Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saskatoon Garden Interlude

I'm out of my usual northern habitat for a little while, so decided to check out gardens away from home.  The city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is south of La Ronge (just over four hours by road).  The trees here are leafed out and the perennials are definitely a few weeks ahead of those in La Ronge.  Tulips are in full bloom here, while my northern-dwelling tulips have yet to show their buds!  
Googling "botanical gardens" in Saskatoon gave me the idea to visit the Saskatoon Forestry Farm.  Unless I was missing something, I found only two small gardens: the Robin Smith Meditation Garden and the Heritage Rose Garden.  
A patch of Fritillaria meleagris in the Meditation Garden:
Both gardens are apparently maintained by the Saskatchewan Perennial Society, though it appears the volunteers have not been in the gardens as of yet.  Of course, many perennials are just starting to grow and only early-blooming perennials are showing their colors.  
A dwarf iris about 6-8 inches tall, perhaps an Iris pumila:
A variegated leaf, pink-flowered Pulmonaria rubra "David Ward".  This is an uncommon perennial and a pleasure to see:

The gardens were followed by a trip to Dutch Growers garden center extra-ordinare (did you know you can buy fancy underwear here too?), where I appreciated this lovely flower, Meconopsis (the Himalayan Blue Poppy).  It is beautiful to behold and lovely in gardens of UK and North American west coast dwellers.  However, has anyone actually made this plant thrive on the prairies?  I think garden centers just offer this flower to tempt us, knowing that the beauty of the plant will exceed our better judgement and ultimately lead to horticultural heartbreak.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Garden Magazine Article

Just in case you wanted to read an expanded version of my usual blog postings, you can catch an article on my garden in The Gardener for the Prairies magazine, summer 2009 edition.

I got my copy in our post office box last week (My mother-in-law in southern SK got hers two days earlier; perhaps last week's snow held up the northern mail services?). The article is on page 38, entitled "Gardening where the paved road comes to an end".

If you live in the Canadian prairies, you can pick up this beautiful and informative magazine on magazine stands right now. I really appreciate a magazine that deals with the realities of gardening outside of the mild zones of Ontario and southwestern British Columbia. It specifically targets zones 2 and 3. I was heartened when I first heard there was such a magazine! If you find a copy, let me know what you think.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blooms to Warm a Gardener's Heart

The alpine garden produced its first blooms yesterday, displaying this tiny Daffodil "Tete-a-Tete". The whole plant is less than 6 inches tall. The early spring color has inspired me to add more bulbs to this bed next fall. In fact, I already took advantage of the Veseys catalog coupon to buy more of these same Daffodils along with some Siberian squill, crocuses, and Allium roseum.

Other yellow blooms were dutifully collected by the 2-year-old, very helpful assistant gardener. I call this chemical-free dandelion control (she calls it her "flower pot"):

Pink and purple Pulsatilla vulgaris and blue Chionodoxa make a splash of color in the sloped rock garden. It's so nice to see these flowers NOT covered in snow, for a change.

Pulsatilla vulgaris takes a few years to develop a good-sized clump. This pale purple one is my biggest plant, at three years old:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Snowflakes Keep Falling on My Head...

While a fresh layer of snow blankets our corner of the province this evening, I realized how this snowstorm differs from those that preceded it. Snow on green grass = spring. Snow on yellow grass = winter. I just knew there was something different about this particular dump of snow.

I was busy spreading shredded bark mulch on the local church's perennial bed when the flakes started falling this afternoon. I'm glad I got the job done before the predicted 10 to 15 cm of snow arrives. Now the snow's moisture can percolate through the bark, watering the new spring growth. The new mulch will keep the moisture from evaporating away, producing a lush garden. Isn't that a positive spin on things?

While is wasn't particularly warm out yesterday, we did get to enjoy some sunshine. RLM took advantage of the newly opened fishing season and dashed out to Bigstone Lake to taunt some northern pike with shiny bits of metal. I took this picture of the American white pelicans on the Montreal River. These huge birds were probably here for the same reason as the humans: the fish. At the moment, many folks are busy catching sucker fish. Local wisdom is that the canned suckerfish meat tastes "just like salmon". "Sucker cheeks" are a local delicacy, particularly among the Aboriginal folks. Personally, I'll stick with my delicious wild Pacific salmon steaks glazed in citrus and maple syrup.

The dwarf cosmos seedlings are much happier under the lights than they would have been outdoors. I'm giving these plants a kickstart before sending them over to my sister-in-law's flowerbeds in June.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lovely Little Species Tulips

I came home this afternoon to be pleasantly suprised by the opened flowers of one of the species tulips in the rock garden.

This is Tulipa humilis var. violacea (a.k.a. Tulipa pulchella 'Violacea'), with a yellow base. It is a Division 15 tulip. I have had these for two years now and I think there are a few more now than what I started with, though this particular tulip is said to multiply slowly.

I notice that the Dave's Garden PlantFiles page has someone growing these in Chugiak, Alaska (USDA zone 3b, not too far from Anchorage). Considering that our climate is rated colder than that of Anchorage, I conclude that these are a very hardy little tulip. My tulips are planted on a slope in the rock garden. They live in well-drained soil which gets full sun nearly all day.

Here are some seedlings of ornamental Alliums, growing from seedheads I spread last fall.

I'm not sure if these are from the "Gladiator" or "Purple Sensation" Alliums though, since these two bulb varieties are planted next to each other. I have no idea what seedlings from these plants might turn out like. Has anyone ever tried growing these from seed?

Bergenia cordifolia
is a fantastic evergreen perennial that looks none the worse for wear after a long winter. If I had to landscape a commercial property, I'd definitely include some of these versatile and easy perennials. They do well in sun or shade, regular soil, and don't require too much water. In a few weeks, they should be putting up their stalks of pink flowers. I put some bark mulch around mine, making this whole area nearly maintenance-free.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Seeing Color in the Rock Garden

The humble sloped rock garden (for lack of any better term) is finally seeing some color. Hopefully this distracts from the grey chunks of clothes-drier lint that are actually bits of last year's lambs ears. I like the interest and texture of those grey fuzzy-leafed plants (Stachys byzantina), but they just look so UGLY in spring. I have cut most of the old growth back with a hand-tool already. If I had more energy though, I might have ripped them out altogether. I did have thoughts about using a weed wacker to beat them back to the ground, but in the end I just am just putting up with the drier-lint phase.

The reticulated iris "Harmony" always looks great in spring. It is a tiny plant though, with flowers standing less than 6 inches tall. Their companion crocuses have finished their season now, having poorly weathered a few snowfalls in the past few weeks.

The pale blue Glory of the Snow, or Chionodoxa is blooming now in the sunny areas. The little pink Tulipa humilis hasn't opened its blooms all day. I think I heard it muttering about our late cool spring.

This stunning red-pink Pulsatilla vulgaris has also been refusing to look me in the eye. Pulsatilla are really shy about cloudy days and rain. I collected seeds from this plant last year and got a few offspring growing this spring. Considering that I have 3 or 4 other colors of Pulsatilla in my garden, the seedlings may be some interesting mixture rather than a copy of the parent plant.

The shady area under the ash tree has three Primula denticulata (drumstick primulas) showing signs of impending bloom. I started these primulas from seed over a year ago and clearly they made it through the winter.

I also planted the basement-grown violets and Primula acaulis in the shady patch, to accompany the Primula auriculas that are already established there. Primula auricula is a tremendously hardy primula, and is also more resistant to drier conditions, having thick waxy leaves. I had a hard time keeping the P. denticulata from wilting last summer, as they really need moist soil. I started the P. acaulis from seed this spring and I am interested to see how it does.
The alpine garden, started in 2008:

The big garden task of the day was planting the remainder of the alpine plants into the alpine garden. I grew some of these from seed, with the rest purchased from Wrightman Alpines and garden centers. At least these plants won't be bothered by the current forecasts of snow for next Wednesday.
A Sedum and a two Lewisia cotyledon in the alpine garden:

Dwarf balsam fir in the alpine garden:

Otherwise, the two large perennial raised beds have been cleaned up for spring and I can see the new growth of tulips, alliums, and daffodils.

Center raised bed:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Vegetable Garden Seeded

For the record, I seeded some of the vegetables yesterday. Carrots, swiss chard, peas, various lettuces, and dill went into the tiny raised bed designated for the edibles. Last year's rhubarb, strawberries, green onions, French tarragon, and lovage have demonstrated their perennial hardiness and are showing signs of new growth. The French tarragon was a total gamble, since I wasn't sure if it would make it through the winter. Perhaps the large dandelion sheltering it or the three feet of snow helped. Other plants (tomatoes, pumpkins, edamame, thyme, parsley, and cilantro) are growing indoors for now. Last year I seeded the garden on May 15.
Though rather dismal-looking among the brown, the hopeful sight of fresh little garden markers is a pleasing sight:

The weather was nice enough yesterday and with the rain we have forecasted for the next week, I figure these seeds might get a nice start. Good luck, little seeds!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gerbera and Catalog Pet Peeves

I had been wondering when my Gerbera daisy would re-bloom. Resident-lawnmower-man bought it (in full bloom) for me last summer and I repotted it once over winter. It looked like an over-exuberant spinach until it popped out a nice red flower a few days ago.

Well Gerbera, take a look outside today. Did you see all that solid-phase moisture falling from the sky? I suppose I won't be putting the sprinkler out on the lawn today. We'll have to wait for the snow to melt to find the garden hose again.

In the non-gardening moments of my life, I have been critically reviewing the latest garden catalog to show up in my mail. Veseys sent a "Fall 2009 Advance Sale" catalog along with my spring plant order. (Though I think it would be more effective marketing tool in locations where people are already enjoying tulips and daffodils vs. snow and poor winter driving conditions.)

They tempt the reader with a sale offer and plenty of color pictures of beautiful spring flowers, yet they frustrate me with the lack of accurate descriptions of the bulbs. I like to buy particular varieties of tulips so as to know (1) when they will bloom and (2) how many years they will last. Unfortunately, their tulips descriptions mostly lack reference to the tulip divisions though you can identify some of the obvious ones (parrots) from the pictures. Are those double tulips early or late types? Also, that "Low Growing Tulip violacea Pallida" doesn't mention that it is a species/botanical tulip that naturalizes well. Honestly, this is like selling cars as "nice red ones" and "small blue ones".

Enough with my botanical nitpicking!

These are morning glory seeds ready to plant later today. Lupines and morning glories germinate better if their hard black seed coats are chipped with a sharp knife or nail clippers (or sanded down in one area) and soaked overnight. This allows the seeds to take up water and expand to kickstart the germination process. As you can see, this one is pushing out its little insides already!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Alpine Garden and Hardening off Perennials

As if gardening in zone 1 wasn't enough, last summer I convinced resident-lawnmower-man that an alpine garden was needed to increase the interest and variety of plantings in our yard. The alpine bed was finished just-barely-in-time last fall. Fortunately, all the plants look quite good this spring, and I even see some narcissus greens poking out of the soil.

The alpine bed
, containing dwarf evergreens such as dwarf balsam fir, nest spruce, and dwarf mugo pine as well as a variety of alpine perennials:

There are some interesting hardy succulent plants that you can grow here. Sedum, Sempervivum (Hens and chicks), Jovibarba, and Delosperma are all looking healthy after our long winter.

Here are some tiny Jovibarba, which I find hard to distinguish by appearance from Sempervivum. I've never seen these plants in a store, but they were easy to grow from seed.

Sempervivum (Hens and Chicks). These are a "green" variety, though most of these succulents will change to nice red colors for the winter.

Delosperma nubigenum (yellow-flowering) looks fabulous after the winter. I also bought a pink-flowering one from Wrightman alpines this spring.

The hardy perennials from the basement light garden are experiencing their first holiday in the great outdoors, in a process otherwise known as "hardening off". I hope to get these planted outside in a few weeks. However, the annuals and other tender plants will be waiting till June to be planted out. It's also time to get my poppy seeds planted too!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

First Flowers and it's Only May. Wow! Okay, not really...

I spotted the first lonely crocus yesterday afternoon. So far, flower photography in the garden requires a keen eye (to find the flower) and macro lens. Several other buds look keen to open, but are just waiting for a warm day. Is there possibly anyone out there who still doesn't have crocuses? Yellowknife perhaps? Please tell me we beat out northern Siberia too.

Here is the diminutive winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), an early spring blooming bulb (tuber, actually). I planted these two years ago, then ripped out most of them the following spring when I didn't see any plants come up. As it turns out, they just needed another year. However, they are such small plants that it would take dense mat of these to make any impact. Regardless, I now know that they are winter hardy here without any special protection.

I stopped to take this picture alongside side of the highway between Prince Albert and La Ronge last week. The red twigs of the dogwood were looking particularly nice in the early evening. After this stop, I noticed there was a beaver dam easily spotted from the road every few kilometers. The beaver population must be doing well. Trappers still seek out beaver pelts around here, though there is not much money in doing so anymore. The local fur buyer has shown us some beautiful pelts, with the darkest, nearly-black pelts being worth the most.

Sunset above some forest-fire burnt trees, south of La Ronge:

The birds have yet to board their planes for their summer cabins here in the north, but the backyard squirrel has discovered the hanging bell of sunflower seeds.

At least the squirrel provides entertainment value to our dog Kona. For the balance of the day, she has to endure the squawking squirrels in the trees above her yard. Kona usually does little more than stare at them, though I wouldn't doubt that she would catch and eat one of these rodents if given a chance. Several birds have met this fate already.