New Year's resolution

Have you made any? I wasn’t going to but then again, one of the things I have been beating myself up about is the blog. The writing has been sporadic yet I know that there are some of you that have been following the blog. So here goes. I am going to write a minimum of once a week for the rest of the year. You’ll notice I didn’t say try. My wife says that the word ‘try’ is a cop out. You are either going to do it or not – ‘try’ is the cop out.
The next entry will be the one for the first week of the year. If there is a second this week, consider it a bonus.
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What's in Bloom?

At this time of the year, we are frequently asked "what's in bloom". I think the question really means "What makes your garden interesting at this time of year?"

While there are still some flowers in bloom, they may not be their most attractive at this time. I still have asters, Japanese anemones, bugbane and sedum in flower and if you look closely you can see Johnny-jump-ups sticking their heads up. Behind a pine, there are even some phlox in bloom. Oddly enough, a summer clematis that I had cut back because I thought it had died has now produced some blooms. The obedient plants have the occasional bloom as does the rose mallow and the lamium but most other perennials have stopped blooming.

However, if you've done things well, there are many other plants that have attractive features that provide interest at this time of year. Many of the containers still have annuals with blooms and interesting foliage. One container has a dahlia in full bloom with a purple flowering plectranthus (why the common name is Swedish Ivy I'll never understand) and the light green sweet potato vine. Other containers have some gorgeous foliage annual geraniums that are still in bloom. The leaves of the Summersweet (clethra) are a pretty yellow colour and those of the white edged euonymus are always attractive.

Seed heads on the Clematis texensis are always interesting as are the various evergreens shrubs that have been placed around the yard. This is the time of year when you really appreciate having taken some time to plan the garden for more than just the summer.

Cichorium intybus (Chicory)

The wild Cichory has many names according to Publication 505 Ontario's Weeds published by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food. It has been called Blue daisy, Blue sailors, Coffee-weed, Common chicory, Italian dandelion, Magdeburg, Radichetta, Wild succory and Witloof among others. While I have always liked the flower, I haven't added it to the garden because of the weedy plant that supports it. A colleague suggested though that since there aren't any blue Lilies that we are aware of, I might try cross pollinating a white Lilly with the pollen from the Chicory. Haven't tried it yet.

When the flower started to bloom this summer I was again captivated by the pretty blue colour of the flower. So I decided to look it up.

Did you know that there are varieties of the plant that are widely cultivated in Continental Europe. While used in great part as a coffee substitute or additive and in naturopathic medicinal preparations, the leaves of some varieties are used as greens for salads. The leaves have to be blanched first under inverted flower pots or boxes as is done with endive. Blanching removes the bitterness.

For coffee substitutes or additives, the roots of many are dug up, washed, ground or chopped up, spread on cookie sheets and roasted in a warm oven until coffee brown and we are told that wild Chicory can be processed in the same way. From descriptions of the brew that I have read about in war year publications, I'm not sure that I want to give the brew a shot, but the greens sound interesting. Blanching the leaves though is key.
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Oenothera berlandieri 'Siskiyou' - mistake

I became interested in the yellow Evening Primrose (Oenothera missouriensis), the large yellow one that is often used in rock gardens or at the front of borders. And anyone that knows me knows that when a plant catches my fancy, I look at others in the same family that might look nice in the garden too. Sure enough, there was another that looked interesting - the Mexican Evening Primose (O berlandieri 'Siskiyou').

The description said a whole bunch of things that sounded quite promising - "extremely floriferous - beautiful light rose shade - good potential as a landscaping plant with a long season of bloom - Plants form a low mat". Sound interesting? I thought so. The description said a few other things that I sort of glossed over. There was the adjective "vigorous" and "because of its wandering habit, this should probably be restrained or edged regularly." I can handle that, I said,so I purchased 3 plants and planted them in full sun. In the first year, they filled in the area that I wanted them to fill in. The next year, they continued to expand and I tried to haul them in. It was a lot of work but the effort was worth it. But they continued to expand exponentially. No matter how hard I tried, they just took off.

So I decided to dig them out. It took 5 years before I managed to get the last of the roots out. Since then, I pay much more attention to words like "vigorous" and "wandering habit".
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Garden maintenance

As I work in the garden at this time of year, I'm reminded of all of the things that I need to do in the near future and all of the things that I should have done.

The "need to do" include such things as collecting seeds for Seedy Saturday or to ensure that I don't have to remove a million seedlings in the Spring that I don't really need. It also includes cleaning up around the Irises and making sure that only healthy rhizomes remain. And there are many other "need to do's" that we will talk about in future postings.

The "should have done's" include paying much more attention to descriptions of plants prior to acquiring and planting them. This category could also have been called the "mistakes". A fellow Master Gardener has produced an entire PowerPoint presentation around this category. I'll mention some of the mistakes that I have made over the years and what I have done to either manage the problem or to clean up the garden. "Should have done's" include the care that should have been given to the placement of some plants such as those that are subject to mildew or other controllable infections.
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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.
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