Saturday, September 27, 2008

Siberian Perennials - How Cold Can You Go?

If you're looking for a hardy plant, it makes sense to look in a cold climate. Our hardy perennials are often wild flowers or cultivars of plants that come from cold locations. I decided to compile a list of perennials whose names include "siberian" or "siberica/sibirica" or some location in or near Siberia. Surely if it can grow in Siberia, it could grow here in my cold climate garden in zone 1b.

Now for a brief geography review.

So on with my list of perennials and shrubs hardy in a land described as mostly taiga and tundra:
  • Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica)- I have several of these and they look fabulous
  • Siberian tea (Bergenia crassifolia)- I only have the related B. cordifolia
  • Honeyberries (Lonicera kamchatika) - a berry with blue fruit borne in June
  • Achillea sibirica ssp. camtschatica - a yarrow I found on the Jelitto seeds website.
  • Siberian squill (Scilla sibirica) - a darling little spring-flowering bulb that I enjoy in my yard, however one academic article states that it is actually only grows in the area south of Siberia. Zone 2.
  • Siberian dogwood (Cornus alba sibirica) - I have a few of these beauties
  • Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) - from western Siberia. I have one of these lovely shade plants ("Jack Frost", zone 3) with elegant foliage.
  • Siberian Miner's lettuce (Claytonia sibirica) - listed as hardy to zone 4.
  • Siberian Primrose (Primula siberica) - listed as hardy to zone 1, so I MUST find one of these. Grows in Alaska as well.
  • Siberian columbine (Aquilegia glandulosa) - I was given one of these this summer! Listed as hardy to zone 3.
  • Siberian columbine (Aquilegia sibirica) - listed as hardy to zone 3.
  • Siberian foxglove (Digitalis sibirica) - not really hardy nor attractive according to the pictures I found.
  • Siberian Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum sibiricum) - hardy to zone 3.
  • Siberian Globeflower (Trollius ircuticus) - named after Irkutsk, one of Siberia's largest cities, a rare perennial listed as hardy to zone 3.
  • Siberian Bellflower (Campanula sibirica) - a small bellflower listed as hardy to zone 4.
  • Siberian Lily (Lilium pumilum) - an orange lily hardy to zone 3.
  • Draba sibirica - a tiny alpine plant with yellow flowers, I may need to find one for my new alpine garden.
  • Nepeta sibirica - a catmint listed as hardy to zone 4.
  • "Dahurica" - several perennials use this name, including Gentiana dahurica, Actaea dahurica, Mentha dahurica, Campanula glomerulata dahurica
  • "Tataricum" - meaning "of the Tatar mountains of Russia", which includes plants such as Ixiolirion tataricum and Goniolion tataricum (German statice).
To find further cold-hardy plants, I also searched for plants with "borealis", "boreale" and "arcticus" in their names, implying a northern plant.
  • This includes Phlox borealis, Primula borealis (zone 2), Achillea borealis (zone 3), Draba borealis, and Polemonium boreale (zone 3).
  • Also, Lupinus arcticus (zone 4) - I tried this plant once and killed it.
Wow, there are so many northern cold-weather perennials to try!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Aerial View of Fall

I got these pictures during a flight by tiny plane to the small community of Stanley Mission today. I didn't get any decent aerial photos of our yard, however, but I'm still learning how to use my new camera!
Islands in Lac La Ronge:

Stanley Mission historic church, the oldest standing building in Saskatchewan. I thought the cemetery was really striking in this picture (click on picture to see larger image). This is an old Anglican church built in the 1800s. It is still used on special occasions.

On a garden note, I planted some of my bulbs including Scilla siberica, Chionodoxa, Allium drumstick, Allium roseum, and Dreamland Single late tulips. It's getting cold enough to make my cheeks rosy, so I hope the rest of the mail order bulbs come soon!

Frost on the Flowers

I went out early this morning to see the state of the frosty flowers. The grass had a silvery coat of frost and the flowers had sparkly crusts of ice.
Rose "Morden Blush"

The wild pincherry trees produce brilliant colors in the fall.

The fall asters are just starting. This is Aster dumosus "Alert".

No, my fall bulbs are not planted yet. The small order from Veseys came yesterday in the mail but the big order from Botanus is still in the mail somewhere!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Waiting for The Bulbs

We've been checking the post office box for little cards saying we have a package, hoping for the fall bulbs to arrive. Alas, nothing yet. Checking the blog from years past shows I've planted fall bulbs in the first week of October. I guess I have some time yet. The fall colors have really come out in the last few days, though I hope the leaves don't fall too soon!

A brief rainstorm last night produced this beautiful rainbow over Lac La Ronge.

Kona sits in anticipation for bulb-planting season (if only she knew what a bulb was...)

The perennial Geraniums are reblooming now:

The crabapple leaves in their fall colors:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

New Alpine Garden

My new alpine garden is nearly finished, providing me with more space to wield my spade and toss my compost. Resident-lawnmower-man did some heavy lifting to get this project together. This garden is entirely different than my other flower beds, aiming to have only small alpine perennials displayed amid rocks that try to emulate a mountain-like landscape. I've been starting a few plants from seed and will be adding more next year.

May, 2008: A hose outlines the borders of the alpine garden.

June 2008: Sod is dug up and a trench is made.

August 2008: RLM hauls in large rocks with the neighbour's bobcat.

More rocks were obtained from a local blast site. These are all granite.

September: RLM is a neat and tidy guy and demanded a dry-stack rock wall around the bed. I really didn't need to have a rock wall, but I think RLM's psychological well-being depended on it. So imagine this is a mountain landscape surrounded by a low rock wall.

Rock wall is nearly done and huge rocks are placed.

Rocks are dug in and I planted a few dwarf evergreens and some perennials.

Scabiosa japonica "Pink Diamonds", which I grew from seed:

The alpine garden at noon today. There is a small bit of the rock wall yet to be built, but that can be finished next spring. I demanded we get the plants in this week so that they have a chance to prepare themselves for winter.

I've planted some bearberry shrubs, dwarf balsam fir, dwarf mugo pine, nest spruce, assorted Sempervivum, low sedums, tiny Scabiosa, Delosperma, alpine Dianthus, tiny perennial poppies, and a few other things in there. I have researched several books on alpine gardens, which contain a wide assortment of adorable little plants. Our zone 1b climate makes this a challenging project, however. I will have lots of fun planting more perennials in it next year. Maybe I'll even join an alpine garden club...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Gardening for Happiness and Friends

As the season moves towards cooler weather and tasks that only true gardeners find enjoyable (planting bulbs, cleaning up dead flowerheads), I am feeling more reflective upon my horticultural philosophy.

Carol from May Dreams Gardens got me thinking with her story about her niece's new plant and horticulture university course. Gardening should never be practiced alone, as one can learn so much from trading stories and plants with others. I just realized that I look forward to social functions as an opportunity to find willing recipients for my perennial divisions and to discuss their vegetable gardens. Is that normal? I don't know, but you can learn something about a person by the expression on their face when you offer them free composting worms. Personally, I would be excited, but I only know two people in town who have had composting worms. One of them has since moved out of town after failing to get the entire high school into vermicomposting. Well, I don't think that's why he moved, but I'm sure the disappointment was a small element.

I need to find a "Born to Garden" shirt for the assistant gardener and over-eager eater of green strawberries:

I can't imagine the day when I am bored by plants. Resident-lawnmower-man may jest that I have made purchases just because "I don't have one of those", but I'll admit it's true. I have a perennial order coming soon, including a few new plants I'll have to find room for. I have shifted from a design esthetic that valued repetition to more of a "one of everything" goal, which is of course, un-obtainable (making it that much more exciting). This is why I enjoy touring small gardens, because I will always learn about something new.

Resident-lawnmower-man works feverishly to finish my new alpine bed:

A co-worker recently bought a new house and I think I've been quite clear that I am always ready to deliver perennials to his house. In fact, I'd probably even plant them. Unfortunately, I think he's aspiring to one of those "low maintenance" yards involving a small patch of lawn and some shrubbery. As a busy person with a family and stressful job, I love my "high maintenance" yard, though I don't see the maintenance part as anything but positive and enjoyable. It's therapeutic, in fact. Those "low maintenance" people just don't know what they're missing. Secretly, I may find their hobbies rather inferior to mine (who needs to fish or cruise about the lake on a sailboat anyhow?).

Wow, that was a long and personal post. That's what you get for blogging while listening to Josh Groban and Coldplay.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Berry Picking With a New Camera

My new camera and I went picking lingonberries (dry ground cranberries) this afternoon. The berry picking was occasionally interrupted by attempts to capture the beauty of nature with the camera I had been wanting since last spring. Dear resident-lawnmower-man picked up my new Canon G9 on sale in Saskatoon last week. However, he forgot to buy a memory card, so I can only take six pictures at a time. Tragedy!

Gentiana septemfida, looking beautiful for my new camera:

I noticed that the wild blueberries seem finished for the season, unless some pickers just cleaned out the patch I looked at. Most plants have only a few shrivelling berries clinging to their stems. I am quite fortunate in that several edible wild berries can be found within 100 feet of our property, as there is undeveloped boreal forest right behind our house.

I picked 3 cups of lingonberries in 45 minutes. Assuming that wild berries are fabulous for your health, the berry cheesecake I made tonight should be nearly medicinal.

I found yet another berry behind our property this afternoon. It is known as a highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), though is technically not related to cranberries in any way. You can distinguish the foliage from the three points on the leaves, just as the botanical name indicates. The shrubs I found were about three feet tall. The berries are very juicy and flavourful, though they have a central seed that you'd likely spit out. I can imagine that these would make a nice jelly.

Highbush cranberry:

Some perennials in bloom right now:

The raised beds -- a beautiful project to replace the lawn and keep me busy. I made my bulb orders this past week and I look forward to planting them as soon as they arrive.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Nearly Fall Already? I've Still Got Flowers

After a few posts of non-garden diversions, I thought I'd post some pictures of the flowers in my yard. Some say that an over-abundance of yellow is common in late summer flowers, yet my garden only has the yellow Gaillardia "Yellow Queen" in that color right now. Even my sunflowers are not yellow!

This is sunflower "Sunwalker", which is well-appreciated by bees and butterflies:

Echinacea "Ruby Star" is the shorter, deeper pink flower in the foreground. Behind those are the wild-type pale pink Echinacea and a white variety.

The Echinacea amidst the perennial raised bed.

Liatris spicata looks amazing at this time of year. A few seedling plants are growing near this one and I have been potting them up and giving them away.

Liatris spicata has such an interesting shape and texture and the foliage is inobtrusive in early summer.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bad Weather and Toilet Troubles

We saw this overturned outhouse near Northside, a small community north of Prince Albert (200+ km south of here). It was moved into this position by some severe weather this past week, which included a tornado. There were also some grain bins tossed around yards, large trees snapped in half, old barns blown down, and signs wrapped around poles. We don't have much for severe weather compared to those in hurricane or tornado territory in the United States, so this is a bit unusual.

Northern Wild Berries and other Edibles

The boreal forest behind our house in northern Saskatchewan is home to a great crop of wild berries this year. I really should quit my job to become a berry picker for the next few weeks. Or maybe we can buy some berries from the Besnard Lake correctional institution again this year, where the inmates pick berries and sell them. No, they don't set up a fruit stand or anything, but I think we had connections with someone who worked there.

"The Bush" behind our house is made up of trees, shrubs, small plants, and lichens growing over and between large slabs of granite. These plants like acid soil, living in peaty organic material that builds up under the thick spongy layer of moss that grows atop the rock slabs.
June 5 photo - blossoms of American cranberry, aka Viburnum trilobum

Berries in our area:  Edible and not-so-edible

Lingonberry, locally known as "Cranberries"
Lingonberries, otherwise known as dry-ground cranberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea). These plants and berries are really tiny, much smaller than the commercial cranberries seen growing on the Oceanspray cranberry farms. They are good in baking and make a great cranberry sauce to go with poultry.
Lingonberries: They have dry white flesh with dark seeds around the center. They are tart and crisp, but not especially juicy. If you live here and are lucky, you may find bags of these for sale at Robertson's store. Online information about these berries can be found here.
Lingonberry, cut open
Bunchberry, a variety of dogwood
Bunchberries (Cornus canadensis), the tiniest plant of the dogwood family. These berries are apparently edible according to this source from the University of Alberta. I found that a bit suprising, because most dogwood berries are identified as poisonous. They taste bad and probably don't make a good jam.

Common Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is a little less numerous than the lingonberries. In my opinion, these are not edible. However, they have been eaten and there are claims for medicinal use.

Wikipedia includes this in its description: "Bearberry is relatively safe, although large doses may cause nausea, green urine, bluish-grey skin, vomiting, fever, chills, severe back pain, ringing in the ears (some people can withstand up to 20g and others show signs of poisoning after just 1g); take no more than 7-10 days at a time." I guess this berry falls somewhere between "deadly poisonous" and "foods to eat if starvation is your other option".

Bearberries, cut open
Though the plants look similar, the bearberries are easily distinguished from the cranberries by the smooth bottom of the berry, with only the solitary central dimple and little point that can easily be rubbed off. Cranberries have a ring at the bottom, with a little "crown" similar to that of blueberries.

Bearberries cut open. They are dry and pulpy.

Wild blueberries

Blueberries. These are smaller and sweeter than the commercial berries from the larger type of blueberry plants. None of these plants are taller than 12 inches (30 cm). They are extremely nutritious and are amazing cooked in pancakes. Of course, I eat those pancakes with maple syrup from our eastern Canadian maple trees!

Pincherry (Prunus pensylvanica) trees are a common wild tree here. Our yard is full of them. The fruits are quite tart and the central pit is large relative to the size of the fruit. The wild pincherries are vital for pollination of my Carmine jewel tart cherries.

Northern Comandra (red berries)
Northern Comandra,  aka "Northern Bastard Toadflax", Geocaulum lividum:  Found growing around many rocky areas around La Ronge.  Its foliage is bronze in fall, which is distinct from the other berry plants. The berries are orange-red and soft and juicy. They have a non-bitter flavour, though references call its edibility "questionable".  It apparently is parasitic on the roots of other plants, and it appears this one might be parasitic on the adjacent blueberry.  Parts of the plant had been used in traditional medicines. 

Northern Comandra cut open berry
Cut-open berry. They were the juiciest of the berries I cut open.

Red Baneberry
 Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra) is a perennial plant that grows very attractive berries in clusters held on upright stems.  I saw this one on July 27, 2012 near Nistowiak Falls.  All parts of this plant are poisonous, so please don't eat the berries!  The branch with its underside visible to the right of the berry is the foliage of this plant.    

Other common berries in northern Saskatchewan:
  • See my post on some other berries.
  • Saskatoon berries
  • Wild black currants
  • Wild raspberries
  • "Cranberry" (Viburnum) -- blooms pictured near the top of this post
Garbagicus neglecticum var. beverageilis, yet another non-edible of the north. Distribution: worldwide. Considered a non-attractive invasive species. Often associated with lazy Homo sapiens who have no respect for the earth or other people's property.

Yesterday, I baked muffins with my own poppy seed, including frozen wild blueberries instead of the raspberries listed in this recipe from epicurious. They were delicate and delicious.

Poppy seed heads
Resident-lawnmower-man and I picked nearly one litre of poppy seeds from my flower bed. He's a good farmboy that can't see anything go to waste, so we'll either be seeding half the town in poppies or eating delicious poppyseed baking for months.


Wild roses are sporting bright red rosehips now. These are packed with vitamin C, though I haven't made any plans on making them into any foodstuffs at the moment.
Rosehips on Wild Rose Bushes

I also made a delicious swiss chard and parmesan pie last night. I found the recipe online here. I'd never grown swiss chard before, so the dish and the plant were both new for me. This quiche-like tart was quite similar to a spinach pie, with a more mild flavour. Kids and adults alike would love this dish. Resident-lawnmower-man was rather skeptical until he tasted the final product. He now admits that swiss chard is not only made for rabbits.

Precise edibiles-detecting tool:
"Why can't I go berry picking?".