Category Archives: Planting

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.

Regenerative Agriculture and the Garden

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener

Regenerative Agriculture describes soil management practices that help to reverse climate change while rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil.  Through photosynthesis, plants remove carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil. In addition to carbon sequestration, practices that increase soil organic matter also increase biodiversity both above and below the soil surface, while increasing water holding capacity and improving soil structure helping to reverse soil loss. 

Carbon cycle diagram with nature farm landscape illustration

While the movement was initially geared towards farmers, more and more gardeners, particularly those involved with the growing of annual crops, have adopted some of these principles recognizing the benefit for both the garden and the environment.   In fact, many of the practices have been employed by gardeners for years without realizing how the benefits for the environment.

Regenerative Agriculture aims to:

  • generate/build soils, increase soil fertility and health;
  • increase water percolation and water retention;
  • increase biodiversity, ecosystem health and plant resiliency;
  • increase carbon sequestration thereby helping to cleanse the atmosphere of excess CO2.

Specific Practices include:

  1. No-till/minimum tillage. Tillage breaks up soil and destroys soil structure. Tillage greatly increases soil erosion and releases carbon sequestered in the soil.  A secondary effect is soil capping and slaking that can plug soil spaces reducing water percolation creating  more water runoff and soil loss.

Conversely, no-till/minimum tillage, enhances soil aggregation, water infiltration and retention, and carbon sequestration. Some soils benefit from interim ripping to break apart hardpans which can increase root zones, improved soil structure and carbon sequestration. At a low level, chiseling in some beds may have similar positive effects.  Cracking the soil slightly allows amendments such as compost to infiltrate the soil without damaging it.  A broadfork can be a very effective tool here.

Lasagna gardening or Charles Dowding’s No Till Gardening Methods are good examples of these practices.  One can put away the roto-tiller and get a broadfork instead.

Fall garden after upper stalks have been removed leaving plant crowns and roots

2. Increase soil fertility biologically through application of cover crops,crop rotations, compost, and animal manures.  These increase the soil organic matter and restore the plant/soil biome which promotes the cycling of essential soil nutrients. Increased organic matter (OM) enhances soil structure, increases porosity which increases water infiltration and drainage.  Increased OM also stores and supplies micronutrients and enhances soil microbial populations. A tip for annual beds; When removing the plant in the fall, only remove the portion above ground.  Leave the root ball in the ground to decompose over winter.

3. Build biological ecosystem diversity with inoculation of soils with composts or compost extracts to restore soil microbial community population and functionality. Restore soil system energy through full-time planting of inter- crop plantings, multispecies cover crops, and borders planted for bee habitat and other beneficial insects.

Increased organic matter means more friable soil.  Friable soil means deep roots; increased biological activity mean more nutrients released for plant use and microbial diversity means less disease.  The result is healthy, vigorous plants that need less watering, less additional feeding/supplementation and less treatment for disease while sequestering carbon at the same time.  That is a win win!

“Earth is what we all have in common” Wendell Berry

Resources:

https://www.csuchico.edu/regenerativeagriculture/ra101-section/ra101-definitions.shtml

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20211020-carbon-farming-a-better-use-for-half-earths-land

Ditch Lilies – a Cautionary Tale

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

Once upon a time there was a gardener who wanted something that grew quickly to screen a neighbour’s unsightly yard and house addition. She noticed that the ‘ditch lilies’ that surrounded her front yard tree (already there when she moved in) seemed to be pretty vigorous, so she planted a row of them between the yards, along with some small bridal wreath spirea (Spirae aprunifolia).

What she didn’t realize was that she had unleashed a horrible monster into her garden, one that quickly engulfed any other plants, sucked all the moisture out of the soil, and eventually killed most of those spirea.

Yes that gardener was me, many years ago, before I knew better and before I became a master gardener. So this year I knew I had to finally tackle the monster, remove all these plants, and reclaim this garden area. I knew how much work it would be (it took me three weekends this spring), but I got it done. Here’s my story…

Even though you see it growing in ditches around the province, Hemerocallis fulva (aka ditch lily, tawny daylily, orange daylily, tiger lily) is native to China, Japan and Korea and was introduced to North America in the early 19th century. They spread via seed and a network of tuberous roots, and can reproduce and proliferate from a small fragment left behind during removal. In 2020 the Ontario Invasive Plant Council added this plant to their invasives list, and their Grow Me Instead Guides offer some native alternatives to consider.

Screen capture from the Grow Me Instead Guide on Hemerocallis fulva

Garden bed, spring 2021

So this was my garden bed in May this year – just waiting to burst out and take over, again. Every single one of these plants had to be dug and lifted, making critically sure to get every last bulb. These photos show how many bulblets can be on just one stem – it was quite overwhelming to think of the job ahead.

All the plants that were dug out were put in black plastic garbage bags and left out in the hot sun beside our barn for a month. At last count I used 45 garbage bags, and they were a slog to carry as they were heavy!! Eventually they went to our rural dump, where the hot composting they do should ensure their demise.

Bit by bit, over three weekends, I got them all out. It was beneficial to have a dry spring, as it made digging them out a little easier. But still a workout!

Once everything was cleared out, I weeded the soil for anything else. All that remained were my tulips and a few hardy perennials that had been gasping for air for more than a decade.

Getting there.
Ready for a fresh load of soil.

With a fresh load of soil on top and a final check for bulblets done (and knowing that I would have missed a few), I put in some new plants, aiming for 50 percent native plants (those marked with a *). The area has both sun and shade spots so I needed to be careful with my choices.

For sun, Echinacea*, Gray-headed coneflower* (Ratibida pinnata), summer phlox (Phlox paniculata), American Witch Hazel* (Hamamelis virginiana), New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), Sedums, Switch grass* (Panicum virgatum), Lesser catmint (Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta), Black-eyed Susans* (Rudbeckia hirta), lupins, Giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha), Cyclindrical Blazing Star* (Liatris cylindracea)[once I can convince the bunnies to stop eating it – see green covers], and Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).

For part shade/shade, Mourning Widow Geranium (Geranium phaeum), Purple Flowering Raspberry* (Rubus odoratus), hostas, Sensitive Fern* (Onoclea sensibilis), Virginia Waterleaf* (Hydrophyllum virginianum), Columbine (Aquilegia), Starry False Solomon’s Seal* (Maianthemum stellatum), Buttonbush* (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Zig-zag goldenrod* (Solidago flexicaulis) and Berry Bladder fern* (Cystopteris bulbifera). Also the infamous Outhouse Plant (Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Hortensia’), to be replaced with something else next year. Any suggestions for fast growing native shrubs that can handle part share welcome!

The garden bed needs time to fill in, so we’ll see what it looks like next year. In August I went back into the bed and sure enough, there were new ditch lilies growing in a few places. Remember it only takes one bulblet for them to grow. But half an hour later they were all gone as well.

I suspect I will on alert for the odd ditch lily plant showing up for the next few years, but I’m really proud to have removed this nasty invasive plant from my garden and rejuvenated it with native plants. And my two lovely sugar maple trees are glad for some more breathing room.

NOTE: The orange, single flower Hemerocallis fulva is the only daylily currently listed as invasive. It is a diploid daylily. Most cultivated daylilies are triploid and do not spread invasively like the ditch lily.

Lending Insects a Helping Hand in our Gardens

By Laura Gardner, Master Gardener in Training

When some of us think of insects, it is common for them to be thought of in a negative light. Some of our earliest childhood memories include being stung, bitten, or just plain scared by the sight of them. I can remember running screaming from an outhouse at a provincial park when I was about five years old. What was so scary? It was the sight of a Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) hanging in its web in the stall. Fortunately, the experience didn’t make me fear or dislike spiders and as a gardener I know how beneficial they are to have around. While some insects certainly do deserve our scorn— invasive species such as the LDD moth (Lymantria dispar dispar); Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis); Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica), etc.—by and large, the majority of insects are harmless and beneficial. Not long ago, I saw a couple—perhaps grandparents, out for a walk with their grandson. One of them was urging the young boy to stomp on an ant on the pavement, calling out “Get it! Get it!” It was disheartening to see. It is experiences like this that call for a shift in our thinking about insects.

Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) on False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)

I recently got a sneak preview of a book by British entomologist Dave Goulson called Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse (Harper Collins). It is to be published this Fall (September 2021). The copy I reviewed was an e-book proof and so page numbers referred to here may change in the final published copy. Goulson’s work is primarily focused on bumblebees and as the founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in the UK, he is dedicated to reversing the decline of them. He is also known for his work that was instrumental in influencing the European Union’s decision to ban neonicotinoids in 2013. Goulson wrote this book in an effort to bring more public attention to the recent and rapid decline of global insect populations—which are critical for our planet’s survival. He also explores the chief causes of insect declines such as habitat fragmentation, industrial farming practices, pesticides, climate change, and non-native insect diseases (p. 71) and provides suggestions for readers that can help support insects—especially gardeners.

Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) on Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum)

Here are a few highlights from the book:

Goulson refers to a phenomenon called “Shifting Baseline Syndrome” where humans tend to only see their current world as “normal” and are unable to detect changes over time. Humans also tend to have something called “personal amnesia” in which they downplay the extent of change (p. 64-65). With these points in mind, it is no wonder that most people would not know that insect populations have recently declined by as much as 75% (p. 50) and that there have been parallel declines in populations of insectivorous birds (p. 58). One bird that I remember as a child that I haven’t seen since is the Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna). This species is one of those that depends on insects in its diet.

One concern that the author has is the level of human awareness of the existence of the natural world. It is important to learn the names of plants and animals—otherwise they cease to exist. If they don’t exist, their importance can’t be recognized. Astonishingly, in 2007, some of the words eliminated from the Oxford Junior Dictionary included words such as acorn, fern, moss, clover, kingfisher, otter, among others (p. 225).

87% of all plant species require pollination in order to flower, produce fruit/seeds, and ensure perpetuation of the species. This includes 75% of all agricultural crops (p. 26). Most of this is performed by insects and a large part is performed by those other than bees—flies, ants, beetles, wasps, moths and butterflies. A world without insects means that we would need to subsist mainly on cereal crops as these can be wind-pollinated. I can’t imagine going without fruits such as strawberries, apples, cherries, raspberries, and even my morning coffee (p. 26).

Insects are not only important pollinators, but they assist in the development of healthy soils. Not only do they help to aerate soil, they are valuable decomposers of organic matter—participating in a process along with bacteria that help make nutrients more available to plants (p. 29, 31).  As biological control agents, predatory insects such as Lady Bugs (Coccinellidae spp.), Lacewings (Chrysopidae spp.), Ground Beetles (Carabidae spp.), Wasps (Vespidae spp.), etc., can help us reduce the need for pesticides.

Blue Mud Dauber (Chalybion californicum) on Swamp Milkweed (Syriaca incarnata)

What can we do to help?

Despite the current state, Goulson is optimistic that insect declines can be stabilized or reversed because they are generally good at reproducing—we just need to support them better (p. 216). Here are some ideas:

  1. Learn how to identify the difference between harmful and beneficial insects. The majority (95%) are the latter.
  2. Reduce or avoid the use of pesticides and give beneficial predatory insects a chance to take care of the problem first (p. 277). Even so-called organic treatments such as diatomaceous earth, BTK, horticultural oils, etc. need thoughtful consideration before use as they can harm harmful as well as beneficial insects.
  3. Learn how to differentiate between irreversible and cosmetic damage in your plants. Accept that plants are meant to be food sources for insects and some imperfections and damage is ok. Give up growing ornamental plants that are persistently defoliated by certain insects (e.g. Asiatic Lilies).
  4. Incorporate a wide range of native plants that flower throughout the season in your garden to attract beneficial insects. One of the best late flowering perennials is New England Aster (Symphyotrychum novae-angliae). It provides a valued food source for migrating Monarch butterflies. Some of the best food sources for insects are early flowering trees such as Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), Maple (Acer spp.), and Crabapple (Malus spp.).
  5. When using mulch in flower beds, leave some soil exposed so that ground nesting bees can have easy access. Some solitary wasps such as Mud Daubers (Sphecidae spp.) also need easy access to bare soil in order to glean material to build their nests.
  6. Reduce lawn and use the space for more plants. Reduce mowing of the lawn that exists. Allow a corner of your garden to “grow wild” and “get messy.”  (p. 277).
  7. Choose native plants over “nativars.” A nativar is a cultivated variation of a native plant. Some are supportive of pollinators but many are sterile or lack pollen and therefore are unable to provide food. The ones that are most likely to be the least supportive will have features such as double blooms, different leaf colours, etc. Reduce planting of ornamental annuals like Petunias, Begonias, Pansies, etc. because of their tendency to have no pollen or nectar (p. 233). That being said, some of these plants can still be enjoyed.
  8. Choose a range of plants that support the broadest number of insect species. While Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) are in the limelight as being supportive of Monarch Butterflies (Danaus plexippus), compared to some other plants, they only support 12 Butterfly and Moth species (Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home). Goldenrods (Solidago spp) support 115 different species. Some, like Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) can be aggressive in small gardens but there are more restrained types such as Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia), and Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis).
  9. Avoid aggressive fall and spring clean-up of leaves and hollow, dead stems. Doug Tallamy describes the practice of waiting 7-10 consecutive days of 10 degree C. temperatures for insects to emerge as myth as many insects emerge at different periods throughout the season. For example, Io (Automeris io) and Luna Moth (Actius luna) emerge around mid May (Tallamy, Leaf Litter: Love it and Leave it).
  10. Recognize that commercially produced “Bee Hotels” can become populated by non-native bees such as European Orchard Bee (Osmia cornuta), Horned-Face Bee (Osmia cornifrons), and Blue Mason Bee (Osmia coerulescens) as well as native bees (p. 135). If used, periodically clean them so as to reduce mites and fungi that can be harmful to the bees.
  11. Reconsider taking up beekeeping as a hobby. The European Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) threatens native bees because they take the lion’s share of available plant pollen (p. 139). It is also not a good strategy to rely on one species for pollination in case something happens to that species (p. 33).
  12. Raise awareness and share your knowledge with family and friends. You can convince others that insects need our help if they realize they themselves will be personally impacted by their decline (p. 216).

Selected Resources

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

Tallamy, Doug. Bringing Nature Home: How you can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Timber Press, 2009).

Tallamy, Doug. Leaf Litter: Love it and Leave it. April 2021. Online: https://tinyurl.com/4jphhnbc

Walliser, Jessica. Attracting Beneficial Bugs to your Garden: a Natural Approach to Pest Control (Timber Press, 2013).

Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Visit https://xerces.org/publications to view and download a wide range of factsheets and other guidance documents concerning beneficial insects, native plant lists, pesticides, habitat construction, and more.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar (Danaus plexippus) on Swamp Milkweed (Syriaca incarnata)

Casting pods to Podcasts

By Anica James, Master Gardener in Training

One of my favourite things to do when I am gardening, especially at other peoples’ properties, is to listen to podcasts while I am working. Normally I would prefer to listen to the sound of nature, but that’s not always possible when you are weeding in congested neighbourhoods or planting next to the street, or heaven forbid, have to drown out the irritating noise of someone else’s noisy lawnmower (yuck). So in urban settings, I like to set up a playlist on my phone of a few different episodes from different presenters and allow their voices to guide me through whatever gardening task is at hand that day.

Collecting seeds in the author’s garden

I don’t know about you, but I take every waking moment I can to learn something new. I am constantly on the search for more local-based podcasts that are focused on gardening but I have yet to come across many (if any) Ontario-based independent podcasts associated with gardening (wink-wink nudge-nudge to those reading who have a knack for radio: get on this please!) Sure there is CBC and the ever-familiar voice of Ed Lawrence during his half-hour call-in Q&A segments, or Mark Cullen’s informative, albeit short, bits of advice (last updated in 2017), but that’s not the same as listening to an hour long interview solely dedicated to one topic.

Just for fun, I am going to list and associate some of my favourite podcasts with some of my favourite symbolic plants that produce interesting seed pods, especially those in which you can collect and cast around your garden, scattering and planting seeds like tidbits of knowledge one has learned from the voices heard through the headphones. Being a seed saver and sower is just as important as educating oneself about the future we have at stake, so grab your phone and earbuds and check out one (or all) of the following podcasts next time you are puttering about in the garden.  

Sea Holly, Eryngium spp.

Eryngium spp. (Sea holly): In Defense of Plants

Matt Candeias is hands down one of my favourite podcast hosts. The guy is a natural-born interviewer and just knows how to ask the right questions to his guests, whether they are scientists, activists, or the average plant obsessed person like you and I. Similar to the loyal and well-structured Sea Holly plant that symbolizes admiration, each episode of Candeias’ show can be something to admire because he makes sure to cover a new topic every week, discussing everything from carnivorous plants to paleobotany to ecological restoration.

https://www.indefenseofplants.com/podcast

Alcea rosea (Hollyhock): Cultivating Place

Jennifer Jewell’s weekly show focuses on the “conversations on natural history and the human impulse to gardening”. She takes the listener around the globe as she interviews various academics and gardeners about the impacts plants have had on humanity, and how they shape our collective global identity. Just like the hollyhock plant, every Cultivating Place episode is ambitious and to the point, acting as little capsules into different topics and periods of time.

https://www.cultivatingplace.com/

Papaver spp. (Poppy): Gardens, Weeds and Words

Let’s face it: the Brits not only know how to garden, but they know how to make the best gardening-related podcasts. Maybe it’s his calming accent, or maybe it’s his fantastic interviewing skills, but host Andrew Timothy O’Brien really does have a knack for creating a fantastic episode to listen to, even if they only come out once a month. Like the well-structured seedpods of the whimsical poppy plants, every episode brings me a feeling of peace, remembrance and pleasure, while also introducing me to a new guest that I can relate to in some way.

http://www.gardensweedsandwords.com/podcast

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp milkweed): The Native Plant Podcast

An informative American-based podcast that has that traditional talk radio sound and feel to it with a Virginian twang. Like the dignified milkweed plant, the majority of the episodes interview people about native plants found in North America, as well as insects (friend and foe), green infrastructure, dendrology, and wild edibles. As much as I have enjoyed the information I have learned from various episodes, I have to admit that the format is kind of dry. 

https://www.nativeplantpodcast.com/

Antirrhinum spp. (Snapdragon): The Organic Gardening Podcast

Another great UK-based podcast, hosts Chris Collins and Sarah Brown educate listeners every week about the most organic and sustainable gardening practices there are, from weed management, to mulches, to seed collecting, to rewilding. Just like the skull-looking seedpods of the beloved annual snapdragons, this podcast really hits the head on topics

Some other gardening-related podcasts that I recommend include:

-Talking Heads https://www.talkingheadspodcast.co.uk/ (UK)
-Down The Garden Path https://downthegardenpath.libsyn.com/ (Can)
-The Maritime Gardening Podcast https://maritimegardening.com/ (Can)
-The Daily Gardener https://thedailygardener.org/ (USA)
-The Grow Guide https://thegrowguide.libsyn.com/ (Can)
-Roots and All https://rootsandall.co.uk/thepodcast/ (UK)
-Urban Forestry Radio https://orchardpeople.com/podcasts/ (Can)

Which podcasts are your favourite? Or which seedpods are your favourite to collect (great list of images)? Are there any others you can suggest to fellow readers? Please leave a comment if you have something to share.

Casting Pods to Podcasts, Anica James.

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

By Marilyn Homewood, Master Gardener in Training

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

Used with permission from antoniovalenteflowers.com

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

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

Dara filler used with permission from antoniovalenteflowers.com

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

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

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

Resources

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

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

Planning for pollinators

by Rachel Burrows, Master Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information

Pollinator Hotels

Pollinator Conservation in Yards and Gardens

Ontario Nature Pollinator Page

It’s not too late …

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:

HGTV: When is it Too Late to Plant Bulbs?

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

Trees for the Understory

by Lois Scott, Master Gardener

This year the overstory (forest canopy) was clearly a showstopper. The beautiful fall colour can certainly outshine the understory that grows beneath, however the understory has its own beauty and this is where the greatest diversity is found. The understory is comprised of the vegetation that grows beneath the canopy including “seedlings and saplings of canopy trees together with specialist understory trees, shrubs and herbs”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Understory

In our urban landscape a natural understory can be largely missing, particularly in our urban gardens. In my own garden, along with an increasing number of native herbs and shrubs I have included a few native, “specialist” understory trees to increase diversity. They grow well in the shade of neighbouring canopy trees, will all tolerate urban conditions and are worthy substitutes to many for the non-native horticultural varieties.

Blue BeechCarpinus caroliniana  aka American Hornbeam, Ironwood, Musclewood

This tree has a blue tinged bark that is hard and smooth with a sinewy appearance.  It grows up to 8 metres high with a low and spreading habit.  It prefers deep, rich moist soils and will tolerate some flooding.  Although is prefers shade it will tolerate full sun with enough moisture.  Squirrels and birds will eat the seeds and flowers.  The leaves turn a beautiful reddish copper colour in the fall.  Mammals avoid browsing twigs and branches due to their unpalatable taste.

Blue Beech

IronwoodOstrya virginiana aka Hop-Hornbeam

Although the Ironwood tree shares a similar common name to the Blue Beech these are two distinct trees.  The Ironwood grows up to 12 metres with a wide spreading crown and long slender branches.  It is very adaptable and will grow in full sun to full shade.  It prefers well drained to slightly dry soils and is an excellent tree for an urban area.

Ironwood

Pagoda DogwoodCornus alternifolia

The Pagoda Dogwood is a small graceful tree with a flat, layered appearance growing up to 10 metres.  It prefers moist, well drained soil.  It has beautiful white fluffy spring flowers that mature into blue, berry like fruits that are attractive to a wide variety of birds.  It is also a butterfly larval host.

Canadian ServiceberryAmelanchier canadensis 

The Canadian Serviceberry grows up to 8 metres. It bears elongated clusters of white showy flowers in spring followed by red berries that birds devour. It is drought tolerant and will grow in both shade and sun.

https://www.greenup.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2019May15_EcologyParkCatalogueMasterDraft.pdf

https://www.yourleaf.org/blog/jen-vander-vecht/jul-15-2015/seeing-understory-through-trees

Spring bulbs, plant them now!

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bulb Care

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

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

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

Follow the package directions for planting your bulbs.

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

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

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