Tuesday, 19 February 2019

February Snow

After two weeks of warm sunshine and blue skies in Mexico, it was a shock to return to snow in Vancouver, even though it did look pretty.

 By mid-February I'm normally enjoying the display of small bulbs like snowdrops, snow crocus and winter aconites, but of course they are all buried.

There's one exception. The ever-reliable Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' is living up to its name and boldly pushing its cheerful yellow flowers up through the sugary crust, reminding me to order more and spread them around to enjoy at this low point in the year.


Sunday, 20 January 2019


The first days of the new year saw me cutting back dying perennial stalks and seedheads, and raking dead leaves from around some of the shrubs. We are urged to let the leaves remain on the ground to rot and add more nutrients to the soil, but I have several problems with that. 
The most significant one is thanks to the city arborists who years ago planted a sycamore maple  in front of my house. Every fall it sheds a gazillion winged seeds into my garden where they cluster in the crowns of tender plants like hellebores and peonies.

 If I don't remove them, every one will sprout and have to be hand-pulled, often breaking off the tiny new buds of the perennials.

Then there is the number of slugs that shelter and lay eggs under the carpet of leaves. Finally, there is the disease factor. My roses are healthy, but they will only stay that way if I ensure that any lurking blackspot spores on fallen leaves are not there to infect new foliage.

Besides, early ephemerals are already pushing their way up and I'd like to make their progress towards bloom as easy as possible. Leaf blades of snowdrops and snow crocus are already above ground, but winter aconites are always the first to open their cheery little flowers.

Hellebores are in bud and some are even opening their flowers.
'Cherry Blossom' is ahead of the others, and 'Frilly Kitty' has one open flower.

But 'Rachel' and 'Pink Frost' are not far behind.

Elsewhere, I find pleasure in small moments, like a briefly blue sky behind the seedpods on Stewartia pseudocamellia.

Or a ray of sunlight catching the trunk of Acer griseum, the paperbark maple.

Or even the mustard-yellow young stems and buds of Swiss willow (Salix helvetica),

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Last Leaves

In comes November  - and in comes the rain. 
There was a last burst of glory just before month's end, mostly leaves but with a few late flowers adding contrast.

Always proving its worth at this time of year, Fothergilla 'Mount Airy' kept getting more vibrant every day.

Oakleaf hydrangea 'Sikes Dwarf' beside it wasn't quite able to meet the challenge but had its own brooding beauty.

Silvery lavender foliage in the background chimed in with a more restful note.

Silver Vein Creeper (Parthenocissus henryana) continues its transformation from gold to red. It's really too rampant for this small garden but fortunately it is quite tolerant of drastic pruning. I want to keep it as scribbles of colour like this, rather than a solid sheet.

Corylopsis pauciflora has already set buds for its early spring display, but it is also a show-off now with its bright golden foliage. It needs pruning to a more graceful shape, which I will try to do while it is dormant.

Although I like a lot of the ornamental grasses, I think they look better en masse in larger gardens than mine. However, I do enjoy the airy presence of a mosquito grass, Bouteloua 'Blonde Ambition'. In the ground it would be lost among bolder plants, but raised in an urn it catches the low sun's rays when most of its companions have receded into the shadows.

Thanks to our warm and sunny October, the fall display in the front garden has never been better.
Royal azalea (Rhododendron schlippenbachii) has been particularly colourful, darkening from a soft, blush pink ...

... to a stronger hue.

Under its feet, some Heuchera are enjoying the cooler weather.

This area is gradually getting better, although there are still gaps where I'd like to find the right companions.

I'm hoping that Enkianthus 'Red Bells', a fairly new addition, will eventually fill the foreground, where its golden fall foliage is already making a modest contribution.

Back in spring I posted a photo of its delicate little flowers that look like red lily-of-the-valley. 

Behind it in the upper photo are the russet leaves of Japanese maple 'Waterfall', which looked better a week earlier, when it was still echoing the Royal Azalea foliage

Giving some height to this bed, Disanthus cercidifolius also colours well.  Although its leaves don't last long on the branches, they dapple the ground under the maple and make bright splashes among the remaining greens of low-growing ground-huggers.

To my surprise, an unknown pink peony that I installed without much hope in the dry, depleted soil of the roadside beds appears to be thriving and is also adding to the fall display. I'm already curious to know how successfully it will flower next year.

There are nevertheless some failures. I knew the front was a challenge for being shaded most of the year and then subject to hot sun in the middle of summer, but I thought good old Sedum 'Autumn Joy' could be relied upon to cope. This year showed me the uneven results.
On the east side it has been fine.

On the shadier west side, where sun is blocked by both the street tree and now my spreading silver dogwood, the results are less successful. The peony whose foliage is visible in the foreground has already gone to a more suitable home and the Sedum is about to follow.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

October Colours

Fall is coming, but the garden isn't ready to give up yet. I'm continuing to acquire late-blooming plants or plants with bright fall foliage to keep the garden colourful for as long as I can.

Sometimes that means moving them to find just the right location for them to flourish. A case in point this year is Aster 'Anja's Choice'. (I know that the nomenclature people, who love to take a word of two syllables and make it an unpronounceable one of five have now decided that it is not Aster but Symphyotrichum. But I'm in denial)
'Anja's Choice' has had a couple of years of unremarkable bloom and I was close to giving it away. Instead I moved it up against the east fence where it gets the full blast of afternoon sun. What a difference!

It's the lilac shrub in the centre of the photograph. On the left is white Anemone x hybrida 'Honorine Jobert'; on the right is another aster, lavender-blue 'Little Carlow'. The red leaves belong to a blueberry and the yellow ones to Amsonia hubrichtii, the Perennial Plant Association's 2011 Plant of the Year. The Amsonia has very attractive pale blue flowers in May, but its late foliage display is outstanding. The blueberry yielded fruit for summer lunches before switching to its ornamental autumn role. The tree trunk on the right belongs to Stewartia pseudocamellia, whose foliage dominates the foreground of the previous photo.

At the far right is one of the electric blue flower heads  of Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii', which dominates the centre bed at this time of year, not just with its colour, but also its 6 ft height.

 A few other, more subtle effects include the foliage and last flowers of Hydrangea serrata 'Beni'.

I've raved elsewhere about how much I like these small mountain hydrangeas that go through a kaleidoscope of changing colours in both flowers and foliage as the year progresses.  

Colour is also starting to saturate the leaves of  Hydrangea quercifolia 'Sikes Dwarf',

...and its neighbour, Fothergilla 'Mount Airy'.

A last couple of flowers on Clematis x durandii are elbowing their way through the Hydrangea.

Meanwhile in the shade of the old pear tree, Parthenocissus henryana, a close relative of Virginia creeper, is also transforming from green to red.

I'm hoping that all those leaves will gradually turn the same colour as this one sprig in the darkest shadows.

Against the house, leaves on Jasminum officinale are beginning to complement the colour of the siding.

At the other end of the garden, leaning over the fence from the parking space, the Scotch Briar, Rosa pimpinellifolia, gives it stiff competition. This is truly a rose for all seasons. Dressed for autumn, it glows in the evening sun.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Leafcutter Bee in Action

About a month ago, I was weeding around one of my blueberry bushes and noticed the work of a leafcutter bee on some of the lower leaves. These enterprising little native bees cut neat circles out of leaves to line the nests they create in old wood crevices or in the ground.

Besides blueberries, they seem to favour Epimediums and species roses. They are solitary bees, so without a community to spread the word about other good sources of material, they keep returning to the same source once they've found it. I don't begrudge them their harvest because they are good pollinators in the garden and the plants don't appear to suffer, except perhaps a little in appearance.

While I was there, the bee kept returning for another piece of leaf. I ran for my camera and had a stab at recording it at work. My video is a bit blurry, thanks to my lack of skill, but I'm posting it anyway, at least until I can get a better clip.Watch the top lefthand corner for the bee's appearance. (Note: I'm hearing that, if you get my blog via the RSS feed, the video doesn't load -advice on how to fix this gratefully accepted. However, it loads successfully straight from the site.)

Monday, 10 September 2018

Apple Harvest

It wasn't my intention to harvest the crop from our three espaliered apple trees quite this soon, but a visit from hungry local raccoons - in broad daylight yet! - forced my hand.

The raccoons were happily gambolling along the top of the fence where most of the fruit was within easy reach.
Pomme Gris (aka Swayzie) is a late-fruiting variety and wasn't really ready.  The apples are small and the characteristic brown russeting of the skin has only just begun, so it's not surprising that they taste rather dry.

Last year it suffered badly from salt sprayed by the city in our lane during unusually heavy snowfalls and produced no fruit at all.  I am learning that this is not a highly-productive variety under any conditions and consider us lucky to have around a dozen apples this year, even if they are a disappointment. I have left a few on the tree, covered in netting, and will hope they survive the predators and have a chance to improve over the next few weeks.

Colville Blanc d'Hiver is a two-year-old whip that I didn't expect any fruit from, but it has produced three apples on its first (and only, so far) set of laterals.

 It is not going to win any beauty contests, but it is the apple of choice for the famous French dessert called Tarte Tatin. I'll try making a very small version with my limited supply.

Macoun, the oldest and most prolific tree outdid itself this year and even if they've been picked too early, the apples are quite large and juicy. I should have waited until they developed more of an all-over red colour, but they are going to make good eating, even if not at their best.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Late Summer Survivors

July and August have been so hot and dry that I'm grateful for any plant that has simply shrugged and carried on. You would expect that of a thistle relative.  Globe Thistle, Echinops ritro, climbed to its usual 150 cm (5 ft)  before producing its metallic blue globes, although I think they were paler and faded faster than in previous years.

Another thistle, Eryngium giganteum, better known by the evocative name of Miss Willmott's Ghost, also thrived.

Its silver bracts dry well and make a distinctive indoor arrangement as long as you can place them where they are out of stabbing range.

Clematis 'Huldine', with its roots in the cool, damp soil it loves, was a mass of white satin flowers.

I grow it below our back steps to give this view from the top. The buds have an entirely different appearance and their purple stripes remain on the underside of the petals. From the bottom of the steps, they look like this:

There are echoes of the same colours in low-growing Oregano 'Kent Beauty',

... and the pale grey spires of Lysimachia ephemerum.

This elegant perennial with sage-green foliage is much loved by the bees. Unlike some of its relatives, it is not invasive.

Out in front of the house, Hydrangea aspera ssp. sargentiana enjoys the all-day shade.  Every year it rises higher on its sturdy trunks and has almost reached the level of the porch, allowing us to look across its dinner-plate sized flower heads whenever we enjoy an evening drink there.

Close beneath it, Hydrangea 'Beni-gaku' has been attracting the attention of a swallowtail butterfly that was earlier focusing its attention on the daphne that flanks our front path.

 Just coming into bloom for the first time in the three years I've had it is a pineapple lily, Eucomis 'Sparkling Burgundy'. I think it must have listened last year when I told it "One more chance and then you're outta here."

On the more colourful front, Monarda 'Donnervolke', which means "thundercloud" is harmonizing well with late-blooming aconites.

And all the blooms except one on Hydrangea 'Beni' have completed their miraculous transformation  from pristine white to blood red.