COME AND HAVE A LOOK AT THE GREENHOUSES
We now have 4 greenhouses set up on site and are working on the 5th. Get a feel for the different styles, sizes and accessories that are available. We will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
The basic rule of ornamental grass maintenance is to leave them standing over winter and don’t mess with them until they are actively growing in early to late spring. They don’t require much care, but will benefit from some annual grooming and spring is the time to do it. Most of the grooming involves cutting back, and when and how to cut back depends on the type of grass you have.
The first ones to cut back are the cool season, deciduous grasses, and these can be cut back to about 3 inches after temperatures rise above freezing. In Victoria gardens this usually means mid-March, when the new growth is just starting to show.
Cool season perennial grasses include Calamagrostis, Carex elata Bowles Golden, Deschampsia, Elymus, Millium, Molinia and Cortaderia.
Hakonechloa, Imperata ‘Red Baron’ and Chasmanthium are deciduous grasses that start to grow in early spring at which time all the old foliage can be cleaned up.
Cutting back of warm season grasses is not done until late spring, after any threat of frost has passed and before the new growth starts to show. Don’t wait too long to do this to avoid cutting the tips of the new growth with the old. Leaving the old foliage up too long can also delay the crown’s warming and growth by several weeks. All those lovely grasses that provided much appreciated buff-coloured winter structure in the garden need to be cut back to about 6 inches from the ground.
These grasses will gradually start to grow back in from their “hedgehog” look and then really take off with summer heat. A more rounded cut rather than straight across can give a more natural look when growing back in.
Warm season grasses needing this late spring hair cut include Miscanthus, Muhlenbergia, Pennisetums, Panicums, Spartina and Arundo.
There are a few grasses that remain evergreen in our climate. For the most part the only grooming they need is combing. Carex, Fescue, Helictotrichon (Blue Oat) and Stipa usually refresh from a simple comb through with fingers or rake to remove the dead buff foliage which easily separates from the new growth in spring (this can be repeated in summer). Insert re-growing stipa
Some evergreen grasses start to look shabby after a few years or harsh winter and may actually require cutting back. The recommended time to do this is in late spring when the grasses are actively growing. And never cut too low to the base; always leave about one third of the foliage in place.
Anemanthele lessoniana (formerly Stipa arundinacea) (pictured here) seems to need a gentle hand and should be cut back to no lower than 6 inches. Broader leafed Carex ‘Ice Dance’ can be cut back to the ground and kept moist to refresh.
Handy tools for this job include gloves, a bungie cord for bundling, a tarp for gathering and a good saw or shears. A little spring grooming prepares your ornamental grasses for another wonderful show.
Most of the vegetables suitable for the winter garden are perfectly hardy, but minor protective measures will ensure a greater harvest, better quality leaves, and cleaner produce. I’ve grown kale, leeks, chard and purple sprouting broccoli in a raised bed with no protection over the winter other than leaves covering the soil.
The soil needs more protection than the plants, ironically. If we have a mild, wet winter, constant rain will leech nutrients away, compact the soil, and enable weeds to take hold. If we have a cold winter with freezing and thawing, the soil needs an insulating buffer, because if it freezes, water can’t be absorbed by the plants, and the freeze/thaw cycle causes heaving of the soil with subsequent damage to the fine root hairs.
The best soil mulch is a 4-6” layer of autumn leaves, which insulates, protects and feeds the soil as it’s broken down first by worms, and later by microbes. The breaking down process takes place faster if the leaves are chopped up first, but even if left whole, they will work. In really cold weather, a further mulch of fluffy conifer branches or larger leaves may be used to cover the plants entirely. The shoulders of root veggies will benefit from a covering when the temperature plummets.
Covering with a plastic sheet is very effective in cold and rain; it raises the temperature while also protecting from drying winds. A covering such as this needn’t be attached to a frame, it can just be draped over the bed and held down with rocks. Some people make a support with pipe hoops, or a tunnel of wire mesh which keeps the plastic from weighing down the plants if rain or snow accumulates on top. On warmer days, you can leave the plastic sheet on to trap the warmth, or remove it for ventilation.
What about a greenhouse? This of course is the ultimate protection, and crops grown in an unheated greenhouse will have unblemished leaves, no slug damage, and the warmth of sunny days brings on spurts of growth unseen outside. Just remember to water occasionally, and in a very cold snap, a blanket or tarp will keep the plants warmer. On sunny days you may have to open the doors to moderate the wide swings of temperature from day to night, and to provide ventilation.
What about slugs? Slugs don’t go south for winter, but continue to share our harvests, unfortunately. Safers Slug bait is safe for pets and other animals, and is worth using sparingly all season long in a mild winter.
Climbing cutworms can do serious damage in the early spring; their presence looks like slug attacks, but there will be no slime trail. They come out at night to eat, so either go out with a flashlight, or check for the characteristic C-shaped, ugly-looking caterpillar curled up in the leaf litter. Their pupae look like mahogany bullets, something to eliminate whenever you see them.
So enjoy your winter garden, and with these few precautions your harvest will be bountiful and rich.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will remind you all of Linda Gilkeson’s fine book Year Round Harvest: Winter Gardening on the Coast, available at the nursery.
Autumn in Japan may not have the caché of a springtime visit in cherry blossom time, but to a gardener it evokes every bit as much awe and delight. And we have our own cherry blossom time right here in Victoria, don’t we?
Visiting family in Tokyo, I’ve had the pleasure of living the Japanese experience; the daily routine of walking everywhere, with the occasional train ride, subway crowds, or the ever-timely local bus. These walks have allowed me to see close up, the small details of green spaces.
Wherever we go we find vignettes of beauty. The Japanese people seem to take any opportunity they can to create loveliness, whether with a small planting, or simply an artful arrangement of stones.
The little corners where sidewalk meets sidewalk speak to passersby “walk by this space, and enjoy”.
We are right across the street from Arisagawa Park, a green oasis of many acres that comprises bike trails, a small lake stocked with fish, the best playgrounds I’ve seen anywhere, and natural forests for exploration. As a gardener, my fascination lies in the flora, seeing details that never cease to please. One of the delights of visiting the park is the array of sweet gestures of concern for all who walk here!
The first thing to strike me was the respect for the aged here. Not only aged people, but aged trees! The careful support given to gnarly trunks is an art in itself.
Not just a stake with a length of rubber hose to tie it to the tree, but a padded buffer between trunk and twine, to soften the contact. Respect, appreciation, and love for these elders of the land.
A grass-like plant that I saw everywhere is Liriope, either muscari or spicata, in all its forms: dark green, the golden variegated and the silver variegated.
Liriope is frequently used in Japan not only as a superb ground cover, but as a buffer between shrubs and hard surface; a clipped hedge, then the liriope, then the sidewalk, the liriope being the softening touch between. Needing moisture and part shade, it’s a spreading grass-like perennial that does as well in our climate as it does in Japan. Liriope ‘National Arboretum’ is used everywhere here as part of the small vignettes, a ground cover yet much more. We sell this short, slowly spreading, curved, dark green grass in 4” pots, but I’ve never seen its beauty as I have here, and will be ordering more of it for the nursery in the spring.
During the recent inspiring talk by Louise Boutin at the nursery, she mentioned lifting and opening the limbs of trees and shrubs by selective pruning. Well, the Japanese have this down to a fine art; even large trees have been thinned this way, opening up the intriguing branches to light and view.
The use of bamboo is more than an art form here, it is an inspiration. Whether a bamboo grove, a bamboo forest, or a bamboo fence, bamboo is everywhere and it is a marvel.
Bamboo still growing is beautiful, but it continues its magic after being harvested and used as supports.
Whether it is thinned-out Nandina domestica planted and tied against an open bamboo fence, or wispy cedar hedging plants sparsely interwoven with the canes, bamboo provides the bones to support the green, providing a screen in even the narrowest of spaces.
Fences and trellises of bamboo are ubiquitous, and for some reason have captured my heart.
The fascination with diverse styles and methods of tying these fences, trellises and supports led me on a search for traditional lashing, the heavy rough twine that is used for holding the bamboo canes together. This also led me to a book on the subject, and an obsession has taken root. Walking for miles, wrong turns, (even Google maps can be wrong!) finally we found the sought-after Japanese garden center. Traditional lashing was only part of my search; the garden center experience beckoned this gardener with promises of Japanese seeds, tools, and curiosity sated.
Keeping in mind the fact that most Tokyoites don’t have cars, nor yards, nor much space of their own, the garden center was not surprising in its tiny efficiency. It was just a part of a large hardware store, on the second floor even, and very different from Russell Nursery!
I’m sure all of you have seen the traditional serene Japanese garden, so I’ll close with just a glimpse of the view outside my window in Tokyo, but I hope the small details described will give you the confidence to just try a few simple touches to bring the peace and beauty of the Japanese style to your own place of green.
Mid October has finally brought the first rains of the season, as we say goodbye to the lovely, long late summer. Has there ever been a fall as gorgeous as this one?
The extended fall has unfortunately enabled those evil white cabbage moths to produce yet another generation of their voracious offspring. Even today, I found several of the green hairless caterpillars munching on the leaves of my Lacinato Kale. Oddly enough, the Red Russian Kale seems unscathed.
Aphids as well have had another chance in this warmth. Their veggie of choice appears to be the Purple Kale. If it’s not possible to blast them off with the hose, a good squishing does the job.
Keep inspecting both sides of the young leaves; while insects aren’t generally a problem for winter gardening, the young plants in a warm fall will fall prey to these very hungry munchers if you aren’t vigilant.
At this time of year, there is no point adding compost or granular organic fertilizer, as the microorganisms that convert these organics into usable food for the plants are dormant. It’s a better idea to feed frequently with liquid organics, alternating weekly with fish and seaweed dilutions while the plants are still small.
The whole point is to get your winter vegetables off to a good strong start before the cold weather really sets in; ideally they should be almost full size by Halloween. Don’t worry if yours are smaller than this, they’ll just produce a little later in the spring
Any of the taller winter vegetables, such as Purple Sprouting Broccoli or Brussels Sprouts will benefit from staking; these are quite top heavy and subject to wind lash.
Gather up fall leaves and mulch the veggies well, covering the soil with about 4” of loosely piled organic matter. When the storms of November toss piles of seaweed onto the beach, I like to bring some of this nutrient-laden bounty home, and add to the leaf mulch on my vegetable beds.
By the way, next time you are at the nursery, stop by our working greenhouse by the driveway, and see the staff veggie garden all tucked in for the winter, and enjoy seeing it mature over the coming months. Swiss Chard, Kale, Spinach, Green Onions, Mache and Purple Sprouting Broccoli—what a feast!
Brilliant bark, deceptively delicate flowers and the jewel tones of berries and persistent fruits that pop against winter’s muted greys and browns; there is nothing quite like a flash of bright colour on an otherwise dreary day to gladden the heart and to entice us outdoors for a closer look. Just because its winter doesn’t mean the landscape has to be dull and boring. A veritable kaleidoscope of colour is possible with a little planning. Maybe there’s room for some of these beauties…
Best Fruits and Berries: Berberis, skimmia, callicarpa, snowberry, cotoneaster, pyracantha, hawthorn, crabapple, aronia
Best Bark: Shrubby dogwoods, paperbark maple, heritage birch
Best Blooms: Hellebores, witch hazel, skimmia, mahonia, viburnum tinus, cyclamen coum, winter aconite
Do you remember when springs were warm, and fall was a time of crisp air and the smell of burning leaves? Times have changed! Spring is now cold and wet, with temperatures not climbing until well into June. Fall (which, in many minds starts after Labour Day!) has been longer and warmer, with dry air and a slower more beautiful burnishing of foliage.
Here on the west coast, autumn is a great time to plant shrubs, perennials, and most trees. Even as air temperatures cool at the end of summer, soil temperatures remain warm.. Root growth continues until the soil goes below 5 degrees C (40 degrees F), and in our part of the country it is well into November or December before this happens. Fall plantings begin to establish themselves and are ready for new growth in spring.
When digging the warm dry soil at this time of year, it’s a good idea to fill the planting hole with water, let it drain, then place the soaked root ball into the hole, ensuring a moist root run. If the soil is really dry, turn it over few times and soak the whole area with the hose. As the Head Gardener of your plot of land, you don’t have to worry about watering, as fall plantings have the benefit of regular rainfall for about 6 months. Plus, they don’t have to contend with heat and drought until they have put some roots down.
We all know the hazards of walking on wet soil, compacting it and annoying those hard working earthworms, so save the worms and be kind to the soil by doing as much as possible in the autumn when the soil is drier. The leaf litter in the spring often harbors hibernating bumble bees and other treasured pollinators, so the longer you can postpone the disturbance of soil in the early months of the year, the happier the bees will be.
Dividing perennials is best done in fall, but ornamental grasses should wait until spring, when active growth has started. Late fall and early winter are great times to move deciduous shrubs and trees as well as many evergreens. Marginally hardy plants should NOT be moved in the fall. Be sure to stake larger plants to protect them from wind rock that can damage emerging roots.
So far, all the reasons given for fall planting have focused on the plants, but let’s give gardeners our due, and recognize that perhaps fall is a better time for us as well!
In the warm days of fall, the ground is dry and the air calm. It rarely rains. We don’t need boots and rain gear. A quiet afternoon in September or October, shovel in hand, sounds pretty close to Paradise, does it not? OK, we miss the aroma of burning leaves, but enjoy them as mulch instead, as we top dress the newly planted beds.
Happy autumn to one and all, may we have several more weeks of sunshine as we move into the new spring, called fall.
It’s not every day that the opportunity arises to plant a tree, but when it does it’s important to choose the right one. There are lots of things to consider - height, spread, growing conditions and sight lines to name a few, not to mention ornamental qualities. If you have trees on your mind this fall, break out from the ordinary and consider these totally terrific trees. See the bottom of the article for a photo gallery of these plants.
Acer circinatum (Vine Maple): This often overlooked native maple, known for its fiery red fall colour, is at home underneath tall conifers, or on open woodland edges. It will grow in full shade to nearly full sun and adapts to moist or dry conditions. In shade, vine maples have an open sprawling habit. In sun they will be more upright and compact. Ideal for a spot where a Japanese maple won’t quite work. (H:15-20’ S:6-12’)
Albizzia ‘Summer Chocolate’: We always know when the silk trees are in bloom in the late summer, because we get lots comments about then.
They look very exotic with their fluffy pink flowers and fine cut foliage. Summer Chocolate is a new form that has purple foliage. (H:20’ S:15’)
Betula nigra ‘Summer Cascade’ (Weeping Birch): Small weeping trees that look good in all seasons are hard to come by, but this fits the bill perfectly. A close relative of the ‘Heritage Birch’, it shares the same peeling bark and resistance to pests. Its graceful habit makes it a good choice for a feature tree. Height is controlled by staking and/or pruning. (H:6 -20’ S: 10-15’)
Davidia ‘Sonoma’ (Handkerchief Tree): Looking for a stately shade tree for a big space? This is a strong growing upright tree with large lustrous, heart-shaped leaves. You may have seen the great specimen at Butchart Gardens. It’s known for the showy white flowers (these are actually leaf bracts that surround the flower) that look like so many handkerchiefs. Good yellow fall colour (H:40’ S:20-30’)
Hamamelis (Witch Hazel) Standard: These witch hazels are grafted onto 4’ trunks which turns them into perfect little trees. Red or yellow blooms in winter and great fall colour.
Malus ‘Royal Raindrops’ (Flowering Crabapple): Not just any crabapple, ‘Royal Raindrops’ has serrated purple foliage that holds its colour all summer. It has bright pinkish red flowers in late spring and small persistent red fruits. The leaves turn bright orange-red in fall. (H:15-20’ S:15’)
Prunus ‘Little Twist’ (Flowering Cherry): This is a perfect feature tree for a small space or container. It’s unusual zig zag branches are covered with pink flowers in the spring and dainty serrated dark green leaves in the summer. Burgundy fall colour. Truly new and different! (H:6-8’ S:6-8’)
Prunus x ‘Snow Goose’: A new form of flowering cherry, its pure white blooms have yellow centres that show well against the bright green foliage.. Orange fall colour. Thought to be resistant to common cherry foliage diseases. Upright when young, broadly spreading with age. (H:20’ S:20’)
Robinia ‘Frisia’ (Golden Locust): There’s really nothing quite like this perennial favourite. The bright gold foliage glows in the sun and shows particularly well against a backdrop of our native conifers. (H30-50’ S:20-35’)