Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)

My source tells me that this shrub is "native to the eastern seabord" and its "natural habitat is moist woods". We've had the Clethra in a container for at least the last 6 or 7 years and it does very well. I dutifully drag the container after a frost into the garage for the winter where I water it lightly about once a month. I say drag because that is literally what I do. I slide it onto an old plastic toboggan that we have and drag it into the garage. The container is far too heavy to do anything else with it.

The Summersweet is in bloom as I write this and when we go out first thing in the morning, the fragrance fills the air. Some people find the fragrance a little overpowering but not I. I've found it easy to care for. It gets full sun from about noon till sundown and has been in the same container since we purchased it. It is about 5 feet high now with a spread of about 4 feet. The source suggests that it can be subject to mites especially in dry soils but we have yet to experience it.

There are several different varieties of Clethra to consider and from our experience it is well worth it.
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Whistling Gardens Ltd

Every Summer, the Kitchener Master Gardeners go on a 'bus' trip. I say 'bus' trip because the last few years we have been car-pooling. This year we went to the Paris area and one of the places that we stopped at was Whistling Gardens. What an incredible experience. If you haven't been there yet, it is well worth the visit.

Located near Wilsonville, ON the Gardens are open in the Summer, Thursday through Sunday, 9:00 to 5:00, and Wednesdays for tours and construction only. The brochure that I have recommends that you call ahead. They have a website at and an email contact at Various parts of the property are under construction at the moment as the proprietor is building an amphitheater, a large gazebo a wedding area and a number of gardens.

We toured a tree garden where they have many rare and unusual trees. They specialise in conifers and feature quite a variety of dwarf trees. The brochure indicates that they have over 1000 varieties of conifers and claim to have the widest selection in Canada and a full line of deciduous trees including several hard to find Carolinean species. They have a Butternut tree in the collection and are sending seeds(I think he said) to the University of Guelph for propagation.

We were very impressed with Whistling Gardens and the knowledge of the proprietor and most of us left with at least one purchase. They sell to John's Nursery locally as well as to many other nurseries.
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Spring planting

At the end of April, I'm usually much further ahead with the plants that I have started in-house but not this year. Just the same, we have geraniums (many varieties) started from cuttings, Plectranthus or Swedish Ivy, again from cuttings and some Echeveria from plugs. And then there are flats of Jade plants and African Violets that we started in our Horticultural Therapy program at a local Retirement Home.

We started some tomato plants several weeks ago but we keep the temperature in our basement fairly cool and so the plants are taking their sweet time to germinate. I've been thinking about starting another flat of tomatoes and putting it on top of the refrigerator to speed up the propagation.

Typically for our Therapy program, we start tomatoes that the residents may not have seen or tasted before. We've started Black Krim, Cherokee Purple and Yellow Tear Drop varieties in the past. One of the black varieties that we tried in the past was declared by a former farmer to have been the best he had ever tasted. We've also grown purple potatoes and I've offered to make purple mashed potatoes but have had no takers.

Back to plants started in house, I have some Dahlias and Cannas started late but they are beginning to show growth and should be ready to bring out around the May long weekend when all fear of frost is past.

I did overwinter some Agapanthus in containers in the garage and these have been outside on the deck for a few weeks and they are coming along very nicely. They provided a spectacular show last year and I am quite looking forward to them again this year.

If you would like to start plants indoors it is quite easy to do and in future posts I will provide some suggestions as to how to proceed.
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Stinging Nettle

A number of years ago, the City decided to naturalize an area behind our house and ever since we have been introduced to weeds (flowers in the wrong space) that we had previously not seen.

I normally work in the garden without gloves and as I was pulling some weeds recently, I pulled a young piece of stinging nettle. I've done this on one occasion previously but it didn't hurt as bad, but this time it was 'Oh Boy' (or some variation of this). I thought if I washed my hands that it would do the trick - no sirree. It still hurt something fierce. So I tried some Tea Tree Oil salve that we have and within a few minutes the stinging started to dissipate. Within a half hour the stinging was gone altogether.

If it had been later in the year, I would have used Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) as the naturalized area has several stands of it but it is too early for me to be able to locate it. Jewelweed can also be used as a treatment for poison ivy and Mother Nature has done us a favour by having Jewelweed naturalize close to stands of Poison Ivy.

I suppose the moral of the story though is that there are times when you should wear gloves while working in the garden.
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Learning about horticulture

It was about 40 years ago that I began my foray into gardening. We planted two trees, an arctic willow hedge and we started some geranium cuttings that were quite successful. I read a lot, took some courses, subscribed to several horticulture magazines but it wasn't until I began rubbing shoulders with members of a horticultural Society and a group of Master Gardeners that I feel that I really began to learn.

But it wasn't just a matter of learning from experts, I learned from seniors in retirement homes and hospitals. A farmer at Freeport Hospital taught me about composting when he told me how he converted a really poor soil into a farm that was very viable. Mentally challenged adults taught me about their love for gardening. Gardeners on our garden tours talked about their experiences. I learned so much.

As I thought about this today, I began to think that our Horticultural Societies provide the perfect learning environment with a mixture of young and old together. The older members have a ton of experience that they are more than willing to share. The young are sponges, eager to learn.

It made me realise that we need to maintain this mix. We need to interest the young into joining our societies and we need to provide programs that will keep the older members of the Society active. We can do this through Youth Groups but even more, we need to garden with our children and grandchildren. Our daughter and her children have caught the bug and our grandchildren volunteer with me in horticultural activities - therapy programs, youth groups and horticultural society events.

Avocado Tree

Have you ever tried to grow your own avocado tree?

There is an excellent description of how to do it at

My wife decided to try growing one a month or so ago and today we have 6 leaves on our 'Tree' and it seems to be growing well but it is still in water. Today we will be transplanting it in soil hoping all the while that it will take well to the new conditions.

The whole thing reminds me of orange and lemon trees that we grew when our children were small. When the flowers would open, the kids would rush to get the cotton swabs so that they could make like bees and pollinate the flowers to make oranges and limes. It was always a surprise that we didn't get loranges or orimes as they seldom took care not to cross pollinate the plants. They would usually do both plants at the same time with little regard to changing qtips - but then again I guess that's what bees do with little consequence.

Anyway, try the experiment with your kids. It is always an interesting thing to do to get them interested in gardening and horticulture.
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Last March and then again in a recent issue of our Newsletter "Growing Thoughts", I wrote about our fascination and experience with the Phalaenopsis orchid. Well the fascination has grown. I did some research to determine what other orchids we might try and we decided to next try a Cymbidium and possibly a Cattleya.

A friend offered a Cattleya and we picked up a Cymbidium at a local Nursery. I then asked the friend what resources (books) she uses as references for her orchids and she gave me a folder containing all sorts of material on these wonderful plants. And then to Chapters to see what they had and I purchased a book on the topic.

Yesterday, Sheridan Nursery had a seminar on orchids which we attended to broaden our Knowledge and of course there was a variety that we hadn't yet acquired - a Spathoglottis.

Are you getting the picture yet? We seem to have gone a little overboard on the topic but it really is great fun!

Three of our orchids are currently in bloom and at least three others have spikes with buds and are about to bloom. The Phalaenopsis has been relatively easy to get to rebloom but I understand that the others will take some patience but we are anxious to try. The Cymbidium is currently in bloom and it really is lovely. We purchased it with a spike and buds on it. It took a while for the buds to open and I understand that the flowers could last for as long as 10 weeks. I've attached a photo to this posting. One book describes the Cymbidium as a beginner orchid and another says that one of the reasons for it's popularity is that it is difficult to kill - just the orchid for us.


Today at the Horticultural Therapy program at Winston Park, I had the members of the gardening group repot a bunch of Plectranthus cuttings that I had saved from the Fall. The one we potted up today is a hybrid called Mona Lavender.

I first was introduced to Plectranthus when a speaker came to speak about easy annuals to grow and he gave me a piece of Plectranthus forsteri (Swedish Ivy or Forsters Mintleaf). It's easy to grow he said "just take the cutting, put it in some soil and it will take off." And take off it did. Within a short period of time, I had several of the plants to use in containers and share with others. This Swedish Ivy is an upright shruby version of the madagascariensis that many of us are familiar with. In full sun, the white edge of the green leaf would get purple spots that made it that much more attractive in a container with bronze or purple foliage plants.

Now most of these plants are savoured for their foliage but the Mona Lavender plant has purple almost snapdragon like flowers that bloom in Summer to late Summer that are quite attractive too.

The Plectranthus has quickly become a favourite of mine and I am always looking for new varieties to use in my containers

Winter pursuits

I'm often asked what I do in Winter with all of the time that I would normally be spending in the garden were it not Winter.

In the last issue of the Newsletter, I suggested that subscriptions to one of two magazines that I subscribe to might be a great idea as a Christmas gift. Shortly after writing that article, I received the February issue of Fine Gardening. From time to time I’ve heard the criticism that Fine Gardening is an American magazine and there is little of interest in it for the Canadian gardener. Looking at the Feb issue, I’m convinced that this couldn’t be further from the truth. If the subscription price is too much or you are just not interested in subscribing to another magazine, the Kitchener Public Library (Main Branch) subscribes to it. You could also check it out at the cash of your favourite grocery store.

Several columns and articles caught my attention in the latest issue. For example, the publishers of the magazine sponsor a website for subscribers that includes thousands of garden photos; a plant guide and thousands of free ‘How To’ articles and videos. And then there was a new section on edible plants with correspondents from various sectors of the United States recommending favourite plants—some of which I have grown successfully here.

This is just one of the avenues I follow to occupy my 'gardening time'. In addition to reading my gardening magazines, there are also the catalogues that have begun to arrive. First come the seed catalogues and they are quickly followed by a plethora of others. And then there are the seminars and workshops and ... What do you do with your time indeed!

Hiatus/Dry spell

As you may have noticed, I've gone through a dry spell with respect to writing the blog but here's hoping the funk is gone and I once again have some energy to do some writing.
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