Archive for the ‘Perennials’ Category

Fresh from the garden: How to grow rhubarb and make a yummy rhubarb apple crumble
Andrea Bellamy |

I’m thrilled to announce a new monthly feature on Heavy Petal: a collaboration between me and Willowtree, a beautiful and informative website created by my friend Jackie Connelly (the woman behind the gorgeous photographs in Sugar Snaps and Strawberries) and her sister, Tina.

“Willowtree provides information and inspiration to people with all types of food sensitivities and intolerances to help them live a hopeful, healthy and informed life,” write Jackie and Tina. “We have been struggling with food sensitivities for most of our lives. We are first-hand, front line, food sensitivity mavens.”

But despite catering to some very specific dietary needs, Willowtree isn’t a niche site. Jackie and Tina believe in eating whole foods—“local where possible, and organic if given the choice.” And that’s something I think we can all get behind.

Here’s how the feature works: Jackie, Tina and I will choose an in-season ingredient to profile. I’ll tell you how to grow it; they’ll tell you how to eat it. Fun, right?

Right now, we’re harvesting armloads of crispy rhubarb from our gardens, and while I’m freezing most of mine to pair with this summer’s strawberries in jams and pies, the Willowtree girls are already turning this delicious spring vegetable (yes, vegetable!) into Apple Rhubarb Crumble. Read on for the recipe and growing tips.



Succulent wreath
Andrea Bellamy |

succulent wreath

I snapped this photo at my mom’s the other day. It’s a wreath (duh) she made by tucking hardy succulents such as echeveria and sedum into a moss-filled wire frame. I just love the colours and textures. Maybe it’s just because succulents are so hot right now, but I can imagine this wreath fitting in with any number of architectural and garden styles, from cottagey to modern.

Succulent wreath detail

Here’s how to make your own.


The best low-maintenance edibles: food growing for the time crunched
Andrea Bellamy |

potatoes growing in a raised bed

Potatoes: it doesn’t get much easier.

I don’t have hours a week to spend in the garden. I wish I could say that I do daily rounds of all my garden spaces, carrying a big wicker basket and leisurely harvesting things that need picking, casually plucking the occasional weed, and generally doing a lot of flower smelling.

But I don’t. More often than not, I’m running to the salad garden to quickly harvest a side for that night’s dinner, or stopping at the community garden on my way home from work to provide a cursory watering. Too often I am surprised by big changes in my garden — beans that needed staking three days ago, or tomatoes that would have been perfect yesterday.

Something tells me I’m not the only time-crunched gardener out there. But what can we downtime-deprived green thumbs do? Well, we can start by planting low-maintenance edibles.

“Low-maintenance” is a term often bandied about in gardening magazines and in the landscaping biz. Whether or not a garden can be low maintenance is a debate for another day, but right now, let’s look at what makes a low(er) maintenance edible.

In my mind, there are two different ways you can look at plants to assess their maintenance factor.

1. There are plants – often perennials – that involve an initial time investment (preparing the site, staking, pruning) and then, aside from a bit of annual preventative maintenance, require little in the way of care.

2. There are edibles that are just generally pretty care free. That resist pests and diseases, don’t need staking or spraying or coddling, hold well in the garden (i.e. don’t need frequent picking to avoid over-maturity), or self-seed, reducing the need for yearly replanting.

Here are my picks for the best of both:

Arugula and other cool-season leafy greens. Like lettuce, arugula and other cool-season salad greens often bolt (set seed) when the weather changes. Take advantage of this natural tendency by allowing them to self-sow. They’ll reappear next year with no help from you. Others include corn salad (mache), kale, radicchio, purple orach, and parcel. (Note: this “technique” works better in an unstructured or natural garden. Those seeds aren’t gonna fall into neat little rows.)

Brassica flowers

Let arugula and other self-seeders flower and sow seeds—so you don’t have to.

Asparagus. Definitely in the “initial time investment” category, asparagus takes three years before it gets to a point where you can harvest it. Like other perennials, it requires some up-front attention in the form of proper soil preparation, yearly mulching, and fall frond-removal, but is otherwise pretty easy going.

Beets and chard. If you seed these closely-related edibles in the appropriate (cool) season, you won’t have to contend with bolting—pretty much the main challenge with these guys. Provide the rich, moist, well-drained soil they like and they’ll produce plump roots and glossy greens until you get around to harvesting.

Blueberries. Blueberries are easy, requiring minimal annual maintenance. All they really ask is that you provide very acidic soil. If you live on the West Coast like me, acidic soil is the norm. In other locales, you might have to work a bit harder to maintain acidity, but that kind of makes them not so low maintenance, doesn’t it?

Fruit trees. Yes, fruit trees. (With one big caveat: fruit trees that are appropriate to your climate. So if you live in zone three, no fig trees for you, unless you want to haul them indoors for the winter, and gardeners in Southern California and the Deep South will want to avoid trees – such as apples – that require a winter chill period.) Of course, fruit trees do require some up-front prep: dig a good hole and provide staking, if necessary. Most also do better with some light annual pruning, thinning of fruit, and preventative spraying with a horticultural oil – though that’s all optional.

Herbs. There’s a reason herbs make every “easiest edible” list (mine included). Starting some herbs from seed can be challenging, but if you buy transplants, herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, oregano, parsley, dill, and chives are the most carefree of edibles. In general, they prefer average soil, and many are drought tolerant once established. And because of the pungent quality of their leaves, most pests avoid them. Awesome!

Garlic. Plant bulbs in late fall, harvest the next summer. And in between? Nothing. Though you could could harvest the scapes if you felt up to it.


‘Red Russian’ garlic

Potatoes. Aside from some initial prep (potatoes like loose, fertile soil with lots of organic matter, which you’ll want to provide), potatoes are just about the easiest annual edible. Plant the seed potatoes, mound up soil as the plants emerge (once a week or less) and … wait. Steal the odd baby potato here and there after the plants begin to flower, or just wait until the foliage begins to die back and harvest the lot.

Raspberries and blackberries. These cane fruits need a bit of planning at the outset; you’ll need to invest time in setting up wires or other support system. And when the fruit ripens, it’s best to pick at least every three days for maximum tastiness (I have a hard time thinking of picking ripe berries as a chore, but if you can’t spare the time, I’m sure you won’t have trouble finding a friend willing to help out). Finally, in fall, you’ll have to cut down canes that produced fruit that year, a task that, depending on the size of your berry patch, can take anywhere from minutes to less than an hour.

Rhubarb. It’s hard to think of a more undemanding edible than rhubarb. Once established, this very cold-hardy, long-lived perennial happily withstands neglect. Truly, this is one tough plant.


If rhubarb can take salt and sea spray, it can handle whatever you’ve got to throw at it.

Scallions, shallots, and onions. Like garlic, another member of the allium family, these onions are in the set-and-forget category. They don’t need amazing soil, nor do they have to be hovered over in order to thrive. They do, however, repel many pest insects, making them great additions to any veggie garden.

I struggled to stop the list here. There are many edibles that are fairly low maintenance once transplanted outside (peppers, for example) but I didn’t include those because starting seeds indoors is definitely not for the time-crunched. Also bear in mind that ALL edibles need regular watering. Make that easy on yourself by using drip irrigation (set it on a timer for the ultimate in low-maintenance watering). What do you think? Is my list complete? What have I missed?


Seaside grasses
Andrea Bellamy |

I love the simple drama of this Crescent Beach garden; there’s only, as far as I can tell, three types of plants used here. I could never be that restrained. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ (Maiden grass) is in the background, Pennisetum villosum (Feathertop) is in the mid-ground, and there’s another grass in the foreground that I can’t identify. The plantings suit the seaside community and the house they surround.

See how the grasses seem to grow right out of the pavers on the front drive? And the use of white sand to further blend the plants with the pavers? Genius.

This was originally posted September 8, 2005 as I Love Grass No. 2. (And if you’re wondering, this is I Love Grass No. 1)


Ferns and ephemerals

shooting star

Hello. I’d like you to meet Shooting Star, aka Dodecatheon hendersonii. This sweet little thing is one of the native wildflowers blooming in my backyard “woodland bed” right now. Like many of the spring ephemerals (so called because of their fleeting nature), it’s not exactly a show-stopper (but just look at how it wows en masse!). Since there’s just one clump in my garden, it’s best appreciated up close. Luckily, I don’t have much choice but to get close – our backyard is that small.


At 13′ x 15′, our backyard offers, let’s say, the opportunity to get up close and personal with each and every plant in it. Here it is, seen from the third floor balcony. The woodland bed is the one in the bottom right corner of the above photo.

woodland garden

And here it is earlier this month, as everything started to spring to life. Acer palmatum ‘Beni Kawa’ anchors this bed. When I planted it three years ago, I called it “the perfect small space alternative to ‘Sangu Kaku’.” I lied. Sure, it’s smaller than ‘Sangu Kaku,” which can reach 20’ tall, but it isn’t a tiny tree. In our household, it’s generally referred to as “out of control,” or “that &%* tree” as one of it’s ridiculously long branches insinuates itself into your personal space.



Garden Tour: Syd’s powerful plant palette
Andrea Bellamy |

back garden

The basics

Name of gardener: Syd Carpenter
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Hardiness zone: 6
Size: Small city garden; 100 ft. long by 25 ft. wide; three garden rooms
Orientation: South facing front garden
Years gardened: 15 years

Heavy Petal says: Quite simply, wow. Syd has done an amazing job of creating a garden using a plant-driven design. So often, it’s hardscaping that holds a garden together. Not in this case. It takes experience, artistry, and guts to be able to put together plants in a way that can carry a space. Syd has done just that. And luckily, for those of us who struggle with combining plants (and I’ll admit, it certainly doesn’t come easily for me), she has shared some of her secrets below.



Contest! Win tickets to the World Rose Festival and $100 in roses
Andrea Bellamy |

rose display

I know very little about roses, and I don’t totally understand their appeal. (Gulp! I can’t believe I just admitted that on a gardening blog! I feel like the Rosarians are going to target me for a hit now. Better watch my back.)

So when the fine people at the World Rose Festival asked me if I wanted to host a contest offering Heavy Petal readers a chance to win two tickets to the World Rose Festival being held in Vancouver from June 19-21, 2009, as well as $100 worth of rose shrubs from acclaimed nursery Select Roses, I actually had to think twice.

A rose show? Was that really a good fit for this blog? Weren’t most rose fanatics in the pinkies-held-aloft and blue-hair-rinse crowds?

Of course, I know that’s not really the case. Some of my favourite garden writers are rose nuts. (Hi Dee!) My mom is one of the most down-to-earth women you’ll ever meet, and even she gets giddy when ‘Heritage’ blooms in her garden.

So why do I have this prejudice against roses? In my head, they’re fussy divas that don’t offer a lot beyond the short time they’re in bloom. And as for how well they fit in a garden – like mine – that could never be described as “English” or “cottagey”? They just don’t go.

Of course, I could be completely off base.

I’d love to hear from you: do you think roses can be chic, easy, un-schmaltzy, and of value in an environmentally-conscious garden?

Now about this contest. First, a little bit of background: the World Rose Convention happens every three years in a different country, and this year is being hosted by the Vancouver Rose Society. The VRS decided that not only would they host the convention, but they would also organize a World Rose Festival, featuring a rose show, display gardens, workshops and lectures, floral design display, kid’s gardens, and a marketplace. You know – kind of like a small-scale Northwest Flower and Garden Show, but with a rose theme. I can just imagine how sweet the air will smell at this event!

To enter, just leave a comment on this post telling me why you think roses deserve a place in the modern garden. Convince me. The commenter who has me shoving aside heucheras or herbs to plant a rose wins.

The contest winner will receive two tickets to the World Rose Festival, held in Vancouver from June 19-21, 2009, as well as $100 in rose shrubs from Select Roses. Please note: Select Roses does not ship or otherwise transport roses; you must pick out and pick up your roses from their nursery in Langley, BC. Contest closes June 1, 2009 at midnight PST.


Berries in the winter garden

Photinia davidiana (David’s Christmas berry) is a tough evergreen plant that also has white flowers in early summer.

I last wrote about how hardscaping can make your garden in winter – and year round, for that matter. I still maintain that the hard landscape makes the biggest overall impact on the garden in winter, but there’s no denying plants pull their weight.

Take evergreens. They’re pros at this winter thing. Evergreen shrubs, trees and hedges can function like hardscaping in terms of their permanence and impact. They are architectural plants that will retain their form while the rest of the garden lies dormant. Ornamental grasses and plants with interesting seed heads are also popular additions to the winter landscape.

But when it comes to creating interest in the winter garden, you can’t beat berries. They provide food for birds, colour amidst the white – or gray, as the case may be – and joy to human visitors. Here are some of my favourites.

The berries of cute little Pernettya mucronata look like tiny strawberry bubblegum spheres. This low-growing shrub has fine, glossy evergreen leaves that take well to a shearing.

Although the berries of the Pacific Northwest native Snowberry (Caprifoliaceae Symphoricarpos albus) are considered toxic, they can be highly entertaining to children. I survived growing up with a yard full of them. Now Lila will have to, too, as I planted one in our backyard. (*Update*: Eleanor from Out of Doors, an ethnobotany student, has pointed me towards the Plants for a Future Database listing for snowberry, which indicates, “Although toxic, [saponins]


Gotta have it: Pheasant’s Tail Grass
Andrea Bellamy |

Compared to ubiquitous carex and calamagrostis, Anemanthele lessoniana is a less-frequently used ornamental grass (not to mention a bit of a mouthful!). But it deserves wider fame, so I thought it was time to show it some love on the blog.

Commonly known as Pheasant’s Tail Grass (and once known as Stipa arundinacea), this is a cool-season grass that is hardy to zone 8. (Grasses are classified as either cool- or warm-season. Cool-season grasses start to grow as soon as the soil warms up in the spring. They flower in mid-summer and then their growth slows and they just kind of hang out. Warm-season grasses don’t start putting on new growth until late spring. They flower from late summer until frost.)

I love my Pheasant’s Tail Grass. Its glowy spring colour, not really done justice in the photo above, is absolutely stunning, especially when backlit. Its flowers are delicate and whispery, and it maintains a good arching mounded shape all year (I don’t cut mine back). This grass is said to do really well in the Pacific Northwest, and mine’s certainly lived up to that plug. Love, love, love.


Buddleia ‘Blue Chip’ a solid investment
Andrea Bellamy |

<i>The humble butterfly bush gets an image makeover with 'Blue Chip'</i>

Humble butterfly bush gets an extreme makeover with 'Blue Chip'

Earlier this summer, Proven Winners and Gardenimport kindly sent me a selection of new shrubs to trial. One of those was Buddleia Lo & Behold ‘Blue Chip’ – a new miniature butterfly bush.

By name alone, I wasn’t totally stoked on this plant. I’ve always wanted to like buddleia (also spelled buddleja). What’s not to like about a plant that attracts beneficial insects – especially one with the fanciful name of “butterfly bush”? But the buddleias I have known have been unruly, straggly beasts – completely unsuited to my small space.

Buddleia ‘Blue Chip’ promises to be a new breed all together – it’s tidy and compact, growing to a maximum of 2-3′ (60-90cm) with a spread of 30″ (75cm). The specimen I received was full and well-shaped (‘Blue Chip’ is said to form a “tidy mound”) – not the spindly vase-shape usually associated with buddleia. It would work well in containers or even as a ground cover.

Buddleia Lo & Behold 'Blue Chip'

Buddleia Lo & Behold 'Blue Chip'

Gardenimport says, “it blooms continuously [rather than in waves]… old flowers melt away and are covered by new blooms mid-summer to frost.” It is hardy to zone 5, enjoys full sun, and never needs deadheading. And while there is some controversy about buddleia’s tendency to become invasive in certain locales, Buddleia ‘Blue Chip’ produces little if any seed, so you can sleep easy there.

Anyway, despite my misgivings about its genus, I went ahead and planted Buddleia ‘Blue Chip’ in my “cool bed” alongside dark purple heucheras, blue hostas, silvery brunneras and white-flowering annuals. And wouldn’t you know it – the little guy bloomed for me a couple of weeks later. (It looked fabulous.) Despite its name, I wouldn’t say ‘Blue Chip’s blooms are a true blue. Like many “blue” flowers, they are a cool mauve – at least to my eye. It also didn’t flower until frost as advertised – it put on a show for a few weeks then conked out. However, that could be because it’s its first season. Or that I planted it in part-sun. We’ll see how it does next year. I have high hopes.

Buddleia Lo & Behold ‘Blue Chip’ is the first in a series of miniature butterfly bushes from ColorChoice Shrubs by Proven Winners. Look for it in the nursery next spring.

Photo credit:


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