Tuesday, April 26, 2011

...while the spring rain falls

Last post still had that wintry feel, this Easter weekend it was much milder. There was even a bit of sun, but now its raining again - and supposed to continue for 5 days!

Catalpa from Mohlenbrock 1995
However I'm thrilled about the rain, because I got some time-critical planting done just before the rain started. First I put a Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa). This is a tree that occurs in Ohio and New York states but was introduced to Ontario many years ago. It's all over the York Univ. campus and is on the City of Toronto's list of recommended "native" trees for street planting. Ours didn't go by the street - it went at the back of our yard to replace a Manitoba Maple (Box elder, Acer negundo) which was dying. Curiously some Ontario sources list the Manitoba Maple as "invasive introduced species" although its native range includes SW Ontario.

But back to the Catalpa. This tree has wonderful flowers in late May or June which are attractive to bumblebees and hummingbirds, and is a host plant for caterpillars of the Catalpa Sphinx moth (Ceratomia catalpae) . It also is relatively fast growing as casts  a lot of shade, which we hope will compensate soon for the loss of the huge old maple. I had bought this tree to be the specimen tree in the Canada Blooms feature garden, but it was too large to move into a greenhouse and out again in March.

the pit and the liner
I warmed up my digging skills making the hole for the Catalpa, as I found one of those city lost rubble layers a foot down and spent hours with a pickaxe taking out old broken bricks and concrete chunks. That was Friday. It was good practice for Saturday, when I dug out 100 square feet of lawn and garden to a foot deep to make a bog garden. I took the pond liner used in the Canada Blooms feature garden, reshaped it with scissors and contact cement, and put it at the bottom of the gaping pit. Then I put three bales of peat moss, a container of garden sulphur, and most of the soil back in the pit, watered it, and...instant bog!

the dog helps choose plants for the bog
The planting happened on Sunday, a fine mild day punctuated by a pleasant garden visit from pollinator artists Sarah Peebles and Robert Cruickshank. Quite a few plants from the Canada Blooms pond found final homes in the bog, after being kept alive in the on-deck temporary green house for the intervening frosty month. The bog-bean and the greenhouse are shown in the previous post.

planted bog
I had no sooner finished  when I realized the plant list was the perfect answer to an inquiry from Pollinator Festival organizer Sabrina Malach, who has received awards for her work on pollinators.

Sabrina sent this question:

"I am planting a large pollinator garden with the PACT urban peace program. Our site is quite saturated with poor drainage. What native plants, other than monarda, would grow well in soggy soil?"

My answer was:
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Sabrina, I've just planted a 100 sq foot bog in my backyard. I used everything except monarda! Some of the ones I planted:

Bogbean (Menyanthes)
swamp milkweed
Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)
Louisiana Iris (Iris garden hybrid **)
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
Lizard's Tail (Saururus cernuus)
Lupine (Lupinus ** - western NA hybrids)
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
Monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus)
Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

(** marks native North American plants not native to Ontario)

These give a long period of bloom from the April flowers of bogbean and Marsh Marigold to late summer/fall flowers of cardinal flower and turtlehead. Winterberry is a native holly shrub with bright red berries for winter interest and birds. If there's enough room I'd also suggest putting pussy willow and red-osier dogwood shrubs in at the back (they get bigger).

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Note that all of these plants had either medicinal or food uses among Native North Americans. I won't list them all here but one of the interests of gardening with native plants is the deep well of prior experience that resides in Native traditions.

Most bogs contain an acid soil, due to the accumulation of acids such as tannins from partly decomposed leaves. Toronto water is hard (full of calcium) and basic, so I added peat and sulphur to the bog soil to increase the acidity.I'll return to the bog in a month when the plants are up and growing.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

...while the spring snow falls

A few weeks have passed since I last posted, so there is a leftover set of updates from Canada Blooms to be covered - but in haste because spring is here (in a very Canadian way, with snow showers and bloodroot blooms) so I'll also show you a few of the pollinator-related activities that are starting up along with the season.

Wednesday morning lineup for the garden
Our garden at Canada Blooms was a great success. We gave up counting the visitors after the first morning, when we had close to 1,700. Afternoons and evenings were slightly less busy but it's a safe bet we had more than 10,000 visitors, perhaps as many as 15,000. The video at this link (shot by Arthur Levitin of Flash Video Production) gives you a sense of it.

Marsh Marigold
 As I mentioned in some previous posts getting native plants to bloom in mid-March was an experiment for me. Some cooperated, like the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) in the pond.

 I had bloom during the show in 1 out of the 3 pots of marsh marigolds. The first was so quick to show buds I waited a bit too late to put the other 2 in our warm greenhouse, so they had good leaves but no flowers.
Marsh Marigold with Winterberry

Although the "marigold" show was a bit less than I'd hoped, it still pleased visitors, most of whom recognized it as one of our iconic spring flowers. Many fewer visitors recognized the beautiful red berries of our native swamp holly Winterberry (Ilex verticillata). The leaves on this plant were just beginning to come out; it doesn't hold them through the winter the way English hollies do.

temporary greenhouse
When the show was over came the gruelling work of taking down the garden and hauling the plants home. I used some of the lumber from the show to build a temporary greenhouse on our back deck to hold the plants, since it had turned nasty and cold outside (during the show it was unseasonably warm).  For the last 3 weeks show plants have been shuttling in and out of the temporary greenhouse depending on the weather. A few days ago we looked out our kitchen window on a day when the plants were out and saw a Mockingbird eating the fruit of the Winterberry. This was a nice illustration of how these plants do double duty, providing flowers for pollinators in summer and berries to light up the winter for us and feed the birds in the spring.

Bog-bean Menyanthes trifoliata
Bog-bean (Menyanthes trifoliata) frustrated me by starting buds but not blooming until after the show. Darn! When it finally did bloom at home in the greenhouse and later in my backyard pond, it showed why I was sad not to have it in bloom at the show.

This is a holarctic species, meaning it is found in cool parts of the northern hemisphere on both  continents. It's not a bean at all, but when the leaves come out they look a bit like bean leaves. It likes a boggy spot with perhaps some acidity in the soil (people differ about this point) and normally bloom quite early, like the Marsh Marigolds. This is why I waited a bit too long to force it, guaranteeing that only you the blog visitors and I enjoy its amazing fringed flowers.

Oops! This blog has gone on too long and I'm late for a party at a pollinator researcher's house - the best kind of party - so I'll have to continue another time.