Archive for the ‘Perennials’ Category
Book review: Hardy Succulents
Hardy Succulents in two words: Eye candy.
I love the look of succulents: their drama, their modernism. And maybe, just maybe, I covet them because I can’t really grow many of them all that successfully here, even though I’m in practically-balmy Zone 8. So I was really excited to receive a copy of Hardy Succulents: Tough Plants for Every Climate by Gwen Moore Kelaidis, with photography by Saxon Holt.
When I opened the cover, I was confronted by a gorgeous photo of an agave. And then a cactus. Confused, I flipped back to the cover, to make sure I had a book called Hardy Succulents. “Surely agave and cactus don’t count as hardy,” I thought. “I mean, they certainly wouldn’t survive the winter here.” Or would they?
This book certainly challenged my assumptions, describing truly cold-hardy succulents (with the majority being hardy to Zone 5, and even some to Zone 3) – including those covet-worthy agaves and cacti.
Problem is, it’s not just tolerance for lower temperatures that contributes to hardiness. While technically hardiness is defined as an ability to withstand the average annual minimum temperatures of the zone, cold-tolerance doesn’t paint the full picture, especially when it comes to succulents.
In her introductory notes, Kelaidis recognizes that (besides temperature) “other factors contribute to hardiness,” notably wet winters or soils, a need for winter freezing, or an aversion to very hot summers.
Wet winters, eh? Could that be the reason many of the plants in this book wouldn’t survive here in rainy Vancouver, despite being tolerant of our winter temperatures? As I read on, I began to believe so: “Succulence can be an adaptation to climates where rainfall is low, seasonal, or highly unpredictable…” Kelaidis writes. “All succulents suffer if they must sit in puddles of cold water, with their roots in water-logged soil…”
The book does offer general methods of coping with rain and other succulent-destroying weather systems. Kelaidis suggests, for example, that, “in climates with more than 35 inches of rainfall, especially where this rain comes in spring and autumn, succulents will often grow well in 6 to 12 inches of pure sand layered above normal soil.”
My one criticism of the book is that these kinds of important details about hardiness aren’t always conveniently listed in descriptions about specific species. I found I often had to flip back and forth to determine whether a plant listed would do well in my climate. And in the case of the coveted agave, I’m still confused. The section on agaves lists several gorgeous cultivars that are hardy to well below Zone 8, but doesn’t go into site preferences or moisture tolerance. Obviously, I’m assuming they don’t like wet feet, but maybe they need more heat or sun than I can provide, and this book ain’t telling.
That said, it does provide a lot of great information, inspiration and, well, hope. The photography is excellent and really doesn’t help with my case of agave envy. Above all, I learned that there are succulent options beyond basic hens-and-chicks, and you can be sure some of them will be making it into my garden this summer!
Earth Day garden and baby update
“Oh the days are long/ ‘Til the baby comes…” – Sinead O’Connor
That’s right – I’m still waiting for this baby. One week past my due date and just learned today that the baby, which for the last nine months has been perfectly positioned, has rotated and is now posterior. This just confirms my suspicions that he or she will be a shit disturber.
There are about a million things you can do to try to rotate a posterior baby; one of them is getting onto your hands and knees as much as possible. Scrubbing the floors on all fours was suggested. Since that has about as much chance of happening as this baby being born on Earth Day, I decided to crawl about my back garden instead. While I was there, I thought I’d snap some photos.
The two above photos are of BC-native yellow fawn lily (erythronium; aka trout lily or dog’s-tooth violet). I believe this one is Erythronium grandiflorum but I can’t quite remember - I’ve moved the bulbs from house to house as I moved over the years. They look delicate but are naturalizing well and survived last week’s hailstorm nicely.
Even people who claim not to love ferns have to appreciate the unfurling of this maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), right?
And the site of fiddleheads – so cute! – on my Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum). You have to love those, too, or you’re just not wired right.
My new evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) will hopefully provide me with some berries this summer.
All three of my Japanese maples are in various stages of unfurling. This is Acer palmatum ‘Firegold,’ which, when viewed from below when the sun’s shining on its leaves, is just this incredible blazing red. Hence the ‘fire’ in its name, I suppose. This could also be ‘Fire Glow’ – I bought it from the Japanese Maple Guy at the farmer’s market and haven’t found many references to ‘Firegold’.
I love my Acer palmatum ‘Beni Kawa’ – the perfect small space alternative to ‘Sangu Kaku’.
Finally, here’s Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Viridis’ – with its lovely weeping form – making its appearance. Hopefully this baby isn’t far behind. Happy Earth Day, everyone!
I’ve got questions for you this Monday morning, lovely readers.
First up: the fluffy white cocoon I found on my zucchini plant.
What is it? Will it emerge a moth or butterfly or…?
Second: the spots on my heucheras.
What’s the deal here? Is it rot from water sitting on the leaves? Sunburn? None of the above?
Spring shopping spree
It’s amazing how quickly you can drop $150 at the nursery. But I got a lot of bang for my buck (see above), and I did it in less than half an hour, all during a business call my husband had to take on our Easter Monday holiday.
I apologize for the infrequency of posts lately; I was really feeling stalled by the backyard dilemma and my indecisiveness surrounding it, but after a late-night “eureka!” moment and subsequent design break through, I feel like I can finally move forward with my garden(ing) and garden blogging. But this post isn’t even about the back garden. That $150 I mentioned earlier? All plants for the front garden. Ahem.
Before: Okay, this was the front garden: exactly as the developer installed it – Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’ (European Beech) in the centre flanked by a yew hedge with escallonia in front. Boring. (Say in sing-song voice.) It’s a raised bed, approximately 3m (9′) x 1.5m (3.75′) flanked by three- and four-story townhouses in our shared courtyard, outside our front door. Behind it is our little bistro set, much used in the summer months.
After: So fresh it’s garden show-y. But don’t hold that against it. I think it looks better in person, when the brightness isn’t so much the sole focus but a nice counterpoint to the greyness of the surrounding, dominant buildings.
Here’s what I planted:
Spiraea x bumalda ‘Goldflame’ (Goldflame Spirea)
Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’
Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)
Aquilegia vulgaris ‘Woodside Gold’ (Woodside Gold Columbine)
Carex dipsacea (Olive sedge)
Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ (Coral Bells)
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (Autumn Joy Stonecrop)
Stipa tenuissima (Mexican Feather Grass)
Ipomoea ‘Sweet Caroline Sweet Heart Purple’
Verbena Star Dreams ‘Double Salmon’
Reader garden featuring Cotoneaster bullatus
I got the most wonderful e-mail from a reader in Victoria the other day. (Victoria is southeast of Vancouver, across the Straight of Georgia. I think that when gardeners die they go to Victoria; it’s a very mild Zone 9, and a lovely city to garden and live in.)
Anyway. Pat wrote in response to my post asking for planting suggestions for what is becoming known as “that wall” to suggest Cotoneaster bullatus (shown above). Not only did Pat have a great foundation-planting suggestion; she even provided photos and companion planting ideas. What could be better? Pat’s written such detailed descriptions and suggestions that I’m just going to paste her advice in here to share with you all. She writes:
I think what you need for your wall is not a vine but two Cotoneaster bullatus. C. bullatus is a marvelous deciduous cotoneaster, quite elegant and structured compared with its evergreen relatives. I think it would be fabulous on your wall — very architectural, especially if you use a trellis and do some annual shaping and tying to restrain its outward growth so it’s more like an espalier but not as formal or spare. That’s what I’ve done with mine and it is one of my favourite shrubs in the garden.
It offers four seasons of interest, with tender coppery-green leaves and white flowers in mid-spring, darker green leaves (with a slight bluish tone) in the summer, and red berries for about three months in the fall. In the fall, the leaves turn into lovely mottled colours ranging from yellow and pale green to scarlet and glaucus blue-green.
It has lovely vase-shaped branching structure but can be pruned and tied to spread against a wall — something more informal than espalier, but the idea is the same . It will get quite high too, which is good; or you can restrain its height. Mine is thriving in afternoon shade with even moisture, and looks superb year round with some companion plantings at its feet.
In the above photo, C. bullatus is the tall bare-branched bush against the fence to the right of the cherry tree.
In front of C. bullatus, I would plant a medium sized blue-leaved hosta such as “Blue Umbrellas” (or “Halcyon”), along with some painted Japanese ferns and two or three Hemerocallis “Flasher.” Also some Helleborus orientalis “purpurea” for early season interest.
A word about Hemerocallis ‘Flasher': it’s a spectacular dark orange daylily that is a real prima donna — and the “heavy metal” of the hemerocallis family. It needs to be away from other daylilies because its height, colour and abundance makes other daylilies look sick and weedy. Within a couple of years, one Flasher will yield over 100 mildly fragrant blooms over a five-week period. It blooms when C. bullatus is at its quietest, and the dark green leaves of C. bullatus are a good foil for the orange blossoms. Flasher also looks fabulous with sword fern and purple heuchera thrown into the mix, too.
Thanks so much for the advice, and for sharing your gorgeous garden with Heavy Petal readers, Pat.
(Top photo from Le Blogue Jardin.)
Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’
The Perennial Plant Association has awarded Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’ (Zones 3-8) the title of Perennial Plant of the Year for 2007. Named after its origins, not its growth habit, Walker’s Low catmint has silver-green crinkled foliage and a profusion of long-blooming, deep lavender-blue flowers. It’s low maintenance and aromatic, and supposedly disease- and pest-free.
I wonder – do they count cats as pests? Don’t get me wrong – I’m a cat lover and devoted mother of one (she’s sitting on my desk right now, actually, as she thinks she’s my managing editor) – but anytime I’ve planted any variety of nepeta, the neighbourhood cats turn my garden into a frat party! They roll on it, eat it, sleep in it… and just generally get high.
A few years ago, I came home with a tiny Nepeta faassenii ‘Six Hills Giant.’ Not ten minutes into the ground, the plant was suffering from the advances of the local cat posse. Not one to stand guard with a spray bottle, I caged the new plant in with a overturned wire basket and staked it down (since it is apparently just the very young plants that attract cats). Once the plant was established, I thought, I’d remove the cage and enjoy the flowers.
I came home the next day to find Jordie, a big black and white tom, totally stoned, inside the cage. He was on his back, legs slack and spread-eagled. I would say he was lounging, except the cage was smaller than he was so it was rather like he’d wedged himself in and then passed out. I wish I had a photo. God, it was infuriating. And cute, nonetheless. That was the last time I planted nepeta.
Photo via Walter’s Gardens.
I love fall, in case you haven’t noticed. I love fall planting, fallen leaves, Hallowe’en, the changing of seasons, the gradual descent into winter. I even love Proven Winner’s Fall Magic line, a clever bit of marketing that I always fall for (groan). But while fall might be a great time for planting shrubs and trees, our local nurseries have a rather pitiful supply of them just now. I went in with visions of hostas and ferns and spirea – things that just don’t sell at this time of year I suppose – and came out with an evergreen shrub party. Not what was planned, but hey, that would take the fun out of it, right?
The photo kind of sucks, but I’m fond of this nice little coral-coloured grouping. I planted it in my neighbour’s raised bed that borders the walk to my front door (yes, with her blessing!). It features Podocarpus alpinus ‘Red Tip,’ a lovely dwarf conifer with dark blue-green foliage with dark purple-red tips; Berberis thunbergii ‘Cherry Bomb‘ (Japanese barberry), with its deep crimson foliage and bright red berries in winter; Nandina domestica ‘Sienna Sunrise’ (Sienna Sunrise Heavenly Bamboo), a stalwart performer with dramatic foliage colour; and Echinacea Big Sky ‘Twilight’ with its gorgeous corally-pink blooms. I threw a few dozen tulip and snowdrop bulbs in there for good measure. The rest I’ll fill in come springtime – or a better selection of perennials – whichever happens first.
The best pick-me-up ever
Last week kind of sucked, for no particular reason. By Thursday, I was feeling stressed and depressed, and just wanted to crawl into a hole to hibernate for a while. Then on Friday I received a small package. It was an unexpected gift from Terra Nova Nurseries.
Wow. What excitement. I opened it as carefully yet quickly as I could, peeling back the layers of packing to discover 18 delightful plants huddled together in a little tray. Talk about a pick-me-up!
Agave virginica ‘Spot’
Athyrium ‘Burgandy Lace’
Camanula ‘Pink Octopus’ (shown below)
Coreopsis ‘Autumn Blush’
Coreopsis ‘Snowberry’ (shown below)
God save the Queen
I was supposed to post this yesterday, but Movable Type was giving me grief. Here it is anyway, one day late.
It’s Victoria Day here in Canada, heralding the end of the May long weekend. And, while I’m no monarchist, the holiday gives me a chance to mention one of my favourite perennials, Lobelia cardinalis ‘Queen Victoria.’ Red isn’t everyone’s favourite colour in the garden, but if you can accommodate it, this herbaceous perennial is a sure-fire winner. Actually, it really is – it won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. I especially like its deep maroon foliage, but the scarlet blooms are the kicker. An excellent plant for providing impact.
Height: 36″ (90cm)
Position: Sun or Partial Shade
Hardy to Zone 8
(Photo: Thomson Morgan. )
Container water gardens
There are three – count ‘em – three ponds where I live now (mind you, it’s a half-acre property). I love the ponds. I love the sound of the waterfalls, I love the waterlilies that bloom in the summer, and I really love the koi. Kids get such a kick out of feeding them; some of the bigger guys are so tame, they’ll eat out of your hand!
So, when I become a city girl once again, I’m contemplating the addition of a small water garden. I won’t be able to keep koi, but I look forward to growing some water plants. Unfortunately, most plants, especially those gorgeous waterlilies, want sunshine – and lots of it. I doubt I’ll get the required six-hours daily to keep them happy.
But I’ve read that there are some water plants that do well in shade and are also small enough for a container water garden, such as floatering water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes), sweet flag (Acorus calamus), water mint (Mentha aquatica), Parrot feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum), and broad-leaved taro (Alocasia or Colocasia spp.) for example.
Oh how I love a gardening challenge!