Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Shade Plants for the Prairies

     So often clients say they can't grow anything because it's too shady, true for some plants but I grow almost everything in some kind of shade as I live in an old neighbourhood full of mature trees. In this photo, some of the best for deep shade, sweet woodruff in the foreground, cimicifuga, hosta, goats beard and ferns.

     Solomons Seal, an undemanding perennial for any shady or moist spot, so named for the Star or David shaped flowers that hang off the underside in late spring. These are a nice batch in my neighbourhood, I have found that they mostly stay in place, not invasive like Lily of the Valley for example.

     Goatsbeard, a large perennial for shade that blooms in white feathery plumes. There are many varieties and sizes, the one above is new to me, a thread leaf goatsbeard that is prohibitively expensive according to my better half so I'm not allowed to have one :(. I do have two of the large varieties though, in Calgary they grow about 4 feet tall or so, there are a few on my block that grow outstandingly on the north side of a house. They bloom in early summer and have beautiful foliage for the rest of the year.

     Meadow Rue, since we don't easily grow maiden hair ferns in our area, how about a meadow rue!? The fine foliage reminds one of ferns except this perennial also blooms in fuzzy ball shaped clusters in shades of pink to lavender to red hues. There are a few varieties, some miniature and some quite tall, like around 2-3 feet.

     Ostrich Ferns, probably the easiest and hardiest of the ferns to grow on the prairies. These ferns spread by underground rhizomes after a few years, so hopefully you'll end up with more than you planted! A ferns mortal enemy is hail storms, try to plant them in a sheltered location!

     Rodgersia aesculifolia, is not supposed to be hardy in zone 3 but I've had these for several years in my shade garden! The rough and thick chestnut shaped leaves are occasionally topped by fragrant plumes of white flowers (unless a squirrel breaks them off). I seem to see them for sale, more and more these days so give them a try. I grow this in a very shady spot under giant lilacs, sometimes the intense July sun can burn the leaves so I put up a little shelter until we get cloudy days or that time of year passes in a few weeks. Mulch with plenty of leaves in the fall to help them get through the winter. They spread quite slowly in our area and are low maintenance once established, I've also seen them growing quite well against the north side of a house.

          Lady's Mantle, is a mounding perennial with water resistant leaves and massive sprays of chartreuse flowers in early summer. An excellent choice for dry shade where it can be difficult to grow anything. I have my front walkway lined with Lady's Mantle as it is under a giant Green Ash tree. I grew mine from seed quite easily but they are also readily available in retail. There is also a miniature variety which is cute but I prefer the regular one.

     Annabelle Hydrangea, since hydrangeas like to be moist they prefer to grow in dappled or part shade on the prairies, they would resent too hot and dry a location. I've had these for many years, they grow quite happily near my house in the light shade of the Mountain Ash tree. There are lots of Pee Gee or panicle hydrangeas available now too, they seem to also like the same conditions here.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Victoria Day Long Weekend, Annual season again!

      Ahhh, Victoria Day or The May Long Weekend or the May two-four, which ever way you say it it means the unofficial beginning of summer in Canada. Even though in our area we often have heavy snow in the mountains and temperatures in the single digits (Celsius) if you're into gardening it is the beginning of our frost free period which means annuals! For horticulture retailers it is their Christmas, and for many it is the time to plunk a dracena and a few geraniums into a pot and call it a day. I remember, when working at a local greenhouse, a customer was asking about dracenas and said "don't you have to have one?" to which I said "No, the City won't give you a ticket or anything."
Lets try thinking out of the box for once.

So, here is a classic Victorian garden design, formal layout, geometric patterns, usually a tropical focal point collected from somewhere in the Empire at the centre of the display. I think a lot of us saw this in City parks or come from a Victorian mindset whether you're aware of it or not! There is nothing wrong with Victorian gardens, they are amazing, but unless you can carry off your dracena and geraniums to this level of display lets go with something more modern and pleasing.

     I always like a few annuals, in an area where we have a three month growing season I like to enjoy the season as much as possible. One of my favourite annuals is Ricinus, the big leafed plant in the middle, it gives that need for height and a nod to Victorian tropical interest. This particular pot also included coleus and nicotiana. I don't love what I call "floral vomit", where every colour possible is included in one pot, you know like the kind that line the streets of Victoria B.C., sorry Victorians!
I go for just a couple of contrasting leaf colours and maybe one colour of flower.

     Here's one from a few years ago, the dark leaves of ipomoea or potato vine contrast vividly with the chartreuse of this coleus. A few silver leafed annuals balance the equation. Of course I took a few courses in colour theory while in Art School so types of contrasting colour combinations come quite naturally to me. Pick whatever you like just try to limit it to one or two colours. Maybe you like yellow? Purple is it's opposite, highest contrast. Yellow and red would be hot colours, very vibrant, for example. Try putting some annuals together while you're at the greenhouse and see what you like. And lets try something new! There's more than lobelia and geraniums out there these days!!!

     This was one of my favourites from last year! When buying annuals for pots also consider location as in is this plant suited to a hot and sunny location, shaded, half sun? You may want to ask at your local greenhouse or pay close attention to those plant tags. This pot is for a partly sunny location, morning and late afternoon sun.

Remember that annuals in pots need to be watered at least once a day and fertilized every other week.

     A benefit of annuals in pots is they can be moved if there is hail or frost and you can rotate out one batch for another as the season goes. I usually start with pansies in April, move to a summer annual until September and finish with kale in the fall.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cacti and Succulents for Northern Gardens

   As we have seen in California and many other places including Alberta, drought is an ever increasing possibility with so much demand on our fresh water. How can we help as gardeners? I think getting off the 1950's obsession with lawns and getting into drought tolerant plants in our gardens is a start. The City of Calgary promotes "Water Wise" gardening otherwise known as Xeriscaping, I call it fun with cacti and succulents!
     Above is one of the most common succulents in our area, Hen and Chicks Sempervivum. These low growing evergreens come in a huge variety of  colours and looks including the cobweb types. They grow in almost any soil but thrive in a well drained and hot location. If you want more simply pull out some of the "chicks" that surround the main rosette and plant in another location. I sometimes add them to an annual pot for soil coverage, who wants a bunch of bare dirt?

     Prickly Pear Cactus Opuntia sp. is a native of  Southern Alberta and Sasktchewan but please don't dig them out of the wild as they are increasingly available in the local nursery trade. Extremely easy and hardy to grow as long as they are in the hottest and sunniest location you have. My only suggestion is don't plant in an area where grass or weeds want to grow because it is nearly impossible to pull anything out near these extremely prickly characters, I always seem to get one dandelion that wants to grow as a companion to my cactus! From time to time the prickly pear will bloom one summer day, like most cactus it only lasts about a day in full sun, a bittersweet beauty.

      Yucca Filamentosa, it seems crazy that we can  grow something like this at this latitude but it's true! These Yuccas are extremely hardy and evergreen even with a minus 40 windchill and the leaves poking up thru the snow all winter. I spotted this one in my neighbourhood last year, they will bloom after a few years but the plant will die, however, most of the time they have basal shoots that regrow into new yuccas. As for all of these plant in a sunny and well drained area, once established no need to water of course!

     Yucca Glauca, Soapweed, is a native of extreme SE Alberta, so you know it is hardy and well adapted to dry conditions! I must have had this one for almost 10 years, I keep thinking it will bloom one year but it just seems to get bigger. No special care for this yucca either, just plant in a hot dry spot and stand back. The only advice I would give is give it plenty of room as they are like a little dagger, not for a high traffic area.

     The Sedums

     There are thousands of sedums in the world and many of them are popular in local horticulture. They come in groundcover forms as well as upright and sizeable perennials. Sedums are super easy to grow in almost any conditions but also thrive in
hot dry poor soil too! These succulents are also easy to propagate by snipping off a few stems and pushing into new soil, they will root in a short time, even the tall Autumn Joy varieties can be rooted by snipping off a stem and pushing it into the ground wherever you want a new plant. There are many shapes and sizes of sedums and they are readily available so try a few in your garden, you won't be disappointed.

     So if you have a hot southern exposure like against a building or close to a sidewalk, instead of fighting the elements consider some cacti and succulents, they will excel! Pick some other xeriscape plants as companions such as sages, ornamental grasses and heat loving perennial flowers and you will have interest in the garden year round. Here is my arid garden blooming well into the fall.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Crab Apple Time!!!

It's that time of year again, one of my favourites, so fleeting, the few weeks in May when the Crab Apples bloom. For myself, it's a reminder of my years in Vancouver, although, keep in mind many of the blooms they enjoy on the coast are cherry trees and these are of course Apple trees.

I love walking through my old neighbourhood at this time of year to marvel at the blooms, by the time a Crab Apple reaches 30 or more years old I think they become a public service, enjoyment for all including the bees!

For once I don't have a lot of special advice for these trees, obviously they do very well in our climate and throughout the prairies, avoid too wet a location and ensure plenty of sun. Crab Apples come in Pink, Red, and White flowering, and all kinds of forms, Rounded, Columnar, Weeping, Arching. Just pick a variety you like and plant in a good location.

This one was planted only a few years ago and excels in this south facing yard.

I believe this  is the cultivar  'Royalty' a substantial tree that blooms dark red and has burgundy leaves all summer.

Here's an aged yet beautiful white Crab Apple.

This makes one forget we live in an arid grassland with Siberian winters (most of the time!).