Cora Swinamer, Landscape Designer, gardener, Atlantic Rhododendron & Horticultural Society member and educator recently treated Chester Garden Club Members and guests to an informative presentation.
Click on any picture for a slide show…
Many Rhododendrons and Azaleas, illustrated by her beautiful slides have proven to be hardy in Nova Scotia.
Cora described Plants of the rhodo family as Elepidotes, which are the large-leaf plants, or Lepidotes, the small- leafed varieties; or as Azaleas – either deciduous or evergreen. Cora suggested that as a way to remember which description fits which category the beginning of Elepidote resembles the the start of the word “elephant” and Lepidote reminds gardeners of the word “leprechaun”.
We were reminded, like many of the plants we choose for our gardens, site conditions make a difference. Rhododendrons require quality soil with good drainage, thrive in acidic soil, and do well in some shade, although in Nova Scotia, full sun exposure is not an issue. Cora advised that “ the larger the leaf, the more shade the plant can tolerate” and reminded us that stiff winds can cause broad-leafed plants to suffer. Deciduous Azaleas, which drop their leaves in cold weather were suggested for windy sites .
Cora shared information on tending to the rhododendron family of plants, including planting, mulching, dead-heading.
Slides from several beautiful gardens.
Dave assisted with advice about propagating from cuttings.
Those who took cuttings home await spring results of their efforts.
I have been distracted as I have been gardening this fall. Many of the familiar birds are heading to warmer places and stopping for nourishment along the way and the regular fall and winter residents are gathering in old familiar places.
As I ready the gardens for winter I am leaving the perennial seed heads standing, giving the birds the food they are searching for and me the pleasure of their company.
I am reminded that I can help our plants along by giving them a bit more of what they need to survive; water, nourished soil and the optimum placement .
Watering when it is dry, adding high nutrient compost when they are actively growing and pruning all but spring flowering shrubs during the winter when they are defoliated and dormant are good gardening practices.
Mulch, which can be spread at any time, is particularly timely for fall. The garden expects organic material, just like the forest expects fallen leaves. Leaves and debris settle as mulch during the fall rains and winter snowfalls, helping to retain moisture and inhibit weeds.
Our gardens can then do “What Comes Naturally”
Now, I just need to get back to fall gardening chores and stop being so distracted by the birds.
Many gardeners take late winter or early spring vacations in countries where weather is warmer. Cuba is one of those recovering from last falls hurricane. Those who have committed both time and energy deserve congratulations. Resorts were devastated and are now operating as well as completing repairs or reconstruction.
Click on any picture for slide show:
Birds are returning to their usual habitats
The plant life is also showing how nature copes with unexpected changes and challenges.
Congratulations to all of the Caribbean communities who smile as they continue to pick up their lives.
Coincidentally, late winter is the best time to prune deciduous trees and large shrubs. We usually head out into the yard with pruners in hand starting in late February or early March. We get a jump-start on our pruning along with an early gift of spring color inside our house. We prune our trees and shrubs for shape and to remove crossing branches and old or diseased wood. From the wood we have cut off the plant we can select branches for forcing that are less than 1/2 inch in diameter and cut them to the desired length.
Many ornamental trees and shrubs set their flower buds during the previous growing season. These buds will usually come out of dormancy after two to three weeks of being exposed to warmth and moisture.
Forsythia, pussy willow, quince, cherry, apple, peach, magnolia, are all good candidates.
Choose branches that have lots of buds and put them in water as you work. After bringing the branches inside, fill a sink with very warm water—as hot as you can stand it without scalding your hands. Very warm water is important because it contains the least amount of oxygen. If oxygen gets into the stems it can block water from being taken up, thus preventing hydration.
Hold the stems underwater and recut them at a severe angle an inch or two above the original cut. The stems will quickly absorb the water. Arrange the branches in your vase, which should be filled with warm water so the ends are submerged. Place in a cool room or if you want the process to go more quickly in a warmer room. At this time of year, it may take only a few days for pussy willow to bloom and look their best. Forsythia takes a few days more and the other varieties can take up to several weeks.
It is very satisfying to sit and observe the daily progress of buds as they swell and burst open bringing a bit of spring blossom inside.
Some people say that having a garden is too much work. After all, you need to plant it, weed it, water it, and prune it. Who has time for that?
Well, to be honest, I do. In fact, I need to make time for it because of the benefits. How else could I know that spring is here? The crocuses tell me, the forsythia announces it with the quince trees to back them up. Before long, I know its mid-July as the ditch daylilies raise their heads and other cultivars display their ravishing colors. Who would want to miss that? As the mint creeps through the beds, my taste buds come to life. Ever had an outdoor shower with climbing roses scenting the air? Then fall dares to rival the summer’s displays as tri-color leaves wave in the cooling breezes.
I would be remiss not to mention the exercise my garden provides all season. If I don’t manage to get all the weeds in the spring, they greet me almost under every plant all summer. I must dive in and remedy the situation, my arms and legs thanking me for the stretches required. (Well, sometimes they do complain!) Without this activity, I must confess I would miss much of the beauty that lies hidden among the bushes. Never would I notice that anemone standing tall all alone or catch a rosebud about to open. Of course, you don’t want to miss the daylily blooms—you’ve only got a day to do it before they close up their glory in deference to another.
Ah, summer. Now I can create floral designs using my carefully selected (unless they happened to be on sale and could still work for me) garden plants as inspiration. Will I pair my cool greens with white Shasta daisies or should I match yellow and green limelight with my common yellow daylilies? Don’t forget to add some ribbon or zebra grass to help define the shape. I can rely on moss or creeping oregano to cover up the bald spots. If featuring burgundy, euphorbia makes an excellent filler. You see, the possibilities are stunning. And feeling the plant material through my fingers adds pleasure hard to define. Serendipitously at the finish, I may discover a perfect shape, that offers a whimsical finale to the whole design. Even in cleaning up, I get to “re-enjoy” the process as I toss unused bits into the compost. Now that’s what I call an pleasurable afternoon. You can, no doubt, imagine the buzz that comes from repeating this process all day in preparation for a flower show. Exhausting, but exhilarating at the same time.
Then, after garden chores, its time to find an Adirondack chair with its wide-open, comforting arms.
Remember to get a glass of cool lemonade first, though, so that it can cool your insides as much as a shady spot cools the outside—a perfect time to give thanks for both garden and good health. Yes, I need that. In fact, I planned for it—much of the winter. Winter gives me time to anticipate next spring’s resurrection. Even in those short, dark days,
I can still take delight in those seedy-headed grasses that escaped fall pruning as they bow down in deference to the inevitable nor’easters.
Yes, my garden can take up much of my time. As you read between the lines of this article, however, did you catch the psychological benefits it has provided? Consider these: peace (nothing like solitude under the pines to make this happen); calm (the rustling grass sure trumps the sound of a cell phone); decompression (with bare hands, get those lumps out of the soil); confidence (that seedling finally sprouted roots or I guess I really can grow orchids); provides opportunities to make friends and share experiences (join a garden club); rest (drop into a garden swing when finished weeding that stubborn patch), satisfaction (you got rid of that goutweed!); gratification from not overspending (check out those spring plant sales), hope for the future (next year I’ll plant something different in those containers); anticipation (will that freshly planted annual survive?); appreciation of beauty (hard to beat the Stargazer lily); growth in patience (next year don’t plant pansies in a hot location), perseverance (so what if the deer got those bulbs, plant daffodils next time), faithfulness (water those containers!) and finally, confidence (my garden is ready for the garden-tour crowd. OK, that may be pushing it a little, but you get my point).
By now, you can see that I really do need my garden. And, it has always responded amiably to my attention, so I plan to continue seeking out its companionship. For me, garden time surpasses screen time like fresh flowers surpass silks. Best of all, perhaps, gardens require no apps—at least for now.
We who garden all have a mountain of memories of Captain Richard (Dick) Steele. One of his most outstanding attributes was the impact he had on everyone he met.
Captain Steele believed that beautiful plants and gardens made people more virtuous and the world a more peaceful place. To many, he was “Captain Rhododendron”, a tounge-in-cheek homage to a visionary who opened up new possibilities for ornamental horticulture in Atlantic Canada and beyond.
He spent research time in Newfoundland and Labrador with huge patience, looking for our Alpine jewels, taking cuttings and gathering seed. In later years, he continued his work and researching leaning first on one cane, then two.
Captain Richard Steele was a founding member of the Atlantic Chapter of the Rhododendron Society of Canada and supported the creation of the Atlantic Rhododendron & Horticultural Society.
Dick set up Bayport Plant Farm in 1973 where he focused on crossbreeding rhododendron species and hybrids to produce tough plants for the Atlantic climate. Dick was awarded the gold medal of the American Rhododendron Society and in 2004, he became a member of the Order of Canada.
Captain RIchard (Dick) Steele passed away quietly on March 14, 2010.
Many of Captain Steele’s rhododendrons are admired in both public and private gardens throughout the Atlantic provinces and beyond. They are enjoyed by thousands of visitors throughout the year through and there is an extra surge of visitors when the rhododendrons are in bloom.
On June 7th, a group of Chester Garden Club members and friends gathered and Sandy’s for coffee and then met guides, Debbie and Kathleen Hall for the pre-arranged tour of the private Halifax, Hall’s Road Dick Steele Rhododendron Gardens.
Both from the comments of those who attended this was a truly delightful tour.
Members and guests of Chester Garden Club’s were recently treated to an informative presentation by Cora Swinamer, president of the Atlantic Rhododendron and Horticultural Society. Cora,whose firm Under the Arbor has been designing gardens for clients along Nova Scotia’s South Shore for over ten years, has a special fondness for Rhodos, which do particularly well in this climate.
In addition to many colourful slides* used to illustrate her talk, Cora handed out a list of the many varieties of Rhodendrons and Azaleas that have been proven to be good performers in our province.
The 39 rhododendrons listed were classed as either Elepidotes, which are the large-leaf plants, or Lepidotes, the small-leafed varieties; or as Azaleas – either deciduous or evergreen. As a tip and memory aid, Cora suggested that the spelling of Lepidote reminds many gardeners of the word “leprechaun”, and someone else chimed in that the initial letters of Elepidote resemble the start of the word “elephant”, so that it should be easy to remember which description fits which category in the future!
All the plants on the list were characterized as to zone tolerance, height, approximate bloom-time, and colour; qualities that are important considerations when selecting any plant for any garden.
Cora pointed out that site conditions are also important when choosing which plant to add to one’s garden. Rhodos require soil with good drainage, thrive in acidic soil, and do well in some shade, although, in Nova Scotia, full sun exposure is not a problem. A useful tip is that “the larger the leaf, the more shade the plant can tolerate.” Exposure to cold weather and stiff winds can cause broad-leafed plants to suffer so, in some cases, a deciduous azalea might be a better choice for planting since they drop their leaves in cold weather.
Cora’s presentation covered many aspects of tending to rhododendrons, including planting, mulching, dead-heading, pruning, and dealing with the one pest that seems to affect these plants: the Black Vine Weevil. She also clarified the terms “tomentosum” and “indumentum” – the fine or matted wooly hair growing on the upper and under side of leaves of some varieties of rhodos. Several lucky members of the audience took home cuttings from a rhododendron branch that Cora had used in her presentation.
* Note: The photos used in this post are not Cora’s but come from a Chester garden.
Continuing with more photos from Chester gardens on a rainy day, here is a close-up of an Azalea “Chelsea Reach”, which has a captivating perfume, even on a damp day.
The gardener whose rhodos are shown in the photo above apologized for not remembering the name of this particularly fragrant variety, and noted that they were bought years ago from the late Captain Dick Steele, who was known in Canada as the Rhododendron King.
The unidentified azaleas above and below were purchased through the Garden Club and from other local groups as part of fund-raising programs years ago.
Finally, we’re into late February, and we’re longing for a touch of Spring. Today, the view outside our window is one of snowy fields and leaden skies. The sun visited for a few hours yesterday afternoon but soon disappeared behind the clouds despite heartfelt requests that it stay around. Even some of the indoor plants are refusing to cooperate. An Amaryllis potted up with great expectations last fall has expended all its energy on long healthy leaves with nary a sign of a flower bud in the offing.
A few of the good old reliables are still providing colour, however, even if those colours come from bracts and not petals. What about “Christmas poinsettias that last into spring” – a little riff on the Julie Andrews’ song.
We’re grateful for this brilliant splash of colour indoors. The plant was bought as part of a fund-raiser for the Chester Playhouse in early December and is still brightening up the “indoor garden” in the last week of February.
Another carry-0ver from last fall is a Christmas cactus that put forth a full cascade of blooms in November but has come back for an encore in recent weeks. The strange white “stems” seen behind the flowers are actually roots from an orchid that has been gradually expanding its territory by sending out shoots across several other plants thriving congenially in a window nook. Perhaps a consultation with a Master Gardener is in order.
With a little TLC and a lot of luck, a Cyclamen like the one below will carry over for several years despite the vagaries of central heating, vacationing owners and other hazards.
Forcing blooms is one of the age-old methods of hurrying spring along. The forsythia branches below, cut about ten days ago, make a convincing statement about the forthcoming season.
Seen in close-up, the delicate forms of these “buttercup yellow” flowers on bare stems, are a reminder of nature’s promise of spring to come.
And for Chester gardeners who are eager to start planning this year’s garden, the NSAGC is offering extra Astilbe plants at an excellent price. All members in each club belonging to the provincial body will be eligible for one free Astilbe at this year’s convention, but members may also order additional plants (in our Club, through Sandy D). This fast-growing fragrant plant, “Younique Carmine”, bears beautiful fuchsia-red blooms. It is an early heavy bloomer, deer and rabbit resistant, and is excellent for the flower border or for planters. For more information, contact Sandy via firstname.lastname@example.org