Plant Now for Spring Flowers

In addition to some lovely fall bloomers — Smooth Aster, Tall Sunflower, Obedient Plant, among others –Beaux Arbres will be bringing some spring -bloomers to the Ottawa Westboro Farmers’ Market this Saturday, September 14th. Experienced gardeners know they can get a much better show next spring by planting now, rather than by waiting until next spring to plant.

Wild Columbine, Prairie Smoke, Foxglove Beardtongue are great additions to your flower garden. For the early spring rock garden, add some tiny Common Bluets, Arctic Roseroot, or Early Saxifrage. An especially lovely little plant for rock gardens is the diminutive Dwarf Arctic Iris, a wild iris very much like the Quebec floral emblem Blue Flag Iris, but only about 8″ tall.

Common Bluets or Quaker Ladies
Prairie Smoke in the garden at Beaux Arbres.

Some Wildflowers of Late Summer

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) has delighted me this year with its abundance of cream-coloured bloom. Like many wildflowers, Silverrod is often a wispy little thing in the wild, struggling to compete. Give it its own place in a garden, and the picture above shows what it can do. The blooms are constantly abuzz with native pollinators.

Some other nice flowers from the past week:

Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii)
Clustered Prairie Mallow (Callirhoe)
Standing Cypress (Ipomopsis rubra)
Kankakee Mallow (Iliamna remota)
Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

Great Plants for Shade

I love Spikenard (Aralia racemosa), a big shrub sized perennial. The flowers are not much, small and greenish white, but the bold leaves and dark purple stems are handsome enough throughout the summer. It is in the autumn that the plant shines. The little white flowers develop into red berries that turn black when fully ripe. The little fruits grow in large showy clusters.

We grow this shade-loving forest plant on the north side of our barn, where we need something large to be in scale with the wall but where any woody shrub would get crushed in the winter by snow and ice crashing off the barn roof. The herbaceous perennial Spikenard is safely underground for the winter.

Spikenard fruit is appreciated by birds. Spikenard is fast-growing for a shade plant, and it will bear fruit in its third year from seed. If you have a shady spot and want to provide for birds, a planting of Spikenard will reward you and the birds sooner than most shade-tolerant shrubs.

Very few wildflowers for shade have large showy flowers. Producing big flowers is just not in the energy budget for a plant that survives on the scraps of sunlight that the canopy trees miss. What they lack in size, forest wildflowers make up in charm. The bright pink flowers of Panicled Tick-trefoil (Desmodium paniculatum) are a fraction of the size of those of its meadow-growing relative, Showy Tick-trefoil (D. canadense). They are, however, held upright in dainty, airy sprays, which maximizes their effect. Both of these wildflowers from the Pea family are attractive to native bees. Both also have sticky seeds, the tick-trefoils, so its is wise to site the plants carefully, away from paths where the family pooch walks.

New to me this season is American Ipecac (Gillenia stipulata). This plant of oak savannahs and rocky glades does not occur in the wild in Canada; native to Michigan and New York State down to Texas, it is adapted to drier conditions than its close relative Bowman’s Root (G. trifoliata). It has more finely divided leaves and very similar starry white flowers. Not for deep shade, but it will likely prove to be a useful addition to the roster of plants for dry, dappled or part-day shade.

Plants To Buy In August

It is not only possible to add perennials to your garden in August, some great native plants are going to be available as potted plants only in late summer.

Case in point: Poke or American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). This tall purple-stemmed perennial is a warm-season plant that doesn’t get going until the soil warms. It is impossible to start it from seed and have it up to any size for sale in the spring. With an enormous fleshy root, it also hates overwintering in a pot. Now, Poke is not difficult from seed and it grows quickly. Because it is at the very northern edge of its range here, Poke may be fussy to site. It needs a relatively warm, well-drained site to survive the winter. You may need several tries to get it in a favourable site. So, it makes sense to get a packet of seeds from us at Seedy Saturday and raise your own, to have some spares to experiment with – if you are handy at raising perennials from seed. If you are not experienced with perennial seeds and you would like to acquire a Poke plant growing in a pot, August is your best, or, indeed, only time to do so.

Get your Poke plant into the ground while the soil is still warm. Once you have a well-grown specimen, birds will eat the fruits and spread the seeds about and you will see volunteers from time to time. This is a good thing because you may well lose your original Poke in a harsh winter. In the mid-Atlantic states, Poke is a prodigious seeder and it is considered a weed. This far north, the volunteers are nothing to be feared.

Wild Lupin (Lupinus perennis) is another native plant that is really best raised from seed, direct sown where you want it. Wild Lupins are deeply tap-rooted and I find I cannot hold them in pots for very long. If the plants do not get into the ground at a fairly young age, they wither and die. This species only thrives in very well-drained, sandy soil; it will not succeed in tight clays. I will be bringing some young Wild Lupins in pots to the Westboro Market this coming Saturday (August 10). They can be transferred to the garden with care – note the extraordinary length of the taproot as you remove the still small plants.

lupin vivace
Wild Lupin growing in the wild.

Returning to Westboro Farmers’ Market

Beaux Arbres will be back at Westboro Farmers’ Market on Saturday, August 10th, bringing some spectacular late-summer wildflowers.

Folks sometimes ask: Is it too late to add plants? If you can bring water to your new plants with a hose (or even a bucket from the lake, at the cottage), you can continue to plant potted nursery stock throughout the summer and early fall. The heat-loving prairie plants are in active growth right now and they are better able to make new roots than if you wait until the soil cools in the fall.

Native wildflowers are the key to having a garden than does not fade in the hot weather. All those lovely Bellflowers and Wallflowers and Paeonies of an English-style cottage garden are gorgeous in the spring, but gardens based on these non-natives struggle in the heat of summer in our continental climate.

For spectacular flower displays that thrive in heat, look to the deep-rooted flowers of the prairies: Blazing Stars, Ironweed, Culver’s Root, Prairie Mallow, Rattlesnake Master, Wild Bergamot, Showy Tick-trefoil, Cardinal Flower, and a huge diversity of tall yellow daisies. These natives also provide for native pollinators: bumblebees and other wild bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Later, many will also provide nutritious seeds for seed-eating birds like the vivid yellow and black Goldfinches.

Create a garden that is full of life and easy to care for by putting native plants at the centre of your garden planting.

Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya)
Culver’ Root and Cardinal Flower
Tall Sunflower (Helianthus giganteus) at Beaux Arbres

A Successful Sale Day at FWG

Beaux Arbres had its best day yet at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden’s annual Native Plant Sale. Thanks to all our customers: some familiar faces and many new. We had a great time recommending plants to eager customers. Building on our experience in the past two years, this year we had laminated photo cards in place for every species, and many customers commented favourably.

The weather – cool but not raining – brought out the gardeners and was kind to the plants. The photo shows our full tables moments before the morning rush began.

Shade plants are always in demand by city gardeners. Shade plants are also slower to reproduce and some of them have exacting germination requirements. We can never keep up with the demand. Unfortunately, we are now out of several popular shade plants — Wild Ginger, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Bloodroot, et al. — for the year.