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Staying Focused

Gardening Delights
by Nancy Oakes

Being as focused as I am on one particular species, it's been a few years since I have added any truly new plants to the garden. I have studiously stayed away from garden centres until the bitter end, when there is little to choose from, thus keeping within my meager "other plants" budget. Of course I've added Hostas from Bob Pharoah and I've ordered in a few more Astilbes and hardy geraniums, but new species have I none.

Well, that's not exactly true. Last year I was given some Canna bulbs. They kind of sat around for a while and made it into the ground so late that I doubted any flowers would form. Wrong. They were late, but they were there and when I dug them up for storage (another task I'm not too good at) there were gazillions. Now I'm becoming enamored with the exotic again, so there'll be more Cannas and probably some Caladiums to fill up a much ignored shade garden.

Then, cruising the Internet (this is becoming almost as dangerous as going to garden centres) I came across This could be trouble. Hardy Bamboo (the real stuff, not "Island bamboo") from a Canadian source (okay, it's BC, but still...). Just a few hours later there is a question on my listerv about hardy Bamboo and answers from lots of folks in Zone 5. Close enough to fate for me.

There were dire warnings about growing any of the Phyllostachys, running bamboos, but lots of recommendations for the clumping bamboos. So my dreams of a grove of 4" diameter Bamboo to use on the roof of a gazebo are dashed. As I cruised looking for other bamboo sites (these people are enthusiastic), I found a fair amount of discussion about the occasional severe dieback, so...maybe just one, with tasty shoots for eating should it become too vigorous. But it may be best to stick with the Fargesias. They're a clumping bamboo that range in height from 12 to 20 feet and all are under one inch in diameter. They grow at high elevations and can withstand very low temperatures and the leaves are a favorite of pandas, so I'll be ready should they ever arrive. Mature plant dimensions are for those grown under ideal conditions. Not something they'll be doing here. Plus, should they ever flower, which requires on-going annual ideal conditions, they'll die.

I was having a few second thoughts, cause these are not cheap and the shipping...Yikes! Then while checking U.S. sites and seeing those prices, these started sounding pretty cheap! Ah, where would we gardeners be without rationalization?

Mother of Invention

Gardening Delights
by Nancy Oakes

It's a given that a garden would hardly be a garden without good plants, but where would the gardener be without decent tools? Given the popularity of gardening, I keep hoping that better tools will become available, but it seems that quantity, not quality is the main concern. As a tall person, I'm continually on the search for tools with longer handles, but manufacturers seem to think that all gardeners are about five foot six. Even the new "ergonomic" tools fall a bit short for me.

And then there's gloves-does anyone actually use these? I mean, I seem to always buy a couple of pairs each spring, knowing full well, that they'll be on my hands for all of five minutes. I would like to meet the person who can actually pull a weed from the middle of a plant while wearing them! Someday though I hope to find my dream pair-tight fitting, like a golf glove, with little metal tips (like a guitar pick turned lengthwise) for digging and popping out weeds close to plants.

And why are tool handles green?! Obviously the designers have never lost one in the garden. The person who comes up with tools with built in "clappers" (lights on, lights off) will make a small fortune.

Plant labels-it's the 21st century-why is there not a label that can be put in the ground and be there (and be readable) next spring? I've finally resorted to pricey US stainless steel ones and a Brother label maker. For quickie labels cut up venetian blinds work great, but the only marking pen I've found that would withstand rain and sun has been discontinued. Gheez!

So what is out there that's new this year and possibly worth while? Lee Valley, definitely the leader in tools in my book, has a few noteworthy items:

Green velcro plant ties-Why did it take so long for someone to come up with this great idea?

Deep root seed starter-like cell packs, 1-1/2 to 2" deep with grooved sides to direct the roots down rather than around. I've been using very heavy hard plastic ones meant for tree seedlings and the plants do come out of them with incredible root systems.

Stainless steel transplant spade with plastic covered steel handle-You will never have to buy another shovel. The blade is 11 by 5 inches-perfect for tight spaces. The garden forks are also worth every penny. Their long handled trowel is excellent for working at ground level. It gives just that bit more leverage to make digging out weeds or small plants easier.

Garden aids of the future? How about snap-in teflon vertebrae or a detachable third hand. For now I'd settle for a pair of scissors that would last the season.

Don't Lose Sleep Over It

Gardening Delights
by Nancy Oakes

I'm not sure I would like to live somewhere that I could actually physically garden twelve months of the year. Each season, Spring always presents us with a clean slate-a chance to start over. Of course that means that during the winter, what's a northern gardener to do? We used to have to wait for the catalogues to arrive, but now one can just hop on the internet and download, download, download.

I tend to frequent the sites devoted to my favorite plant, but since most of them are in the US I have to be content with looking at all the pretty faces. Mind you, I still download the catalogues and pretend I could buy whatever I wanted, but when what I want is selling for $150 per plant, well... it's just not going to be happening. But like most gardeners who start collecting specific plants it doesn't stop me from wanting them.

I'd heard about the Lily Auction and even visited the web site a few times, but most individuals don't want to go to the trouble of providing a phytosanitary certificate, so I'd never thought seriously about it. Then a couple of weeks ago I stopped by for another visit to drool over the things I couldn't get and lo and behold there's a category for seeds! Yes!!!! "When I regained consciousness..."

$3, $4, $5 per seed? You betcha. Since Daylilies (like Iris, Hostas and Roses) don't come true from seed, any one of these babies could be the elusive blue daylily. So, you've gotta understand, Ned Roberts' Lavender Handlebars can't be had for love nor money and if you want to be on the cutting edge of unusual form Daylilies you've got to use the best parents possible. Same goes for Northwind Dancer and Lurch (you've gotta love any plant with that name).

And you don't even have to keep track of any of it yourself. The site lets you track possible purchases or ones you're bidding on and tells you how much longer til the bidding closes. I know, ebay does that too, but they ain't got what I want. Plus it's winter and I'm easily amused.

How bad can it get? Setting the alarm for 2:00 a.m. as one item reaches closing time? No, I didn't actually, but I did consider it, and thankfully I got what I was bidding on.

I have searched for sites devoted to other plants, cause I really do like hardy Geraniums and Japanese Iris. But I couldn't find a one-not even for roses. Let's not dwell too long over what this says about Daylily People, not when I'm doing my bit for international trade and the betterment of the genus. Oh did I forget to mention that those are US dollars? So, how much a seed was that? But, but...the pollen parent is Skinwalker! Where is that alarm clock?

(The Lily Auction can be found at


Gardening Delights
by Nancy Oakes

Just a few weeks ago I was hard pressed to imagine the ground frozen and the trees bare. And a few weeks before that I was just plain tired of the garden-the heat, the drought, the sad plants. Just didn't want to look at it anymore, so I spent my time inside doing paperwork and computer work, a black hole if there ever was one. Then it finally rained and the garden was a happier place to be. It also became a place of solace and certainty as our world suddenly changed.

The beds on either side of the pergola definitely needed some attention-many of the plants had suffered badly during the summer and there were so many weeds in one area I wondered if I'd find any actual garden plants. I sank the garden fork into one corner and began tossing the weeds. I've learned to keep my eyes focused on only a spade sized area, otherwise the vast expanse of weeds may send me screaming to the house. For the most part it's weeds and I'm getting closer to where the drought stricken leaves of the Filipendula are sticking out at odd angles. For the past month I've more or less assumed that the whole stand is dead. And now I'm close enough to know for sure. I begin loosening the soil and hauling out the couch grass that has invaded it, then with the clippers I start removing the dead stalks. Convinced that the next step will be to actually rip it out by its roots and thus end the misery for both of us, I am amazed to see a tiny green leaf emerging from the base of one of the dead stalks. As I get further into the stand I can see more little green leaves, reminding me of Nature's resilience and I can see the promise of the 6' tall pink foamy flowers once again gracing the garden.

Further along, it's another story for the Sidalcea and white variety of the Purple Coneflower. The latter, I've never really liked, so it's tossed with ease. But I love the little Hollyhock-like Sidalcea, so must remember to order seeds for the spring.

When I finally step back to look at the day's work, I am rewarded with the sight of all those little Queen-of-the-Prairie leaves as well as vast areas of bare ground, ready for the promise of next spring, a promise that has become something to hold on to in this new world.

Dry Red Season

Gardening Delights
by Nancy Oakes

Water, where for art thou? In the last twelve weeks, my garden has seen just an inch and a half of rain. On the plus side, I can now say which plants in my garden are drought tolerant. A small comfort as I watched so many favorite plants struggle to bloom and then just fade away. The biggest disappointment was the Filipendula `Queen-of-the-Prairie.' It barely made it to 3' tall and I wish I had had the foresight to cut it back and not let it bloom. I will be amazed if it appears next spring. The Columbines came and went very quickly, but so far seem to be dealing well with the heat.

On the other hand, the Verbascums were all gorgeous and just loved the heat and no wet feet. A big surprise was the Hosta `Fried Green Tomatoes.' It's done well for the last two years in full sun, but it's only response to this years conditions was shorter flower scapes. Add to its vigor the scent of its flower and you have a very desirable plant that will grow no matter what. Even the Hollyhocks, which were moved in early June, bloomed beautifully and survived some major munching by an unknown caterpillar which turned out to be the truly lovely American Painted Lady butterfly. They were much appreciated since the Monarchs were not in evidence.

The Russian Sage, which I thought was on its last legs last year with all the wetness, has come back with a bang and is a welcome sight in late September. As well, the Clary Sage which has seeded itself along the edges of beds was a standout with it's oddly coloured pink bracts and blue flowers producing a wonderful hazy mauve. It's oddly attractive aroma only adds to it's garden value. And of course the Daylilies. Billed as drought tolerant, they were certainly put to the test this year and they passed with flying colours. A few responded with smaller flowers than normal, but for the most part, they bloomed their hearts out.

So folks, water well this fall, especially your trees and shrubs. Whether you use a soaker hose or over head, make sure after you're done that the water has soaked down at least eight inches and if the drought continues into the late fall, just keep on watering.


Gardening Delights
by Nancy Oakes

Okay, blame me. After the last two winters without snow, I've been doing a little dance each time it snowed this year to keep it on the ground for a nice blanket for the garden. But,...enough already! It's mid-April and it's overkill. How bad is it? I was all set to dig through the snow to see if the hellebores were blooming, when that April first storm whacked us and put the snow pack back over the pergola railing. Could it get worse? My friends know me too well. Got a call asking if my head was in the oven yet. Not yet, but close.

I'm trying to maintain a gardening frame of mind, but I can't seem to settle. I wander from gardening book to gardening magazine then over to the piles of catalogues. But none of it holds my interest for too long. I'm just plain tired of it all. I don't want to think about gardening. I don't even want to look out the windows. In desperation I start to clean the house. The dust is flying. Stuff is being sorted. Piles are made for the yard sale or the dump. Nothing is safe.

By the time I'm done there's a pile of gardening books three feet high. Maybe this is a bit excessive. I start going through them again and out falls a wish list from who knows when. At the top of the list is Witch Hazel. There was supposed to be a small grove of them on the other side of the apple trees, where they would be seen from the kitchen window. Maybe they'd be blooming now if I'd ever found them. Instead I planted the cutleaf Sumac, which has effectively turned into a weed and will be torn out by its nasty little roots this spring. Maybe there's a chance for the Witch Hazel, if it's to be found.

Well, surprise, surprise. What have we here? A little spark of garden anticipation. Just the thought of pulling something out seems to have sown its own little seed of hope. That Sumac is at the edge of a bed which is above the hole in the ground where the non-existent pond is slated to go. I've promised I won't start any more projects until the ones that have already been started are done. Maybe I do need all those water gardening books after all. I know one of them has a good list of absolutely gotta have plants. Oooh...Rheum-ornamental rhubarb-didn't I order seeds for that a couple of years ago? Did I ever plant it? Where are all those seeds anyway? Do I have any vermiculite? Potting soil? Cell packs? Darn, they're all out in the greenhouse. Okay, I'm putting on my boots, I'm grabbing a shovel, I'm heading outside. Maybe I should leave a note in case I get swallowed by a drift. Nah,'s spring, how bad can it be?

Nancy Oakes lives in AHS region 4, Zone 5, and owns an AHS Display Garden called Red Lane Gardens.
Address: Red Lane Gardens, RR 3, Belfast, PEI C0A 1A0 and

Gardener's Olympics

Gardening Delights
by Nancy Oakes

When my garden was just my own, one of my favorite past times was weeding. In the beginning it was mindful work learning which plants are weeds, but once you know which plants to take out and which to leave in it leaves your mind free to wander. I still love to weed, but spending untold hours on your knees, working your way through an acre of beds, only to have to start over, can leave one a bit punchy. This year while the Olympics were happening, we began a list of events for a `Gardener's Olympics.' Here are some of the high-(or low)lights.

The 50 Metre Edge event-points given for straightness, uniformity of depth and extra points for the number of worms rescued.

The Dig and Divide-a first day event. Overgrown clumps of Phlox to be lifted and divided into as many viable pieces as possible. Medals are awarded one month later for the largest percentage that survive.

The Seedling Transplant event-a 2" square mat of 2 week old Dianthus seedlings-how many can be planted in 30 minutes. Medals awarded at closing ceremonies for the highest percentage that survive.

The Dead-head event (This has nothing to do with the Grateful Dead, although it could be worked in)-a 5 metre row of pansies that have been left to their own devices. First one done wins with points taken away for the number of spent blooms missed. This could take the judges a few hours to figure out.

The Overgrown Rose Pruning event-fastest time with the least number of cuts and scratches. Points deducted for curse words uttered.

The Slug Picking Event-in the Shady Hosta Garden. A numbers game-who can pick the most in 15 minutes. Extra points awarded for the largest and the smallest.

The Weed Toss events (the Track and Field of the competition):

The Simple Toss-the furthest one can toss a weed and hit the basket.

The Blind Toss-toss a weed over your shoulder and hit the basket without looking.

The Marathon Weed Toss-a 10 metre row of weedy border. Start next to the basket. Get ready set, weed! No looking back-first one to the end with the fewest weeds outside the basket wins.

The longest couch-grass root

The longest complete dandelion root

The "How high can I pile the wheelbarrow and still make it intact to the compost" event-(self-descriptive)

And finally, The Clean Hands event-all contestants will have 10 minutes to wash up, using only soap and water. The one with the cleanest hands gets to take all the other contestants home where they will groom the winner's garden to within an inch of its life.

If that's not incentive I don't know what is!

What a Year it Was

Gardening Delights
by Nancy Oakes

In the years to come, I think many of us will look back on 2000 as a year to forget. It certainly started out well. In April I found myself out there poking around to see what the season would bring and was thrilled to find green growing tips just below the soil's surface. I happily left on my annual jaunt to the US, already looking forward to seeing the garden upon my return. But May was more like what April should have been and my homecoming found a sodden, cold garden. Artemisia `Guizhou' was now nowhere to be found and where were those little green nubs I'd seen on Hemerocallis Wildest Dreams-my priciest purchase of the previous year?

When the rain and cold finally gave way to somewhat more reasonable weather, it didn't seem to last that long and then those few days where many feared frost, made the memory of those warm days, just that. August gave way to a few days of true summer only to be brought to an abrupt halt by the scent of fall in the air.

Ah, what would we gardeners do if we couldn't complain about the weather and this year's season gave us ample opportunity to do just that. Sometimes we didn't even have to wait the requisite five minutes! But there's always a silver lining in the clouds of a gardener. With the constant supply of moisture, the shade garden looked its lushest in years and the cooler temperatures seemed to keep many things, especially the Columbines, hardy Geraniums and Ligularias, blooming much longer than I recall in recent years. Of course the slugs loved it as well, but the abundance of growth made them easy to ignore. I know I'll pay for that next year, just like I paid this year for the decision to stop weeding during last year's drought.

But now the fall garden is making up for the frustration of the summer. Rudbeckia `Herbstsonne' at over 2 metres is undoubtedly the star with its bright yellow, slightly drooping rays. Lobelia siphilitica's spires of light blue are a wonderful counterpoint to the fall colours. Easy from seed, this should definitely be grown in more gardens. Sedum `Matrona,' my only new purchase this year, is a welcome change from `Autumn Joy.' It looked great all summer with its succulent purple foliage, but now it's pink flowers only add to its appeal. The foliage of Eupatorium `Chocolate' continues to stand out and although its flowers are not as conspicuous as the species, it nonetheless will always have a strong supporting role as a backdrop to all the green. And despite the late start to the season, even some Daylilies are starting to rebloom.

Last week I saw clumps of a tall purple Aster in a friend's garden and I remember promising myself last year that I would add Asters to the garden this year. That didn't happen, but in the true spirit of gardeners everywhere- `There's always next year!'

Events Calendar

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Some Upcoming Events

Bluegrass at the Carriage House

February 3
Beaconsfield Carriage House Janet McGarry and Wildwood, a favourite PEI band, will be fea [ ... ]

Gadfly crew

Urban roots dance January 31
Homburg Theatre Gadfly is an eclectic urban dance crew that is steppin [ ... ]

Credit Union Music PEI Week 2019

Awards Gala, concerts, shows, parties and more January 23–27
Charlottetown Credit Union Music PEI [ ... ]

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Music PEI Canadian Songwriter Challenge

In partnership with ECMA 2019 Music PEI and ECMA 2019 have announced a partnership bringing togethe [ ... ]

The facilitator

Profile: Steve Bellamy by Jane Ledwell “Arts are ways into emotions. Arts are where we connect, [ ... ]

A gift of Island poetry: John MacKenzie

The Feet of Blue Herons If you happen to live in another town,
Or country, or even galaxy
As dim and  [ ... ]