Toronto Star column – published August 31, 2013
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” ~Attributed to Harry S Truman
Have you noticed that when you ask a 4 or 5 year old what their favourite colour is, they have their answer at the ready? Ditto their favourite animal, food and very likely the answer to the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
As we mature, the answers to these questions sometimes become less clear. This is why it is a good exercise for me to finish what I started last week by offering up the rest of my favourite plants to you this week. I want you to benefit from my extensive experience and personal bias. To be fair, I qualify why each of these plants makes the top of my list in each category so that you can judge for yourself if they fit in your life.
Let’s start at the top with trees.
Sugar Maple [Acer saccharum]. A generation or so ago this tree was not considered a good choice in an urban environment. Not all trees, including native ones, are well suited to the hotter, dirtier air of the city. For that matter, not many can withstand the abuse that we heap on them by demanding growth in a minimum of soil, often surrounded by cement sidewalks, curbs or paved roads. The recently introduced varieties of Sugar Maple have changed all of that. Now you can have aggressive annual growth (but not like a poplar or willow), the broad shade-inducing leaves and the ultimate size and shape of a gorgeous maple. Maturing to about 15 metres high and 12 metres wide they are known for outstanding orange/yellow fall colour.
By the way, you know that dreadful looking black blotch that you see on many maple leaves this time of year? They are members of the Norway maple family, for the most part. Sugar maple is much less susceptible to maple blotch. Winter hardy to zone 4 [Ottawa/Montreal].
Chanticleer Ornamental Pear [Pyrus calleryana]
Imagine a flowering tree that is loaded to the gills with creamy white flowers in early May. It stands upright and perfect in every way: clean, glossy foliage, no measurable insect or disease problems to speak of. It matures to a perfect ‘spade’ shape, as in ‘ace of spades’. It grows at a moderate pace and loves living in the city or country. Produce brilliant red foliage in fall. Mature size is 12 meters high and 5 meters wide. Plant several – they grow narrowly and look great in clusters. Hardy to zone 4.
Japanese Tree Lilac, Ivory Silk [Syringa reticulata]
Listen to this: each May as the lilacs in your neighbourhood come into bloom and then out again, there is a surprise lurking around the corner that stirs us up. “What” people email me through my website, “is the white flowering tree on my neighbour’s property? It is outstanding.” That would be the June/July-flowering Ivory Silk Lilac. This is a wonderful ‘small’ tree that only grows 8 meters high and 5 meters wide. It is substantially disease and insect free, is adoptive to urban living conditions, is hardy to zone 4 and makes a permanent addition to the home landscape. The only caveat is that the long-lived flowers have very little fragrance, unlike their French hybrid cousins. They are not as expensive as you might think. Ivory Silk Lilac was introduced by Canada’s own Sheridan Nurseries in 1973.
Vine for flowers.
Clematis ‘Jackmanii’. If you have a sunny position in your garden and a wall or a fence then you have the vertical space to support clematis. Time was ‘Jackmanii’ made up more than 50% of sales of clematis in many parts of Canada, however that has changed with the plethora of new additions to our market. All of them are worthy of a look, but I am partial to this one as it is reliably winter hardy in my zone 5 garden (actually will produce in a sheltered zone 3 garden in Winnipeg). It features deep purple flowers from July to September. Its’ repeat blooming brings me back when I am in the market for a flowering climber.
Vine for green cover
You built an arbour or a pergola and you are looking for fast, reliable cover that will soften the edges of the structure and provide shade.
Kiwi [Actinidia chinensis] tops my list. It might surprise you that this kiwi is hardy to zone 4 and grows up to 3 meters a year. It produces fruit about the size of your thumb nail that is sweet, like the bigger kiwi that are shipped here from California, and it is free of insect and disease problems. To ensure fruit production, plant a male and a female within the same yard. Once it has attained the height and ‘cover’ that you desire you will have to cut it back aggressively 3 or 4 times each season.
Bonica. A medium pink rose with clusters that cover the entire plant in late June/early July. Do not require winterizing up to zone 4. Mature size reaches up to 1.25 metres. Allow it to mature in a sunny position (all roses need 6 hours of sun per day minimum)] and you will thank me for recommending this one.
Golden Showers. Grows up to 4 meters long, features yellow-gold flowers in abundant clusters.
Double Delight [hybrid tea]. Cut this rose and bring it indoors for a sweet, soft scent that will fill a room. You will want to bow your head and worship this rose (take a sniff while you are down there). Not a ‘show rose’ that blasts colour in your garden, but a classy one that you will seek out each spring once you discover its fragrance. Blooms are red/white.
Abraham Darby [David Austin] my second favourite rose for fragrance is this early adaptor in the ‘double’ flowering category. Call me a hopeless romantic, this rose produces masses of apricot coloured fragrant flowers that you will want to cut and bring indoors for a little atmosphere. My wife, by the way, had better not read this part about ‘romantic’. She would die laughing.
Easy ‘new’ roses
There has been a move to winter hardy, ever blooming, insect/disease free roses in recent years. It is hard to keep up to the many new introductions: ‘Flower Carpet’, Canadian Explorer, Hardy Morden, Carpet Series, Pavement series and of course David Austin roses top the list. The selection is mind boggling.
Based purely on my experience [I have about 75 roses in my garden and enjoy experimenting with many of the new ones] I am really impressed with the new Oso Easy shrub rose ‘Rose Cherry Pie’. It starts to bloom earlier than any other rose in my garden and continues to put on a show long after most other roses are finished for the summer (most roses re-bloom come September). Blooms are red with a white eye. ‘Rose Cherry Pie’ grows to 1.25 meters – quickly.
I have not mentioned my favourite fruits, flowering shrubs (though I did mention Hydrangea in last week’s column), vegetables, herbs and annual flowering plants. I didn’t mention what I want to be when I grow up either. All for another time.
Question of the Week
Q/ I found garlic bulbs on sale at the local garden centre. Can I plant these now? Or do I need to store the bulbs until spring?
A/ Fall garlic is planted in September or October. The garlic bulbs develop roots in the fall. They are ready to grow as soon as the ground thaws in the spring.