Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day Neutral Strawberries and the Lonely Rose

The Papaver rhoeas (Shirley poppies) are looking just fabulous, bringing lots of comments from passers-by. I just bought some seeds for double-flowered Shirley poppies in mix of colors and plan to spread these in other flower beds for next year.

While you may not be impressed by this rose bloom, it is probably one of the few ones in our town or region this year. I haven't heard of any living rose bushes around here after this past winter's severe cold. This rugosa rose was covered in a heavy layer of snow over the winter (shoveled off the driveway and dumped on the rose) and a few branches are still alive this year. I hope it will come back and flourish again next year.

Finally, I ate the first strawberry from the new plants I bought this spring. I later found out the other members of the family were terrified by the disappearance of the ripening berry, thinking the local marauding bear had eaten it. I reassured them that I was the berry eater, and that I heard a rumor that the conservation officers had dealt with the garden-raiding bear. This is a day-neutral strawberry of a variety called "Hecker". I got 6 plants from Dutch Growers in Saskatoon. I sought out this new type of strawberry after reading this Univ. of Saskatchewan article about day-neutral strawberries, which gave me hopes for bigger and better fruits than I have ever grown before. I should add that the strawberry was delicious.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pushing the Hardiness Boundaries

Staying alive in the north is part luck and skill, though I hope that most of the humans have got this skill mastered by now. This past year, most of our luck ran out as we had a terrible winter with sparse snow cover during the first cold spell (-30 to -40 C). It has been a year where I throw up my hands at the all the spots of bare earth where perennials and shrubs once lived. Thank goodness for other gardeners, whose similar stories of loss remind me that I am not alone. I am determined to have more luck next year, and will be raising a whole pile of annuals as well, just in case things don't turn out well.
You can see a few leaves left on my rose:

People have suggested that I should have covered some of my plants this last winter. However, there is no practical way to cover nearly a half acre of plants, so a loss of plants is inevitable some years. I think this past year was one freak year out of several decades, so I'm replanting some of the same plants I lost. The rose pictured above was covered in at least three feet of snow for most of the winter, since it is next to our driveway and all the snow shoveled off the driveway goes onto this flower bed. Snow is an excellent insulator. I lost a few junipers one winter after Resident-Lawnmower-Man accidentally thought the junipers were part of the driveway and he shoveled them clean.
Delphiniums (terribly hardy perennials) and annual poppies:

My other tips and tricks for keeping perennials alive in a cold climate:
(1) You can't grow perennials in a pot and keep them outside over winter. People in Vancouver can get away with such things, but we cannot. It is said that you subtract two zone numbers from your current hardiness zone to estimate what will survive in a pot over the winter. For example, if you lived in the Okanagan, BC in zone 6, you could grow zone 4 plants in pots. Here in zone 1, you just don't even bother.
(2) Deadhead spent flowers, but don't cut plants down in the fall. Having a few feet of growth left in the garden will insulate the soil and roots. Do your clean-up in the spring.
(3) Evergreen shrubs prone to winterkill/winterburn should be thoroughly watered in the fall and wrapped loosely with burlap to shield them from wind and sun. This applies to my much-maligned globe cedar (Thuja). Honestly, I'd rather not have shrubs that need clothes, but it's too big to move and besides, it's providing a climbing space for my clematis vines.
Fragrant blooms of Clematis mandschurica:

Do you have a psychological need to share your plant losses? Please do tell. It will make both of us feel better!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Fantastic Annuals and Delphinium Season

I usually grow my own bedding plants for the pots, but was unable to this year, so I have a not-so-coordinating collection of potted plants. Here is the colorful bunch at my front door. I've got Thunbergia (Black-eyed susan vine) and blue morning glories climbing up a sphagnum-filled topiary frame, with chartreuse sweet potato vines overflowing around the bottom of the big pot. Sweet potato vines and Dichondra (silver or green kinds) are among my favourites for spilling over the edges of pots.

Here's the blue morning glory flower from that same planter. I love the size of this flower!

The self-seeded somniferum poppies are in bloom right now. This one appears to be expressing a bit of the fringed-edge petal trait, though I've never had those kind in my garden before. I'm planning on planting a great variety of them for next year, though.
Pink Papaver somniferum (color combination courtesy of the bees):

I lost track of this annual's name, since I planted it intentionally several years ago and it has self-seeded and returned ever since. I have since realized that it is Nemophila, likely "Baby Blue Eyes". It grows well in a rather dry and hot flowerbed in full sun, adjacent to the house.

The delphiniums are getting into full bloom this week:

Like all members of the buttercup family (includes Monkshood/Aconitum), all parts of Delphinium plants are poisonous. They contain alkaloids that cause weakness and paralysis. I'd hope this means they are left alone by deer in those places troubled by grazing animals. Our neighbourhood currently has a marauding bear. One neighbour was upset that it ate his long-awaited strawberries!

Papaver somniferum poppies in the foreground (unfortunately not thinned very well):

Saturday, July 03, 2010

First Poppies and Pumpkin Dreams

Both Papaver somniferum (breadseed poppies) and Papaver rhoeas (corn poppies) started to bloom in the last two days. These are both annuals and I love them for their beautiful flowers, yearly re-seeding, and easy growing requirements. Papaver rhoeas looks better over its longer blooming season and has more attractive foliage after blooming, compared with P. somniferum. However, P. somniferum makes a generous crop of seeds that are delicious in buns and loaves! To plant either of these in a cooler/northern zone, simply throw the seeds in your garden in April. No special fertilizer or watering is required.

Unfortunately, I didn't thin the P. somniferum very well this year, so many are quite tiny and crammed together like some kind of field crop. Thus, I am not showing you any pictures of those today. I promise to do better next year!

Papaver rhoeas in a lovely pink shade:

The most common P. rhoeas usually comes in a bright orangey-red, but I grew these from a combination of seeds I shamelessly stole from someone else's garden and a package of Cedric Morris mix from Thompson and Morgan.

Otherwise, I am trying to encourage the pumpkins into producing some baby pumpkins already. Thus far, I have only seen the male flowers, which drop off leaving only a dead-ended bare stem. Baby pumpkins started to appear in late July of 2009, so I suppose these aren't totally hopeless vines. I started these pumpkins indoors in the last week of April, as we have a short season and pumpkins need a bit of an indoor headstart here.
This is a flower bud on the pumpkin vine today:

Oh yes, and here is a new daylily I bought to replace the many that died over this past winter. No, it's not anything exotic (especially since it came from a big box store), but I'm hoping Purple d'Oro is a reliable workhorse like it's ubiquitous yellow relative, Stella.

Finally, here is the Alpine rock garden, looking okay now that I've angrily ripped out and sprayed Roundup on the multitude of poplar suckers appearing in and around this bed. Here's a tip for any gardener contemplating a new flower bed: Don't bother making one anywhere near a poplar tree. You will come to grief.