The nodding flowers in mid to late spring are modest to our eyes but extraordinarily attractive to all manner of forest pollinators. Although usually pale lavender in colour, the flowers of Virginia Waterleaf in the wild can be pure white, a nice mid-range purple, or pale pink. The distinctively lobed leaves emerge in the spring spotted with silver. It is the silvery spots which give the plant the name Waterleaf. Alas, the pretty spots fade as the leaves mature.
Virginia Waterleaf spread by rhizomes and by seeds so, where it is well suited, it can easily form a robust ground cover. It prefers dappled deciduous shade and it is tolerant of heavy clay soils. Thus it is an excellent choice for shady city gardens with compacted soils. If summer droughts have left the foliage looking tattered, the plants can be cut down and they will produce a crop of fresh leaves for autumn.
Canada Mayflower is such a small, ubiquitous woodland plant, it is easy to take it for granted. It grows in just about every kind of forest, in every kind of soil, and is one of the few natives that manages to eke out some sort of straggly existence in spruce plantations. It is a great colonizer and, with so much of its energy going into vegetative spread, relatively few of the leaf clusters will put out a flowering stem.
Canada Mayflower grows in all the forest areas at Beaux Arbres. Although I am very conscious of the demand for adaptable, shade-tolerant plants for city gardens, Canada Mayflower seemed just too trifling to cultivate. I have overhauled my opinion. There is a spot beside the side road where I walk Kapik nearly every day, a damp depression in deep shade, which is thickly carpeted with Canada Mayflower and it slowly dawned on me that, there, Canada Mayflower made a handsome ground cover with two seasons of interest.
Canada Mayflower is closely related to False Solomon’s Seal, which has more history as a garden flower. Like False Solomon’s Seal, it has a sprig of small, sprightly white flowers in late spring. Despite the common name, Canada Mayflower is more likely to be blooming in June in our part of the world. As summer comes to a close, each flower stalk bears a small cluster of bright red berries.
Another common name for this plant is Wild Lily-of-the-Valley, from the similarity in leaf shape and colonizing habit to the European garden plant. Unfortunately, the existence of this name has misled many into thinking that the non-native, indeed invasive, Lily-of-the-Valley is a native species that can be introduced into woods. It is not. I love its fragrance, muguet, and if there were a way to safely contain the plant, I would grow it, to pick little nosegays to bring into the house. Alas, there is no safe way to grow Lily-of-the-Valley if you are near native woodlands, as it spreads both by rhizomes and by seeds contained in the poisonous red fruit. (Note: the fruits of Canada Mayflower are not toxic. Not tasty, but not poisonous. Some years they disappear quickly as they are eaten by many species of birds.)
Another consequence of my lack of serious attention to this plant is I do not have a good photo of it of my own. The feature photo above is by Blue Canoe from Wikimedia.
Although Ozark Sundrops has absolutely no claim to be native to the Ottawa Valley, this startlingly large flowered species from central US is such a garden-worthy beauty, from time to time we include it in our offerings at Beaux Arbres. The flowers can be 8 cm across on a plant only about 20 cm tall
Ozark Sundrops’s lax stems sprawl just a bit, forming a low cushion, growing from a single tap-rooted crown, so it is never overwhelming. It wants well-drained, lean, neutral soil, and full sun. It does not compete against taller aggressive neighbours. A large sunny rock garden is ideal.
Ozark Sundrops is pollinated by large sphinx moths. Night-flying sphinx moths are not colourful but they are large and attractively patterned in white and cream and grey and brown. They are not attracted to lights, so spending a warm summer evening monitoring a stand of pale-flowered wildflowers, such as Ozark Sundrops, is the best way to monitor which sphinx moths are visiting your garden.
As gardening for pollinators, and insects in general, has become popular, I see many more customers interested in Goldenrods. The bright yellow sprays, differently shaped for different species, are ubiquitous in old fields and along country roads. Their very abundance gives us clues to how important they are for late summer pollinators.
Grey Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) is a short, tidy goldenrod of dry infertile places. It is often found in old fields in areas where the soil is sandy and thus especially dry and infertile.
Very unobtrusive in the early part of the summer, Grey Goldenrod sends out flowering stems (about 30 cm tall) from its basal rosettes in late summer. The ends of the inflorescences tip over in a graceful curve in a way that is characteristic for the species. It is a great goldenrod for sunny urban meadows, combined with a short grass such as Blue Grama Grass. For gardeners who want to provide for late summer pollinators, but who think introducing Canada Goldenrod or Tall Goldenrod to their gardens might send the neighbours into conniption fits (with some justification, as these are large and aggressive plants), the unthreatening Grey Goldenrod might be just right.
Beaux Arbres offers some other garden-worthy Goldenrods: the lovely Blue-stemmed Goldenrod, for shady spots, and Stiff Goldenrod, a handsome clumping plant for flower borders
Pretty Purple Clematis, a vine of woodland glades, is uncommon and elusive in the woods. We sold out of our original seeding of Purple Clematis last summer, but now that we have plants established in the garden at Beaux Arbres, we are collecting seeds from our own plants. This spring we expect to have a good supply of year-old plants.
Vines are awkward things to bring to plant sales and farmers’ markets. Once they start climbing, their pots tip over easily and the plants are easily damaged. The one-year-old Purple Clematis we will be offering this year are a very good deal for this beautiful and hard-to-source vine. They won’t bloom this year but they are just right for establishing in your garden for bloom next year.
Beaux Arbres has a few bright, lovely Pasque Flowers plants in our rock garden. We grew this beloved European spring flower from seeds from the Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society Seed Exchange, and offered some of our surplus for sale. However, we long wanted to get a good supply of the North American species, the true Prairie Crocus, Manitoba’s floral emblem. We tried several times and our germination was poor for this wild North American. Last winter, we acquired some high-quality, fresh, wild-collected seed from southern Manitoba and, voilà, a fine flourish of Prairie Crocus seedlings.
The wild Prairie Crocus is paler, shorter, and even fuzzier than Pasque Flower. Wildflower enthusiasts in Manitoba start scanning south-facing, well-drained, sandy slopes in April, wanting to be the first to spot a Prairie Crocus in bloom. They often report their first up to three weeks before we get a Pasque Flower in bloom at Beaux Arbres. This gives us a clue to just how early this flower can be in a sheltered, sunny spot. Because of the subtlety of its silvery lavender colouring, Prairie Crocus is most effective grown in groups. On those dry south slopes on the Prairies, Prairie Crocus some years escapes the summer drought by going dormant, but we haven’t seen this phenomenon in our plants in the Ottawa Valley. It is good to know just how drought-tolerant Prairie Crocus can be, if you are planning a xeriscaping garden.
Prairie Crocus’s seeds are tricky to germinate, but once you are past that stage, they seem to be tough and enduring little plants, with one caveat: they are susceptible to slug predation. That suggest that, in the east, they need a dry, warm, gritty site, with perhaps a gravel mulch, certainly not any organic mulch. They are great little plants for a south-facing rock garden and perhaps for a large hypertufa trough. On the prairies, they grow in thin grassland.
Prairie Crocus grows all across the Canadian Prairies, into the northern tier of US plains states and up into Yukon and Alaska. Its range extends into north-western Ontario, but it has no claim to be native to the Ottawa Valley. We are enthusiastic about it because it extends the selection of early spring flowers for feeding newly emerged pollinators, and to cheer winter-weary gardeners, without risking the invasiveness of so many of the early spring bulbs on sale at the garden centre. (“Good for naturalizing” on the packet of Chionodoxa bulbs should be a red flag that they will escape into wild areas.)
We also have a hankering to grow all the Canadian floral emblems that we can. The Pacific Dogwood, emblem of BC, is beyond our scope, and Yukon’s Fireweed is something we hesitate to bring into the garden, although it is all over the utility corridor along the Sixth Line near our farm. Nunavut’s gorgeous Purple Saxifrage is finicky this far south, although we are game to try, if we can acquire some seed. If we are willing to accept the local Prickly Rose as a stand-in for Alberta’s Prairie Rose (possible, but too rampant in the east), the other emblems are doable, in fact we are already growing many of them.
Prairie Crocus is not, strictly, new at Beaux Arbres for Spring 2021 — sharp-eyed customers spotted the first offerings of this species last summer. We expect to have a good supply for sale this spring. Watch the website for the Availability Lists in the spring.
This cheery little flower is an under-appreciated Ottawa Valley native. Along with its early-blooming companions in the wild, such as Early Saxifrage, Prairie Smoke and Hooked-spur Violet, Early Buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis) is a great choice to provide floral resources for newly emerged pollinators. Early Buttercup is a true spring ephemeral — the plant withers into dormancy shortly after the seeds ripen in late spring. The leaves re-emerge from the somewhat tuberous root almost as soon as the snow is gone the next spring.
Early Buttercup grows wild on only one alvar in the Ottawa Valley. It is more common on the alvars of central Ontario. Beaux Arbres’ stock of Early Buttercup was grown from seed collected in the Ottawa Valley, i.e. it is local genotype.
Early Buttercup occurs in the wild only on alvars and similar open, calcareous habitats. This gives us a clue to what it likes in the garden: full sun, sweet soil, and not being crowded by larger neighbours. Like other alvar inhabitants, it is tough, adapted to heat and cold and spring wet, and its summer dormancy allows it to endure the droughts of summer.
I am making an assumption, on this snowy day in January, that I will have Early Buttercup available in the spring of 2021. We went into the winter with a good supply of seedlings. However, I have had unexpected winter losses in the past, and I am never totally sure plants are available until I see them start to grow in the spring. I will be posting Availability Lists in the spring, as growth resumes.