Thursday, January 31, 2013

Evolution of a Flower Bed

Back in October of 2010 I started a new flower bed behind the garage. 

This was meant to be a simple project.  Just a small bed running alongside the garage to brighten the place up a bit.  A place to put an unruly perennial (Plume Poppy - Macleaya cordata) that I couldn't find space for otherwise.

This large perennial was the instigation for this bed
In the spring of 2011 I planted the Plume Poppy, hosta and hollyhocks.  Plants for height, large leaves and a dash of colour.  I thought my work here was done.

Plants beginning to grow in early 2011
It's okay, you can go ahead and laugh.  I should know better than to think that gardening is ever really done.

By the end of the first season the hollyhocks were completely overtaken with rust and had to be pulled. After two season the hostas are still alive but I'm seriously unimpressed with their appearance.  In June their blue green leaves are gorgeous but it's a temporary thing.  By August their leaves are yellow and ragged.

By mid-summer the leaves have turned yellow and brown spots have appeared
I think this spot is simply too hot for them.  The hot sun of late summer burns their leaves and sucks all the moisture out of the soil.  

So two of the three plants that initially anchored this bed are no longer feasible.  Which meant that this past season I spent some time trying to remedy this hot mess of a bed.

Lupines originating elsewhere in the garden self seeded here and I let them be.

Lupines growing in another garden area made their way to the garage
I couldn't have picked a better combination myself.  Lupines are quite tall so they shouldn't look too out of place.  As well the purple blooms and palmate leaves will complement the large blue grey leaves of the Plume Poppy

But there's still some room in this bed and lupines are an early season plant.  So I have spent some time considering other additions.

I tried an annual grass to see if that might work.

Purple Fountain grass next to the Plume Poppy
Purple Fountain Grass had great colour and was a nice textural change from the big leaves but my single specimen seemed overwhelmed.  I would love to buy 3 of these grasses to clump next to the Plume Poppy but frankly I can't afford to do this each year.

I also tried adding gladiola.

I took a chance on a bloom called Laguna.  The description was a chartreuse flower with a maroon eye.  The maroon eye didn't appear on my flowers and the chartreuse colour with this combination did not look right at all.  Not to mention the glads didn't seem to get enough sun.  They flopped over reaching for the light and took forever to bloom.

Two strike outs.

One of the problems is that everything seems so small next to the Plume Poppy.  I think it topped out around 8 - 10 feet by the end of the summer.  So in exasperation I bought something that stays tall and doesn't care about light requirements.

This trellis, complete with sweet little birdies, adds a bit of much needed balance to the equation.

So after a season of experiments, what lays in wait next year?

Well, I'm thinking of moving my Martagon lilies here.  They are currently residing in the veggie patch so that would free up some space and their red blooms would add a nice pop of colour.

And instead of an expensive annual grass perhaps some cheap seed.  Purple beans in fact.  I have some seed tucked away and I like the idea of big bean leaves with beautiful purple blooms in mid-summer.  They can even clamber up my new trellis.

We'll have to wait until next summer to find out how the next experiment goes.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Collecting Nigella Seed

I purchased a packet of Nigella, or Love in a Mist, last season thinking it would be a great plant to fill in some empty space in my flower garden.  Nigella is an annual flower that prefers full sun to part shade.  Growing just over a foot high and wide the airy leaves complement larger leaved plants.  My scheme worked well but one packet of seed wasn't enough to cover all the space I wanted.

Nigella will reseed if left to its own devices but I decided to collect some seed to make sure I could scatter it in spring right where I wanted it.

I particularly wanted to collect seed from the plants I have to make sure I got the exact same variety of flower.  These blooms start white with a hint of blue, then begin to darken turning a stark blue and finally almost purple.

These pretty flowers darken to a purple before completely fading away
Buying another packet of seed can sometimes mean the flowers aren't identical to what you already have.  Collecting your own seed from your own plants is the easiest way to ensure you get exactly what you want.

Nigella is a very simple plant to collect seed from.  Once the bloom fades and falls away the seed pod swells up to a very noticable size.

The seed head left behind blows up like a balloon.
Wait until the seed pods are dry and you can hear the seeds rattling inside before collecting the pods.  This year my seed pods were not dry enough to collect from but there was wet weather on the way.  Rather than risk the pods getting wet and moldy I pulled the entire plant from the ground and hung them to dry in the garage for a week or two.

Plants were hung upside down from the garage rafters
It wasn't long before I could hear the pods start to rattle when I touched them.  As the pods dry they begin to open.  Be sure to untie your plants at this stage otherwise all the seed will fall to the floor!

The dried pod starts to crack open revealing black seeds inside
Once the plants were dried I picked the largest well formed pods to collect seed from.  This helps ensure you have well formed and healthy seed.  I found the dried seed heads quite sharp and pulling them apart hurt my hands.  So I decided to put my new screen to use.

This vintage screen was purchased at a local antique shop and I'm smitten with it.  The edges are worn smooth from years of use.  Building a screen like this shouldn't be too hard though.  Some fine wire and a few pieces of wood.  Screens are also available for purchase at various shops like Lee Valley.

Quickly rubbing the pods across the screen tore them apart and the seeds fell through the wire mesh.

I finally found a use for the Walmart flyers!
A sheet of newspaper under the screen keeps things tidy so you can scoop up your seeds afterward.

The stems and pod that didn't fall through the screen were easily tipped into the compost.

Seeds and some chaff were left behind on the paper.

If I had a smaller screen I would have used it to further sift the seeds but in this case I simply sorted the remaining seeds from the chaff by hand.  The black seeds of Nigella are fairly large and easy to sort so it's not a difficult job.  A lot of seed is produced by just a few seedheads so I'll have more than enough to plant up the empty spaces in my garden this coming season.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Autumn Photos

Each year I am delighted to see the bold blooms of sunflowers arrive but it's bittersweet as I know they are the beginning of the end.  The large flowers don't last long before they form seed and are pillaged by swarms of bluejays.

I suspect they are a much needed meal before the start of winter.

I'm not sure why but fall also brings with it large numbers of spiders.  They seem to be in overdrive at that time of year, spinning and spinning. Are they too grabbing one last meal before the winter season arrives? 


Also working hard are the bees.  Late blooming sedum provides a last opportunity to collect pollen before the garden fades away for the season.

By Halloween the garden has completely lost its summer lustre.  Instead I'm usually focusing on preparing food from the vegetable garden for winter storage.  I wasn't able to grow my own pumpkins this year but that didn't stop me from carving one anyway.  I bought myself some fancy pumpkin carving tools this year, expanding my horizons in the art of carving.

Not scary but who can resist a cat?

Along with pumpkins October brings the bright colours of autumn leaves.

Which means it's time to think about loading some of that firewood into the house.

Just in time for the chill of winter to settle in.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Passing Seasons

Going through old photos I'm always surprised.  No matter how vivid summer is in my memory there's plants I have forgotten about.  Like the glorious rush of Sonata Mixed Cosmos in early summer.

Or old milk buckets filled with red geraniums..

The blossoms of highbush cranberry.

Sometimes what catches my eye in the photos is not just what I've forgotten but what I failed to notice.

Anybody know who this rather fetching insect is?  He matches the button on this cosmos very nicely.

This was a rather boring shot of a lawn chair until I realized those flowers are growing not just around the chair

but also through it.

Of course one of the best things about going through old photos is reliving some wonderful moments.  On Canada Day we went to the Rocky Point lighthouse and watched the fireworks in Charlottetown from across the water.  

We had the best seat in the house.

Or remembering my trip to Calgary for my nephew's wedding.  

Jody wasn't able to make the trip with me but he wasn't forgotten.

Some photos capture a moment in time perfectly.  Years from now I like to think I'll look back at this photo and happily remember this house and how wonderful it was to live here.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pheline Photos

One thing I never seem to be short of is cat photos.

When I head into the yard there is always a furball or two at my heels.

Sometimes they willingly sit and pose for the camera.

Other times they are preoccupied with their own business.

Board meeting
We started the year with three cats, added a fourth in spring, and now this winter there are only two.

Hard to say if the numbers will go up or down in the future.

But I do know that my house just isn't a home without a cat in it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

An Emerging Flower Bed in Photos

There was extensive digging, weeding, planting, and mulching that took place this past garden season.  The flower bed at the front of the house - which, let's face it, at 50 feet long is actually a Flower Garden - really began to take shape. 

Winky Purple White Columbine
Plants from previous seasons began to take hold and blooms emerged.  New additions were bought and planted.  I saw these starry blooms at the nursery in spring and Could. Not. Resist.

Ruby Wedding Astrantia
Astrantia is one of the most charming flowers I can think of.  This variety emerged in subtle shades of pink and white but matures to a very becoming red.  A happy addition for the shadier end of this bed.

Another new addition that I fell head over heals for was this Agastache.

Liked it so much I bought 5 of them in fact.  I really hope they survive the winter!

One plant I'm not sure whether I love or hate is this evening primrose.  They expanded their territory at a rapid pace this season but the plants themselves didn't seem particularly attractive.  They dried up and died out after blooming but considering it was so dry this summer I'm not sure if this is a normal thing.  I did enjoy them while they were blooming though.

A surprise plant this year was this Achillea ptarmica - The Pearl.  Some bellflowers left by the previous homeowner were moved to this bed and this plant came along for the ride.  

I didn't realize the addition until the plants started to bloom.  I like it though, it's a keeper.

Back in 2010 I purchased a tiny stub of a plant at the Home Depot for a paltry $1.25.  I've been waiting patiently ever since to see what would become of it.  This was my year.

Clematis Emilia Plater finally produced blooms and it was worth the wait.

Another plant that's taken some time to come unto its own is the Quickfire Hydrangea.  I purchased this on a whim back in 2010 at a summer sale.  I had no place to put it at the time and simply dug a hole and dropped it in beside the driveway.  This year it was moved to the flower garden.

Quickfire emerging in early summer
This is an early blooming hydrangea with flat blooms that look like a lacecap.  I was thrilled to see pure white flowers emerge in July.  Finally, it has a good home and it's happy.

The thing about Quickfire is it doesn't stay white.  White flowers fade to pink, stems turn red.

Quickfire in late August
So even though it blooms early, the flowers are still a joy to look at two months later.

And what would the late summer garden be without these superstars?

Ruby Star and Magnus echinacea both bloomed and grew into sturdy clumps this season.  A sign of good things to come.