Floral notes: early February 2012.


No show-snow (Photo credit – Rob Normandeau)

Last night, I had what should have been a lovely dream:  I went outside into my flowerbeds and all of my spring-flowering bulbs were up and growing like crazy.  That would be super – in April or May.  But it’s the first week of February, and I’m actually very fearful that it’s going to happen – high winds and unseasonably warm temperatures have completely eliminated what little snowcover we had, and the beds have been exposed for most of the winter.  I swear when I walked outside yesterday afternoon I could smell the earthy scent of spring thaw – even though our local version of a “groundhog,” a Richardson’s ground squirrel named Balzac Billy,  declared that we were up for another 6 weeks of winter.  (You can see Balzac Billy in all of his…um…ground squirrelly splendour here).  Oh well, I shouldn’t complain, really.  We’ll get our “winter” in March, guaranteed, with a ton of snow and cold, and then everyone can laugh at me and say “I told you so.”

In the meantime, while I fret about my plants, you can peruse some Flowery Blurbs:

This is gonna be one popular poplar

Watch for a new poplar to be the “it” tree in a nursery near you (well, if you live in Canada, that is):  the hybrid AC Sundancer is the recent creation of the Agroforestry Development Centre (part of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada), and it comes with big promises!  AC Sundancer is everything traditional poplars aren’t:  relatively slow-growing (so it doesn’t shoot up and then die in a few decades), compact in size, disease resistant, lacking seeds, and – this is the best part – possessing a controlled root system.  No more cracked foundations and split sewer lines, no more poplar stigma!  Check out the bulletin here.

And the winner is….

For the past few years, the Calgary Horticultural Society has taken to declaring its own “Perennial Plant of the Year.”  I like the idea of selecting a zone 3 hardy plant because quite often the Perennial Plant of the Year chosen by the Perennial Plant Association isn’t appropriate for our particular climate.  (See my previous post, Flowery Blurbs, Volume One, for information about the 2012 PPA PPOTY.  It’s actually a zone 3 plant this year!).  The CHS has announced that this year’s chosen one is Helenium autumnale ‘Mardi Gras’ (sneezeweed or Helen’s flower), a cheerful and hardy member of the Asteraceae family.  See a photo of the summer beauty here.

Vertical farming viewpoint

Although this article was written in 2010, I just happened across it the other day, and I thought it offered another interesting perspective on the viability of vertical farms.  See the write-up in The Economist here.

Streaming plant ID

Finally, if you want to spend an hour and a half on a basic botany lesson, you may want to check out Olds College instructor Annelise Doolaege’s talk on UStream.  She also discusses plant keys and how to use them in the field, and gives a brief photo tour of wildflowers found in central and southern Alberta, including the Rocky Mountains.  Doolaege’s talk is the first in a series to be offered over the next few months, as a teaser for the college’s annual Hort Week festivities.   Find the link to the lecture here.

New plant selections for 2011 and turfgrass alternatives.

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!!


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.


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!


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.  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.