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.
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.
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.
I 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.
But 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.
Story 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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.
My 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 (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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Why 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.
Pride 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.
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.”
The first two plants in this series could be described as medium-sized. They don’t look like much from a distance. The Olympic Mullein is different. It’s big and striking. It’s architectural. I’ve seen mulleins more than 10 feet tall. Even so, it’s relatively skinny for its height, making it a perfect “statement” plant in a bed of shorter subjects, a visual exclamation point.
Most mulleins, including the Olympic one, are biennials. They spend their first year as a “rosette” of large fuzzy leaves radiating from a centre point at ground level. This rosette can take up a fair bit of space — up to 3 feet in diameter. The big leaves can overwhelm any small, delicate plants nearby, so keep that in mind when siting mulleins.
In the second spring, drama begins. A single bloom stalk emerges from the middle of the rosette and rises skyward. You can see it lengthen from one day to the next, shooting out lush leaves topped by a vaguely phallic structure consisting of the immature flower stalks. By the time this unfolds into a glorious mass of yellow, the plant attains its full height, anywhere from six to ten feet. Bees love the flowers. A plant in full bloom on a hot July day buzzes with their activity.
I must have grown my first Olympic mulleins here from seed, back in the early 1990s. Since then, I haven’t needed to buy more seed or new plants. At some point, I acquired a plant of white mullein (Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’). It’s smaller and daintier (if you can call any mullein dainty). It has a single spike of flowers, rather than the broom-like structure of the Olympic mullein. The flowers, of course, are white and the stamens are purple, unlike the Olympic mullein, whose flowers are entirely yellow. After a couple of years I began noticing smaller plants with single bloom spikes and yellow flowers with purple stamens. The two types must have gotten together and hybridized. Plants do stuff like that. Unlike their Olympic cousins, the white mullein and the yellow + purple hybrids are perennials.
Another noteworthy mullein I’ve seen in other gardens is Verbascum bombyciferum, silver mullein. It’s not quite as big as Olympic mullein, and its leaves are heavily felted with white fuzz, a distinctly attractive feature. I’ve never managed to find a spot for it here, but I mention it because it was a favourite of that estimable gardener and garden writer, the late Henry Mitchell. He claimed the Latin name meant “carrying a bomb,” something I’ve never felt the need to verify.
Mulleins are trouble-free plants, drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, utterly reliable, at least in my garden with its sandy soil and dry summers. Even the maple roots and shade don’t faze them, although they do best in the sunniest spots in the garden. They don’t need staking.
Like many other tough plants, mulleins are prolific seed producers. Before I figured out a management method, a lot of seeds were deposited in my garden. That seed bank, probably supplemented to some extent by the odd stalk that escapes deadheading, has kept me in mulleins for a quarter century. They seem to form new buds even as the first lot of flowers fades, so I’m often surprised to see fresh flowers on a plant I thought was finished blooming. I suspect this is a way to fool the gardener into delaying deadheading and giving the plant time to ripen seeds from the earliest blooms. Anyway, once they truly are finished blooming, all you have to do is decapitate them. Cut the main stem just below the cluster of bloom stalks. Snip — done. It’s probably best to dispose of the spent stalks somewhere other than the compost pile, unless you don’t mind mullein seedlings popping up from the compost. Young plants are easily transplanted while small enough to dig up with taproots intact. Move them in spring and revel in their gorgeousness the following summer.
The decapitated plants cheerfully put out a fresh crop of bloom stalks, smaller and shorter than the original ones, and eventually a new batch of flowers for late summer and autumn. I’ve had mulleins in bloom as late as November. Eventually, though, it’s all over. Like all biennials, Olympic mullein plants die at the end of the second year. Once the leaves are dead and the plants look ugly, I cut the stalks at the base, using a small saw, because they are quite thick and woody. But I know there are half a dozen young plants waiting to do their thing the following year, and mullein seeds lurking in the soil.
A macabre title for something innocuous. The other day, I cut down flowering stalks of perennials that were past their best, as part of ongoing garden maintenance and cleanup. There were lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina), delphinium, mullein (Verbascum olympicum), blue fescue grass, achillea.
Bundling them together, I noticed how beautiful the textures and colours still were, in these technically dead flowers. I laid them on the cedar trunk bench, which contributed to the photos with its own colours and textures — the grain of the weathered wood, the dry moss and lichen growing on it.
This seems a fitting entry into August, a month when the garden becomes dry and rattling, brown around the edges, but still with its beauties.
Rose Campion… Sounds like a good name for a romantic heroine. But no, it’s one of the common names of a plant, another tough, almost-weedy one that does well in my garden.
This common name, although charming, doesn’t really suit the white-flowered form (see the featured image at the top). Maybe that’s better represented by “Bridget-in-her-bravery,” although that’s quite a mouthful. I tend to call it Lychnis coronaria, or simply lychnis. That’s not quite right either, since (according to Wikipedia), the official Latin name is now Silene coronaria. Wikipedia also cites other common names: mullein-pink, Bloody William, and lamp-flower.
This is another relatively short-lived perennial that seeds heavily. Fully grown, it’s between one and three feet tall (30-100 cm). The growth habit is basal clumps of grey-green leaves with a sort of suede texture, similar to lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina) but not as fuzzy. In spring they send up flowering stalks and bloom mainly in June and July. The flowers come in two main colours — bright magenta-red and pure, bright white. I’ve read there are pink forms and a white-with-pink-eye combination, but I’ve not seen either of those.
As with purple toadflax, to get the best from this plant, you have to deadhead. And unfortunately, deadheading rose campion means snipping off each flower individually, using scissors or small clippers. Each plant produces dozens of flowers, so weekly deadheading sessions are needed. That keeps them blooming into late summer and prevents copious seeding.
The spent flowers go through a limp stage and then quickly become knot-like seed pods. Left to their own devices, the pods ripen over several weeks. When mature, they open up at the top, like tiny urns poised to spill hundreds of seeds.
I generally deadhead flower-by-flower into August. By then, the plants are slowing down. They produce fewer buds and the bloom stalks start to look thin. At this stage it’s best to cut them down at the base, leaving the basal clump of leaves to finish out the season. In spots with a bit of moisture and/or shade, it’s possible to cut the stems by half in August for a fresh batch of late flowers in September. Because of the rather tedious deadheading requirement, I recommend keeping the number of plants relatively small (no more than 10) and situating them where you can get up close to trim off the flowers as they fade.
Here, rose campion looks fairly good all winter, although older plants may have quantities of dead leaves that resemble chamois leather. At my place there’s no shortage of rose campion, so I don’t hesitate to yank out any that are past their best. It copes well with the occasional snowfall and winter temperatures of -5 to -10 C (10-20 F).
Lychnis coronaria performs best in sunny spots, but is quite tolerant of light or partial shade. It doesn’t mind dry conditions, sandy soil, and competing tree roots. The white flowers are rather insistently bright, so a large number of plants in one spot can be too much of a good thing. The combination of white flowers and greyish foliage is elegant, especially with the sharp chartreuse, such as that of euphorbias. The magenta form looks best with other strong colours, rather than pale pastels. The two colour forms look fine planted together.
Rose campion is of no interest to deer and needs minimal watering. I suspect it prefers well-drained soils, although I’ve seen references to it growing well in clay soils. You can find them here (see the comments) along with more info about rose campion.
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