Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wishing you a cosy winter solstice

Today is winter solstice which brings the shortest day - and the longest night - of the year. The good news is that after this the days will start to get longer.

Here at my country garden, the snow is knee-deep, courtesty of two storms this week, one of which felt like an old-fashioned blizzard. Looks like we have a white Christmas in store, and I'd like to wish you all a merry one, and a happy New Year.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wither Canadian gardening magazines?

Does Canada only have room for one national magazine devoted to gardening? It now looks that way.

The publishing world is reeling with the economic downturn. Ad revenues have tanked, and Gardening Life magazine is no more.

The recent winter issue will be its second last. I used to write quite a bit for GL, and several years ago the magazine featured my country garden in a very nice spread.

My friend Marjorie Harris, GL's editor-at-large, wrote about getting this shocking news in her blog:
"Well, just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. How typical of life. [On] Friday [Nov. 14] I was called to be told that Gardening Life magazine was folding. Right now. No advance warning, no time to write a final Back Talk, nada. No time to figure out what to do in the future.

Since 1996, as the central part of my life this wonderful magazine is gone like a puff of smoke. There will be one more issue. I guess it’ll be a collector’s item. But there will never be another garden magazine started to take its place. It’s the economy, stupid old me — I didn’t see that coming. I had the usual journalistic focus of deadlines. But no more."
A dramatic drop in ad revenues is to blame, according to GL's publisher:
"The global financial crisis has triggered such a dramatic decline in advertising markets that prudent media companies around the world are evaluating their portfolios and making tough decisions about those brands least able to withstand the downturn. Announcements of closures and cutbacks from Canada, the US and Europe in recent weeks are testimony to how widespread these conditions are."
Meanwhile, there are changes at Canadian Gardening, where I've also been a writer — doing a column geared to newbies called "Novice Gardener" — at least until recently.

In late summer, I was told that my column was no more, and I was OK with that because I had already decided it was time for me to pack it in. I'd had been writing the column (based on my book for beginner gardeners) for about three years, and I felt we'd covered all the obvious topics, and the premise was getting a bit stale.

More interesting than content changes is a restructuring plan, announced by CG's publisher last month, with its obvious overtones of "doing more with less."

When Aldona Satterthwaite, who has been CG's editor since 2001, decided to step down, the publisher, Transcontinental Media, did not look for a replacement. Instead, management decided to merge the editor-in-chief, managing editor and art director roles at Canadian Gardening and Canadian Home & Country. Erin McLaughlin, currently Home & Country’s editor-in-chief, will be adding editor-in-chief of CG to her duties.

As the Canadian magazine trade publication Masthead Online reported:
Asked whether she [Deborah Trepanier, group publisher for CG, Home & Country and Style at Home] thought doing “more with less” would affect the editorial quality of the respective publications, Trepanier replied, “No. Not at all. I think our quality will remain as high as it is now…Obviously there’s a lot of work there but there are a lot of talented people associated with both these publications and they’ll certainly be able to manage the job.” The frequency for both titles will be reduced next year, Trepanier said: CG will go from eight to seven issues per year, while Home & Country will drop from nine to six.
A few weeks back, I had dinner in Toronto with two old friends, who have both moved on from high-powered jobs in magazines. One was editor-in-chief at Chatelaine for a decade, while the other held the equivalent position at Canadian Living (where I got my start in national magazines more than 20 years ago). One thing we were all in agreement on: it was a good time to be out of the magazine business.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Botanical names or not?

Which is it: bee balm, horsemint, oswego tea, or bergamot?*

There's an interesting post by plant expert Allan Armitage over at Garden Rant about whether people in the hort industry should be using botanical or common names in the garden centres. Do you expect your customers to learn "Latin" names or not? This was the question at a recent landscape symposium where he was a speaker.

On the one hand, there is the argument that common names are confusing and that they vary throughout the country (never mind across continents). In addition, as gardeners and landscapers learn more, they get more comfortable referring to plants by their botanical names.

However, Armitage had a contrarian view:
“As professionals, we should know, use and promote the common names to simplify and make the buying experience more user-friendly. To think that my daughter Heather is ever going to learn Chaenomeles instead of quince, Baptisia rather than indigo, and to think she will ever get her tongue around Calibrachoa is ludicrous; she hasn’t the time or the interest. We should know those names, but yes, we should be using common names. Absolutely. Not as a substitute but as a way of making Heather feel more comfortable.”
You can read the whole post here. The comments are interesting too, with people weighing in on both sides of the issue.

I'm inclined to agree with Armitage, but I think it's always good to use both when possible to avoid confusion, even though it's a lot for my aging brain to keep straight. (But thanks to Dr. Google, and a library of hort books in my study, it's not too much trouble.)

What do you think?

*Monarda didyma (Photo: Margaret Grant)

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Sunday, November 09, 2008

'Chanticleer' pear: all a-glow

Chanticleer pear tree:
I took this picture from my kitchen window

One of the last trees to color up is our ornamental pear tree, Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer', which I look out on from our kitchen window. It is beautiful in spring covered with white flowers, has glossy leaves all summer, and right now, it glows in the November gloom. This tree produces small, greenish-yellow fruits that aren't edible and don't have much ornamental interest either.

Flowering in spring

Here's what the Missouri Botanical Garden site has to say about ornamental pears, and this cultivar in particular:
In the 1950s, callery pear emerged in U. S. commerce as a promising new ornamental tree, leading to massive landscape plantings. By the 1980s, concerns about both overplanting and structural weakness (limb breakage from wind, ice and snow) began to surface. ‘Chanticleer’ (synonymous with and also known as ‘Cleveland Select’, ‘Select’, ‘Stone Hill’ or ‘Glen’s Form’) is considered to be one of the best of the cultivars currently available. It is a tight, narrow, pyramidal, thornless ornamental pear tree that typically grows 25-35’ tall and 15’ wide. Some specimens appear almost columnar in habit. Oval, glossy dark green leaves dance in the breeze due to long petioles. It is susceptible to limb breakage or splitting from strong wind, snow or ice, but is much stronger than some other cultivars such as P. calleryana ‘Bradford’.
Most of the trees we have planted on our property are native oaks, maples, ashes, pines and spruces, but close to the house I have planted a few ornamental pets like this pear tree. So far, so good: it's beautiful year round - it has glossy leaves in summer and a nice branching structure in winter - but I particularly love it covered with flowers in spring, and right now, as it glows with exquisite color.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

November color - fall is not over yet

It was a foggy morning, so I grabbed the camera and went out before breakfast. I didn't even need my gloves it was so mild. These pictures show the misty morning light, and the glow from the sun rising. Today's temperature went up to 21 degrees C (69F), so it was a delightful day to be outside.

The four-square garden, starring Molinia 'Skyracer'

The crabapple orchard at sunrise
- tree farm saplings in the background

Crabapple tree after the fog lifted

Fothergilla gardenii in full fall color

Fothergilla isn't a well-known shrub, which is a shame because it's a beautiful and carefree shrub that doesn't grow very large, which makes it particularly useful in smaller gardens. I have it growing at the edge of my shade garden. Here's a link for more information about it.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Monday, November 03, 2008

Dear November: I'm rather fond of you

When my friend Sandy emailed me to say, "The beautiful month is here at last," I was surprised. I thought I was the only person (or maybe just the only Canadian) who really likes November. When I asked her why, she replied:
I love November! At least the first two weeks. It's quiet and calm, but still has plenty of color. And I don't have any guilt about not doing garden chores.
I couldn't agree more. That's exactly why I love November too. The inner voice that keeps saying, "I must get to that" whenever I see something amiss in the garden is almost silent.

Aside from some leaves to chop up - a job I do with my big professional ride-on mower (we don't rake if we can help it) - and some succulents still in the greenhouse that need to be moved to the basement when it gets really cold, we're done. November always comes as a relief after a busy garden season.

So welcome, November. The weather for the week is mild: today's temperature was 17 degrees C (that's 62 degrees F for you Americans). The only downside to the month for me is that daylight saving time has ended. I tend to be a night owl, and early morning is the best time for photography, so now I have to get earlier to catch the magic light.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Late October thunderstorm

We had a thunderstorm here aournd 6 this evening. Then the sun came out and there was the biggest, most intense rainbow I'd ever seen. I grabbed my camera, and here's what it looked like from my front porch. It was still thundering when I took this.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Best fall color - more trees and shrubs

Although there are still golfers playing at the course across the road from us, Toby and I have been able to start having morning walks there. If we get there early enough, we done before there's any danger of balls hitting us. The course has some magnificant trees, such as the oak above.

The sugar maples have colored beautifully this year

Our shrub border with eastern redbud,
double-file viburnum and cotoneaster

Our magnificant little black gum tree (Nyssa sylvatica)

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Fall color - the season's star trees and shrubs

It's been a fantastic autumn for great foliage color. Here are some favorites from my garden this season. They all happen to be North American natives.

Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Serviceberry (Amlanchier canadensis)

The serviceberry leaves were more intensely colored this fall than I've ever seen them before.

Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Monday, October 20, 2008

Heavy-duty frost at last

We've had frost here and there, mostly in low-lying areas, but this was the scene yesterday morning when we finally got a serious killing frost. I love getting out with the camera on frosty mornings like this.

This was the scene from breakfast room window,
looking at our meadow and the corn field across the road

Our wild border, the one taken over by golden rod and asters

So why do I write frost "at last"? Well, very soon I will get a much longed-for break from gardening and mowing. It's a good thing we have four seasons. I don't think I'd be happy in a climate where you could garden all year long. You can get too much of a good thing.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fall splendour to gorgeous to rake up

We are at the peak of fall color. A good wind yesterday saw leaves falling like rain. They look so pretty on the ground along the laneway that I'm reluctant to mow over them or rake them up.

Flowers are mostly gone, but leaves more than make up for that

The shrub border behind the four-square garden (below)
with yellow backdrop of tree farm ashes

Molinia 'Skyracer' grasses frame sundial base my husband carved

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Grassy fireworks - another fall wonder

These flowers (when it comes to grasses, the experts prefer to use the term inflorescence) from one of my Miscanthus grasses look like fireworks going off. Isn't that fun?

A fireworks picture I took in the summer

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Blooming merrily in the cooler temperatures

My mandevilla vine, planted on trellis at the patio is still blooming beautifully. No hard frost here yet.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Plants that live well and die well

It was garden designer Piet Oudolf who taught me to see beauty in plants during their fall dying away. Here are two examples from my garden, the button-like seeds heads of Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm', and a hanging seed head of giant sunflower planted by birds, which grew beside our pond.

For more information on Piet Oudolf, I have a page on my web site about his garden design ideas.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fall splendour - grasses and more

Fall is best time of year for me. Here are my reasons for loving autumn:

1. Heat and humidity go away
2. The light is golden and magical
3. The garden chores are almost over

4. Fantastic leaf colors
5. Harvest goodies: crisp apples, squash, cranberries are in season; you can roast dinner in the oven again
6. My favorite plants, ornamental grasses, really shine

Fountain grass in front, backed by flame grass and feather reed grass

Close-up of flame grass (Miscanthus sinensis var. purpurascens)

7. Crisp frosty mornings and nights under a cozy duvet
8. The golf course across the road begins to get less busy, so I can walk the dogs there again
9. I can wear black turtle necks and jeans again (my favorite uniform)
10. My birthday is in October

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fall garden pictures and more

I was away last weekend in Killarney, not far from Sudbury, where I joined a fun group of people for a photo workshop, and had a lovely time. The pictures here were taken at Killarney Mountain Lodge.

Since then, I've had a kind of writer's, or should I say blogger's block, and so I haven't posted. Figured I'd better start again, and break this dry spell with some pictures from the fall garden. We've had a dry spell too in terms of rain, but the soil is still moist on most of the property, except on our south-facing hill, (below).

Fountain grass comes into its own at this time of year

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A good article on establishing a meadow

The New York Times recently had a good article in their Home and Garden section about creating a perennial meadow:
"A perennial meadow in bloom, its colors constantly changing with the play of light and shadow, may be nature at its most alluring. Yet, as random and natural as a meadow looks, there is nothing haphazard about creating one. Planting a meadow, it turns out, is as rule-bound and time-consuming as planting any perennial border, according to Larry Weaner, a Pennsylvania landscape designer and one of the pioneers of meadow design in the United States."
Read the full article here to find out what's involved and how long it takes to get the plants flowering. The description is very similar to the process we went through to get our own meadow, pictured above, established.

More links: information about our meadow at my web site, and also a blog post about weed control in the meadow.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Mama and babies - Time for a move

We've had a bit of a love affair with succulent plants. This variegated Agave americana collection began with a single plant, the biggest one in pot on the ground. It was much smaller when I bought it six or so years ago. Since then it has had many offsets, and my dear husband keeps propagating them.

These plants, and other non-hardy succulents look great in our front courtyard all summer, and they're easy to care for because they don't need much watering.

However, it's getting cold - last night it was only 5 degrees C (41F) - and today we must move them into the greenhouse, where they'll spend the next six weeks or so before we move them to the basement (because we don't heat the greenhouse in the winter). Once inside, they overwinter under a big mercury vapor light.

I'm lucky that my husband doesn't mind looking after them. I take care of so many plants in the summer that I don't even want to look at them in the winter.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Monday, September 15, 2008

It really should stop raining now

We are in the "Very High" region between London and Toronto
Click on map to see it bigger

Here's the Ontario precipitation map up to Sept. 13. What a contrast to last year's drought from hell! We're wet and soggy again, and it's been like that for weeks.

It rained on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, about two inches worth, including Hurricane Ike leftovers. On Thursday, before all the rain started, we laid some sod to patch up an area near the laneway where the grass has died in last summer's drought. We were happy not to have to water the sod for the last four days.

There's a lot of lawn on our 10 acres, and I seem to be spending all my gardening time mowing. Although the grass was very high today, the ground was too soft and wet for the ride-on mower, so I'll try tomorrow. I'm relieved that we didn't get as much rain as my friend in Michigan. She reports eight inches over the weekend, and says she doesn't ever remember so much rain in such a short period of time. Before the recent rain, her part of Michigan near Lansing was in a drought.

From drought to record rainfall - what a difference!

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Monday, September 08, 2008

A few days off in Michigan

Over the weekend I drove to Michigan to visit my hort buddy, Sandy, who lives near Lansing. At the border they always ask where you're going, and when I say to visit a friend, the next question is: "How do you know her?"

Well, here's the story: we met 11 years ago on a Horticultural magazine tour of gardens in the Pacific Northwest. We bonded because we both enjoy wine with dinner, and it's always nice to find someone to share a carafe of sauvignon blanc or cabernet merlot, when many of the rest are drinking coke (yuck!) or water. After the trip, we kept in touch via email. When we discovered that it's only a four-hour drive to each other's homes, we began regular visits across the border.

These pictures are from her country garden. I really liked her white and blue bed (picture at the top), backed by Annabelle and Limelight hydrangeas, and blue and white petunias with alyssum.

Sandy's solution to racoons destroying birdbaths by climbing on them and smashing them is to set large clay saucers (found at Ikea) on a solid foundation of bricks. It works and makes a nice garden focal point. Love that golden yucca - it just glows.

The very charming entrance to Sandy's herb and vegetable garden, fenced off with chicken wire to keep critters out.

Flowers from the garden: I just love Sandy's gorgeous arrangements. (I'm generally too lazy to go out and cut flowers.)

Thanks, Sandy, for hosting me and taking me shopping. (As most Canadians know, the shopping in the US is so much better.)

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Change of season - Welcome September

We're having a week of hot days, and the "official" start of fall is still two and a half weeks away, but the garden already feels different.

Early mornings have an autumnal atmosphere with cool temperatures, heavy dew and mist rising from the pond. The meadow is quickly turning to seedheads, and flocks of migrating song birds are stopping to feast there. I just love this time of year.

© Yvonne Cunnington, Country Gardener

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