Thursday, June 14, 2018

Some Incredible Sights

     While out and about on cool days I often come across beautiful gardens and incredible plants, here are a few of my favourites. Above a hillside garden filled with evergreens and perennials, I don't know if I've ever seen so many high grafted and bonsai'd evergreens in one place. This garden should be the cover of a magazine, truly one of the best in Calgary!

Here a pair of two unusual trees in our area both around 20 feet tall or more, on the left a walnut and on the right a silver maple doing very well.

The walnut from above.

Above what appears to be Honey Locust has grown to a height of about 15 feet. I've never seen one growing in Calgary at all so was very surprised.

Another rarity in our zone, Fir, I've never seen a Fir exactly like this before and after looking at the literature is most likely Blue Fir as most other varieties are zone 5 or higher. In a city where a majority of our trees are spruce Fir is such a nice soft contrast, they should be planted much more!

What looks like a Nest Spruce that is very old, I was impressed by the size of this one and wonder if it was planted 50 or more years ago? Truly the largest of this variety I have ever seen.

I remember Korean Maple from my Garden Store days, no one could ever tell me for sure if they really grew here though. Years later I spotted this one growing quite happily which answers my question. In a zone where Japanese Maples do not grow this is as close as we can get, beautiful specimen trees that should definitely be planted more!

I found this quite amusing, it is the Calgary Emergency Centre in the Centre Street Park, and they have used Egyptian Onions (sometimes Walking Onions) in a public mass planting. I thought I was the only proponent of this plant in the world so was quite pleased to see this. Why not? These plants spread willingly, need zero care, have zero pests and are interesting year round.

     There are many beautiful and amazing gardens all over this city, I love being able to see as many as possible in our short season. These gardens are also useful resources to see how plants grow and what can be grown, these pictures bolster my theory that many plants should be tried as you never know what can take root here!

Friday, June 8, 2018

What's Killing My Hedge\ Alternate Hedging Plants

     You have probably noticed, or have, Cotoneaster hedges that have large dead patches or are dead altogether. It is the work of the oyster shell scale insect. The tell tale sign are the small raised squiggly blisters that are all over the branches, below.

     These tiny insects live under their hard scale most of the year so are difficult to control. In late May and early June the eggs hatch and the insect becomes a "crawler" this is when Insecticidal Soap can be used on the plants. Insecticidal Soap is the least toxic option for the environment and for humans and washes off with rain or water, follow the package directions. The only other option is to cut the hedge down, if not too damaged, and it will grow back up again from the roots. The other bad news is that I have noticed this pest on Dogwood, Apple, and Crab apple in our area, the literature lists 130 trees and shrubs that are vulnerable so stay on guard and inspect regularly! If caught early plants can be rescued but if left alone can completely kill specimens.

     This got me thinking about other shrubs we could use as hedging, there is always danger in monoculture that a disease or pest could wipe out one species, it's important to have biological diversity in our environment so we aren't left devastated later on. Below are some candidates for hedging that I gathered just from walking my neighbourhood, I haven't necessarily seen these as hedges but they are worth a try.

Barberry, were banned on the prairies since the early 1900's for giving a disease to wheat, in the early 2000's this problem was overcome and Barberry is welcome once again. This plant was once called Postmans Hedge because it would block even the postman from crossing your lawn because of the numerous thorns. There are several varieties available Rose Glow is probably the tallest. These plants are drought tolerant and have attractive red/burgundy leaves. I think they have great potential as hedge material except watch out for the very prickly stems, they really hurt!

Honeysuckle, the variety I'm thinking of is Lonicera tatarica, which may be hard to find as it's pretty old fashioned now. These shrubs grow wild in my local dog park and were used extensively in my mid century neighbourhood. They take easily to hard pruning and don't grow continually through the season like many shrubs. Honeysuckle blooms in pink, white, and yellow and has thin skinned red berries. They can grow almost 20 feet tall but could be controlled into a hedge very easily, also very hardy hailing from Siberia, drought tolerant and early to leaf out in the spring.

Mock Orange, Philadelphus, Blizzard is the taller variety, up to 7 feet. With it's small leaves and compact growth habit this would be perfect for a hedge with the bonus of orange smelling white flowers. Hardy drought tolerant, easy to grow, a longtime prairie favourite.

Saskatoon, these berry bushes grow wild almost everywhere there is a ravine in Calgary. Also available as nursery stock. The compact habit would easily lend itself to hedging just make sure you get the height you want. The bonuses would be completely hardy, spring flowers, summer berries and attractive fall colour.

Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus, also grows wild in our area and has attractive leaves and white berries in the fall, also available in retail, these shrubs grow about 3 feet tall. These plants sucker easily and can fill in a small area quickly. The only real drawback is the berries turn black after freezing weather. I think they would make a low and informal hedge.

Upright Juniper, probably the best candidates for hedging would be the varieties, Medora, Moonglow and Wichita Blue which can all grow over 20 feet tall. I would think with light trimming these shrubs would make a dense and evergreen barrier. Hardy and drought tolerant Juniper is easily grown in Calgary. The only drawback for making a hedge would be the cost, individual junipers usually sell for over $100.

False Spirea, Sorbaria sorbifolia, is an attractive plant that grows to about 6 feet tall and wide, these plants also have a large white feathery flower head resembling astilbe. These plants spread aggressively and this should be considered wisely. I have seen this as a sort of informal hedge across the prairies and would be great for a large area or space that is bordered by cement.

Dwarf Korean Lilacs, many lilacs are available and many would make excellent hedges, however, as hedging goes I would pick this variety. They can be purchased quite small and will quickly grow into a compact mound. A few close together like the ones above would easily make a dense hedge that also blooms profusely in the spring. I would think a very light trim would be all that's needed to form these into a nice hedge. These plants excel in our area and are very undemanding.

Gooseberry, grows easily, has a pretty leaf and bonus berries! This one down my street grows into a large open shrub but I'll bet if you pruned it it would grow into a nice dense shrub. Alpine Current a close relative is also available and can make a nice hedge in our climate.

Burning Bush, Euonymus elatus, Winged Burning Bush, is a very attractive shrub that turns brilliant red in the fall thus the name. They take easily to trimming and pruning and can grow at least 10 feet tall. These shrubs should be planted in full sun for best fall colour. The only drawback in our area is that Jackrabbits love to eat these shrubs when young and will need winter protection.

Siberian Elm, Ulmus pumila, used as hedge material in Eastern Canada takes extremely well to hard pruning and clipping. This tree may not be available for sale as it is considered invasive. Unchecked this will grow into a large tree, over 50 feet, very quickly. The one I have was a volunteer that I have bonsai'd into 3 balls over only 10 or so years, it is now over 10 feet tall. Drawbacks are it must be trimmed several times a year and leafminer leave the leaves exhausted looking in the summer. Pluses are extremely fast growth about 5' a year, this would make a tall hedge quickly, the trimmed plants get very dense and if you make a mistake will quickly grow back. With all the trimming I have never had this plant bear seeds . Being native to semi-arid regions of Asia this tree became popular as a shelter belt tree across the prairies and is still a common sight, there are many wild specimens around the city.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

May 2018 In Photos

     May turned out fabulous after April looked and felt like the middle of winter, in fact according to CTV  Calgary this was the second warmest May ever recorded, really? what was the first? And the only time since the 1920's there have been two consecutive Mays in a row with no snow! It seemed like the temperature was around 25 to 30C for weeks on end causing everything to burst forth at once. I'm going to say that this is one of the very few Mays, including last year, that Lilacs were blooming on or very near the May long weekend, most years Lilac blooming times can hold off until June.

Here Lilac and Crabapple bloom consecutively, a rare but insanely beautiful thing!

Early May is often a time I put out some houseplants like this Lemon I have been growing for about 15 years. It's a good idea to wash off the dust of winter with the hose, your plants will thank you. Lemon trees are fairly tough as plants go so can withstand cool spring nights, I usually prune this tree back into a nice ball shape at this time of year.

I like when these native Diamond Willows bloom in the spring it reminds me of something exotic.

May in Calgary means May Day Trees, for me it isn't spring until I catch the fragrance of these in the air everywhere.

Buffalo Beans seem to be the second wildflower after Prairie Crocus in the spring, this year seems to be very kind to this plant as there are thousands in my local field.

The blooms of Saskatoon promise us delicious berries later on.

I always love when the tiny leaves of oak appear in the spring. I always remember an old piece of folklore from Native Americans that says when the leaves of the Oak are as big as a mouses ear there is no danger of frost.

I walk past this tree everyday and barely notice it so I thought I would take a pic when it's in it's glory, for a week or two it's the most beautiful tree around!

Closeup of above, also smells gorgeous!

Somehow this butterfly let me get very close. It's always nice when butterflies return in the spring yet we don't think of them like migratory birds but that is what they are doing. Many species of butterfly migrate over the spring to our area as full grown to mate and lay eggs and start the cycle of life all over again. I am glad and a little surprised sometimes the planet is still wild and healthy enough for this to continue!

There are still many Honesuckle bushes in my neighbourhood, popular in the mid-century I rarely see these plants available anymore which is a shame because they are amazing for a couple of weeks in bloom and the rest of the time need little care or attention.

This years weather was really throwing off the early planting schedule but everything seems off to a great start in the vegetable patch.

Of course I am a big fan of VanGogh so I love Iris. For some reason they do not photograph in the colour they appear in life but become more purple in photos.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Welcome Spring!

     After what was probably the worst winter in our lifetimes spring is finally here, welcome spring and welcome readers new and old! I have written many articles here if you are looking for something specific please use the search feature to the right. If you have a question or article suggestion please post it in the comment section below and remember comments are moderated so will not appear immediately. You can also email me. I will try my best to answer your questions.
Above the vivid orange of Species Tulip praestans Unicum

     It was not your imagination last winter was truly the worst, it was reported in February that we had the most snow on the ground since 1978 and then it snowed seemingly continually thru April. I was a kid in the 70's so it is true that kids these days have no idea of the long walks to school in snow as high as your waist, well, until this year! It all seems like a distant memory now as it has become summer-like this spring. The only good part of all this snow is residual moisture for our trees and excellent winter protection for our small shrubs and perennials, even the rabbits couldn't eat our plants because they were buried. I hope it is another 40 years until another winter like this!

Daffodils and Species Tulips are among the first blooms in Calgary, although this year about 3 weeks later than normal.

I always grab a flat of pansies in the spring and plant in different pots this way they can brought in if it gets too cold. Most years I plant these out in mid April but this year was so late I don't think there was a danger of heavy frost. They like cool wet weather so often excel during rainy periods in June and are expired by the time July heat rolls around.

My mom is growing a Fritillaria Imperialis in her back yard which is quite amazing as they are borderline hardy here. Many years these plants were decimated by the Red Lily Beetle but since Olds College has been introducing a natural predator of these beetles I have seen a lot less damage on all Lily family members. It's such great news as I have removed most lilies from my yard and have not purchased any new ones in years.

Happy Spring!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Best Trees For Calgary; Black Walnut

     Black Walnut Juglans nigra, is not common and borderline hardy in Calgary but well worth the effort. The arm length pinnate leaves lend a tropical feel to our northern gardens in the summer. These trees emit the chemical juglone which is toxic to some plants including tomato, potato, apple, pine and birch so plan accordingly, do not plant near vegetable gardens or other trees! These trees need plenty of space and direct sun as in their native range they are massive, over 100 feet (30 -40m) tall and almost as wide too. I highly doubt this tree would grow this tall as no trees in Calgary are even this tall. I have also read that they will not set fruit in our zone, not below zone 4, and certainly mine has not in over 15 years.

     I have been growing this Black Walnut in my Calgary backyard since 2002. I ordered it through the mail and it came bare root in a box about 2 feet tall, I had to plant it in a pot when it arrived as it was still snowing that spring and wait until about June to plant outside. Although these trees grow massively, several feet a year, they also winterkill to a huge degree so it's a lot like two steps forward one step back. In one of the first five or so years this tree winterkilled right to the ground emerging as a new sprout from the roots, in many years it winterkilled to the snowline. Since growing above the snowline many of the branches winterkill and if you see it in the spring it looks dead, however, the 10 to 20% of the buds that survive grow into what you see in the picture above and grow around 5 feet every summer. This is the latest leafing out of any tree in our area sometimes well into June, the buds are almost microscopic compared to what they grow into. Every few years I thin out the very dead of the deadwood to give a tidy appearance. This tree is currently around 15 feet (5m) tall after 16 years.

     These two walnut trees grow a few blocks down my street and seem to do very well, very little winterkill and not bothered by jack rabbits! They have probably been there just under 10 years, if memory serves me. So I would say that these trees are definitely worth a try in Calgary if planted in a responsible way like in a large open space away from gardens and in a warm microclimate like the inner city or established area with mature trees.

     Black walnut leaves have a curious medicinal smell and slight stickiness if handled. Because of their immense growth in the growing season, the branches at several feet a year and the leaves 3 feet long, I often tie wayward branches to a stronger branch lifting it out of the way and sometimes snip a branch off  which I hate doing. Occasionally the leaves will turn a pale yellow given a long enough fall but in our area often a frosty night freezes the leaves to a crisp and the long pinnate leaf will fall off over the next few days, usually I have to remove the fallen leaves as they get stuck in the branches and look really messy. I do not compost these leaves because of the juglone but dispose of in regular garbage.

Other Walnuts To Grow

Manchurian Walnut Juglans mandshurica, 

Above, a large Manchurian walnut grows in the Dorthy Harvie Gardens in the Calgary Zoo, left of gazebo above. It is actually listed as a heritage tree of Alberta, I remember it as a boy over 30 some years ago and it has been happily growing since. This specimen is at least 30 or 40 feet tall (over 10m) and also has a wide spreading canopy. These trees come from China, Russia, North and South Korea and are rated exceptionally hardy down to -45C! This walnut exudes much less juglone than other species of walnut making it ideal as a landscape tree. My only question is why haven't we been growing this tree in Calgary ages ago!?!? Exceptionally hardy, non toxic and absolutely gorgeous, why hasn't the zoo been propagating seedlings and the city planting them all over? Please, a moratorium on Shubert Cherry and more Manchurian Walnut please!

Butternut Juglans cinerea,

     Butternut walnut is a much smaller and hardier tree than Black walnut, native to Eastern North America into Wisconsin it is rated as zone 2 and said to bear nuts in zone 3!  Many describe the nut as delicious and less astringent tasting than Black walnut. All walnuts need plenty of room for their wide spreading canopies and full sun. Walnuts are self fertile only one is needed to bear fruit. I cannot find any literature or photographs on this tree actually growing in Alberta except that it is rated for our zone which sounds very promising. These trees are also called White walnut and grow to half the size of Black, about 50 feet tall and wide so probably a little smaller in Calgary as most trees grow.


     Look online for availability some local nurseries will special order walnut trees, some smaller nurseries will also order trees for you just ask! I got my Black walnut thru mail order and there are some companies online that specialize in nut and fruit trees but I would check locally first.

In the spirit of our pioneering gardeners like William Reader we must always be stretching the boundaries of what can be grown in our challenging climate, try everything see what happens, this city can always use one more species of tree. There are already some examples of walnuts in our climate and there is always room for more!