Summer Visits and Visitors, 2017

We started the season with plans to take many breaks from the nursery for day trips to nearby natural areas. Shaw Woods beckoned. I have never been to Mer Bleu, an important wetland south of Ottawa. I want to get back to the Burnt Lands Alvar at different seasons. Instead, we spent much of the summer feverishly getting on with our potting and seeding between the rainstorms, repairing flood damage, or staying inside watching the downpours through the windows.

The one day trip we did manage was a glorious exploration of Purdun Conservation Area, timed to see the renowned display of Showy Lady Slipper Orchids. Purdun has the largest colony of these orchids in Canada and they are easily viewed from an accessible boardwalk. This conservation area is a treasure.

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The summer saw a modest uptick in adult monarchs and monarch caterpillars.  We had seen no monarch caterpillars in the garden for a couple of years. It was so nice to have them back.

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Monarch caterpillars were not the only inhabitants of the swamp milkweed. A very tiny green grey tree frog spent some time among the milkweeds.

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Another grey tree frog (or possibly the same individual) on the patio stones.

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In 2016’s dry summer, our tiny formed pool in the rock garden hosted three green frogs. This past summer, there were so many pools and puddles everywhere, the green frogs made other choices. It was a good summer for spotting leopard frogs among the mosses, though.

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Bringing some Standing Cypress to market

I planted some biennial standing cypress (Ipomopsis rubra) last summer just where they would catch the eye as one drove up our driveway. And these scarlet towers of bloom certainly do catch the eye. Like other vivid red flowers, they are hummingbird pollinated. From the U.S. Rockies, they are well north and east of their native range in western Quebec, but they will overwinter most winters if given excellent drainage, and they volunteer gently.

This spring, knowing we would be on a garden tour in early August, I potted up a flat of standing cypress seedlings, figuring they would walk off the benches if the plants by the driveway were even starting to bloom in time for the tour. Well, you can guess that didn’t happen in this wettest of summers. I sold exactly one pot of standing cypress. The tardy plants are just starting into their splendid eye-catching bloom now.

We will be bringing a flat (minus one) of pots of standing cypress to the Old Chelsea Farmers’ Market on Thursday afternoon. Plant them now for hummingbird-attracting bloom next August. Full sun and well-drained soil.

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We will also have pots of this year’s seeding of Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum) and Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa).

Prairie Smoke is a popular items at the spring sales and I have been sold out of older plants for some time. This years seedlings were very slow to get going; they were waiting for some sun and warmth which didn’t come. The largest among them are now up to salable size.

Butterfly milkweed is always in demand. It is the bright orange, knee-height milkweed which is such a splendid garden flower and butterfly nectar flower AND a host plant for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. August is the best time to plant butterfly milkweeds. The seedlings wait until the soil warms up and they cannot be rushed to be ready for spring sales. They also hate being pot-bound and I always lose a high percentage of them trying to overwinter them in pots. Even though they are still small, put them in now. They will bloom next year, a little bit and a little later than established plants, and will come into their own the following year. Butterfly milkweed, even well-established plants, are very late to emerge in spring, waiting until the soil is warm, so do not give up on your plants next spring. They want full sun, although a little afternoon shade is acceptable, and well-drained soil.

Butterfly milkweed is native to the Ottawa Valley although it is quite uncommon and restricted to undisturbed areas. The seed for my plants this year came from Northumberland County, east of Rice Lake.

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