Monday, August 23, 2010

Get High on Grasses

It's been really gratifying to see such a growing interest in perennial ornamental grasses in the past few years. If you haven't gotten into them yet, let's try to prove their worth to you!

To begin with, if you purchase the right kinds--those that spread by clumps, rather than runners--you won't have the nightmares of dealing with variegated ribbon grass/gardeners garters. Most grasses, such as blue fescue, Calamagrostis, the miscanthuses, Molinia, the panicums, and the Japanese forest grasses (Hakenechloa, above) are polite clump-forming perennials that stay where you plant them.

Secondly, there's a dizzying array of varieties, flower and foliage colour available today. As with other types of garden and landscaping plants, plant breeders are rolling out new varieties on a regular basis. This is Miscanthus 'Strictus', or porcupine grass, but there are now varieties with even more gold in their foliage.

Grasses are almost magical in the way they catch the light on their flower heads or the bristly spikes, called awns, that protrude from some flowers. This is one of the few hardy pennisetums, or fountain grasses, for our area, 'Hamlyn'.

Grasses aren't just green, either. They can come in a variety of colours, from gold or variegated with cream or yellow and green, to red tipped, to blues like Festuca 'Elijah Blue'.

Some grass heads are more subtle, and need to be examined and admired up closely, as with this switchgrass, Panicum 'Shenandoah'.

Here's a look at some of the varieties we have at Baldwin Nurseries, including Calamagrostis, Hakenechloa, Spartina, Miscanthus, and Panicum. Grasses are easy to care for, with some preferring moist soil, others being quite drought-tolerant. They tend to be untroubled by too much in the way of pests or diseases, too.

Many grasses don't begin flowering until later in the summer, and then hold their seedheads well into winter, providing winter interest for us, and a source of food for many types of birds.

Purple Flame grass, Miscanthus 'Purpurascens' has great autumn colour in its foliage as well as in its flower heads.

Miscanthus 'Huron Sunrise' was bred in Ontario by Martin Quinn, author of the very useful book 'Grass Scapes.' The book is a very useful handbook for anyone who wants to get into using ornamental grasses in their garden landscapes and who isn't sure where to begin.

Come on in to Baldwin Nurseries and see why we think you ought to get high on ornamental grasses too! We're closed on Sundays but open the rest of the week to serve your gardening and landscaping needs.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

We're going Crazy!

...Crazy for Coneflowers, that is. Echinaceas are pretty much irresistable, and they're in full bloom right now, both in the display beds and those in containers. We're out of a few varieties in cone-tainers right now, but we'll have more next spring. We do have lots of big, strong 'Magnus' echinaceas, as you can see in this photo of the nursery operator watching for butterflies.

Echinaceas like full sun and good drainage, but also need plenty of moisture while they're developing. Once established they're fairly drought tolerant, harkening back to their ancestry as prairie plants. Though no prairie ever saw anything like the doubles, including 'Coconut Lime'.

Here's Coconut Lime just starting out; you can see the double centre starting to fill out. It holds its green colour quite well until the flowers are quite mature, then it lightens to a greenish-yellow centre with white ray florets.

We carry a number of the 'Big Sky' series of cones, including 'Summer Sky', which was the first bicolour-rayed cone to be developed by the people at Itsaul Plants, home of the Big Sky series.

Want something that sizzles with the summer heat? 'Tiki Torch' is a brilliant orange, and works especially nicely with something complementary like the blue sea holly (Eryngium planum) in the background.

We were pleasantly surprised to discover that 'Mango Meadowbrite' echinacea came through another winter. Like others, we have found the 'Meadowbrite' series not particularly hardy here, but this one is doing very well. We haven't found any good explanation for why the Meadowbrites are cranky here, unless they prefer a winter that gets cold and stays cold, like winters do in Chicago, where they were developed.

For those with smaller gardens, this is a short cultivar only about 15-18 inches tall. At the moment we're not sure if it's 'Kim's Knee High' or 'Pixie Meadowbrite', but once the flowers open fully we hope to make a definite identity. Kim's Knee High's petals generall flex back as the flower matures, while Pixie Meadowbrite's stay relatively horizontal.

For those who like white cones, we have both 'Fragrant Angel' and 'White Swan', which offer a nice cooling effect to a bed brimming with hotter-coloured echinaceas.

We don't know about you, but when we see this one, we can hear Neil Young strumming his guitar and singing this variety's name...'Harvest Moon'. It holds its rich gold colour quite well, and flexes its petals back as you see here.

A red emperor butterfly lands on a white coneflower that is hiding behind 'Hope', the palest-pink of all the coneflowers. Echinaceas are terrific for enticing butterflies and bees to your garden, and excellent for later-season colour. When planting newly acquired cones, however, do yourself a favour: even though it's hard to do, cut off the flower buds. The plant will put its energy into developing new roots and leaves, which are crucial for getting it through that first winter. You may let your new coneflowers bloom later in the season; they will thank you for having given them that little extra attention at planting time, and you should have echinaceas for years to come.