primevère du lac Mistassini

May I Introduce: Dwarf Canadian Primrose

My first encounter with the a 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).

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.

September Highlights

Rock Pink

Rock Pink (Talinum calycinum) has been in bloom for weeks and it just got better and better, as long as the warm weather lasted. I love the bright magenta of the flowers against the natural greys of the rocks and stone mulch. I hope it proves to be hardy, here in western Quebec, but even as an annual it is worth growing for mid to late summer colour in the rock garden. Small bees love the flowers.

Ironweed

A useful contrast to all the tall yellow daisies, the bright saturated purple of ironweed (Vernonia sp.) glows in the autumn sunshine. This plant is tall and rugged.

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Ironweed and Switch Grass.

Tall Sunflower

Of the many tall yellow daisies for late summer and early autumn, my favourite is Tall Sunflower (Helianthus giganteus). It can be very tall – to 3 metres. That’s a plus. If you are going to do tall, do it! Even small gardens have lots of room in the vertical direction. Tall Sunflowers flowers are a lovely clear yellow and the purple stems are a nice contrast. On warm afternoons the plants hum from the volume of pollinators. After the flowers fade, the seeds are relished by goldfinches.

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Heart-leaved Aster

Now, I warn customers that pretty Heart-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) is a pushy native that spreads, but let’s face it: most gardens have spots where a tough, pushy plant is just the thing. We have an ancient clump of common lilacs, as do most old farmyards. The lilacs are fragrant and lovely and visited by Canadian Swallowtail Butterflies, for about a week in the spring, and then, for the rest of the summer, they are a big, boring green lump with no fall colour. Heart-leaved Asters are willing to grow in the dry root-filled conditions under the lilacs and bloom in a beautiful pale blue ruff at their feet. Like other asters, they are important for late-season pollinators.

Closed Gentian

Daisy-form flowers dominate late-season wildflower gardens. Native plants with distinctive and unusual flower shapes are always interesting and even more welcome when they bloom in the fall. This is a white-flowered garden selection of the native Closed Gentian (Gentiana clausa).

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Miniature Crevice Garden

This hypertufa trough, planted only weeks ago, is doing remarkably well. I used a technique I read about in the North American Rock Garden Society quarterly, and sandwiched  a thick clay mud between vertical slabs. One would think that the little Erigeron pinnatisectus or Feather-leaf Fleabane, perched at the top, would not have had a hope of surviving, but this is a plant of steep slopes and high ledges, and it seems to be thriving. Let’s see how this little garden survives the winter.

Talinum: a pretty, hardy succulent

The long, blistering-hot dry period we just went through proved the garden value of a pretty, hardy succulent from the American mid-west. Rock Pink (Talinum calycinum) is a member of a genus which includes some summer-rain-intolerant species from the Rockies, collectively called Fame Flowers.

We are growing Rock Pink for the first time this year. It produces lovely vivid purple pink flowers on long wiry stalks, above the succulent green foliage. The flowers do not open until noon, last only one day, but are continuously replaced by new blooms.

Rock Pink’s home range is Texas to Illinois. William Cullina of the New England Wildflower Society, who is usually a pretty reliable authority, says the plant is hardy in Zone 4 if given excellent winter drainage. A south-facing rock garden would be an ideal home for this plant, in the north. We have recently planted several in groups of five and seven or more in our newly expanded rock garden. With the flowers a bit on the wispy side, they seem to call out for planting in groups. We need some vivid colour and we can certainly use a plant which loves heat in our summer garden. It is visited by bees. fullsizeoutput_3e4

Beaux Arbres has this plant for sale in the nursery, if you would like to give it a try. I cannot absolutely guarantee it will be winter-hardy but it is both charming and easy to raise from seed. It might even spread a bit by volunteer seedlings.

New Species for the Fletcher Wildlife Garden Sale, June 2

I am almost too busy getting the plants ready for the sale to blog about them but there are a few new species that are too interesting to ignore.IMG_0942

Seeded earlier this year and already big enough to plant now, the lovely biennial Swamp Thistle (Cirsium muticum). I know, Swamp and Thistle. Don’t let your experience with weedy non-native thistles, neither the stately but dangerous Bull Thistle nor the absolutely appalling Russian Thistle, put you off this great native for damp spots. It is so unlikely to seed into gardens that I suggest you collect some seeds in the fall to ensure you don’t lose it. I received my seeds as a generous gift from Lis Allison, whose Pine Ridge Studio, near Carp, is a great source for locally grown native ferns. Native thistles are great nectar sources for butterflies and the nutritious seeds feed many birds.

Also new this year: Dwarf Arctic Iris (Iris setosa var. arctica), a miniature wild iris and seriously cute. We have some in bud. Seriously cute. Shop early.

We are bringing a few pots of Rock Whitlow-grass (Draba arabisans). Perhaps not the most exciting of Drabas — the really tiny, exciting ones are all denizens of either the high Arctic or Alpine peaks and dislike hot weather — but we just this past Sunday saw this species used very effectively in the Natives area of the Alpine Garden of the Montreal Botanical Garden (featured image). This Draba species is an easy  plant for rock gardens, small enough for troughs.

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And speaking of rock gardens, yes, we will have lots of Common Bluets, still happily blooming.IMG_0948

We will not be bringing many shrubs to the sale this year — three species of roses, some Shrubby Cinquefoil, a few others. Plan to come out to the nursery for more shrubs.

The Fletcher Sale is the only time we bring the mid to late summer meadow flowers into Ottawa. They won’t be in bloom now, of course, but take the opportunity to add some great heat-loving natives, for flowers throughout the summer. Many of the prairie and meadow flowers are important nectar and pollen food sources for diverse pollinators: Boneset, Great Blue Lobelia, Cardinal Flower, Swamp Milkweed, diverse yellow daisies and many others. New this year: Rattlesnake Master and Tall Coreopsis.

 

Fun with Hypertufa Troughs

The hypertufa troughs I made last fall weathered over the winter (to wash out alkali from the cement) and now comes the fun part: Planting them!

This trough, which broke along one side when unmoulded, was especially fun to do. I call it “Strata Garden.”  It is modelled on the popular Crevice Garden style but with horizontal strata. The plants are all native to local alvars and include: