Category Archives: Perennials

Another Garden Beauty

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

Summer solstice has just passed and with it the waning of some iconic garden varieties.  Late spring/early summer brings us not only the iris and rose but the peony as well.  Peonies are large, long-lived perennials that may stay in one place without division for up to 100 years. Peonies bloom in a wide range of forms, from simple, elegant singles to massive doubles with more than 300 petals in colours of white, pink, yellow and red tones.  They form a rounded shrub that may be up to 3 feet in height and width with glossy deep green foliage that remains attractive after the bloom is over.

Itoh peony ‘Bartzella’ in landscape

There are three types of peonies: Herbaceous, Tree and Itoh.  Herbaceous peonies bloom in late spring/early summer and have stems that die back to the ground in the fall.  Tree peonies have a permanent woody stem, more like a shrub. Woody stalks remain standing through winter and go on to flower again the next season. The blooms on trees peonies are larger and more fleeting than those on their herbaceous counterparts.  In our area, tree peonies appreciate a sheltered spot to grow as a hard winter may result in a lot of die back. The third type of peonies are the Itoh peonies.  These plants are a result of crossing herbaceous peonies with tree peonies.  The stems of Itoh peonies die back to the ground each fall and yet the bloom is large like that of a tree peony.  These plants do not require any additional support unlike some of the herbaceous peonies.

Tree peony

Peonies perform best when planted in a location with a minimum of 6 hours of sun per day and must have fertile, well drained soil.  Once planted in a suitable location, they are relatively care free, requiring only a good clean up in the fall to cut the stems down and remove all leaves (reducing the potential for fungal growth). In the case of tree peonies, the stems are not cut but all leaves should be removed and discarded in the landfill.

Peonies are sold as bare roots from growers as well as from some of the larger companies. These can be planted in either spring or fall however from experience fall is the preferred time to get them into the ground.  As well, many nurseries sell peonies in containers that can be added to the garden at any time provided they are kept watered.

Early single peony “Claire de Lune”

Recognizing the value of a peony variety that performs well in the landscape, the American Peony Society developed an Award of Landscape Merit for cultivars that do not require support and are vigorous garden varieties.  When choosing a peony for your garden, consider one of these.

Japanese peony “Sword Dance”

Peonies are not just for the garden. They make wonderful cut flowers as well.  For maximum vase life, harvest them when the bud is coloured, rounded and soft to the touch, keep the vase out of direct sunlight and change the water frequently (peonies like cold water and I have started to add some ice cubes to the water in the morning).  This should give you 6-7 days of vase life.  The blooms are so large that it only takes a few to fill up your vase.

Treat yourself and purchase a peony for your garden.  One can never have enough peonies!

Peonies as cut flowers

“Flowers are the music of the ground. From earth’s lips spoken without sound.” – Edwin Curran

Resources

http://ccenassau.org/resources/peonies

https://peony.ca

https://www.treepeony.com

It’s Iris Time in the Garden!

By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

June brings a great show of Bearded Iris into the garden. Iris germanica flower in spring and although the bloom time seems short, the big colourful blooms are breath taking. Iris come in different heights, have big showy flowers in lots of fabulous colours and their elongated fan-like leaves give a different shape in the mixed border. There are 3 parts of the flower – “standards” which are the 3 upright petals, “falls” which are the lower petals usually hanging down and the “beard” which is the fuzzy hairs and is often yellow in colour. There are many varieties available, with colours ranging from shades of blue, purple, pink, peach, orange and combinations of colours where standards are one colour and falls another. Stunning!

Orange Harvest

Iris want a sunny location facing south or west, in well drained soil. They do not want to sit in water and will rot if they are too wet. Iris have rhizomes which produce roots to hold the plant in place and draw up water and nutrients. Rhizomes want their tops to be near the surface of the soil or slightly exposed, especially in heavy soil. A heavily mulched bed will not work for iris unless you leave a large area bare. Fertilize in early spring.

Raspberry Parfait

Dead-head flowers by cutting spent blossom stems right down, which encourages more bloom on rebloomers. Leaf fans should be cut back to 3” to 6” in the fall with sharp scissors.

Plants need to be divided every 3 to 4 years to reduce crowding and encourage blooming. Dividing should be done when plants are dormant in August or September. When dividing, check rhizomes for signs of disease and cut out any soft, wrinkled or marred parts. Let rhizomes dry overnight before replanting to allow cut areas to seal over to protect

Watch for Iris borer which will eat through the rhizomes. If you do get borers, dig up and cut off the damaged rhizomes.

Siberian Iris

Iris are often sold bare root from seed companies and there are several online iris companies in southern Ontario. They tend to ship for fall planting when plants are dormant. You can purchase plants in containers in garden centres in spring or summer.

Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington have a wonderful display garden if you are up for a trip. Check out their website https://www.rbg.ca/gardens

Iris siberica is another showy plant in the early summer garden. Siberian Iris grow 15” to 36” tall with lots of smaller flowers having standards and falls. Their leaves are narrower and almost grass-like. Siberian Iris can be planted into the soil rather than on top although they still have rhizomes. They can take full sun or part sun and do like a moist area. Dividing needs only to be done every 10 years or if the centre dies out.

Siberian Iris: Such amazing detail!

One of the earliest iris is Iris reticulata which is actually a bulb that you would plant in the fall. They are short and usually purple.

In Ontario we have native iris that are classed as wildflowers and known as Flags. They include Iris versicolor which you will find in shades of blue and Iris lacustris which is a smaller wildflower and very rare. These are often used in pond settings as they prefer to be wet. Iris pseudacorus is the non native yellow flag iris which is listed  on the Ontario Invasive list.

Iris are poisonous for cats, dogs and humans if eaten.

For more information check out these websites:
https://www.cdn-iris.ca/growing-bearded-irises/
https://www.chapmaniris.com/
http://ontariowildflowers.com

A Few of My Favourite Native Plants

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

I’ve been gardening for more than 25 years and, like many of you, thrill at the opportunity to discover new plants for my gardens. Over the past few years these have been mostly native plants, as I learn about all the benefits that they bring – here’s just a few examples of why native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees do so much more than just add beauty to the landscape:

  • They support birds, pollinators and wildlife – native gardens attract birds and butterflies and provide habitat and food for native pollinators
  • They increase biodiversity – native plants increase garden health and resilience, and help contribute to a broader effect to nurture and sustain living landscapes
  • They’re tough and low maintenance – because they’re adapted to grow in their native range, locally native plants tend to thrive with little to no care and conserve one of our most precious resources – water
  • They help you save money AND create a healthier environment for people – native plants don’t require expensive fertilizers and chemicals, or toxic pesticides and herbicides
  • They help with climate change – no lawn mower costs or exhaust! and long lived native trees help store carbon dioxide
  • They make gardening easier – if you select the right native plants for your garden, you don’t have to modify or amend your soil

I’m just going to share three favourite native plants in my garden, with hopes that you may consider them for yours.

Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum Virginicum)

Culver’s Root offers a strong upright, architectural accent to any perennial garden that attracts attention from both people and pollinators!! It can reach heights of 5 feet if it’s happy (although mine hasn’t achieved that yet) and the spikes of white flowers open from the bottom up in mid-summer. It has finely toothed leaves that are lanceolate and occur in a whorl of 3 to 8 leaflets. The inflorescence has several wand-like flowering spikes that resemble an elegant candelabra.

Culver’s Root grows in zones 3-8, in full sun to part shade but it does like moist, well-drained soil. The seeds are so tiny that they should be directly sown on the soil surface in fall or in the spring – I’ve tried winter sowing some this year so we’ll see how that goes.

The plant really has no other synonyms; apparently the name was derived from a Dr. Coulvert, a late 17th to early 18th century pioneer physician who found laxative properties in the plant. More information here.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

Who doesn’t love bright red flowers in the garden? For those who say native plants can’t be showy I give you this amazing example to disprove that theory. Named for its scarlet red flowers, its tubular flowers are a magnet and important nectar source for hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies.

Like Culver’s Root the flowering spikes open from the bottom to top and bloom for several weeks. They grow best in moist, rich soils in full sun to partial shade.

I’ve only had my plants for two seasons but I understand that the parent plants will not persist after a few years, so it’s important to either let it go to seed (so it reseeds naturally) or collect seed – this is another plant where I am trying out winter sowing (native plants are a great choice for this propagation method). While many sites will tell you it needs a really moist site mine have done fine, although I do keep the plants well watered in drier times. More information here.

Green Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)

Also commonly called Cut Leaved (or Cut Leaf) Coneflower, this is the straight species, not to be confused with the double cultivar many of us have in our rural gardens (often called the Outhouse Plant – or Rudbeckia laciniata “Golden Glow”).

Not a small plant (it grows 4 to 5 feet tall in my garden), it clumps and spread by rhizomes so only one to consider if you have the space! Its bright yellow, daisy-like drooping flowers with green centre disks (which can be about 3 inches across) bloom later in the summer season. It prefers moist soil, but grows well in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. In nature it is often found in woods, meadows, streambanks, and roadside ditches.

The Cherokee natives call this plant Sochan and the spring basal leaves are a traditional Cherokee food. Butterflies are attracted to nectar from the blooms and songbirds, especially American Goldfinches, eat the seed in the fall. It is moderately deer resistant. More information here.

So I hope you’ll take the opportunity to seek out native plants to add to your garden, finding ones that are native to your region and appropriate to your conditions. Happy Gardening!!

Rhubarb

By Lois Scott, Master Gardener

It is early May and my husband has been watching the rhubarb emerging with great anticipation.  I like rhubarb, he loves rhubarb and it will soon be time to start harvesting the stalks (petioles)!

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum), native to central Asia,is an easy, hardy, and edible perennial.  Technically a vegetable but treated as a fruit, it is long-lived, easy to care for and bothered by few pests and diseases. 

Rhubarb is sold by ‘crowns’ or perhaps you can get a division of a plant from another gardener.  Spring and early fall are the best times to plant it.  Rhubarb likes a well-drained site with full sun (6-8 hours minimum).  Give your plant plenty of space to grow, about 3m2.  Rhubarb is a heavy feeder so mulch around your new or established plant with compost or well-rotted manure.  I generally give mine a spring dressing of compost as it starts to emerge in the spring.  Rhubarb should be watered deeply during times of drought.

A new rhubarb plant will need a couple of years to get established before you start harvesting it.  Don’t harvest any stalks the first year and then very little the second year.  The plant needs those large leaves to develop to provide energy for the roots and crown to grow.  Over the growing season, flower stalks will start appearing and these should be cut off at the base to reserve energy for the plant.

Rhubarb is ready to harvest when the stalks are 25 – 40 cm long.  Grab the stalk part way down and pull or twist to the side.  When I pull rhubarb, I come prepared with a paring knife and cut off the leaves after pulling the stalks and leave them as mulch.  Rhubarb leaves are toxic as they have high levels of oxalic acid, however they can be safely composted. 

Rhubarb is a cool weather plant so as the season warms up growth may slow down.  Let your plant rest so the crown can recover.  If you have an established plant that doesn’t seem to be as vigorous as it was, it may need division which should be done in early spring.  Dig up the whole plant if possible.  Rhubarb has a very deep tap root but if you capture enough, you can divide the plant making sure each division as at least one or two buds.  Plant your divisions with the buds 4 – 5cm deep, gently firming the soil.

The only other job to do is weed through all the tempting rhubarb recipes.  Enjoy!

https://extension.psu.edu/rhubarb-be-patient-and-you-will-be-rewarded

Glorious Lilies

by Christine Freeburn, Master Gardener

One of the most spectacular blooming flowers in the garden are from the genus Lilium. The large 6-petalled trumpet flowers stand on upright herbaceous stems. The fragrance emitted from some can perfume the entire neighbourhood. Lilies form from bulbs that have scaly layers and depending on the variety can bloom in your garden for a short period from June or into the summer months.

There are hundreds of species and varieties, and more being hybridized each year. There are basically 9 different types described by the North American Lily Society. They include hybrids like Asiatic, Oriental, Longiflorum, Trumpet, Martagon, Candidum, American and Interdivisional as well as Species. Most are perennial in our zone, some are fragrant.

Lilies prefer full sun and need well drained soil to grow well. Lilies are toxic to cats. Many lilies from the Asiatic, Oriental, Trumpet and Martagon families are susceptible to attack from Asian Lily Beetle.

For more information about lilies you might want to add to your garden Ontario Regional Lily Society and North American Lily Society

Check out a previous article written by PMG Mary Jane Parker on Falling In Love With Lilies

Easter Lily

Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum)

• Forced in greenhouses for bloom at Easter
• 2 to 3 feet tall with a slight fragrance
• Will take full sun or part shade in your garden
• If planted in your garden, should overwinter and bloom the next summer, but be patient as it has had stress put on it from being forced

Asiatic Lily

Asiatic Lilies (Lilium auratum)

• Look like small artichokes as they emerge in spring
• Long slender glossy leaves
• Varieties may grow from 1 to 6 feet tall
• Many colours available, no fragrance
• Easy to grow, bulbs multiply quickly, very popular

Oriental Lily – Stargazer

Oriental Lilies (Lilium orientalis)

• Pointy tips emerge from ground in spring
• Leaves are broader, slightly heart shaped and farther apart on stem
• Usually bloom in June with very fragrant flowers
• Slower to multiply than Asiatic
• Most popular of all lilies
• Popular varieties include “Stargazer” and “Casablanca”

Trumpet Lilies (Lilium aurelian)

• Tend to bloom earlier than Oriental and after Asiatic
• Fragrant multiple blooms on each stem
• Some varieties can grow up to 8′ tall
• Popular varieties include “African Queen”

Martagon Lilies (Lilium martagon)

• Known as Turk’s Cap
• Has blooms which tend to face downward
• Likes moist, well drained soil in sun to part shade

American Hybrid

• Native to North America and blooming mid to late summer
• Downward facing yellow flowers
• Sun to part shade and moist soil
L. canadense and L. michiganense are two varieties grown in Ontario

Interdivisional Hybrids

• Also know as “Orienpet”
• Cross between Oriental and Trumpet
• Lots of hybridized types available
• Easier to grow varieties

Madonna Lilies (Candidum)

• Similar to Easter lily, but susceptible to viral disease
• Bulb is planted near surface, not like other lily bulbs
• Difficult to find to purchase

There are many plants with “lily” in the common name that are not related to those mentioned above. Always look at the Latin name to determine what family plants belong to.

Daylilies (Hemerocallis) are a beautiful low maintenance perennial which grow in clumps.
Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is an invasive perennial! Do not plant, grow or share!
Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta) is perennial , 2′-3′ tall, likes partial to full shade and moist loamy soil.
Trout Lily (Eryyhronium americanum) is a yellow wildflower with mottled purple lance shaped leaves found in forests
Canna Lilies (Canna) are a tender perennial with rhizomes that need to be lifted in fall and stored over winter
And there are the houseplants Calla Lily (Zantedeshia) which likes moist soil and grows from rhizomes and the Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) which is related to but not the same as calla lily.

Why Do We Garden?

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

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

If you’re like me, you love to garden. Time in my garden provides me with joy on so many levels — emotional, physical, social, creative — and connects me with the outdoors and the environment. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside down, one of the silver linings is that we’ve seen a renewed interest in gardening and its benefits, whether you’re working in a large garden or a few containers on your balcony. So I thought I would explore some of the top reasons I think we garden.

Physical and Emotional Health

Gardening is physical. As a low to medium impact exercise that requires both strength and stretching, you’ll see increased muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness over time, as well as improved sleep and diet (if you grow your own produce). On the emotional side, gardening reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and improves self esteem.

It’s good for the mind — gardening calms me down and helps me be more patient with myself and those I interact with on a daily basis. It gives me time to contemplate as I go about my tasks, up to my elbows in soil. Even weeding is cathartic, pulling out those little terrors by the root!

Just visiting gardens helps to calm the mind, bringing a sense of contentment and tranquility from looking at beautiful landscapes, flowers, or just colour and texture.

Building Relationships

While gardening can be a solo activity (some of my favourite moments are just by myself in my green oasis), it’s also a fabulous way to connect with people, whether they be family or strangers!

Teaching people how to nurture a living thing and to be responsible for a little bit of the environment is a lesson and gift we can share with others. Gardening knowledge is shared through generations — I love hearing about plants handed down from grandparents, or children working with their parents to grow seeds for the first time. It’s a great way to pass on critical life lessons — about patience as plants and vegetables grow, responsibility as they look after their care, and loss when flowers die at the end of a season.

Beyond family, gardening helps us connect with the broader community. Whether you plant too many tomatoes or zucchinis and end up giving them away to neighbours, or participate in a community garden plot, gardening can be a very social activity and a chance to learn from, and share your bounty, with others.

Learning Life Values

Gardening teaches you important life values like patience, determination, caring, and hard work. It also makes you very humble as you realize that there is always something new to learn. You need to observe the seasons and the weather, and this puts you in contact with the natural world. I love that I can get dirty and do this very physical activity, working with seeds and plants and seeing growth in all I do.

Growing Your Own Food

Gardening provides benefits for your wallet, your nutrition, and reduces your environmental footprint. By growing your own food (either from seeds or small plants), your food is automatically more sustainable simply because you are doing it onsite or in a community garden. If you control the ‘inputs’ and do it well, you can save a lot of money.

But ultimately there is nothing more rewarding than planting and maintaining your own vegetable garden and harvesting (and sharing) your results. And we all know how much better homegrown produce tastes versus conventional produce at the grocery store. If you have too much produce, then you can just share the love with others!

Connecting With Nature

I think this is one of the best reasons why people have a garden — the sunshine on your face, hands in the dirt, and feeling connected to nature. The garden is so much more than just plants and flowers — it’s the birds, the bugs, the bees, the spiders, the snakes and all the small mammals. I feel like I am establishing a little ecosystem in my own garden and that I am trying to give back for all the benefits that I receive.

Working in the garden also gives you that sense of wonder, accomplishment, and reward. To grow plants is to give life. It keeps you busy but reminds you to be one with the earth. To see the results of something growing from seed to six feet tall is just incredible.

Exploring Creativity

I find gardening to be an incredibly creative activity. Finding the right plant for the right spot, mixing colours, and making sure there is interest for every season — these are real challenges. I’ve spent much of the past few years learning about new plants to consider in my garden, especially natives.

Helping The Environment

Finally, gardening is so important for our planet. Even though we create our gardens (so they are human made) they do represent natural environments, with trees and shrubs and plants that are all taking in carbon and releasing oxygen. The plant roots stabilize the soil and filter water, and the plants themselves support our pollinators.

We live in a symbiotic relationship with our gardens. We give back by planting and maintaining them, but we receive so much more from them than we give.

Why do you garden?

Expanding Your Native Plant Palette

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

Last year I posted about Doug Tallamy’s most recent book and talked about how Quercus (Oaks) are the number one “keystone plant species.” A keystone plant is one that supports the entire life cycle of many different wildlife species—all critical to the food web. The list of keystone plants is actually quite short as only 14% of native plants support 90% of butterfly and moth species.[i] Some of these, like Danaus plexipplus (Monarch Butterfly), are specialists in that they require host plants from the genus Asclepias (Milkweed) to complete their lifecycles. Recently I learned that while most native bees are generalists and they seek out a range of plants for pollen, there are certain specialist native bees that are restricted to either a single plant genus or to a few genera. Horticulturist Jarrod Fowler determined that of native bees in the Northeastern United States, only 15% restricted pollen foraging to 33 plant genera and only 201 native host plants.[ii]

As examples of specialist bees, authors Lorraine Johnson and Lorraine Johnston mention in their book A Flower Patch for the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee: Creating Habitat Gardens for Native Pollinators in the Greater Toronto Area, two whose sole pollen source plants include Oenothera (Evening Primrose) and Monarda (Bee Balm): Lasioglossum oenotherae (Evening Primrose Sweat Bee) and Dufourea monardae (Bee Balm Sweat Bee). The former is considered vulnerable and the latter is imperiled in Ontario. A recent online presentation by biologist Heather Holm indicated that there are also specific plants that are the sole providers of pollen to Bombus (Bumblebees). For example, Monarda (Bee Balm) provide nectar to them but they do not provide pollen. Pollen is a necessary protein source as is also nectar as a carbohydrate source. Other plants are required for their pollen sources. This list can help as a guide to some of these.

When I first started gardening, I planted different Milkweed and it was all for the endangered Monarch Butterfly. I think I was influenced more by aesthetics and an influential marketing campaign than anything else. While I will continue to have these plants in my garden and continue to support Monarchs, I have become more thoughtful in my choices—especially since the percentage of native plants that are supportive is so small. What can we do to improve our native garden palettes? A good approach is to choose a wide range of geographically appropriate native plants from the top keystone genera that have flowers of different shapes, colours, season-wide blooming periods, and provide nectar and pollen. Plants that historically or genetically evolved in our region will be the most supportive of the native wildlife in our region. Consider also adding some individual species that support specific specialists. As with all plants, you still need to consider whether your planting site is suitable [e.g., light level, soil type (loam, clay, sandy), pH (acidic, alkaline), moisture, drainage, etc.].

To help, here are two lists provided by the National Wildlife Federation that can apply to gardeners of the Peterborough area—one for northern gardens in the Northern Forests ecoregion and one for southern gardens in the Eastern Temperate Forests ecoregion. There are also two other related lists for Eastern Temperate Forests and Northern Forests—these also provide examples of ferns, vines, and grasses that are host plants and/or provide nectar and pollen. Heather Holm has also put together a wonderful list of native trees and shrubs for pollinators with their flowering periods. There are a few plants on a couple of the lists that are not found in nature in Peterborough County, however, the majority are.

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You may be surprised to see Solidago spp. (Goldenrod) listed as the top flowering keystone plant genus. There are 25 species native to Ontario and some of them are easily managed and do not spread like the ubiquitous S. canadensis (Canada Goldenrod) that you tend to see along roadsides and in fields. Last year I added S. caesia (Blue-Stem Goldenrod) to my garden and this year I am looking forward to adding S. rigida (Stiff Leaf Goldenrod) and S. flexacaulis (Zig-Zag Goldenrod). What will you be planting this year?

For Expanded Learning

Johnson, Lorraine and Ryan Godfrey. Get to Know Goldenrod. Online: https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/97fc-DS-21-0224-GoldenRodFactsheetDigital.pdf

Holm, Heather. Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants (Pollination Press, 2014).

Ohio State University’s online learning program: Tending Nature: Native Plants and Every Gardener’s Role in Fostering Biodiversity

Pollinator Partnership Canada. Selecting Plants for Pollinators: a Guide for Gardeners, Farmers, and Land Managers in the Manitoulin-Lake Simcoe Ecoregion. Online: https://pollinatorpartnership.ca/assets/generalFiles/Manitoulin.LakeSimcoe.2017.pdf


[i] Narango, D.L., Tallamy, D.W. & Shropshire, K.J. Few keystone plant genera support the majority of Lepidoptera species. Nat Commun 11, 5751 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-19565-4

[ii] Fowler, Jarrod. “Specialist Bees of the Northeast: Host Plants and Habitat Conservation.” Northeastern Naturalist 23, no. 2 (2016): 305–20. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26453772.

Dreams of Spring Gardens

By Emma Murphy, Peterborough Master Gardener

It’s really cold out. I mean REALLY cold. -25 degrees Celsius cold. With lots of snow. And wind. And ice. So it’s got me dreaming of springtime and things that are green and not white.

So indulge me while I research and share with you some of my favourite English gardens in southern England that we plan to visit later this spring. Hoping things improve to celebrate my aunt’s 95th birthday and fulfill a long held dream to visit England in late springtime. While I’m planting many more natives in my messy “English-style” garden, I’m still fascinated with the diversity, structure, and composition of more formal English gardens.

Here’s my top 5 ‘not to be missed South England gardens” – there are (of course) more on our list but these are the key ones. Some of these may be familiar to you, and some not…

Hoping that these profiles help ease the January blues. Since I’ve haven’t been there yet these are photos taken by others. If you have been lucky enough to visit these gardens please share your photos in the comments.

1. Great Dixter House and Gardens, Rye, East Sussex

Great Dixter is an historic house, a garden, a centre of education, and a place of pilgrimage for horticulturists from across the world. Certainly it’s the one garden that has the highest reputation with overseas visitors.

Surprisingly, it’s maintained this reputation for many decades, even through a change of hands. Initially famous through its owner Christopher Lloyd (1921-2006) – who lived in the half-timbered fifteenth-century house all his life – Lloyd (or “Christo” as he was known) was not only a gifted and artistic gardener but a prolific and knowledgeable writer whose articles and books inspired a generation of gardeners.

Today, the gardens are managed by the Great Dixter Charitable Trust and Fergus Garrett, who became head gardener in 1992. I was lucky enough to hear him speak at a Toronto Master Gardeners’ Technical Update a few years ago.

The two gardeners had a creative working relationship, both loving plants and their combinations, and even though Lloyd is gone more than 50,000 visitors a year find Great Dixter as vibrant a garden as ever, and full of things to learn from.

This is an ‘arts and crafts’ style garden, with topiary, a long border, an orchard and a wild flower meadow. The planting is profuse, yet structured, and has featured many bold experiments of form, colour and combination.

On the grounds are three 18th-century oast houses, under a common roof, and a 15th-century barn. Find out more here.

2. Sissinghurst Castle Gardens, Sissinghurst, Kent

Located in beautiful Kent, Sissinghurst Castle Garden was created by poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson, author and diplomat in 1930 and developed over 30 years with some notable head gardeners.

Designated Grade I on Historic England’s register of historic parks and gardens, it’s among the most famous gardens in England. They transformed a farmstead of “squalor and slovenly disorder” into one of the world’s most influential gardens.

Following her death in 1962, the estate was donated to the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty. It is one of the Trust’s most popular properties, with more than 200,000 visitors each year (and I hope to be one of them!).

There are a number of specialty gardens, including the Rose Garden, the (famous) White Garden, the South Cottage Garden, the Herb Garden, the Nuttery, the Lime Walk (Spring Garden), the Delos Garden (Mediterranean garden), Moat Walk, the Orchard, and the Purple Border. Learn more here.

3. Hidcote Gardens, Hidcot Bartim, Gloucestershire

Hidcote is a world-famous garden located in the north Cotswolds (not far from [the original] Stratford-upon-Avon). Created by the talented horticulturist Major Lawrence Johnston (and inspired by the work of designers Alfred Parsons and Gertrude Jekyll), yew, holly and beech hedges define a series of outdoor garden rooms – the Circle, the Fuchsia garden , the Bathing Pool Garden, the Red Borders and the steps up to the two gazebos. The outbreak of the Great War (1914 – 1918) in which Lawrence fought, suspended progress.

You might recognize the narrow-leaved lavender, Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’, and Penstemon ‘Hidcote Pink’, as developed by Johnston. Many of the plants found growing in the garden were collected from Johnston’s many plant-hunting trips to faraway places so it will be the perfect source for gardening inspiration. More history here.

4. Gravetye Manor, East Grinstead, Sussex

Created in 1885 at the former home of William Robinson, who championed naturalistic planting, the site today is a prestigious hotel, but visitors can still enjoy the gardens which are curated and cared for by Tom Coward (who trained with Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter).

An oasis of calm with over 35 acres of beautiful grounds, Robinson created a landscape that celebrates nature rather than controls it. He also introduced the idea of the modern mixed border and popularized common place items such as secateurs and hose pipes. In many ways Robinson created modern gardening as we know it.

Some of his most influential books include The Wild Garden and The English Flower Garden, which remains the bestselling gardening book ever printed. He also ran several gardening journals such as The Garden and Garden Illustrated.

Robinson made Gravetye “the paradigm in which house, garden, fields, and forest are united in a pastoral work of art as quintessentially English as a painting by Constable,” wrote landscape designer Elizabeth Barlow Rogers. Some ideas on how to create the Gravetye look here.

5. Wisley Gardens, Wisley, Surrey

Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Garden Wisley is operated by the RHS and is a beautiful garden with romantic half-timbered Tudor-style buildings. Unlike many English gardens, the soil is mainly acid sand which is poor in nutrients and fast draining.

There is a canal designed by Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe, a rock garden, formal and walled gardens by Lanning Roper, a country garden by Penelope Hobhouse and long borders by Piet Oudolf.

Then there are long herbaceous borders, the alpine gardens, the model gardens, soft fruit garden, rose-garden, summer garden, winter garden and woodland garden, a fruit field, glasshouses and an arboretum.

This garden is home to some of the largest plant collections anywhere in the world, with constantly evolving planting schemes to inspire visitors. In June 2021, Hilltop – The Home of Gardening Science opened at Wisley so I’m looking forward to exploring this impressive exhibition space and three beautiful new gardens.

Well that’s it for this blog – I hope you feel inspired to explore gardens wherever you live or travel – they are so many incredible gardens here in Canada and the U.S. alone. Even if we can’t travel much at the moment, many gardens have developed virtual visits, presentations, and videos so you can explore that way until we can move more freely. One of my favourites is the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond, Virginia, which I hope to visit in person in the future. Check it out here.

I leave you with a photo of my messy Lakefield “English garden” from last summer, my hardworking husband and our 2021 new greenhouse and dreams of springtime.

Two Plants that Never Stop Giving

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

My Mom passed away last October at the age of 97 during a difficult period of the pandemic.  A dear friend gifted me a miniature rose plant that is a beautiful coral pink.  My parents were from Ireland and they always grew roses in their garden.  I adore the flowers but have never been a huge fan because of the many common diseases they get such as powdery mildew, rust and block spot.  Also, it seems that every time I am near a bush, the thorns love to grab me and wreak havoc on my skin!

Close-up of the Coral Pink Rose!  November 2021 in Author’s Garden

However, this rose was special and I managed to keep it alive during the winter months and after all signs of frost, I planted it in my front garden, tucked amongst other annuals such as the Impatiens walleriana ‘Variegata’, common name Variegated Impatiens.  This plant belonged to Norma Evans, a well-known founding member of the Peterborough Master Gardeners as well as a member of both the Peterborough and Omemee Horticultural Societies.  She passed away in 2017 at the age of 90.  Through cuttings, this gorgeous plant that is a perennial in warmer climates, has been passed amongst many friends and family.

Rose beside the Impatiens, October 2021, Author’s Garden

I was gob smacked by how well that little rose and that one small cutting of the variegated impatiens performed in my garden this summer.  The rose was blooming well into November.  The impatiens succumbed to the frost on November 4th, however, it was as large as a small bush.  It also had lovely deep pink flowers all summer long.

The Rose continues to bloom! Author’s Garden, November 2021

I have two cuttings of the impatiens growing in my kitchen window so that this plant can continue to be grown year after year.  As for the rose, I have heaped it with lots of leaves and soil in the hopes that it survives our Peterborough winter.

My Mom and Norma would be smiling and I believe they both have had an invisible hand in the success of these plants.  I know they have brought me peace and happiness. Memories are what we hold on to, and what better way to honour a person’s life than through the growth of a plant!

Happy holidays!  I hope you have all been able to safely celebrate Christmas with a few loved ones. Wishing you all the best in 2022.

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Common European holly (Ilex aquifolium) has a long history of use as a Christmas symbol. It appears on Christmas cards, in holiday arrangements, in Christmas carols, and my personal favourite: in stained glass ornaments. This shiny, spikey evergreen plant is easy to use for decorating, plus it has a long history of cultural significance.

Holly is a shrub-like tree that can grow up to 10-15 feet in height. Its leaves are thick and leathery, with serrated edges and spiky points. The female versions of the tree produce the red berries we’re so used to seeing everywhere at Christmastime. It is sold as a perennial in our region, but very few of the over 400 species are actually hardy in zone 5 (Peterborough). One such variety is American holly (Ilex opaca). The plant requires four or more hours of direct, unfiltered sunshine per day, and requires acidic, rich, and well-drained soil.

For centuries this magical shrub-tree has been been used in winter solstice decorating in central and northern Europe, specifically among the Celts who wore crowns of holly for good luck. They would hang holly sprigs from their windows and doorways to keep evil spirits away. Holly gradually became a symbol of hospitality and welcome.

In pre-Victorian times Christmas trees were not pines, but holly bushes. Christian culture adopted the holly – along with ivy – in Christmas celebrations; holly symbolized Christ’s crown of thorns; the crimson berries represented His blood and the evergreen a metaphor for life after death.

Holly is a real showstopper in winter when little else is green. The same features that make it so attractive today are what made holly a mythical plant to ancient cultures.

Holly’s red berries, toxic to humans and most household pets, are only produced on female plants. Hollies are dioecious, which means male and female flowers occur on separate plants (female flowers must be pollinated by male flowers to produce berries). So if you would like to see those bright red holly berries in winter, you’ll have to plant one male for every 5-10 female plants. The berries are a food source for some of our native birds in the winter.

While most of us no longer believe in the magic of plants, holly is indeed a beautiful adornment for our winter homes (“deck the halls with boughs of holly”), and has a long history of significance throughout the world.

From the Peterborough Master Gardeners to each of our amazing subscribers, we’d like to wish you all a blessed Christmas & holiday season!

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