Category Archives: Bulbs

It’s not too late …

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

As I type this, we in central Ontario are in the midst of a burst of spring-like weather, and it’s supposed to continue for a few days yet. It gives us all a second chance to finish fall chores not completed when the snowfall and killing frosts hit in the last few weeks.

Author’s recently received Breck’s bulb order, still in the box!

If, like me, you failed to get all of your tulips and daffodils planted, do not worry. As long as you can get a shovel in the ground it’s OK to plant spring flowering bulbs. Some pros suggest they actually do better if planted when the ground harbors a bit of frost, so take advantage of those late season sales and plant away. Also, by planting later, you may experience fewer issues with squirrels stealing your bulbs. The arrival of snow doesn’t mean you’ve missed your chance, either. If the ground hasn’t completely frozen yet, you’re in luck, even if you have to break through the frozen crust first.

If you regularly find that squirrels munch on your buffet of bulbs, you may wish to purchase some “chicken wire” at your local co-op store. Cut a small round circle about the same size as the hole you’re going to dig. Plant the bulbs at the recommended depth, and then cover with some soil up to about 2″ from the surface. At that height, plant the chicken wire, and cover over with a bit more soil and mulch. The added benefit of the chicken wire is that should you forget where you planted tulips next summer after their foliage has died back, the chicken wire will be a good reminder when you hit it with your shovel. The bulbs will happily grow through the 1″ holes in the wire next spring.

An amazing purchase of mine a few weeks ago is a small cordless drill auger attachment. It works wonders to create just the right size of hole for my bulbs, with very little effort. Mine is only about 6″ tall and makes about a 2″ hole. I move it around a bit to make the hole just big enough for 5-6 bulbs. Worth the $10 investment, for sure.

Remember: Bulbs are not seeds. They are alive and need to be planted in the fall. They will not last in storage — or that sack on a shelf in the garage. They require somewhere between 13-14 weeks of sub-zero temperatures before they’ll bloom next spring.

So what do you do if you find a bag of bulbs in January? There is a method of bulb planting that can work even during the coldest winter. It’s called the “no-dig” method. Simply move the snow away from your chosen location and place your bulbs on the frozen ground. Cover them with a bag or two of garden soil to a depth of three times the height of the bulb, and that’s it! The bonus of this method is that the soil above the bulbs will likely freeze quickly, and squirrels won’t harvest half of your crop. This method also works in areas where there are so many roots that digging a hole for bulbs is challenging. Try it!

Resources:

HGTV: When is it Too Late to Plant Bulbs?

Country Living: It’s Not Too Late to Plant your Spring Bulbs

Spring bulbs, plant them now!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Nothing compares to walking through a garden in spring with the heady scent of hyacinths wafting through the air!  Hyacinths not only have an incredible fragrance but they also have beautiful blooms and glossy green strap-like leaves. Their wonderfully scented flowers provide early nectar for pollinators.  They bloom in spring (mid-March – early May) and their flowers come in a rainbow of colours. Another great thing about hyacinths, they are deer and rabbit resistant.  For more, check here Hyacinth.

We are all familiar with tulips but did you know that there are now so many varieties that you may plant a tulip garden that begins blooming in early spring and may continue into June depending on the planting location and variety.  Tulips too come in a multitude of colours and shapes … some are also fragrant.  Unfortunately, squirrels and chipmunks appear to love the taste of tulip bulbs so try covering them with chicken wire, or try sprinkling the planting site with bone meal or chicken manure, to keep the little critters away.  For more, check here Tulips.

Daffodils, also known by the fancier name narcissus, are long lived often continuing to appear each spring at old homesteads well after the original inhabitants have moved on.  They too come in many varieties with different flower shapes and colours including yellow, white, red, orange, green or pink.  Daffodils will grow in sun or shade and naturalize amazingly well.  Also good to know that daffodils are not of interest to squirrels or chipmunks and, when planted interspersed among other more susceptible bulbs, may help to keep rodents away.  For more, check here Daffodils.

The diminutive Muscari, or grape hyacinth, are not a variety of hyacinth although they are in the same family.  Muscari also readily naturalize. Because of their small size, plant lots for the best spring show.  For more, check here Muscari.

Snowdrops are another diminutive plant that will be the first bulb to bloom in your garden perhaps even through the snow as their name suggests.  For more, check here Snowdrops.

Alliums bloom late spring to early summer so a bit later than many of the bulbs already discussed.  Their unusual flowers can be quite striking as their globe shapes nod in the breeze.  Don’t be surprised if you purchase an allium to find that they are usually sold singly and may be more expensive than many other bulbs.  For more, check here Alliums.

Bulb Care

Most spring flowering bulbs are planted in the fall (September or October) before the ground freezes. 

Purchase the largest, best quality bulbs that you can find.  Large bulbs have lots of food energy for the emerging plant which will result in strong stems and large flowers.  Avoid bulbs that appear to be soft, damaged or discoloured.  Check on the product package to make sure that you have chosen bulbs  that will grow in your zone.  If you don’t know your gardening zone, find it here Canadian Gardening Zones

Plant bulbs in full sun (6-8 hours/day) to produce the largest blooms and strong straight stems.  However, many will flower in light shade … blooms may not be as large and stems may not be as strong.

Follow the package directions for planting your bulbs.

Bulbs need time after blooming to store energy for the next year. To remove the dead leaves, either snip them off at the base, or twist the leaves while pulling gently.

Some bulbs will not flower as robustly the second year eg. hyacinths.  Some gardeners treat these as annuals, removing the bulbs after flowering and planting fresh bulbs each fall.  Note that many bulbs are toxic so store them appropriately so that your pets or little people are not able to access them.

Plant them now!  A spring garden with a mixture of different bulbs looks lovely!  Plant bulbs along a path or close to your home’s entrance to be able to enjoy their dramatic scent.  They will also add a burst of colour to your perennial garden before other early flowers are up. A mass planting of spring flowering bulbs will make a bold statement in your garden!

Planting garlic (Allium sativum)

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Happy Thanksgiving! While we navigate through this pandemic, we hope that you will be able to enjoy some happy moments in a safe and healthy environment. The colours have been beautiful this year and I have marveled at the many different shades of red, orange, yellow and green that still exist in my small urban backyard.

Photo credit: Sharleen Pratt

Thanksgiving reminds me that it is time to plant garlic for next years’ harvest. Here is a ‘Fact Sheet’ that I have put together for those who might be interested in planting this very easy to grow root vegetable.

PLANT DESCRIPTION:

Garlic is part of the Onion Family (Alliaceae) and although there are hundreds of varieties, they all fall under two main categories; Hardneck and Softneck.

Hardneck have a long flowering stem called a scape which eventually develops tiny bulbils at its top end. They usually have a single row of cloves and tend to do best in colder climates. They peel easier than softneck but do not store as long. They last approximately 4 to 6 months.

Softnecks are best for warmer climates, will last 9 to 12 months and have more than one row of cloves in each head. They do not develop a flowering stalk or scape. Softneck garlic are the type that are used to make garlic braids.

Elephant Garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) is a type of leek that is grown like garlic, but is 6 to 7 times bigger and has a milder flavour.

PLANTING NEEDS:

Full sun and well-drained soil with infrequent watering.

WHEN TO PLANT:

In the Peterborough area, October is the best month to plant your garlic. It can be done in early spring but you will produce a larger harvest if done in the previous Fall. Do not use garlic from your local grocery store as it may not be the best variety for your region and it’s often treated with an anti-sprouting chemical to inhibit growth. I purchase my garlic from my local nursery or Farmer’s Market and I also use my own garlic that was harvested in early August.

Photo credit: Sharleen Pratt

HOW TO PLANT:

Separate the inner cloves but do not remove the papery covering. Plant the largest cloves with the pointy end up. Space cloves five to six inches apart and two to three inches deep. You can mulch with straw, but I always mulch the garlic bed with shredded leaves which will be plentiful in the next couple of weeks.

CHALLENGES:

I have never had any garlic concerns; however, my daughter did deal with the leek moth this year. Adult moths lay their eggs and the hatched larvae tunnel into the leaves. She was able to keep it under control by going out each morning and removing the leaves that were encasing the larvae. If you have the space, it is always best to rotate your garlic each year.

HARVESTING SCAPES:

Garlic produces a garlic scape which appear on hardneck varieties, usually in June. They look a little like green onions that spiral and have a small bulbil at the end (which looks like a small hat). They should be cut once you see the spiral or they will become tougher the longer you leave them. Cut it at the base where it comes out of the stalk. Chop them up and fry with a little olive oil or they can be made into garlic scape pesto. It is wise to remove the scapes even if you don’t plan on eating them. This allows the energy to go back into growing the underground bulb.

HARVESTING GARLIC:

You will know your plant is ready to harvest when two to three sets of the bottom leaves have died or turned yellow. Do not leave them too long as the bulb will begin to split. Gently pull out the bulbs with a garden fork.

CURING GARLIC:

Garlic needs to be dried. Gently remove the dirt and trim the dangling white roots to approximately 1 cm. I tie my garlic together in bunches and hang it in my shed to dry for two weeks. Keep it out of direct sunlight and ensure it doesn’t get wet.

STORAGE:

Once dried, clean gently. Trim the long stalk off and store in a cool dry area. Garlic does not like to be refrigerated. You could also store them in empty egg cartons.

If you would like to learn more about growing garlic, read this extensive article from the Ontario Ministry.

Spring Ephemerals

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Definitions of “spring” and “ephemeral”, curtesy of Merriam-Webster online dictionary, are “to come into being” and “lasting a very short time”.  Two wonderful words, when used together, mean those lovely but short-lived flowers that we may see on our walks through woodland gardens or deciduous forests at this time of year!

My list of favourite spring ephemerals includes:

Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) – Of course, this native plant comes to mind first.  It is Ontario’s official flower but not Ontario’s only trillium … there are four other native species. Trillium grandiflorum produces one large, white, three-petaled flower above three, simple, broad leaves.  The flower fades to pale pink as it ages.  Red seeds are produced which are mainly dispersed by……ants!  Seeds germinate slowly and take 4-5 years to become a mature flowering plant.  Plants grow to reach 30-45 cm (12-18 in.) high, prefer moist rich soil and dappled shade.

trillium
Trillium grandiflorum

Dog-toothed violet (Erythronium americanum) –  These pretty little native flowers grow from a corm.  They are small, just 15 cm (6 in.) high but their bright, yellow flowers stand out  and along with their spotted leaves (hence their other common name “Trout Lily”), are one of the earliest spring ephemerals to appear.  They prefer rich, moist but well-drained soil and part to full shade.

dogtooth
Erythronium americanum

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) – If you remember your high school latin, you will recognize where Sanguinaria originates when you learn that all  parts of this native contains an orange/red juice.  The Latin sanguinarius means “bloody”.  S. canadensis is the only species in this genus.  It produces a white flower, that may be tinged in pink, and has deeply lobed, flat leaves.  It prefers part to full shade and well drained, moist, rich soil but seems to survive in varying soil conditions.  This plant will grow under your black walnut tree!  S. canadensis grows 15-30 cm (6-12 in.) high and spreads through rhizomes.

bloodroot
Sanguinaria canadensis

Mayapple (Polophyllum peltatum) – Mayapple makes a great groundcover.  It grows up to 45 cm (1.5 ft.) tall and produces one white flower which appears under it’s umbrella-like, multi-lobed, two leaf foliage in late spring…..a single leaf means no flower and no fruit.  The leaves and root are poisonous as is the immature green fruit.  Only the mature yellow fruit is edible.  This plant spreads through rhizomes, prefers light shade and moist, rich soil.

mayapple
Polophyllum peltatum

Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema tryphyllum) – Where do I start; this plant has a very interesting flower …. the spathe is the most conspicuous part.  It is a hooded, tube-like structure and houses the spadex which is a spike and is where the actual flowers are located.  Clusters of bright, red berries form in the fall.    It grows 30-90 cm (1-3 ft.) tall and prefers moist, rich, slightly acidic soil and part to full shade.  Jack-in-the-pulpit grow from corms.

jack
Arisaema tryphyllum

Next time you go for your woodland walk look for the spring ephemerals.  Their appearance signals that warmer weather is coming very soon!  Let the gardening season begin!

Many nurseries now carry native plants and some specialize in natives.  Just be sure to ask about the origin of the plants that you are buying, you are looking for plants that have been nursery propagated not harvested from the wild.

Suggested Nurseries

Resources

Books

  • The Ontario Naturalized Garden, by Lorraine Johnston ISBN1-55110-305-2

Websites

 

Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived…

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

“Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived… I was about to start cleaning my house!”

It starts with the dream.

There’s no better time than now to  dive into a good seed catalogue and start planning for the upcoming growing season. Seed catalogues can be a great resource for bulbs and unique seeds, and offer a far bigger selection than what you can find in your local garden centre. You’ll find inspiration and will likely discover new plants that you must have in your 2020 garden.

You’ll be the most successful if you pick the seed companies that are closest to where you live, or in the same growing region as you. However, you can still have success ordering from a company farther away, but you’ll have to be careful not to order a plant that isn’t in your growing zone.

Below are some popular seed companies from across Canada, with some that are also in close proximity to the Peterborough, ON, area.

Florabunda Seeds

Whether you are an avid gardener or just beginning to get your hands dirty, Florabunda Seeds in Keene, ON, has a wide variety of heirloom and unusual flower, vegetable and herb seeds. They pride themselves in their untreated, non-GMO, and non-Hybrid offerings. They package generously by measurement and not by seed count.  Download catalogueRequest a catalogue.

OSC Seeds

OSC Seeds from Kitchener, ON, features a selection of high-quality seed packets, perfectly suited for the Canadian climate and ready for planting in your garden. Their full line of products includes 30 herbs, 250 vegetables, 240 annuals and 100 perennials & biennials. Request a free catalogue

William Dam Seeds

William Dam Seeds is a family-run company located just outside of Dundas, Ontario, supplying small farmers and gardeners in Canada with seed for food, flowers and soil building. They are proud to offer a varied catalogue of many different seed varieties that are not chemically treated, and some of the seeds are certified organic as well. You can download their online catalogue, or request a mailed copy via their contact page.

Natural Seed Bank

Natural Seed Bank is an online retailer of garden seeds. They sell various organic and untreated garden seeds. Located in Port Hope, Ontario, Natural Seed Bank is 100 percent Canadian owned and operated. All of their seeds are non-GMO and untreated, and many selections are organic. They’re committed to never selling GMO products.

Richters

Richters is your go-to for everything herbal. Located in Goodwood, Ontario, Richters has been growing and selling herbs since 1969. Check out their online catalogue or request a copy to be mailed out.  Online catalogueRequest a catalogue.

Veseys

Veseys is one of the premier seed, bulb and garden supply sites in North America. Located on Prince Edward Island, Veseys has 75 years of history providing products, services, and advice to gardeners.  Be sure to head over and subscribe for your free catalogue. They put on many fantastic specials, have quality products and outstanding customer service. Request a catalogue.

Resources

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Falling in Love with Lilies

By Mary Jane Parker, Master Gardener

Many years ago, while driving down Water Street in Lakefield, I was stopped in my tracks by a garden full of 7 to 8 foot tall trumpet lilies in every colour shade imaginable. I stopped many times to admire them and talked to the gentleman that owned the garden. He urged me to join the North American Lily Society (NALS). So began my love affair with the genus lilium.

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Lilium Michiganense

I have been a NALS member since at least 2005. I firmly believe that belonging to a specialist group is the best way to learn about a genus. Four times a year a newsletter is sent out with articles about current research, amazing new cultivars and important people.

But best of all, NALS has an amazing seed exchange. I have ordered and received seed annually from countries all over the world.

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Lilium Martagon

This coming year, for the first time that I can remember, the NALS annual meeting is being held at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington from July 8th to 12th. I am so excited because I will get to meet some of the people I’ve only ready about from all over the world and play host to such an amazing group of people. I will be able to participate in 5 days of exciting events: a lily bulb auction, various garden tours and seminars among other events.

For more info click HERE.

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Lilium Regale

Spring Flowering Bulbs

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

Charles Dickens said “Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own”. Who can deny that spring-flowering bulbs are a promise of warmer temperatures and hopeful thoughts? Knowing the bulbs will emerge from the near frozen ground helps us to get through the bitter winter. They should be planted now in order for you to be rewarded with wonderful colour in early spring. They can stay in the ground year after year. There are several varieties of bulbs to choose from. The following are some of the more recognizable ones.

thumbnail_tulipsTulips are to Turkey and Central Asia. In the 1600s, they made their way to the Netherlands. Tulipmania took hold in the 1620s and tulip prices skyrocketed. A single bulb could be worth as much as an average family farm. The market collapsed in 1637, but tulips remain widely grown in the that country. Canadians liberated much of the Netherlands during the final months of the Second World War. More than 7,200 Canadians were lost in that conflict. The Dutch have gifted Canadians with 20,000 bulbs a year since that time and they are used in Ottawa’s now famous Canadian Tulip Festival every May. This year marks the 75th anniversary of liberation and the Dutch royal family will mark the celebration by thanking Canadians this year with a gift of 100,000 tulip bulbs. If you want to join the celebration, you can purchase your own Liberation75 tulips for $15.00 through the Royal Canadian Legion. By purchasing the bulbs, you will also be entitled to win a trip to the Netherlands. To place an order visit the Royal Canadian Legion.

There are hundreds of cultivars of tulips; early, mid and late blooming. They need a sunny location with soil that is well-drained and sheltered from the wind since they can be easily broken. Six weeks are needed for the foliage to die back in order to put energy back into the bulb. A rainy spring is bad for success with tulips. Some of the ‘old fashioned’ tulips are Darwin and Triumph. They are very reliable and come back year after year. Squirrels love tulips, so to deter rodents, mix tulips and daffodils together in order to get the scent of daffodils on the tulips. You can also try hen manure which comes in a pellet form. You could use barberry cuttings or crushed egg shells in and around the hole. Others have had success with plastic snakes. Also, squirrels won’t dig past their peripheral vision, so plant at least 6 – 8” deep. You could also try laying a flat board on top and remove it when the ground is frozen.

DaffodilsDaffodils and narcissus bloom earlier than most tulips. Spring sun is needed and they like soil that is well draining or they will rot. Oxalic acid on the bulb make them unpalatable to rodents. ‘Tete a tete’ is a mini daffodil that is very fragrant and also good for cut flowers. However, never include daffodils with other flowers in a vase as they have a sap that will cause the other flowers to wilt.

IMG_4638Alliums are ornamental onions. Most of the varieties bloom in June. They need free draining soil with 6 to 8 hours of sun. They make lovely dried flowers. It is best to plant alliums amongst other plants as the foliage is not desirable.

Muscari or grape hyacinths are amazing small bulbs known as minor bulbs. Snowdrops are also minor bulbs and are the first to emerge, often pushing up through the snow.

Snow crocus are an early blooming crocus and work well in a lawn as they bloom before you need to cut the grass. Dutch crocus are good for forcing and are bigger than snow crocus and tend to bloom a little later in the spring.

Beware of Scilla or Spanish blue bells! They are a small bulb and multiply prolifically, and although they are very pretty, they now sit on the invasive list. Scilla siberica is on the Highly Invasive category of this list put together by Credit Valley Conservation.

Bulbs can also be planted in pots and put in a cool area over the winter. This way, they can be brought in and forced to bloom early. Who wouldn’t be happy with a large pot of beautiful colour after a long hard winter. More information on forcing spring bulbs can be found in this article by Dugald Cameron in Garden Making Magazine.

Happy Planting!

September in the Garden

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Fall is in the air.  You can see the days getting shorter, and feel that the temperatures are cooling.  The Canada Geese are grouping; ready to make their noisy trip south.  The boats and camping trailers are also heading south.  The monarchs will soon be leaving us for sunnier climates in Mexico.  It’s that time of year where every living thing in our region starts preparing for the colder seasons to come.monarch2015

In the garden, fall is a great time for planting, dividing, weeding, mulching and planning for spring renovations.  The soil is warm, the days are cooler and the rain is usually frequent.  These three items are a big part of what is needed to get new plantings well established before the snow flies.

Fall Planting

Now is the time to plant buy and plant spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils, allium, snowdrops and crocus.  Shop early for the best selection.  If you are plagued by squirrels, know that they do not go after daffodils — so fill your basket with these instead of some of the more delicious bulbs like tulips that may just make a tasty snack.

Now is also a great time to plant late season annuals like pansies, kale and cabbage for garden bed interest or for front door planters.  It’s also prime tree and shrub planting time.  Water well until freeze-up.

Fall Dividingrudbeckia

September is a great time to divide some of those perennials that have outgrown their space, or that you’d like to share with others.  Watch for obvious division points for hosta, black-eyed susans, coneflower, iris and daylilies.  Plants will have enough time to establish roots in their new homes if this splitting and replanting is done now.  After splitting, cut back any unnecessary leaves or flower stalks from these to make the transition a little easier for these perennials.

Fall Weeding

Many of us have lost interest in this task by now.  However, if you consider that every weed that remains in your beds is likely to go to seed, and that most weeds carry hundreds of seeds, it’s totally in your best interest to keep those beds as weed-free as possible.  For me, this includes deadheading any self-seeding perennials as well.

Fall Mulching

Add some compost, and a two- to three-inch layer of mulch to beds to get them ready for winter. It’s like putting the comforter on the bed.  You can use garden-centre mulch for this, but I have a neighbour with mature maple trees that provide all of the leaves that I can use.  Leaves are great insulator, and best of all, they’re completely free!

Spring Renovation Planning

Lastly, fall is a great time for you to assess areas of the garden which may need renovation next spring.  I sometimes draw maps of the different plants in my garden beds, and it’s not uncommon to see the words “remove”, “divide” and “move” scrawled across these drawings. You may think that you’ll remember all of this next spring, but I have my bets against you on this one!

Here’s to some great fall preparation to make next spring just a little bit more organized and successful.

Bulbs for All Seasons

In the next few weeks, autumn will arrive and garden centres will fill their shelves with mums, ornamental cabbages and other fall flowers. And spring flowering bulbs will be available too! Spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils are planted in our gardens in the fall and appear the next spring.

There is an upcoming opportunity to learn more about flowering bulbs when Dugald Cameron, former owner of GardenImport, speaks at ‘BULBS FOR ALL SEASONS’ presented by the Peterborough Master Gardeners. Victoria Whitney of Griffins Greenhouses will also speak on spring bulbs. This event happens on Saturday, September 28th at Westdale United Church on Sherbrooke St. It runs from 9 am to 3:30 pm and includes lunch. There will be bulbs for sale as well as a demonstration.

Get your early bird ticket this week by contacting Margaret at 705-876-1771 or mahiggins@sympatico.ca.  [ PMG Bulbs for all Seasons Registration Form .pdf]

bulbs poster final 2019

Beyond the Plentiful — 5 Unusual Perennials

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Last week, my colleague Emma Murphy wrote about her 5 favourite perennials (Day lilies, Blanket Flower, Coneflower/Echinacea, Asters and Rudbeckia/Black-Eyed Susans).  Those are definitely cool plants, and are generally well-behaved and easy to maintain.

In this article, I’d like to introduce you to five unusual plants that I’ve grown to love and will pick up new varieties whenever I see them.

1. Epimedium also known as Barrenwort

Think “light and airy”.  These plants are delicate, light-shade loving plants that make excellent companions to hosta due to their very different but complimentary leaf structure.  Their flowers are tiny but extremely detailed.  They look great all summer.

epimedium collage

2. Eremurus also known as Fox Tail LilyIMG_20140625_160657

Tall and dramatic.  Guaranteed to prompt “Wooooooow! What are those” responses.  These plants grow in full sun, in well-drained soil and will not tolerate anything soggy.  It’s not a plant you’ll likely see blooming in a garden centre but if you watch for it, many places do carry it.  It’s a hardy bulb that does not need to be lifted and will multiply year after year to form a stunning clump.  I have orange and yellow varieties, and am on the lookout for white.

3. Athyrium known as Lady Ferns

Ferns are perfect for the shade garden. Lacy fronds soften the texture of other go-to shade classics like Hosta, Astilbe and Tiarella. Ferns like a light to medium shade setting with loamy soil with lots of leaf mold.   A few of my favourites are Dre’s Dagger, Japanese Painted.  A relative is the Maidenhair fern which is delicate and striking.ferns

4. Sempervivum also known as Hens & ChicksIMG_2187

These plants give and give and give.  They look great all year round.   They come in hundreds of colours.  They’re easy to propagate (pull off a chick and replant).  The only thing that I don’t like about this plant is their flower stalk — which I generally remove and it doesn’t seem to harm the plant at all.  They will fill in tightly together, leaving zero room for weeds.  Mix a bunch of colours together and see what happens!

5. Hellebore also known as Lenten Rose

These are stunning in the early spring, right around Lent which is where their name comes from. Unfortunately, many garden centres don’t stock them or may not stock them in future because they bloom before most people show up at the garden centres looking for plants.  I like them because their leaves are often patterned, but they’re always thick & leathery — and they look great right through the summer.  They’re a definite must for a serious gardener.hellebore

I know I said 5 unusual favourites.  But as a gardener, there’s never a finite number of any kind of plant, right?  I always have “n+1” favourites.

6. Saxifrage also known as RockfoilSaxifraga_paniculata_1_lg

Whenever I come across these at a garden centre, it’s an easy decision.  Into the cart!  They are well-behaved, unique and have interesting patterning in their leaves.  Their flowers are mostly inconspicuous — I grow them for their foliage.  Many spread into mats that are geometrically-intricate.   I have yet to come across one of these that have disappointed me.

My favourite places to get unique perennials?  Garden Plus, Peterborough.  Anna’s Perennials, Omemee. Lost Horizons, Acton. Griffins Greenhouse, Lakefield.   Take some time when you go.  Browse.  Ask questions.  ALWAYS google before you buy because the plant tag won’t tell you everything.  Watch out for the words “aggressive”, “self-seeding”,  and “vigorous”.  Always check the climate zone.  Peterborough is Canadian zone 5b.  Add one zone to anything American or that you expect might be American.  Experiment and enjoy the results.