Butterfly Weed: A Must-Have Perennial

Many plants look flashy in their pots in the garden centre, giving us the overwhelming urge to put them in our shopping carts, but some of the best ones do not, and that’s a shame, as some of the most delightful perennials can be easily overlooked. Native butterfly weed (asclepias tuberosa) is one of these, and it’s a perennial plant from the milkweed family that deserves a spot in every sunny garden. The one in my garden, pictured above, is two feet high, gently mounded, and is full of buds just starting to open. In the next few days it will pop and be absolutely gorgeous, in the most vibrant orange.

It took a mere three years to go from a few spindly leaves when it was first planted to the beauty that it is today. They are a fine example of the sleep, creep, then leap behaviour of many perennials. This means they spend some time creating a good root system, (a year or two). You might not see too much happening above ground for the first couple seasons, then on the third year they come back with a pow!

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What Home Gardeners Can Learn From No-Till Farming

gardener-garden bed

A big mistake I made way back as an early gardener was not paying attention to the soil. I didn’t know any better, mistakenly believing that soil was merely a placeholder for plant roots. I thought fertilizer could be added to soil like a vitamin pill. I cringe when I remember that I once poured liquid chemical fertilizer onto my soil thinking I was doing my plants a favour. My excuse it was a looong time ago. But sadly, this view is still widely held. You only have to see ads for certain instant fertilizers for lawns and gardens to see it in action. We think we ‘feed’ our plants like we are giving them food, but it doesn’t work this way. The relationship between plants and soil is more complicated.

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Boost the Power of Garden Colour With Matching Containers

Blue Love in a Mist

Blue ‘love in a mist’ annual flowers with matching blue container.

We don’t have to settle for plain old terra cotta anymore. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love the look of natural clay pots or believable-looking (plastic) fakes. However, moving towards the pure rainbow hues of the spectrum can give your garden some colour pizzazz. This bright blue container increases the impact of the blue love in a mist flowers in the foreground. Now that manufacturers are creating so many garden containers in varied colours, we can easily maximize our favourite colour choices in our garden arrangements.

This pairing of blue and blue is a real knockout. Of course, in my view, there is almost nothing better than a blue pot in the garden. The blue makes a perfect contrast to the garden’s green, while still being an analogous colour. Analogous colours sit next to each other on the colour spectrum, naturally blending together, while also giving just enough contrast. And it’s that bit of contrast that makes a garden interesting and noteworthy. Try a coloured pot somewhere in your garden, and pair it with one of your favourite garden flowers. The two often make an impact that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Worry-Free Planters: Mixed Succulents

Mixed succulents in a clay planter.

Mixed succulents in a clay planter. Echeveria, (rosette form), and two kinds of crassula among others. 

Why do I love succulent planters? Because, not only are they beautiful, but they are tough and worry-free: they’re the ultimate drought-resistant container planting. Succulents can thrive in the tough growing conditions that a clay planter provides, and are the only plants I grow in an unglazed terra cotta planter.

Why is a terra cotta planter so hard on plants? Because they are porous. Beware, because beautiful, decorative clay planters often seduce us at the garden centre or in photographs, but keep in mind that garden picture books may have photos taken in other climates, with different growing conditions. In rainy, old England, for example, or any Maritime climate with tons of rain and mist, you can get away with planting mixed annuals—like petunias, begonias, browallia— in clay, but I would never do it in the Toronto climate. Sunny, hot summer days dry out a clay planter in a couple of hours. All planters dry out from the top, but porous terra cotta dries out from the sides as well. It can spell certain death to most flowering annuals, they don’t stand a chance.

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Frisée, sometimes called Curly Endive, as it is a member of the edive/chicory family, is one of our favourite greens in the summer. It can be grilled, wilted, sautéed, and torn into pieces to add volume and depth of flavour to fresh salads. Its lightly bitter notes balance well with a number of other flavour profiles making it a great counterpoint to the sourness and acid of citrus, sweet fruits like strawberry, pear, peaches and pomegranate, and it holds its own next to salty anchovies, hard boiled eggs and pungent cheeses. Frisée’s curly leaf is also attractive to look at; bright green at its tips, where it is most tender and its bitter notes are the strongest, it fades in colour and intensity to a creamy yellow and white base, that is milder and almost sweet in flavour with a little added crunch. Continue »