May I Introduce: Downy Skullcap

While active outdoor gardening is on pause, this is a good time to introduce some wildflowers which may not be known to most gardeners in the Ottawa area.

These flowers may be unfamiliar because they are not native to the the Ottawa Valley, but hail from further south in the USA, as does today’s species, or, perhaps, from the tall-grass remnants from the extreme south west corner of Ontario. Species which are not locally native are obviously not appropriate for ecological restorations. But for gardens? There are arguments for and against restricting your gardening choices to locally native species, which we will leave to another day.

Another reason wildflowers may be unfamiliar to gardeners is that they are confined to highly specific habitats such as alvars or fens. Or they may be diminutive and easily overlooked until they are brought into cultivation in rock gardens and troughs.

Scutellaria

Downy Skullcap (Scutellaria incana)

Downy Skullcap, a fine border plant from the eastern USA, contributes nice blue colour and distinctive flower shape to the late summer garden. The summer leaves are edged with dark purple. Purplish pigments suffuse the leaves in the autumn.

Downy Skullcap autumn foliage.

Some other Skullcap species do occur in the Ottawa area: Marsh Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata), the curiously named Mad-Dog Skullcap (S. lateriflora), also found in damp areas, and the diminutive (S. parvula) , which grows on alvars, including Ottawa’s Burnt Lands alvar. They all have blue flowers with the distinctive skullcap shape. Closely related, Downy Skullcap is suitable, in showiness and in size and in growing requirements, for a place in a perennial border.

vergerette à feuilles segmentées

Spring Visit to Alpine Garden, MBG

Remembering a visit to the Montreal Botanical Garden, May, 2018.

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Beaux Arbres will have Shooting Star (Dodecatheon) for sale in the spring.
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Rock Whitlow-grass at the Montreal Botanical Garden
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Eastern Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

The Alpine Garden at MBG is divided into areas planted with species from different regions of the world. I was delighted to discover that there was an eastern North America section and that it was planted with many of the species I have been promoting for rock gardens.

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Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) at the Montreal Botanical Garden.

Beaux Arbres has offered Prairie Smoke for several years and it is always a popular choice.

A wonderfully showy flower in the South American section, Sisyrinchium striatum or Pale Yellow-eyed Grass is related to our native Blue-eyed Grasses. I was amazed to find this plant from Chile and Argentina growing in Montreal (Zone 5B)l. I started a flat of this species from seed — easy to do — and we’ll see how it does in our Zone 4B garden.

Pale Yellow-eyed Grass in the Montreal Botanical Garden.

Stocking Stuffers for Gardeners on your List

We have packaged a selection of seeds from some of our showiest flowers in time for holiday gift giving. They will be available for sale at the $100 and Under Sale of the West Carlton Art Society in Carp this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The seeds are sharing a table with Michael’s hand-crafted baskets. If the gardeners you know would prefer to get plants*, we have Gift Certificates available, redeemable for nursery stock and other Beaux Arbres items.

The $100 and Under Sale is rather small but full of good stuff from local artists. It is happening almost next door to the much larger Carp Christmas Market. Plan to visit both to find the locally crafted gifts you’ll want to give this Christmas.

*Hey, they are gardeners. Of course they want to get more plants.

Late Colour in the Hoop House

On a dreary November day, with the golden tamaracks providing the only colour in the landscape, the interior of the hoop house is only a couple of degrees warmer (still quite chilly) but colourful fall leaves still linger. The brightest colour comes from the leaves of Wild Geranium. I like the green and red carpet of Prairie Smoke. The lovely soft apricots of Bowman’s Root have mostly faded to brown but one plant is still glowing.

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Prairie Smoke
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Bowman’s Root
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Wild Geranium

September Highlights

Rock Pink

Rock Pink (Talinum calycinum) has been in bloom for weeks and it just got better and better, as long as the warm weather lasted. I love the bright magenta of the flowers against the natural greys of the rocks and stone mulch. I hope it proves to be hardy, here in western Quebec, but even as an annual it is worth growing for mid to late summer colour in the rock garden. Small bees love the flowers.

Ironweed

A useful contrast to all the tall yellow daisies, the bright saturated purple of ironweed (Vernonia sp.) glows in the autumn sunshine. This plant is tall and rugged.

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Ironweed and Switch Grass.

Tall Sunflower

Of the many tall yellow daisies for late summer and early autumn, my favourite is Tall Sunflower (Helianthus giganteus). It can be very tall – to 3 metres. That’s a plus. If you are going to do tall, do it! Even small gardens have lots of room in the vertical direction. Tall Sunflowers flowers are a lovely clear yellow and the purple stems are a nice contrast. On warm afternoons the plants hum from the volume of pollinators. After the flowers fade, the seeds are relished by goldfinches.

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Heart-leaved Aster

Now, I warn customers that pretty Heart-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) is a pushy native that spreads, but let’s face it: most gardens have spots where a tough, pushy plant is just the thing. We have an ancient clump of common lilacs, as do most old farmyards. The lilacs are fragrant and lovely and visited by Canadian Swallowtail Butterflies, for about a week in the spring, and then, for the rest of the summer, they are a big, boring green lump with no fall colour. Heart-leaved Asters are willing to grow in the dry root-filled conditions under the lilacs and bloom in a beautiful pale blue ruff at their feet. Like other asters, they are important for late-season pollinators.

Closed Gentian

Daisy-form flowers dominate late-season wildflower gardens. Native plants with distinctive and unusual flower shapes are always interesting and even more welcome when they bloom in the fall. This is a white-flowered garden selection of the native Closed Gentian (Gentiana clausa).

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