Category Archives: Garden Design

Let Us Praise Famous Oaks

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

Ed: This post was released in error on March 22. Apologies if you’ve already read it — perhaps you can glean something from it upon second reading as well?

Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak) in Centennial Park, Peterborough, ON.

There are a pair of Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak) trees in a park near my house in Peterborough and I often look at them in awe. I estimate that these trees are between 100 and 150 years old. What is amazing is that they could live another 150 years. If they receive enough sunlight and moisture and their roots are undisturbed, this lifespan is possible. Sadly, most trees planted in cities are not long-lived due to stresses like heat, drought, road salt, compacted soil and interference by sewer or other utility lines. For these reasons, backyards tend to be the better locations for trees in urban environments. If you are planning to plant a tree on your property this year, Douglas W. Tallamy’s latest book, The Nature of Oaks: the Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees, published by Timber Press, will make you seriously consider an oak tree.

Tallamy, an entomologist who researches the relationships between insects and plants, is well known for his other books that seek to change the way we garden by encouraging us to incorporate more native plants. His latest book honours the oak tree and provides a month-to-month chronicle of the life of one on his property.  While small at 200 pages, the book has many interesting and informative anecdotes about the types of insects, birds, mammals, fungi, and micro-organisms that live in, on, and around these trees. Tallamy aims to instill in us an interest in these great trees and to recognize their important role within the food web.

What makes oak trees so special? In addition to moderating the climate, reducing pollution, producing oxygen, and storing carbon from the atmosphere, they have an enormous impact on the lives of other species. Within our ecosystem, oaks support more life than any other North American tree genus (p. 12) and they are considered a “keystone species.” A “keystone species” is one that produces food that supports a broad range of life forms. Over the course of its lifetime, an oak can produce over 3,000,000 acorns. Other trees such as birch, cherry, hickory, pine, maple, and willow are also “keystone” species (p. 39) but they are not as supportive as oaks. In his research, Tallamy measured the degree of this support by counting the number of moth and butterfly species that live, feed, and reproduce on different trees. The Lepidoptera Index places oaks at the top of the list at 532 species of moths and butterflies. One of the reasons as to why they support so many species is because they grow in a wide range of ecological zones (p. 41). Most species near the bottom of the list are non-native trees and shrubs. Most of our native insects and animals have not fully adapted or evolved to non-native plants or are only adapted to a small number of plants—referred to as host plant specialization (p. 37). Certain birds, like the black-capped chickadee need between 6,000 and 9,000 caterpillars to raise one clutch of young. Filling bird feeders with seed can be beneficial for them, but planting trees are necessary as up to 50% of their diet consists of insects (p. 34).

There are a number of unique and fascinating attributes of oaks that are explored in the book. Masting is a survival adaptation that occurs periodically in oaks where they produce many acorns. Since animals cannot eat them all, this allows more trees to grow (p. 18). Masting occurs on different cycles for both white and red oaks and this ensures food is consistently available for animals (p. 120). Many oaks retain their dead leaves through the fall and winter. Marcescence is thought to be a defence mechanism that deters animals from eating the tender buds (pp. 27-28).  Concerning acorn production, as an oak tree has both male and female flowers, a few can self-pollinate and grow acorns. However, for optimum production, an oak tree must be planted with another of its own species or be in close proximity to another of its own species for pollination (by wind) to occur (from either the “red oak” or the “white oak” group).

Marcescent Quercus rubra (northern red oak) along Heritage Trail, Peterborough, ON

Tallamy also provides us with some tree planting advice and seeks to dispel some of the myths around planting oaks. His first choice would be for us to plant an acorn in the fall but the next best choice would be to plant a bareroot whip in the spring. A bareroot whip is a pruned dormant tree that is only a few feet tall. It should be planted in the spring so it can break its dormancy naturally. Overall, he recommends purchasing the youngest tree available because it will have a better chance of survival than a larger tree. Larger trees often have damaged roots at planting and have a 50% chance of dying in the first few years after transplant. (p. 47)

While some oak species grow to great heights and widths, they do grow relatively slowly, and most people will not live to see their tree at its peak. Some may be concerned about its root system, but they extend deeply into the ground and tend not to interfere with driveways or sidewalks like some other species. Tallamy recommends planting two or three trees spaced 10 feet apart—in a grove. This may seem too close, but it is true to their nature in the wild. The trees’ roots will also bind together and the resulting strength of them will be able to withstand extreme weather and lessen the chances of damaging property.

For those with smaller lots, it may not be practical to plant more than one oak, let alone a larger species like Quercus alba (white oak) or Quercus macrocarpa (bur oak). There are several smaller oak species that may suit. Of these, two are native to the Carolinian zone of Southwestern Ontario: Quercus prinoides (dwarf chinquapin oak) and Quercus ilicifolia (bear oak) and one from the US Northeast: Quercus marilandica (blackJack oak). While the soils of the Carolinian zone are drier and sandier, these trees can be adaptable to other soil conditions. Nutcracker Nursery in Maskinonge, Quebec specializes in growing these hard-to-find oaks and they ship bareroot stock. The stock is grown in cooler zone 4B and in clay-loam soils. Peterborough GreenUp advises that while it is preferable that trees be selected from within their native eco-zone, climate change is making it more possible for us to consider some species from outside. Selecting a site that is shielded from winter winds is recommended.

Since an oak is a shade tree, there may be concerns about what can be grown beneath them but there are many plants that are suitable for the understory. Tallamy makes recommendations that are more suited to US states but I will suggest some possible plants suited to our area: Asarum canadense (wild ginger), Polygonatum biflorum (smooth solomon’s seal), Aquilegia canadensis (eastern red columbine), Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey tea), and Amelanchier alnifolia (Saskatoon serviceberry), just to name a few.

This little book is not only fascinating to read, it is inspiring. When the declining non-native Acer platanoides (Norway maple) is eventually removed from my yard, I am going to see about replacing it with a native oak “keystone species.”

Other Resources

Nutcracker Nursery and Tree Farm

Peterborough GreenUp. Choosing the Right Tree in Peterborough, Ontario

Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. Lepidoptera Index, June 2017

Tree Atlas of Ontario

Nativars and Pollinators

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

The term “nativar”, while not a scientific term, is being used to describe native plants that have been cultivated by horticulturalists.  So, what exactly is a cultivated plant or cultivar?  A cultivar is a plant that has been bred for specific characteristics such as improved growth habit, specific leaf colour, flower colour, or disease resistance to list a few examples.  Many cultivars are sterile, meaning they do not produce seeds or if they do produce seed, the seed will likely not produce a plant identical to the parent plant. 

The way to identify a cultivar of a native plant or “nativar”, is by looking at the plant name.  If you check out the photos of plant tags, you will see one for the straight species native plant (not a cultivar) that gives both the common name, False Indigo and the scientific name, Baptisia australis.  The other tag is for a Baptisia cultivar named ‘Cherries Jubilee’.  ‘Cherries Jubilee’ is the cultivar name.  The cultivar name is usually in single quotation marks.

There are a number of very important reasons to plant straight species native plants in our gardens including the support of pollinators.  The question is, do native cultivars support pollinators in the same way? 

Annie White, a researcher at the University of Vermont has found “that changing flower size, colour or shape changed the availability and/or quality of pollen and nectar offered by the flower which negatively impacted pollinators” and “the more manipulated the cultivars became, the less attractive they became to pollinators”.  To read more about Annie’s research and results check out this link.  https://pollinatorgardens.org/2013/02/08/my-research/

If you are looking for pollinator-friendly native plants that are not cultivars check out nurseries that specialize in native plants such as Peterborough’s Ecology Park.  https://www.greenup.on.ca/ecology-park/  

When at the garden centre, you will now know how to distinguish a straight species such as Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) from an Echinacea cultivar like Echinacea purpurea ‘Razzmatazz’.

Permaculture: Use of Zones

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I have often heard permaculture referred to as ‘common sense’ gardening and their usage of ‘zones’ as one of their design principles is no exception. However, I have to admit up front that when I designed my previous garden, I had not heard of permaculture and was also unfortunately also lacking in common sense that day! What did I do that would ultimately cause me so much grief over the next 15 years?

We had just over 1 acre and the house was located towards the back of the property, so I decided to place the shed, vegetable garden, herb garden, nursery and greenhouse at the very front of the property. The result was that was pretty well everything that I needed to garden daily was all located as far away from the house as possible.

Shed way at the bottom of the garden
Closer look at shed

At the time I thought I had a good reason for this, keeping the children and pets close to the house. But ultimately when I needed the pruners to prune the hedge at the back of the garden, or I needed some herbs for the supper I was in the middle of cooking, or I was harvesting or watering, I ultimately came to regret my poor planning choice. So, a few years later when it came to finding a location for the chickens, by then I had attended a couple of permaculture courses, and I placed them as close to the house as possible. A location that while waking me up in the morning, ultimately made me pat myself on the back every day in the winter just before putting on all my winter gear to take out their food and water.

Zoning is a permaculture design tool that allows you to design your landscape according to usage and attention required. It is not limited to home gardens, and can be used on almost anything from a large farm to a kitchen design. By designing your garden using zones, you take into account the usefulness or frequency of each element in your garden, and place those elements closer to your location, which is your house. So something that you use daily, such as a herb garden, would be placed closest to the house, along with pots of annuals which require frequent watering and dead-heading. Using the same principle, fruit trees or a meadow garden requiring less maintenance would be placed further away from the house.

Zones are numbered from 0 through to 5, where 0 is the location of the house, and will be different in everyone’s garden. They are typically shaped by topography, soil type, placement of the sun, and the homeowner’s requirements. So while they are often shown in diagrams and books as either exact circles or half circles, they are more flexible often merging into one another.

Most permaculture books describe the following zones:

0 – Home
1 – Areas closest to your house that requires the most attention, harvesting, weeding, dead-heading, herb and vegetable garden
2 – Less intensively managed areas
3 – Fruit and nut trees, twice weekly maintenance
4 – Wild foods and timber, weekly maintenance
5 – Natural area

But again, these zones can be changed according to your requirements.

To start designing using zones, you need to look at each element in your garden according to how often you use the element or how often you need to care for the element. Zones are created based on relationships, our relationship to our garden, and how different elements in our garden connect with each other. It is best to start with elements closest to your house and work outward.

As an example, I have perennial flower beds in the front of my house and also in the back. The beds in the front are full to partial shade, heavily composted with leaves and packed with large leaved plants. I get very few weeds in the front beds and also do very little deadheading. The beds in the back meanwhile are full sun, plants are not placed as close together, they typically need more dead heading, and while they are also heavily mulched with leaves, the leaves typically only last until mid June. My front beds are in zone 3 and the beds in my back garden are in zone 2. Zone 1 in my garden is for annuals and vegetables in pots and hanging baskets surrounding the house that have to be watered frequently.

Permaculture zones are a tool that can be used when designing your garden to make your life easier. In the book Gaia’s Garden, A Guide to Home-scale Permaculture by Toby Hemingway, the author includes a quote from Bill Mollison, the co-founder of Permaculture, offering guidance for where to plant a herb garden.

“When you get up in the morning and the dew is on the ground, put on your woolly bathrobe and your fuzzy slippers. Then walk outside to cut some chives and other herbs for your omelet. When you get back inside, if your slippers are wet, your herbs are too far away.”

virtual garden tours

Exploring gardens around the world makes the winter pass so much faster

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

I have the February blahs. Although I am absorbing each minute of our ever increasing daylight (when it’s not cloudy!), I’m craving lush greenery and blooms anywhere I can find them. I spent part of yesterday looking through some trip photos to Florida from 3 years ago where I visited just about every botanical garden and specialty garden I could find – it was heaven!

And while my seed orders have arrived from William Dam Seeds and Richters and I can look forward to some sort of virtual Peterborough Seedy Sunday, the traveller is me is still feeling unfulfilled.

So..the solution..virtual garden tours! So many wonderful botanical and famous gardens have adapted to not being able to have guests by launching virtual tours or live broadcasts from their locations since the pandemic. Here’s a few of my favourites.

Time to travel around the world from your living room. (additional links at the end).

Keukenhof, The Netherlands

Built in 1641, the Keukenhof Castle (west of Amsterdam in the Netherlands) and estate is more than 200 hectares. In 1949 a group of 20 leading flower bulb growers and exporters decided to use the estate to exhibit spring-flowering bulbs. 2021 will be the 72th edition of Keukenhof, with A World Of Colours as its theme. Check out their virtual tours and the initial invitation by Managing Director Bart Siemerink in March 2020.

The Keukenhof Gardens in full colour.

Claude Monet’s Garden, Giverny, France

Over 500,000 people visit painter Claude Monet’s famous gardens each year (so glad to be one of them in 2018!). There are two parts to the garden – the Clos Normand flower garden in front of the house and a Japanese inspired water garden on the other side of the road (where he completed his Water Lilies painting series). Enjoy a commentary alongside a video tour of the famous garden, including the wonderful lily pond. More info here.

Monet’s Water Garden

National Trust’s Hidcote Manor Gardens, England

The National Trust site allows you to take a 360-degree tour around the old garden, plant house and spectacular red borders of these Arts and Crafts-inspired gardens in the rolling Cotswold hills in Gloucestershire.

Hidcote Gardens

Scotland’s Garden Scheme

One of my favourites. Established in 1931, it helps garden owners across the country open their private gardens to the public to raise money for charity. The properties range from cottage gardens to stately homes; allotments to therapeutic and physic gardens; and formal gardens to wildlife sanctuaries. There are more than 100 tours to look at here.

A Scottish country garden.

Australia’s Blue Mountains, New South Wales

Further afield in Australia’s Blue Mountains just outside Sydney, artist Trisk Oktober’s steep, cool temperate gardens in Katoomba are transformed into a living artwork. I visited the nearby Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens in 2010 and it was magical. It’s also the only botanic garden within a United Nations World Heritage Area.

The view from Mount Tomah Botanic Gardens of the Blue Mountains

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, Hawaii

Located on Hawaii’s Big Island, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden includes not only a garden but a nature preserve. If you need to zen out and feel like you are on a tropical island, this is the tour for you. And this one.

Plumeria flower

Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania, USA

Closer to home across the border is Longwood Gardens, consisting of 1,077 acres of gardens, woodlands, and meadows. It is the living legacy of American entrepreneur and businessman Pierre du Pont, inspiring people through excellence in garden design, horticulture, education, and the arts. The Our Gardens, Your Home initiative is their way of keeping gardeners connected.

Longwood Gardens

There are so many more virtual garden tours going on around the world.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, Virginia, USA

This botanical garden was one of the first to go virtual when the pandemic started. They have great virtual tours and visits and a terrific Facebook page.

Gardens Illustrated‘s Virtual Garden Tour series

Gardens Illustrated has assembled a collection of some of the most amazing tours – everything from Chatsworth House (a 105-acre garden with 500 years of careful cultivation) to a Virtual Chelsea Flower Show.

Kew Gardens, London, England

On my bucket list when we can travel again, this video gives you some of the highlights to see. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew has 37 acres of woodland, 14,000 trees and 50,000 different plant species.

Wisley Gardens, Surrey, England

The Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley in Surrey (south of London), is one of five gardens run by the Society, and top of my list of gardens to see. Check out their website, and also they have a great collection of videos on YouTube.

If you’ve found a great virtual garden tour please share it with all of us in the comments! Spring will be here soon!

Year in Review, Part II

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I wrote the first part of this two-part blog on a beautiful fall day, with a temperature of around 20 degrees and blue skies. Today as I’m writing it is the type of winter day that I love, temperature hovering around zero, snow on the ground and I don’t need 4 or 5 layers of clothes on when I go out for a walk. The first part of my year in review blog that was published back in November described some of the many challenges and learning experiences I faced gardening in 2020, including growing Sicilian zucchinis, handling Creeping Charlie in my lawn, and becoming more selective when deadheading. In this second section I’ll continue on with the challenges, including staking perennials, trying to grow an English cucumber and battling with the wildlife over the grapes, blueberries and currants.  

Now I have to admit before I start, that staking is not really my thing; it typically needs planning and thinking ahead. You can stake reactively as I tend to do, but by then it is often too late; the plants still look untidy, flop over adjacent plants and you can see the stakes, which for me personally is an issue. Last spring my iris, lupins and especially peonies grew so tall so quickly that they easily outgrew the old peony cages that surrounded them.  My fall asters also fell over as they hadn’t been staked at all and were easily over six feet tall. So this spring I need to be more preventative and stake as early as I can. There are many different types of stakes that you can use such as grow-through supports as in peony cages or tomato cages. These work well if the plants are not too tall, although I do have some of the larger tomato cages in my garden. Grid-type supports also work well for plants that bloom heavily, and for irises I tend to use single stakes that I can just move around the garden as needed. You can also make your own supports using bamboo stakes or tree branches and twine or even chicken wire. Most gardening catalogues, such as Veseys or Lee Valley sell plant supports in many styles. For me however, I tend to find them quite expensive and tend to work with tomato cages or make my own.  For more information please see the following article: https://www.bhg.com/gardening/flowers/perennials/staking-and-training-perennials/

English cucumbers, what can I say, I still tend to prefer these over other varieties that definitely grow much better here. English cucumbers tend to be longer, thinner, with an edible skin and in my opinion taste better. They do not however like cold temperatures, so if planting in the garden ensure that all danger of frost has long passed, and in fact, wait a further week or two after that. They also have shallow roots so need more frequent watering. I also find that for me they grow stronger and healthier if I provide some type of shade when it gets really hot. English cucumbers will also grow straighter and longer if the fruit can hang, so growing on a vertical support works really well. However, after saying all that, I still am unable to grow them as well as I would like and they are definitely very labour-intensive. So for this year, I am going to grow a different variety, although in saying that I have not tried growing cucumbers in containers, so that might be an option to try. Greta’s Organic Gardens have some interesting cucumber varieties for seed purchase, including Crystal Apple Cucumber that is shaped like an apple when mature, a Miniature White Cucumber which needs no peeling and is eaten when smaller than 3 inches. Lastly a Spacemaster Picking Cucumber that can be grown in either a container or a hanging basket. This company is one of many Organic seed companies based in Ontario. https://www.seeds-organic.com/pages/contact-us

And last but not least, one of my favourite subjects last year in the garden was the wildlife, namely the dreaded squirrels and rabbits. We have a few different structures that we have built to keep out the animals, including:

And:

Not to mention:

This last picture shows simple plant trays with a mesh bottom lying upside down over new seedlings. I use these both to deter the animals and also to help keep the seedlings shady. However, none of these prevented the squirrels from taking bites out of most of my tomatoes, eating all my grapes, of which we had a bountiful crop, and the birds from eating my blueberries and white currants. The previous year I had put nets over the blueberries and currants which had helped, however since then I have read a few articles stating that the types of netting I was using could damage both birds and other wildlife so I was reluctant to put it on again. I have since done more research but not found anything yet suitable for my needs. However it is only January and will likely get a lot colder, which gives me plenty of time to do more investigation and come up with something suitable.

My covid-19 project for 2021 — starting a cutting garden

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener in Training

Last October as I planted the last of my fall bulbs, my thoughts turned to what next???  How to extend my garden experience by stretching the season.  I adore flowers in the house and between retirement and lockdowns seem to have the time so why not try a cutting garden?

Used with permission from antoniovalenteflowers.com

I have no experience with the subject matter and it made sense to find some resources.  A good comprehensive book is “Floret Farms Cut Flower Garden” by Erin Benzakein.  It covers the basics of cut flower gardening as well as highlighting tips for commonly grown flowers.  How to plan, grow, harvest and even some basics on arranging.  This book proved to be a doorway into a plethora of other references and websites on the subject.  “YouTube” was also a plentiful source of information.

Site selection is key.  Most cutting flowers require full sun and well drained, fertile soil.  A site sheltered from the wind is preferable.  I decided on an area on the west side of the house where the sunshine is ample and my water source is nearby.  Since it will be windy, the support provided to the plants is important and will be discussed in future entries. The final length of a bed will depend on the amount you want to grow. The recommended width is 4 feet. This width allows you to reach the entire bed without stepping into the bed.  The type of flowers to grow is personal preference but regardless of the variety, look for plants with long stems and lots of blooms.  Try to have plants that bloom in the spring (eg. snapdragons), summer (eg. zinnias) and fall (eg. dahlias).  If space is limited, skip the plants that bloom once (like many sunflowers) and concentrate on continual bloomers such as zinnia and dahlias.  These are known as “cut and come again varieties” as they provide blooms for long periods if they are cut or deadheaded. You may also wish to grow some plants as fillers such as Dara.  Fillers are the backbone of arrangements, lending structure, supporting delicate blooms and filling gaps between focal flowers.

Dara filler used with permission from antoniovalenteflowers.com

Cut flowers are grown more densely than usual and most commonly are spaced 6,9 or 12 inches apart.  References abound on the internet indicating which spacing is best for each variety.  The number of seedlings, corms or tubers required is calculated using the area available for that plant and the spacing distance.  Once calculated, order your seeds as soon as you can.  Goods for the garden seem to sell out quickly in these days of lockdown. Seed vendors have been discussed in a previous blog.  In addition to those already cited, many of the cut flower farmers also sell seed. 

Once you have selected your seed, you then need to determine when to start them indoors using the last spring frost date for your area (OMAFRA lists Peterborough as May 17).  For each variety, check the seed package for timing and work backwards from there.  This allows you to make a seed starting schedule.  For those seeds you intend to direct seed, you may need to consider time to maturity in order to give the plants time to bloom (work backwards from first frost date in your area).  I make a list of seed sowing dates to help keep me organized.

Now all there is to do is wait for the seeds to arrive.  I start sowing in February.  Please join me through this blog on my horticultural adventure.

Resources

https://antoniovalenteflowers.com/
https://www.johnnyseeds.com/flowers/
https://www.damseeds.com/pages/flowers
https://www.floretflowers.com/

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” Audrey Hepburn

Gardening with Ferns

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Ferns are fascinating plants! They evolved more than 350 million years ago. Ferns and their allies were the most common plants during prehistoric times. Today, there are over 12,000 fern species growing everywhere except at the poles.

Ferns are special in the gardening world. They are exotic and beautiful but not as flamboyant as many plants. We have developed a fern “dictionary” to describe them. For example, an entire fern leaf is actually called a frond and the stem is called a stipe. Ferns reproduce via spores which are not the same as seeds and ferns do not produce flowers. If you study ferns, you may be a pteridologist….oh my!

Fern propagation means collecting spores or bulblets. Fern propagation, using spores or bulblets, is explained here . There is only one native Ontario fern that produces bulblets. It is the bulblet fern or Cystopteris bulbifera. The easiest way to obtain a new fern is, of course, to buy one. A list of local vendors is below. Some ferns spread via rhizomes or underground runners, just split the root with a sharp shovel and separate out the fronds of the new plant. You may also split ferns with fibrous roots as you would many perennials, once they reach an adequate size, again using a sharp shovel. You may split then plant ferns in the spring or fall. Check out your friend’s gardens…you may find a fern, or two, growing that your friend may be willing to share. Please do not harvest from the wild. Some fern species no longer grow in the wild because of over harvesting.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), Author’s garden

Ferns may be used in your garden as an exclamation point or a secret quiet spot, mixed in with your other shade loving perennials or in a woodland garden. I have some ferns mixed in my gardens now but 2021 is the year that I plan to tackle the creation of a woodland garden. I have already put in an order for some ferns including the bulblet fern (Cystopteris bulbifera), ghost fern (Athyrium X Ghost) and the ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris). This grouping should work well together because they all prefer shade or part sun and moist soil with lots of organic matter. I plan to amend their location with compost and to mulch after planting to maintain moisture and reduce weeds. These plants are perennials so I will expect to see them again next year.

Ferns are beautiful plants whose graceful, arching fronds would make a great addition to your garden!

Resources

American Fern Society

Ontario Ferns

Peterson Guide to Ferns, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; Second Edition (Sept. 26 2005), ISBN-10: 0618394060

Where to Buy Ferns

Gardens Plus, Peterborough

Ground Covers Unlimited, Bethany

Native Plants in Claremont

Please support your local nurseries. Many of them, including those listed above, carry the more unusual plants that you will not likely find at the big box stores.

Planning for pollinators

by Rachel Burrows, Master Gardener

Did you know that pollinators are responsible for pollinating over 30% of the foods that we eat? Many pollinator species are at risk due to climate change, habitat loss, and pesticide exposure.

So, what are pollinators and what do they do? Bees and other insects, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds and other small birds all need a constant source of food from early spring through to fall. They are looking for pollen-bearing flowers with fairly easy collection of nectar and pollen.

How can we help? There are many ways that we can help in our own gardens. We can provide habitat for pollinator birds and insects by installing nesting boxes both for birds and cavity nesting bees. Fallen trees and an area of bare ground will provide access for ground nesting bees and butterflies. Pollinators really prefer a little less manicured garden!

A pollinator hotel, although brush and logs on the ground are just as good. It’s important to keep in mind that these hotels require regular upkeep. Because they host pollinators at a higher density than a natural nesting site, disease and pathogens can quickly spread among visitors.

Water is another necessity and a shallow container with a couple of small rocks in it is the perfect drinking spot. Try to avoid chemical fertilizers and use compost instead which is better for both your plants and the pollinators.

What plants to choose – plant native when ever possible. Native plants have co-evolved with pollinator species and are well adapted to our local conditions. Pollinators can more easily access single bloom flowers such as echinacea and asters as their stamens and pollen are more exposed. Plant species in clumps to provide a target for pollinators, bees tend to gather pollen from one type of plant at a time. Provide host plants as butterflies such as the Monarch, lay their eggs on specific plants for their caterpillars to feed on. In the Monarchs case milkweeds are the only plant that they will feed on.

Try to have plants to provide four season interest, this can include grasses as they will provide shelter and food. Aim for at least three different species of plants blooming in each of the growing seasons. Study your site to determine the amount of sun and wind exposure and how much water will the plants receive?

Pollinators locate their food sources by sight and smell and the bees will go crazy around plants such as lavender and anise hyssop. Honey bees love white, yellow, blue and purple flowers.

The Peterborough Master Gardeners in conjunction with the City of Peterborough and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters have installed a pollinator garden with all native species at the McNamara Park. This is a City owned park on McNamara Rd. which runs off Guthrie Drive and along the Otonabee River across from the OFAH building. It is a very peaceful park with many trees and seating areas. It is well worth a visit and may give you further ideas for helping our pollinators in your own garden. You can make a difference!

For more information

Pollinator Hotels

Pollinator Conservation in Yards and Gardens

Ontario Nature Pollinator Page

Winter, when a gardener’s thoughts turn to Spring

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

So now it’s wintertime. Our plants are sleeping quietly beneath a bed of wonderful white snow, and although we hibernate and rest to a degree, a gardener’s thoughts turn to springtime. I’m exploring some new ideas for my gardens for next spring, and thought I would share them with you.

Credit: Joseph Tychonievich; cartoon from https://www.facebook.com/FineGardeningMagazine/photos

No I didn’t get a greenhouse for Christmas…yet.

RAISED BEDS FOR GARDENING

But I do have a wonderful husband who knows how to make his wife – the Master Gardener – a happy person. His Christmas 2020 gift to me was to create some raised beds so we will be doing that this spring. I have been wanting to do raised beds for a few years since seeing Tara Nolan do a presentation at the Peterborough Garden Show, and I guess dropping those significant hints finally worked 😉

So we did a little research. Have you been thinking of creating raised beds for either vegetable or other gardening? They are great to extend the gardening season, be able to control soil quality, provide accessibility for older gardeners or those with disabilities, create a garden for special purposes (youngsters or horticultural therapy), increase yields, reduce weeds, and keep critters at bay. They also work well for condos and rooftops in our urban centres. Here’s some great sites I found for those interested in the idea.

One of my favourite gardeners with a similar climate to mine in Central Ontario – Erin Schanen in Southeastern Wisconsin (zone 5) – The Impatient Gardener. She has several good articles on growing in raised beds, from layout through to construction.

Tara Nolan’s book Raised Bed Revolution emerged at a time when this idea was gaining a lot of traction, and it’s an excellent source of information on size requirements for constructing raised beds, height suggestions, types of materials you can use, and creative tips for fitting the maximum garden capacity into small spaces—including vertical gardening. The Toronto Botanical Garden also wrote a great review. We also have a copy of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening, which focuses on growing more fresh produce in less space, and is very complementary to the raised bed philosophy.

For some general information on raised beds try here and here.

ORDERING YOUR SEEDS

Maybe it was just the crazy rush (and delay on delivery) for seeds this past spring, but we just ordered our vegetable and flower seeds for the 2021 season. There are lots of seed companies to choose from, but please try to shop from Canadian companies and especially those local to you. Although COVID-19 meant the cancellation of Peterborough’s wonderful Seedy Sunday, the organizers did post a list of all the vendors who would have been there, and it’s a great resource, as is the Seeds of Diversity site.

ESPALIERED FRUIT TREES

Espaliered fruit trees (espalier – to train a tree or shrub to grow flat against a support or wall) have been on my garden wish list for several years, and I missed an opportunity to pick up a mixed apple espalier tree several years ago which I have been kicking myself for ever since. I saw amazing espaliered fruit (English style) in the Victorian Kitchen Garden at Meadow View Gardens (just north of Cobourg) on a Master Gardener tour several years ago, and was entranced (well I’m entranced by owners Julie and Garry Edwards’ entire English-inspired gardens, but that’s another story).  

Although they can be any kind of fruit they are most often apples, and the key to doing it well is understanding how to prune the trees. Garden Therapy has an excellent article on how to grow these edible gardens, in ways that can accommodate both small spaces but be decorative. There are many different shapes that can be done – cordon (branches straight out to the sides), fan (branches fanning up and to the side), candelabra (like a cordon but the branches turn at a right angle to form the shape of a candelabra), lattice (multiple trees with crossing branches), and “Y” shapes. Maybe this is something you can try in your garden as well? The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has a list of nut and fruit tree nurseries. I know one company I have dealt with is Silver Creek Nurseries in Wellesley, who specialize in fruit trees, and they offer the following advice on their website:

“Spur bearing varieties are recommended (rather than tip bearing), such as Cox’s Orange Pippin, Winesap, Fuji, Belle de Boskoop, Calville Blanc, Sweet 16 and many more. Apple and pears are generally the easiest fruits to train, but other species may be espaliered with varying degrees of difficulty.”

Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees is also recommended as a resource (although I haven’t read it).

I’ll be in touch with them once spring rolls around, which should be in 82 days or so (but who’s counting?). Enjoy your winter garden dreaming, and spring will be here soon enough.

Ground Covers

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Now that you’ve read with delight all about  the plants that are a Christmas Tradition, I’m turning my attention to a favourite group of plants that I enjoy for my garden. Ground covers.

Also known as living mulch, ground covers can go a long way to enhancing your garden. Not only can they stand alone as beautiful additions to your garden, they can also enhance other existing plants by pairing  them with a complementary shrub or perennial. Like mulch, ground covers perform much the same purposes: they insulate the soil from the hot sun, help to keep moisture at the roots of plants, choke out weeds by preventing germination of  weed seeds due to the shade they produce, help protect the soil from erosion through their network of roots and they’re easy to care for. Ground covers also don’t need to be a certain size, although most are less than 30cm tall; think of a collection of large hostas under a treed area, or on a shaded slope that’s difficult to reach with a lawn mower. Although they spread, they shouldn’t be invasive.

Many different types of plants can function as ground covers. From perennials (I’ve already mentioned hostas) to herbs, to shrubs and to mosses – almost any type of low growing plant can function as ground cover. Some are best adapted to shade, as are woodland plants like wild ginger which finds a welcome home under deciduous trees. Others grow best in sun, like creeping phlox which works well with clematis to keep the soil cool at the roots of the vine.

Creeping thymes can not only be walked on, they release their wonderful aroma as you stroll through the patch. They’re wonderful not only for a rockery, but also in between pavers or stepping stones. Since they can be walked on, they also work well as a path through a large flower bed to allow gardening work to be done.

Ground covers can be found for almost any soil type and growing conditions. Many, like sedums, adapt to poor soil, are drought tolerant  and will grow quickly once established to fill in that troublesome area where grass doesn’t want to grow. The article below lists several evergreen ground covers with helpful information about each. Most will grow in our area:

11 Best Evergreen Ground Cover Plants That Make Your Garden Look Greener & Better

Ground covers in the author’s garden

This photo shows two of my favourite ground covers: cranesbill geranium in the foreground, and creeping phlox in the background. Both are keeping the ground cool for the clematis on the arbor.