Garden Expert: A Few of My Favorite Things
Mark singles out some of his preferred garden performers
It’s late summer and the autumn planting season is on our threshold. Soon, we’ll be tempted by the new plants that growers deliver to retailers. We will be drawn to their colour and fragrance; the pollinators in our neighbourhoods will be drawn in as well. Bees, songbirds, hummingbirds (back from a vacation in the Boreal forest), and of course, butterflies will enjoy our new additions, no doubt.
In my ongoing efforts to help you prioritize your plant-buying decisions, here are some of my favourite garden performers:
When we built our home in my dream garden eight years ago, I had an image of a giant mass of Annabelle hydrangeas nesting their metre-high blossoms at the foot of our front porch.
To accomplish this, however, I had to plant big. Twenty-seven new plants were placed about 80 cm apart and nurtured into a mass planting that when they grew in, came very close to the mental image that I had of them before I put them in the ground which, frankly, seldom happens.
Annabelle hydrangea was introduced around 1888 and stands as a stalwart perennial shrub bloomer. Virtually no insects or disease are a problem and they stay put for the most part, not travelling across my yard seeking to take over like many other perennials do.
BLACK-EYED SUSAN ‘GOLDSTURM’ [Rudbeckia fulgida]
‘Goldsturm’ was named the 1999 Perennial Plant of the Year. It blooms for up to three months. Three months! What perennial does that? And has virtually no enemies in the bug and disease departments. I do get some aphids on mine from time to time but I just blast them with a stream of water from the end of the hose to fix them. They love the sun, grow to 60 cm tall and they do spread from year to year. I find that I can control their spreading habit by cutting out the new root with a sharp spade in spring.
Another perennial that comes back year after year in my garden, only this one gives me two seasons in one. It produces a 50 cm spire of blue flowers in early to late July, which I cut off with hedge shears the first week of August. Then they re-flower in September and the flowers last even longer, due to the cooler temperatures that time of year. You can cut Speedwell flowers and bring them indoors. Hummingbirds and honeybees like them.
STONECROP [Sedum and sempervivum]
I performed an experiment with these indestructible plants three years ago. I used the roof of a garden shed on my property as a garden in which I planted the lowest maintenance flowering perennials known to humankind: sedums and sempervivums. The results were a little slow in coming but now, in the third season on my shed roof, they are a showstopper. I planted about 12 different varieties, each blooming at slightly various times for a succession of bloom. The first year, I watered and weeded quite diligently, last year much less so, and this year I have done nothing. They have rooted in and provided a great show with virtually no work. Plant them in containers, rock gardens, wall planters, and of course on your roof. They like a soil medium that is at least 40 per cent sharp sand and 60 per cent compost/soil.
I have lost count of the number of hosta plants that I have in my 10-acre garden. Lots. And I love them all. This family of broadleafed perennials includes some mammoth varieties. Sometimes their name says it all: ‘Wide Brimmed Hat,’ ‘Big Daddy,’ ‘Skywalker,’ and ‘Blue Mammoth.’ Others are very small and considered appropriate for the hosta collector but otherwise these may get lost in your garden. Look for ‘Flash Forward’ and ‘Blue Mouse Ears,’ which only grow to 15 cm high and wide.
My real favourites are the tough ones that tolerate shade, thrive in the sun, and can take the competition of mature tree roots. One of my favourites is ‘Halcyon,’ featuring bluish leaves and August flowers. Another is ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ [the 1998 American Hosta Growers Hosta of the Year] featuring a long-flowering plant in July/August that smells wonderful with lime/ivory leaves. Grows to 50 cm high and wide.
With over 7,000 varieties in the hosta family, there must be a few that would appeal to you. The flowers of hostas all attract hummingbirds and bumblebees. Another bonus.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com