At this time of year there are two kinds of easily identifiable weeds: “winter annuals” and “biennials.” Biennials begin their lifecycle by germinating from seed in the first growing season. Winter annuals germinate from seed in the fall. They both form a vegetative basal rosette that lies in a suspended state over winter. The rosette protects what is known as the shoot apical meristem—stem cells of the plant that are responsible for the generation of shoots and leaves later in the spring. They will then grow more upright, flower, produce seeds, and then die, finishing their lifecycle. Some species may function as either a winter annual or a summer annual. Summer annuals germinate from seed in the spring and complete their life cycle that same year. One of the challenges of managing summer annuals is that they can reproduce more than once a year, potentially contributing to a large seed bank. Biennials generally take two years to complete their lifecycles. However, some so called biennial species may extend into subsequent growing seasons and be more like perennials if they have sufficient root energy stores and have not had the opportunity to flower and go to seed. This can happen if you do not remove at least the root crown of the plant when weeding.
In the Peterborough Public Library’s native plant garden, I took some photographs of some basal rosettes with the idea of identifying them later at home. Coincidentally, a copy of a book that I had on order for more than a year finally arrived: Weeds of the Northeast, 2nd Edition, by Joseph C. Neal et al. (Cornell University Press). In addition to the US Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Upper Midwestern states, the book includes Southern Canada. In the 26 years since the first edition was published in 1997, more than 200 new species have been added. Many of these new species are invasive plants from the horticultural trade [e.g. Common Periwinkle (Vinca minor)]. It is strictly an identification guide and so if you are looking for weed management guidance, this type of information will need to be found elsewhere.
The book has a dichotomous key that is a bit different from others. It relies on identifying the plants through their vegetative parts such as leaf lobes, leaf arrangement, leaf margins, leaf hairs, etc., but not on their floral traits. It also does not lead you to an immediate single species identification, but rather enables you to compare your plant with several possible matches through their photos and descriptions. The photos are particularly valuable for identification purposes—showing plants in various stages of life—from seedling to maturity. The glossary is helpful for those that are unfamiliar with some of the botanical terms. This is a great resource for anyone to use to confirm the findings of a plant identification app.
Here are some of the weeds I found and identified using this guidebook:
Shepherd’s Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris): A summer or winter annual.
Field Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense): A Summer or Winter Annual
Canada Horseweed (Erigeron canadensis): Summer or Winter Annual
Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) and Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus): Biennials
Prior to 1990, the word ‘seedy’ tended to be associated with shabby or run down areas or clothes, or a somewhat disreputable reputation.
Ironically enough, some speculate that the term probably came from the appearance of flowers after they’ve shed their seeds, when they start to lose colour and eventually die.
However, that all changed in 1990, when the first Seedy Saturday was held at the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver, BC. At the time, the idea of conserving heritage seeds from garden plants or agricultural crops wasn’t really a thing, and it was hard to find heritage varieties of vegetables, fruits, flowers, and grains.
In 1988 Sharon Rempel wanted to find period-appropriate heritage vegetables, flowers and wheat for the 1880s heritage gardens she was creating at the Keremeos Grist Mill museum. As a pioneer in Canada’s organic and heritage seed movements, she organized the first Seedy Saturday event, and has kept the titles “Seedy Saturday” and “Seedy Sunday” dedicated to the public domain.
In Canada, these events have continued to be locally or regionally organized events, although the amazing organization Seeds of Diversity maintains a national presence. Almost all of these events occur in the late winter, with a few in the autumn.
We totally get it. Canadian winters are long and cold and by February, gardeners are already looking forward to the springtime and planting. Seedy Saturdays/Sundays are non-profit, public events organized by individuals and community groups to bring together gardeners, seed companies, nurseries, gardening organizations, historic sites, and community groups so they can learn from one another, exchange ideas and seeds, and purchase seeds and plants in a social setting. Seeds of Diversity promotes these events on their website.
Many Master Gardener and Ontario Horticultural Association organizations are critical partners in these events – I love this poster from the London Middlesex Master Gardeners for this year’s event.
Every year more communities join the movement – according to Seeds of Diversity more than 170 events were held in 2019 across Canada. These events can be small or large, depending on the community. I love that they all have the same themes of encouraging use of open-pollinated and heritage seeds, enabling local seed exchanges, and educating the public about seed saving and environmentally-responsible gardening practices.
They’re a great opportunity to swap and exchange your seeds with others, get new varieties from other seed savers, meet seed companies in person, attend workshops/talks, and of course buy seeds!
In the Peterborough area, we are finally getting back to an in-person event. 2023’s Seedy Sunday will be held on Sunday March 12th from 11am to 3pm in a new location at the Peterborough Square Mall in downtown Peterborough (where the winter Farmers’ Market is being held). It’s a great venue, with lots of space (the pre-pandemic Seedy Sunday was held at the Emmanuel United Church and George St United Church).
Long time organizer Jillian Bishop (who runs her own UrbanTomato business and hosts seed saving workshops) says the event is “the perfect place to get inspired for spring. Come out to get all the knowledge, tools and resources needed to get growing this season.”
This year’s Peterborough Seedy Sunday event includes:
An incredible diversity of vegetables, flowers, herb seeds available for sale
Community groups showcasing the great work they do locally
Informative hands-on workshops
A popular Seed Exchange Area where you can trade seeds with other gardeners
Jillian says the last few years have been challenging because of the pandemic.
“As many of you know, in 2020, two days before we were set to host our 15th annual event, we had to cancel as the world began to shut down. As disappointed as we were, we knew it was the right thing to do! Of course, no one could have predicted what happened in the weeks, months and years to come, particularly in the world of seeds and gardening.
All of a sudden seeds became a hot commodity, and seed vendors across the world saw unprecedented demand as people became more concerned about securing their food sources, and had more time at home to plan, plant and enjoy their gardens.”
Peterborough Seedy Sunday, like similar events, went virtual for a few years, but Jillian is very happy to be planning a return to in-person seed fun and spring mania for the 15th annual event, with 13 vendors selling seeds, compost supplies and more! Workshops will be focusing on hands-on skills sharing.
If you’d like to take part in the Seed Exchange, please bring your seeds divided into smaller envelopes (approx. 25 seeds) labeled with the name of the plant, year harvested, and any other information you would like to share! Once you have them all ready, you can bring them down to the Seed Exchange and swap them for other fun varieties you have yet to try in your garden!
Hope to see you in Peterborough, or join your local ‘seedy’ event!
Words of Wisdom from Jillian Bishop
Why I Save Seeds
“Saving seeds means a lot to me. It means a lot to the world. Each heirloom seed contains history and future. Past and present, the ability to adapt to unforeseen climate change and unique environments, to spread stories and knowledge through generations it contains the capacity for communities to grow their own food in sprawling fields, community gardens, abandoned lots and fire escape pots.
Those seeds are living beings. They want to grow. They needs stewards. Citizens willing to give them water, sun, soil and yes, cheesily enough, love.”
More links and information
Seed Companies in Canada-list of seed companies in Canada, as well as the vegetable and fruit seed they’ve sold in recent years.
Peterborough Seed Savers Collective – Great short film (2015) about seed saving work happening locally – follow local seeds being grown out by the emerging Seed Savers Collective, and being shared at an annual Seedy Sunday event.
Canadian Seed Security – The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security works with farmers, researchers, universities, and other organizations to develop resources that can help farmers and seed growers advance their knowledge on seed in Canada.
Seed Savers Exchange – Stewards America’s culturally diverse and endangered garden and food crop legacy for present and future generations. We educate and connect people through collecting, regenerating, and sharing heirloom seeds, plants, and stories.
“If it’s not easy, you’re doing it wrong” Trudi Davidoff
For the last few years I’ve been hearing people (especially those in the native plant field) raving about winter sowing. What’s that I asked? Simple, they said – a germination method where you put seeds in an enclosed container out in your garden in winter and let Mother Nature make you more plants.
Hmm, I thought, that sounds too easy. As someone who has struggled for year with starting plants from seeds (especially annuals, vegetables, or herbs) and lost many sad looking seedlings to damping off I was intrigued.
Now I know it really is straightforward (although it requires an Ontario twist – more later) – and I am all about using a KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid!
Started in 2000 by Trudi Greissle Davidoff of New York in an essay, the Winter Sowing Method is a low cost (bonus!!!), temperate climate method of producing sturdy plants for your garden. There is no need to set up lights or have a space inside your house and best of all, no hardening off process. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognized the viability of the technique by adding the term to the National Agricultural Library Thesaurus.
So how does it work? For winter sowing you use a recycled container (bonus!) to create a mini greenhouse that protects the seeds from animals, birds and other pests, as well as from our often variable spring weather, until they get big enough to transplant into your garden. This is one case when you actually want your seeds to be placed outdoors and exposed to the elements (including freezing temperatures, snow, and rain).
You can use any container that’s deep enough to hold sufficient potting mix and has a clear or translucent covering that is tall enough to allow the transplants to grow. It must have drainage holes in the bottom as well as ventilation holes in the top. You can use perennial or annual seeds – basically anything as long as it isn’t a tropical seed (for obvious reasons). Native seeds are particularly good because they need a period of cold stratification to germinate – why not take advantage of natural temperatures, rather than artificially refrigerating seeds that need this process?
You fill the container with potting mix (at least 4-5 inches), sprinkle in your seeds, make sure the mix is moist, tape or secure the top of the container in some fashion, and put it outside. It’s good to check on the containers periodically so they don’t dry out or become waterlogged. Then you wait – it really is that simple.
Ok, I know there are questions – When do I start where I live? When do I plant x seeds? What soil do I use? Let me try and answer some of the basic ones and point you to other resources as well.
Trudi’s original website is no longer active but there is a very active Facebook page that follows her method – Winter Sowers – which I highly recommend for all the basic information and lively discussions amongst members. Trudi is an admin on the page.
Timing for Winter Sowing?
You can start winter sowing anytime after the Winter Solstice (December 21st). Perennials are generally done first, as they often require (or benefit from) cold stratification, then hardy annuals, then tender annuals. But the bottom line is that the seeds will germinate when the conditions are right for each kind of seed. That is the beauty of winter sowing! Many people winter sow their perennials in January but then wait until March to start their annuals. It really doesn’t matter – do what works for you!
They are ready to plant whenever the outside temperature has sufficiently warmed and they are the right size (2 to 3 inches or more importantly at least two sets of real leaves).
What Soil to use?
It’s recommended to use a sterile potting soil mix; avoid soil bags that say they are ‘weed free’ because they can contain chemicals mixed into soil to prevent any weed seeds in that bag from germinating. So they will also prevent the germination of seeds you sow in that same soil! If you live in an extremely dry environment, you might want to use soil that has moisture retentive crystals – otherwise this is not necessary (and can even be a problem in wet winter regions like the U.S. Pacific Northwest). Using fertilized soil for a sowing medium is a personal preference.
What Containers? The Ontario Twist
Most winter sowers tend to use milk jugs for their seeds, but these are not readily available in Ontario – we still love our milk bags! But the reality is that you can use any container for winter sowing as long as it can hold at least 3 inches (7.6 cm) of potting soil. I have seen various other things used – juice bottles, clear pop bottles, blue and green bottles, aluminum pans, salad boxes, plastic containers, pretzel barrels, cheese curl containers, ice cream buckets, nut containers, and vinegar jugs. They must be translucent (some light passes through) or transparent (all light passes through). Opaque materials will not work. Personally I have used the large fresh spinach containers or aluminum roasting pans with clear lids.
You do need some sort of cover on your container, as it helps keep heavy rains under control (so they drip slowly into your containers), it keeps more moisture in so that you have a higher germination rate of your seeds, and it keeps weed seeds out of your containers.
How do I Label?
Labelling is really important unless you’re a genius at identifying new sprouts! I recommend putting in two labels – one on the underside of your tray and one on a popsicle stick in the container. Trudi recommends using duct tape and an industrial sharpie. Tip – place your labels before you fill the tray with soil and put them so they don’t impede the water drainage holes. There is lots of discussion on the best pens to use for labelling – everything from paint pens to garden markers, livestock markers, and china/grease markers.
This will be my second year winter sowing just north of Peterborough – I learned a lot in my first year, most importantly to transplant my seedlings before they get too big and dry out. I wrote a blog earlier this year about some of the cool native plants that I winter sowed last winter.
I hope this blog encourages you to consider winter sowing for your garden, particularly for native species to your area – seeds are so much cheaper than plants and then once they go to seed you are all set to grow even more plants, either for yourself or to share with friends!
Want More Information?
Some videos (and posts) you may want to check out – there are lots of winter sowing videos out there (sometimes with conflicting information) but these are two that are recommended by the online group
The winter solstice, which this year happens December 21 at 4:47pm, marks the northern hemisphere’s furthest tilt from the sun and results in the shortest day and longest night of the year. Many ancient cultures celebrated at this time to welcome the return of longer days and the promise of spring with plants playing a large symbolic role. I certainly welcome the return of longer days and the pleasure in watching my garden wake up but for right now I enjoy the garden as it stands in winter.
I won’t be burning a yule log, which was traditionally Oak as it represented strength and endurance, but I enjoy the knowledge that the Oak trees in my environment are valuable contributors to supporting life in the garden. Oaks (Quercus spp.) support over 500 species of lepidoptera (butterfly and moths) caterpillars which is more than any other native tree or plant. Read more.
I don’t have the shiny, English holly (Ilex aquifolium which is invasive in the Pacific Northwest) in my garden. I do have a native holly, Ilex verticillata or Common Winterberry. I have a male and female plant as you need both for pollination and the resulting flowers and red berries. Although it is found naturally in swampy, acidic areas it is growing in my average garden soil. It doesn’t have evergreen leaves but the persistent red berries are loved by over 40 species of birds! Beautiful red berries and birds in the winter? That is a win-win for me!
A winter garden is certainly enhanced by including coniferous (evergreen) trees. Coniferous trees such as pines, spruce and cedar are considered by many cultures to be a symbol of resilience and renewal. For many of us we enjoy using the greenery to brighten our winter pots and interiors at this time of year. In our winter gardens native evergreens provide not only beautiful contrast with the snow but provide important sources of shelter and food for local wildlife. Well placed coniferous trees can also provide windbreaks for our homes. Read more.
I hope that this winter solstice finds you happily enjoying your winter garden and appreciating its benefit to our environment.
As we enter the holiday season, the time has come to start collecting some of nature’s bounty to create seasonal trimmings for your home. Much of this bounty is right under our noses and can be gathered easily. Foraging should begin at home on your own property. It is surprising at what you can find in your own garden not just in terms of evergreens but also dried material such as seed pods. For those items not immediately on your doorstep, look elsewhere where you have the permission (I visit friends for a few snips of things from their gardens) or forage on public spaces such as roadsides. Remember to harvest sustainably taking only what you will use and take minimum amounts from each plant. When harvesting boughs, only use trees larger than 6 feet and cut your boughs 2-4 feet from the tip of a branch and above a node to encourage regeneration. Make it look like you were never there.
Cedar, white pine, white spruce and scotch pine can be found in abundance locally but don’t overlook the junipers (I like to use wild junipers), yews and euonymus. Fir is really nice but more difficult to source in my area but it is available for purchase.
Boughs can be used as garlands or in planters. The soil in the planter acts as a source of moisture until freeze up and also stabilizes the display. Conifer branches can also be cut down to be used in table arrangements or in wreaths. For arrangements kept indoors, fill the container with a mixture of potting mix and vermiculite and keep damp to prevent needle drop.
Woodies: Two species that are used extensively in this area are white birch and red osier dogwood. Both provide colour contrast and add a structural element. I keep my birch from year to year so only had to source once. Birch is available for purchase at many stores. Dogwood is available anywhere it is moist so remember to be mindful of your footwear when foraging.
What says the holidays better than pinecones? They come in many different sizes and shapes depending on their species. Closed cones can be opened by placing on a cookie sheet and baking at 250 degrees for 1 hour. Cones can be used as accents in planters/arrangements/wreaths or by filling bowls full of them. I have dipped the edges of my pinecones in white craft paint so they appear to be snowtipped.
Other additions to my gatherings include seedpods from Siberian iris and oriental poppy, seedheads from coneflowers and penstemon and dried allium heads. Some types of perennial foliage such as that from Heuchera “Palace Purple” and the Penstemon “Dark Towers” is long lasting and adds interesting contrast to an arrangement. I also used some of my dried hydrangea in the planters.
Berries add a nice pop of colour and it is hard to beat those from the winterberry bush (Ontario’s native holly, Ilex verticulata) but these are not commonly found wild in this area due to our higher soil pH. Some of the local nurseries and florists have it available for sale however. I do purchase some for my planters, for my wreath, I use the berries from the choke cherry bush (Prunus virginiana). The bright red berries retain their colour throughout the entire winter and are not eaten by the birds (unlike the berries from the grey dogwood that were eaten after the first cold night).
When you’re done, if you still crave more variety, local nurseries have greens and other decorations available for sale. For ideas on how to use what you collected, go no further than YouTube and Instagram. One of my personal favorites are the Instagram live sessions done by Claus Dalby (Denmark’s version of Monty Don). They are posted to his IG page (clausdalby) as “Master Classes in Nordic Christmas”. It is a great source of inspiration and puts one in the holiday mood.
Not into foraging? Visit your local nursery. The offerings are astonishing!
This week I had the pleasure of doing my first in-person presentation in almost three years to the Peterborough Horticultural Society on some very special south England gardens that my husband and I were able to visit in May 2022.
National Garden Scheme
I also talked about the amazing UK National Garden Scheme (NGS), where gardeners open their private gardens on specific days during the year to raise funds for primarily health charities. Since many people had never heard of the NGS, I thought I’d share with a wider audience with my blog for this month.
The NGS gives access to over 3,500 exceptional private gardens in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands, which in turn raise impressive amounts of money for nursing and health charities through admissions, teas and cake. And it’s not just about seeing beautiful gardens – there is a strong focus on physical and mental health benefits of gardens too. They also support other charities doing amazing work in gardens, and provide health and grant bursaries to help community gardening projects. You can read more here.
How I wish we could start something similar here in Canada (or Ontario, or Peterborough)! Imagine all the good that could happen just from sharing our gardens with people. I’ll have to think more about this.
So we managed to see two very special private gardens (that both open for the NGS as well) and get to meet the gardeners behind the garden, which is always my favourite thing to do when I visit to a garden. I want to understand the inspiration, the goals and objectives, and the plans for the future…because we all know our gardens are ever evolving places.
Waterperry Gardens(east of Oxford in Oxfordshire) has a long legacy and an amazing history as one of the few horticultural schools for women (from 1943 to 1971) – run by two outstanding women – Beatrix Havergal and her partner Avice Sanders.
It’s an 80 acre estate with 8 acres of formal gardens, and is famous for the herbaceous border. This is what it looked like May 2022 when we visited, and how it looks now (fall 2022, photo courtesy of Head Gardener Pat Havers, who I was lucky enough to meet in person in probably the busiest time of the year!) I love this blog written about her in 2017.
You know you’re a hard core gardener when your Mum takes you to work in a wheelbarrow!
Pat grew up in the gardens as her mother worked there, and has been working there herself for the past 20 years -10 years as Head Gardener.
“Living in the village it was every little girl’s dream to have this haven on their doorstep”, says Pat. “I would spend hours running through the beds and asking all the gardeners questions about their work. This soon caught Miss Havergal’s eye and I became the youngest student of hers at just the age of 4. My guess is perhaps she did this to keep me out of trouble.“
Her passion for the gardens were evident in everything she said. I found out about her favourite quiet space (down by the River Thame), and the incredible legacy established by Havergal and Sanders, that continues to this day in terms of courses, plant identification tags, and garden design.
This garden is the Formal Garden/Silent Garden, where people are encouraged to turn off the phones and just enjoy the beautiful knot garden, sculptures, and seasonal changes.
St Timothee Garden
Just a bit further east near Maidenhead in Berkshire isSt Timothee, a spectacular 2 acre private country garden planted for year-round interest with a variety of different colour-themed borders, each featuring a wide range of hardy perennials, shrubs and ornamental grasses.
The garden artist at work here is Sarah Pajwani, and I love her approach to gardening (similar to my own), and especially her focus on making her gardens appealing all year round, including those winter months. While England obviously doesn’t have the harsh winters we have here, her focus is on maintaining structure and colour in the garden.
An overgrown field area when she moved in (2006), Sarah created a design rationale with the help of professional landscapers, but then set about filling her garden with plants of her choice, border by border. She definitely loves her purples and pinks, but also has a few ‘hot’ borders with lovely reds, oranges and yellows.
There are so many lovely aspects to her gardens, including a large pond, wild meadow, potting shed, and formal parterre garden. While we were there in May, her photos of her winter garden are amazing, designed to have year round interest that’s easy to manage.
Sarah’s garden received national recognition in 2021, being recognized by The English Garden magazine as the National Winner for favourite garden. A garden not to be missed if you are in the area!
This excellent garden blog shows the beauty of the St Timothee Garden in wintertime, when it’s one of the first to open for the NGS.
While we did enjoy seeing many of the ‘signature’ ‘must see’ gardens on our English trip – like Sissinghurst, Hidcote, Kiftsgate Court Gardens, and Great Dixter – it was these private gardens – where we had the opportunity to meet the gardeners – that were the highlight of our trip. So if you’re in the UK, be sure to check out the NGS website for what gardens are open while you are there – they have a great interface to help you – either by week or by arrangement.
(Special thanks to the magic of Twitter for connecting me to Ontario gardener Lynette, who connected me to master gardener Nicki in Sussex, who helped me find these very special gardens and gardeners. You will both be on my list of gardens to see next time I’m in your area.)
If you’re outside enjoying the fresh air, and happen across a flower or bird or insect and you’re not sure what you’re looking at, a new feature from Google can help you out.
Google Lens lets you search what you see. Using a photo, your camera or almost any image, Lens helps you discover visually similar images and related content, gathering results from all over the internet.
All you need to do is: On your phone, open the Google app and in the search bar, tap Google Lens. Point your camera at the flower to identify the plant. Swipe up to learn about the discovery.
On Android, Google Lens is likely already built right in — open the Google App or Google Photos app. Tap Discover or tap the Google Lens icon.
On Apple, Google Lens is part of the Google app — a separate app from using Google on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Go to the App Store and download/install Google as a unique app if you haven’t already done so.
When you open the Google App, you’ll see a screen like this with the Lens icon. It’s your window to discovery!
Last week, I went for a long walk and checked out a lot of the volunteer trees and plants along the rural roadway. Sometimes I wanted to verify an item I thought I already knew, but more often I wanted to determine the name of a common but name-unknown item. Google Lens scored on both fronts. Now if only I could remember all of those names!
If you have a bug infestation, use Google Lens to identify the bug if you can get it to sit still long enough!
There’s plenty more you can do with Google Lens, too, including pulling the contact information from business cards, identifying unusual foods and almost anything else. It can also translate words on the screen into other languages, and read them back to you.
The ability of the app to actually CORRECTLY identify plants and bugs is pretty decent, and will get better over time. It helps to allow Google to use location services, so that it’s not searching through the entire rain forest to determine the name of the plant in your neighbourhood. You can also allow Lens access to your photos, so that you can identify items you’ve already taken pictures of.
Best of all, it’s free and will always be free. Try it!
Last year around this time I wrote a blog about reclaiming a garden bed from the dreaded ditch lily (Hemerocallis fulva), now considered an invasive species by many organizations including Ontario Parks and the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the U. S. National Park Service. If you’ve ever struggled with this plant you know what I mean.
The other plant growing in our large Lakefield garden when we moved in (more than 20 years ago) is what I was told was called an ‘outhouse plant‘. I eventually learned that the Latin name for this plant (also called golden glow or tall coneflower) was Rudbeckia laciniata “Hortensia”.
It’s a cultivar of our native Rudbeckia laciniata, also known as Cut Leaf Coneflower or Green Headed Coneflower, which has a lovely simple daisylike flower (whereas the Hortesia cultivar is a double ‘puffy’ flower).
The outhouse plant was pleasant enough so I let them grow for years in what I call our ‘back 40’, meaning our naturalized garden area at the back of the property, behind the cedar rail fence. Yes they were tall and gangly, and fell over in thunderstorms. Yes they spread, but they gave the prolific Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and New England Asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) a run for their money in August/September. And hey, I had more than enough to deal with in the rest of my more organized garden!
However, as I started to learn more about both native (and invasive) plants over the years I realized that I might have a problem. The outhouse plant isn’t a huge problem per se, as it can be controlled through digging, Chelsea chop etc., but its double shape means that it offers minimal benefit as food for our pollinators. And I wanted plants that not only look beautiful but have an ecological benefit. So I sat in my hammock and pondered.
As a result of winter sowing (first time this past winter – highly recommend!) I have lots of new native plant seedlings, including some of the ones I featured in my May blog – A Few of My Favourite Native Plants – Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum Virginicum), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and Green Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata). I certainly have lots of the native Rudbeckia, as well as Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Giant Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), and Purple Giant Hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia).
So the clearing of the outhouse plant began in earnest last week, and by the end of two afternoons I had an area to work with.
Definitely not light work, but not too difficult either compared to other plants. The area is now clear, and I’ll be putting in Green Headed Coneflower (the native), Boneset, Giant Ironweed, and Purple Giant Hyssop. They can all tolerate a little competition (a good thing for native plants, especially tall ones) and basic soils.
If I have space I might even mix in some shorter plants like native Bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) and Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) in at the front as they can tolerate dry conditions. The area is mostly sunny all day. Unfortunately my beloved Cardinal Flower and Turtlehead are too dry for this location.
We’ll see how this experiment works and check back in with you all on another blog. If it works we’ll expand into another area of outhouse plant that I recently cut down, but haven’t removed yet…a work in progress. There are only so many hours in my (still working part time) day. And I still need to get that Canada Ggoldenrod under control…but that’s another story…
Although this may sound shocking to some and possibly enticing to others, the Naked Ladies in my garden are a welcome arrival at this time of year. It is not so much that they are truly naked, they are just minus their leaves. Naked Ladies, Autumn Crocus and Meadow Saffron are all common names for a bulb-like corm called Colchicum autumnale that produces leaves in the spring and flowers in the fall. Over the summer the plant appears dormant but by late August or early September it starts pushing up beautiful mauve flowers with 6 showy stamens, all atop white stems. Colchicumautumnale likes organically rich, well-drained soil and sun to part shade conditions. https://onrockgarden.com/index.php/plant-of-the-month?view=article&id=92:colchicum-autumnale&catid=22
This is a sentimental plant for me as years ago I dug up the corms from my grandparents’ garden. I remember they were still a mass of blooms at Thanksgiving. But as much as they mean to me, they can be a garden design challenge. The leaves that are produced in spring grow a good 25-30 cm and then go through a bit of a collapse as they die off. At that point you are left with a hole. The flowers grow to be about 15-20 cm tall and could easily be overwhelmed by larger plants around them. I have my most favourite site for them at the base of a Witchhazel shrub which is close to a garden bed edge. There are a few rocks surrounding the area where the plants are sited and otherwise, I leave the area bare. The photo I have included is a previous arrangement but I found the leaves in spring overwhelmed the Heuchera, so the heuchera have been moved out a bit. The other photo shows the leaves in spring.
You may find corms for sale in the fall or perhaps you know someone who wants to divide up their clump. They can easily be divided every few years and speaking for myself, I am happy to share. The ladies in my garden are trouble free and never disappoint.
This article was published in err a couple of weeks ago, and is being republished today as a corrective measure. Apologies. -Ed.
Back in a June post[i], I referenced the Ontario Native Plant Council’s best management practices for Alliaria petiolata (Garlic Mustard).[ii] In it they referred to certain native plants that can be used to outcompete it. I would like to mention one other that I am fond of having in my garden. Packera aurea (Golden Groundsel) has a diminutive orange inflorescence and is native to the Peterborough area. It can be aggressive as it reproduces through rhizomes and adventitious shoots on the stems. It is better situated in moist soils and so it may be more subdued in a drier location. In her blog, The Humane Gardener[iii], Nancy Lawson discovered that when she inserted clumps of Golden Groundsel into patches of Garlic Mustard, the latter quickly became surrounded. Garlic Mustard is known to be allelopathic and inhibits the growth of some plants. However, Golden Groundsel does not appear to be inhibited by it.
Anemonastrum canadense (Canada Anemone) is a beautiful vigorous native ground cover that performs well in sun to shaded environments; although it can develop brown leaves in more arid conditions. I am using it to limit the advance of Campanula rapunculoides (Creeping Bellflower). The intent is to envelope it so that it is unable to photosynthesize, grow more foliage, and store energy in its roots. One might argue that this is simply a matter of replacing one problem with another. While it is true that Canada Anemone can be overwhelming, it may be limited by deadheading the flowers, removing rhizomes, adding mulches, and by installing edging below the soil surface. As a native plant, it supports pollinators such as miner bees, sweat bees, and hover flies. The Xerces Society notes that it supports “conservation biological control.”[iv] This is a plant that attracts beneficial insects to your garden which in turn will help control other insects that damage your other plants.
So far, the Creeping Bellflower’s development has been slowed but there are still some basal leaves within the patch and at the perimeter. Right now, it is still a team effort: Canada Anemone and me.