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.

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
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.

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.

casse sauvage

Wild Senna Beats the Heat

This tall yellow wildflower loves the heat and seems to laugh at drought. Five or six feet tall on sturdy stems, Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa) has typical pinnate Pea Family foliage but the individual flowers are more open than typical in the family. Wild Senna belongs to an early-evolved branch of the Pea family tree. The open flowers are very appealing to large bumble bees. fullsizeoutput_3f0

We have also seen hummingbirds visiting the Wild Senna flowers this year. Our hummers are foraging hard this season because so many of our cardinal flowers, the hummingbird favourite, died in the drought, and the wild Spotted Jewelweed along the seasonal stream is a fraction of its usual self.

Wild Senna does not occur in the wild in the Ottawa Valley — it hails from a little further south and occurs in southern Ontario south of Brantford. A lovely yellow butterfly whose caterpillars rely on Wild Senna — the Cloudless Sulphur — also occurs south of here. Wild Senna is an acceptable host plant for some other butterflies, including the Silver Spotted Skipper, that eat a diversity of native plants in the Pea Family, We have an abundance of Silver Spotted Skippers because we have a lot of their main host plant, Black Locust. I would never recommend planting Black Locust, which is an extremely aggressive suckering tree and thorny as all out. We are trying to beat back our Black Locusts. It is nice to know that if we ever succeed in eradicating the Black Locust (not too likely) we can still provide for the Silver Spotter Skippers with a handsome and well-behaved herbaceous flower, the Wild Senna.

Plant Wild Senna at the back of a sunny border. After the flowers finish. thin black pods remain decorative through the autumn. This plant does not need staking, fertilizing, or dividing. It consorts beautifully with tall ornamental grasses.