The late garden.

I wouldn’t call what my garden is doing right now “going strong,” but there are still pockets of colour in my perennial beds, despite (and perhaps because of) numerous frosts.   Here are a few of my favourites:

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Alpine strawberries

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The ubiquitous Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

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Lungwort – a new acquisition given to me by a co-worker

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Sedum ‘Matrona’

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Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’ – silver and gold now

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Lady’s mantle – love that bronzed look!

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Veronica penduncularis – isn’t that foliage awesome?

The scabiosa I posted about here is still bravely putting up a single bright blossom, and my blue flaxes are just ending their second flush.  The thymes never let up all summer long and are heading into freeze up without a break (that’s never happened before).  The Campanula rotundifolia ‘Olympica’ is on round number two, as is the Silene schafta.  As for the annuals, my snapdragons and calibrachoa can still pass muster, while the wax begonias I received from Proven Winners seem completely unaffected by the cool weather.

I figured that my new liatris would not flower this year (I planted ten corms this spring), but they all sent up a huge amount of foliage over the summer so I will look forward to blooms next fall.  I fall-seeded some perennial asters, sweet Williams and a heirloom larkspur so we’ll see how that little experiment turns out in…oh…eight months or so.

I put in three dozen crocus corms yesterday afternoon, to add to my expanding collection (I suppose it only expands if the squirrels don’t get to them first!).  While digging around, I noticed that the scilla and some of the muscari I planted over the last couple of years are sprouting foliage like mad, completely out of season.  If our confusing and lovely autumn weather continues, I may have spring flowers yet before the snow flies!  😉

Which plants are your favourites in the October garden?  Have you had any surprises?

Happy Thanksgiving to my family and friends here in Canada!  I hope everyone has a wonderful day filled with good company and delicious food! 

Redleaf rose.

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While walking home from minding my plot at the community garden a couple of days ago, I came across this redleaf rose (Rosa rubrifolia, syn. R. glauca) growing in a nearby schoolyard. It reminded me of when we used to bring roses into the garden centre – we’d always order a few redleaf roses alongside all of the showier Mordens and Explorers and rugosas, but the customers were never thrilled about the “wild”-looking redleaf rose flowers. I tried to sell everyone on the foliage instead, but few people bit. I love them BECAUSE they look a little like our wild roses (Rosa acicularis and R. woodsii – see photos here).  If I owned a house and had the room to actually plant full size (read: large and slightly rambling) roses, a redleaf or two would definitely have a place.

What do you think of redleaf roses? Are you a fan, or are they not really your cup of tea?

Have a super-enjoyable weekend!  What are your plans – gardening or otherwise?  I’ve already done a pile of weeding this morning, but there’s still a frightening amount yet to tackle, and more rain in the forecast…. 

Water retaining crystals – yay or nay?

I have a confession to make.

Really, I should be ashamed of myself.  It’s time I got it out in the open, however:

I’m not very good at remembering to water my houseplants.  It’s not that I mean to forget…it just sometimes happens.  I like to pretend it’s because I’m doing everything within my power to prevent mould and other nasty humidity-related issues, but really, it’s just because I’m always on the go and certain things get kind of shuffled to the wayside.

Yep, now I’ve admitted it.  Please don’t judge me too harshly!   😉

It’s a good thing I have mostly African violets, which like to dry out between waterings.  In an attempt to alleviate the pain and suffering of my poor beleaguered plants, I’ve occasionally used water retaining crystals (aka hydrogels) in my potting soil.  For the most part, though, I haven’t really had to significantly change my watering schedule for plants with water retaining crystals in the soil versus those without; the extension of time between waterings seems to be a couple of days, perhaps three or four if I’m lucky.  I’ve never tried out the crystals in my outdoor containers, so I’m not sure if they would make a difference in hanging baskets or planters.  I’ve also never used commercial premixed potting soil that contains hydrogels.

Here’s the thing:  it seems that there is a bit of a controversy regarding water retaining crystals.  Many garden experts do not recommend their use, calling them gimmicks and citing their ineffectiveness.  (Plus, potting mixes containing the crystals are more expensive than those without!).  And, even more damaging:   I came across an article this past week which suggests that the common type of crystals made from polyacrylamide may actually be carcinogenic!  Oh boy, that’s not what I want in the soil for my houseplants…and definitely not in the potting mixes I’m growing food crops in.

There are alternatives to the polyacrylamide crystals (besides actually watering on a regular basis!).   The ones made of starch may actually be better at retaining water, and they are considerably safer.  I’m not certain how many studies have been done about all of this, and there is bound to be some continued debate.

Weigh in!  Have you ever used water retaining crystals – or would you ever use them – in your potting soil? 

Rotating crops in the community garden.

The brassicas in my community garden plot are currently under siege.

While my tatsoi and kale are perfectly edible, they’ve also been completely shot full of holes, due to a flea beetle infestation (thankfully, I’m not combating cabbage moth or cabbage white butterfly!).  Yes, I ought to have put up a floating row cover, but in truth, I’m not particularly bothered.  I’m only growing for my hubby and myself, and my plot is full of a variety of crops so a few nibbles in the cabbagy-plants don’t trouble me much.  Besides, all of the other growers in the community garden have the exact same problem (except for the thoughtful ones, who did actually employ the row covers since the start of the season), so I don’t feel like I ought to have low self-esteem for culturing pocked plants.

I’m actually more worried about the onion maggot, which made an appearance in my shared plot last year.  One of my fellow growers at the garden told me the other day that she just doesn’t “bother with onions anymore.”  So far I haven’t seen any evidence on my plants, but it’s a lingering threat.

Our garden maintains a rigid “no-spray” policy – and I wouldn’t apply chemicals to veggies even if the restriction wasn’t in place.   I try to grow as organically and safely as I can, and one of the tenets of organic farming is crop rotation. There is no crop rotation governance in place at our community garden, and really, even if there was, how could it be done so that the whole garden would remain pest-free?  On a large-scale or commercial level, or even in a home garden, crop rotation may be a workable solution – but how do you effectively employ it in a community garden?  This is my first year with this particular plot, and should I decide to continue gardening at the site, I will be allocated the same plot next year.   And even if I were to ask for a different plot, it’s nearly a guarantee (just by looking at the produce in everyone else’s beds) that pest-susceptible brassicas and other plants are growing there right now – or were last year.  The general rule is that brassica crops should not be planted in the same spot more than once in three growing seasons, so my fellow gardeners and I are pretty much hooped if we really want hole-free collards and cabbage.  And it’s not just used to deal with pests – crop rotation is also often employed to rejuvenate nutrient-depleted soil, as veggie crops have varying nutritional needs.

Hand-in-hand with crop rotation is the employment of green manures – which, again, can’t really be used effectively in a community garden setting.  No gardener is going to pay for the rental of a plot and grow clover or alfalfa or buckwheat on it just to till it over for the next season…unless the Garden Team designates a few plots each year for the purpose and does not rent them out.  Our community garden currently doesn’t do this.  (At home, growing green manures can actually work, and it may be worth giving over different parts of your garden beds over each year to pursue this great source of ready nutrition for future crops).

So, what is a workable solution?  (Besides the floating row covers, which are on my list of “must-haves” for next year).  I guess it all comes down to this:  a happy plant gives you little or no strife, because it’s less susceptible to munching critters and diseases.   If green manures are doable, use them.  And amend, amend, amend.  Make sure your soil is the healthiest it can be.   I know I’m definitely guilty of not adding nearly enough compost to my plot this season, and the soil texture leaves a lot to be desired as well.   Give plants a specific balanced diet of macro- and micro-nutrients.  Keep on top of the watering and weeding.  Plant crops at the right time of year, in the proper location, so that they have their best chance at thriving and producing.  Try to ward off the baddies with intercropping or trap cropping.

And even with all of this, the pests may still come.  It’s just part of gardening!  🙂

What do you think about small-scale crop rotation?  Do you rotate your crops at home (or in your community garden plot)?  Do you grow green manures?   

Ha Ling Peak and roseroot.

In early July, my hubby and I hiked up the south face of Ha Ling Peak, a popular trek in Canmore, Alberta (located about 105 km west of Calgary).  You can climb the peak on the north side, but we’re hardly that intrepid!  🙂  As it was, the elevation gain of 700 m was plenty enough for an utter lazy bones like me to tackle, and the multiple stops for water and to catch my breath afforded me the chance to do some wildflower hunting.  Near the summit, growing in the gravelly scree and heavy rocks at almost 2,407 m, we spotted this gem, Sedum rosea (aka Tolmachevia integrifolia):

According to the resource Wildflowers of the Canadian Rockies by George W. Scotter and Halle Flygare (reprint 2000, Alpine Book Peddlers, Canmore), this perennial is commonly called roseroot – not to be confused with Rhodiola rosea, another roseroot of northern climes that is purported to have all sorts of medicinal benefits.  (Of course, it just so happens the two plants are very closely related, and Sedum rosea is/was also known as Rhodiola integrifolia.  Having fun yet?)    Another common name for Sedum rosea is king’s crown – but it isn’t the same plant as the lovely tropical Justica carnea, which has the same moniker.  Ugh!  Plant names!

Although the plants we saw possessed only clusters of bright red flowers, the male flowers can be either yellow or red, while the females are always red.  Both male and female flowers may be present in each cluster.  The plants are small, befitting their alpine setting – the ones we saw were no taller than 10 cm.  The succulent leaves are apparently tasty in salads when young, although given that Scott and Flygare list the plant as “rare,” I wouldn’t want to dine on them.  (I’m not certain if the plant is rare only in this part of the world, as a site I found out of the States designates them “common”).

And, yes, we did make it to the top of Ha Ling Peak – here are a couple of shots of the incredible view:

Flowery spotlight: Dwarf golden flax.

In the summer of 2005 I purchased a dwarf golden flax (Linum flavum ‘Compactum’) plant in a 10 cm pot from a garden centre.  I was in a blue flax phase (still am, as all the plants I bought then have blithely reseeded themselves everywhere) and I was thrilled by the promise of the bright yellow colour of this new-to-me flax.  I just stuck it in the ground in full sun, up against a wall, near some Salvia x superba and a ‘Confetti Cherry Red’ dianthus.

Fast-forward to summer 2012, and my dwarf golden flax was just LOADED with blooms this year…it’s finally finished now, but the blooming period is long (about six weeks, from mid-June to the end of July/early August).   It’s one of my favourite perennials in the garden, so cheerful and delicate-looking.  It’s a perfect, tidy mound, about 30 cm tall and 45 cm wide.  I never have to do anything with it and yet it performs like a star.  It’s amazingly drought-tolerant (which is great, because I am ghastly at watering regularly).  Dwarf golden flax doesn’t seem to reseed itself in the garden in the mad fashion of blue flax, so I haven’t had any volunteers pop up…to my dismay.  Maybe this year I should finally save some seed!

Are you growing dwarf golden flax? 

Flowery blurbs #14.

Over the past few weeks (months?), I’ve read so many fascinating plant-related articles and posts on the ‘net, I thought I’d collect a few together to share!  Hope you enjoy these Flowery Blurbs!

  • Have you ever thought about growing rhubarb not just for food, but as an ornamental?  Here’s why you should and how to do it!
  • Problems with ants? (Ugh, don’t we all!).  This is an old solution that seems to actually work.
  • Want to make your own potting soil mixesHere are some great recipes!
  • Do you still have a surplus of radishes in your garden?  Why not pickle them?
  • The elders are still blooming here in Calgary so we can still make this recipe for sweet elderflower sugar.   Or maybe elderflower cordial, instead!
  • It’s seed-saving time!  Here’s the proper way to extract, clean, and dry tomato seeds!
  • Bugged by mosquitoes?  (Aren’t they the national insect of Canada?  Okay, perhaps it just seems that way!).  😉  Maybe these plants can help ward them off.
  • Here’s a great post with tips to fend off pesky deer – there are detailed plant lists as well!

  • If you’re interested in growing basil from cuttings, here’s how!  I’m definitely going to try this out!
  • I saw this pest in action this year:  watch out for the columbine sawflyHere’s some information about this highly destructive critter.

  • If you have mint, you have eco-friendly carpet freshener.
  • Here’s a great summary of some wonderful edible flowers you might be growing in your garden!

Please share any other interesting gardening articles, tips and suggestions you’ve read about lately! 🙂 

Flowery spotlight: Fireweed.

On a mid-July trip to northern Alberta, the roadsides were brimming with bright purple fireweed (Epilobium angustifolia, formerly Chamerion angustifolium); I don’t think I’ve seen that many plants in quite a few years.  While this beautiful wildflower isn’t considered noxious in this province, it has a rather aggressive growth habit (an understatement!) and most people don’t usually encourage it in the garden.

Fireweed is so-called because of its ability to be “first on the scene” and colonize burned land after a natural fire.  This may partially explain its abundance in northern Alberta, a region beset by several forest fires in recent years.   (In my reading, I came across this interesting notation, which remarked on the colonization of fireweed in Skamania County after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980).  According to an article by Julie Walker in the Calgary Horticultural Society’s August/September 2012 issue of Calgary Gardening, fireweed will consume all of the potassium from burned soil and return it three-fold when the plant dies, thus rejuvenating the land.

As a bonus, fireweed is edible, too!  Tender young parts of the plant can be cooked into a variety of dishes such as stirfries and quiches.  The leaves and flowers are often added to salads.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to sample the flowers while I was on our trip; I would have had to seek them out in an area less polluted by highway traffic.  There’s always next year!  🙂

Have you ever eaten fireweed?

Flowery spotlight: ‘Hansa’ rose.

(Photo credit:  R. Normandeau) 

In mid-June, my husband and I took a quick trip to northern Alberta to visit family.  While we were there, we had a chance to spend some time relaxing in my Mum and Dad’s garden.  At the time, the ‘Hansa’ roses were just getting started on a real show, heavy with buds and open flowers.  I’m a huge fan of this rugosa rose:  they’re extremely cold hardy (zone 3), and they have exceptionally fragrant bright purple-red blooms that really make a statement in the garden.   Characteristically wrinkled bright green leaves and fierce thorns add extra visual interest (the latter also keep the critters out of the garden and offer a constant reminder to wear a good pair of gloves while pruning!).   Give them some room to grow:  ‘Hansas’ are a large shrub rose, reaching up to 2 metres in height, with a 1.8 metre spread.

My parents have planted their ‘Hansa’ roses alongside a fabulous fence/gate/arbour combination that my Dad designed and built, a beautiful entrance to the back yard.

(This photo was taken just after installation; the roses have greatly matured now!  Photo credit:  H. and R. Mueller)

Other rugosa roses include ‘Henry Hudson’ (white flowers, more compact size), and pink-flowering ‘Therese Bugnet’ (which has a distinctly Alberta connection:  it was introduced in 1950 by rose breeder George Bugnet, in the town of Legal).

Are you growing any rugosa roses in your garden?  

Read some more about rugosa roses at http://www.rosemagazine.com/articles04/rugosa_roses/  and http://gardening.about.com/od/rose1/p/Rugosa-Roses.htm.

Pest to watch (out for): Spittlebug.

I haven’t whined about it for a little while now (and I’m sure you’re grateful!), but up until this morning, when that unfamiliar yellow ball in the sky finally graced us with its presence, the rains have fallen on Calgary pretty much non-stop since the end of May.  According to the Government of Canada’s National Climate Data, we’ve actually only had four days this month without precipitation, and we’ve gotten a whopping 138.6 mm of rain so far (we usually average about 75 mm or so in June, our wettest month).  All this humidity has brought some pretty interesting plant pests to the garden, and one of them is the spittlebug.

I’ve seen this creature’s work before, but only once in my garden, last June in a mat of ‘Flashing Lights’ dianthus.   Usually, I’ve come across it on wildflowers while I’ve been out hiking.   This year, the evidence is everywhere, however:  gobs of white frothy stuff wedged in the stems of various perennials in my garden.

I’ve never bothered to identify the source of the yucky substance until now, but a quick glance inside the book Garden Bugs of Alberta (by Ken Fry, Doug Macaulay and Don Williamson – 2008, Lone Pine Publishing) tells me that my garden flowers have a case of Philaenus spumarius (meadow spittlebug).  Spittlebugs like to make Slurpees out of plant fluids, which they do by piercing holes in the stems of the victims.  (Apparently they really go after strawberries and peas; I do grow alpine strawberries but I haven’t seen any signs of the bugs on them so far).  The goopy white froth is made by the pests while they are in nymphal stage:  it’s an appetizing combo of plant fluid, air bubbles, and bug mucus (is it breakfast-time as you read this?  If so, I apologize).  The froth is used as a protective blanket over the nymph so they can eat in comfort.

To combat my spittlebug issues, I went outside and spritzed the froth with a diluted mixture of dishsoap and H2O.  You don’t really need to go the whole insecticidal route with them, as the goal is to remove the spittle and the eggs that the creatures may have laid, and blasting them with a jet of plain water will do the trick nicely.  The adult spittlebugs will feed on your plants after emerging and their eggs are capable of withstanding our cold winters, so eliminating the eggs is very important.

Have you ever had spittlebugs in your garden?  What did you do to combat them?