Category Archives: Native Plants

Book Review: 100 Easy-To-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

100 Easy-to-Grow Natvie Plants_RGB 300This book is, without a doubt, one of my favourite go-to gardening books! The new revised third edition of Lorraine Johnson’s book, 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens, is a testament to Lorraine’s expertise. She writes in the forward that “one of the greatest satisfactions of growing native plants is that you are supporting a complex web of ecological relationships that are the basis of a healthy, resilient ecosystem.” Lorraine Johnson is the former president of the North American Native Plant Society and the author of numerous other books. She lives in Toronto.

Bloodroot (1)The photos by Andrew Layerle, along with detailed descriptions of the plants, make this book most helpful when trying to decide what native plants you would like to incorporate into your garden. I think many of us can relate to her point that “gardeners tend to be voyeuristic creatures and plant lists are our chaste form of porn”! We all crave the perfect plant and often browse through books over the winter months with dreams of starting a new garden and we wait patiently for the spring weather that allows us to once again get our hands dirty.

Wood PoppyThe plants are divided into a number of different categories and Lorraine does a good job at listing the common name (although she warns there are sometimes many), the botanical name, the height, blooming period, exposure, moisture, habitat and range. She gives a good description, the maintenance and requirements, along with suggestions on propagation and good companions. I love that she also mentions the wildlife benefits of each plant.

Pasque (1)Lorraine has also included Quick-Reference Charts at the back of the book that separate the plants by region as well as specific conditions, such as acidic soil, water requirements, etc. She has lists of plants suitable to prairie habitat, drought-tolerant plants, plants for moist areas, and plants that attract butterflies and other pollinators.

I have grown several of her suggested native plants, such as wild ginger, solomon’s seal, pasque flower, foamflower, wood poppy, dutchman’s breeches, cardinal flower, butterfly milkweed, bottle gentian, bloodroot, and big bluestem .. I love them all!

Check out this book over the winter months. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

 

Becoming the Caretaker of your Garden

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I first heard the term to be ‘caretaker of your garden’ at a permaculture course a few years ago. It has resonated with me ever since and has changed both the way in which I garden and also the way that I perceive my garden. Being the “caretaker of your garden” means that while you own the land that your garden is on, it is only temporary. You are, in fact, simply looking after that piece of land for a relatively short period of time before passing it on.

For me, being the caretaker of my garden makes me consider the longevity of the garden, what takes away from the health of the garden and what gives back to the garden; how to feed not just my family but also the wildlife whilst providing safe habitats; how to make the garden more self-sustainable reducing my time spent pruning, weeding, and imposing my unnatural demands on the garden thus allowing myself more time to simply enjoy the garden. For most of us, we are already doing the groundwork for this change already–it is simply a shift in the way we view ownership of our garden, or more specifically, the plot of land the garden sits on.

The following are some of the practices that I follow:

  • A healthy garden always starts with healthy soil. I amend my soil annually with leaf compost. I have 2 large leaf composters in my back garden which I fill with bags of leaves I collect from neighbours. I also mulch up approximately 20 bags of leaves and spread these liberally over my vegetable and perennial gardens in the fall.

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  • I cut back very little in my garden in the fall mainly just anything that is diseased. In the spring I cut everything up into 1-2 inch pieces and drop them back on the garden. This also acts as a mulch as well as amending the soil.
  • Plants that have multiple uses are important to me. This may be because I have a small garden; multiple functions can include fix nitrogen, use as a fertilizer, be edible or medicinal etc. as well as aesthetically pleasing.
  • Including vegetable plants in the perennial bed. I will often do this if I run out of room in my vegetable beds, however a lot of vegetable plants have amazing foliage and are great to line paths and place in the front of beds.
  • Recently I have made efforts to increase diversity in my small garden, increasing the number of native plants. Native plants are generally hardier, more adapted to our climate and require less maintenance; they also tend to attract more wildlife and pollinators.
  • I try to water as little as possible using rain barrels as much as I can.  I must admit that any plants that do require more water, or in fact more maintenance of any kind, tend to be replaced fairly quickly.ironweed suzanne

For anyone who has not heard of permaculture, it is a set of guidelines, principles and practices for sustainable living and land use. When you narrow down permaculture to your home garden, you are in effect looking at a more sustainable, natural method of gardening mimicking that found in nature to create a cohesive garden, in which all elements benefit, nurture and interconnect with each other. Whilst that does sound like a fairly lofty aspiration, the good news is that just by implementing or adding a couple of permaculture practices can have a significant impact on your garden, but that sounds like a blog for another day.

For me the term ‘being caretaker of your garden’ and the reasoning behind it align with my passion and concern regarding climate change and environmentalism. Whilst the changes I make may only have a small impact these type of changes can add up and often lead to something bigger.

For further information on permaculture:

Scree Gardening

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

My casual interest in scree gardens became a burning desire to have one (you know the feeling) when I went on my first Peterborough Master Gardener garden tour in 2017. We visited a nursery that had amazing demonstration scree and rock gardens. I was smitten!

A scree garden is found in nature. Small rocks and gravel travel down the side of a mountain because of the freeze-thaw action on the rockface. This material accumulates in crevices, on rock shelves and at the mountain base. It drains well and is home to plants that survive on only rain. Scree gardens are good for areas that are already rocky, sandy or do not have a lot of soil to begin with. However, they can be replicated pretty much anywhere with a raised bed to ensure good drainage. A raised bed is especially important if you have clay soil. Choose a sunny site that is not overshadowed by trees. You don’t want the constant challenge of leaf litter on your garden. As when creating any new garden, make sure all weeds and grass are removed before you start.

Different sources quote different mixes for the actual garden “soil” to use in your raised bed. I used what I had for mine. This consisted of some larger rocks in the bottom, and then a layer of gravel, then mostly sand, and gravel mixed with some garden soil. The sand, gravel, and garden soil mixture was used to fill the spaces in the rocks up to the top of my raised bed. Remember that you are trying to replicate nature so your scree must have excellent drainage and not be overly rich.

I chose plants that I knew could take dryer soils and thrive in my Southern Ontario garden with it’s summer heat and high humidity. There are lots of lists of potential scree and rock garden plants on the internet. Some local nurseries carry plants that will thrive in well drained conditions. Once that you have found plants that will grow, as with any garden, choose plants that will give you the look that you want ie. colour, texture, height and spread.

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Author’s garden

In her book “Pocket Gardening”, gardening writer Marjorie Harris talks about how to maintain the scree and rock gardens. Ms. Harris recommends topdressing the garden with leaf mold and coarse sharp sand or 3/8 inch gravel when plants are dormant which means very early spring or late fall.

Have fun with it and make your garden into what makes you happy!

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Author’s garden

Resources

Anna’s Perennials –  Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society –  Rock Wall Gardens

Adding Diversity to Garden Design

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

In June this year, I was sitting with my son on the deck looking at the backyard. He asked me why I had so much grass in the garden. Now, he is definitely not a gardener, so I was a little confused until I realized he was referring to all of the daylily leaves. I felt it my duty to point out the stunning delphiniums, peonies, irises, and lupins which were all in bloom. I also tried to explain that in another month or so the garden will be a riot of colour when all the daylilies and coneflowers started flowering. Daylilies have always been my favourite plants; they are hardy, drought tolerant, low maintenance and beautiful in bloom. See our blog post from July 22 describing how daylilies are the perfect perennial. I probably have at least fifty different varieties, all of which I bought over from my last garden four years ago. But as I sat there looking at the garden I did wonder if maybe I should add more diversity.

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Author’s garden in late spring

Shortly after, I was watching my new favourite garden show on Netflix, ‘Big Dreams, Small Spaces’ with Monty Don. If you have not heard of him, Monty Don is something close to a hero to most British gardeners. In this episode, he was relaying a gardening principle to the couple that were designing their new backyard.  He mentioned that for simplicity and cohesiveness “no garden needs more than seven different plants”.  I was trying to remember where the back button was on the remote as I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly, but he did partially redeem himself when he clarified that statement by saying that you do not have to take this too literally, but that a good garden can be made with just seven different plants. My current garden design is more of an English cottage garden, informal with little space between plants and if I was going to add more diversity this summer, I would definitely have more than seven different plants.

I spent this summer with pen and paper in hand walking around the garden, asking myself if I really needed 20 different variations of pink daylily, some of which even I struggled to tell apart or did I need the same daylily variety in four different places in the garden. I also noticed the daylily blooms had very few insects compared to the spectacular activity around the native plants. I made copious notes in my notebook and labelled many plants I wanted to move or give away. Because of a rising concern for environmentalism and climate change, I also wanted this to be reflected more in my garden. To do this I decided I needed to do the following:

  • Plant more native plants. I have collected seed from most of my native plants including swamp milkweed, culver’s root and liatris and will use these to fill in over the next few years.
  • Add more edibles to the perennial garden. I tend to edge with swiss chard, beets or cardoon. I don’t actually eat the cardoon but I love the foliage on the plant.
  • Choose more plants that have multiple functions, i.e. yarrow which attracts insects, is drought tolerant, is a nutrient accumulator bringing nutrients from deep in the soil and storing them in the leaves, has attractive flowers in many colors, and can be used as a manure tea.
thumbnail_Garden in August
Author’s garden in summer

I’m excited for next year to see the changes I’ve made. I’m hoping that I have still kept the basic structure of the garden design with the emphasis on the summer color whilst adding more variety, especially pollinator and native plants. I learned this summer that a garden design does not have to be static; it can evolve as your values and beliefs evolve.

The design of your garden can be very personal, ever changing, reflecting who you are. For me it is somewhere where I feel at peace with the world–there is nothing I like more than taking a cup of tea out to the garden in the morning and just sitting and looking around.

The Light in Your Garden

by Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

Growing any plant successfully in your garden depends on many factors and an important one is the amount of light you get throughout the day. Growing Hosta out in the blazing sunshine is fine when they first emerge in springtime, but most Hosta will fry with the hot summer sun all day long. A peony without enough sun will have lovely green leaves, but will probably not give you any flowers.

Take a day or two to notice when your flower beds are in sun and for how long. Full sun means at least 6 hours of sun a day. Full shade means no direct sun. Part sun should only be about 3 hours. Morning sun is the best as it is not harsh and hot like late afternoon sun, so if you have gardens facing east, you have the best light for most plants.

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Knowing which direction your home sits is important too. Get your orientation fixed in your mind. Remember that trees and buildings will shade the gardens as the sun moves throughout the day. As the seasons change, the sun will move slightly in its orientation and where the sunlight comes from will change. Be prepared when you go plant shopping, read plant tags and talk to experts to be sure you are putting the right plant in the right place for the right light requirements.

Like growing just outside your garden growing zones, gardeners can also grow outside sun requirements. Hybridizing has enabled us to have plants that will grow outside their normal light needs. For instance, there are now Hosta that will take a lot of sun. Try to stretch the limits if you want that certain plant in that certain place, but remember to monitor it to be sure it is not being stressed and is performing at its best.

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Lighting may change in your garden. If a big tree is removed, a full shade garden can become a full sun garden. As a tree grows in your or your neighbour’s yard, or if a new building goes up, it will become more shaded. You may find that you will have to relocate plants when this happens.

Spend more time in your garden, just watching. It is good for your education and good for your soul.

Attracting Birds Part 3

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

I hope you’ve enjoyed my first two blogs about attracting birds. In this one I’ll talk about your garden.

To keep the birds coming year round, they need to be provided with an environment that accommodates their changing requirements. Native trees, shrubs and flowers that grow naturally in the forests around you will attract the birds to your garden; hedges with dense cover provide nesting places, bushes and trees  that produce berries provide additional food for them.animal-3434123_640

Keep cats away. Make sure your feeders are not close to where cats can lay in prey. Old rose canes cut into 5cm pieces can be scattered around where cats like to hide to discourage them.

Keep dead trees. The insects in them are food for many birds and the hollow trunks are nesting places.

These are just a few suggestions for attracting Birds. The first three of following websites will give you information about how to attract birds, including native trees, shrubs and perennials that attract birds. The last three are for garden centres in our area that feature native plants. In addition to the ones listed, I am sure you can find many others.

Attracting Birds
Plants that Attract Birds in All Seasons
Audubon: 10 Plants for a Bird-Friendly Yard

Local Native Plant Garden Centres near Peterborough
Native Plants in Claremont, ON
Natural Themes Farm
Ecology Park, Peterborough

 

Moisture Tolerant Perennials

by Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

So far, spring 2019 has been one of almost continuous rainfall in southern Ontario. The following plants do not demand boggy soil and are hardy in the regular garden. However, they are all moisture tolerant and are a good choice for poolside or boggy plantings.

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) – I love this plant! It looks especially pretty when planted with hostas and bleeding heart…almost a woodland garden without the trees! Lady’s mantle can take sun, sun/part shade and light shade. They can handle dry or very moist soil. They produce frothy, green flowers that look good in fresh, or dried bouquets. Lady’s mantle is one of those plants that acts as a ground cover with its “mantle” of leaves that grow 30-45 cm. (12-15 in.) high. After a rain, the water droplets will bead and sparkle on the fuzzy leaf surfaces.

Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis formerly Dicentra spectabilis) – Bleeding heart is one of those old-fashioned flowers that was probably in your grandmother’s garden. It grows to about 30-120 cm. (12-47 in.) high. It will keep flowering from spring and into the summer in moist soil. However, it may go dormant, and disappear, if the soil stays dry but will then re-grow again the following spring. Flowers are an unusual shape and may be pink and white or just plain white.

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Lady’s mantle foreground, Bleeding heart background. From the author’s garden.

Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum formerly Eupatorium purpureum) – According to one folklore source, this native plant gets it’s name from a colonial-era, indigenous healer named Joe Pye who used the weed to cure fever. This plant grows tall, 100-200 cm (39-78 in) high. With its whorled, lance-shaped leaves and purple flowers, it can be quite an exclamation point in a moist garden.

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Joy Pye weed with visitor.

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) – Creeping jenny is one of those plants that you may grow to hate if it gets loose in an area that provides its ideal growing conditions. I like this plant because it is a great ground cover in the moist garden or as a “spiller” in a patio pot of mixed plants. Its brightly coloured chartreuse leaves will draw your attention to a sun/part shade area of the garden. Creeping jenny spreads by rhizomes and grows very low to the ground at just 5-10 cm. (2-4 In.).

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Creeping jenny in the author’s garden.

Queen-of-the-Prairie (Filipendula rubra) – I only recently discovered this plant when a friend gave me a seedling from her garden. I have it planted along side our pond where it should do well in the moist to wet soil. This plant can be quite spectacular as it may grow to be as much as 245 cm. (8 ft.) high. I am expecting it to have a pale pink, fragrant flower. I can hardly wait!

Filipendula-rubra-Venusta-Queen-Of-The-Prairie-flowers2

photo courtesy of Sugar Creek Gardens 

So, don’t fight mother nature, use plants that can survive and thrive in the moist garden!

For more information Landscape Ontario has a great resource here.

Native Plants that Bring Me Joy in the Spring

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener in Training

One of the joys of living in Canada is that we get to witness the rebirth of spring. I love to watch the plants emerge from the ground after a long hard winter and peruse my garden to see what has survived and sometimes shed a tear over the ones that haven’t.

Native plants have evolved over time. It can be confusing and we must remember that not all plants that grow in the wild are native. For instance, dandelions arrived in North America with the European settlers. Generally, native plants are those that grew in a region long before European settlement. They are easy to grow and will almost always survive.

Here are four native plants in my garden that return each spring and bring me great joy!

WILD GINGER, Asarum canadenseWildGinger

This plant is a lovely groundcover that likes full to partial shade. It has lovely heart-shaped leaves and if you look closely in the early spring, you will find a maroon coloured flower hidden under the foliage. It grows well under my birch tree and I find it is well behaved and spreads slowly. It does require moisture and will wilt quickly during the long hot summer.

WOOD POPPY, Stylophorum diphyllum

WoodPoppyA few years back on a gardening bus trip, we were gifted with a small wood poppy from a fellow Master Gardener. It is a lovely plant with irregular lobed leaves that range in colour from light to dark green. This poppy requires shade and prefers moist conditions or the leaves may wither. You will be thrilled with the lovely yellow blooms that appear in late spring. It grows to about 1 ½ feet tall into a small, bushy plant. They readily self-sow in ideal conditions such as moist woodlands, but in my garden I have never found more than a few babies.

BLOODROOT, Sanguinaria canadensis

BloodrootYou know that spring has arrived when you are thrilled with the appearance of bloodroot’s cheerful white flowers that open during the day and close at night. The leaves are clasped to the stem and slowly unfurl to reveal large, saucer-shaped but deeply scalloped foliage. It is very effective as a groundcover and prefers rich, moist woodland soil. It will tend to go dormant in the hot summer months. You will notice the roots’ red juice, hence the name. The sap was used by Native Americans for dyes. We are lucky in Peterborough to have a beautiful mural of Bloodroot under the Hunter Street bridge that was painted by Jill Stanton.

PASQUE FLOWER, Anemone patens

PasqueThis is a very interesting plant due to its large bloom in relation to the overall size of the plant. The Pasque flower has a silky, hairy, fern-like foliage and erect open bell-shaped lavender flowers. The foliage is deeply divided. It is not that fussy about soil conditions. It generally requires full sun but mine does well in sun with partial shade. It grows to about 12 inches and is well behaved. It is a beautiful spring addition to the garden, but like the bloodroot, it may go dormant in the hot summer months. Pasque comes from Old French for Easter in reference to the spring bloom time. All Anemone plants come from the Latin meaning sway as the flowers sway in the wind