Friday, May 27, 2011

Lots of Northern Blooms

We've had some nice sunny weather and mild biting bug levels this week. The raised beds are finally looking more green than brown, and the flowering bulbs are showing themselves. I had these grape hyacinths marked as daffodils, but they look great there nonetheless:

Primula auricula in the shaded flowerbed, a dainty yet striking hardy perennial flower:

I planted up my Escheverias in their concrete pot last night. I remade my monochromatic container planting of last year from the leaf cuttings of last summer's plants:

A wild shrub just behind our house produced these interesting flowers. It looks like a wild berry by the foliage (we have various wild Ribes and Rubus shrubs around here), but I'm not sure what it is:

My Fritillaria meleagris is still showing its artsy checkered flowers. This plant nevered flowered after 2009's horrendous winter, but clearly is still alive and well.

My rugosa rose suffered major damage in the winter of 2009 and now seems to be producing only new growth from near the ground. If it looks embarrassingly unattractive at the end of this season, I might think of replacing it.

Dryas octopetala "Alpine Carpet" is one the nicest plants in the alpine bed. It has glossy evergreen leaves, and creeps slowly, forming a nice low mat between the rocks:

We took a little drive around some newer properties in town last night. One large and very attractive house was for sale, with a yard consisting of dirt, weeds, and rocks interspersed with junk. Resident-lawnmower-man pointed out how some modest landscaping could add a significant value to the house, and why hadn't the homeowner thought of this? Sometimes I feel that "landscaping deficiency" is a new epidemic. I wonder if more and more younger folks just have no interest in landscaping their yards or spending time in the upkeep of a yard. Only marginally better are the houses with only a lawn that extends from road to the house, with nary a shrub or perennial or flower bed of any sort in sight. I could understand that older folks might not have the ability to maintain a yard, but I know that a lot of these places are inhabited by young people in our town. RLM is hoping that landscaping is somehow infectious, and that our yard is inspiring other folks to enhance their own properties. I'd even donate divided perennials to anyone who wants them! Here's to a beautiful town this summer.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Garlic Grows Here!

We just got back from our visit to the southern parts of the province. I could detect our northward travel with my eyes closed: the splatting noise of insects hitting the windshield got both more frequent and louder. The windshield was covered in yellow and brown goo by the time we got back to La Ronge. Ahhhh, welcome to summer, northern residents!
Large raised perennial bed:

Alpine garden, with white flowers of Cerastium alpinum (foreground) and Erigeron compositus:

In another hardiness experiment, I planted hardneck garlic in the vegetable raised bed last fall. This was new to me, and I wasn't entirely sure how to do it, but I must have done something right. There are two garlic plants sticking boldly out of the soil, which is so exciting! It is a variety called "Music". I can't even recall why I picked this type of garlic, if indeed there was a reason. I received a few whole garlic bulbs and broke these into single cloves, careful to leave a bit of the base plate attached to each clove. I planted them in my vegetable raised bed, which is some soil contained by a rectangle of 10" high lumber.
White Pulsatilla vulgaris growing in part shade:

I am also quite pleased that most of my strawberries overwintered well. They were planted in the vegetable raised bed and covered with a bit of leaf mulch for the winter. They only came up and showed some leaves this week, reassuring me that they are still here. Previously, I had only been aware of the everbearing and June-bearing strawberries. The new day-neutral types were recommended by several sources, including the University of Saskatchewan gardenline. I'm hoping for a great crop this year.
Strawberry "Hecker", purchased last year at Dutch Growers in Saskatoon:

Monday, May 09, 2011


I found myself daydreaming about the foxglove, a lovely flower that is ubiquitous in the English landscape and appears from time to time in my garden. It's an easy plant to grow from seed, and can propagate itself from seed in the garden quite nicely. Looking back, I've grown three types, Digitalis purpurea (common foxglove), Digitalis grandiflora (perennial foxglove), and Digitalis mertonensis (strawberry foxglove). D. grandiflora is perennial and hardy, D. mertonensis is a short-lived perennial (a tetrapolid cross between D. grandiflora and D. purpurea) and D. purpurea is a biennial. Biennials grow foliage in the first year, and flower and set seed in the second year. The biennials die after setting seed. All should be planted in the ground in northern climates, as they will not survive the winter in a pot in zone 3 or colder.
Digitalis grandiflora in the rock garden:

Digitalis also one of those plants we are warned about as being poisonous, due to its content of chemicals that act on the heart. For the same reason, it is one of the most medically famous plants. The plant contains chemicals used in the heart drug digoxin (Lanoxin), a medication used for certain heart diseases (usually atrial fibrillation or heart failure), acting to slow and strengthen the heart beat. Overdose of the drug can result in cardiac arrest. As such, it is a drug (and plant) you must be careful with. I'd imagine the next 20 years of medical research will probably replace this drug with something a little less risky and easier to manage.

An antidote, called Digifab or Digibind, can be given intravenously to mop up toxic levels of digoxin and allow it to exit the body harmlessly via the kidneys. The product monograph is fascinating -- Digifab is made when sheep are injected with a digoxin-derivative attached to a chemical from the keyhole limpet (tiny crustacean that clings to rocks and boat hulls). The sheep serum extract is digested with a bit of pineapple enzyme and the important bits are separated out with a little chromatography, and voila!
Digitalis mertonensis in the raised bed:

Foxglove use was documented in medieval times, as an agent used by witches, when the plant was sometimes called witchs' bells. In the 18th century, a physician (William Withering) noticed that an old woman concocting herbs was having some success in treating edema (likely due to heart failure), and he is credited for discovering that among her collected weeds, digitalis was the effective tonic.
Some self-seeded Digitalis purpurea:

The medicine digoxin is extracted from Digitalis lanata, the wooly foxglove. Apparently, it is cheaper to extract the digoxin from the plant than it is to synthesize the chemical. Presumably, there are medicinal Digitalis farms in existence somewhere.

I have some Digitalis purpurea plants that will flower this year in my perennial beds, but in the interest of trying new and different plants, I would like to try some others. There is a good selection on this American mail order website, which I have ordered from before. I had no idea there were so many kinds! Digitalis are so easy to grow from seed, that I feel wasteful spending good money for them as plants at the nursery.

On the topic of other beautiful flowering plants - here are some pics from another blog, of National Primrose Society Show prize-winning flowers. Amazing.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Tiny Spring Bulbs & Flowers

The lawn is still brown, the lake is still frozen, and the shrubs have yet to grow any leaves. The broad landscape looks dismal on this rainy day, unless you look closely. On a small scale, there is beauty in the tiny flowers of the early spring bulbs. I only have a few of these, but enjoy them nonetheless. All the tiny spring bulbs should be planted in clusters, for maximal effect. I'm hoping my bulbs rapidly divide and bulk up their clusters, so that they can be appreciated from afar (and not just my flower-seeking camera).
Scilla siberica:

Tulipa humilis violacea will be opening soon:

I have these tiny pink botanical tulips planted on my rock garden slope, which they appreciate for its good drainage. These are not picky or demanding little tulips, and have survived the worst winters here.
Fritilaria meleagris has emerged from the soil:

While the rest of Canada's daffodils are probably long past, mine will probably bloom at the end of May. I suppose there are not many other gardeners waiting longer for spring blooms than us here in zone 1b. Beyond this zone, I don't know how many bulb would even survive! Any Siberian gardeners out there?

Monday, May 02, 2011

First Blooms in the Alpine Garden

This is a small post for a small plant: Draba polytricha has bloomed in the alpine garden. This entire plant is about the size (and shape) of a golf-ball. It is a tight little bun of a plant and clearly very hardy, as it lived through two winters so far, including the terrible one of 2009. It looks like a hairy little grey-green bun the rest of the year and probably will look really cool many years from now, as it expands into its rocky crevice.

This photo reminds me that I need to get a useful tripod for my heavy camera and moderately heavy new lens. Unfortunately, I don't exactly know what to get. These little alpine plants require getting pretty low and close. Any photographers have some good ideas?