced you it's worth growing, here's a list of some of its best attributes:

• It thrives where many others struggle (under trees in part-shade/shade). 
• While it prefers moist soil in spring, it will tolerate dry conditions when dormant in the summer.
• When the foliage first emerges, the leaves are pinkish-lavender. They age to greenish-tan and finally become bright green. 
• When fully open, the foliage is delicate and fern-like. 
• Unopened flower buds look like tiny pearls. The blooms are pale pink on opening and fade to white.
• The flowers are an early source of nectar and pollen for bees and other insects.

Top row left to right: Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart') , Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) and Brunnera macrophylla variegata
Bottom row left to right: Daffodils, Pulmonaria and Merry Bells (Uvularia grandiflora)


This native is perfectly at home with other woodland plants such as ferns. Other natives you might pair it with are; Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum, Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, Shooting Star, Dodecatheon pulchellum and TrilliumsYou might also consider using daffodils, Bleeding Heart, Brunnera and Pulmonaria with this Anemone.

Plant type: Herbaceous perennial

Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches)

Spread: 7-15 cm ( 3-6 inches)

Flower: Tiny white flowers

Bloom period: Early spring

Leaf: Three-lobed green leaves (that resemble Meadow Rue, Thalictrum)

Light: Part to full shade

Soil: Moist, humus-rich, slightly acidic well-drained soil

Move: Divide in summer when leaves begin to fade

Problems: None

USDA Zones: 4-8

Saturday, April 18, 2020

10+ Ways to Dress up the Side of a Garage (or Wall)

Of all the crazy things, a garage can be a bit of a design dilemma for gardeners. Whether it's stuck out at the front of your house or recessed on one side, the wall of the garage often stares the gardener in the face. How can you make that big blank surface work with the lush green space of your imaginings? 

I've gathered together some of the creative solutions people have found to deal with the problem. With most home stores and nurseries closed, executing these ideas may have to wait, but having a plan is a huge step forward. 

If you don't have a garage, many of these ideas might be useful to dress up any kind of wall or fence. 

Idea #1 Simply cover the face of your garage with a climbing vine. 

An empty wall contributes nothing to the relaxing atmosphere of a garden. In this shady backyard, the homeowner has opted for a Climbing Hydrangea. A low boxwood hedge outlines the formal boundaries of the flowerbed below it.

Some information on the vine used:
Climbing Hydrangea, Hydrangea Petiolaris is a deciduous, self-clinging vine that has bright green foliage and large, white, lace-cap flowers. It is slow-growing until established and then becomes quite vigorous. Climbing Hydrangeas like a regular source of water especially in hot weather. Prune right after it flowers. Full sun to full shade. Height: 50 ft., Spread: 80 ft. USDA zones 4-9.

If your garage has a full sun exposure, clematis, sweet peas or even a climbing rose might be possible (unlike the climbing hydrangea in my first example, these climbers will require the underlying support of some trellising).

Idea # 2 Frame and then paint panels of wooden lattice to create a trellis for climbing vines.

Idea #3 Create a focal point with a decorative panel. 

In this formal garden, the trelliswork and bench turn a red brick wall into something special. If you don't have a carpenter in the family, you could purchase and hang a decorative, laser-cut panel on the wall. Here are just two of the many options available:

On the left is the Matrix Woodland Plastic Decorative Screen (Bundle of three $249 US from the Home Depot. Note: not sponsored link. Other home improvement stores sell these panels as well) and on the right is Matrix Jungle Charcoal Recycled Plastic Decorative Fence Panel ($99 US also from the Home Depot). To get a similar look to my inspiration photo, I'd spray paint them cream (using a paint specially formulated to adhere to plastic).

If you have a larger budget, there are really nice panels with a rusted metal finish.

Idea # 4 Make a DIY trellis for a climbing vine. 

If you feel confident enough to make a few forty-five-degree cuts, a wooden trellis might be a great weekend project. Strings or wires run vertically from a row of nails at the top and bottom of each trellis as additional support for the fine tendrils of this clematis.

Idea # 5 Create a garden that runs the length of the garage.

This garden sweeps out in a curve from the straight line of the garage and incorporates a range of shade-loving plants. The brown ceramic pot sitting on top of a concrete pedestal gives the eye a resting place. You can identify some of the plants and see more of this shade garden here

Idea # 6 Use potted annuals for summer-long color.

Hardscaping can make an area wonderfully low-maintenance, but it can also look a little lifeless. In the previous set of photos, the narrow corridor that runs between the house and garage leads to the garden beyond. Pots of annuals bring color to all that neutral stone.

Idea # 7 Create an entrance.

When the garage and garden sit side-by-side, it's nice to create an entrance that distinguishes the two areas. Here, a wooden arbour marks the transition from driveway to the green space.

In this example, a stone gate separates the garden from the driveway and garage.

Idea # 8 Install a wall fountain.

The vines have covered the wall fountain in my inspiration photo above, so I have included a second example below. Trickling water is soothing and can mask street sounds.

Technically this is a shed, but it nicely illustrates my next idea.

Idea# 9 Transform the garage into a "cottage" with an infusion of charm.

In a small townhouse garden like this, the back of the garage seems inescapable. The roses, green ivy, lantern and the pretty wreath all combine to make you feel that there is something inviting on both sides of the door. 


Idea # 10 Use repetition to make the most of every inch. 

Often the space you have to work with is quite narrow. That's why climbing vines are such a popular solution. In the first photo, a honeysuckle vine is repeated for maximum impact. In my second example, hanging baskets carry the color up to eye level.

Idea # 11 Use architectural salvage, corbels, mouldings and decorative objects to personalize a space. 

Idea #12 Use an old frame and a planter box filled with colorful annuals to create a faux window on a blank wall.

I hope you and your family are staying well. COVID19 has directly touched my extended family, but I am glad to report that, after some weeks of serious illness, my brother-in-law has now fully recovered. Thank goodness for that!

Warm weather and better times are coming our way soon. In the meantime, I will continue to post lots of new plants, ideas and gardens that are inspirational.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Get to Know a Native Plant: Bell Wort or Merry Bells, Uvularia grandiflora

I am guilty of taking this easy-going native plant for granted. It comes up reliably every spring and quietly goes about putting on a display of nodding yellow flowers. I sometimes give its flowerbed some supplemental water, but other than that, I don't do much for it. That's one of the beauties of growing a plant that's native–it's perfectly at home in my garden. 

Bell Wort or Merry Bells, Uvularia grandiflora is native to the woodlands of Eastern and Central North America. It's a long-lived, clump-forming, herbaceous perennial. Underground is a rhizome with fleshy, fibrous roots.

The upright foliage is perfoliate– in other words, the lance-shaped leaves encircle the plant's stem. The pendulous yellow flowers have six partially twisted petals that flare outward at the end.

Unlike woodland ephemerals, which go dormant in summer, the foliage of Merry Bells remains into the early fall. I have read that slugs can be a problem, but I haven't noticed much slug damage on my plant. 

Here's another reason to grow this plant: it's one of the first wildflowers to emerge in the spring, and as such, it is an important source of nectar and pollen for a wide variety of native and non-native bees.

Growing Uvularia grandiflora

This perennial prefers humus-rich soil, but it will happily grow in average garden soil. Merry Bells prefers moist conditions but established plants tolerate dry spells in the summer months.

Uvularia grandiflora seeds can be difficult to germinate and require a period of cold to germinate properly. I find Merry Bells are slow-growing (the clump in my garden is old yet it has barely changed size), so I'd recommend buying a bare root plant. 

Divide Merry Bells in the early fall.

Yellow Fairy Bells, Disporum flavens

Not A Native

When you are shopping for Uvularia grandiflora you may come across this similar plant: 

Yellow Fairy Bells, Disporum flavens is native to Korea. Like Solomon's Seal, they emerge mid-spring with arching stalks of bright green leaves. Lemon yellow flowers will last for up to a couple of weeks. Blackberries appear in late summer. Part to full shade and clay soil that is on the moist side is this plant's preferences. Height: 70-90 cm ) 27-35 cm, Spread: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Top row from left to right: Bleeding Heart' Gold Heart', Daffodils, and Virginia Bluebells
Bottom row: Tulips, Pulmonaria and Anemone Nemorosa

Hybrid Trout Lily (Erythronium) with Uvularia grandiflora in the background.


Uvularia grandiflora is at home in a woodland setting. Native co-ordinates might include Trout Lily (Erythronium), Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria), Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and native ferns ( Bulblet, Sheild, Cinnamon and Lady fern to name just a few).  Other companions might be tulips, daffodils, primula, Bleeding Heart, Pulmonaria and Hellebores. 

A Few Sources

I was able to find many native plant nurseries that sell Merry Bells but don't offer mailorder services. I'd recommend doing a local search before you pay shipping fees. Because native plants are sometimes a little harder to find, I am going to include a few links that a quick online search produced. 

I have not ordered from these companies, nor do I stand to benefit from any order you place. If you have a native plant nursery to suggest, please share a recommendation in the comments section. It would be a great help.


Frazer Thimble Farms


Botanically Inclined
Morning Sky Greenery
Plant Delights
Prairie Nursery Native Plants and Seeds 

Plant type: Herbaceous perennial

Native Range: Eastern and central North America

Height: 30-45 cm(12-18 inches)

Spread: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches)

Flower: Pendulous, somewhat bell-shaped with six partially twisted yellow petals

Bloom period: Spring

Leaf: Lance-shaped, perfoliate, bright green foliage

Light: Part to full shade

Soil: Moist, rich, well-drained soil but will tolerate dry conditions in summer

Move: Divide in the fall 

Problems: None

USDA Zones: 3-9

Friday, April 3, 2020

Spring Cleanup: To Rake or Not to Rake–that is my Question

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that delicate white snowdrops were peeking up through the brown leaf litter. Hyacinths, daffodils and tulip bulbs have all sent up green foliage as scouts to see if the temperature is warm enough to launch flowers. In the early morning, I have noticed that birds have begun to welcome each day with their cheerful song. As I write this, it is only the end of March but it feels as though spring has truly arrived here in Southern Ontario.

Welcome as I feel for this season of renewal, the budding flowers and warmer weather feel out of step with a world turned upside down. In these troubled times, spring seems as incongruous as a beautiful blue sky on the day of a funeral. Cold, bleak weather seems wholly more appropriate to the sombre set of circumstances that the coronavirus has presented us with.

I watch the news like a deer in the headlights. I worry for the doctors and nurses on the front lines who don't have enough masks and gowns to safeguard their health and that of their patients. I worry about the shortage of hospital beds and ventilators to treat all those who fall ill.

And closer to home, I worry for friends, neighbours and my own family. Visitors have been banned from my Dad's seniors residence, and now, frail and in his nineties, he will be isolated and alone for the foreseeable future. I worry for my younger sister who lives alone. We almost lost her a couple of years ago to meningitis. No one was aware that she was lying on her sofa delirious with a high fever. Thank goodness my Mom thought to check on her.

My husband still has to go to work each day (we still have essential services operating here in Ontario). Over fifty, with heart issues and diabetic, he's in the high-risk group for COVID-19. What would I ever do without him? And my son has a small business that is closed yet he owes thousands of dollars in rent each month.

It's hard not to feel overwhelmed.

Last June

In the coming weeks and months, everyday life is likely to be very difficult, but I remain hopeful. I hope that waiting on the other side of this terrible time is all the beauty that is June.

When the news begins to weigh too heavily, I head out to the garden and the world recedes long enough for me to regain my bearings. More than ever, the garden is our sanctuary.

Spring Cleanup

This finally brings me to the subject of today's post. Over the years, gardening experts have changed their advice with regard to raking the garden clean in of fallen leaves in the autumn and any remaining debris in the spring. I find this course correction disconcerting. Though our efforts have always been well-intentioned, it seems we have been doing the wrong thing for years. How can we be sure we are finally getting it right?

With this in mind, I want to take a closer look at the spring practice of raking a garden clear of leaves and other debris. Don't expect new me to counter the old advice with a new set of edicts. When it comes to the subject of a seasonal garden cleanup, I view Mother Nature as the master–I am merely a humble student.

I believe that one of the most important things a gardener can be is observant. Mother Nature has lots to teach us. All we need to do is pay attention to benefit from her tutelage. I always strive to learn by way of her fine example.

What I will share with you is my own experience.

The Expert's Opinion: "Dead plants, stems and leaves littering your garden not only looks.3 bad, but it can also be unhealthy for your garden."

I absolutely agree that brown, decaying organic matter can look less than attractive. This makes it really tempting to start the gardening season with a fresh, clean slate and rake your flowerbeds clean. But in the last few years, I have been pushing these aesthetic considerations aside in favour of something I feel is more natural.

Raking your flowerbeds is not what Mother Nature suggests to me. She's a tough old bird who likes things messy. She doesn't tidy her world up, nor does she meddle with the order of things. Mother Nature is as content with death and decay as she is with birth and seasonal renewal.

Now, I get that a cultivated garden is not a nature preserve or a forest where nature has free rein.  At least to some degree, we need to keep the property around our homes tidy. So what I try to do is balance the need for order with my deeply held desire to have my garden be a haven for animals, birds and insects. Seeing bees, butterflies and nesting birds always thrills me. I want to do everything I can to encourage visitors of all kinds. And yes, I'll accept the good with the bad (though the "bad" may not get the same warm welcome! LOL)

So in the fall and spring, I do rake the lawn and my gravel paths clear of leaves (the last thing I need is decaying organic matter to make the free-draining gravel an ideal spot for weeds). I compost most of the leaves and make dark, beautiful leaf mould.  I wish I had a shredder or a lawnmower with a collection bag to speed up my composting, but I do not. It takes longer for the unshredded leaf litter to break down (8 months. I have read that other types of leaves, such as Oak leaves, can take even longer to break down), but the end result is well worth the wait.

I don't rake my flowerbeds. Most of the Maple leaves that drop, fade into the background by the time the tulips are finished. A carpet of brown leaves in the spring takes some getting used to, but I've learned not to mind it. If my flowerbeds have a nice crisp edge and the pathways and lawn are clear, I am perfectly happy.

I use an old Dollarstore broom to sweep up the maple helicopters that fall onto the gravel from the huge tree at the back of the property. The broom does a good job of gathering the lightweight maple keys, but not the gravel.

Every year hundreds of black walnuts drop into the garden and on the lawn. In April, I collect any walnuts I missed in my autumn cleanup with this handy tool. By early spring, the walnuts have turned into a black, oily mess.

Bulbs don't get much smaller than these yellow Winter Aconites.

More of the advice we've been given: "Leaf litter will prevent delicate bulbs from emerging."

Not in my experience.

Even the most delicate of bulbs and foliage seem to make it up through the leafy carpet. Sometimes a bulb will shoot up through the centre of a brown leaf and get caught temporarily. If I happen to notice the problem, I'll sometimes help things along by removing the leaf. Left to its own devices, the fresh growth always seems to breakthrough.

Even this delicate fern-like foliage seems to have no problem breaking through the leaf litter.

True or False: "A thick carpet of leaves will smother your plants."

In my experience, fallen leaves act like a blanket that protects my perennials through the winter months. In spring, the maple leaves that cover the back section of the yard begins to break down fairly rapidly. As fresh growth emerges, what remains of the old leaves becomes hidden.
On the one hand, the brown litter acts as a mulch discouraging weeds. And by the same token, the layer of leaves can impede any beneficial self-seeding (something to bear in mind and consider).

"Seed heads standing over the winter are fantastic for birds."

I wish I found this advice was more true! Birds have very specific preferences.

Inspired by a Youtube video one winter, I hung orange slices out for the birds. They looked pretty, but the birds probably rolled there eyes at my stupidity. Oranges are not exactly a standard food source for birds in my Southern Ontario garden.

In a typical home garden in Canada and the U.S., the vast majority of plants are non-native. If you do want to help out, plant the native species that birds in your area use for food in winter. It may take some pains to get this right. Though I have a number of native plants, I still find that vast majority of the seed heads in my garden remain untouched by birds in the winter months. As a result, I chop and drop most of my perennials down in the autumn.

"Brush back thick leaves from the crown of your plants." Good Advice? 

If you have mounded mulch or leaves to protect the crown of your plants, then yes, I'd remove that extra layer of protection. Other than that, I find it unnecessary to fuss with leaf litter around the crowns of my perennials.

"Lots of beneficial insects, including pollinators...spend the winter hunkered down in hollow plant stems either as adults or pupae... Hold off on your spring garden cleanup until daytime temperatures consistently reach the 50's, if possible. "

As I have said, I like to encourage birds, insects and other wildlife with my gardening efforts, but I find this advice hard to live with. Waiting for temperatures to consistently reach 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) takes the work that can be spread over many weeks and compacts it into a monumental job.

In the past, I used to cut down, gather and then compost faded foliage each fall, but I began to question the reasoning for relocating it. Why not just leave old stems and leaves to break down around the base of each plant? So as an experiment, I started chopping each perennial down in segments and letting them fall to the ground. I "chop and drop" as many perennials as I can in the fall. The rest I do in the spring.

The only exception might be woody perennials that are slow to compost. Those I handle in the traditional way.

"Dead plant material can harbour disease and fungus that can end up causing major problems later in the season."

My peonies, stressed by drought in late July/August, often develop powdery mildew and/or black spot. To avoid the possibility those problems might overwinter in the decaying leaves I cut my peonies back to the ground.

Generally speaking, I don't compost any leaves that show signs of disease. Most backyard compost piles do not get hot enough to destroy pathogens (the temperature inside the compost pile would have to reach a temperature of 140 degrees F (60 C)) I don't like to take any chances. If I am in any way concerned, I place suspect debris in brown paper bags for the weekly yard waste collection (the regional government's compost piles reach a high enough temperature to kill weed seeds and disease).

One chore that needs to be done in the spring is removing hellebore foliage that shows signs of a fungal disease known as leaf spot. It manifests itself in brown patches on leaves and stems. As soon as the flower buds appear, I remove all the old foliage by cutting right at the base of each leaf stem.

Garlic Mustard bidding amongst the leaves (left) and in bloom (right).

True or false: "All that dead plant material also hides weeds that can take over a garden if left unattended."

I can certainly understand this caution, particularly for the rookie gardener. Leaf litter could camouflage a problem for a period of time, but like any other plant, weeds will eventually need to break through that cover of brown leaves to grow properly. Generally speaking, you can move in as soon as any weeds show themselves. If the plant spreads aggressively, however, you might find that the problem has literally grown.

Knowing your garden and what weeds to watch for helps avoid this issue. Already I am on the lookout for Creeping Charlie and Garlic Mustard. Both are active early in the spring. Garlic mustard blows through the fence from my neighbour's property, so I know to look for it along the fenceline. Creeping Charlie spreads so catching it early saves me a lot of grief.

"Leaf litter provides cover for mice and voles and increases their numbers."

Certainly, a carpet of leaves provides cover for insects and animals both beneficial and harmful. Just the other day, I found this little guy curled up in amongst some leaves. He's a Wooly Bear Caterpillar. According to folklore, the width of the fuzzy rust and black bands of the Wooly Bear forecast the type of winter we will experience every year. The wider the rusty-brown segments, the warmer the winter will be.

The Wooly Bear is the larval form of the Isabella Tiger Moth. The caterpillars hatch from eggs laid during the summer months and overwinter among leaves. When spring arrives the caterpillar spins a cocoon and transforms into a moth.

What makes a big difference to the number of mice and voles in my garden is actually our bird feeder. In past winters, we have struggled with mice in particular. Birds had always knocked seed to the ground where it became food for mice and voles.

The hanger on our old birdfeeder broke last fall, so this winter the birds had only a square of suet hanging in a metal basket. Without the birdfeeder, we noticed a huge difference in the numbers of mice!  The blocks of suet keep the birds fed with less of the usual mess. Very few mice! Hallelujah!

I'll end this post here as it has become very long. What are your experiences with garden cleanup? I'd love to hear if they differ from my own.

Will my bulbs survive a happy puppy?

Charlie looking all grown up at 8 months old.

In the weeks ahead, I have a number of gardens to show you, but it is going to be a challenge to keep this blog moving forward. Public gardens are closed and tours cancelled. I am not sure how well visitors will be welcome to private gardens. I will do my best to keep things interesting.

Take care of yourselves! I hope that you and all your loved ones stay well through the coming weeks ahead (and perhaps months). As more and more of us become housebound, I think our gardens will become an even greater source of comfort.