Sunday, August 31, 2008

Eupatorium - a great late-season perennial

Eupatorium tucked in amongst Rudbeckia 'Herbstsonne,
Karl Foerster feather reed grass and fountain grass

Eupatorium is one of my favorite perennials at this time of year. There are a number of different species (fistulosum, maculatum, purpureum, all North American natives), and you can find cultivars, hybrids and selections from these species.

Of Eupatorium in general, perennial expert Allan Armitage writes:
"One must often search high and low for its presence in American gardens. One the other hand, it is one of the architectural building blocks of British gardens. People with whom I have traveled overseas in the fall always wonder why our native plant is so well used and cherished there and so scorned and ignored here." (Herbaceous Perennial Plants, 3rd Edition, 2008)
Commonly known as Joe Pye weed, to my mind, this plant doesn't merit the "weed" part of its name. Yes, it can self-seed, but I haven't found that to be troublesome, and this is easy to prevent by deadheading.

As for the name, here's Armitage again:
"Joe Pye is said to have been a North Carolina Indian who used these plants to cure many ailments, including typhoid fever, and the plants became known as Joe Pye's weed. Perhaps changing the name to Joe Pye plant would enamor it to gardeners a little more."
Eupatorium purpureum that we grew from wild-collected seed

We have Joe Pye plants growing wild along the creek that flows through a corner of our property, and a few years ago we collected seed and propagated plants to populate a low wet area near our pond. It's interesting to see how much smaller the flower heads are on the wild species.

If you've got a country garden, be sure to include this plant. It makes a great companion to ornamental grasses and other late flowering perennials. It's also long-blooming, attractive to butterflies, and provides a welcome dusky pink color when so many other late bloomers seem to be yellow (all those rudbeckias, for example).

Cultivars to look for: I can't quite remember which cultivar the Eupatorium in the pictures at the top of this post is: from its rather large flower heads, red stems, and tall habit (about five feet), I'm guessing 'Atropupureum'. According to Armitage, the big purple-flowered species aren't easy to tell apart, and many of them have hybridized, which makes them even harder to sort out.

Another well-known cultivar is 'Gateway', which grows five to six feet tall (even though it was said to be a dwarf when it was first marketed). If you're looking for a dwarf, your best bet is Eupatorium 'Phantom', a hybrid of E. maculatum 'Atropurpureum' and E. rugosum that grows three to four feet tall.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Friday, August 29, 2008

The vine that ate the compost pile

Back in July, this pumpkin-like mystery vine started to grow on our compost pile. It has now covered it entirely, plus our leaf mold pile, and is moving onto the mulch pile. Makes a nice camouflage of our less than attractive heaps of stuff, doesn't it?

It grew for weeks before revealing what sort of fruit it's producing. Now we know: it's a small gourd. I used to grow these for fun, and to use as fall decorations. The gourds are all quite small, and I don't know if they'll ripen. I think that's because we have not had the kind of heat this summer that we normally have.

I don't mind, because I don't enjoy hot, muggy summers. This one has given me little to complain about, but I'll admit that many people don't share my point of view.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A co-operative subject

On Sunday morning I finally got very lucky with a butterfly. This Monarch was extremely co-operative and let me shoot 30 pictures of it. It chose good flowers with reasonable backgrounds that were accessible for me with my tripod, and stayed on them for a good long time.

I find with photography that the more you're out there, the better luck you have. Of course, that means the key to success isn't really luck at all. To use a sports analogy, the more shots on goal, the better your chance of scoring. In practice, this means getting up early, something I don't like to do, but with other camera club members coming frequently I have managed to get into an early rising routine. Unlike them, I don't have to drive here, so I can't really complain. It's getting to bed early that I can't seem to do, so I burn the candle at both ends until I finally have to sleep in for a few mornings.

Here's another favorite shot from Sunday, meadow blazing star (Liatris ligulistylis), a favorite butterfly flower. This is an image overlay done in the camera, combining a sharp exposure with a soft focus exposure.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Sunday, August 24, 2008

It's amazing how fast they grow

Barn swallow babies that is. This season, the swallows that built their nest in the garage part of our barn decided to have a second family. It's amazing how much they've grown in just six days.

I predict that they will start flying lessons tomorrow.* I sure hope they have time to get competent and grow stronger before the rigors of the migration south.

Scrawny little things on August 18th

Our babies today:
sleek little birds ready to leave the nest

*Note from Aug. 25: As predicted, they were out flying today.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Friday, August 22, 2008

"It's the nature of the willow beast"

That's what the man from the tree service said about the big limb that tore off and got hung-up in the tree after Tuesday's thunderstorm.

I didn't notice the problem until after I had already mowed under the tree. Once I saw it, I made sure everybody steered clear of the tree until the tree service could deal with it. They got the job done this morning in 20 minutes.

Definitely not a do-it-yourself job

The power of men and equipment

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Monday, August 18, 2008

Calling all vegetable gardeners

My tomato and garlic harvest last September

If you or someone you know is a star at growing veggies, you might be interested in a photo contest that Stokes Seeds announces in this email, which came across my desk this afternoon:

Across the gardening industry it has been noted that vegetable gardening has become extremely popular again. This is probably due to communities across North America, setting up "eat local" campaigns as well as the rising prices of fresh vegetables in our grocery stores.

This year Stokes Seeds plans to help new gardeners plan, plant and harvest their own fresh vegetables. We are asking you, our valued customers to help. We are in need of photos of vegetable gardens to accompany articles and possibly be featured on the front cover of our catalog. A photo of you working in your garden would also be of interest to us.

Stokes will award 4 of the best photos with a $25.00 gift certificate from Stokes. If your photo is chosen for our catalog cover, a $100.00 gift certificate will be awarded. Any photos used will include a photo credit with your name and the area you are from.

If you use a digital camera for your photo, please make sure it is set at the highest resolution for the best printing quality. Send in digital photos to

Prints can be sent to:

Joan Adam
Stokes Seeds Ltd.
Box 10
St. Catharines ON L2N 3M5

Please make sure you include your name and address with your submissions.
© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

More rain today...

We had another thunderstorm this afternoon: half an inch. The lawn seems to need mowing every four days, which is astounding this time of year; in a normal season, the landscape is fried, waiting for September to bring relief.

Here's what the rock garden looked like very early this morning:

Mystic garden: 'Pink Diamond' Pee gee hydrangea -
a sure sign that autumn is just around the corner

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Friday, August 15, 2008

Trimmed boxwood hedge: the finished product

We have now have trimmed the boxwoods, edged the lawn around the four-square garden, and renewed the mulch. It looks fabulous, but I'm exhausted, as I was the one working on the edging and mulch. I had a little help from the boxwood-trimming team at the end with the mulching. They're worn out too.

Now it's all crisp and sharp-looking for Saturday's open garden for members of the Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society. I shall wear my garden hat, and play lady of the manor. That reminds me: I once had a garden helper, my friend Elisabeth, who used to call us Lord and Lady C. Do you suppose our boxwood hedge elevates us into such grand circles?

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Bloomday highlights this month

Well, so much is in bloom now, it's hard to choose. A lot of DYCs (damned yellow composites), as garden writer Wayne Winterowd likes to call them.

Here are some highlights of what is the most colorful time of the year in our garden:

The usual suspects: Two rudbeckias, 'Goldsturm', and in the background, Rudbeckia nitida 'Herbstsonne' (Autumn sun)

The meadow in the early morning dominated by Ratibida pinnata

A Ratibida closeup is always irresistible

Russian sage with Joe Pye weed and grasses

Joe Pye weed with Echinacea

Echinacea with painted lady butterfly

White turtlehead growing wild in a naturalized area by the creek

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Plant sculpture: experts at work

Our boxwood hedge with a section trimmed

On our 10 acres this summer, I'm taking care of all the maintenance myself with one main helper. It's a full-time job, actually. (In the spring we have three helpers because cutting down the ornamental grasses, cleaning-up from the winter, and moving or dividing plants is just too much to do ourselves.)

I have a couple of exceptions to the D-I-Y regime: one is pruning big trees, which a professional tree service does for us, and the other is pruning the boxwood hedge around my four-square garden.

Bob May: pruner extraordinaire

The master at that job is Bob May, a former gardener at Royal Botanical Gardens, who now runs his own business, which he calls the "Plant Sculptor". He's in such demand that although I called him in early June, he and his crew weren't able to get here until yesterday. He's so busy he can't take on any new clients so I'm glad I got in on the ground floor several years ago.

The key to precision is a string line and sharp shears

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Something else likes all the moisture

More dewy ratibidas

What I didn't notice in the viewfinder

The wet weather is producing bigger slugs this season. Lots of tasty morsels for toads and birds, I guess.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Terrifically lush in August

Our garden is always colorful in August, because we've planted a lot of mid-summer blooming perennials and ornamental grasses to go with them, but I've rarely seen it as lush as this year. We have all the excessive rain to thank for this. We had another afternoon thundershower today, and I actually got soaked while out on the riding lawnmower.

It's also been cooler than normal, so the flowers are lasting longer too. Here's what the gardens looked like yesterday afternoon:

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rainfall map to Aug.10

This is astonishing to me. We are in the "extremely high" area at the tip of Lake Ontario. (Click on map to see it larger.)

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Monday, August 11, 2008

The challenges of supplying local organic fruit

There's a lot of talk and much written these days about "food miles" and eating locally-grown, and preferably organic, produce. Here in southern Ontario, this a real challenge because typical summer weather and climate conditions aren't ideal.

The following is a real eye-opener from Plan B, one of our local organic growers. In their newsletter to customers this week, they addressed the question: "Why is there so little fruit being grown organically in Ontario?"

While the climate in Southern Ontario is warm enough to grow tender fruit crops, the high humidity in summer leads to a high incidence and spreading of fungal diseases on tender fruit crops. To combat these fungal diseases on conventional farms tender fruit crops are sprayed with chemical fungicides as many as 15 times or more each season to keep these diseases at bay and ensure a crop for the farmer. These sprays are why we at Plan B feel the need to provide an organic alternative, but for that alternative to also be local is a bigger challenge.

Most of the certified organic tender fruits you have been getting in your fruit share are grown in arid, semi-desert zones in California where disease pressures are much lower and it is more conducive to organic growing. The cooler and drier weather in more northern parts of the province where we get our organic apples from is also helps lower disease and pest pressures for the farmers there. We also feel that very few local growers are in the position to risk losing their crops as there is little or no financial security in making significant changes to the food system, unless people are guaranteeing their costs and a living wage. Things most of us take for granted, but that's not how it is for farmers in our society.

Why can't we get more farmers in Ontario to grow their fruit organically? We at Plan B Organic Farm began offering the fruit share with hopes that having a good market for local organic fruit would help convince some local growers to convert to organic production. So far we have only been able to find a few farmers who have taken this step, we hope to find more in the future. Our goal is to have everything we handle be local and organic, but this is a goal for us when it comes to fruit, not the reality of where organic agriculture is at right now in Ontario. We want to build this system for the future, if you know of anyone with a fruit farm that's not being used or is retiring please let us know and we will contact them with info about organic production.
© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Sunday, August 10, 2008

When it rains, it pours

We got 2 more inches of rain yesterday. That's on top of an inch which fell earlier in the week. And right now, it's pouring again.

I was at friend's house for dinner last night, and they got a phone call
around 9:30 from their daughter, whose house was struck by lightning, which left a basketball-sized hole in their roof. Fortunately, they were at the other grandparents' at the time. They had only just moved here from Ottawa and had been in their house for about three and a half weeks.

The radar picture at noon today

I don't know where this exceptionally wet weather is coming from because it's been cool, not hot and humid. We appear to have a big upper-level low spinning over southern Ontario, and it's not going anywhere fast. There was flooding at our creek again overnight, but it was gone by morning. My neighbor, who owns two 18-hole golf courses across the road from us is not happy this summer.

This week's newsletter from the organic growers we get our vegetables from had this to report:
One of our best-known and shareholder favourite items had a crop failure due to heavy storms and hail, that we thought did more damage to the onions, actually hurt the peas more. We figure on about a $40-$50,000 loss in farm income just for the peas, not including the onions, two spinach fields flooded out and other crops which are yielding less. It's no wonder the average income on Ontario farms last year was negative $15,000, AVERAGE! Our farmers are in a worse state than during the great depression.
Says my husband: "If you had a choice, you would not take up a job in a field in which the vicissitudes of the weather play a part."

I'm so glad I'm a gardener and not a farmer. In the late '90s, I tried being a garden designer for several years and I'm glad I abandoned that. Landscaping is almost as bad as farming. Writing about it is more fun anyway.

You have to feel for all the people whose livelihoods are affected by the weather, drought in 2007, deluge in 2008.

PS: We got another half inch of rain this afternoon, bringing the week's total to 3.5 inches.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Saturday, August 09, 2008

With my favorite toy

The Country Gardener up in the barn loft
Photo: Margaret Grant

The view from the barn's loft
(Click on picture to see bigger)

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Not quite biblical, but close

While my husband is off on a holiday attending a summer music school (furthering his violin-playing hobby), we email each other daily. I was telling him how lush and green the lawn is and that I have to mow every four or five days. This is unheard in a normal August, not to mention during the kind of drought we had last summer when we hardly mowed at all.

This was his response:

Now you don't water, you mow. Such is the life of Eve tending to Paradise. -Adam
Here's what the rainfall map from Agriculture Canada looks like now:

In just a month, we have gone from "very low" to "very high"
(Click on map to view bigger)

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Monday, August 04, 2008

Today's garden critters

I don't often try to photograph insects. For flowers and garden shots, I tend to use a tripod, and so I'm rather tied to shooting with it - kind of like my security blanket.

But to get the butterflies, you need to shoot handheld. The trouble is that my longest zoom lens doesn't have image stabilization so camera shake is a problem. I suppose if I practiced more shooting handheld, I'd get better at it.

Yesterday, spurred on by Eve, who comments here faithfully, I gave it a shot and managed to capture these characters.

American painted lady

Monarch butterfly

Hummingbird moth - quite a challenge,
never in one place for more than a couple of seconds

In the evening, using my tripod again, I found this praying mantis,
(it's probably a katydid, see comments)

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Mid-summer blooms in profusion

These pictures are of a large flower bed that we call the well bed because that's where our well is - right beside the blue spruce, but hidden from view.

Beyond the well bed in a low area there is our pond, and behind that in the second picture you can see a huge flower bed. It's more than 150 feet long and 20 feet wide. We used to call it the Oudolf bed, after Dutch garden guru Piet Oudolf, whose ideas inspired that planting style.

For the past three years, I've treated this bed as a wild garden or meadow, doing minimal weeding and maintenance, allowing lots of self-seeding. It's largely populated with North American native perennials - most of which we grew from seed - plus ornamental grasses.

It still looks wonderful, even though I decided to abandon it to cut our work load down. I'll write more about this bed in a future post.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Floral magic - Tiny dancer

Hold me closer tiny dancer (Photo: Y.Cunnington)

I'm dating myself here: Whenever I take photos of prairie coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), Elton John's song Tiny Dancer plays in my head. It's because these flowers start dancing in the slightest breeze.

The chorus goes like this:
Ballerina, you must have seen her dancing in the sand
And now she's in me, always with me, tiny dancer in my hand
Looked it up on Wikipedia: the song is from the album Madman Across the Water, released in 1971.

Good lord, that's almost 40 years ago! No wonder the young man who cashed me out at the grocery store today, kept calling me "Ma'am." He must have Ma'am'ed me half a dozen times in five minutes. He said it so often that I actually suggested that he not call woman my age (early 50s) "Ma'am" because it makes us feel old. That prompted a knowing smile from a gal my age over in the next aisle. She knew exactly what I was going on about.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Friday, August 01, 2008

What a rainy month July has been!

In June I was concerned that we would have another dry summer. We didn't get enough rain through April and May, and that was exactly how last year's severe drought started.

Well, what a difference a few weeks makes! The lawn is growing as fast and as lush as it should have done in the spring. At that time, it was so dry that the grass didn't need as much cutting as it usually does.

Mowing tends to slow down in mid-summer, but now we're cutting the grass every four days. That's never happened at this time of year before. The grass is thriving, but my tomato plants (all four of them, what's left of my veggie-growing career) appear to be sulking. The rest of the garden looks very happy, and, of course, the weed population is exploding, and that's keeping us busy.

Here is the Agriculture Canada rainfall map up to the end of July. We are now in the "high" precipitation zone, and for once I can say that we've had more than enough rain.

Click on map to see larger

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Today's guest photo: Ratibida pinnata

Ratibida - Photo by Aija Straumanis
For more information about this plant, click on PDF fact sheet from the USDA.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener