Garden

Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) and Santolina

Falling into Winter

I’ve just been looking over some of my old posts tagged “fall.” Many of the same scenes that struck me as photo-worthy just a few weeks ago also did a few years ago. It’s easy to forget, because every year some combinations of colour and light seem to be the best ever. So there’s no harm in revisiting them.

The featured image at the top of the post shows “plumbago” ( Ceratostigma plumbaginoides ) foliage turning red, with a few fading blue flowers, and silvery grey Santolina foliage.

Front garden featuring Stipa gigantea
The blooms on the ornamental grass Stipa gigantea are still a feature of this bed, months after they finished.

I’m pretty tolerant of our urban deer. Even though I thought I had their preferred plants figured out, I was surprised to find most of the yellow chrysanthemums eaten. And even geranium (Pelargonium) flowers, despite their earthy smell.

Chrysanthemums and Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria)
Good thing I took this photo, because most of the flowers became snacks for a browsing deer. It left the Dusty Miller alone, however.

When something in the garden catches my eye, I grab the camera and run out to capture it before it’s gone. Light effects, like this one, are especially fleeting.

Stipa gigantea and fading aster foliage lit up by morning sun
Stipa gigantea and fading aster foliage lit up by morning sun.

Then I race around snapping whatever else looks good. Like this foliage combination.

Lambs' ears and periwinkle foliage
Fuzzy lambs’ ears foliage with periwinkle and other stuff.

And just so this isn’t all “same old,” a surprise visitor this fall was this single Amanita mushroom, lurking behind the bench near the pond, at the foot of the weeping birch.

Amanita muscari mushroom at foot of birch tree
Amanita muscari mushroom on birch trunk

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winter jasmine, yellow flowers, Jasminum nudiflorum

Winter Scents and Flowers

Summer in the garden is now a fading memory, but gardeners may be planning for next year, considering new plants for their gardens. In this fortunate part of the world (Zone 8 or 9 to those familiar with the USDA climate zones), winter flowers are starting, with more anticipated. For gardeners lucky enough to live in similar climates, here is a short list of plants that bloom between November and March, most of them with delightful perfumes.

IMG_3065Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is in its first flush of bloom in my garden. I love the way it hangs down the trellis, displaying its bright yellow funnel-shaped flowers. The buds are yellow with red tints, and should keep opening at least until February, unless we get brutal weather. Sadly, despite its name, which suggests fragrance, winter jasmine has no scent at all. But Anna’s hummingbirds, who are year-round residents here, visit the flowers regularly. The plant is easy to grow and to propagate, as stems that touch the ground form roots at the point of contact. In fact, I have to keep an eye on it to prevent unwanted rooting.

violets, Viola odorata

The common sweet violet (Viola odorata) is one of those near-weeds that moves in and makes itself at home. I’ve had to thin it out in a few spots to keep it from overrunning other plants. But on relatively warm winter days, its perfume wafts around and reminds me why I’m happy to have this plant in the garden. It pretty much takes care of itself. Deer nibble it sometimes, but it’s tough and regrows. It’s even moved into the lawn, which is fine with me.

Chinese witch hazel, Hamamelis species

Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis and hybrids) is described thus in one gardening manual: “… one of the most uniquely beautiful of winter-flowering shrubs when its vigorous upright branches are set with its spidery, bright yellow, richly fragrant flowers.” I couldn’t resist that, so resolved to plant one of these marvelous shrubs in my garden. The book says witch hazels “…thrive in deep, well-drained soil, preferably sandy loam enriched with plenty of leafmold or compost. They prefer light woodland conditions, but do well in full sun, especially if given ample moisture during the growing season.”*

Chines witch hazel foliageMy witch hazel is situated in conditions similar to those, so it should thrive, meaning bloom, but mine hardly ever does — only once or twice in 25 years. I suspect the problem is insufficient moisture in summer. Our increasingly warm, dry summers don’t bode well for future success, and in fact my plant looked less than happy at the end of last summer. But its shape is elegant even without blooms, and it sometimes has good fall colour. I know of several plants in the vicinity that bloom regularly, exuding their wonderful fragrance on January days, so I live in hope.

Spurge laurel, Daphne laureola

Spurge laurel (Daphne laureola) really is a weed shrub, an undesirable alien that has invaded woodlands in this region. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who gardens near woods that are as yet without it (sort of like ivy, which has overrun most natural parks around here). However, it was already present in this garden when I arrived, so I’ve kept a few plants. Needless to say, it grows well in dry, rooty soil, and its leathery black-green foliage looks good in dark corners at the edge of the garden where not much else will grow. The black berries don’t seem to appeal to birds, so the seeds tend to sprout close to the parent plant, which makes the seedlings easy to find and pull up. Its best feature, as far as I’m concerned, is the haunting perfume of the little green flowers. I catch whiffs of it on February nights, when I’m checking the max/min thermometer on the back porch. The scent induces a nameless nostalgia, to the point that I worked a mention of it into one of my novels.

Sweet box (Sarcococca species) is a shrub I don’t have here as yet, but having read that it “tolerates dry shade,” I’m thinking about where I might plant one. It’s strongly perfumed, as I know from encounters with it on walks in my neighbourhood. It’s a broad-leaved evergreen, 3-4 feet (1 metre) tall, with flowers that look like those of witch hazel, except they’re white. One of the species (S. hookeriana) is said to “spread easily by underground stems,” which raises a red flag for me. I already have too many shrubs with that tendency. So perhaps S. confusa or S. ruscifolia are the ones to look for.

winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima

Winter-blooming honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is a shrubby plant (unlike the climbing honeysuckles). It can get quite tall (15 feet or 5 metres) and almost as wide, but can be pruned as hard as needed to keep it within bounds. It’s a semi-evergreen, which means it sheds weirdly yellow-grey leaves practically year round. Some of the previous year’s branches wither in summer and look seriously ugly, screaming to be pruned. On the plus side, it blooms in late winter and early spring. The flowers are white and sort of semi-transparent, so they don’t look like much, but they produce an intensely sweet lemon scent, especially on still, damp evenings. For that I’m willing to forgive its ugly duckling qualities.

 

*Quotations from Trees and Shrubs for Coastal British Columbia Gardens by John A. Grant and Carol L. Grant. 2nd edition, 1990.

 

 

Apple tree October 21, 2018

Apple Tree’s Autumn

The “Yellow Transparent” apple tree in my back garden has especially good fall colour this year. Here is a series of photos taken from October 17th through 24th. We’ve had two weeks of sunny days that began and ended with fog or mist. One or the other (what’s the difference, I wonder) was present when some of these were taken.

 

 

 

 

autumn crocus, fall crocus

Summer into Fall

Here are some photos from my garden taken from mid-September to early October. Asters start blooming here in early September and continue through October.

Asters "Pink Cloud" and "Monch" with last few Rose Campion and Linaria flowers

Asters “Pink Cloud” and “Monch” with last flowers of Linaria purpurea and Lychnis coronaria

 

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, blue leadword, plumbago

Blue leadwort, aka Ceratostigma plumbaginoides or Plumbago

 

Hosta plantaginea flowers and foliage

Hosta plantaginea in bloom. The flowers smell like jasmine.

 

Thalictrum foliage turning yellow

Thalictrum foliage and fallen maple leaves

 

Stipa gigantea in fall

Ornamental grass Stipa gigantea in the front garden

 

Rosa rugosa foliage and hips with cotoneaster foliage and aster "Pink Cloud" in background

Rosa rugosa foliage and hips with Cotoneaster, and aster “Pink Cloud” in the background

Saved seeds 2018

Seeds and Notes

Ever since midsummer, I’ve been saving seeds. First, the dark blue delphinium finished its first flush of bloom and formed seed pods on the single stalk I didn’t cut down. Then the aconite “Stainless Steel,” which goes dormant soon after it finishes blooming. This year it produced some seeds before checking out, so I saved a few. Then the irresistible chunky seeds of the mysterious and beautiful cerinthe “Pride of Gibraltar.” I made sure to retrieve a few before they fell (I’m anticipating random seedlings to pop up soon; the problem is they don’t always survive the winter). Last week I cut the plants down and shook out the remaining seeds onto a white cloth. Now I have more than enough to keep this intriguing plant going in my garden.

I even squeezed out some tomato seeds and kept them and their attached pulp sitting around in a jar, supposedly fermenting, a supposedly necessary process. I’m pretty sure the seeds I grew this year’s tomato plants from were ones I dried and packaged several years ago, without any fermentation. We’ll see if the new ones are viable when spring rolls around again.

Pacific Coast iris seed packet, Libertia peregrinans seedsI collected various other seeds in my garden and elsewhere. Libertia peregrinans, for example — a plant I’ve lusted after for years but haven’t managed to find in commerce. Last summer I encountered some in a boulevard planting and nabbed a single seed pod. And I bought a packet of seeds of our native Pacific Coast Irises while touring a notable local garden. These two plants will be new to me, so both a challenge and (maybe) a thrill.

I’m actually of mixed minds about saving seeds. Putting them in labelled envelopes is only a beginning, not a completion. Saving seeds means I can grow an annual again next year, or grow more perennials if I want to. They do peter out or meet with misfortunes, so it’s reassuring to know I have a handful of their descendants safe in an envelope.

Saved seeds, cerinthe seeds, beach pea seeds 2018But seeds in an envelope don’t turn into plants all by themselves. Unless I remember them at the correct time of year and expose them to conditions that will cause them to germinate, they’ll just sit in their envelopes until they lose their viability. Turning seeds into plants means rounding up suitable containers and soil mix, putting the seeds on or in the soil, and exposing them to light (or not) at the optimal temperature for germination. And germination is only the beginning. Tiny seedlings need a lot of attention if they’re not to expire from damping off, drying out, or lack of adequate light. And that’s while they’re still in their first little pot in the house. Further operations are needed before a mature, healthy plant is added to the garden.

Writing notebookStory ideas in notebooks are like saved seeds. Just as the seeds are unrealized potential until planted in damp earth, the ideas are dead scribbles until they are unpacked and spun out in words. The seeds I gathered will be safe in their envelopes and repurposed pill bottles until next spring, but I will use the dark time of year to revisit and ponder my story ideas, eventually setting pen to paper to begin the process of creation. The requirements for success are more nebulous than those for growing plants. Time and stillness, the right music, an overheard remark, the light falling through the window at the perfect angle, the caprices of mood and mind. Maybe something will come of these conjunctions — ideas that will bloom and bear fruit in the form of stories, or even another novel. Maybe.

purple hellebore flowers

My Tough Plants #4: Hellebores

Unlike the other plants in this series, this one doesn’t have a reputation for weediness. And yet, in my garden it seeds around freely, to the point I’ve pulled out seedlings that are too numerous or in the wrong places. So technically, hellebores can be weeds. It’s all a matter of being in the right place, after all.

January 2013

Corsican hellebore

I have two species of hellebores here: the tall, jagged-edged-leaved Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius), with lime green flowers in winter and early spring; and the oriental hellebore (Helleborus orientalis), with flowers in shades from white to dark purple and big, round-edged leaves.

Both put up with shade and tree roots, and are of no interest to deer. The plants are evergreen. They don’t vanish in autumn; in fact, that’s when they perk up and start to think about blooming. Buds appear by Christmas and flowers are present until mid-spring. At that point, seeds are ripening, there’s lots of other stuff coming on, and it’s time for the hellebore bloom stalks to be cut down and removed. The leathery, dark green leaves look fine through the summer. A decent watering every week or two is helpful in our dry summers. If too dry, oriental hellebores flop and look pathetic, splayed out on the ground like they’ve given up.

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Oriental hellebore

The plants are long-lived and reliable. Maintaining them is simple. Corsican hellebores bear their flowers and leaves on the same stems. By the time the flowers look tired and seedy (May in my garden), fresh stems have appeared. I cut down the old stems at ground level and that’s that. The plants do have a tendency to splay as the stems lengthen. In spots where I don’t want them to flop onto other plants, I pound in 3 or 4 stout stakes around a plant and surround it with twine. I untie this before the cutting down operation and replace it afterward, to support the developing new stems.

Oriental hellebores produce separate leaf and flowering stems. I cut down the old leaves in spring, just about the time buds appear. New leaf stems grow along with the flower ones, so the plant rapidly plumps up again. I cut down the old flower stems by June to prevent seeding. When cutting down the old flower stems, make sure you don’t cut leaf stems by mistake (says the Voice of Experience).

Hellebores do have one annoying pest — aphids. They love the new growth and can multiply alarmingly on fresh leaves and even on flowers. I wash them off with water, either from a spray bottle or with the hose. Over the years, I’ve seen one or two plants afflicted by what I suspect is some sort of fungal disease; they produce fewer flowers and stunted leaves. The best “cure” might be to remove the sick plant and replace it with a fresh one, keeping in mind that if the problem really does originate with a soil-dwelling fungus, the new plant may be affected too.

Oriental Hellebore "Ivory Prince"

Hellebore “Ivory Prince”

Almost all of my hellebores are the basic species. I acquired my oriental hellebores by  scooping up a clump of seedlings at the two-leaf stage with a teaspoon from a public planting. (I admit the deed!) That’s why they’re all in shades of pinky-purple, although the colours vary a bit within the group. I’ve also bought a couple plants, one white with pink speckles and a creamy yellow one (whose flowers almost always turn rusty brown at the edges, so it’s a disappointment). I also bought a plant of the variety called “Ivory Prince.” It lives in a big blue pot and is quite a feature in February.

Plant breeders have been busy with the hellebore family, so a huge variety of colours and flower types is available. I’m intrigued by the ones with slate-coloured or almost black flowers, but the frilly double forms in shades of pink look like too much of a good thing to me.

Hellebores, especially the Corsican type, are good “anchor” plants in a perennial bed. They have enough presence to impart elegance to spots that include some of the weedier tough plants. Hostas are good company for hellebores. Their leaves are similar in size but different in texture, and they like the same conditions. (In my rooty patch, however, hostas do best in pots parked near the hellebores, rather than planted in the ground). Ferns look good near hellebores too, specifically the tough Dryopteris types. In small gardens, Corsican hellebores may be used like small shrubs, underplanted with bulbs and a groundcover such as plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides), which has electric-blue flowers in late summer. I prefer it to periwinkle, which is evergreen and overly vigorous.

Something to consider — Corsican hellebore plants can exude a distinctly skunky aroma, especially in warm weather. If you grow them, be prepared for questions about pot smoking. On the other hand, if you wish to indulge discreetly (pot is legal in Canada come October 17th), you can say, “Oh, you must have caught a whiff of the hellebores.”

Fall 2010

Corsican Hellebore, variegated hosta (in pot), and hardy cyclamen, Fall 2010

An Inspiring Post from a Compulsive Gardener

Here is a wonderful post that speaks eloquently of taking the long view as a gardener. It expresses interesting thoughts on moles and oak trees, and includes some beautiful images as well.

We are all custodians of our little patches of earth.

At the end of the day, whether we own them, rent them, or just work on them, we will not be here forever. I hear people talk about gardening legacies, and it strikes me how short a legacy can be: vast structures disappearing in a matter of decades, to be rediscovered like treasure troves just a scant generation or two later, or the sprawling cities of the ancients, just a few feet beneath tangled jungle.

Read more at Notes From a Compulsive Gardener

The Boulevard Project in August, featuring chicory

Boulevard Project Update: Success!

Three years ago, I decided to do something different with a scruffy patch of weedy grass on the municipal boulevard next to my driveway. The actual grass was losing the battle with weeds I didn’t like — dandelion (Taraxacum) and hairy cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata ). It occurred to me to introduce a better class of weed and make the spot look better than bad. So began the Boulevard Project.

Chicory and Queen Anne's Lace on boulevardMy plant choices were inspired by the plantscape along my cycling route to work, a bike path parallel to one of the main highways into Victoria — chicory, Queen Anne’s lace, red clover, beach pea, and St. John’s wort. These plants in bloom made the roadside quite ornamental in July and August, with no watering at all. So far, I’ve established only two of them on my boulevard — chicory and Queen Anne’s lace. Beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus) now grows in a couple of other spots in my garden (not sure how that happened). I’ve harvested seeds from those plants, and will make a better effort with it on the boulevard next spring. I didn’t manage to collect viable seed of either the clover or St. John’s wort. However, white clover has established itself quite nicely. I have to admit the flowers of hairy cat’s ear on a neighbouring part of the boulevard provide the same shade of yellow as St. John’s wort. (I’m pleased to say my dandelion tool and I have succeeded in keeping hairy cat’s ear out of my patch. Impressive when you consider the mass of airborne seeds those nearby plants produce.).

Chicory flowerChicory (Cichorium intybus) is definitely the star of the show. It’s amazing to find such beautiful blue flowers on a plant that’s an utter weed. I’ve noticed some chicory plants have dark red stems, while others are green. They seem to vary in height too, and harmonize nicely with Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). My original intention was to cut the chicories down to six inches or lower, and force them to flower near the ground. So far I haven’t had the heart to apply this brutal treatment, but now that the plants are established, I think I’ll do that next year, at least to those growing close to the public sidewalk.

Chicory flower and green bee

Chicory flower visited by a small green bee.  Apparently these are called “sweat bees.” not a very flattering name. Why not “emerald bees?”

Establishing the chicory was a little tricky, because the nonflowering stage of this plant, called a “rosette” in botany — looks a lot like common dandelion and hairy cat’s ear. I had to pay close attention when extracting dandelion and hairy cat’s ear not to extract the young chicory plants by mistake.

Both plants will need to be cut down before they seed wildly and form thickets. I want to retain the idea of grass supplemented with flowering weeds, not a solid weed patch. Let’s not forget that this adjoins a suburban sidewalk, not a rural lane. Every now and then I go out and do some snipping to show that yes, this is a cultivated spot, not a neglected one. I’ve even had one or two compliments from passers-by.

Chicory and fennel on boulevard

A plant of bronze fennel has established itself at the edge of the driveway.  I’ve been tossing California poppy seed pods onto the boulevard, and one tiny plant actually bloomed this summer. I’ve seen a creeping form of broom (Genista species) growing in all sorts of exposed spots, such as highway medians. Perhaps I’ll manage to work that in as well. And I must not forget the aster mentioned in the original post.

The project continues!

 

 

 

Cut-down bloom stalks of lambs' ears, mullein, delphinium, achillea, blue fescue on Pond Bench. Dead flowers.

End-of-Summer Wreath

This is what I did with some of the dead plant parts featured in a recent post, adding a few fresh items and attaching everything to a base of old Clematis armandii vines I made years ago and have used many times.

Wreath made from dead flower stalks

 

Daylily "Kwanso" showing lots of wilted leaves

End of season foliage of daylily “Kwanso”

I’ve discovered that wilted daylily leaves (from the variety called “Kwanso”) are perfect as ties, sort of like raffia. Not as robust, but surprisingly tough in the short term. I’ll have to experiment, braiding them together to make “rope.” It will be interesting to see how well it holds up when completely dried out.

 

Wilted daylily leaves useful as ties

Wilted daylily leaves can be used as ties for wreath-making and other rough-and-ready garden crafts.

 

Cerinthe Pride of Gibraltar

The Magical Colours of Cerinthe

A few years ago, while riding my bicycle, I saw a plant with an exciting combination of blue, green, and purple. Those are my three favourite colours. Blue and purple especially — the colours of magic!

Some investigation revealed the name, or rather names, of this plant. In scientific Latin, it’s Cerinthe major, variety atropurpurea. Common names include honeywort and “blue shrimp,” which certainly describes it when in bloom. But I prefer “Pride of Gibraltar,” which has a certain grandeur and mystery, quite in keeping with this plant’s magical qualities.

Cerinthe Pride of GibraltarWhy magical, you ask? Because of the colour changes it undergoes. I grew a number of plants from seed this summer, in pots. That allowed me to keep a close eye on them and observe their development. Last summer, I grew them in the chaotic mess of the “Ex-Veg Patch,” where they soon disappeared among the jumble of herbs and arugula. I managed to harvest seven seeds and resolved to make good use of them.

When young, the simple, entire leaves of cerinthe are a pale green with faint white blotches. I worried about those blotches, but I think they’re normal. Once the plants branch out and prepare to bloom, the foliage colour deepens to a unique blue-tinged green. Flower buds form, and the ends of the stalks droop as the flowers open.

The flowers themselves aren’t all that spectacular. They’re narrow purple tubes less than an inch long, peeking out from the small terminal leaves. The magical thing is the colour of those leaves. They’re dark blue, sometimes with purple and bronze flushes. The combination of blue-green, pure blue, purple-blue, and purple is a delight to the eye. And chances are a bumblebee will show up. As it burrows into a flower, the bumblebee’s buzz grows more intense, probably because of the tubular shape.

Cerinthe Pride of Gibraltar close-up, blue leaves

Cerinthe Pride of Gibraltar close-upPride of Gibraltar cerinthe is an easy-to-grow annual. The seeds are about the size of peas, so are easy to handle. I can imagine all kinds of clever colour combinations in beds, borders and containers. Definitely allow seeds to form and ripen so you can experience the magic again next year.

More information on the genus Cerinthe here; on “Pride of Gibraltar” and obtaining seeds here.

We’re experiencing that weird, smoke-induced orange light here again. Some say it’s going to be the “new normal” for our summers. Air quality the past few days has been too poor for garden activities more strenuous than admiring the flowers of summer’s end, such as cerinthe “Pride of Gibraltar.”

Weird light at sunset. Orange light due to wildfire smoke.