This past weekend, I spent three pleasant days near the Garden Making offices in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., and in close proximity to some wonderful nurseries. Suffice to say, I didn’t waste any opportunities! When it was time to return home, I loaded luggage for two people and 168 plants into a Mazda 3 and slowly moved out into traffic, being careful not to unsettle the balanced ‘Wave’ petunias or jar the brittle white begonias. It was a marvel of tight packing, all of which had to be undone at journey’s end.
To get everything into the available car space required packing by size with small pots in nooks and crannies between larger plants and tall perennials in foot wells (low as possible), and bolstered by more small pots to prevent tipping over. Shrubs went into the car headfirst, were laid on their sides, and wedged in place with large pots of perennials to prevent rolling. The plants are disorganized going into the car (it’s not possible to keep all the hepaticas together, for example), and all a jumble coming out. To simply unload everything and leave it sitting on the driveway invites trouble — some will be in too much sun, others in too much wind, and people moving trash cans will tip over pots and claim they never saw them.
It’s better to get organized right away, especially if the planting will stretch over two or three weeks. First, I put anything injured in a protected area where I can keep an eye on them. (In a journey like that, there are bound to be a few broken stems.) Then I gather and set plants near to the locations where they’ll be installed, keeping them visible so I won’t forget they’re waiting for me. Of course, there’s also a category of impulse buys, plants I couldn’t resist, but have no pre-determined location for — ahem, this is a large group! These must reside on the shady end of the driveway, waiting for crucial placement decisions. I make a circuit of the garden with a big watering can every morning and evening, refilling the can frequently, and quickly resolving to get these plants into the ground so I don’t have to haul water any more.
Sitting on my front steps by a large stone container (currently holding pansies) are Plectranthus ecklonii ‘Mona Lavender’ (purple-green foliage, rich mauve flower spikes), ‘Creamy Pineapple’ coleus (variegated yellow and green, with burgundy veins),‘Tricolor’ perilla (similar to the coleus with green, purple and vivid pink leaves), cascading Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ (creamy chartreuse), and Lobelia ‘Bavaria’ (deep purple with a white throat). For my next trip, I’m determined to find a way for two people to travel with less personal luggage in order to have more room for what’s important. Perhaps disposable clothes?
Colourful new perennials
I’m not sure it’s necessary to keep up with the rapid pace of colour development in perennials, but I did see some I couldn’t resist. There was just no way I could leave a pot of ‘Purple Rooster’ beebalm (Monarda didyma ‘Purple Rooster’, Zone 4) behind in the nursery. The flowers appear to be large and a deep royal purple with black centres (in the photo on the plant tag). They’re mildew-free, don’t required staking, and are irresistible to hummingbirds and butterflies—and me! Reflecting the current interest in plants with dark leaves, I found Geranium pratense ‘Okey Dokey’ (Zone 4), with mauve flowers and feathery burgundy-brown foliage. The foliage is rather dull by itself, but it comes alive next to ‘Sun Power’ hosta or any other yellow leaf. Another power partnership I stumbled on was ‘Blackout’ coral bells (Heuchera ‘Blackout’, Zone 5), with shiny, smooth dark bronze-brown foliage expected to turn sparkling charcoal black, and ‘Peach Flambé’ (Heuchera ‘Peach Flambé’, Zone 5), with ruffled leaves turning from bright peach to coral-red, and then plum in autumn. Both have ivory-white flowers in spring, and reach their colour zenith in midsummer. This is going to require sunglasses.
Caution with fertilizers
We’ve had a lot of rain in May, and there’s still more coming. Earlier this spring, when the weather was reasonably balanced between sunny days and rain showers, I was quick to deliver water-soluble fertilizer (18-21-21) to many perennial plants. (Truthfully, I thought this nutrient analysis was a little high, and so I added an extra 25% of water to the diluted mixture to bring down the numbers a bit.) I fed roses and clematis first, then peonies, phlox and daylilies. Now I’m worried that the amount of moisture moving through the soil may be flushing out my fertilizer, leaving the plants short of supplemental nutrients. I know they have enough for normal growth, but the fertilizer was meant to encourage extra blossoming. Well, my greed for flower display has led me to confusion, because now I don’t know how much fertilizer was absorbed before rain possibly flushed it away.
Of the main plant nutrients, nitrogen is the most likely to be leached by excessive rainwater. Nitrogen influences stem and leaf growth, and working together with phosphorus and potassium, it’s also essential to bud production, and almost every other plant growth function. I think it would be unwise to give the plants another feeding with the same fertilizer, and risk an overdose and burned roots. Instead, I’ll provide a mild nutrient snack of composted sheep manure and bloodmeal (four parts manure to one part bloodmeal), giving each a cup (235 mL) or two cups (475 mL) for larger plants, scratched into the soil over their roots. The nitrogen content in bloodmeal is about 10%, and the trace elements in manure encourage healthy growth. Sometimes caution and prudence are the wiser parts of gardening.
Thanks so much for stopping in at Making a Garden.