Asters, butterflies and bees, oh my!

Tis the season for asters, butterflies and bees in our zone 4 gardens here in Ottawa.  I am seeing lots in my GARDENS4U clients’ as well as my own gardens. These perennials make a beautiful splash of color in the fall when others have finished showing off.  Growing up to five feet tall, and preferring full sun conditions, their upright, strong stalks are covered in bright green foliage and small pink or purple flowers that the butterflies and bees just love…

 

Asters, butterflies and bees asters, butterflies and bees asters, butterflies and bees

 

Asters are easy to grow, and require little to no maintenance. I cut mine back after flowering, but this is not necessary. They also seem immune to bugs and disease.  If your gardens are lacking color this time of year, consider adding some asters.  The butterflies and bees will thank you!

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Hardy Hibiscus Show Stoppers

Hardy hibiscus are my show stoppers in my GARDENS4U gardens this August and September.  Their unbelievably vibrant blooms, often the size of a dinner plate, will literally make you stop and gawk at their incredible beauty…

 

I love the hibiscus so much this season that I tried some in containers and fertilized them heavily to keep them blooming all summer…

As with any plants you expect to be perennial (they come back each year) read the labels before you purchase them!  These hibiscus are called hardy because they are considered perennials in more (colder) areas than their less hardy cousins.  These are hardy to USA zone 4, which are perfect for my Ottawa gardens.  Just be careful and patient in the spring, as they are slow to recover from their winter hibernation.  Because they die back to the ground in winter here, I put a marker near mine so I don’t inadvertently disturb or throw it out during spring cleanup.

Another important fact to consider is that perennials planted in containers are less hardy (2 zones) than when they are planted in the garden.  For example, although these hibiscus are hardy to zone 4 when planted in gardens, they would only be hardy to zone 6 in containers.  That means I will be moving these gorgeous containers inside before the first frost.

DIY tips for bridal bouquets, boutonnieres, and headpiece

Recently I attempted a DIY on 5 bouquets, 5 boutonnieres, three corsages and one crown/headpiece for my son’s wedding.  I have lots of perennial plants in my gardens and lots of clients with even more beautiful flowers, so I thought “piece of cake.”  Not so much; it was a much trickier DIY than I thought but well worth the effort.

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I researched lots of Pinterest pages, and other DIY sites so I had notes to refer to.  The toughest part was that I could not do much (other than research) ahead of time (other than pace my gardens willing the flowers to bloom!)   To keep the flowers as fresh for as long as possible, I could only pick them the day before the wedding.

Mother Nature threw me a CURVE BALL too; I had planted lots of purple flowering perennials last fall that were supposed to bloom the beginning of June.  Due to the cold and wet spring we experienced here in Ottawa, very few of those flowers were in bloom in time.  White peonies with purple roses and clematis were not meant to be for this DIY.

The following are the basic tips to ensuring your DIY bouquets turn out well.  Some are obvious, some not so much, some lessons I learned along the way…

  • don’t pick the flowers earlier than the morning before the wedding
  • have more flowers and foliage than you think you need
  • as soon as you do pick them, cut the stems longer than they need to be and put the cut stems in cold water immediately
  • use a clean bucket and clean cutters (this helps the blooms last longer)
  • recut the stems while they are under running water or in water (this ensures no air bubble get into the stems, preventing premature wilting/rotting
  • let the flowers sit in cold water for a minimum of 3 hours before arranging.
  • to assemble, start with the main/center flowers, then add others to fill out the bouquets. Add foliage last
  •  Stand in front of a mirror as you are arranging them to better see how they look
  • use elastics to hold the flowers together, placing them just below the top of the stem.  If your bouquets are large you can use several elastic to hold flowers together in groups
  • prop up droopy flower heads with wire or tape (I should have done that with the rhododendrons in my bouquets, they were very droopy by the end of the day)
  • use tinier flowers and blooms for boutonnieres and head piece, (see below) cutting stems short.  These short stems do not stay as fresh as long as the longer stems, so plan to make these last
  • I made each bouquet different, creating as I went along.  If you want them all to be identical, you will have to count out your available flowers and have a more detailed plan.  I tend to fly by the seat of my pants!
  • as you finish each bouquet, place it in a separate vase of water so the flowers do not get crushed/crowded
  • leave a few extra inches of stems at the bottom of each bouquet for final trimming
  • buy lots of ribbon; you can always return whatever you do not use
  • wide ribbon wraps faster and easier than thin ribbon, but seems to come off easier.  I used narrow ribbon for a base, then did top layer in wider ribbon
  • make all the bouquets first before starting to wrap with ribbon.  This ensures flowers are not out of water too long.
  • start wrapping ribbon near tops of stems (where elastics are)
  • if you choose to have dangling ribbons, loop them in at the top before wrapping, keeping them out of the way as you work
  • hold ribbon with one hand and bouquet with the other, turning the bouquet as you wrap.  The first (downward) layer of ribbon does not have to be perfect; you can leave some stem showing between, filling in the blanks on the upward layer.  Leave two inches of unwrapped stem at the bottoms so ribbon does not get wet
  • put each bouquet back into its vase with fresh water to just below ribbon
  • at last minute ( I could do this as pictures were taken at my home, so cut excess stems off literally 2 minutes before bouquets were needed) cut off excess stems

 

 

This headpiece was made as follows;

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  • measure head with a piece of string
  • use a few (more than one) strands of floral wire to ensure stability, overlapping it by two inches, wrap with floral tape
  • cut flowers just before you use them (they wilt quickly) making stems 2 inches long
  • lay out flowers in the pattern you want to place them on the headpiece
  • place one bloom on headpiece so that stem is on top of and parallel to the wire circle
  • secure bloom to circle with floral tape, starting just below bloom and wrapping both stem and wire circle until end of stem
  • overlap next bloom so it sits on top of previous bloom’s stem, working your way around the circle of taped wire
  • tie strands of ribbon (if desired) to headpiece at center back
  • when complete, mist the creation with a bit of water and place it in a plastic baggy.  Blow air into the baggie and seal it.  Keep it in the baggy for as long as possible, the tiny blooms wilt quickly!  Store it in a refrigerator or cool room (basement)

 

I tried something a little different for the DIY boutonnieres.  I grew my own calla lillies, starting them in pots in my basement last winter…

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The groom’s had three tiny purple pom pom like flowers, the groomsmen just the calla lily and foliage.  For the foliage, I used tiny calla lily leaves and snippets of English ivy vine…

  • cut stems about 3 inches longer (could be shorter or longer as desired)
  • arrange flowers and foliage in the pattern you choose
  • wrap stems with floral wire
  • add decorative pin for securing to lapels
  • place each boutonniere in its own plastic baggy, mist lightly with water, blow air into baggy and seal.  Store baggys in refrigerator or cool room (I kept them all in my basement)
  • these too will wilt quickly as the stems and blooms are small.  My one son joked he had “salad on his suit” by the end of the night

 

The DIY corsages did not turn out so well.  The short stems would not stay in the pearl wristbands I chose.  I tried securing them with floral wire, but they kept falling apart.  The intense heat of the day did not help as the flowers wilted quickly too.  I would appreciate comments/sugguestions on what I could have done differently, just in case I have another wedding soon…

 

 

 

Roses and storm clouds

I must have at least twenty rose plants in my gardens. I love perennial roses in the form of climbers, bushes, shrubs and miniatures in my gardens and in containers on my deck.  Most of them are in bloom right now.  Some continue to bloom all summer, while others are repeaters meaning they bloom for a bit now, drop their blossoms, and rebloom again later in the season.  My camera does not do justice to their colors that range from the palest of pink to hot pink to deep red, soft buttery yellow to dark lemon yellow,  pale mauve or lilac shades of purple to almost wine in color. No captions are necessary.

 

 

 

These storm clouds showed up suddenly today while I was out admiring, deadheading and photographing the roses…

 

 

I barely had time to get me and my camera in the house and close all the windows before the big black clouds burst and the rain came pouring down.  We did not get hail here, but friends and family just a few minutes north of me and an hour south did.

 

Ornamental grasses currently at their peak in Ontario gardens

Most ornamental grasses are currently at their peak in Ontario landscapes.  The large variety of sizes, colors and shapes available continues to expand every season.  Here are some that I have admired recently…

The first ornamental grass pictured is an annual in my Ontario climate, meaning it is not winter hardy and will die as soon as frost hits it.  It must be replaced each spring so I like to use it in a container instead of in the garden.

The other ornamental grasses pictured are perennials, returning each year bigger and better than the previous year.  They can be cut back to a few inches from the ground in the late fall if you wish.  If you like the look of the fronds blowing in the wind and snow over the winter (the birds love them!) leave the cutting back until the early spring before new growth appears.  If the clumps gets too large they can be divided in the spring.

Most are drought tolerant and low maintenance making them increasingly popular in landscapes for busy people.  Now is a good time to plant new ones, allowing the roots to get established before the ground freezes.  This time of year brings good reductions in prices too as nurseries like to clear out their stock before the winter.

Gardens4u presents the hibiscus, another late blooming perennial for your garden

This hibiscus is a favourite late blooming perennial, now available in hardier versions that are suitable for my Kanata Ontario gardens…

Hibiscus are apparently available in many colours, although the ones I have seen recently are in the pink and mauve category.

Previously not hardy enough to overwinter in our Ontario gardens, these new and improved cultivars of hibiscus are a welcome addition to my gardens.  Look for some in the garden nursery near you and enjoy their beautiful, late blooms.

Experiment with perennial succulents for containers in full sun garden locations

This year I am experimenting with perennial succulents in my urns that are located in full sun.  I had two coco liners filled with soil left from last summer’s hanging baskets.  I turned them upside down over my cast iron urns, tucking the fiber into the edge of the urns to make them fit and to prevent soil and water from leaking out.  I then cut slits in the fiber and tucked slips of succulents (sedum and stonecrop) into the slits.  For the top, I used a large sermpervivum rosette (the hen part of the hen and chicks succulent plant).   I am hoping the succulent slips will cascade over the sides of the urns as they grow.  I will rotate the urns occasionally as the sedums grow towards the sun, so they will cascade evenly around the perimeter of the urns.

Perennial succulents are an excellent choice for a hot, dry location in your garden.  There are many varieties to choose from; sedums and stonecrop are two of my favourites.  Choose a variation in color for a spectacular display. Once established succulents require very little water, and in fact too much water will cause them to rot.  These urns of mine sit in front of my garage with a hot, dry, full sun, southern exposure. Over the years I have not had much luck with any other plants growing there.  They all start off well, but quickly lose their appeal as they get leggy and dry out.  Hopefully the succulents will do the trick to keep my urns looking great all summer.

I also use succulents such as sedum and stonecrop as groundcovers in hot, dry, full sun locations in my garden.  They make beautiful edging plants in the perennial garden.

Identify my Mystery Plant

Can anyone tell me what this plant is that has appeared in my garden for the past five years or so?  It starts off as two tiny leaves early in the spring, quickly growing to about eight feet tall with small orchid-like pink flowers and thick, sturdy, hollow stems:

mystery plant2 mystery plant

This mystery plant is quite pretty so I let it fill a few bare spots at the back of my garden.  It is very shallow rooted, so easy to pull out of any spots I do not want it.  I am assuming it is a perennial as it shows up each year.

I would appreciate it if someone could identify this mystery for me…