Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category


Here’s a view of the garden taken from an upstairs window. We have enjoyed a few mild days this week and much of our two feet of snowcover has melted away. It’s amazing how quickly so much snow can disappear after weeks of feeling that it would never go! Even more amazing is how quickly the garden begins to return to life.


Of course, you expect spring bulbs to be pushing up. These are daffodils. But many other plants are already greening up. Here is a sampling from a walk around the newly-released flower beds.


Morningstar Sedge (Carex grayi)


Hart’s Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)


Red Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale)


Angelina Sedum (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’)


Columbine sp.


Mountain Lover (Paxistima canbyi )


Tansy (Tanacetum niveum ‘Jackpot’)

Nice as it is to see some greenery, flower buds are even more exciting. Check out the adorable fuzzy buds on this Pasque flower. I hope it will be blooming, as its name suggests it should, for Easter next week.


Pasque flower ( Pulsatilla vulgaris )

The first flower to bloom will be this pink hellabore. A garden blogger who enjoys the milder climate of the west coast once wrote that he couldn’t see the big deal about hellabores. It was clear that he had never waited out several feet of snow for that first bloom! It’s pretty exciting.


Hellebore or Lenten Rose (Helleborus sp.)

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Yesterday was a quiet day, and I decided I would get my tomato seeds started. I’m not a devoted vegetable gardener, and for the most part, I just direct sow seeds in the garden in the spring, or else purchase started plants at local nurseries. There is usually a good selection available once garden season begins.

Tomatoes are the exception. I like to experiment with unusual or heirloom varieties and therefore start my own tomato seeds. I purchased some at my local Seedy Saturday event, and others I ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I’ve never ordered from Baker Creek before and thought I’d give them a try this year. They put out an impressive catalogue.

My little seedlings do tend to get more leggy than plants you can purchase at a nursery, but I just plant the stems a little deeper, or in a shallow trough, and they’ve always done okay. This year, I have 8 varieties, representing an assortment of colours from purple to green to orange. Here’s my list:

Green Giant
Kellogg’s Breakfast
Nebraska Wedding
Blue Beauty
Captain Lucky
Pink Brandywine
Cherokee Purple
Ozark Sunrise


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On Monday, it was still bitterly cold but bright and sunny, a good day for a drive, and we set off for the Montreal Botanical Garden. The MBG features a set of linked greenhouses that are like paradise on a cold winter’s day. The photo above shows a model of the greenhouses and gives you an idea of their layout. Each house features different plant species. We especially wanted to see the Butterflies Go Free exhibit, which opened February 20th and runs until April 27th.


When you step into the first greenhouse and are enveloped by the humid, earth-scented air, it is easy to leave winter behind.


This vivid orchid is xLaeliocattleya Ptarmigan Ridge ‘Mendenhall’. What a beauty!


Check out these fiddleheads! They belong to a tree fern.


You can get an idea of the size of this tree fern from the person standing to the right.


Here’s a bit of information about tree ferns provided with the display.


You can walk behind a waterfall and look out over a pond featuring two sculpted cranes.


Here’s yet another reason for banning plastic water bottles!


Look at these monster cones! They belong to a cycas.


I’ve gotten lazy about taking down information. The digital age makes it easy to record whatever information is on offer and read up on topics at your leisure back at home.


The begonia room may be my favorite. There are so many diverse varieties of begonias with all manner of interesting leaf patterns. One of my favorites was the one shown above. The leaves look green in the shade, but when lit by the sun, they are fired with red.


And how about this swirly pattern? This rex begonia is appropriately named Escargot.


After the warmth of the other greenhouses, the bonsai room felt distinctly cool. The bonsai are just awakening from a dormant period and many, such as this Chinese Elm, featured tiny leaves, just beginning to show.


Our last stop was the butterfly exhibit. It’s totally wonderful, with a large, bright, two-storey structure filled with beautiful flowering plants, a tall waterfall and brilliant butterflies everywhere. What a pleasure.


Here’s the chrysalis house, where you can look for emerging butterflies. The butterflies are easy to observe and photograph, a great spectacle. A helpful full-colour guide is included with your admission so you can identify different species. I’ll leave you with a few photos of some of the butterflies, and a giant moth!


Atlas or Cobra Moth (Attacus atlas)


Blue morpho (Morpho helenor)


Asian swallowtail pair (Papilio lowi)


Rice paper (Idea leuconoe) and Pink rose (Pachliopta kotzebuea)


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Seedy Saturdays are seed-exchange and gardening events that pop up all across Canada in early spring. Maybe there is a Seedy Saturday near you! For a listing of events and more information visit Seeds of Diversity, linked here.

I didn’t really need any seeds. I placed a catalogue order that covers most of my needs. However, the weather was inviting for a drive, and I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see a wonderful phenomenon: hordes of excited gardeners coming together to talk and buy seeds and get ready for another year in the garden. Finding a parking spot was tough. At some displays, you had to wait your turn to belly up to the seed packets and seek out your favorites. Besides seeds, there were also vendors selling organic products and garden supplies.


Of course, I couldn’t pass up the chance to pick up a few packets of seeds myself. I get a kick out of growing an assortment of tomatoes and I got three to try this year. Captain Lucky, the packet says, is an indeterminate, potato-leaf, mid/late season tomato with green/yellow/pink medium to large fruit. Cool! Nebraska Wedding is a yellow/orange tomato that I have tried in the past and liked. Information online reports that: Nebraskan brides were given seeds of this tomato as a wedding gift. It was said to have been brought from MN by pioneers in the late 1800s via covered wagons. And it thrived in cold, windy Nebraska.” And finally, Ozark Sunrise, which is described as a beautiful anti-oxidant-loaded purple beauty.

I also got some Lemon cucumber seeds to try. They were recommended by Alain at Roche Fleurie Garden. You can check up on Lemon cucumbers here. All in all, it was a fun outing.


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We have experienced some extremely cold temperatures this winter, but the garden has been well protected by a deep blanket of snow. There is so much snow that many of the seedheads that would otherwise be adding some decoration to the yard have long since been beaten down and buried, with only the strongest stems still erect. I took a yardstick out and measured the blanket to be about 28 inches deep on level, undrifted ground.


I know a number of persons of my generation who eschew Facebook, seeing it as too invasive, too…well, I don’t really know. While I don’t have anything like the number of “friends” my offspring can brag of, I do enjoy an interesting array of brief posts that flash by my page daily, sourced from I know not where. One that came my way this winter was a quote from the thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi, presumably taken from The Soul Of Rumi: A New Collection of Ecstatic Poems as translated by Coleman Barks.

And don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It’s quiet, but the roots are down there riotous.

How perfect is that? Now, whenever I pass by the garden I think of the riotous roots, preparing for spring.


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We’ve had frost already, but today was the first morning when water was sealed with ice and the coating of frost silvering the plants resisted the morning sun until well into the day.


In spite of the frost, the morning felt welcoming, absolutely still, with no cool breeze diminishing the warmth of the late October sun. I walked out and visited with the horses.


Then I strolled through the field and garden and recorded the beauty of frost on leaves. Here are some examples of Jack Frost’s handiwork.







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We’ve had a few frosty nights recently, so this weekend RailGuy harvested most of the produce remaining in the vegetable garden. The first heavy frost is like the Great Reveal, when all the assorted squash, hidden beneath big vine leaves just the day before, are suddenly laid bare.


We have a weird and wonderful assortment, as the squash tend to hybridize and produce some odd-looking individuals. I already gave the largest pumpkin away at Thanksgiving to Ponygirl. She lives in suburbia, and the pumpkin’s substantial girth will be better appreciated by hoards of Trick-or-Treaters there. We still have a couple of smaller pumpkins, some sizeable Hubbard squash and many assorted smaller cucurbits.


Our celery did remarkably well this year, perhaps helped along by our rainy summer that provided lots of moisture. We’ve been harvesting stalks from the outside edge as needed for weeks now. I was surprised at how well the cabbage did. Earlier in the season, the cabbage leaves were riddled with holes from insect attacks. However, they not only survived, but went on to produce good heads of cabbage.


While gardening on the rocky ground of the Escarpment in the GTA, I got used to seeing twisted, forked carrots. These carrots are amazing! Aren’t they beautiful? The celeriac also did pretty well. Not quite sure what I’ll do with these; I’ve never used celeriac much. This will require a bit of gastronomic research.


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During much of the summer, grasses form a backdrop for dazzling flowering plants, but come autumn, it’s their turn to shine. This is a Shenandoah Switchgrass or Panicgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’), a hybrid of a native grass. The seedhead stalks form an airy cloud of fine tracery. When the stems are beaded with morning dew and lit by the sun, panicum is as beautiful as any garden plant.


Here’s a taller switchgrass, Panicum virgatum ‘Thundercloud’, which reaches about six feet.


Another native hybrid is Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Prairie Blues’, or Little Bluestem. It forms a low-growing clump about 2 to 3 feet tall.


The non-native miscanthus varieties, sometimes called Maiden Grass, are among the showiest grasses in the garden with their eye-catching plumes. This is miscanthus sinensis.


The tallest perennial in the garden is Miscanthus giganteus. It towers over the garden at 10 to 12 feet tall. According to Wikipedia, it is a hybrid of Miscanthus sinensis and Miscanthus sacchariflorus and is currently used in the European Union as a commercial energy crop, as a source of heat and electricity, or converted into biofuel products such as ethanol, being more efficient than corn grown for that purpose.

I am content just to enjoy mine as a garden spectacle. Its tall stalks typically stay upright all winter until I cut them down in the spring.


I’m especially fond of the pennisetums, or fountain grasses. This is Pennisetum Alopecuroides ‘Moudry’, or Black-flowering Fountain Grass. It was at its best back in September, when I took this photo. As their name implies, the fountain grasses form a gracefully arching clump.


Finally, here are the distinctive seedheads of sea oats displayed on Chasmanthium latifolium ‘River Mist’, a variegated version of this North American native. River Mist was new to the garden this summer, but I’ve grown the green-leafed variety for some time. This grass is quite tolerant of shade and can make an interesting addition to a gloomy corner.

The plants shown here are all hardy perennials. There are also some very attractive grasses grown as annuals, but I haven’t tried any of them yet. Whether your garden is big or small, grasses can be worthy additions.


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Sometimes, in the middle of summer, when heat and drought have reduced the grass to a yellowed crisp, I think about replacing the main garden pathway with something more durable. But by this time of year, the grass is gorgeous, an emerald ribbon inviting you for a stroll in the garden.


Most of the perennials are done for the year, but the garden is still pleasant on a sunny day, and there is still lots to see.


I usually plant a few annuals and they are stalwarts that help to carry the garden into winter. Above are colourful cosmos, below, zinnias.


The larch trees that form an arching tunnel will shed their needles soon, but for the moment, the tunnel is still green and inviting. It’s watched over by the garden gnome who stands to one side in a clump of hostas.


Visitors usually refer to him as the Travelocity gnome, but I think of him as Gnome Chomsky.


The berries on this native holly, Winterberry ‘Winter Red’ ( Ilex verticillata), brighten a shady corner and offer a bounty for birds.


This White Angel crabapple tree (Malus ‘White Angel’), is covered in beautiful white flowers in spring, and brilliant red apples in autumn.



Geranium ‘Rozanne’ is easily the most floriferous geranium in the garden, still blooming in October.


Coreopsis ‘Cosmic Eye’ has been a wonderful performer too. It is one of Darrell Probst’s Big Bang introductions.


The tall stems of autumn monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Barker’s Variety’) are all topped with beautiful blue flowers now. This monkshood is often still blooming when the first snow flies.


Now that the Tiger Eye Sumacs have dropped their leaves, the red begonias that were overshadowed for the last months of summer have the stage to themselves and look brilliant with red bloodgrass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’).

As ever, Joe Crow continues to watch over his patch of the garden.


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Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) is a native perennial that grows in damp meadows and woodlands with filtered light. It blooms late in the summer and into the fall. I took the photograph above late in September. The name ‘bottle’ refers to the odd flowers, which are compared to bottles. I prefer another common name, Closed Gentian, because what look like big fat buds never open. That’s it, what you see is what you get. It’s said that these flowers are pollinated by bumblebees because they’re the only insects strong enough to open the corolla tube.

The Bottle gentians growing in our field get to be about 2 feet tall. The leaves climb the stalk in opposite pairs, with a whorl of up to 7 leaves below the flower cluster. There are also a few Bottle gentians growing in the woods, and they tend to stay close to the ground, just a few inches tall.


Gentians are a large family, with more than 300 species to be found around the world. They are usually associated with cool summers and often grow in alpine habitats in temperate regions of the globe. The brilliant blue featured by many gentians makes them desirable garden additions.

This summer, I added my first gentian plant to my garden, Gentiana ‘True Blue’. It’s a hybrid from breeder Darrell Probst that was introduced in 2008. Probst is best known for his work on epimedium, but he has been breeding and introducing a variety of new plants from his Massachusetts nursery, Garden Vision, for three decades. His introductions include Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’ and Physostegia ‘Miss Manners’ and a series of coreopsis called Big Bang.


Gentiana ‘True Blue’ is reported to grow to 24 inches tall, but in its first year here, it has remained low growing. It settled in well, and I was pleased when I noticed it was preparing to bloom! Next year, it should flower earlier in the season, but it is fun to have these bright blue flowers in October. Unlike its native cousin, True Blue opens its flower so you can fully appreciate them.


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