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Garden with a Winner!™

November 11, 2018- Poppies

I found these few lines referencing the tradition of the poppy on November 11th on a Canadian Legion site.

Each November, Poppies bloom on the lapels and collars of millions of Canadians. The significance of the Poppy can be traced back to the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century, over 110 years before being adopted in Canada. Records from that time indicate how thick Poppies grew over the graves of soldiers in the area of Flanders, France. Fields that had been barren before battle exploded with the blood-red flowers after the fighting ended. During the tremendous bombardments of the war, the chalk soils became rich in lime from rubble, allowing the “popaver rhoeas” to thrive. When the war ended, the lime was quickly absorbed, and the Poppy began to disappear again.

Not all poppies are the crimson red that we are so accustomed to seeing on Remembrance Day, as well there are perennial and annual varieties. Royal Wedding and Pink Ruffles are categorized as Oriental Poppies, which indicates that they will support large flowers that are heavily ‘crinkled’ or ruffled.


Culture for these old timers is relatively simple but there are a couple of important considerations. Primarily, these plants can not stand wet feet, that is to say they require excellent drainage. Further, once you have established a location for your crop, do not move them as they dislike being interrupted. Finally, during the peak of the heat months, Oriental Poppies will look rather sad, that is to say, their foliage yellows, large gaping holes appear in the clumps and generally, they appear to the novice eye, to be dead. This condition often encourages new gardeners to water their clump over and over again, hoping to revive them and alas, the drainage issue raises its ugly head and the clump succumbs. The point here is to plant companion perennials that will grow and cover the failing foliage of the Poppy. During the cooler weather of autumn, the dormant roots will awaken and push forth a new rosette of vibrant green foliage which remains as such until the spring. In milder winter climates, many gardeners will plant their Oriental Poppies in the fall, I wait until spring as I garden in zone 3. In discussion about planting, as these plants do not like to be disturbed, take caution when installing a container grown plant. Prepare the soil with ample compost and provide excellent drainage, ensure that the hole is dug deeper and wider than the container. Very gently remove the plant from the container by tapping the bottom of the pot, invert the pot securing the plant and soil with your other hand. Make muck like preparing sand for a sand castle using a beach pail! Place the soil ball gently in the prepared area and backfill. Water sparingly only to ensure that there is good adhesion with the native soil and no air pockets.

Your newly established Poppy Patch will last indefinitely with very little maintenance. Just remember the life cycle of dormancy in the heat of summer and you are all set.

October 21, 2018- Garden Goodness- Therapy Home Grown

Current society is at the very least, curious… is it not? As a non GenX, Non- Millennial, boomer of sorts my optics on societal development are perhaps jaded. Nevertheless, there is a very interesting common denominator that exists in our techno-information polluted age, and that is the need/want/desire to touch reality. Landscapes whether at home or developed under design for public use are finally being considered as valid for health reason. There seems to be a shifting relationship between us as humans and the natural environment, and for the better. The Japanese culture has understood this for eons, ‘Forest Bathing’ is the translation that is given to this interesting ritual of simply spending time in a forest, under and with the trees. Practicality enters and rears its head here, as so many of us are unable to simply leave the office and wander off into the forest to absorb all the positive ions and breath in the terpenes and healing agents that trees offer. However the built landscapes are taking on an improved role benefiting society. Many younger folks are discovering that working cooperatively, either in the true sense of actually being with other people or virtually as in social media, that gardening is where it’s at. In a society that considers “chatting” online is an actual conversation, the act of being outdoors, interacting face to face with real people and in a green growing space is healthy for the brain as well as the body. Additionally, many of these growing spaces produce edibles as well as decorative plants which panders to the 100 mile initiatives and healthy, non GMO foods. I delight in observing younger people’s reaction when they see that their physical efforts actually produced something that is tangible, real and positive. Alternatively, the life lessons learned when effort is less than required and their crop or plant withers and perishes, all very immediate and real. From a social perspective, groups of folks gardening collectively in let’s say a community garden, there seems to be a wave of delight expressed as they are doing something, however small, to make a better world. Often times, produce from these collectives is shared with local food banks or with the homeless.

On trends, further to the social aspects of gardening, textures, colours and whimsy are taking centre stage. What a wonderful way to attract the very young to the delights of growing something through wickedly cool plants. Some look like animals while others will wither and appear to die only to regain composure and then the brilliant colours of so many. All trending, all good and perhaps one secure path towards a sustainable and brilliant new generation of gardeners.

October 7, 2018- October Chores

Aw yes, the tenth month of the year and perhaps a winding down for many gardeners in Canada. The growing season has changed considerably over the past number of years, to the benefit of many gardeners, in particular those in the Midwest of the country. Conditions in general have seen escalating temperatures, in some cases to the extreme with abundant fires within rage of many communities. Other regions of the country such as the extreme south of Ontario, experienced huge amounts of rain along with the typical summer heat and humidity. All in all the season has been challenging for many, providing oodles of extra work one way or the other from extra irrigation to numerous lawn cuts. My gardens managed rather well as regular watering daily was provided during the excessive heat and my miniscule turf area, well, it was a different story. Turf of course takes copious amounts of water to endure summer heat, and under water restrictions the preference is to douse perennials rather than turf. However, in my home there is someone who enjoys a little bit of turf, so I endure (much sooner have more perennial ground covers, but alas).

As the weather cools down and the rains increase during this month, it is wise to trim the turf grass from around your trees. The reasoning here is that often times insects will over winter at the base of the tree under the protection of long grass and eventually, snow cover. Elm bark beetle, spring and fall cankerworm and several other nasty critters enjoy this refuge. On the subject of turf, many gardeners will apply a winterizing feed to the lawn which will promote strong root growth. Golf courses and large commercial turf expanses of course will benefit from this, but do you really need to apply the same procedures on your lawn at home? Consider the gradual replacement of turf with less thirsty perennial ground covers.

The retail outlets will still be bulging with spring flowering bulbs for sale and it is not too late to plant them. As a matter of fact, spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, crocus etc. can be planted right up until frost. These species will continue to form roots in the cooler weather until the soil has completely frozen. Remember that it is crucial to apply water throughout the month if precipitation is not a regular occurrence in your part of the country. Additionally, all shrubs and trees should be very well watered this month so as to provide a reservoir of moisture upon freeze up. This will ensure that in the early spring, when the sun begins to get stronger and the plants awaken, that ample moisture is available.

October is still a favourable month to move perennials from one section of the garden to another, or perhaps share with others. Again, watering is crucial at this time of the year to ensure root development and soil adhesion. Perennials that I have moved in the late autumn are always mulched heavily just after the first frost. This tactic protects the new installation from frost heaving and waiting to mulch after frost helps with rodent control. Hopefully they will have found a winter home elsewhere.

Enjoy the crisp October weather, it seems to make the garden work go that much faster as the waiting cup of hot chocolate or another libation is surely waiting indoors.


September 23, 2018 To Prune or Not To Prune

September is a block buster busy month as it is, but now pruning as well – perhaps not! SO many folks think that because it’s a shrub it must be pruned, that’s just what is supposed to happen. Naturally there are some shrubs that can tolerate a fall pruning but honestly they are exceptions. Unfortunately, the exceptions are the characters that pose the most amount of confusion for new gardeners as well as some of the seasoned veterans. Let’s start with the terminology: trimming is not pruning. Trimming is a practice of clipping, molding and shaping shrubs into unnatural forms such as globes, small animals and other such quasi- topiary ideals. So many landscapes boast these symmetrical conical shapes and globes which to my mind provide you with a tremendous amount of unnecessary work. Enough of my rant, the fact remains that this is not pruning.

Pruning is the act of selectively removing unwanted, interfering, diseased or otherwise unwanted material.

What is import to understand is the bloom method or cycle of the species of plant that you are about to prune. Some plants push blossoms forth on existing or older wood, while others will only bloom on the newest wood or this season’s growth. Confusing this fundamental can have less than desirable results.

First off, the basics are that pruning fruit trees, shade and specimen trees and the like is optimally done when they are completely dormant, which means in the winter or very early spring. To do other wise causes the plant to produce growth stimulated by the pruning which will not survive the winter. Of course there are exceptions, horticulture is a science of exceptions with no firmer a playing field that in Canada. What is normal in BC is not the least acceptable to do on the Prairie provinces, so climate also factors into the mix.  Keep it simple and don’t prune in September, you’ll be busy enough with other chores.

A bit later on will come hydrangea pruning, and this is the great daddy of confusion for many. Those of us in the industry dealing with the general public are usually inundated with inquiries related to the Hydrangea gang. Simply put, Hydrangeas that bloom on their older wood are pruned (usually to keep them in control) after they have flowered. The Hydrangeas plants that bloom on new growth are pruned to maintain shape in the early spring as they are awakening or right now in September if you wish. That’s really all there is to it as far as fall pruning, so don’t over think the process and if all else fails, default is do NOTHING!

Sept 16, 2018 Tree and Shrub Planting Fall

September can be a glorious month right across Canada as the weather is still reasonably warm with cooler nights and the inevitable shortening days. This is not only a great time to plant spring flowering bulbs but new trees and shrubs also. Many garden centres have geared their production to offer a grand supply of fall plants with the majority of the specimens are container grown. This production method has allowed for many more species of trees and shrubs to become available for later season installations. At one time in the not too distant past, trees and shrubs arrived from the nurseries to the garden centers as ‘balled and burlapped’ specimens with perhaps only the perennial plants in containers. With the advent of composite plastics and commercial container knowledge increasing the number of and styles of containers have exploded. Some nursery container that I have seen over the years would serve nicely as hot tubs or pools except for the drainage holes! This process of growing in generally black containers allows for very controlled growth, fertility and water, producing excellent quality supported with exceptionally heavy root systems. Having such massive root systems allows not only for extended transportation without damage but also when in the retail arenas if maintenance is not top notch, the containered plants have great survivability.

At home, these plants will require a bit of adjustment when they are planted in the fall. Naturally the growing season is coming to a close, the light is lower and the days are shorter but the roots will still continue to grow in spite of what is occurring topside. Once you have selected your trees and shrubs and have them safely home, give them a great drink of water, even if they seem moist already. Once the containers have drained they will be ready to install and as they are moist, they will slip out of the pot with little effort and most likely not fall apart.

Deciduous trees such as maple, linden and ash will most likely lost some or all of their leaves…it’s what they do after all. Conifers should be in fine form, dark green unless they are a variety that is otherwise of course and be bushy without damage or signs of insects. Some retail garden centres will recommend spraying the evergreens with an ‘anti-desiccant’ which is merely an organic coating, much like wax, that will coat the foliage to prevent dehydration through the process of transpiration. These plants are not necessarily growing topside during the winter months, so the coating doesn’t impede any normal growth. Once the sun grows stronger however, many evergreen (coniferous) shrubs will attempt to start growing. The soil will still be frozen therefore any moisture is locked in the form of ice between the soil particles and not available to the now active plant. A plant that is not protected from the sun with either a fabric shield or an anti-desiccant is prone to sun scald or burn. You may have noticed many cedar, yew and typical foundation landscape plants brown or rusty looking in the early spring, that is sun scald usually.

Once your shrubs and trees are planted it is essential to water each plant heavily and often. This process may seem tedious at times, but without due diligence the chances of loss are increased. The water will force any air pocket in the newly disturbed soil out as well form adhesion with the container soil and the native soil, essential for good root growth. Given that there may be only eight to twelve weeks or so for the new shrub or tree to adopt its new condition before the soil starts to freeze, the new roots that do form will not be sufficient to stabilize the entire plant. This is why I suggest mulching around any and all fall planted shrubs and trees; this addition will not only slow the soil freezing but also adds a modicum of insulation. There is no need to fertilize at this time, however it is suggested by many. My reasoning is that the container grown material will have a long term, slow release product already incorporated in the mix which will continue to release essential nutrients over time. Save your fertilizing until the spring awakens new growth.

In the even that you are planting ‘balled and burlap’ grown material, there are also a few tips to ensure success. Many of the larger trees will be in wire cages that are lined with burlap and trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey, usually with a heavy nylon cording that is tough to cut. Once the hole is prepared and well watered, the large caged ball is lifted in and the upper ring or layer of wires of the cage or basket are turned down or removed. This is wise because as the soil settles over time the top rings of the cage often protrude looking awful and causing potential safety issues for turf maintenance. Similarly to the container grown materials, heavy watering is the key to success as well as appropriate stabilization with stakes as necessary.

Fear not fall planting, simply follow a few pointers and take advantage of the often tremendous sales during September.