Saturday, May 31, 2008

Spring Plants in Bloom

Perennials big and small: From the large rubbery leaves of Bergenia cordifolia to the delicate blooms of Gentiana verna, there are many perennials to appreciate in our northern climate right now.

I grew these Bergenia from seed. They are now about three years old and this is their first really nice blooming season. This perennial flower is very hardy and evergreen, keeping its leaves under the snow. If you have a space for one, you should get one. Or get lots of them!

Pink creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) combines well with the blue grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) in the sloped rock garden.

A gardener friend gave me this little spring gentian (Gentiana verna) last year. It fits in well among my sloped rock bed full of short perennials. The flowers are starting to get a bit past their prime in this picture. It's a pity I didn't get a picture a few days ago.

The blooms close at night and open in morning sun. It is planted in full sun and is supposedly hardy to zone 4, but our good snowcover probably makes it tolerate our -45 degrees C winter temperatures. This is an absolutely beautiful rock garden plant. I'd like to multiply this plant, but I'm not sure on the best method -- seed, division, cuttings? I'll try to collect seeds when they ripen as a first option.

These may not look anything like the lush ones we saw in Victoria, but this rockcress (Aubrieta deltoidea) is currently in bloom.

Yellow Trumpet Daffodils:

Friday, May 30, 2008

Containers for Smells and Tastes

I went in a new direction for my deck containers this year. Usually, I plant them up with colorful annuals for a bright show at the front of the house. This year, I planted mainly herbs, tomatoes, strawberries, and scented geraniums.

This pot contains a tasty collection of dwarf globe basil and Red Robin cherry tomatoes. I planted another larger pot with indeterminate (very tall) golden cherry tomatoes, purple basil, lemon basil, and thyme.

I am partial to these Vietnamese blue glazed pots. I recall that resident lawnmower man spotted this one at the Ten Thousand Villages store. I planted "Nutmeg" and "Apples and Cinnamon" scented geraniums (technically they are Pelargoniums) in this pot, hoping to get a sniff when walking up the front sidewalk. I can't honestly say that the nutmeg geranium smells too much like nutmeg, but the apples and cinnamon is not too far off.

The sloped flower bed is looking nice with creeping phlox (pink) in bloom. Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) is a great evergreen mat-forming perennial that is easily divided. I started with one plant in the yard 4 years ago and divided it into at least 12 plants. I don't find it invasive and it's not unattractive when not in bloom.

Did you catch that pile of sod stacked up in the left side of the previous picture? RLM has been working on the most recent yard projects. We're removing more lawn, which is a pleasing thing in itself. About 5 feet of lawn next to the house will be replaced by stones and gravel, since that lawn gets cooked by heat reflecting from the house and it looks terrible most of the time. In the middle of the lawn, I want a rocky outcrop to make an alpine/rock garden. It will start as soon as we haul in some blast rock and maybe get some machinery to move around some huge stones. Isn't that so exciting?

A rope outlines the perimeter of my rock/alpine garden:

Here we have a Mentha "Julia's Sweet Citrus" and a lemon scented geranium. I bought the mint and geraniums as a mail order from Richter's Herbs. I'm quite excited about these plants and plan to add mint to fresh summer dishes and drinks. The Victorians were fanatical about collecting scented geraniums, so we'll see if this summer of smelly plants gets me hooked. I'll definitely take cuttings of my favourites and keep them for next year.

Aside from the containers, here's my very small raised bed vegetable and herb garden. I am growing all of four broccoli plants, which were started indoors and are now planted out. I've never grown broccoli before in my life, so it's just another novelty in my little garden, just like the purple carrots that are sprouting so nicely now.

I know the rest of the North American gardeners are probably harvesting their first peas and greens, but with our long bright days, we'll catch up soon. At least our dandelions are thriving!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Blasted Fiber Grow Pots: I Hate Them

Here is a gardening mistake I wish I never made. I replaced my strips of biodegradable peat pots with biodegradable fiber pots, presumably made of coconut coir (though they don't say on the label). These are made by the company "Planters' Pride" with an address in Brampton, Ontario. Hopefully the Americans have not been similarly aggravated by this product.

The packages are labelled with things like "Reduced Mould Growth" and "Environmentally Friendly" and the website address for "". What they didn't mention was that you need the jaws of life to separate these little plants cells from each other.

I suppose you wouldn't have to separate them if you intended to plant the 10 cells as a single unit, with your plants in a silly bunch. Rather, I believe the idea was to separate the cells and then plant the fiber pots containing the plants. While the old peat pots did get a bit mouldy sometimes, at least you could easily separate them easily with your fingers. I dulled a pair of scissors trying to gnaw through these stupid fiber pots. Besides, some bedding plants might not have enough strength to put roots through these excessively sturdy pots. After a while, I just ripped the poor plants out of these fiber pots and put them in plastic pots. So there!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Flowers in a Very Slow Spring

Several locals have been talking about this spring being an especially late one. I'm not sure where this trend extends to; perhaps Montana, Alberta, and Winnipeg are all feeling this late spring chill along with us in Saskatchewan. The trees here are now breaking bud...finally. There is probably another frost tonight, but I'm going to be bold and plant out some annuals tomorrow. The weather looks good for the next week.

Below: Raised bed filled with perennials and a few shrubs. The white mounds are Arabis caucasica, an easily divided perennial. I like the look of these so much that I plan to divide and spread it around. Unfortunately, Arabis blepharophylla "Spring Charm" has not appeared this spring and I fear it has departed from my yard.

Here is the least-appealing corner of the yard. Today, my mother (who is visiting) and I tore out the rambling wild raspberry canes and quack grass. I preserved the patch of pink-flowering yarrow, which is invasive enough to command control over this lawless bit of earth. I also threw in a bunch of flowers seeds that I'd probably never otherwise use, including annual poppies, alyssum, and candytuft. I'm hoping they grow quickly to disguise the remaining ugliness.

Intriguing bloom of Frittilary meleagris, a very hardy bulb I grew this season for the first time.

Frittilary meleagris (white and purple blooms) amid Scilla siberica (blue). On the right is a Primula auricula division from a friend's garden. I have tried many times to start P. auricula from seed with no success, so I'm glad to get this one.

Hosta foliage poking out of the soil.

The first primula blooms of the season:

Narcissus hybrid "Full House" has been in full bloom for a week and it already has inspired me to plant some more daffodils next year. The daffodils seem to bloom a few weeks earlier than the large tulips.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lake Ice and Aruncus Dioicus

We had to wonder what the tourists at the campground were thinking this past weekend. It was the May long weekend and the first weekend the provincial campgrounds are open. As usual, folks with boats on trailers drove past our house on the way to the provincial campground (Nut Point). This year, the lake has been slow to thaw and the boats would not be going far without an icebreaker! Sorry, folks.

Here are some pictures of the lake this evening, near the RCMP detachment. The tree buds have not opened yet and the trees are still very bare.

View over the Legion building, towards Lac La Ronge:

Picture of Aruncus dioicus, a large bushy perennial also called Goat's beard. I like the red stems and how they contrast with the green foliage of my other perennials in the spring. The plant turns green later and produces fluffy clusters of white flowers that look a bit like an astilbe (though blooms are sadly short-lived). These plants like to stay moist, though mine live in average soil with afternoon shade and they do well.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Spring Bulbs and Colorful Pasque Flowers

The weather has been warm for the last few days, coaxing the spring blooms open (finally). I have more blooms to admire today, and I notice that the daffodils may bloom soon as well! I will be disappointed if there are no big blooms in my yard when we have visitors a week from now.
Purple Pulsatilla vulgaris:

Here are three shades of pasque flowers (Pulsatilla vulgaris) in my yard. These plants form nice-sized plants in about three years. The flowers make a big show before much foliage has grown. I'd like to grow some more of the dark pink/red ones, but you have to plant the seed fairly quickly after maturity because the seed is "ephemeral", as seed sellers put it (it doesn't last long). I should try using my own fresh seeds. I'd also like to add a yellow one to my collection some day.

I just planted the new white-flowered Pulsatilla last fall.

Grape hyacinths have just started to bloom in the last two days:

Tulipa turkestanica, another botanical tulip. These started to bloom today.

Pulmonaria saccharata "Mrs. Moon" does well under the partial shade of tree branches. It has delicate blue and pink flowers in spring. This one must have self-seeded, because I found about 6 little plants around the large one. I read that other growers complain of powdery mildew with this plant, but I haven't had those problems here.

Pulmonaria blooms:

Friday, May 16, 2008

More La Ronge Welcome Signs

I had so much fun re-making our town's abandoned welcome sign a few days ago, that I decided to make more digital landscapes. Check out my new La Ronge welcome sign with surrounding theme gardens:
Original sign and existing landscaping:

"Rustic Perennial" garden (click on any picture to see detail):

"Urban Chic" garden:

"If La Ronge were a suburb of Victoria, BC" garden:

Blooming Bulbs for Mid-May

Our flowers are at least a week behind, but here are some photos of what we do have, for the record. My scilla are in full bloom in this partly-shaded location next to a cedar shrub (which I hate because of the large dead spot on the opposite side).

The sloped rock garden gets earlier blooms because of good sun exposure. Botanical tulips, Chionodoxa and Pulsatilla vulgaris are in full bloom. Blue grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) are just starting to bloom.

Botanical tulip Tulipa humilis Violacea from above:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Aerial View of Northern SK

Here's a change from the usual terrestrial photos on my blog. I took my camera along with me on my "drive to work" on Tuesday, May 13. I flew to Southend, a community 220 km north of La Ronge. There's still snow on the ground there, but the edges of the lakes are thawing.
Lakes just north of La Ronge:

Southend is know for dog sled sprint racing, though I heard on this trip that there are some serious issues of animal neglect currently in the community. This is not an uncommon issue in northern Canadian reserves, where it is not uncommon to have "dog shooting days" to deal with packs of stray dogs.

I also heard about the local spring clean-up. At first, I was excited to hear that there was concern for the aesthetic appeal of yards, until I heard that this entails setting fire to the brush in a yard and letting it burn (while moving the propane tanks out of the general area). Perhaps this is why the fire control people put out another bulletin about the multitude of human-caused wildfires every spring.
The ice road, south of Southend:

Pilots expertly landing the plane on the dirt airstrip in Southend. It is apparently one of the shortest airstrips in the world, with a drop-off into the lake on the far end of the airstrip.

Community of Southend, Saskatchewan:

Scilla sibirica and Species Tulips

Spring is definitely slow this year, with these bulbs blooming a few weeks late. However, the weather is warming and the lake is finally thawing. Unbelievably, some foolish soul on a snowmobile actually crossed the lake on May 10. If you go fast enough, you can cross areas of open water for brief distances. Sounds stupid to me.

Scilla siberica is a spring bulb that grows these petite plants with beautiful deep blue blooms. Like many members of the lily family, the plant is poisonous. Scilla contain cardiac glycosides, particularly scilla-dienolides, which act like digitalis to slow the heart rate.

I really like these pink species/botanical tulips which I bought in BC last year. These are Tulipa humilis and they seem to be the brightest and showiest of the species tulips in my yard. I grow them in my sloped rock garden.

Dimorphotheca "African Sun" blooming like mad in a sunny window. These poor plants need to be outside soon. They're quickly outgrowing their pots.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Welcome Sign and Guerilla Gardening

Welcome to La Ronge, in the future sometime, perhaps. I'm not alone in wondering when our town's welcome sign will be finished.

The sign itself is quite attractive, having been put up last year. It seems that a local committee was given the task of landscaping around the sign, starting last summer. However, the landscaping seems to have come to a standstill. I notice some fresh-looking wood-chip mulch sitting to one side of the sign, which makes me hopeful. What is the plan with the rows of rocks, though?

With only a few minutes and a good computer program, I can transform this welcome sign into something that represents the effects of global warming on the Canadian on the picture to see the high-resolution larger picture. Do you like the bougainvillea, banana tree and bromeliads?

In an attempt to add some greenery to the dusty mess at the side of the highway, I threw some poppy seeds on the heap of garbage and dirt left at a snow dump site.

Good luck, little seeds. If just a few of these seeds grow to flowering plants, they might have a hope of naturalizing, as poppies self-seed. This was my act of "guerilla gardening" for the year. RLM thinks I am crazy. To read more about this social trend, there is a UK website that documents guerilla gardening moments and "weapons of mass beautification".