Leavings and pickings.

This week’s post is a bit of a mash-up of musings:

After oohing and ahhing over photographs in glossy gardening magazines and on other people’s blogs, I finally had a chance to see the new black petunias “live” last week…yep, they ARE every bit as spectacular as advertised!  Watch for ‘Black Velvet’ (all black – TRUE black – absolutely stunning), ‘Phantom’ (true black with a broad yellow star) and ‘Pinstripe,’ a deep purple with yellow stripes radiating from the centre.  The specimens I saw were fantastic…the grower had placed them in smart concrete-textured black pots and paired the petunias with ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbias (another exciting annual that everyone should get their hands on.  Once you see ‘Diamond Frost,’ you’ll forget what bacopa is).  The result was breathtaking, really jaw-dropping.  Hard to resist!!

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The 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year is Arkansas (Threadleaf) Blue Star (Amsonia hubrichtii).  It’s a pretty North American native, with fern-like leaves and delicate blue star-shaped flowers.  It’s also zone 5, so forget about growing it in anything other than a container here in Alberta.  But it got me to thinking, who decides on the PPOTY?  Actually, it’s the Perennial Plant Association, a trade association comprised of members from all over North America – really, everyone and anyone “in the business” who has any sort of interest in perennial plants.  The Association’s mandate is to encourage the “production”, “promotion” and “utilization” of perennial plants – everything from design and maintenance to selection and planting, you name it.  It’s a big deal for a plant to be declared the PPOTY, and can greatly boost the popularity of the chosen selection.

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I was talking gardening with some of my co-workers the other day, and we got around to discussing the merits of goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus), which, incidentally, is the selection for the Calgary Horticultural Society’s Perennial Plant of the Year for 2011.  Now, this is a perennial that you can grow in Alberta without any sort of difficulty – oddly enough, it’s rather overlooked despite its good looks and sheer determination.  This member of the rose family DOES get rather large (up to 180 cm tall with a significant spread), so perhaps that’s why  you don’t see them terribly often – well, that, and there aren’t many cultivars.  You’re pretty much stuck with the species, which sports creamy-white blooms – some people may find that colour a little uninspiring.  (But it goes with everything!).  The flowers are long plumes, almost like those of astilbe, rising out of lacy dark green foliage…oh, and did I mention goat’s beard is a shade plant?  See, it just keeps getting better!  Just make sure goat’s beard is planted in fertile soil and kept evenly moist – it’s not particularly drought-tolerant.  Really worth tracking down if you have the right location for it!

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Okay, I gotta admit I’ve been living under a rock when it comes to turfgrass.  I’m not really that gung-ho about lawns, I like grass on golf courses and in parks.  I’ve never been particularly enamoured of the amount of water and chemicals most people use to keep grass green and lush – and I especially get all weird when people unnecessarily use herbicides and in an unsafe manner.  So stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I’ve just read some very good information (in the excellent Garden Making magazine, Spring 2011 issue) about “ecological, no-mow” grass.  Turns out you can get specialty mixes of creeping and “bunching” fescues that only grow a maximum of (approximately) ten centimetres tall, in virtually any kind of soil, and in every light condition except for deep shade.  As well, these fescues rarely require fertilizing – they perform well in low nitrogen locations.  Because these fescues don’t grow tall, they are less likely to harbour insects and diseases that thrive in long grass, and as an added benefit, it is unnecessary to water no-mow grasses as often as regular turf.  And, best of all, you hardly ever need to mow!  (And while this eliminates another source of pollution in the environment, it’s really all about the fact that you’ll have way more time to sit back in the lawn chair and relax with a nice cold one).

At any rate, it’s not an easy task to make the change from your current hungry, thirsty lawn to a no-mow lawn – you have to completely remove all existing turf and start from scratch, and it will take time before everything grows in.  (And bear in mind that no-mow turf looks a little shaggier than formalized lawns comprised of Kentucky bluegrass or other common grass blends).  But if you’re considering going away from traditional lawn anyway, this might be another alternative to consider.

One thought on “Leavings and pickings.

  1. I agree about the Aruncus. It’s a tough plant that works well for me in part shade and part sun. I use it mostly for the texture of the foliage. It works well as a background plant and it contrasts nicely with hosta and iris leaves. People tend to focus too much on ephemeral blooms and not enough on subtle arrangements of foliage texture and contrast.

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