Too many mosquitoes, had to come inside.

Seriously, this crazy weather is hard to figure. As a rule – and this goes back to my journalism days – I don’t consider it wise to write about the weather.  Everything could change in a flash. However,  getting bit by mob (swarm?) of mixed up mosquitoes in the middle of January has made me reconsider: the weather is the story.

We’re out there daily getting outside work done.  This is work that should be blocked by two to three feet of snow. We landscaped a massive area surrounding our pond. We hand-mixed our potting soil for 2013.  We’re cutting and splitting firewood for next winter. And as I am sure is the case for so many impatient and perplexed northern gardeners, we find ourselves looking sideways at the perennial beds, wondering if maybe, just maybe, it’s time to get gardening.  (Resist that urge!  Now is not the time to wake plants up.)

Today, I dug fence pole holes. There’s no snow anywhere, no frost in the ground and the only complication is the holes fill up with rain water. The poles are to support a 400-square-foot addition to our existing hosta shade construction. That’s the other side of climate change: our summers have been so intense lately: blinding sun and no rain for weeks on end. Our hosta collection – expanded again for the coming season –  cried out for shade. Too much of it had been out of the sun. Now, all of it will be. It’s a more relaxing space for people as well. Indeed, the last couple of summers whenever a visitor here begins with the lament that they only have shade gardens – what can I do? what can I plant? – they end up agreeing that they’ve got a huge advantage: shade is a joy.

Though shade may not offer the in-your-face drama of a sun-drenched garden – brilliant blossoms and garlands of fragrant flowers – shade is cool. The  plant show is more subtle – you certainly can’t photograph the flower on wild ginger from a moving vehicle, or even just walking by; you’ve got to slow down, get on the ground, take your time, rustle around and there it is: beauty to behold, and for that moment in time, it’s all yours, just you and the flower.

Those who have been here know that WildThings is surrounded by forest: shade is our friend. Our first event of the year, the Trillium Festival, is all about shade plants – jack-in-the-pulpit, ginger, solomon’s seal, trilliums, trout lilies and so on – the flora that carpets this place in spring. At this year’s Trillium Festival – May 11 -12 – visitors will again be invited to walk the trails through our 36-acres of hardwood forest. What will the show be like? Time will tell. Last year, following a similarly snow-less winter, the spring arrived dramatically early, but the forest flora display seemed the same – on time and as big as ever. It’s as though the native plants stubbornly stick to a schedule that has made sense for countless generations. If that changes, everything changes.  – John

It must be spring.  The birds are singing and here is our tomato list for 2012. 

 

TOMATOES 2012

WildThings

PLANT FARM

http://www.wild-things.ca

 

AILSA CRAIG  Mid-season. Highly regarded in the British Isles, this variety does well in similar Maritime climates. A famous and dependable heirloom, which produces 2″ red fruit on compact 3 ft. vines.

 

AMAZON CHOCOLATE Tomatoes are slightly flattened, 3”-4” ovals.  Full flavour. Early to mid season. Indeterminate. 80 DAYS.

 

AMISH PASTE  Paste.  Prolific producer of pointed, red, 6-8 ounce fruit with a teardrop shape.  Meaty fruit is juicy with an outstanding flavour.  An Amish heirloom.   Few seeds and makes a tasty sauce.  Indeterminate.  Late – 85 days.

 

AUNT RUBY’S GERMAN GREEN  Late.  Huge, 1-2 lb. juicy beefsteak-type tomatoes are a lovely pale green with a pink interior.  Sweet, spicy  flavour makes this heirloom variety a favourite with many tomato lovers.  Pick by touch, not appearance- ripe when soft to the touch.  Heirloom from Ruby Arnold of Tennessee.  Indeterminate; 80 days.

 

BANANA LEGS  Early.  Determinate plants have beautiful lacy foliage and loads of elongated yellow/orange mildly flavoured fruit.  Eye-catching; adds colour to salads and good in tomato sauce.

 

BEEFSTEAK  A popular heirloom with very large, deep red tomatoes.  Good, rich tomato flavour.  Late.

 

BLACK GIANT  Large, purple-black fruit weigh 6-14 oz.  Very productive and begins bearing early.  A favourite of collectors.  Fantastic flavour – a rich blend of acids and sugars really makes the taste stand out.  Delicious.  Early to mid season.

 

BLACK ZEBRA  Dark crimson skin striped in green. A most bizarre tomato. Medium size. 80 days.

 

BONNIE BEST  Looking for a good, old-fashioned, red tomato with great, old-fashioned flavour?  Bonnie Best will fit the bill.  Produces an abundance of 6-10 oz, smooth, red fruit on a medium sized plant.  Introduced in the early 1900s and still very popular today.  Good fresh, in sauces, salads and canned.  Mid season – 75 days. 

 

 

 

BRANDYWINE  An Amish heirloom, introduced before 1885.    Winner of many taste tests due to its complex, tangy flavour.  Thin-skinned with tasty, low acid fruit.  Large, beefsteak type which produces huge tomatoes up to 1 lb.  Potato leaf foliage.  Not a heavy producer.  Mid season to late – 75 to 90 days. 

 

BRANDYWINE YELLOW  Large beefsteak, juicy. Introduced before 1885. Indeterminate. 80 days.

 

BULGARIAN TRIUMPH Round slicer, 2” – 3”. Very tasty, juicy, heavy producer. Best eaten right off the vine. Mid-season.

 

CHEROKEE CHOCOLATE  Late. A chocolate-coloured relative of Cherokee Purple. Fruits have succulent dark flesh that is tangy and sweet. This variety produces great yields of  8-12 oz fruit. Large, sprawling vines need caging or staking.  Productive.  Fruit ripens from orange to rich brownish-red.   Indeterminate; 85 days.

 

CHEROKEE PURPLE  From Tennessee, pre 1890.  Unique, dusky rose tomatoes with a very sweet, rich, smoky flavour.  Productive plants with potato leaf foliage produces heavy crops of 12 oz. fruit.   Can stand dry conditions.   Indeterminate.  Mid to late season – 75-80 days.

 

CHRISTMAS GRAPE  Highly productive plants bear a steady stream of red, 1″ cherries that are borne in clusters of 10-20.  Incredibly sweet tomato flavour.  Indeterminate; 75 days.

 

COYOTE  Small yellow fruit.  Said to be a wild variety from Vera Cruz, Mexico.  Prolific yields.  Mouth-popping flavour. Indeterminate; 60 days.

 

GEZAHNTHE  Mid-season. Very productive and sweeter than you would expect for such an odd looking tomato.  Fruit sets in clusters.  Meaty flesh with very few seeds, good in sauces, paste and for stuffing.

 

GLAMOUR  A very popular old variety, and still one of the best.  Medium to large red tomatoes with excellent flavour.  Good on bacon and tomato sandwiches, fresh in salads and a good size for canning and sauces.  Crack resistant. Indeterminate. Mid season – 75 days.

 

GOLDEN JUBILEE Bright golden orange on a vigorous, productive plant. Meaty interior with good flavour. Low acid. Mid-season.

 

GOLDEN NUGGET One of the earliest tomatoes to ripen, season after season. Round, yellow cherry tomatoes with a rich sweet taste when fully ripe. Small, bushy plants. 60 days. Indeterminate.

 

GREEN SAUSAGE  Beautiful, elongated, 4″ fruits are green with yellow stripes. Rich, sweet flavour.  Shorty bushy plants do not need trellising, just a stake.  Very heavy yields.  Determinate; 75 days.

 

HAWAIIAN PINEAPPLE  Large, yellow and red fruit with excellent flavour.  Sweet and juicy.  Indeterminate; 80 days.

 

HENDERSON‘S PINK PONDEROSA  Introduced in 1891 by Peter Henderson & co.  Huge tomatoes weigh up to 2 lbs and are very meaty – unusual for such a large tomato.  Dark pink colour with a mild, very sweet taste.  Good for slicing or canning.  Mid season – 75 day

 

LANDRY’S RUSSIAN  Early.  A Canadian heirloom, which should yield well in our climate.  Brought to the prairies by Russian immigrants.  Indeterminate plant with 2-3″, round, salad-style fruit.  Great flavour, high yields.

 

LIZ’S MOTHER  Beefsteak size. Incredibly tasty – one of our favourites and a sure-fire producer. Late season.

 

MATT’S WILD  Very small, red cherry tomatoes look like currants.  Very productive vines will produce right up to the first frost.   Sweet and tasty, with a tender, smooth texture.  High sugar content.   Delicious eaten straight off the vine, in salads or salsa.  Very tall vines.  These grow wild in Mexico.  Indeterminate.   Early to mid season – 60 days

 

MORTGAGE LIFTER  Large, meaty, red beefsteak tomatoes.  Many weigh over 1 lb.  Great flavour and a good slicer with few seeds.  Plants are highly productive, vigorous and disease resistant.  Many of our customers come back for this one each year.  According to the story, a 1930’s-era farmer who was about to lose his farm because he could not meet the mortgage payments planted a crop of this tomato, which produced so heavily and was so popular that he was able to pay off his mortgage with the proceeds.  Early.

 

MRS BOTT’S ITALIAN  Flat, paste tomatoes are slightly ribbed.  Excellent flavour.  Heavy yields. Indeterminate; 80 days.

 

OLD FLAME Up to 1pound fruit ripens to a sunny yellow shot through with rose red. Beautiful marbleized effect when sliced. Sweet mild flavour with a creamy textured flesh.

 

OXHEART  Mid-season. Large, solid. Pink, heart-shaped fruit weighing up to 2 lb.  Few seeds and excellent, sweet, rich flavour.  Wispy foliage on 3′ vines.  Good slicer on sandwiches, and excellent for sauce or canning.  Very meaty.   Produces well in cold weather.  Indeterminate; 80 days.

 

PAUL ROBESON  A Russian heirloom, named to honour the famous singer and human rights advocate Paul Robeson.  Rich, beautiful colour, cola-red beefsteak-type tomato. Wonderful sweet and tangy flavour, overall great tomato which produces well. 80 days.

 

POMME d’AMOUR Very old heirloom with pale red skins and terrific flavour. Grows in large clumps. Indeterminate. Mid-season.

 

PRINCIPE BORGHESE Compact bushy plants with a large crop of small 1 oz. red fruit. Used for dried tomatoes in Italy. Good in sauces. Mid-season.

 

PURPLE CALABASH  Purple Calabash has the distinction of being called the ugliest tomato in the world.  But its flavour makes up for its appearance.  Fruit is large, 3-6″, ruffled and convoluted in shape and brownish-pink in colour.  Excellent, sweet, smoky flavour. Very productive.  Can tolerate drought.  Vines measure 4-6′. 80 days.

 

RED FIG  Grown in American gardens since the 18th century, which makes it old, even for an heirloom..  Very heavy yields of 1.5″ pear-shaped tomatoes.  Great for fresh eating.  Used as a substitute for figs years ago by gardeners who would pack away crates of dried tomatoes for winter use.  Indeterminate; 85 days.

 

RED STRIPED ROMAN  Early.  A stunning and unique orange-yellow tomato with red, zigzag striping.  Mid-size., excellent flavour, meaty,  good for drying, paste or sauces.

 

RED ZEBRA Fire engine red with bright yellow stripes. Golf-ball-sized. Sweet. Mid-season.

 

RIESENTRAUBE  Mid-season. Rare and remarkable German heirloom meaning “giant bunch of grapes”. Unusual as it bears red 1 oz. pear-shaped fruits in large clusters of 20–30. Hundreds per plant. Excellent salad tomato. Prolific plants are large and bushy and require little care.

 

ROCKY  Long, narrow, red paste tomatoes on very vigorous vines which will need a good stake.  Very productive and tasty.  Good in sauce and salad. Indeterminate.  75 days.

 

ROSE de BERNE  Dark pink, medium sized tomatoes with a perfect globe shape.  Smooth, round and blemish free.  One of the prettiest tomatoes we’ve ever grown.  This Swiss heirloom is a heavy producer.  Thin skinned, juicy fruit with a zingy, sweet flavour and few seeds. Yummy on sandwiches or in salads. A favourite here.  Mid season. Indeterminate; 80 days.

 

 

RUFFLED RED Large, ruffled and pleated fruit – a real show stopper. Mild taste. Good for stuffing. 80 days.

 

RUTGERS  Paste.  Another favourite.  Round, red fruit are good in sauces, great for canning, and fresh eating.  Productive, a good, main crop tomato.  Mid season – 75 days.

 

SAN MARZANO  Mid-season. Classic Italian paste variety with rich tomato flavour.  Good crack resistance and very  productive. Great for sauces, canning or for drying. Many gardeners brag that San Marzano makes the best tomato sauce.  Medium vines. Indeterminate; 75 days.

 

SICILIAN SAUCER  Huge, ribbed red beefsteak fruit that average 2lbs but can grow even larger. Thick, juicy, meaty flesh.90 days. Indeterminate.

 

SPECKLED ROMA Gorgeous 3” wide by 5” long fruit with jagged orange and yellow stripes. Great tomato taste, ideal for canning. Productive. Few seeds. Indeterminate. 85 days.

 

STUPICE  This Czechoslovakian heirloom is famous because it is so early and continues to produce all season.  The fruit is red, juicy and measures between 2 and 4 oz.  Great flavour.  Excellent fresh, on sandwiches and in salads.   Ripens well in northern climates.  Dwarf vine with potato leaves does not require staking.  Early – 55 to 65 days.

 

TAPPY’S HERITAGE  Round, red tomatoes weigh up to 6 oz.  Outstanding full-bodied sweetness, thick and meaty flesh.  Excellent disease and insect resistance.,  Wonderful, all-round tomato, quite rare.  Superb for market growers, with good disease resistance, great yields, perfect shape, excellent sweet full flavour and meaty texture. Indeterminate.

 

VALLEY GIRL  Delicious pink cherries. Heavy yields. Indeterminate; 75 days.

 

YELLOW PEAR  A very old variety from the early 1800s.  Small, sweet, juicy tomatoes with a pear shape are produced in clusters.  Low acid and mild flavour.    Easy to grow.  Productive, borne on long, 6’ vines.  Late – 75 to 80 days

 

BLOODROOT


Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a native perennial with a huge range – from Nova Scotia right down to Florida, westward through the Great Lakes area and south down to the Mississippi.  We found our first patch in our forest the year we moved here.  Bloodroot is found in moist to dry woods and thickets, often on flood plains and near shores or streams on slopes.  Deer will feed on the plants in early spring.

 

.  Bloodroot is a member of the poppy family.  The flowers, which appear just as the leaves unfurl are pure white, with 8-12 delicate petals, and a showy yellow boss in the centre.  The flowers are open and cup-shaped, very charming and all too quick to disappear.  Their leaves are wondrously lovely too, grey-green in colour and deeply lobed and cut. They curl around the flower stems before opening completely.

It is an interesting plant to pot because of its brilliantly red, blood-like sap which appears when the orange rhizome is split.  Natives used the sap as a dye and the plant, which is poisonous when ingested, for various medicinal uses.

Rhizomes grow just under the soil surface and can expand into a large colony.  In a bad year, bloodroot can be a one-day wonder, opening, blooming and shattering on the same day.  Even in a good year, they rarely bloom for more than a week.  They are also ephemeral, which means that they disappear, leaf and all, soon after blooming.

My garden patch, confused by the early hot weather, has already been and gone this year.  Last year, it didn’t bloom until the end of May

I’m a fan of ephemeral plants.  For a garden stuffer like me, an ephemeral leaves me room to display another plant that will emerge and be showy later.

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to acquire the lovely, double flowered form of bloodroot.   In general, I am not a fan of double flowers, but double bloodroot has exceeded my expectations.  (How often does a gardener say that!?)  The flowers are very pretty and larger than the single-flowered form.  To my eye, they resemble miniature water lilies.  Best of all, because the flowers are sterile, they last over a much longer period, and their leaves stay attractive right into summer. This longer blooming period also means that the colony spreads much more quickly than the single form.

My large and luscious patch, started  from only three plants, has spread so well in just a few years, that I felt quite confident about dividing it and sharing it with other gardeners.  I potted these up yesterday (which is why bloodroot is on my mind) and was amazed at how large and healthy the rhizomes are.  This is our first year offering this plant, and they are available for $15.95 each.

It has not bloomed yet, but as soon as it does, I will post a picture.

 

One of the most common questions we get here at WildThings is how to attract butterflies to the garden.  It’s very easy and the answer should suit your pocketbook and your desire to loll around on a lawn chair instead of weeding.

Butterflies really are free.

The first step to attracting butterflies is to grow flowers – lots and lots of flowers.   Although all butterflies are not fussy, some of the brightest and most beautiful butterflies are, so growing natives is a good first step to bringing butterflies in.

Is your gardening style attracting or deterring butterflies?  It’s an easy question to answer.  In your garden, you should be seeing lots of butterflies about, especially now, as summer ripens into fall.  If you are not seeing butterflies, you need to change your gardening style.

Butterflies prefer messy gardens. That’s why they are found in abundance in the fields, woods and ditches, but shy away from neatly manicured and very formal gardens. In many cases, those kinds of gardens are filled with exotic plants and shrubs, which do not attract butterflies because they don’t feed butterflies.  Allow your gardens to grow on the wild side.  Little bits of plant debris, branches and twigs, stones and rocks and leaf clutter will allow them places to shelter.  Butterflies don’t know the meaning of the word “weed”, so allow a few native weeds space in your garden.  They are certainly easy enough to grow and the price is right, too!

So now you have an excuse to get lazy – always my preferred gardening style.  Butterflies are attracted to large patches of colour, so planting in drifts of three or more plants help.  They favour tiny, fragrant flowers held in clusters, like any of the milkweeds (Asclepias) or butterfly bush (Buddleia), bee balm (Monarda) or good old goldenrod (Solidago.)

Butterflies need the sun to warm themselves, but they don’t want to feed in an area where they are constantly fighting the wind. So, if you cannot plant your butterfly garden in a sheltered spot, just place a few flat stones or rocks in the garden so the butterflies can sun themselves to warm up.
Butterflies also appreciate a little drink now and then (who doesn’t?), but their preferred quaff is water.  They like mud puddles and obtain necessary minerals by sucking mud in wet locations.   Or just fill a bucket with sand and add enough water to keep it moist.

Apparently butterflies are attracted to the scent of over ripe fruit, so throwing fruit past its prime into the butterfly garden could bring them in. It is important to provide flowers over a long season.  The beautiful yellow swallowtails in spring just love our lilacs and are attracted in great numbers to them.  But right now, the monarchs are laying their eggs on the milkweeds and we have been watching the caterpillars pupate.

Butterflies use two different types of plants – those that provide nectar for the adults to eat and host plants which provide food for their offspring, the caterpillars.

For example, monarch butterflies lay single eggs on the underside of the milkweed leaf and when the caterpillar emerges, it begins feeding on the leaves.  When fattened up enough, the caterpillar attaches itself by silk threads to a leaf or stem where it pupates.  During this time, the chrysalis (pupa) develops into the adult butterfly.  Depending on the species, butterflies can overwinter in any of these stages, though some, like the Monarch, migrate huge distances to warmer countries.

DO NOT USE PESTICIDES
Pesticides kill not just insect nuisances, but butterflies. If you live in an area where most gardeners are using pesticides, it will be that much more difficult for you to attract them to the garden. Organic pesticides are just as dangerous to caterpillars and butterflies as the lethal chemical concoctions sold in the stores.

Butterflies need two kinds of food – nectar producing flowers and plants which will provide food and habitat for their eggs and for caterpillars.  If none of your plants have holes in the leaves, then there aren’t caterpillars feeding there.
I find it interesting that although we do not use pesticides (or herbicides) at WildThings, plant damage is minimal.  Many of our plants do have holes in the leaves if you examine them closely, but not enough to become unsightly.  Most visitors comment on the health of the plants in the gardens and in the pots.

Host plants for caterpillars include mikweeds, mentioned above, trees such as aspen, birch, poplar, oak, black locusts and willow, Canadian columbines (Aqulegia Canadensis), and grasses and sedges.

We hope to be hearing about the butterflies in your gardens.  In the meantime, do come to WildThings and check out the pupa developing on the milkweed plants in our native garden and the milkweeds which we have allowed to naturalize along the driveway.  Because butterflies really are free.

Earth-Smart Controls For Garden Pests: Insects, Mammals

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INSECTS
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Very few of the insects that you come across in the garden are harmful to you or your plants. Do not assume that insects are pests. First, take the time to really look at your plants and the insects that are present. Get to know which ones are helpful and which ones you need to control. Scouting regularly for damage will help you catch problems before they get out of hand. Give plants a thorough inspection: both sides of the leaves; around buds and flowers and along the stems.  Note which plants are affected and the kind of damage –such as large holes, or  leaves spotted, curled, etc. Look for culprits: search for eggs; use a magnifying glass if you actually find insects. The, get an insect field guide and take action. Rodale has good guides and good advice that does not include poisons.

Hose Spray: Blast insects off your plants.

Handpicking pests is a simple but effective control.

Clean: Keep the garden free of debris to remove pest hiding places.

Diversity: Large plantings of a single plant draw insects like magnets. Confuse pests by mixing many types of plants. Grow natives to attract beneficials.

Healthy: Grow a healthy garden by providing all the things plants need: light, moisture and nutrition. Composted leaves (don’t throw them away!) make plants happy and healthy.

Trap crops: eg. Lovage lures hornworms from your tomato plants; Zinnias and cosmos attract aphids.

Controls: We use an ammonia spray for many garden pests including slugs. Mix one part ammonia to 10 parts water; plus a squirt of dish soap and a squirt of vegetable oil.

Aphids: Mix 1 cup vegetable oil and 1 tablespoon liquid soap. Then add 2 1/2 teaspoons of the mix to one cup of water. Spray directly on the aphids on cool days: the mix could heat up and hurt the plant on hot sunny days.

Beetles, including Japanese Beetles and Lily Beetles: Carry a pail of soapy water through the garden. Beetles jump off plants when your hand comes close – right into the bucket.

Tent Caterpillars: Use a stick to wind up the nests like cotton candy, then burn them.

Earwigs: Provide a sheltered area – using newspapers, cardboard, burlap, etc – for them to hide under. Collect them and drop into hot water.

 

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MAMMALS
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RACOONS are smart enough to avoid most poisons. Try hot pepper spray on your favourite plants and vegetables. Keep garbage locked up and stored properly. Light up areas that they go to.

RABBITS are afraid of dogs and cats: spread your pet’s hair in bunches through the garden. Plant the plants rabbits don’t like (garlic, onions) near the plants they like. Fences must be at least 3ft tall, and go underground a half-foot.

DEER will eat anything, until they eat something they don’t like (garlic, onions, hot pepper spray), then they move on. Noise makers, high fences (6ft), human hair, try it all if you’re being run over. Choose plants on the “RESISTANT” list. We have lists at the plant farm

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FREE INFORMATION on non-toxic controls: www.thebestcontrol2.com

Willow Leaf Sunflower - HELIANTHUS SALICIFOLIUS

Plan Before You Plant
Big plants go down deep before they go up high. Their roots run deep. They’re not easily relocated. Also, they take a big space in the garden (usually). Think five years from now.

Pruning for Control
It’s not a good strategy to plant a giant with the intention of pruning as the plant grows.
Pruning is work and it defeats the purpose of growing the big plants. Also, you’ll probably end up with less flowers, less show, and a plant you resent.

Perennials as Screens
Remember, they only screen when they’ve grown up. In some cases (giant grasses, for example) that means they’ll offer a good screen from mid-summer on.

Maintenance
If the plant needs a stake, start out with a good one and leave it there. Next summer and the summer after that etc. you’ll be thankful. Use twine: it will decompose and not litter your garden.

Right Giant, Right Garden
You can’t plant a sun-lover (SILPHIUM) in full shade or a wet lover (LIGULARIA) in dry soil. It’s true: you can’t always get what you want.

Huron Sunrise - MISCANTHUS sinensis

Though in garden vogue more than a century-and-a-half ago, ornamental grasses fell out of use for some time before becoming popular again in the 1960s. Today, they’re hugely popular and with more varieties available than ever before. Asian grasses and native North American grasses are in gardens everywhere. As with so many other native plant cultivars, it took Europeans to recognize the value and appeal of our native prairie grasses before we caught on.

Grasses may be organized into two groups:

Cool Season: Grasses which begin to grow as soon as the temperature rises in early spring. Example: FESTUCA. Clip back the cool season grasses in mid-summer for lush re-growth. In spring, combing out the dead foliage from last year does wonders.

Warm Season: Grasses which begin growth very late in spring or even early summer, when the soil warms up. Example: MISCANTHUS sinensis strictus (Porcupine Grass). Cut back last year’s dead canes to 6-inches or so in the spring. Divide the warm season grasses only in spring.
For a good effect, mix the two groups to get the longest show. Plant the cool season grasses down front, where they can show off early.

Grasses combine well with just about any plant. They don’t compete visually with flowering perennials.
The tall, upright varieties add a vertical impact, while the fountain types, when planted in a perennial bed, provide a flowing, airy look. The low-growing, mounding types can look best when planted in multiples.

Grasses catch and emphasize the light. Do some garden investigation to determine where the light shines best at dawn and dusk.

PLANTING
A little research helps. There are shade-tolerant grasses, but not many. The majority of ornamental grasses (just like your lawn) want sun and moisture to thrive. The shade list, though short, does offer some beauties, including CHASMANTHIUM, CAREX, HAKONECHLOA.  As well, most grasses do well in humus-rich, well-drained soil. And again, there are exceptions: ERIANTHUS, SCHIZACHYRIUM & FESTUCA are super-drought tolerant.

ALONE OR IN GROUPS
One big beautiful clump of grass – MISCANTHUS giganteus, for example – can make a huge statement. A tall grass near a house softens the squared look of the building. It also will stand up and add drama to the garden well into winter. Make sure to give your little potted grass plant the room it will need in years to come.

In a grass-only bed, a number of the same variety planted together in groups, or repeated throughout the planting, is very effective. Mix and match verticals with fountain types. As well, consider where you want variegated types for dramatic effect.

I have been ordered by Jody and John (See Jody’s Top Ten Below) to come up with my Top 10 Hostas in time for What The “H”!

What The “H” is our annual civic holiday celebration and sale – Monday August 1, 2011

They’re just being mean to me.  First of all, if you are a hosta lover, 10 is too few.  Second, the list changes according to the time of day, the day of the week, the month of the year, and whether or not I’m indulging in a glass of wine while I take my customary  hosta tour.
But I will give it a stab.  First of all, the list has been extended to 20, because I could not stop at 10.  My criteria include how the hosta looks now.   It’s one thing for a hosta to have a fabulous spring, but it also has to measure up during the dog days of July.  Second, the hosta has to display good pest tolerance and exceptional slug resistance.  It has to be easy to grow and worth its garden space. It has to be distinctive enough to recognize from several feet away.
Based on a tour of the hosta garden I took just 10 minutes ago, here is my list, in no particular order.

Hosta: June

JUNE: Often described by horticulturalists as the perfect hosta.

June 

June is often described by horticulturalists as the perfect hosta, and I would agree –  except I am not certain about which June they are writing.   This hosta changes dramatically according to the light intensity.   If you planted 10 June in 10 different locations in your yard, you could spend many a happy hour floating around trying to decide which was the prettiest.  Medium in size, June is almost indestructible, with exceptionally thick, oval leaves which taper to a point.  Her margins are a delicious, cooling shade of blue-green which streak into the golden centre.  In some lights, June is mostly golden, with that irregular, dark edge and in other sites, the predominant colour is that luscious blue-green, with an irregular light centre as contrast.  She grows easily and quickly, and will be lovely from the day you plant her to full maturity.  By the time she finishes growing, she will measure about 16” high by 38” wide.  She is exceptionally pest tolerant.  Many of the finest garden hosta have also been developed from June – she makes beautiful babies.

Hosta: Paul's Glory

PAUL'S GLORY: An elegant, beautiful and trouble-free hosta.

Paul’s Glory 

Elegant, beautiful and trouble-free.  Before Paul’s Glory entered my life, I thought hosta were too expensive and boring, with a limited palette and garden interest.  So be warned.  I was an ordinary human being until Paul’s Glory turned me into an addict.  This is a large hosta, measuring just over 2’ tall and a spread of 4’ in width.  Its colours are knockout – deep blue-green margins surround very bright gold centres, which intensify as the hosta matures during the season.  Nothing bothers Paul’s Glory and it becomes more beautiful each year it grows.  The corrugation on the leaves provide a wonderful texture which shows off the bright colours.

Hosta: Striptease

STRIPTEASE: This hosta adds a sense of mystery and spice to the shade garden.

Striptease 

This hosta adds a sense of mystery and spice to the shade garden.  Classified as large, Stripteases is a very rapid grower, and at maturity, will measure 20” tall by about 4’ wide.  Striptease is precocious, and will mature quickly.   Leaves are dark green with a irregular, narrow gold to chartreuse  centre.  White lines, like lightning streaks, develop between the gold centres and dark margins.  Each leaf is different, adding to the charm.

Hosta: Parhelion

PARHELION: A giant hosta with giant leaves

Parhelion 

This is a giant hosta, with giant leaves.  The leaves are shiny and limey green to gold in colour with a showy, narrow, white edge.  They look like they’ve been quilted by the local Women’s Institute.  Each leaf measures a massive 15” in length, and this hosta stands just under 3’ and spreads to about 5’.  Big hosta, big impact.

Hosta: On Stage

ON STAGE: No two leaves are alike.

On Stage 

This didn’t make my first list, but I had to include it after today’s  tour.  No two leaves are alike.  The centres are a radiant gold,  surrounded  by irregular, jagged, two-toned green margins which streak into the golden centre.    Oval leaves taper to a point and cascade downwards.   Medium-large – 16” tall by 40” in width.   It has reverse variegation to Hosta montana aureomarginata, and would look striking grown beside it.  Late to emerge in spring.

Hosta: Montana

MONTANA: This hosta is a classic and deservedly so.

Montana aureo-marginata

This hosta is a classic and deservedly so.  Very large, elongated, arching, wedge-shaped leaves are shiny with deep green centres and bright yellow margins.  Its upright growth habit, arching form, and bright, shiny leaves make it easy to recognize from a distance.  I have two planted – one in a bright, sunny garden and one in dappled shade.  Although this hosta stands the sunny, hot garden, it is much more attractive in the shade.  The border will be gold, chartreuse or white, depending on the light levels.  Large, attaining a height of 27” by 5’ in width.  Mine has not yet achieved this width.

Hosta: Dream Weaver

DREAM WEAVER: I go to visit it almost every day, attracted by its refreshing, cooling colours.

Dream Weaver

It’s not surprising I include this on my list – I go to visit it almost every day, attracted by its refreshing, cooling colours.  I like to stand between Dream Weaver, and the nearby Hosta ‘Heat Wave’, trying to decide which I like better.  Dream Weaver’s large leaves have very wide, blue-green margins (more blue than green) that surround irregular gold centres which brighten to white as the season matures.  The leaves are nearly round, lightly corrugated, lightly cupped and very thick.  They stand up tall on long stems, adding to its distinctive appearance.    Very popular – we rarely have any left at the end of each year.   Its growth rate is slow, but will mature into a large hosta, 24” tall by 4’ in width.

Hosta: First Frost

FIRST FROST: like the colour of a northern lake after a storm.

First Frost

Horticulturalists describe the leaves as blue, surrounded by a narrow yellow rim.  But to me, the centre is an unusual shade of green, a deep soothing deep water  green, like the colour of a northern lake after a storm.  The leaves hold up well until the first frost.  Medium – 16” tall by 3’ in width.  This is one of those hostas that must be seen in the garden – in the pots, it’s boring and drab and looks like any of several dozen similar hosta.  But in the ground, its true colours shine. Mine, though planted only a year ago and not yet mature, is unmarred and perfect in growth.

Hosta: First Mate

FIRST MATE: I think it should be in more gardens

First Mate

I had to include this, because I think it should be in more gardens.  Lance-shaped leaves are long and narrow, heavily rippled and thick and wavy.  They swoop downwards, growing into a thick, weed-suppressing clump.  Chartreuse centres are surrounded by narrow, deep green irregular edges.  It took me a while to love this one.  The first year it was planted, it grew into a slug-ridden mess, bulleted with ugly holes and gashes.  But it grew quickly, and began to shine in its second year.  It is small, reaching only 10” in height, but after only a few years of growth is already 3’ in diameter.  I would use this hosta as a specimen, a groundcover, in borders, or as an edger.

Hosta: Old Glory

OLD GLORY: I am becoming more fond of this hosta all the time.

Old Glory

With two specimens planted, I am becoming more fond of this hosta all the time.  Wide, ruffled, rounded, perfect  heart shaped leaves taper to a pointed end.  The bright, golden leaves are surrounded by an irregular, wide, blue-green margin, which will develop a two-toned effect as the hosta matures. This hosta is a fast grower, so I won’t have to wait long.  The margins look as if they have been painted on with a fine brush and a steady hand – perfect.  The leaf shape and ruffled edges makes this specimen stand out.  Medium – 14” tall by 40” in width.

Hosta: Stained Glass

STAINED GLASS: A moment of silence please.

Stained Glass

A moment of  silence please.  This hosta combines a rapid growth rate  with a mounding, dome shape. A stand-out in the shade garden with bright, golden- yellow centres surrounded by deep blue-green margins. Fragrant, white flowers. Flawless. Sun tolerant. Medium – 15” tall by 4’ in width.

Hosta: El Capitan

EL CAPITAN: A hosta with a commanding presence.

El Capitan

Nearly round leaves are deep, forest green with an irregular, wide golden margin.  The variegation, corrugation and large size contribute to its commanding presence.   Fast growing.  Large –  26” tall by 5’ in width.  Even in the worst hosta growing year, when the slugs put ‘no trespassing’ signs in the garden to keep me out, El Capitan is perfect in growth and form.

Hosta: Satisfaction

SATISFACTION: Tall, dark and handsome.

Satisfaction

Tall, dark and handsome.  Deep green, heart-shaped leaves are surrounded by a 2”-wide, wavy, yellow margin.  One of those hostas that is just ordinary in the pot, but stunning in the garden.  Fast growth rate, heavy substance and indestructible.  Large- 28” tall by 4’ in width.

Hosta: Peanut

PEANUT: A delightful, fast growing miniature with presence.

Peanut

A delightful, fast growing miniature with presence.  Corrugated, ovate leaves with dark green margins that sometimes jet into the creamy yellow to white centres.  Good substance.  Finally, a miniature that forms a good sized mound.   Only 6” tall, but spreads to 24”. Useful at the front of the border, as a ground cover or specimen and delightful in containers.

Hosta: Designer Genes

DESIGNER GENES: Now just a chartreuse shadow of its glory days in spring, but I still love it.

Designer Genes

Now just a chartreuse shadow of its glory days in spring, but I still love it.  Leaves emerge bright golden-yellow and stand straight up on bright red stems.  The leaves have faded to chartreuse now, but the upright form, red flowering stems and fetching lavender-pink flowers add to its attraction.  A very fast grower, mine has been in the garden for only three years, but looks old enough to get into bars without I.D.  Medium- 18” in height by about 20” in width.

Hosta: Rootin' Tootin'

ROOTIN' TOOTIN': Irresistible

Rootin’ Tootin’

I hadn’t expected this one to make the list, but it was irresistible.  The leaves are deep, dark green with chartreuse streaking into the yellow centres, which will lighten to creamy white as the season progresses.  A very fast grower with thick substance, vivid colouration  and an exceptionally fast growth rate.  Medium – 12” tall by 28” wide.  Stupid name, though.

Hosta: Clovelly

CLOVELLY: Distinctive enough to stand the 10’ rule and can be mistaken for no other.

Clovelly

My specimen in badly grown, slug damaged, burned, and immature, so how did it make the list?  Well, its edges are so ruffled and crimped it looks as if Clovelly has been to the beauty parlour.  She is distinctive enough to stand the 10’ rule and can be mistaken for no other.  Shiny, large green leaves are nearly round and display prominent, deep piecrust edges.  Although mine shows smooth leaves now, they will eventually mature to show   pebbling or dimpling on the surface.  Medium, reaching a height of 18” and a width of about 30”

Hosta: Fire Island

FIRE ISLAND: Showiest in spring, but still makes the list now.

Fire Island

Fire Island is showiest in spring, but still makes the list now.  It is interesting to compare it with Designer Genes.  Two very similar hosta by description, but so different in appearance when grown in the garden.  Fire Island beguiles with golden leaves with red stems that bleed into the foliage in spring.  The leaves are visually interesting with good texture and corrugation.

Hosta: Elegans

ELEGANS: If I had to pick just one giant blue hosta, it would be Elegans.

Elegans

If I had to pick just one giant blue hosta, it would be Elegans.  I love the colour and its giant size.  I love its flat,  heavily corrugated , blue leaves, held out parallel to the ground, like a waiter proferring  appetizers.  I love its white flowers.  I love its trouble-free, pest free growth rate.  I love how beautiful it looks with so little effort on my part.  Giant – 28” x 5’.

Hosta: Touch of Class

TOUCH OF CLASS: I find many a customer lost in admiration in front of this hosta.

Touch of Class

A sport of June. The margins are very wide and very blue and surround a chartreuse to yellow centre with green jetting.  Exceptionally heavy substance – slugs just can’t seem to get their nasty little teeth into this one.  I find many a customer lost in admiration in front of this hosta.  Medium – 16” x 30”.

Jody’s Top Ten Hostas:

Whirlwind

Striptease

Stained Glass

Salute

Rainforest Sunrise

Praying Hands

Minute Man

Fire Island

Dick Ward

Alleghany Fog

Deer do it. Racoons really do it. Rabbits do it and do it and do it.
We all can do it.
Eat out of our gardens, that is.

It’s not a new trend so much as a rediscovery of an old idea: giving prime garden space to food plants. Many country properties have always boasted a vegetable garden, while adventurous types in urban centres such as Guelph and Toronto, have turned even the tiniest inner-city yards, front or back, into food production.

Growing food is fun. There’s something magical about eating something—anything— you grew yourself. It’s also smart, financially and otherwise. You’re in charge: no poisons sprayed on your plants, means no poisons served at the dinner table.

This year, our plant list includes several varieties of fruit trees and shrubs, including Golden Russet, Gala, Empire, Northern Spy and Red Delicious apples, plus Bosc pears, Italian prune plums, Elderberries and Saskatoon Berries. We’ve also got two varieties of raspberries, plus blackberries, gooseberries, red currants and blueberries. We’ll provide the information you’ll need for planting. It’s all easy. Easy as pie.

And let’s not forget the plants that grow like weeds. You know . . the weeds. That stuff is free. We’re determined to eat “off the land” this growing season, things like dandelion greens and wild leeks, chickweed and sorrel.

Anyone for Hedge Mustard Chop Suey? Or, Knotweed Prairie Pudding? Recipes for these and more are in “Edible Garden Weeds of Canada”.

Take a wok on the wild side.

I am immersed in an attempt to salvage another gardening boondoogle at WildThings.  After working through a list of symonyms and phrases, I chose the word boondoogle to describe the new grass garden at WildThings.  I could have used any of the following: fiasco, disaster, mockery, travesty, blunder, debacle, or shambles.  There are other words, but they’re not allowed.

The work is going slowly and I take frequent breaks.  It’s very hot and muggy, and the garden is in full sun.

We planted this garden late last fall with lots of compost, a very few, rugged perennials and lots of ornamental grasses.  And a few thousand bulbs or so.

When spring came, we walked down the driveway daily to observe its progress.  We waited with anticipation, bated breath even.

The plan was simple.  Good rich soil should help mitigate against our inability to water.  .  The bulbs would bloom. – thousands of thousands of tulips in their fancy spring colours,l and then after a short hiatus, the ornamental grasses, which emerge late, would take pride of place, dotted here and there, ever so tastefully of course, by flowering perennials.

We would mulch carefully and the first major weeding would take place soon after the bulbs faded, just as the grasses began to emerge.  Weeding after that would be a quick scuffle around the clumps, and then off to enjoy a beer and a swim at the pond.

Alas, it was not to be.

We have planted so many tulips here over the years that perhaps we’ve gotten cocky.  Or stupid.  Likely both.

The tulips were destroyed by rabbits.  Or deer.  Likely both.

Not a single one bloomed.  Not a red one, or pink, or yellow, or any of the fancy new blue ones we paid an arm and a leg for. Nada.  Nothing.  Zero.  Zilch.  Zippo.  Diddly squat.  There are other words, but they’re not allowed.

These pests, though frequent in many gardens, don’t bother us up at the house where the rest of the tulips bloom faithfully every year.  Maybe they’re afraid of Buster the wonder dog.  (As in, we wonder why we have a dog?)   Maybe it’s us that scare them away, or the frequent visitors to our gardens.  Perhaps they are afraid of Lucy, our cat.  I am.

We know they are around.  There’s not a winter day when I don’t see rabbits gambolling along the driveway.  About half way through the winter, I need to begin protecting the bird feeders from marauding squirrels.  And we have chosen to follow the path of the deer when we make paths through the forest.

In other years, we have even grown tulips with success near the same spot. We have planted them in the field, which is open to anything nature can throw at it.

Somehow we lost interest in that new garden.  It was only the other day, when someone asked to see it, and I had to refuse his request, due to extreme embarrassment that I decided to throw some work at it.    And lately, to avoid the real work of the nursery, I have been slipping down and pulling them out.  One by one.   With my bare hands, my brute strength and sweat.

To say there are a lot of weeds is like saying that it’s cold here in January.  It’s like saying that water is wet.  Or cats can sleep.  There are other similes, but they’re not allowed here.

These weeds are waist high.  Their stems are like tree trunks.  They are as tall as palm trees.  They obscure the other weeds growing happily in their considerable shade.

What amazes me is that underneath that travesty of a mockery of a sham of a grass garden, there are ornamental grasses growing.  Some of them seem to be doing quite well, in fact.  I do not find them until I pull the weeds away.  There be plants here.

So, although this might well be one of those crackpot ideas we seem to execute so well here, there are plants there.  And I do trust that next year, it will be beautiful.

We will plant daffodils to replace the tulips.  We will add alliums (flowering onion and fritillaria (snakehead lilies), because we know the critters don’t like them.

The grasses will grow.  There will be a garden there.  It may not be what we intended at the beginning, but it will be beautiful.  I may not know what I’m doing, but nature does. And we’ve danced this dance before.

new grass garden

New Grass Garden

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