Clearance Sale of Goldenrods

I am dropping some goldenrod species from my list – more on this later. This Saturday at Westboro Farmers’ market I will have 2 1/2″ pots of Stiff Goldenrod at a sale price of 6 for $20 (reg. $6 each) and 4 12″ pots of Grey Goldenrod for $6 each (reg. $10). Once supplies of these are gone, that will be it for potted nursery stock for these two species. These are both nice goldenrods in their way, but I cannot grow everything and I am prioritizing some other goldenrods.

Special Offer: Mixed Flats – Your Choice

Beaux Arbres has a special summer price on mixed flats of 32 2 1/2″ pots — your choice (from the list below) of flowers and grasses — at $160 per flat. That’s $5 per pot. (Regular price: $6 or more.) If you are looking for native plants for a meadow, community pollinator garden, or other largish project, this is a chance to save.

There are 32 pots per flat so you must order in multiples of 32. For each flat, no more than 10 of any one species – we want you to mix and match. And no more than 6 pots of Butterfly Milkweed per flat. (You won’t see Eastern Ontario genotype Butterfly Milkweed offered at this price again!). Except where indicated, these are perennial plants for mostly sunny locations.

While I was potting up other species, my seedling Tall Sunflowers grew too big to keep in 2 1/2″ pots. I had to move them into larger pots but If you are buying one or more mix-and-match flats you can add Tall Sunflowers to your order for $10 each*. (Regular price: $12 each.)

Species for Mixed Flats at Special Price*

*While supplies last.

Send your selections to me at email: naturalgarden@xplornet.ca

We will be bringing plant orders into Ottawa again – another evening distribution from our Britannia area condo. (Date yet to be determined – possibly July 26th). Even better, plan a visit to the nursery.

Tall Sunflower at Beaux Arbres

Plant Availability for June 18th market

To pre-order for pick-up at the Saturday, June 18th Westboro Farmers’ Market, please download and make your selection from the latest Plant Availability List. We will be coming into Ottawa Friday late afternoon. If you cannot make the Saturday market, perhaps picking up your order Friday evening from our Britannia area parking lot is possible. Please let us know if you would like to meet us in the Visitor Parking lot of our Britannia condo on Friday evening instead of at the Westboro market.

I am very low on plants for shady areas. It is always difficult to keep up with demand for native plants for shade. White Snakeroot seedlings are now available. I will have gallon pots of American Spikenard again this summer, but I am completely out of things like Wild Ginger and Bunchberry until next year.

This year’s seedlings are starting to become available. Anise-hyssop, Swamp Milkweed, Tall Sunflower, Purple Coneflower, and Hoary Vervain are now big and sturdy enough to plant out. At $6 each, these are an economical way to develop a meadow or large pollinator garden. More species will become available in the next weeks. And the lovely native biennial thistle, Field Thistle, is still available for $5 each.

I have added hot links to the Common Names of many of the species on the list. For pictures and info on growing conditions, please use the hot links to the species profiles.

To order, please send your selections, by 6 pm on Wednesday, to email address: naturalgarden@xplornet.ca and I will send you details about how to make payment.

The featured photo above is: Tall Sunflower

Native Thistles

As a kid I loved the big Bull Thistles that sometimes appeared in our garden. True, the first year basal rosettes could be painful to a child who, like me, went barefoot as much as she could, but i loved them. I loved their enormous, prickly stature and their gorgeous purple flowers. Thistles have been valued by other gardeners: the silvery biennial Scotch Thistle called Miss Wilmott’s Ghost is a component of the most esteemed British gardens, and some northern gardeners struggle to grow cardoons, a Mediterranean artichoke relative, for their statuesque thistleyness.

Far too few Ontario gardeners know that there are lovely native thistles. The native Field Thistle (Cirsium discolor) has just as lovely a flower as as the non-native Bull Thistle, the plant is almost as large, but it is never an aggressive self-seeder in gardens. Field Thistle is well-armed with prickles, but, unlike the Bull Thistle, the prickles occur only on the leaves and in the axils of the leaves, they do not extend down the stems. This is the easy distinguishing field mark between the native and the non-native: the non-native Bull Thistle has thorns on the stems, the native Field Thistle does not. Field Thistle is found in the wild almost exclusively in very high quality natural sites. It is uncommon in Ontario and I believe it is officially considered Rare in Quebec.

The native thistles are such important nectar sources for native bees and other pollinators that the Xerces Society has devoted a publication just to promoting native thistles and their ecological connections. After the flowers, the high fat, high calorie seeds are very desirable for small birds such as goldfinches. I think you might want to grow a Field Thistle or two in your native plant garden.

I shall be bringing Field Thistle seedlings to the Wesboro Farmers Market’ this Saturday, June 4th. Like so many Thistles, they are biennials. They will flower in their second year and then die, although sometimes they leave small offsets at the base to keep the plant going. They get 5 or 6 feet tall, depending on the soil. They are plants of prairies and sunny meadows, so provide them with lots of sun and well-drained soil. Do be sure to wear serviceable gardening gloves when clearing away the spent flowering stems – the plants are thistles, after all. I think you will be pleased with all the bees and butterflies they attract, and the goldfinches will love you.

A Giant Swallowtail on a wild Field Thistle.
An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and a bee on a wild Field Thistle.
Field Thistle in the garden at Beaux Arbres.

Blooms for Early Spring

The very first flower at Beaux Arbres is almost always a little non-native rock garden Iris, Iris reticulata. Although I discourage the use of many of the little bulbs from the garden centre, because they readily leap from garden to woodlands, I have never seen nor read of any problem with the little Irises. At the same time, Payson’s Whitlow-grass, a little yellow Draba from the northern Rocky Mountains, blooms in a small pocket of soil in the south facing rock garden. Within a week or so, these early pioneers are joined by several more ground-hugging sun-loving stalwarts of the early spring garden.

The little spring flowers of the deciduous forest – Trout Lillies and Bloodroot and others — are recognized by most fans of wildflowers. Early spring flowers for open sunny places deserve to be better known.

Prairie Crocus

(Pulsatilla nuttalliana) The great spring wildflower challenge in Manitoba is to be the first to spot a Prairie Crocus blooming on a south-facing slope. The native range of Manitoba’s much loved floral emblem extends, just, into western Ontario. We can grow this lovely wildflower in our Ottawa Valley gardens to enjoy their lovely, fuzzy, and very early blooms.

Early Buttercup

(Ranunculus fascicularis) This cute, low-growing native buttercup carpets the ground on alvars (limestone pavements) in Central Ontario. In the Ottawa Valley, it grows on only one area but it is abundant there. As the photo shows, it can grow where the soil is very shallow. It escapes the searing heat on the rock surface in the summer by going dormant after ripening its seeds in June. Early Buttercup persist on alvars that are grazed because it is avoided by herbivores, and that includes deer.

Early Saxifrage

saxifrage de Virginie
Early Saxifrage on Carden Alvar.

(Micranthes virginiensis) The flower buds of Early Saxifrage can be seen in late winter, nestled deep in the centre of the rosette of fleshy, evergreen leaves. The flowers stalk lengthen and the little white flowers open with warming temperatures. The basal rosettes often turn an attractive red with cooling temperatures in the fall. This adaptable little native can grow in almost no soil.

Hooked-spur Violet

Hooked-spur Violet

(Viola adunca) This is a small violet of infertile, sunny places. It is sometimes called Early Violet and it does bloom very early in the spring. In the Ottawa area, it grows on sandy hills and on open alvars. Like other violets, it is a host plant for Fritillary butterflies. It is too small to compete with lawn grasses – this is not one of the native violets which grows in lawns. Hooked-spur Violet is a lovely native addition to sunny rock gardens.

Prairie Smoke

(Geum triflorum) The nodding pink flowers of Prairie Smoke emerge very early. The most noticeable part of the flowers, the crazy pink jesters’ caps, are sepals; the actual flower is a cream or pale pink flask, within the jester’s cap, that never opens. Bumblebees force themselves into the centre of the flower to pollinate it. As the flowers fade, they turn and face upwards, and the ripening seeds extend a mist of smoky purple-grey. Hence the name. The leaves of Prairie Smoke persist into the fall and green up early in the spring. Prairie Smoke will slowly fill in but it does not run about. Its low, tidy habit and two seasons of interest make this a very popular choice for the front of a border.

New for 2021: Goldthread

The very glossy, evergreen leaves of low-growing Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) are most attractive, but before you start thinking this may be the ideal shade-loving ground cover for your shady garden, be aware that this little cutie demands a cool, acidic organic soil, and is not suited for warm urban conditions. It grows in damp moss under conifers and it sometime covers very old, decaying stumps, to lovely effect. When I lived in Toronto, I became accustomed to seeing Goldthread in only the coldest and most organic spots. So I was delighted, and a bit surprised, to see Goldthread in a woods near Beaux Arbres, romping along the side of an old logging track, in partial sun no less, forming an extensive low ground cover, even weaving in and out among the grasses and hawkweeds and other weeds in the trackway, finding the ordinary leaf litter and needle duff sufficiently organic for it to thrive. It is worth remembering that, compared to almost any spot in southern Ontario, this old track has cool and acidic soil. Still, it showed what is possible in the Ottawa area, if the right conditions for Goldthread are present.

Goldthread blooms in early spring. The pretty white flowers, with a boss of white stamens, are very briefly open. The white petal-like parts are actually sepals, and the true petals are modified into yellow nectar cups. If you can catch its very brief flowering, it is worth giving the flowers of Goldthread a close look. I have not been able to find out much about Goldthread’s pollinators but those little cups, brimming with nectar, suggest it is an important food source for somebody.

The plant spreads by thin rhizomes, which are bright yellow, and give the plant its common name. An older botanical name is Coptis groenlandica, the reference to Greenland giving us a clue to its preference for cold places.

Goldthread is one of the little woodlanders I will have in small quantities this spring. Although indisputably native to the Ottawa area, it is so little adaptable to urban conditions, I find it difficult to guess what the demand for it may be. Away from the downtown heat island, in a very well shaded garden, it might be worth trying Goldthread in, say, a wooden trough filled with a specially prepared soil mix (lots of well-rotted needle duff), with other charming miniatures, such as Common Wood Sorrel, Creeping Snowberry, and Bunchberry.

Back for 2021: Virginia Waterleaf

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.

Good companions for Virginia Waterleaf might be White Snakeroot, Wild Geranium, and Zigzag Goldenrod.

New for 2021: Grey Goldenrod

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.

Kapik sniffing for voles in an old field, with a blooming Grey Goldenrod by his face.

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

New for 2021: Prairie Crocus

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.

Pasque Flower in the Rock Garden. Not native, but very charming.
Prairie Crocus

New for 2021: Early Buttercup

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.