chèvrefeuille dioïque

May I Introduce: Glaucous Honeysuckle

Although it is quite common in woods and hedgerows, this native honeysuckle is known to few gardeners.

Glaucous Honeysuckle’s red tubular flowers with yellow anthers, in mid-spring, have the same colour scheme as the much better known Wild Columbine, and it should come as no surprise that ruby-throated hummingbirds are the pollinators it has evolved to attract. The buds are a deep, dark red. This seems like it should be an exciting colour but, in fact, dark red is quiet and hard to spot in the landscape. This may be part of the reason why this vine is so little known. As well, the flower clusters, and the berry clusters which follow, are often partially hidden in a cup formed by the uppermost pair of leaves. The bright red fruits, which ripen in early summer, are, like most soft summer fruits, taken very quickly by birds.

I am amused by the joined, or perfoliate, pairs of leaves, around the flower clusters — they remind me of the Tin Man’s hat. This is a nice vine to plant to by a sitting area, to enjoy the intricate flowers, and their hummingbird pollinators, close-up.

The botanical name for Glaucous Honeysuckle is Lonicera dioica. Dioica as a specific name, should mean that the plant is dioecious, i.e with male flowers and female flowers on separate plants. However, Glaucous Honeysuckle is NOT dioecious. Botanical names are assigned by whomever describes the species first, not necessarily by accuracy.

Glaucous Honeysuckle is a twining vine. It does not have tendrils or other clinging mechanisms. In the wild, it is often found growing as a shrub-like sprawling jumble. Give it a trellis or other support and a tiny push in the right direction, and it shows off its limber and obliging nature. (Limber Honeysuckle is an alternative common name in the U.S.) It is not a tall vine, topping out at about 2 m.

hélianthe de Maximilien

A Portrait of Sunflowers

We went to hear Kerri Weller, of the Ottawa Society of Botanical Artists, at the Nepean Horticultural Society, last Thursday evening, Ms Weller gave a quick overview of the history of botanical art and illustration in Western art. She pointed out a lovely feature of the classic plant portraits by Maria Sybila Merian from the 1700’s: the flowers were painted accompanied by their appropriate pollinators.

After a break, Kerri showed some slides of her own work, briefly illustrating how her style has developed from a more English-modern style – watercolour against a pale, unpainted background — to her current work in oil paint. She, too, likes to position, among her flowers, appropriate pollinators, of which the arbiters of botanical art correctness do not always approve. Kerri brought a few of her absolutely gorgeous canvases to the talk, including one of some yellow daisy-style flowers. Eying the yellow daisies picture, propped on an easel, for the duration of Kerri’s talk, I kept thinking, “That looks a lot like Maximilian’s Sunflower.” Sure enough, when she came to talk about that canvas, Maximilian’s Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) was the species she had so beautifully and realistically painted. Kerri kindly gave a word of appreciation to Beaux Arbres, for supplying the plant she painted, and praised the October-blooming Maximilian’s Sunflower for attracting a host of pollinators.


An Urban Pollinator Garden

Berit Erickson dropped by last week to pick up some native plant seeds and talk to me about her demonstration pollinator garden, on a busy corner lot in the west end of Ottawa .

Working in her yard, Berit realized how interested passers-by were in her flowers. Berit herself had noticed how much more lively and inviting to bees, and butterflies and birds her city garden became when she increased the proportion of native plants. Although she had been a skilled gardener for years, the connections between native plants and wildlife had not been part of her garden lore.

What Berit saw happening in her garden, and happening relatively quickly, changed her whole approach to gardening. Berit writes, “I’m not exaggerating when I say that creating this pollinator garden was one of the best decisions I ever made and that it has changed my life.” She wanted to share her newfound understanding. She labelled the plants visible from the sidewalk, and created, printed, and set out a pamphlet “Create Your Own Pollinator Garden: you can make a difference.” More than 150 pamphlets have been picked up by passers-by. You can read more about her garden, and gain valuable practical pointers on creating your own pollinator garden, on her blog: cornerpollinatorgarden.net.

primevère du lac Mistassini

May I Introduce: Dwarf Canadian Primrose

My first encounter with this charming little native primrose was on the wave swept shore of Lake Huron, on the Bruce Peninsula, where limestone pavements shelve incrementally down to the water’s edge. Nestled in tiny, moist cracks in the limestone, never far from the spray, were some small pink flowers with yellow centres, Primula mistassinica. I have since encountered this plant in other locations in eastern Canada, almost anywhere there is damp limestone, such as in seepage areas on limestone cliffs. Primula mistassinica is named for Lake Mistassini, the largest lake in Québec.

Limestone coast of Lake Huron.

Brought into the garden, this little primrose flourishes and has many more flowers in each cluster. The buds form the previous year, visible but nestled deep in the basal rosette of leaves, and ready to bloom very early in spring. This is a charming little plant for a damp spot in a rock garden or a trough.

Dwarf Canadian Primrose
Dwarf Canadian Primrose growing in a seep on a limestone cliff.

When I initially encountered Primula mistassinica, I called it Bird’s Eye Primrose. I have since learned that that name is perhaps better reserved for a very similar species, with a slightly more eastern distribution, Primula laurentiana, and P. mistassinica should be called Dwarf Canadian Primrose, although getting folks, including me, to alter the common names they learned in childhood is not an easy task. From their written description, I find it difficult to know exactly how the species differ. I decided the thing to do would be to grow them side by side. I was able to acquire some wild-collected Bird’s Eye Primrose seed, from the Ontario Rock Garden Society Seed Exchange, in 2018. The little P. laurentiana seedlings have not yet bloomed for me, and, honestly, did not look that different from P. mistassinica for most of the summer. However, by November, there were some differences apparent: Bird’s Eye Primroses have fewer and broader leaves and they are less persistently evergreen, as we can see in the photo below. Both plants have buds in their centres, ready for next spring’s early bloom.

Bird’s Eye Primrose (left) and Dwarf Canadian Primrose (right).

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.