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Praise Good Breeding

Gardening Delights
by Nancy Oakes

As the time to make the rounds of garden centres and nurseries begins, I would ask that this year you take note of where the plants come from. I don't mean Ontario or a tissue culture lab in Holland. I mean more who found them, who brought them from the wild, who bred them. As I begin my fifth year of hybridizing Daylilies, I am more aware of just how long it takes to create new varieties from what nature and other breeders have provided.

Given how long professional plant hunters have been in business, I am continually amazed at the variety of plant material still being discovered in the wild. The blue form of Corydalis was found in China just a few short years ago and now it, and hardier cultivars bred from it, can be found in most garden centres.

The process, for many species, is an arduous and time consuming one: careful choice of parents; growing hundreds and thousands of seedlings from which only a few will be chosen for further evaluation; making the final selections, and then producing enough plant material to introduce to the trade. It can take tens of years for the plants to eventually find their way into your garden.

Other new plants are the result of serendipity. A home gardener develops a passion for an obscure species and after years of nurturing seedlings, something different appears-a sport. He sends a photo to the seed house where the original packet was bought and soon his garden becomes a Mecca for others with the same interest in that species. Will it come true from seed? If not, will it take well to herbaceous propagation? But in this day and age, the question more often than not is, can it be successfully tissue cultured?

This process has been a boon to the gardening industry and without it many of the most desirable of the new plants would not be available to the likes of you and me, for it would still be only the wealthy who could afford such rare discoveries. But even this scientific process can be done well or badly. When done badly the plants will be less vigorous and the flowers poor cousins to the original (Daylilies are notorious for not taking to the process). In the best of circumstances the plants are grown on to ensure that they are true clones.

It is still always people who must make that first discovery or that first cross. Modern plant hunters like Dan Heims, the king of Huecheras and Pulmonarias, Tony Avent, known for Hosta and Arisaema, and Dan Hinkley, of Corydalis `Blue Panda' fame, are responsible for bringing many new plants to the North American market. There's now a wonderful (albeit pricey) publication devoted to new discoveries and hybrids. New, rare and unusual PLANTS, A Journal for Plant Enthusiasts is published by Dirk van der Werff in England. Much of it is now posted on the internet at and it's always worth a few visits for the wonderful photos or to find others interested in the same plants as you are.

So this year, as you make your way through catalogues and nurseries, please give a thought to the role so many people play in the hunt for the new-so that it can be bought by you to be put in its perfect spot in your garden.

Planting Favourites

Gardening Delights
by Nancy Oakes

For the last few years, the acquisition of new perennials has taken a back seat to the daylilies, but last spring the mania began again, albeit in a more controlled fashion. Here a few of my favourites from last year.

Artemisia lactiflora `Guizhou' would not, for most, be readily identified as an Artemisia, which is primarily associated with silvery foliage. It's dark purple stems, purple-tinged foliage and white flowers explain its common name of Purple Ghost Plant. Unlike most of the other plants in this genus, it likes a fair amount of moisture and at 4' tall, it makes a wonderful backdrop plant. Finely cut foliage and clouds of white flowers in mid-summer give it an ethereal quality.

If you like very dark foliage try Eupatorium rugosum `Chocolate.' At a bit over 4', it's considerably shorter than the species and in the fall round heads of white flowers top the purple stalks. It's also less aggressive than the species, so more suitable for smaller gardens.

For an extreme contrast try Hosta `Fried Green Tomatoes.' Bred for living in full sun, its huge leaves are a soft green. But it's in September that it really shines. I'd never associated fragrance with Hostas, but this one's large white flowers could be smelt throughout the garden.

There's been an explosion of new Huechera cultivars, and their mottled silvery to purple leaves are a welcome addition to the gardens' greenery. Most of the new ones have white flowers and I much prefer the pinks and reds which are much loved by hummingbirds. So I was thrilled to find `Lovely Rose' with its dark smoky purple leaves and wonderful deep rose flowers which are it produced with alarming speed all summer.

If you like really strange plants, look for Juncus effusus `Unicorn' or `Curly Wurly.' Rushes are bog plants, but they can easily get by in soil that's amended to hold moisture. This Corkscrew Rush is aptly named as it's 12" cylindrical leaves spiral up and out.

I must admit to having a real dislike for Sedum `Autumn Joy' and refuse to have it in my garden. I was overjoyed to find a new cultivar with the same habit, but with dark purple foliage and pale pinkish-white flowerheads. Europeans have named Sedum `Matrona' as their `Perennial of the Year' for 2000 and deservedly so. It makes an excellent contrast with all the orange and yellows which we have come to associate with fall gardens. And even now they make a wonderful display in the snow.

And my favourite from last year? Of all things an annual! I first saw these Coleus about five years ago in Barbadoes and I have been trying to find a source ever since. Bred for full sun, they are stunning in a mass planting. Leaves range from the deepest burgundy with lime green edges to finally cut leaves in shades of coral. At about $4.00 per plant they may seem a bit extravagant, but cuttings root very easily, so one or two plants can quickly turn into a dozen. I've since found a source for more varieties, including trailing ones. Sounds like I may be in a bit of trouble here...

Read All About It

`Tis the season to catch up on your gardening reading and dreaming

Gardening Delights
by Nancy Oakes

With the unseasonably warm temperatures, I've been taking the occasional tour of the garden. I've tried to stay clear of the fear and paranoia that seems to be running rampant the closer we get to 2000. But just to be on the safe side, I listened as I strolled for any indication that the giant Y2K bug was lurking underground, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting roots and leaves. Waiting to suck back centuries of hybridizing so that only species plants are left. But all I could hear were the gentle sounds of plants at rest. Pheeww! One less thing to worry about!

So... let the armchair chair gardening begin! This is the time of year I collect all the gardening magazines that I didn't have time to read during the summer and start making lists of new plants to try. (Although we all know that once the catalogues start arriving, selections start getting checked off with rather wild abandon-gardeners are nothing if not delusional about how much time and space they have). I also keep my eye peeled for anything new at the library and Confed Centre has three new items that may be of interest.

A hefty volume, Perennial Ground Covers, by David MacKenzie is a wonderful resource. If your idea of ground covers is ivy, goutweed and Sweet Woodruff, it may change your mind. Roses, ornamental grasses and hostas are just a few of the species that it covers. And many that one would never define as ground covers are included. That makes it an excellent plant reference. It can give you a whole new perspective on what makes a garden work.

Timber Press's series of Gardener's Guides do wonders for specific plant genera. Confed Centre has the The Gardener's Guide to Salvias by John Sutton. I've already found sources for two perennial ones, S. forsskaolii and S. lyrata, that are on my new wish list as a result of this book. It got me so inspired that I may even venture into the world of annuals with S. viridis `Claryssa' and S. farinacea `Victoria,' with purple stems and flowers. The series also includes ones on hardy geraniums, hostas and daylilies (the last two are stocked at the Bookmark).

And just the thing for a lazy, stormy, winter day is the four tape audio set In Your Garden. It's a series of readings of Vita Sackville-West's writings from the late 1940s. While some of the plants discussed are not hardy here, it's still a real joy to listen to and the reader, Janet McTeer has one of those incredibly soothing, very English voices. I had originally borrowed it over the summer, thinking I would listen to it as I worked in the garden, but it's much more suitable for a stormy winter's day whilst leafing through all those catalogues and dreaming of the garden yet to come.

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