Saturday, April 30, 2016

Okanagan Dryland Spring-Flowering Perennials

Have you ever wanted to plant something that can really take care of itself in the hot dry conditions of summer?  I have been trying to add color to the dusty dry areas of our yard, planting native flowers and other drought tolerant perennials to replace the weeds.  I am most impressed with the most drought-hardy of these plants and have now got blooms on my plantings from the last two years.

These are my new favourite April-blooming drought-tolerant perennials:


1.  Heuchera cylindrica, the Round-leafed Alumroot.

 I actually found a few of these Okanagan native plants growing on our property and recognized the Heuchera foliage.  These are a wild variety of those plants at the nursery we know as coral bells, with the varieties of colors of foliage and white, red, or pink flowers.  I dug up one plant in early spring more than a year ago and divided it into as many plants as I could, producing this new group of plants.  Like all Heuchera,  the foliage is still attractive when not in bloom and they make a nice green groundcover.  These are growing in a predominantly sandy soil and doing well, much like the small iceplant next to them (which gives you an idea of the drought-hardiness, as iceplant will not  tolerate wet soils).  This group of plants gets a bit of drip-irrigation, but others in the yard get only rain and they look great too.

Heuchera cylindrica

 2.  Erigeron linearis, the Desert Yellow Daisy

This is another native plant, found in sagebrush and grassland habitats in the interior Pacific northwest.  I started these from seed last year.  They really needed to stay well-drained and I would recommend combining your seed-starting mix with sand and perlite to keep them happy.  These are living in the sandy gravel at the top of my driveway.  They are so cute and I would be happy if they behave like other Erigeron I have grown, self-seeding generously.  When they bloom later in the year, I will post about the Erigeron glaucus and E. karvinskianus.  
Erigeron linearis

 3.  Penstemon fruticosus, the Shrubby Penstemon

I was so excited to see the flowers on my Shrubby Penstemons this year.  For a plant I hardly ever water and that grows in poor sandy soil, I can't believe the beautiful flowers on this specimen.  I first noticed this plant growing on the rocky-sandy slopes at the base of Giant's Head Mountain in Summerland.  I crawled up close to get a better look identify it.  A few nurseries that specialize in native plants (Grasslands in Summerland and Sagebrush in Oliver) sell these plants.  I have not had much luck in starting these from seed myself.  Also, the seed is rather difficult to find from online sources.  
They spread up to 36" across and grow 12" tall.  They look like some well-bred nursery cultivar, but after they get established, they can be entirely neglected (like the ones growing wild on the hill a few kilometers away).  The ones in the wild seem to like to grow in partially shaded areas with some trees around. 
Penstemon fruticosus

 4.  Linum perenne, Blue Flax

This perennial is commonly seen at the sides of the highways in this area.  I have both the regular common Blue Flax (pictured) and a cultivar that is more compact, called "Sapphire".  The compact one is shorter and I do prefer its neat mound to the sometimes spindly tall stems of the common blue flax.  However, both make nice color.  This is a short lived perennial, but because it self-seeds freely, it will replace old plants with new ones.  It likes to get a little extra water in full sun.  I bring out a watering can every few weeks to give it a drink. 
Linum perenne, Blue Flax in Summerland, BC

 5.  Aurinia saxatilis, Basket of Gold Alyssum

Judging from the carpets of brilliant yellow flowers on slopes at the edges of of neighbour's properties, this perennial thrives without much water or care.  I have the "Compacta" variety of Aurinia saxatilis.  I have planted it in full sun, in the drip-irrigated section of the landscaping topped with bark mulch, but I plan to plant more of it in non-irrigated areas in the next year.  In preparation for these expanded plantings, I have a tray of small plants growing in the greenhouse -- all pricked out of a carpet of seedlings I took from under a mature plant.

This plant self-seeds a lot, so expect to find additional plants growing nearby.  I am don't mind this, because at they have appeared in rocky cracks where weeds would otherwise grow.  Growing them on and around rock walls is a great idea.  When not in bloom, it has grey-blue foliage (essential color of desert-type plants), similar in color to Artemisia. 
Alyssum saxatile

Friday, April 22, 2016

Greenhouse tropicals and tomatoes

My Plumeria cutting with first leaves
Have you ever grown Plumeria (aka Frangipani)?  I did so several years ago while in Saskatchewan and got a good sized flowering plant.  I don't know what I did with it eventually, since I didn't have it for a long time.  Anyhow, I decided to try it again here, growing it from a cutting purchased online.  I got this one in October and it finally produced leaves this past week!    That is 6 months to go from an inch-wide, foot-long stick to a rooted and leafed out stick.  This one is called "Benz" and should be a nice pink and yellow.  I did have two cuttings, though the other one died of root rot.  I should have used a more airy potting mix, by adding more perlite and sand and watering less.  I did realize the problem quickly though, and left the other cutting more dry.  Success!  Now to wait for flowers.  Gardening does build patience. 
A flowering Plumeria(By Kerina yin at ms.wikipedia - Own workTransferred from ms.wikipedia, Public Domain,
Even more exciting for me is the germination of a handful of Blue Passion flower (Passiflora caerulea).  I have always had failure with germination of passion flowers in the past so I took one last try at it after reading online advice to get good fresh seed and then soak them before planting.  The recommendations were for soaking for 1 day, but I got side-tracked by life and left them to soak for 3 days.  I put them in regular potting mix and about 2-3 weeks later, got a nice bunch of seedlings!  I am pricking them out now to grow bigger, though have no idea what I am going to do with these very tall-growing tropical flowering vines.  If I get a single flower though, I will be very happy.   

 Passion flowers are the most ornate flowers I have ever seen.  It's hard to imagine such intricate designs just occurring spontaneously in nature!  They are native to South America and can grow 9 meters tall, but of course, mine will be limited to the size of the sunny bathroom in the house, or my sunroom/greenhouse. 
On the non-tropical theme, my 9 varieties of tomatoes and 2 varieties of tomatilloes are up and growing.  I am trying a few of the new compact indeterminate varieties (e.g. "Better Bush"), which produce throughout the season but do not grow tall and need staking.  These will work much better in my raised beds than the 10 foot varieties I put in last year and then had to climb into the clouds to harvest.  Those tall kinds can go in the ground this year (and risk the hazards of the crazy new puppy). 

In the front row is "Indigo Rose", which I wanted to grow after seeing other gardens with darker cherry tomatoes than my "Black Cherry".  I just had to have these anti-oxidant-filled black tomatoes (same anti-oxidants as in blueberries).  I threw in one Roma "Pomodora" just to have a few sauce tomatoes, "Black Plum" because made the sweetest dried tomatoes, some yellow pear shape for pretty salads, "Manitoba" because my mom wants a [boring] round plain red tomato, "Cherry Falls" for short but wide plants for the raised beds, "Conestoga" for tasty big hamburger slice tomatoes on tall vines...and  a few more for good measure.   

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Color Gems of the April Garden

It has been a rather warm and pleasant spring (so far) and the sights and smells of wild and cultivated flowers are amazing.  The wild oregon grape (Mahonia) shrubs are in bloom here and the Saskatoon bushes are just finishing.  My narcissus and daffodils started a few weeks ago.  Every fall, I plant more, but our landscaping is so sprawling that I would need quite a few more for good effect.  I plant a variety of shapes and colors just to enjoy the variations. 
Narcissus "White Lion" in front of some Lavender "Hidcote superior" (not in bloom) and a blue oat grass

My "rock garden" includes samplings of all my favourite compact plants, looking like a quilt of color now.  My "Black Lace" Elderberry is at the left in the foreground. 
Purple flowers on the right are Aubrieta (Rock Cress)
White flowers on Iberis "Snow Cone" with a tiny yellow Draba bruniifolia in the background. 
Aubrieta, variegated red
I have many little hummocks of purple and pink flowering Aubrieta (Rock Cress) at the edges of the rock garden.  The variegated leaf one is absolutely stunning.  I have been so impressed by the aubrieta that I have started a tray of "Cascade blue" from seed.  They are quite easy to grow from seed.

I did try Aubrieta in Saskatchewan, but they were not hardy there.  There certainly grow well here.  I always think of the wild ones growing in cracks of rock faces above the highways on Vancouver Island.  Amazing!  These make quite a dense groundcover, so I am thinking about combining them with other low-growing flowering plants like Alyssum saxatile and covering some of the edges of the mulch-covered areas to prevent weeds seeds from taking over.
Muscari latifolium with low lilac-colored Phlox
Muscari latifolium are distinguished from the common muscari by their wider strap-like leaves and two-toned flowers
  Muscari are a great bulb because they naturalize in an area, multiplying each year for bigger and brighter shows.  They make a nice contrast for other flowering plants at this time of year.  I have some Bergenia (Elephant's ears) flowering pink next to the muscari, making a great combination.  
Blue Muscari armeniacum (left), Primulas at center, and white mat of Arabis caucasica

Thursday, April 7, 2016

April in Summerland, BC

Arrowleaf balsamroot and Saskatoon berries (white shrubs) in bloom, April 7, 2016
The appearance of April-blooming wildflowers is a sure sign of spring in the Okanagan.  The sunflower-like blooms of the arrowleaf balsamroot are appearing everywhere in wild areas, among the grass, sagebrush and ponderosa pine.  They were of great value to native peoples of the area, who used nearly every part of the plant.  They bloom at the same time as the Saskatoon berry shrubs, providing a short but beautiful show this time of year.

I purchased a dozen of the arrowleaf balsamroot plants at a native plant nursery in Oliver recently.  I had been meaning to get to Sagebrush nursery for the last 2 years, and finally got myself there after an impulse to drive somewhere on a sunny morning.  If you had any ideas about transplanting these from the wild, just abandon that thought.  Like many dryland plants, these have very long taproots and therefore don't transplant well (and there's also the disturbance that digging in wild areas will cause).  Mine were fairly small plants and as such, seem to be doing well after being planted in my yard.  They are the ultimate in drought-tolerant plants and will not being needing additional water once established.  They dry up to little crisps in the summer, so I think that planting other things around them will be a good idea, much like disguising the dying foliage of spring bulbs with other perennials.  We have predominantly sandy soil, which this plant likes.  Also, I am planting them on slopes, which seems to be consistent with where they like to be in the wild. 

Did you know the arrowleaf balsamroot is not destroyed by fire, and may actually increase due to fire?  The top part of the plant is burned, but the deep taproot (up to 8 feet) survives unscathed to grow again the next year. 

Looking north from Sumac Ridge, Summerland     

We have had nice sunny and warm weather here in Summerland so far this April, excellent for all the tourists we see cruising by (we see those cameras).  For all the prairie people, you should know people have been golfing here for a couple of months already!  The grass is green and lovely.  

While they may be hated as pests by the fruit-growers, we like to watch the yellow-bellied marmots hanging out on their stack of old logs.  Otherwise, they are often seen sunning themselves on the top of concrete barriers at the sides of highways.

Poles going in for new apple orchard
Back on our property, we ripped out a couple acres of old red delicious apple trees (economically worthless variety) and are replacing them with a high-density Ambrosia apple orchard.  The trees are not quite all planted yet.  This is a LOT of work and we will be very happy to see all the trees settled in with their watering system soon.  In the meanwhile, our new puppy dog is miserably residing in a large pen during the day (rather than roaming the property), away from all the heavy equipment.  He too will be happy to see the end of the re-plant.