Westboro Farmers’ Market, Saturday, September 17th.

Beaux Arbres will be a vendor at the Westboro Farmers’ Market in Ottawa on Saturday, September 17th. This will be our last venture in to Ottawa for the season. We will have a selection of wildflowers at the table — bottle gentians (featured photo), perennial sunflowers, asters, and goldenrods, plus some early spring bloomers such as Early Saxifrage, to plant now for spring bloom. You can also pre-order from the Availability List for pick-up at the market. Please email your orders by Thursday, September 15, 6 pm to naturalgarden@xplornet.ca

The Milkweeds are all rapidly going into dormancy, so they are now off the list, plus I have none left of Blue Lobelia and Cardinal Flower. However, most of the species on the August 31st Availability list are still available. (I have reloaded the list, because there was some technical glitch with it last week.)

The nursery will be open until the end of September and you are welcome to come out to select your plants. There are often oddities and one-offs at the farm that do not make it onto the list.

Farm Sale of Shrubby Cinquefoil

I am going to drop Shrubby Cinquefoil from my stock. I am clearing them out at the low, low price of 6 for $100, farm sale only. These are local genotype wild-type plants, several years old, not as floriferous as the nursery varieties but tough and hardy as granite rocks. I have totally neglected them for at least 2 years and haven’t been able to kill them. So I gave them a bit of fertilizer this summer and actually watered them from time to time and they perked up nicely. I honestly think the fancy-coloured nursery varieties are a more colourful choice for most urban gardens but if you have a cottage or country property which has a spot for some smallish tough summer-flowering native shrubs, these are a good deal.

potentille frutescente
Flowers of Shrubby Cinquefoil.

Some Ottawa Valley Wildflowers

We had something to pick up in Wilno and a delivery to make to Killaloe, so we made a little holiday of it, a break from the nursery, having a nice picnic at Golden Lake, and lovely walk in a bit of publicly accessible alvar at the Fourth Chute.

Here are some photos of some spring wildflowers growing in their alvar habitat in the Ottawa Valley. The featured photo above is Small Skullcap (Scutellaria parvula). All these little known wildflowers are truly lovely additions to sunny rock gardens, especially if the garden is built with limestone rocks (or marble or dolomite or urbanite* – all calcium carbonate rocks).

Rock Sandwort (Sabulina michauxii, formerly Minuartia michauxii) growing in a little alvar near the Fourth Chute of the Bonnechere River.
Hairy Beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus) growing in its alvar habitat.
Seneca Milkwort (Polygala senega).
Balsam Ragwort (Packera paupercula). This bright flower is a true alvar indicator plant. However, its strict need for a limestone substrate and its biennial nature make it a difficult subject for our nursery. We do carry the closely related perennial Golden Ragwort (P. aurea) – a bigger plant, for moist sites.
  • A fancy name for re-cycled concrete.

Beaux Arbres at Westboro Farmers’ Market on Saturday

We will be a vendor at Westboro Farmers’ Market for their opening day, this Saturday, May 21st. I have a new Plant Availability List if you wish to pre-order for pick up at the market.

The response to our plants at the Friends of the Farm Sale last Sunday was stupendous. We were just about completely out of stock by about 11 o’clock. So, I have potted up some more Virginia Waterleaf and Cardinal Flower, and some others, but they will not be ready for this Saturday. I also go behind on my plans to pot up some other species due to the incredibly hot and drying weather we had last week. So there are a few species on the Availability List paradoxically listed as Not Available Yet. I don’t want you to give up on them – they will be back in stock when we are next at the Westboro Market on Saturday, June 4th.

First Plant Sale in Two Years

I am really looking forward to the Friends of the Farm Sale tomorrow. It will be the first plant sale Beaux Arbres has participated in in two years. (We did manage one Farmers’ Market last July and two in September of 2020.) We have a wonderful array of plants to bring to the sale – a mixture of spring flowers and some summer-flowering plants that have emerged in the recent heat.

It has been a challenge getting the plants organized in this extreme heat and some of the early species I had hoped to have in full bloom have already passed their peak. Prairie Crocus is long over but we are bringing some plants to the sale anyway. This incredibly early beauty is a great addition to any sunny rock garden.

A species I am very proud to be able to offer is the lovely little Early Buttercup. It has taken two years to get these small plants up to salable size. The seed is originally from the local Ottawa Valley population of this alvar specialist plant. We are not on limestone at Beaux Arbres so I have planted what will be my stock plants for future seeds in a hypertufa trough with limestone mulch to mimic their alvar home.

Early Buttercup in a hypertufa trough.

Everyone gardening with butterflies in mind wants to know when the milkweeds will be available. Milkweeds are real heat-lovers and are always slow to emerge in the spring. I do have some nice pots of Whorled Milkweed to bring to the sale tomorrow. This low-growing species from south-western Ontario is not the showiest in flower but it is very attractive to Monarchs looking for a place to lay their eggs. We expect to be bringing some Dwarf Milkweed (seed from Manitoba) to the Westboro Farmers’ Market next Saturday.

The forecast for this Sunday is rain and possible thunderstorm. The weather gods must know we are bringing prepaid orders in cardboard boxes. Some folks who ordered from us last year will remember the soggy muddle of our first rainy delivery day last May. Honestly, I should start charging a fee to farmers – putting plant orders into cardboard boxes seems to be the most effective rain dance ever devised.

Warm-season Plants Starting to Grow

A week of (very) warm weather has pushed all sorts of summer-blooming, heat-loving plants into growth, unfortunately not in time for the pre-orders for the Friends of the Farm Sale on Sunday. I will be bringing a smattering of summer-blooming flowers to the sale, along with many spring flowers. And you have more chances to pre-order for pick-up at the Westboro Farmers’ Market.

The Fletcher Wildlife Garden Annual Sale, it has just been announced will be on a pre-order only basis, as it was last year. With no sale event, we don’t have a chance to be the guest vender at the sale event. We will be at the Westboro Farmers’ Market again that Saturday, June 4th.

I have sold out of a few species: Anise-hyssop, Blue-stemmed Goldenrod, and some others. I overwintered only so many in each species. However, they will be available again later in the summer as this spring’s seedlings get to salable size. I will post a new Availability List this week.

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The vivid red flower in the feature image is called Royal Catchfly and it is one of the summer bloomers that I will be bringing a few pots of to the Friends of the Farm Sale.

Plant Availability List for May, 2022

The long spell of cold weather in the latter part of April really slowed down plant growth, but I promised a Plant Availability List for the first of May, so here it is. The fine weather forecasted for the next week or so might bring many more species into growth. If there are enough additional species, I will put out an updated list before May 11th.

For pick-up of prepaid orders at the Friends of the Farm Sale on Sunday, May 15th, I ask that you get your orders e-mailed to me by 6 pm on Wednesday, May 11th. For this event, there is a minimum of $50 for pre-paid orders.

Please put in your orders via email: naturalgarden@xplornet.ca

First Flower of the Spring: Prairie Crocus

Last post, when I said I would have to move the Prairie Crocuses to a cool spot to keep them in bloom for the Friends of the Farm sale, I wasn’t joking, but I didn’t think I would have to start doing the move on April 2nd. Yesterday, the largest bud on the Prairie Crocuses in the hoop house started to open in the warmth of the afternoon sun. Perhaps this is the one I shouldn’t sell but keep for seed, for future very early blooms.

In the Rock Garden, the fuzzy buds of Prairie Crocus are visible but still small.

Finding the first wild Prairie Crocus to bloom is something of an obsession for naturalists in Manitoba. Manitoba’s floral emblem occurs in the wild in Ontario, in a few locations near the Manitoba border. Prairie Crocus can be cultivated in rock gardens in the Ottawa valley, providing early floral resources for pollinators and cheering gardeners with their very early bloom.

Spring Sales: Getting back to normal

After a two year hiatus, the Friends of the Farm Annual Plant Sale will be held this spring. Although colloquially known as the Mothers Day Sale, it is not always held on Mothers’ Day and this year it will be on May 15th, the Sunday after Mothers’ Day. For several years, this was our first big sale event of the year. During a cold, late spring, we never know what will be up and looking good in time for the sale, but we can hope to have Eastern Shooting Star, Prairie Smoke, Early Saxifrage, Showy Jacob’s Ladder, Bird’s Eye Primrose, and other early spring cuties in bloom, or at least in bud, in time for the sale. Prairie Crocus is so darn early, we may have to move our pots into a cool spot to keep them in bloom for May 15!

We will be bringing a selection of spring flowers to the sale table for sales on the day. In addition, you can pre-order from our Availability List for pick up on the day of the sale. Our first Plant Availability list of 2022 should be up on the website by on or around the 1st of May, with details of how to order.

We are also going to be at the Westboro Farmers’ Market on Saturday, May 21. That is the Saturday of the 24th of May weekend, a traditional time to stock up on garden plants. We will be bringing in a good selection of spring and early summer plants for sale at the Market, but just as for the Friends of the Farm Sale, you can pre-order from the Availability List for pick-up that day. (Because we are doing two things on one day – a sale table and prepaid orders – we will have a minimum in effect for prepaid orders for both days.)

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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.