Happy Spring! (Part 2)

Backyard – Ornamental Areas

The rest of our backyard is also coming along nicely.

back yard high view 3

back yard high view 2

scarlet runners, solitary clematis

Instead of planting morning glory vines like we did last year, we decided to give scarlet runner beans a try. Hopefully they will grow up the railing too. The solitary clematis in front of the trellis is doing well.

 

 

 

 

 

allium & coneflowers

This is our third season with our allium. It’s also one of the first to emerge in the spring, like the asparagus. Behind the allium are cone flowers (Rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbstsonne’), purchased last year from Boychuk Greenhouses. They will grow up to 70” tall so it’s nice to have the allium in front of it to put on a show while the cone flowers grow up.

 

 

 

 

mockorange

 

I can’t wait for the mockorange to produce its blooms! Last year’s blooms smelled heavenly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

older pear tree

This is our older pear tree. It’s a Golden Spice pear and I’m hoping it will cross pollinate with another pear that we planted last year. Note for the next yard – make sure to figure out if fruiting plants require another specimen for cross pollination.

 

 

 

 

 

sad lilac

This area is directly south of the mockorange. You might not be able to see the extremely sad miniature lilac that I pruned down today. Lilacs should be pruned after they are finished blooming because they will produce next year’s blooms on this year’s wood. Doing a severe pruning of the lilac is pretty much going to guarantee we don’t get any blooms this year, but I’m more concerned about keeping it alive than getting it to bloom. Maybe this really invasive perennial (not sure what it is) is choking it out.

 west fence

The west fence is home to more shade-loving plants since it really only gets morning sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bleeding-heart.jpg

Last year our bleeding hearts didn’t come back so we decided to give it one more try. I’m pleased to say that we have found success! One of them is just barely hanging on but the one pictured above is a beast!

 

 

hostas

 

I’ve never had particularly good luck with hostas. We’ve planted several different types in the last few years but this one seems to be the only one that bounces back each year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

jacob's ladder

I’m a sucker for variegated foliage and this Jacob’s ladder makes me incredibly happy. It will get much larger by the end of the summer and I’m curious to see if some of the foliage turns pink in the fall, as it did last year. (I have no idea if this is a good or a bad thing.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

sea holly

Sea holly is my new obsession. It looks very much like globe thistle but I prefer sea holly’s foliage. We got this plant a few years ago from a greenhouse in Martensville; it wasn’t actually for sale but the owner offered us two of these plants after we chatted for quite awhile. I ordered seeds from West Coast Seeds and plan on starting those in our greenhouse soon.

 

 

 

 

 

pergola east garden

The area between the raised beds and the pergola is one of my favourite parts of the yard. It has seen the most change, plant-wise, since we finished the back yard. I think we might finally have some consistency in this area this year. Some of the highlights include:

blue bells & bergenia

 

Last year my Auntie Darlene gave us a ton of plants from her yard. These are some of my favourites. The bellflowers are filling in nicely and will make a fantastic ground cover. The bergenia has been a little slower to establish but the early blooms were very refreshing.

 

 

 

 

meadow rue

I think my loudest squeal of delight this spring was when we discovered that the Splendide meadow rue (Thalictrum ‘Splendide’) survived the winter. Meadow rue has the most dainty foliage and the cutest little flowers later in the season. It didn’t emerge until about a week ago but is now growing very quickly.

 

 

 

 

 

tarragon & artemisia

I’m actually not a huge fan of either of these plants but I feel a sense of loyalty to them because they are so darn hardy. The larger green plant is actually tarragon, a perennial herb. We planted it in our small raised bed two years ago, not realizing it was a perennial. When it emerged the next spring I decided to move it since I had other plans for the small bed. The plant grew to a HUGE size last year. I chopped it down almost to the ground this spring and it’s already huge. The Artemisia is eye-catching in the evenings with its pale foliage but it definitely tries to take over the yard. I think I prune this plant back more than I do any of the other plants.

young pear & delphinium

 

Our younger pear tree is in the background but the highlight of this area is the group of delphiniums in front of the tree and beside the tarragon. It produces beautiful blue/purple blooms later in the season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pergola Garden

pergola west garden

The garden space behind our pergola resembles a forest floor. The soil is cool, moist, and mossy. Finding plants that enjoy this has been challenging but we have found some species that thrive in this area. These plants are ferns, a perennial potentilla (from Lyndon Penner!), and a lilac behind the ferns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

lilac & ligularia

We received the ligularia from my aunt as well and it let us know very quickly that it appreciated this space. Last year’s foliage was much larger than my face and it produced beautiful yellow blooms. Its foliage is a nice contrast to the fine foliage of the miniature lilac, which will bloom in the next few weeks.

 

lilies

 

Our Asiatic lilies seem to appreciate this space.

 

 

 

 

pergola corner

I bought some comfrey from someone on kijiji last year and it has done very well in this space. Apparently comfrey leaves make a good fertilizer for plants but I need to look into this further.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note: Please pardon the formatting! I’m still trying to learn WordPress and figure out how to make the posts look good on desktops, tablets, and phones.

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Happy Spring! (Part 1)

Happy spring! I’m currently take a break from working in the yard to write this post… and watch hockey. That’s a strange combination.

Darin and I have been busy planting, weeding, hardening off plants, and figuring out what has survived the winter and what hasn’t. It doesn’t look like we’ve had too many plant casualties, thank goodness. We were very cognizant to cover our dormant plants with snow early on to protect them from our harsh winter air.

Now that the end of May is upon us, I figured it was time to give a photo tour of our yard. The purpose of this is twofold: first, to show any readers who might be out there what we’ve been up to, and second, to document our yard’s progress through the season. I will aim to do a similar post at the end of June (or perhaps even sooner) to compare.

Vegetables/Herbs

raised beds high view

We have four raised beds (built by yours truly, not that I’m boasting or anything), two of which are 4’x10’ and two that are 4’x5’. In 2016 and 2017 we dedicated one of the large beds to the three sisters approach but our harvest wasn’t great so we have scrapped that idea for this year.

 

peppers - raised bed

 

Bed 1:

Remember those 81 peppers that were in our greenhouse? They are (mostly) adjusted to the outdoors and enjoying their time in one of the large beds.

 

 

 

 

tomatoes

 

Bed 2:

Our other large raised bed is now home to 6 tomato plants: 2 “crazy tomatoes”, 2 Romas and 2 San Marzanos. I saved the crazy tomato seeds from a particularly vigorous tomato plant that we grew last year.

 

 

 

 

small raised bed

Bed 3:

This small bed will (hopefully) be home to cilantro, Kentucky Wonder Green beans, buttercrunch lettuce, and dill. The green leggy things are red onions (‘Red Bull’).

 

 

 

 

 

raised bed small box 2

 

Bed 4:

Our fourth bed looks pretty plain right now. Arugula is just starting to pop up. Hopefully we will see signs of the beets (Chioggia, Cylindra, and rainbox mix) and carrots (Nantes Touchon, Bolero Hybrid, Chantenay, and Little Finger) soon.

 

 

 

Miscellaneous:

asparagus

The asparagus was one of the first plants to emerge this spring. We didn’t harvest any this year – we will start harvesting next spring.

 

 

 

grape vinesTwo of the three vines are doing very well but it appears the one on the right is dead. I’m not really surprised since it wasn’t very happy last year. We will replace it with another “Beta” grape vine when we get a chance.

 

 

herb box

 

Our trusty Costco herb box currently has rosemary, Greek oregano, Italian oregano, thyme, and lemon verbena.

 

 

 

 

We also potted up all of the remaining peppers that didn’t fit into the raised beds. Almost all of these are cayenne peppers. We jazzed up the containers a bit by adding some calibrachoa.

May Update – Greenhouse Inventory

Now that it’s getting close to the prairie growing season, I figure it’s time to give an update on those crazy peppers (and everything else that we have going on in our greenhouses). After compiling the list below, I’m starting to dread hardening off all of these plants. We’ll get a good workout bringing these plants in and out every day.

We still have our large greenhouse in the living room and it’s currently housing a ton of plants. I did a quick count tonight, and this is what I tallied up:

Peppers: (Yikes! 81 plants total!)

Other Vegetables/Herbs:

Ornamentals:

We also decided to plant a bunch of annuals. I didn’t bother counting these little guys because I sowed them fairly thickly and need to thin them out as they get their true leaves. Regardless, we will have a lot:

 

Greenhouse Modifications

Darin made a few modifications to the greenhouse over the last few weeks so we thought it was time for an update.

The pepper seedlings are really taking off so we decided that we should transplant them from the trays to individual pots. Thanks to Darin’s big fat head (his words, not mine), we had to hold an emergency repotting session right before the Superbowl started. He was adjusting the power bar at the bottom of the greenhouse and hit his head on a tray, which fell to the floor. We now have many “mystery” pepper plants since they were planted in tidy, labelled rows but got all mixed up when they fell. It will be exciting, I suppose.

greenhouse2

After he recovered from the Superbowl, Darin transplanted the rest of the peppers (with labels). He decided to lower the grow lights to 2-3” above the tops of the plants. We found that our plants got pretty leggy last year with the lights being up higher, so hopefully this will remedy that for this year’s crop. He also added a few more grow lights and, while he was at it, added some small fans. This was something we had read about last year when we learned about hardening off plants (not that outdoor gardening season is starting anytime soon!). Exposing the plants to a gentle breeze helps them develop strong stems and, as an added bonus, reduces the chance of mold/mildew. It sure dries the soil out quickly, though, so we are rotating the plants frequently so they get a break from the breeze.

greenhouse1

Would you be surprised if I told you that Darin is planting one more tray of peppers? This time he chose two types of bell peppers: Red Mercury and Delirio Hybrid. He’s also planting jalapenos (regular this time, not mild like the ones we’ve already started. All of the seeds are from Early’s.

On a non-greenhouse note, the U of S spring gardening classes have been posted! Check out the courses here.

 

Heat in the Dead of Winter

Tonight I decided to count the number of pepper seedlings that are growing in our greenhouse. We have a lot more than I first thought. Here’s our pepper plant count so far, along with their Scoville Heat Units:

  • 4 Fat n Sassy – 0 Scovilles
  • 10 Sweet Bananas – 0 – 500 Scovilles
  • 11 Jalapenos – 2,500 – 8,000 Scovilles
  • 25 Cayennes – 30,000 – 50,000 Scovilles
  • 2 Habaneros – 100,000 – 350,000 Scovilles
  • 1 Chocolate Scorpion – 1.2 to 2 million Scovilles
  • 3 Carolina Reapers –  2.2 million Scovilles

Most have been up for a week or two, but the Carolina Reapers just emerged in the last day or so. That makes it about 2.5 weeks from the time we planted them to the time they sprouted. Sheesh.

The Scoville scale is a measurement of how hot chilli peppers are. It actually measures the amount of capsaicin in a pepper, which is the chemical that produces the sensation of heat in humans. Apparently, the Guinness Book of World Records named the Carolina Reaper the world’s hottest pepper in 2013, although some are now saying that Pepper X/Dragon’s Breath pepper is the hottest.

What are we going to do with all of these peppers? We’ll definitely make some hot sauce. Darin made some fabulous sauce last year with our peppers and we’d like to try that again. We will likely dedicate more of our raised beds to our beloved peppers as we have decided not to do the 3 sisters planting this year.

Stay cool, everyone! Or not.

Anatomy of a Plant Name

Warning – pretty dry entry ahead.

I wasn’t exactly looking forward to my Botanical Latin class on the hot, sunny afternoon of July 6, 2015. Why was I taking it? It’s a required course for the Master Gardener program at the U of S. This class actually turned out to be one of the most valuable classes I’ve taken to date. It was even interesting and entertaining, thanks to my favourite gardening instructor, Vanessa Young.

Today I’m at home sick and all of the work that I could be doing is not at home with me. Why not take this opportunity to do some learning? I decided that I need a refresher on botanical Latin (binomial nomenclature – the system of naming plants). Sure, we can use common names when referring to plants, but I want to make sure we are being as specific as possible when discussing our plants on this blog. When possible, I’ll try to give the Latin names for whatever plants I’m talking about. That way, if you decide you want to find that plant for your own yard, you can find the exact same plant.

Genus

Trifolium rubens

The first word refers to the genus. You can think of the genus as the plant family’s last name. For example, Jones is the last name for all the people in the Jones family. This plant family’s name is Trifolium and tells us that any plants in this family are very closely related. It is always capitalized and italicized. If handwritten, it’s underlined. If I was using this genus name repeatedly, I could abbreviate it T. rubens after I write it out the first time. Sometimes the genus can be used as its common name, such as the petunia (Petunia hybrida), delphinium (Delphinium albiflorum), and clematis (Clematis alpina).

Specific Epithet/Species

Trifolium rubens

The second word is called the specific epithet or the species. Specific epithet is a better term to use because the two words together (i.e., Trifolium rubens) indicate the plant species, but sometimes people refer to the specific epithet as the species…. just to make things confusing.

The specific epithet is the equivalent of a person’s first name. Let’s say we have Trifolium rubens and Trifolium gemellum. We could say that these are two siblings that are very closely related but are different enough that they deserve different names. Plants with the same specific epithet can interbreed among themselves. The specific epithet might come from the plant’s Latin or Greek name, refer to the geographical area it came from, describe a physical characteristic of the plant, or honour a person. Rosa arkansana is a species of rose originally found along the Arkansas river, while Rosa woodsii is a species of rose that grows on the edge of a forest.

Sometimes the genus is known, but not the specific epithet. In that case, you would write the genus name, followed by “sp.”. For example, you could write Trifolium sp. to show that you know it’s a Trifolium but you aren’t sure about the specific epithet.

Author’s Designation

In rare cases you might see a third part of a scientific name, such as Rosa arkansana Porter. This tells you who officially named the plant. I haven’t seen this very often as an amateur gardener.

Varieties vs. Cultivars

This is where I tend to get confused. A group of plants forms a variety when they grow wild in nature and have a unique characteristic from the rest of their species. The handout from my class gives the example of the chokecherry Prunus virginiana, which is a familiar native cherry. In eastern North America the fruit is bright red, but in western North America, the fruit is very dark purple to black. Otherwise, the two plants are identical. In order to differentiate the two, the western chokecherry is called Prunus virginiana var. melanocarpa (melano = black; carpa = fruit).

Cultivars are often confused with varieties. Cultivars refer to a group of plants that originated naturally or were developed using human activity. A cultivar requires human intervention in order to reproduce. Prunus virginiana var. melanocarpa ‘Schubert’ (the Schubert chokecherry) is a popular cultivar here in the prairies. It differs from other chokecherries because its leaves turn purple in the summer. It was found in the wild, then humans reproduced it and they continue to cultivate it today.

According to my class, true botanical varieties are pretty rare. If you have to guess on whether the name refers to a variety versus a cultivar, you are far more likely to be correct if you guess that it’s a cultivar.

Hybrids

An “x” in a name tells you that a plant is a hybrid. A hybrid is an individual plant that has been produced using two genetically different plants. In this case, you won’t often find the full lineage of both parent plants but you will at least know that it’s a hybrid.

The Fun Stuff

I find binomial nomenclature super interesting because the structure of a word can tell you about the plant itself. You might not know what a Trifolium rubens is, but you can quickly learn about the plant by studying the word.

Tri = three; Folium = foliage = leaves

Trifolium = three leaves

Rubens sounds like rubies. Rubies are red.

Trifolium rubens = a three-leaved plant that is red.

(It’s actually a red-flowering clover. Cool, hey?)

Mother Nature Network, Rainy Side Gardeners, and The Seed Site are good references for deciphering botanical names.

(Information taken from “Botanical Latin for Master Gardeners” from the University of Saskatchewan.)

Thrillers, Fillers, Spillers

I love the anticipation of watching for those first little seedlings to emerge from the soil. We didn’t have to wait long for our first flats to show signs of life. Our pennisetum (fountain grass) emerged within two days and is doing well now!

pennisetum.jpg

Why fountain grass? Well, now that our yard is “done” (not that landscaping ever really ends), we can put more energy into our containers. I have come to appreciate ornamental grasses in my container design.

There is really no one way to approach container design. You can plant one type of plant in a container or combine several types. If you’re doing a combination, the traditional way to choose your plants is by using the thriller/filler/spiller approach.

Thrillers are typically your feature plant and provide height to your container. Many people use dracaena spikes but more adventurous types may try canna lilies or ornamental grasses. We even tried columnar basil and leeks last year. Thrillers can feature either dazzling flowers or spectacular foliage. Thrillers are often placed in the centre (if you’re going to view the container from all sides) or at the back of the pot (if it’s only going to be viewed from the front). The pennisetum that is so steadily growing will hopefully grow to become beautiful thrillers that we can play around with in our designs.

Fillers are those plants that, well, fill up your container. They are usually mounded/rounded and provide bulk to your container. They are usually of medium height and complement the thriller. You can use a few different fillers at once if you have the room and the desire. The fillers are placed so they surround the thriller. I used coleus, pansies, petunias, calibrachoa (in very small containers), and kale last year.

Finally, spillers are low-growing plants that are placed close to the edge of the containers. They spill over the edge and visually soften the transition from container to plant. Spillers can be placed on all sides or just in the front, depending on where it will be viewed. We tried creeping jenny, sweet potato vine, bacopa, calibrachoa, and wire vines last year. I have thoughts on what I will and won’t try for spillers this year but I think that’s another post for another day.

You can think of thrillers/fillers/spillers as a container recipe. When I am shopping for plants I will often arrange them on my cart as I would in the container and play around with combinations until I find one that I like. (Pro tip: take a picture with your camera because once you have bought those babies home they’ll probably be mixed up or, if you’re like me, you’ll have forgotten what your plans were.)

Right now it’s far too early to start/buy most plants. Growing a few thrillers is a great way to kick off the year. If they don’t survive, I’ll just start new ones. That’s what I figure. I’m getting impatient already and it’s only January 17th. Boy, am I in trouble.