Month: March 2013

Spring Groundcovers

Spring Groundcovers

Chester gardeners usually watch for the delicate drooping blossoms of snowdrops to herald the arrival of Spring.  This year, on March 20th, they were surprised to wake up to a freak snowstorm instead. The snowdrops and crocuses in this post were photographed just days before that snowfall and we can’t guarantee that the blooms will look as good when the snow melts!


Among the first plants to pop up, snowdrops are part of the genus Galanthus,  a word that comes from the Greek gala  meaning milk and anthos meaning flower.Although a superficial glance would lead you to believe that snowdrops are all alike, a white flower on a slight but sturdy stem, according to a knowledgeable source in England there are in fact over 500 named cultivars.


The flower is made up of three outer and three inner petals, all white but with a fleck or small green mark on the inner petal.  The clearly defined green lines on these petals, a blossom picked on March 11 from a local garden, makes it identical to a cultivar named “Rosie” that can be seen on a marvelous website  “”.  The website, which is run by a grower in  the UK, carries lots of information and illustrations of these lovely spring flowers. Check out the Galanthus Gallery. The website also contains a warning about buying Galanthus bulbs on the net. Apparently some unscrupulous dealers have been misrepresenting their wares on eBay and buyers have been burned.

As a follow-up to our own confusion in identifying the sky-blue flowers that appeared in a recent post (March 9), we’re presenting a few other suggestions for spring ground covers.

Phlox subulata
Photo credit: Robert E. Lyons, Ohio State University website

One of the candidates for consideration was Phlox sublata (known as creeping phlox or moss phlox). This plant is native to North America  and is hardy from zones 3 to 9.  It belongs to the family Polemonioideae and forms a mound of about 15 cms in height. This plant produces mostly pink flowers, however, and even the blue hues are more nearly mauve.  So, after further input from other viewers, this plant was discounted as not fitting the specs, but it is certainly a worthy choice for any spring garden. It is particularly effective in rock gardens or along the edge of a path or a low wall.

The mystery plant would thus seem most likely to be Veronica chamaedrys (also known as Birds-eye Speedwell), a native to Europe Veronica chamaedrys but certainly well adapted to life in Nova Scotia. It is a herbaceous perennial that grows to be about 12 cm tall. It creeps along the ground, forming a dense mat and sending down roots at the stem nodes. It belongs to the family Plantaginaceae.

The Veronica’s colour is similar to that of the blue Myositis arvensis (Forget-me-nots), widely known as self-seeding annuals in our area.  In addition to adding (often unbidden) charm to our landscapes, Forget-me-nots are useful as food plants to the larvae of some moths. They come in pinks and whites as well as shades of blue.

Shoots from Crocus bulbs sprang up in mid-March and these flowers opened the day before another light snowfall covered the ground.

And, although not strictly speaking a “ground cover”, another early spring favourite is the crocus, which comes in many hues.  This photo was taken in a Chester garden guarded by very active kittens who take it as their mission to protect the bulbs from predatory squirrels.

Iris on Irises

Iris on Irises

Not Just Irises 003
Iris and her props at the ready

Drawing on her 30 years of experience in operating a local nursery, the Club’s recent guest speaker Iris Burke provided a wide-range of tips on better ways to treat our garden treasures and to protect them from their foes (we’re talking slugs and deer!).

As proprietor of “Not Just Iris’s Greenhouses Inc”, Iris grows a wide selection of annuals, perennials and shrubbery, and has a wealth of  knowledge about their care and nurture. She has, for example, a strong belief in using a little slow-release fertilizer for perennials from spring through to at least mid-summer. She has observed that many gardeners neglect their perennials once they have given them a spring dose to get started.  She also noted that perennials often become stressed during August’s dry spells and that they need to be given water just as the annuals do.

Iris bloom (cultivar unknown)

As her name implies, she is also partial to irises and she reminded her listeners of the need to divide these plants about every three years, when the centre of the clump has stopped producing new blooms.  She suggested that irises are easy to grow in almost any kind of soil and that they should not be over-fertilized.

In a discussion of pruning methods and timing, she was adamant about the need to cut back certain shrubs to promote more growth and blooms, but cautioned listeners to be sure of the particular characteristics of each bush or tree. A smokebush, for example, blooms on old wood so should not be pruned until after it has “produced” its smoke, whereas a butterfly bush blooms on new wood and should be cut back to about 15 cms above ground in early spring to ensure healthy growth and blooms for the coming season. (our post of August 27, 2012, shows butterflies enjoying the nectar on a butterfly bush).

A Cotinus (smokebush) in full “smoke” mode

In addition to advice on pruning fruit trees, lilacs and flowering vines, Iris gave a few tips on dealing with slugs (broken eggshells spread around the base of hostas, for example), deer (blood meal, urine, or soap shavings in pantyhose), and earwigs (her own recipe of dish soap and a hose-spray bottle).  In keeping with the  slogan of her greenhouse – “Where things are budding out!”, Iris branched out into a vast array of garden topics and also answered questions from the audience.

Assorted Views on an Obsession – Gardening

Assorted Views on an Obsession – Gardening

rock wall with cotoneaster
What treasures lie hidden beyond this sturdy wall?

Early March finds many gardeners beginning to create visions of the splendid displays they hope to achieve in this year’s garden. Of course, there are some who take a different approach to planning a garden. As syndicated humorist Dave Barry puts it: ” Your first job is to prepare the soil. The best tool for this is your neighbor’s garden tiller. If your neighbor does not own a garden tiller, suggest that he buy one.”

snow-topped holly bushes
Spring snow on holly looks like melted marshmallows

Obsession may not be too strong a term to describe the fervor of these folk who, fed up with looking out at snow-covered shrubs, curl up with their seed catalogues and dream of what could be.  In the thrall of  lavishly illustrated garden books, they somehow repress memories of the extent of work required last year. But, as Lou Erickson has noted: “Gardening requires lots of water — most of it in the form of perspiration.”

Heather and Myra weeding Parade Square
Is that a weed I see before me?

” No garden is without its weeds,”  observed Thomas Fuller, and a throng of other gardeners concur!

Day lilies engulfed in purple vetch
Day lilies struggle as purple vetch rules!

Another observation that rings true is: “A garden is never so good as it will be next year”; this, from Thomas Cooper, a wise man who obviously speaks from experience.  Of course there’s also the familiar refrain, “you should have seen it last week,” (anonymous, but widely quoted). Then there’s the perennially perceptive adage, “God made rainy days so  gardeners could get the housework done,” by another old favourite – Author Unknown.

violets spilling over pond rocks
Native violets and strawberries creep to the edge of a pond

But the most reliable of all these observations,  corroborated by years of personal experience is:  “Despite the gardener’s best intentions, Nature will improvise. “ – Michael P. Garafalo

carpet of oregano around stone bench
A sky-blue carpet swarms over a tiny patio
Azalea (flame) with Spirea (Bridal wreath) and hardy geraniums
A young Azalea is overwhelmed by a heavy branch of Spirea, and surrounded other volunteers: cranesbills, violets and even a rogue maple.

Looking into the near future, Garden Club members are reminded that the aptly-named Iris Burke will be guest speaker on March 18 to help guide us in our planning for this year’s gardening.

Winter Weary or What

Winter Weary or What

Confessions of a spring riser…

If you look closely, you’ll see me on the left highlighting both the sedum and yarrow.

I don’t know about you, but this continuous cycle of snow, rain, melt, then heavy snow with more rain and more melt makes me shun my outside world.  And it happens every spring.  The rain gets my hopes up and then overnight it morphs into snow and I wake up to a white blanket that I thought I’d already discarded.  I mean we Hostas have nothing against white blankets, but after a while they get soiled and need replacing with a green version, if you know what I mean.
Now back to spring.  I can’t wait to peek out from under this soggy blanket. I’m usually among the first to emerge.  You might say we hostas make a point of it even if we vary in size. Some of us,  like my colleague  “Sum and Substance”, can get to be over two metres wide.  The more diminutive among us—dare I mention “Baby Bunting”— has a diameter of mere centimetres.  No worries, though, we’re all the same really.  We all covet the balmier temperatures of spring, right?   My roots (which some prefer to call a family tree) go back to the Orient where temperatures were far less extreme.  Since then, however, we’ve learned to flourish in a variety of climates—especially here in Nova Scotia.

When the days grow longer, we plan to rise, unfurl and revive our perennial lease on life, donning our blue, green, or yellow robes. Our blue coat is actually green with wax on top that makes it appear blue.  Bet you didn’t know that!  The wax tends to “melt” from the leaf following exposure to sun and heat. Our wardrobe may include combinations of lighter and darker shades.  We may be dressed with “medio variegated” leaves that show a light color in the center of the leaf, which may be white, gold, yellow, or light green. Our “marginally variegated” leaves show only a light color on the edge of the leaf.  Mind you, our colors may also be affected by the amount of sun we get.

family or flowers 2012 028
Give us hostas a little more time and we’ll have this ground covered.

Some of us prefer to make seasonal changes as well.  A hosta that exhibits “viridiscence” will change from light colors in the leaf early in the growing season to all green leaves as the season progresses. “Lutescent” leaves will change from green to yellow, and “albescent” leaves will turn from yellow to white. If you can remember those terms, I’d tip my hat to you if I had one.  The only toppings I can claim are slugs.   And they don’t garner any praise—at least from the plants I know! Only those of us with thick and stiff leaves, termed “rugose,”see less of them. All these kinds of versatile leaves help us maintain a reputation for wrapping landscape with dependable, almost indestructible, foliage.  And to boot, we can beautify a riverbank even under ubiquitous maritime evergreens.  How would you look after months in the shade?

Home floral arrangments misc. 009
Notice how our yellow edges feature this lily. Not bad, eh?

And if our roots get a little closer with time, don’t everyone’s?  Yes, we do tend to stand our ground when it comes to moving.  How would you feel?  Who wants to start all over again? On the other hand, gardeners appreciate our steadfast character.  What other plants would endure whip-snipping or being crushed to emerge as healthy as ever?

garden and arrangements 013
This design shows off our colors. We enjoy getting together as much as anyone.

Landscapers hail this kind of hardiness, and floral designers delight in our curves as we swirl inside the confines of glass cages they call vases.  So this spring, we’ll expect the usual, enthusiastic welcome. See you soon!

–submitted by Jocelyn Cameron,

Chester Garden Club Member

With information from Ohio State University: