Wisteria is an old school, rather British favourite climber/scrambler for climates in Canada that are not subject to severe winters. Coastal BC as well as Southern Ontario along with the milder regions of Atlantic Canada, can enjoy the profusion of blooms that this reliable vine can provide. Chinese Wisteria is by far the more common to be found in garden centres and nurseries across the country, there are many others, but for the sake of time, I will focus on this one. Spring pruning is strongly encouraged as the foliage will not be formed so that the overall structure of the plant is apparent. As Wisteria could literally take over the entire neighbourhood, all will be thankful that you pruned your specimen severely this spring. You will be able to see the buds swelling for flowers as well as for simply vine growth. The vine growth is what you prune hard, with very sharp secateurs, removing up to 2/3 of the entire branch. As drastic as this may seem, it is the only way to keep this leviathan vine in shape.
Another good tip is if you are just selecting a location for your Wisteria, consider locating the specimen where spring flowering shrubs are not too close by. My reasoning is simple; most spring blooming shrubs are fertilized early on in the season to promote lush growth and flowers. Wisteria are greedy things and will gobble up the nutrients rapidly. The results are disastrous as the vine growth, which is ‘whippy’ at the best of times, rivals Hollywood man eating plants descriptors. Best to find a spot where you may just be planting annuals or even better, so that the Wisteria is all alone.
Established plants will require a spring as well as a summer pruning to keep the specimen in check. New or yet to be established plants are a bit more forgiving as you may want the long, tendril-like growth to establish a structural foundation perhaps climbing a sturdy arbour. Once you can see the flower buds swelling, then you are pretty sure that it’s ok to prune. Actually, you really can’t hurt a Wisteria from over or incorrectly pruning it, you may however, jeopardize the bloom.
Older, mature and stubborn to bloom Wisteria can be rather aggressively coerced into bloom by quasi-girdling the main trunk. I just made that term up today, but it simply means cutting the main trunk’s bark with a sharp knife almost all the way around the circumference. This will shock the plant intensely and often will force the specimen into flower.
New gardeners and even some of us who have been growing for many years, find confusion when it comes to Azaleas and Rhododendrons. To add to the stew, there are deciduous varieties as well as evergreen, so not to muddle things up, I will refer to deciduous azaleas in this article. Simply said, these plants do not hold their foliage over the winter and as such, are much hardier than many of their cousins. Breeding began in the late 50’s in Minnesota attempting to develop a colourful Azalea that could withstand the severe winters of the northern mid-west. Over time a new series of “Northern Lights” came into being, boasting hardiness withstanding -34C. Count me in was my reaction at that time, but now more breeding has occurred and many new varieties are seeping into the market for gardeners in the ice and snow like me.
Many of the offerings that hit the shelves in the 80’s carry the name ‘Lights’ along with a colour appellation like ‘Lilac Lights’ or ‘Orchid Lights’. The newest of the collections are said to be hardy to -40C, wow, they might survive in Winnipeg, Saskatoon and further afield.
These specimens are container grown in an acidic soil medium, so understand that they need an acid soil to thrive. Amend with organic matter, compost, manures- your choice, but they must have a rich acid base. I prefer to have the plants clustered to provide the best results with bloom and also, preparing a growing bed that is acidic makes sense to me as opposed to each individual plant hole. The colour range is amazing with new additions each year, predominantly in the soft pastels with the occasional brilliant burst of red or deep orange. ‘Spicy Lights’ is a dandy variety as it has good bloom size in pink with orange-ish blush set on a shrub that can reach 2M. Many of the offerings can reach decent heights if well tended and of an age. Recently the large box stores that carry garden centre supplies also carry the deciduous Azaleas. Check carefully when making selections as many of these stores are frantic in the early spring with staff that are pulled in many directions. Water is critical for the survival of these specimens, so take note and select your plants accordingly. Family run garden centres generally have trained staff who know their plants and care for them, so if you are fortunate enough to have such a source, consider them. Many have a sweet scent to them which is pleasant for us but also offers nourishment and encouragement for our early pollinators. A good rule might be to never just have one.
This burst of colour, spring bloomer is actually a tuberous rooted perennial, often called erroneously a bulb. There is very little to hold this character back from forcing her flowers out, often through the snow! Indeed one of the very first of the blooms to adorn the spring garden. At one time, this plant was very common across Europe and into the Mediterranean regions, from where its name originates. Er from the Greek for Spring and Anthos from the same language for flower. Unlike many spring tubers and bulbs, Winter Aconite can tolerate more moisture but not sopping wet feet, therefore adequate drainage is recommended. The foliage is glossy, deep verdant green and held almost like a collar around the vibrant yellow blossoms, reminiscent of a very large buttercup. In general, the plants tend to clump and are not very tall, you may see the mahogany reddish stems if you look closely. The soil conditions should be rich in humus such as leaf mold or composts, emulating a woodland soil if you wish. They look wonderful in a woodland garden along with Hellebores, minor spring bulbs such as Galanthus, Squill and Crocus. If they are happy where you have planted them, they will multiply by producing little bulbils, which can be removed and planted elsewhere if you choose.
There may be confusion with a toxic plant Aconitum or commonly called Monkshood, Winter Aconite is not related and is not the least toxic. One may find them addictive however, as they perform flawlessly once established and open each day with a brilliant sunny yellow hello to spring.
As with many of the earlier blooming plants, in particular those planted in a woodland garden, slugs can be a nuisance. It would seem that everybody has a secret formula for dissuading slugs from visiting the garden, I yet have to find a consistent deterrent. Be aware and perhaps cultivate lightly around the plants once the soil has warmed. Slugs may have laid eggs in the vicinity and this will disturb them and possibly dehydrate them if they are exposed. Other than that, I would keep the beer for the gardener and not waste it on the slugs. Enjoy!
Colour is a very important concept when considering the garden design. Whether you are rearranging an existing landscape, bed or container or starting from scratch with a new one two fundamentals in my mind are texture and colour. In our household one of us is very fond of colour and lots of it while the other is a bit of a texture freak and can live without too much colour. Compromise is clearly the name of the game! Colour is of course such an individual thing with everyone having favourites and dislikes, texture on the other hand is somewhat less constructed. There are a few considerations when deciding on colour and placement in the landscape, but they are of course not hard and fast rules. Basically, lighter colours if placed in the background of a design tend to draw the eye into the landscape, giving the effect of depth. Additionally, single placed light colours in a design can act like punctuation marks or parenthesis so as to separate lines or break up a monotone of colour. Alternatively, lighter colours placed near the foreground of a design will define an area almost like a ribbon. Darker colours can add mystery as well as act as a contrast to vibrantly light colours. Placing dark colours in a foreground to my eye at least, will blunt or make too harsh a statement for the design. Blending offers a compromise and with the use of different hues of darker colour, can give a very interesting and sophisticated overall look.
One of the most difficult colours for me to work with is orange followed by red. It’s not that I dislike these colours, they are just too harsh for my style of garden; I much prefer to meddle in blues, purples and the pink to rose tones. The palette offered within these tones I find much easier to blend with and the resulting look is soft and often billowy. This is where texture comes into play.
In landscapes/gardens where the viewer can get close to the plants, texture rules in my books. My signature designs tend to have very organic curves, smaller planting spaces and lots of nooks and crannies, there isn’t a straight line in sight! This overall affect is very soft and inviting to the viewer and also easier for me to maintain and reach into the beds. The textured foliage that I rely on either have large, coarse leaves like my Transylvanian Rhubarb and many hosta or deeply serrated foliage like so many Heuchera. The added advantage of Heuchera is their massive palette of colour and pattern along with great leaf texture. Contorted Hazelnut offers a very cool bit of texture in the branch formation of course, but also the foliage. Underplanted with Cranesbill geranium which forms a thick mat plays well with the various spring bulbs that pop up through.
All in all, colour and texture should lead the charge when designing a space with an underscore regarding hardiness of your region. Have a blast dreaming about your next project.