We’re just on the verge of hard frost in the garden and decisions need to be made about how to protect plants. Some gardeners make it a policy not to grow anything that isn’t comfortably frost-resistant in their gardens, and they have no worries about winter’s lowest temperatures. Then there are the risk takers, gardeners who grow plants at the edge of their hardiness zone (myself included), possibly growing a few totally outside of their frost-bearable limits (well, I probably wouldn’t do that).
No one likes to look out the window and see a band of burlap-wrapped dwarfs patiently waiting for spring, yet it seems necessary to wrap these frost-sensitive plants to prevent winter damage, or worse, outright death from cold. It’s useful to remember what the wrapping is meant to do — block wind from fully impacting on the wrapped plant. Plant wrapping doesn’t insulate woody plants in the way that snow cover protects and maintains bearable temperature for perennial roots buried in the ground. Wrapping a plant should either filter the force of the wind (thereby protecting it from the lowest temperatures of wind chill) or re-direct the channel of wind over or around the plant. This only works if the protective wrapping around the plant is at a slight distance away from it, not touching the branches or foliage. It’s also useful to fill the void spaces inside the wrapping with leaves, which may provide some insulating value.
When fabric wrapping (usually burlap, never plastic) is tight around the plant and touching wood or evergreen foliage, it’s an invitation for wind to closely embrace the plant. What’s more, when melting snow collects on surfaces and in crevices of wrapping directly over bare branches, ice begins to form and is able to soak through to the wood, where it re-freezes at night. (The wood of Japanese maples and foliage of rhododendrons is often burned in this way.) The idea of a roomy box of burlap, stapled or tied to stakes or a frame, placed over plants (and possibly stuffed with leaves) would provide the best protection, although that makes for some strange dwarfs waiting for spring. But it’s the price we pay for gardening dangerously with frost-tender plants.
Seeds make a great gifts for gardeners
You can’t go wrong with a gift of seeds for a gardener. Here are some interesting online sources.
• Butchart Gardens (butchartgardens.com) in Victoria, B.C., has packets of seed for individual flowering plants, as well as scatter collections for window boxes, hanging baskets, and for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies—just drift the seeds over soil and see what you get.
• Gardenimport Inc. (gardenimport.com) in Richmond Hill, Ont., offers packets of Sutton’s Seeds from England, always containing something special. I’m after the gorgeous sweet peas, and among them, blush-pink ‘High Scent’ and blue-violet ‘Fragrant Skies’. Now, does this require any further explanation?
• For the naturalist, (naturesgardenseeds.com) in Victoria, B.C., has packets and decorative tins of indigenous Canadian wildflowers, including roadside New England aster (Aster novae-angliae, Zone 3) and drought-hardy prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera, Zone 4).
• Because you should always grow something new from seed, have a look at the extensive seed list at Gardens North (gardensnorth.com) in Annapolis Royal, N.S. You might not recognize everything, but it’s all good. Just about anyone would love one of the heavy cotton t-shirts ($25) or caps ($15) printed with “Gone to Seed” and “So many species, so little time.”
• For the traditionalist, The Cottage Gardener (cottagegardener.com) in Newtonville, Ont., offers mostly organic seeds for historic annuals and perennials, traditional herbs and heirloom vegetables, and we certainly need all of those! There are individual packets for gorgeous vegetables like ‘Ronde de Nice’ round zucchini (good for stuffing) and dozens of tomatoes, including three Canadian-bred varieties—Rideau’, ‘Savignac’, and ‘Scotia’. Among the annuals are scented ‘Sweet Sultan’ and ‘Indian Spring’ hollyhock and ‘Grandpa Ott’ morning glory. There are also clever seed collections like Medieval Herber and First Time Gardener; the whole website is a good read.
• An intriguing gift for seedaholics is a gift membership ($25) to the Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society (onrockgarden.com), which has members from all over Canada and the world. Membership brings many benefits, including access to the annual Seedex, the society’s seed bank of hundreds of species available to members.
• And finally, from William Dam Seeds (damseeds.ca) in Dundas, Ont., a water-resistant seed-starting heat mat ($34.95), 19.5 x 8.75 inches (50 x 22 cm) to fit under standard growing flats and seedling trays. A heat mat raises the temperature of your growing medium 10 to 12°F degrees above room temperature, promoting faster germination and stronger roots for heat-loving seedlings. Something for everyone!
Still blooming in my garden
As petals and leaves disappear, bright rose hips are standout attractions in the garden. A hybrid species rose I planted expressly for its showy autumn hips, Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’, flowered nicely, but I can’t find the hips. Is this a hip failure? Did the birds get them? It’s a mystery. But then, I have a pleasant surprise from shrub rose ‘Westerland’—several sprays of large orange hips that look like real door knockers. With the complex genetic history of roses (‘Westerland’ has genes from 108 contributors), there is always the chance of an unexpected gift.
Thanks for stopping by Making a Garden. Hope to see you again soon.