Plant Now for Spring Flowers

In addition to some lovely fall bloomers — Smooth Aster, Tall Sunflower, Obedient Plant, among others –Beaux Arbres will be bringing some spring -bloomers to the Ottawa Westboro Farmers’ Market this Saturday, September 14th. Experienced gardeners know they can get a much better show next spring by planting now, rather than by waiting until next spring to plant.

Wild Columbine, Prairie Smoke, Foxglove Beardtongue are great additions to your flower garden. For the early spring rock garden, add some tiny Common Bluets, Arctic Roseroot, or Early Saxifrage. An especially lovely little plant for rock gardens is the diminutive Dwarf Arctic Iris, a wild iris very much like the Quebec floral emblem Blue Flag Iris, but only about 8″ tall.

Common Bluets or Quaker Ladies
Prairie Smoke in the garden at Beaux Arbres.
primevère du lac Mistassini

May I Introduce: Dwarf Canadian Primrose

My first encounter with this 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).
vergerette à feuilles segmentées

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.

New Species for sale Sunday

We have always tried to have some genuinely rare and/or unusual plants for the Rare and Unusual Plant Sale . This year we have some new and very special species.

We are keeping a close eye on our pots of seed-grown Eastern Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia). This species is not locally native; it occurs in Canada in Manitoba, with a wider distribution in the U.S.A. Beautiful and distinctive, Shooting Star is on the logo of the North American Rock Garden Society. Shooting Stars are spring ephemerals, which is to say, the entire plant disappears after flowering, to spend the summer as an underground tuber. The short period in growth means they are slow to develop. We have been growing ours for three years now and hope some will be up to salable size in time for Mothers’ Day..

New for 2018

Rattlesnake Master Eryngium yuccifolium – odd mace-like flowers.

Closed Gentian Gentiana clausa – a white-flowered garden form, 4-year old plants. You can expect them to flower well this September in a damp spot in your garden.

Ohio Goldenrod Solidago ohionensis – well-behaved, flat-topped goldenrod from moist, calcareous soils, adaptable to ordinary sunny gardens. Pictured above, growing wild along Lake Huron shoreline.

New Plants for Shade

Wild Geranium I have a few of this popular flower for light shade or woodland edge. Unfortunately, many of my small plants of this species have not recovered from the winter. I hope to have more available for the Fletcher Wildlife Garden Sale in June.

Dog Violet A nice little plant for damp shade. Grows from central crown and does not spread into lawns.

Kidney-leaved Violet Grows in shade in damp, shady sites.

White Bear Sedge Carex albursina – an evergreen forest-floor sedge with relatively broad, deep green leaves. Limited supply.

Twinflower Linnaea borealis var. americana – beautifully fragrant pink bells in pairs above a low, evergreen carpet in cool, moist, acidic organic soil. From cuttings.Linnaeus boreale

Some popular and special species which we introduced in previous years will be back again: Dwarf Canadian Primrose Primula mistassinica, Broad-leaved Sedge Carex platyphylla, Blue-stemmed Goldenrod Solidago caesia (a lovely clumping goldenrod for light shade) and American Spikenard Aralia racemosa, among many others.

 

Rare and Unusual Plant Sale, 2018

This is a hectic time for me, trying to get the stock ready for our first big sale of the spring, the Rare and Unusual Plant Sale, traditionally on Mothers’ Day, in Ottawa. This will be our fourth year as a vendor at this sale. We now have enough experience to predict that the Weather Gods will provide an especially foul brand of weather for the event. (Hey, prove us wrong!)

We had hoped our new hoop house will help us to bring well-grown plants, showing some colour in their buds, to this sale. Ours is not a heated greenhouse – we were not trying to get too far ahead of the season. The idea was to have the plants only a week or so ahead, without forcing them so much that you have to worry about hardening them off before you can plant them outside. In this exceptionally chilly spring, we seem to be just treading water. However, growth is so rapid this time of year that a few days of sunny warmth, or a few shivery nights, makes a great deal of difference to how the plants display themselves by Mothers Day.

To bring your Spring Wildflower Gardener’s Anticipation Frenzy to a fever pitch, you can download our Spring 2018 Species Availability List: Rare and Unusual Sale 2018.

The cute little thing in the picture is Common Bluets or Quaker Ladies.

Sun-loving Violets

by Trish Murphy

This article was originally published in OHS News, April, 2018, the newsletter of the Ottawa Horticultural Society.

One of the things we think we know about violets is that they grow in shade, shyly, among mossy rocks. The other thing we think we know about violets is that they invade lawns.

Many species of native violets do grow in moist shady places A couple of species of native violets, notable the Common Violet, will invade lawns, a tendency which you might think charming or a nuisance. What is less well known is that there are violets for dry sunny places, charming little plants that are ideal candidates for sunny rock gardens.

We grow two of the sun-loving violets in the rock garden at Beaux Arbres. The locally native Hooked-spur or Early Violet (Viola adunca) is one of the earliest native flowers to bloom. It is a small plant, only about 2” tall, covered in small violet blooms in early May. The plant is very well behaved – the stem emerge from a central crown each year. It might seed gently in the rock garden – and volunteers are always welcome with us – but the plant is too small to compete with lawn grass.

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Hooked-spur or Early Violet (Viola adunca).

The second sun-loving violet we grow, Bird’s Foot Violet (Viola pedata) (featured image) is a very special flower from Carolinian Ontario, where it grows in Turkey Point Provincial Park and a very few other locations. It is more widely distributed in the US but it is threatened by habitat loss throughout its range. Bird’s Foot Violet has finely divided foliage, quite unlike that of a typical violet. The flowers, with a prominent yellow central boss, are relatively large for a wild violet. The plant is in bloom for a long period in the spring and will often re-bloom in late summer. Last year, the cool wet weather encouraged Bird’s Foot Violet to be in bloom almost continuously, which is an amazing feat for a native wildflower. This lovely little flower will certainly not invade lawns and is quite shy about offering volunteer seedlings even when we encourage it to do so.

Both of these these violets like full sun in the spring and lean, sandy soil. They can tolerate a bit of shade as the summer progresses, but not too much.

One of the best reasons for growing sun-loving violets, apart from their charming bloom, is to attract and provide food for Fritillary Butterflies. There are several species of fritillary in the Ottawa area and, as caterpillars, they all eat violets, diverse violets but only violets. The smallest species, the Meadow Fritillary seems to seek out violets wherever they are. We often see them laying eggs on or near the Common Violets in the damp end of our lawn. I have had to stop the mower, sometimes giving up on the idea of mowing that day, while the Meadow Fritillaries are intent on egg-laying.
The largest and most glamorous fritillary is called the Great Spangled Fritillary, a very beautiful butterfly, almost as large as a Monarch. Great Spangle Fritillaries are creatures of warm, sun-lit spaces and they don’t seem willing to venture into the shade to find violets. They are so well adapted to dry, sunny environment that they have the ability to discern violets, even if the violet foliage has shrivelled in a dry summer and all that remains are the roots below ground. The mama butterfly will lay her eggs on the ground, in anticipation of the violet’s leaves emerging with damper fall weather.
Great Spangled Fritillaries are quite common at Beaux Arbres, probably because we have so many Hooked-spur Violets growing, not just in the rock garden but abundantly on the dry hills behind the barn.
If you are interested in providing host plants for butterflies, be sure to include some of the lovely little sun-loving violets in your garden plans.

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A Great Spangled Fritillary nectaring on Swamp Milkweed in garden at Beaux Arbres. The caterpillars of this butterfly feed on violets.