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K.A. BEATTIE HORTICULTURAL CONSULTANTS

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous" Aristotle

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Doc Smarty Plants' Blog

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Newish and Notables For The Garden

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (2213)

Spring is such a difficult time for me. Indeed the weather is improving or so the story goes; the garden is starting to yawn, stretch and open its sleepy eyes… but, there’s so much to get exciting about where does a person start? Specifically what plants should be highlighted, what list presents itself as the absolute “got to have” and what might I be growing this year? Naturally there is a parade of the new and potentially most popular perennials, a bastion of brightly coloured annuals, albeit some looking nothing like their original ancestors. Lest we forget, the hanging containers posseting petunias from every conceivable corner and so cleverly displayed that even the curmudgeonliest gardener can’t resist purchasing at least one.

The information that follows has been assembled purely from a selfish point of view as the highlighted plants are what I want or already have in my wee garden. My actual list is much too long for publication so this select offering is, shall we say, closer to the top.

Bergenia ‘Flirt’ is a handsome yet diminutive selection of the ever hardy and trusted workhorses of its parentage, great for the shadier Canadian garden. Typical of this genus, the foliage ranges from a dark glossy green through stages of red and maroon. Considered to be an evergreen, I have yet to appreciate that aspect, as my plants are under snow cover for the longest time. This wee gem offers the small pocket gardener a wonderful perennial addition with promise of pink flower clusters early in the season as well for those who have just a corner to add a new selection.

Coleus Colour Clouds ‘Spicey’ is one of a great many new introductions in this popular and easily grown genre. For the past number of years Coleus has regained immense popularity and with good reason. New gardeners have little to no difficulty achieving success with Coleus, their range of foliage shape, size and massive range of colourful combination are intriguing and their price point is usually reasonable. A shade tolerant or preferred plant, Coleus can be nipped backed to encourage a bushier habit as well the cuttings root very easily and can be re-installed in your garden or container. Colourful splashes in a darker corner of the garden act as punctuation marks and will liven up even the dankest landscape. A very popular container grown plant for balcony gardeners and those of us who must hang plants as we are short of room in our landscapes.

Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’ provides an exhilarating contrast to the popular lime green foliage of many plants so popular this decade. Heuchera are of my favourite perennials because they are basically worry free and reliable in my zone 2b garden with a decent leaf mold cover for winter. The selection abounds sporting vivid coloured foliage, a vast array of leaf shape and in many cases attractive venation in the leaves. ‘Forever Purple’ will find a home in my front garden in the dappled shade of an American Elm tree with neighbours of Thalictrum, perennial Dianthus and a lovely perennial geranium for texture.

Thalictrum ‘Black Stockings’ plays a critical role in my front, Southeast facing garden. I just love this perennial and will continue to sing its praises at every possible opportunity. She stands tall with her jet black stems supporting a filamentous foliage reminiscent of Columbine. When she blooms, typically later in the season, great clouds of powder puff purple fill her corner on centre stage of the garden. The Winnipeg winds haven’t bothered her yet as she defiantly stands her ground. Totally hardy, massively reliable and above all gorgeous. Gee, do you think I’m fond of this one?

Have fun shopping, studying the new and notables and of course play in your garden, it’s been a long winter indoors.

 

Far East Fantasy

Posted on July 31, 2016 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (3418)

Far East Fantasy

Dr. K.A. Beattie

 

Shanghai to Sydney aboard Oceania’s MS Insignia is a spectacular itinerary. Having spent only a couple of weeks aboard from Shanghai to Jeju and Incheon Korea, Tianjin and Beijing China to Kobe, Okinawa and Naha Japan, the first few days have been wonderful. Cherry blossom season held on just long enough for us to enjoy the fluffy pink clouds and rosy carpets at our feet. As ancient as many parts of this region are the cities are remarkably modern and sophisticated. Shanghai towers with beautiful new architectural wonders as well as punctuated with colonial and regional designs. The rapid magnetic levitating train is a highlight as it can whisk you away at speeds remarkable by any standard. Our stay straddled a weekend and public holiday so locals were out and about in the many greenspaces in the city.

The island of Jeju Korea sparkled and danced in the sea as we approached, a truly magical place. Many Koreans come to Jeju for vacations and to celebrate special events so it has a festive mood. Abrupt volcanic mountains rise from the sea sporting verdant foliage as if a fancy haircut and deep caves coaxed the very bravest of sous to enter. This limestone and volcanic island supports a very prosperous tangerine and citrus industry with tourism most likely running a close second for GNP. Women divers plunge into the depth retrieving sea urchins among other delicacies and proceed to scoop out the centres as their reward for spending 2-3 minutes holding their breath underwater. Lava tunnels and volcanic craters invite the more adventuresome of the guests but most excursions are very doable. Enjoying the super weather in Jeju and for that matter anywhere makes all the difference on any tour.

Tianjin and Beijing China held an entirely different array of interesting places for us to explore. The great wall, or a piece of it at least was extra special for me. Hangyaguan, or the yellow wall is of the oldest remaining piece of the Great Wall of China. Had I actually climbed to the visible summit of this behemoth structure, I could have gazed on Mongolia. Alas I made it to the second watch tower realizing that the climb down might well be as challenging as the climb up.

The coach ride to and from the pier offered an excellent glimpse into the everyday lives of the residents of this region. The inordinate number of trees and shrub planted everywhere was truly remarkable and indeed nice to see. Apparently this mass planting exercise is an attempt to mitigate the industrial pollution that is prevalent in the area. We were very lucky as the constant light breeze afforded us decent quality. I had expected to witness massive traffic clogging the freeways and thousands of people everywhere, not so… as a matter of fact the complete opposite.

Incheon and Seoul Korea offered something for everyone. Culture abounds in Korea as well as local markets bulging with fish and sea creatures of unknown origin or species. For the history buffs, the Korean War memorials and museums are exceptionally well done.

Japan from Hiroshima to Kyoto and Naha to Okinawa was so wonderful and chocked full of paradoxes. Beautiful architecture from Dynasties past to ultra-modern buildings shinning with metals and glass piercing the still blue and cloudless skies. The island of Mirajima Guchi was a special delight indeed. The iconic Tori Gate stood proudly in the bay at low tide as if welcoming us to this spiritual place. The Shinto temple afforded us a glimpse at this ancient religion or belief system complete with wafting incense, candles and many Shinto priests offering blessings. A resident herd of deer inhabit this island and are remarkably tame; watch your handbags and papers!

Traditional villages, cultural displays, music dance and of course food only enhance the wonderful excursions ashore in Japan. Learning how to bow properly, rehearsing the odd word in Japanese and of course appreciating raw fish and various seaweeds all go towards a very special time and place along our wonderful journey. Definitely not to be missed this region of the world is truly a treasure chest of history art, culture and philosophy; you may return a different person after seeing and feeling this remarkable region of the world.


 

Machu Picchu ??? Close Your Eyes and Step Back

Posted on July 31, 2016 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (1853)

Machu Picchu – Close Your Eyes and Step Back

K.A. Beattie

Majestic, mysterious and totally awe inspiring, this ancient site still beguiles our current sense of reality. Floating high in the Peruvian Andes, this centre of energy has been reported to revive tired souls and foster dreams for those who make the journey.

Designated by UNESCO as one of the new seven natural wonders of the world, an excursion to Machu Picchu, Peru will require some preparation and is not recommended for persons with mobility issues. First off, the most common subject to discuss is altitude sickness, and yes, it is real, the locals prescribe cocoa leaves as a tea or placed in the back of the jaw like chewing tobacco. Alternatively, your physician will be able to prescribe an appropriate medication and of course recommend if it is even necessary, I would not take both medications together of course. Some 3,000 stone steps of varying height, link more than 150 buildings such as temples, plazas, residences and terraces over an impressive five-acre site. Expect to spend a great deal of time walking and gawking, you will certainly not be the only ones there, like so many photographs depict. Hundreds of thousand so visitors make the journey annually to the detriment of the nearby town of Cusco as well as the site itself.

Machu Picchu was built at the height of the Inca Empire during the 15th and 16th century, but was inhabited, scholars suggest, for about 100 years only. Diseases brought to the New World by conquistadors is often blamed as the culprit for the demise of the inhabitants.

Getting to Machu Picchu can be accomplished in a number of ways, some much easier than others. My personal preference is to choose the cruise line’s pre or post cruise add on. Planning the excursion on your own or with a private tour company of course works however confirmations, schedule adjustments and the accommodations are all very much “flexible”. Selecting a pre-tour is the most popular choice made by cruisers with Oceania, which once again proved true on our last voyage this January. Consider the fact that your excursion will take you high into the Andes, overnight stays, local food, water and of course visiting the site before repeating the process to get to the cruise port. It should be noted that the ship sails when the ship sails, so if your self-planned tour has a problem, or the train is not on time, heavens forbid there is nasty weather, you’re stuck. Travelling with a ship’s excursion all of these issues are taken into consideration and mitigated by the cruise line. Additionally, you will be on a mountain trek; there’s nothing nicer than coming “home” to the ship, indulging in a hot shower, clean clothes and goodness knows service to rival the very best hotels. To my way of thinking, an excellent way to start a cruise.

Machu Picchu appears on South American itineraries as well those coming from the South Pacific via Easter Island. Our last itinerary with Oceania, aboard Regatta, the delightful “R” class medium sized, luxury ship, offered pre-cruise excursions as we sailed from Miami to Lima. The reverse of this schedule allows for a post cruise excursion.

Regatta once again shone with its so typical elegance but since a refurbishment in the summer of 2014 she has even more sparkle. Smiling faces are the norm for crew and even hugs from attendants and staff who we have come to be very fond of over the years. Very much a coming home feeling as we settled into our stateroom before setting out to explore, visit and take in the beautiful scenery. “the kids” as we affectionately call many of our favourite crew go to no end to ensure that your special menu is prepared or your five o’clock cocktail, just the way you like, it is promptly shaken or stirred. The first few days are usually spent with other passengers sharing stories, photos and experiences of being high in the Andes. Naturally, Regatta has quiet little nooks and near-private enclaves around the ship so we can sit and recount our tales. We particularly like the Library with its “English Club-like” atmosphere and a super collection of reading material. Passengers often leave personal books for others forming a somewhat trading system. Let’s face it, if you have read the books, why carry them all the way back home?

Canyon Ranch Spa is heaven! This last itinerary was over 40 days so hair required cutting, nails needed attention and so on. Do NOT miss an opportunity to be pampered in the spa, after all you are on vacation. Often times the spa will post specials, typically on port days, so if you aren’t going ashore or on an excursion, treat yourself, perhaps after your excursion to Machu Picchu.

 

Looking forward to seeing you aboard one of Oceania’s cruises; I’ll be the one with a grin from ear to ear.

 

Madagascar - Ancient, Living Museum

Posted on July 31, 2016 at 4:00 PM Comments comments (5452)

Madagascar – An Ancient, Living Museum

K.A. Beattie

Madagascar could be described as a floating remnant of the ancient landmass called Gondwana. This incredibly primeval ancestry provides the modern world with a glimpse of how our home may have looked long before humans ever walked the earth. Located off the eastern edge of Mozambique, there is little evidence on Madagascar that actually connects it with Africa. This island was a solid “chunk” of landmass that migrated in isolation of the massive continent of Pangea. Gondwana or Gondwanaland was the southernmost portion once Pangea drifted northward, splitting to form two super continents, the other being Laurasia, North America’s origins. The Floral and faunal inhabitants of Madagascar have long intrigued me and for little wonder. This precious piece of history boasts over 12,000 plant species of which 80% are endemic or only found on this island, making it one of the most diverse floras on earth. Comparatively and by way of scale, Tropical Africa has nearly 35,000 species of plants but the region is 35 times larger. Perhaps the most unusual and “must see” regions of Madagascar is the globally distinctive ecosystem, the “spiny forest, thicket or desert”. One of the most bizarre collections of plants that you may ever see, this refuge is a force to contend with. Prickly bits, scratchy twigs, some plants with leaves other totally void and all arranged in what could well be a diorama produced by Fred Flintstone himself. Keeping in the “prehistoric” theme the iconic Baobab trees are truly a sight to behold. One of the most amazing trees on earth, these bloated, bottle-like specimens, six of the eight species are endemic to Madagascar. Adapted over time to endure dry conditions, their swollen trunks, massive root systems and ability to drop their leaves has allowed them to remain in situ for literally centuries. These trees are utilized by locals present and ancient for healing, as repositories for safe keeping, food caches and numerous other functions. The classic forest of Baobabs is often photographed but none do justice to the majesty of these trees.

Curiosities abound in Madagascar, not the least are the amazing Lemurs. Primates by classification and “cuddlies” by definition, these animals as incredibly cute. Lemurs and their families can be seen in selected reserves and if you are fortunate enough to take an excursion from the ship, you are pretty much guaranteed sightings. I love the way some Lemus stand up on the hind legs and scramble through the forest then bounce and hop to the next tree. Giant tortoises also can be found on the islands just off the west coast of Madagascar. Booking a tour or excursion to see them is well worth it also. Some of these specimens are a century old. The many amphibians, reptiles and flocks of incredibly unusual birds are common place. Crocodiles, well yes, but not on my list of specimens to see.

Our mode of Travel to Madagascar is aboard the MS Nautica, a sister ship to our beloved Nautica of the Oceania family. The mid-sized vessels in these particular cases, carry only 684 passengers, and have an agility that the behemoth monster ships do not. Nimble and swift these “L’il Girls” can dock at some of the world’s smaller ports without the need of tenders. I personally enjoy a tender ride but for some it may be more of a challenge for some. Travelling through hot, humid, tropical climates such as Madagascar and the other exotic ports of call in the equatorial regions, can take a toll on some folks, particularly those from more temperate environments. What I relish is that I can tramp through a steamy jungle, wade up to my claves in muddy water, endure sauna-like temperatures and return “home” to the ship (looking a lot like everyone else) and relax. The intrepid explorer is now in five star luxury, several showers and tub soakings later nestled into the comfort of the Grand Dining room, awaiting the reliably excellent service. Our itinerary took us from Dubai in the UAE south and east to several ports in India. These exotic ports offer a wealth of textures, tastes, sounds and actually a veritable buffet for all the senses. Sailing onwards Nautica negotiated the Seychelles and magnificent Maldives, Zanzibar and Mombasa before arriving in Madagascar. In short, the voyage of a lifetime.

In the event that Madagascar is not on your bucket list of places to visit, amend the list. Magical, magnificent Madagascar.

 

 

Chilean Fiords Wine, Wonder and Whimsy

Posted on July 31, 2016 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (3531)

 

Chilean Fiords

Wine, Wonders and Whimsy

K.A. Beattie

Chile is an amazing place offering a banquet for the senses and provender a plenty for stimulating conversation. A lengthy ribbon of mountains, abrupt shorelines, magnificent plants and cultures with roots deep in a mysterious past describe Chile. As a North American I must admit that my understanding of Chile and its history was not strong and upon visiting the country this fact was underscored. Naturally I knew of Llamas from my zoo visits, great regional wines and what little I could glean from cultural displays and festivals in my home city. To my total delight Chile, from the Pacific coast vantage was unbelievably beautiful day after day getting even more outstanding. To put our voyage into perspective, from Lima, Peru to Ushuaia on the Argentine border in Tierra del Fuego took over a week; somehow our north American maps are a little shall we say, biased? Perhaps my most wondrous and indeed thought provoking find was in a tiny museum in Iquique, Chile, several well preserved human mummies. Mummified human remains, nine to ten thousand years old, are still be unearthed with incredible regularity from the Atacama Desert regions. These remains of this civilization pre-date the Inca Empire by some six thousand years. The most famous of these finds are the Chinchorro Mummies first unearthed by workers near Arica, Chile on the harsh desert coastline. The overall look of Northern Chile and Peru for that matter, was stark and desert-like. Abrupt landscapes jutting out of the Pacific with very little evidence of plants, in particular grapes. Chile is known for its wine industry and I was totally primed to sample; apparently my sad little face told it all when we looked at this rather bleak scenery of the northern portions. When in doubt, check with the excursion desk or in my case, the senior sommelier onboard. The bustling coastal city of Valparaiso offered great hope as we ventured ashore with directions and a shopping list from the sommelier. The landscape had changed dramatically offering now a “Vancouver-like” feel. Our map and directions took us to the very popular city region of Viña del Mar, even the name showed promise. As implied, there was Viña or better yet, vino and a whole lot of Mar. Robust reds abound with Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignons leading the pack according to my taste buds. Oceania is known for its extensive wine list and as we travelled the wine country, the list expanded to adopt several unusual vintages. I have a female vintner who plies her skills in the much publicized regions of Southern France, she told me once in a hushed whisper once that her best reds come from her vineyards in Chile! Chilean wines are very affordable and if you tipple a bit, they are not to be missed.

Sailing further south the weather suited our latitude in mid-February, cool with steady winds laden with salt mist. Al fresco dining, always an option aboard, clearly not a popular choice, even with the hardy Canadian stock who braved the hot tubs, scuttling to and fro in abundant terry cloth, however, there was no snow! The fiord lands started for us in the tiny city of Puerto Montt, continued to Punta Arenas and then on to the spectacularly region of Patagonia. Just saying the name “Patagonia” brought excitement to my voice, who would have thought that this corner of the globe was so outstanding? Ushuaia is a city reminiscent of Jasper, Alberta, straddling the Argentine border it boasts to be the most southern city. Charles Darwin sailed these very waters on the famous Beagle of which the channel bears the name. He and his crew actually sailed and charted along most our itinerary, journaling the diversity of flora and fauna of this great southern continent. This was just another thrill for me to sense that I was on a journey that one of my champions travelled almost two centuries ago. The great Southern Beech forests must have impressed him as well the bizarre Araucaria or Monkey Puzzle trees. Many of the plants in the furthest points south exhibit unusual floral structures and have unique adaptations to ensure pollination and survival under adverse climatic conditions. Fuchsia abound as do Barberry and a vast array of mosses and ferns, many which bear the names of explores such as Magellan and Darwin. Fascinating, breathtaking and awe inspiring are descriptors that I use frequently when asked to describe the area and my experience.

Once again Oceania offered top notch service and one of the most enticing itineraries that I have ever taken. Chocked full to overflowing with excellent excursion choices, interesting ports that many ships can’t navigate and the hallmark “family” crew who spoil us time and time again. Gracias mi amigos!

 

 


Fall The Final Chapter

Posted on March 25, 2016 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (2887)

Rather a sad time of the season for many gardeners, then again, rather joyous for others. The bright colours and interesting textures that you have worked so hard on to perfect, the exact placement of that wonderful new perennial and those sultry summer days sniffing the fruits of your labours all ends now. Myself, I tend to support the joyous constituency; the work is (almost) completed, the garden is somewhat put to bed for the next several months of winter and I actually may have some time to plan next year’s adventures. No matter how you approach the gardens’ final curtain call, there are a few important tasks that should be considered, not the least what the overall condition of your estate should be left in. So often I see frenetic garden types snipping, cultivating, ripping and tearing their gardens down to their very roots in order to leave a “tidy” appearance. In my opinion that is the worst thing that a gardener can do! Indeed there are some scruffy perennials that might enjoy a haircut for winter along with some of the overzealous plants that performed better than expected. In general, just leave everything to Mother Nature, she has been at this much longer than you, and does an excellent job. Consider raking the leaves from your yard or mulching them if you have a lawnmower that does such things, and spread the remains all over your perennial gardens. The organic material of course will be sodden as a result of the autumnal rains and then packed down with snow for the entire winter. These are both very positive conditions for not only the plants but the tiny creatures who call your garden home. These wee souls that have worked so diligently all summer long in our gardens and their habitat, helping to make it the best home for themselves and resulting in a very favorable construct for us. The very least that we could do is to provide them with shelter and food for the winter. This simple act of apparent lethargy will house a tremendous population of ladybugs in particular. Ladybugs are extremely beneficial insects in a Canadian garden for the simple facts relating to their diet, aphids. The aphid, as you are most likely aware, have the seeming ability to reproduce almost in front of your eyes; in truth it takes about 14 days from egg to pregnant female. These insects are voracious feeders, sucking the very liquid life from plants in short order. Their massive numbers also produce a considerable amount of waste, referred to delicately as “honey dew”. This sticky, residual waste provides the perfect conditions for many molds and fungi, typically a sooty black powder. Perhaps you park a vehicle under a tree during the summer months and wonder why the windshield is relentlessly spotted with sticky “goo”…thank the aphids above in the overhanging tree. The solution is very simple, provide a home for ladybugs and they will do the cleanup. One ladybug can consume hundreds of aphids in one sitting and as well, the larval stage or teenager, consumes even more, just like human teenagers do.

Consider cleaning up your gardens in the spring when things are coming back to life and the weather is warming. Face it, you are going to be out there anyway, picking, prodding and observing on a regular basis just to see what survived and is poking its nose through. Clean then, compost the already partially decayed material and observe the ladybugs skittering away to find a new spring season home among the new leaves and emerging plants.

Some literature would suggest that pruning is a good task for the late autumn and early winter. To be clear, it is always better to prune when the plants are dormant or inactive. Winter pruning of fruit trees usually happens in late winter and always before the buds break. Pruning too early in the fall can be dangerous in the event that an open fall warms the soil and plants start to be active, pushing out new growth. Naturally this growth will not have time to mature and “harden off” before the onslaught of winter. The result is that this new growth succumbs to winter kill.

Wrapping evergreen shrubs such as Thuja (Cedar) is a common practice in colder regions of the country. Remember this is not a winter coat, but a sunblock. Water these shrubs heavily in the late fall so as to have the soil freeze with lots of moisture for the first thaws in the spring.

Good night gardens, sleep well, I’ll set the alarm for early spring and we can start all over again.

 

 

"Division = Multiplication? Increasing Your Perennial Numbers"

Posted on March 25, 2016 at 4:50 PM Comments comments (2466)

 

Gardeners who may be new to the art, science, passion and plague of horticulture must find it overwhelming and laden with rules, do’s and don’ts and ton of folklore. Seasoned gardeners, those of us who spin the tales and folklore, often find tasks such as perennial plant division a bit confusing as well. Like most things in gardening there are of course some technical guidelines surrounding the when and if’s of plant division. Defining what a perennial is may be good as many of my readers are relatively new to gardening. A perennial is a plant that “is supposed to” come back year after year providing flowers and foliage in an improved state each season. I say, should come back because goodness knows, in Saskatchewan as an example, I have had sturdy, guaranteed tough, hardy perennials that last only two years then poof! To the considerable amusement of my family, the “great gardener” himself has lost some of the easiest plants to cultivate (always blame the weather FYI). So fear not newbie gardeners, there are no guarantees expressed or implied, you just take your chances like the rest of us.

 

The notion of division becoming multiplication intrigues my mathematically inclined friends, but it really is true. Perennial plants that are divided actually produce more plants or multiplying, increasing or adding to your collection. Of note, pieces of perennials make excellent currency for gardeners, so not only have you increased your collection but you may now trade for new plants to increase the scope of your assortment. Potential candidate that are high on the exchange currency scale are Hostas, Alchemilla or Lady’s Mantle, Heuchera or Arum Root and of course Rhubarb both decorative and edible forms. Rhubarb you say! One of the great unsung heroes of the Canadian garden is Rhubarb for certain. In many provinces gardeners have a very limited selection of coarse-leafed perennials if at all. Reliable Rhubarb fills that bill beautifully and also provides fresh spring stalks for a variety of recipes. There are many common perennials that make adequate currency for trade however some that should never be offered, at least to friends. Bishop’s Goutweed, Lamium(s) and Forget-me-nots rank very high in the “undesirable” category. Having received these and a few more species, I was cornered into an awkward situation. As gifts to my garden I of course was obligated to plant them; fearing a re-visit from the donor. Naturally I couldn’t make up the excuse that the plants died or didn’t winter well, how would that look? The moral is, be careful and be generous with the appropriate plant currency.

Division itself is very simple and best undertaken in the early morning or dusk, as harsh sun and heat are not favored by newly divided plants. Hosta are easily divided with a very sharp spade that you slide down accurately between obvious growth terminals. Not to worry if you miss and cut off a few leaves, this happens and the plant regains composure in no time.

The new home for the division should be prepared and waiting for the new transplant; I like to fill the hole with water. Re-plant the division at the same height as it was previously and water liberally again. There is no such thing as enough water at this point. Hosta are shade lovers so overexposure to sunlight is not an issue, but do water regularly for the first couple of days and do not feed them. Newly established roots are tender and the chance of burning them off with synthetic feeds is high. Compost and or good well-rotted manure mixed in with the original soil is always a good idea.

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla) and Arum Root (Heuchera) are somewhat more demanding than Hosta. Look at the base structure of these plants and you will see that they have an almost “rhizome-like” basal stem system. Often times, these runners will have already started to root on their own so only require a clipping and you have a new plant. These plants enjoy filtered to good light so are best moved in the evening, giving them all night and the next morning to settle into their new homes. Follow the same procedure in preparation and soil amendment, consider covering the plants with shade cloth or light fabric until they have perked up. In the event that there are no runners with roots, investigate closely and you will see natural formed crowns, or whorls of leaves, this is where you dig. Try to make your spade cut swift and deep removing as much soil as you can with the new crown.

Rhubarb doesn’t look at all good when it is divided, but it quickly gains strength and lives up to its robust reputation. These roots are very deep and quite large and carrot-like. It is likely that you will break the root(s) off when dividing so be prepared but not disappointed. Preparation and soil amendment is the same as above, with liberal amounts of manure and compost to hold extra moisture. Some gardeners cut the large leaves in half or more to reduce transpiration, adding to an even more unhappy looking division. Oodles of water daily will see your Rhubarb hale and hearty in less than a week.

 

 

Pollinator Paradise

Posted on March 25, 2016 at 4:45 PM Comments comments (2716)

There is a lot of buzz around pollinators lately, and with good cause. Populations of many common Canadian pollinators are shrinking at remarkable rates for a number of reasons. As with many global tragedies, the issues seem overwhelming, the predictions austere and for many, I assume a sense of hopelessness prevails. What can be done by the individual Canadian, what possible difference can one household make? The truth of the matter is that each of us with very little effort and expense can make a world of difference, it’s just knowing how.

Developing and maintaining a garden should not be overwhelming, as a matter of fact it should be an exercise in outdoor movement, observation, diligence and of course patience. The first step is to get past the fear or reticence of actually making the garden. You don’t have to have the most expensive, trendiest bits and pieces to have a successful project. Designer this, that, these and those abound with some working others not so. The point is to use clean containers, a prepared media (bagged soiless mix) and good plants or seed stock. Land is not crucial, just a corner of the balcony or patio is sufficient, this is perhaps the biggest mental barrier. Just consider if everyone in your region planted simply one pollinator friendly plant on their balcony, the results would be amazing. Butterflies, hummingbirds and a great many less distinguishable species would have food and shelter even on the 20th floor. One must keep in mind when selecting a location, that a more protected area is far more desirable than a windswept stretch or corner in the blazing hot sun. The recipe for success includes heaping doses of common sense!

A consideration that is often overlooked when focusing on developing a space for pollinators, is that the garden needs to supply benefits for three seasons. Remembering our elementary school science we can likely connect the dots that honey bees collect nectar from flowers and in doing so their fuzzy bodies get covered with pollen. This pollen is then transferred to other flowers and presto cross pollination. Honey bees also mix some of this pollen with the sweet nectar from the flower to form “bee bread” a protein rich substance that they feed to the larvae. Understanding that not everyone would welcome honey bees to their home, garden or balcony, bees are just one excellent example of Canadian pollinators. One in every three bites of food that we eat in Canada is as a result of some sort of pollination.

Butterflies are typically a more acceptable family of pollinators than bees and as well they add great beauty to any garden. The Monarch butterfly has been in the news for some time now as a species that is in peril, with populations reaching very dangerous levels. These migrating butterflies require specific food plants for their larval stage but are not as precise for adult food. Various species of milkweed (Asclepias spp) are the favoured larvae food and as such with this plant labelled as a noxious weed for many years, the Monarch’s habitat has been reduced significantly over time. Only now are regions of Canada allowing this plant to be grown with many conservation charities providing seed and instruction to increase the monarch’s food source. There are many other butterflies and moths that you can attract to your garden such as the Swallowtails, the Admirals, Hairstreaks and of course moths abound as well.

Rather than go on with a step by step process for developing your pollinator garden, I will offer some excellent plant suggestions to entice a variety of butterflies to your garden or balcony space. This selection of plants offers colour for the entire season, nectar as well as pollen. Keep in mind that perennial plants that are grown in containers will most likely require over wintering indoors with the exception of Canada’s mildest climates. Ensure that there is a water source for the butterflies to drink from. A simple clay saucer with few pebbles scattered in will be sufficient. Fresh water daily is important. The Home Depot stores across Canada will be carrying a selection of perennial plants for pollinators suitable for every region accordingly. The Canadian Wildlife Federation endorses these kits with a portion of the proceeds going to the Federation for conservation education programming.

Milkweed

Echinacea

Rough Stemmed Goldenrod

Evening Primrose

Rough Avens

Coreopsis

Autumn Joy Stonecrop

Prairie Blazing Star

Obedient plant

New England Aster

 

The final words are to create, observe and maintain this space with a young person. There is nothing quite like the wonderment and excitement of a child experiencing nature.

 

Gardening - A Family affair

Posted on March 23, 2016 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (1530)

There is a great deal more to growing plants and gardening than the obvious soil, pots, water and petunias. It’s a family affair, or certainly could be. Introducing and engaging young ones into the world of green and growing is rife with learning opportunities, lifestyle foundational development and just good old fashioned fun. In today’s busy and scheduled world many young parents rely on peer suggestion and electronic support for parental guidance and concepts for structured play and oddly enough “free time”. Older adults, Grandparents for example, typically have a wealth of experiences to share with young children, none the least the art of cultivating plants. There is an overwhelming amount of observational evidence from health professionals, garden designers and clergy in the area of health benefits as related to being outdoors and to gardening specifically. It shows that gardens with many natural elements, help people feel connected to something greater than themselves, feel safe and shift to a more positive way of life are grounding, consistently inspire and develop patience and relationship skills. Harvard naturalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward O. Wilson, believes that Nature holds the key to health due to our built in affinity for it.

We as the adult population are responsible for the positive mentorship of the younger generations, therefore consider gardening or growing plants with the young people in your life. Simply strategies work the best as do simple projects. One such program, tailored for young ones up to six years is called “L’il Green Sprouts”. This “free range – semi structured” program guides the adults through a myriad of growing activities that can be facilitated right at home. Activity sheets, a cute little gardening kit with kid-sized tools, a magnifying glass and paper and pencils make up the hands on component. One could decide to grow a Chia Pet following the step by step activity sheets or perhaps follow up with an activity outside in the snow or in the summer garden, an art project. The key to this program is that the adults are spending quality time with the wee ones, talking, laughing, learning and above all, observing.

These lifestyle skills are crucial to a child’s development and their respect for nature. Once a young person has been introduced to nature, before the age of seven years, they will keep that respect and curiosity for all things in nature for life. Consider starting at home and starting early, what a tremendous gift for your young loved ones, and it keeps on growing throughout their lives.

Knowing where food comes from and participating in the culture of same is an important connection for youth today both physically and nutritionally. A study on a youth gardening program in Detroit reports that after gardening, children have an increased interest in eating fruit and vegetables, possess an appreciation for working with neighborhood adults, and have an increased interest for improvement of neighborhood appearance. In addition, they made new friends, and showed increased knowledge about nutrition, plant ecology, and gardening. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate-intensity level activity for 2.5 hours each week can reduce the risk for obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death. The CDC considers gardening a moderate-intensity level activity, and can help you to achieve that 2.5 hour goal each week. Additionally, those that choose gardening are more likely to exercise 40-50 minutes longer on average than those that choose walking or biking. Starting at home with young children at the kitchen table or in the garden, the connection of food and where it comes from is vitally important, particularly if we are conscious of sustainability and the ability to feed ourselves from our own efforts. There are many examples of trending towards or perhaps back to the 100 mile food source, organically grown produce and ethically sourced food. Understanding that growing some of your own food and the associated physical activity will provide many positive benefits, seems to me to be a good combination.

The connections are pretty obvious from the health benefits to social interaction and intergenerational learning. The youth as well as the adults involved in growing plants and maintaining them learn from each other. In my own personal experience I am convinced that I learn more quite often than the kids do! You might consider an existing program to kick start your initiatives or simply just get involved with the youth in your life through gardening.

 

Spring Specials

Posted on March 23, 2016 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (399)

Spring is such a difficult time for me. Indeed the weather is improving or so the story goes; the garden is starting to yawn, stretch and open its sleepy eyes… but, there’s so much to get exciting about where does a person start? Specifically what plants should be highlighted, what list presents itself as the absolute “got to have” and what might I be growing this year? Naturally there is a parade of the new and potentially most popular perennials, a bastion of brightly coloured annuals, albeit some looking nothing like their original ancestors. Lest we forget, the hanging containers posseting petunias from every conceivable corner and so cleverly displayed that even the curmudgeonliest gardener can’t resist purchasing at least one.

The information that follows has been assembled purely from a selfish point of view as the highlighted plants are what I want or already have in my wee garden. My actual list is much too long for publication so this select offering is, shall we say, closer to the top.

Bergenia ‘Flirt’ is a handsome yet diminutive selection of the ever hardy and trusted workhorses of its parentage, great for the shadier Canadian garden. Typical of this genus, the foliage ranges from a dark glossy green through stages of red and maroon. Considered to be an evergreen, I have yet to appreciate that aspect, as my plants are under snow cover for the longest time. This wee gem offers the small pocket gardener a wonderful perennial addition with promise of pink flower clusters early in the season as well for those who have just a corner to add a new selection.

Coleus Colour Clouds ‘Spicey’ is one of a great many new introductions in this popular and easily grown genre. For the past number of years Coleus has regained immense popularity and with good reason. New gardeners have little to no difficulty achieving success with Coleus, their range of foliage shape, size and massive range of colourful combination are intriguing and their price point is usually reasonable. A shade tolerant or preferred plant, Coleus can be nipped backed to encourage a bushier habit as well the cuttings root very easily and can be re-installed in your garden or container. Colourful splashes in a darker corner of the garden act as punctuation marks and will liven up even the dankest landscape. A very popular container grown plant for balcony gardeners and those of us who must hang plants as we are short of room in our landscapes.

Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’ provides an exhilarating contrast to the popular lime green foliage of many plants so popular this decade. Heuchera are of my favourite perennials because they are basically worry free and reliable in my zone 2b garden with a decent leaf mold cover for winter. The selection abounds sporting vivid coloured foliage, a vast array of leaf shape and in many cases attractive venation in the leaves. ‘Forever Purple’ will find a home in my front garden in the dappled shade of an American Elm tree with neighbours of Thalictrum, perennial Dianthus and a lovely perennial geranium for texture.

Thalictrum ‘Black Stockings’ plays a critical role in my front, Southeast facing garden. I just love this perennial and will continue to sing its praises at every possible opportunity. She stands tall with her jet black stems supporting a filamentous foliage reminiscent of Columbine. When she blooms, typically later in the season, great clouds of powder puff purple fill her corner on centre stage of the garden. The Winnipeg winds haven’t bothered her yet as she defiantly stands her ground. Totally hardy, massively reliable and above all gorgeous. Gee, do you think I’m fond of this one?

Have fun shopping, studying the new and notables and of course play in your garden, it’s been a long winter indoors.

 


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