Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hostas have some of the Best Names!

I think I know why this Hosta was named "Wheee".

"Wheee!" is what raindrops cry out then they slide down those curvaceous leaves!

Hosta breeders seem to have a sense of humour when it comes to naming their creations.

Somebody must be a Marvel Comics fan. The hosta you see above is named Hosta 'Wolverine'. It has curvy, tapered leaves that are blue-green with creamy-yellow margins. Height: 15-18" Spread: 40".

Hosta 'Eskimo Pie' (below) has puckered leaves with creamy-yellow to white centres. Its flowers are white. Height: 26 inches, Spread: 32 inches.

Whenever I begin to feel a bit snobbish and dismissive about Hostas, I'll come across a garden that reminds me just how terrific they can be when they are mixed creatively. 

If you love playing with texture, foliage size and color, Hostas have so much to offer. 

This is a backyard in Mississuaga, Ontario. As you can see, the lot is wider than it is deep. Mature trees around the perimeter of the yard result in a shady garden.

Here the grass does not function as a traditional "lawn". It's more of a pathway that leads you in amongst the various garden beds. 

As you can tell almost immediately, this is a Hosta lovers garden.

Let's start on the left and take a walk around, shall we?

The brick on the main floor of the house is covered with ivy, and in the lefthand corner of the picture, you can see that a Euonymus also trails up the side of the house.

Do you like this combination of blue-green and deep burgundy as much as I do? Most of the Hostas in this garden were well marked, but this one seems to have eluded a plant tag.

At the very bottom of the picture above, and in the image below, is Hosta 'Gypsy Rose' with its distinctive centre band of lime. 'Gypsy Rose' is apparently a mutation of the Hosta 'Striptease'. It can be expected to reach a modest height of just 15".

(Aside: Have you ever seen the classic movie about striper Gypsy Rose Lee? She was a vaudeville burlesque entertainer who used humour to play up the "tease" in "striptease".)  

Hosta 'Gypsy Rose'

Hosta 'Wirlwind' has foliage that changes color throughout the season. Its slug resistant leaf is creamy-white with green veining in spring, light green during the summer and dark green in late summer. Lavender flowers. Height: 20 inches, Spread: 40 inches.

Hosta 'Paradigm' has gold leaves streaked with blue-green. The foliage is tough and corrugated also making it slug resistant. Lavender flowers. Height: 20 inches, Spread: 36 inches.

Hosta 'Night Before Christmas' is a mutation of Hosta 'White Christmas'. It has thicker leaves than 'White Christmas' and wider leaf margins. Purple flowers. Height: 18 inches, Spread: 36 inches.

I wonder if the person who named this next Hosta was a fan of the vampire book series?

Hosta 'Twilght' has dark green, slug resistant leaves with yellow edges and purple flowers. Height: 22 inches Spread: 30 inches. 

Sorry, another unidentified pair, but again, what a nice color combination! 

As I type this I making a mental note to look for a small chartreuse Hosta to mix in with a blue-green Hosta this coming spring.

For anybody new to gardening, a few tips on growing Hostas:

Hostas grow best in moist, well-drained soil. Dappled sunlight and rich, sandy loam is best for good, strong growth. Morning sun will help intensify leaf colors, but hot afternoon sun won't be appreciated.

Hostas are very easy to propagate through division. I always get to work early in the spring and divide them as soon as the tight cones of new foliage poke up a few inches above the ground. You can still divide them later in the season, but you run a greater risk of damaging the foliage if you wait until the leaves fully unfurl. If you don't get around to dividing your hostas in the spring, you can also do it in the fall.

Dig up your Hosta and then cut through the clump with a really sharp shovel. Each division should have about three of the tight foliage cones.

Mulching is a great idea as it helps to keep the soil around your hostas moist. I always use a natural cedar mulch.

Holes in the foliage are a sign of slug damage. Various remedies for slugs is perhaps the subject for another post. To avoid this problem, look for varieties with thick, leathery leaves that state they are "slug resistant". 

Another combination that makes use of yellowy-green. I am not sure of the particular Heuchera cultivar here, but Heuchera 'Citronelle' would be one that is similar.

In the far corner of the garden, there is a Red Twigged Dogwood Shrub (Cornus alba)

I have a few of these Dogwoods in my own garden, the largest of which is about 6' tall by 6' wide. They like part-sun to full sun. It is a good idea to keep a watchful eye on this type of Dogwood for the first summer after you plant it. They resent dry soil and will perish if you let them go too long without water. After that first year, they settle in pretty nicely and don't require too much pampering. 

The shrub's stems are brilliant red in winter. (A little tip: Each year it is a good idea to prune out a few of the older branches in late winter to reinvigorate the shrub. Pruning encourages fresh growth and that terrific red color.)

Now that we have reached the far corner, we'll head back on the opposite side.

A shady container planting that incorporates Coleus (both multi-colored and lime-colored) with Sweet Potato Vine and Creeping Jenny.

It was raining on the day of the garden tour (June) and you can see that the grass was taking a beating.

Some people might say this garden is fairly low maintenance, but I would think that there is still a quite a bit of work involved here. Just removing the spent flower stems on all these hostas would require quite a bit of effort!  

I'd think there would be times, in a garden like this, where you'd have a lot to do and periods during the summer where the upkeep would be much less labor intensive.

Later in the gardening season there are colorful Phlox and Daylilies (in a few of the sunnier pockets).

Euonymus standards flank the front door. The mix of the blue Junipers and the lime-colored hosta is really nice. The taller perennial is a mid-summer Phlox.

Most of the established part of the garden is at the back of the house, but there were some nice plantings at the front of the house as well. 

Below is a really popular Hosta called 'Sum and Substance'. It's one of the largest Hostas available with a spread that can reach five or six feet. The leaf color varies from chartreuse to gold depending on the amount of sunlight. The flowers are pale lavender.

I'll have more shade garden posts in the coming months.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Meet the new Piper in our Band

Meet wee Piper. 

When my husband knelt down to meet the three little boys, Piper was the one who bounded to his hand with eager excitement and playful puppy kisses.  

So it was decided. Piper chose us to be his family.

We bundled him up in a blanket and brought him home with us.

It's been awhile since we had a "baby" in the house and it has certainly been an adjustment. 

Piper's only been on the job a week and already he's in charge of trouble!

What do the other two older dogs think of the young upstart? 

Buddy, who is an elderly sixteen, has no tolerance for a puppy's antics. When he's patience is at an end, Buddy curls his lip and barks a warning to Piper that he needs to respect his elders. 

This lesson has been learned, but it hasn't stopped Piper from talking back to Buddy from the safety of my lap.

Scrap is more accepting, although he isn't quite sure how to handle a puppy one-quarter his size. 

One day I hope they will all be the best of friends. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Astrantia photographed last summer at the Dalhousie University- Agricultural 
Campus in Truro, N.S.

There is something magical about the delicate flowers of Masterwort or Astrantia. 

Properly describing the flowers requires botanical terms like inflorescence, bract, and umbel, which has an almost musical ring to it.

Astrantia major 'Roma' photographed in Garden Canadensis in Milton, Ontario

"Inflorescence" refers to how flowers are arranged on a stem or twig of a plant. An "umbel" is one such arrangement.

To get a visual picture of an "umbel" think of the rounded shape an umbrella. In an Astrantia flower, the short flower stalks (pedicels) at the centre of the flower spread out from a single point and are of equal length. This pattern or arrangement of pedicels is known as an umbel. 

A "bract" is simply a modified or specialized leaf that is often found at the base of a flower. In the case of an Astrantia flower, there is a collar of bracts at the base of the umbel.

But you don't have to know any of these fancy terms to appreciate just how lovely Astrantia flowers are.

Astrantia at the Dalhousie University- Agricultural 
Campus in Truro, N.S.

Many notations on growing Astrantia will tell you they will work in everything from full sun to full shade. That's almost true, but in my opinion, it needs some qualifications.

The most important thing to remember about Astrantia is that it likes rich, moist soil. If you plant it in a sunny spot where the soil dries out quickly, your Astrantia will likely perish. 

With regard to the other extreme, I personally think that full-on shade is taking light conditions one step too far.

You are much more likely to have success in part-shade, if your soil gets a bit dry mid-summer. Even so, this plant will not survive extended periods of drought.

I have my tiny clumps of Astrantia flowers in part-shade. My garden gets very dry in late July-August, so I have to water them to make up for the lack of rainfall.

I am writing this based on my own observations. If your experience is different, I'd love to hear.

Astrantia photographed last summer at the Dalhousie University- Agricultural 
Campus in Truro, N.S.

Some commonly available cultivars include:

Astrantia carniolica rubra has maroon-red flowers. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches).

Astrantia major: Greenish-white flowers with greenish bracts tinged with pink. Height: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches), Spread: 60-90 cm (23-35 inches).

Astrantia major 'Lars' has deep rosy-red flowers. Height: 60-70 cm (23-27 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches).

Astrantia major 'Ruby Wedding' has red flowers and reddish stems. Height: 60-70 cm (23-27 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches).

Astrantia major 'Sunningdale Variegated' has greenish-white flowers with a flush of pink. What is unique about this cultivar is the light green leaves splashed with buttery-cream. Height: 60-70 cm (23-27 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches).

Astrantia major 'Roma'

If you are starting your flowers from seed, you can sow the seed directly into the garden in the fall. In the spring, you have provide some cold stratification to get the seeds to germinate.

To propagate Astrantia by division, divide clumps in early spring.

Astrantia photographed last summer at Dalhousie University-Agricultural 
Campus in Truro, N.S.

My garden doesn't present ideal conditions for growing Astrantia, but I think it is such a nice perennial I am willing to fuss over it a bit. 

In dry mid-summer I'm quite happy to drag out the garden hose just to have these oh-so-pretty flowers.

Plant type: Perennial

Height: Depending on the cultivar: 30-90 cm (1-3 ft)

Spread: Depending on the cultivar: 30-60 cm (1-2.5 ft)

Flower: Depending on the cultivar: white, pink/rose, red and maroon

Bloom period: Early spring

Leaf color: green and a variegated cultivar are available

Light: Part-shade to sun (where soil is moist)

Growing Conditions: Rich soil and moist growing conditions

Companion Plants: Astilbe, Ferns, Hosta

Divide: In early spring

Notes: Remove flowers to encourage new flowers and prevent self-seeding.

Problems: Mildew, slugs and aphids

USDA Zones: 4-9

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Garden that wasn't on the Tour

This is the garden that wasn't on the horticultural society's tour. It was across the street from one of the gardens on the tour.

The neat courtyard-style front garden caught my eye first, and like a moth to the flame, it beckoned to me to cross the road. The homeowners were very busy that afternoon, but graciously agreed to let me take pictures.

For those of you looking for inspiration on a small scale, this garden certainly fits the bill. 

The house is made modest two-story home made from local quarried stone. The front yard is tiny. Rather than trying to maneuver a lawn mover around such a tight area, the homeowner decided to dispense with grass altogether, and opted for a circular courtyard of pea gravel instead. 

The plantings next to the house are older and are more mature. The plants on the other rim of the circle are more recently added. 

That is a Climbing Hydrangea right by the front porch. It's a great option to consider 
if you want a vine for part-shade.

Along the front of the house blue-green and variagted Hosta mix in with Ostrich ferns, Heuchera (deep burgundy leaves peaking out from under a Hosta) and  Pulmonaria (the spotted leaf tucked under one of the Hosta). All these plants are great options for part-shade and shade.

Peaking out from under this large hosta is Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla Mollis. 

Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla Mollis has rounded soft textured foliage. Raindrops cling to its leaves and sparkle. Sprays of chartreuse flowers appear in early summer. (This plant is a good self-seeder, so remove the spent flowers if you don't like unwanted seedlings). You will sometimes see Lady's Mantle on lists of plants suggested for shade, but I find it much prefers part-shade rather than full shade. This plant will grow in a variety of soil types and likes conditions on the average to moist side. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 2-9.

The pea gravel courtyard at the front of the house extends into a path that leads you around to the backyard. 

This is the first view you see as you turn the corner at the side of the house.

Under the shade of tree, there is a little patio area. The cafe-style chairs and table
gives the area an almost Parisian feel.

Here Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' sits in front of a yellow Baptisia (unknown cultivar).

Hanging across the yard are strings of Tibetan prayer flags.

 Penstemon 'Husker Red' has foliage that is beet-red in spring and fall and somewhat greener in the summer. Butterflies love the flowers which are such a pale pink they are almost white. Full sun. Normal, sandy or clay soils are all suitable. Average to moist growing conditions. Height 75-90 cm, Spread: 30-45 cm. USDA Zones: 3-9

Pink Peonies bow down to the ground with the weight of their many-petaled flowers. A Miscanthus (ornamental grass) and Ostrich Fern are just in behind them.

The view down the length of the property.

 An old metal bucket is a water feature or container planting in the making.

The back garden is a work in progress. This courtyard area next to 
the fence isn't quite completed.

You'll note that the homeowner has used vivid blue ceramic pots as a recurring theme. It's a smart design decision as it links different areas of the garden into a cohesive whole.

This garden might be small, but it's charming. It is amazing what you find when you are looking for something else!