Monthly Archives: July 2013

Mid-Summer Beauties


Bee balm, lilies, roses, etc

Bee balm grows up to 5 five feet tall, re-blooms through July and August and attracts bees!

A fellow gardener and I were talking today about how there is often a slump in the middle of the summer where there isn’t much blooming.  There’s no problem in the spring and early summer because so many perennials, bushes and trees get there blooming periods over early, but somewhere around now (end of July), the garden can look very lush but not very colourful.  I noticed this for many years in my own garden and finally decided to take some steps to improve the situation.

As I look out into the Tranquil Garden today, the plants in full bloom are coneflowers (aka echinacea), bee balm (aka monarda), black-eyed susans (rudbeckia), roses, lilies, day lilies, phlox, and hosta.  The Joe-Pye weed I planted last year is almost blooming and I can’t wait to see whether it attracts butterflies and bees as it is supposed to. Coneflowers, although a bit prosaic, are very dependable for filling in spaces, and are available in many colours.  I have pink ones and burnt orange ones in my garden. Black-eyed susans are also very common but have the same advantages as the coneflowers and I love their cheerful yellow colour. Phlox can make a wonderful show, so despite its tendency to suffer from powdery mildew, it’s worth having in the garden. Read the label for one that is resistant to disease.  I can’t say enough about my lovely red bee balm, which I fell in love with years ago in a friend’s garden.  Linda was generous enough to share it with me and now it’s a mainstay of the garden for at least a month in mid-summer.

This photo of black-eyed susans and asters was taken in the fall

Another way to minimize the mid-summer slump  is to think about foliage shape, colour and texture when buying (or adopting) plants.  Many of the more interesting plants for foliage don’t necessarily have great flowers (heuchera for example), and are often shade plants, but if you look you can find some for sunny areas as well.  My sister, Nora, introduced me to heuchera. I was calling it ‘coral bells’ and thought it only came in one colour, green with tiny pink flowers. I’m grateful to her for showing me a glimpse of the choice that exists! I now have at least six different varieties of heuchera.

Some yellow heuchera next to anemone.

It’s not too late to add some of these mid-season bloomers to your garden for next year. If a friend is dividing their perennials this fall, get in there with a spade and take some home! Many perennials need to be divided once in awhile for their health and to keep them from spreading too far, so you’ll be doing your friend a favour.


These are the Bees’ Needs…

Honeybees arriving at a hive.

I suppose most people have heard about the plight of the bees.  How they are suffering from “colony collapse” and have been for several years.  The reasons for this syndrome are not fully understood and may be numerous.  However, one culprit that is being blamed, at least in part, is a type of pesticide in wide use for agriculture, called “neonicotinoid“.  Europe has already instituted a temporary (two year) ban on the use of neonicotinoids because of the unacceptable risk their use poses on the honeybee.  This is welcome news, but unfortunately, North America has not followed suit.  For that reason there is a petition circulating that you can sign here:

Possibly the best defence against the decline of the honeybee is organic gardening/farming. If you can buy organic vegetables and fruits as much as possible, practice organic gardening in your own backyard and/or support organic gardening in your area by buying your vegetables directly from a  CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farmer, you’ll be doing your bit to save the honeybee and thus, your own food supply. Bees are the great pollinators of this world.  It’s hard to imagine a greater threat to agriculture than this alarming decline in the bee population.

My husband, Dave, and I have bought a share of a local farmer’s vegetables for many years now and are very happy to support them. They deliver to a location near us and we enjoy their amazing produce all summer and well into the fall and winter. There are many CSA farmers and I encourage you to find one close to you.  If you’d like to get in touch with our favourite farmers, send me a message at

Hope you enjoy this recording of Nancy Wilson with the Cannonball Adderly band singing, “A Sleepin’ Bee”.

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Deadheading 101



Echinacea purpurae, this one a lovely burnt orange colour, not clear in this photo.

I’ve had quite a few novice gardeners ask me about deadheading lately.  Even  experienced gardeners are not always sure when to leave the faded blooms alone and when to chop them off, so I thought I’d offer some basic advice on deadheading, a somewhat tedious, although some find it zen-like, gardening chore.

Mount Hood white rose, a new addition to the Tranquil Garden

Mount Hood white rose, a new addition to the Tranquil Garden

Deadheading refers to the removal of a spent bloom; current wisdom says to cut off the stem down to the nearest bud or leaf below the spent bloom. Plants produce blooms in order to produce seeds, so if you cut off the seed pod, the plant will be encouraged to produce more blooms, which is the main reason for deadheading annuals.  Some annuals are bred to be sterile plants so whether you deadhead or not, they will keep trying to bloom in order to produce the seed they can’t produce.  However, deadheading improves the look of the garden and since most of us don’t know which annuals are sterile and which are not, it’s a chore worth doing.

Possibly my last ever rose from this plant, which is dwindling rapidly.

Possibly my last ever rose from this plant, which is dwindling rapidly.

For perennials, deadheading can prolong the blooming period for many types (such as roses, echinacea, bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea cyanus), and many others), or encourage a second flush of blooms in some others, for instance some clematis varieties.  Deadheading will also send the plant’s energy into keeping the root system strong and preparing for next year’s blooms, particularly important for bulbs such as tulips and daffodils.  In the case of bulbs, it’s important to let their foliage fade away on its own to the point where it comes away from the ground easily.

Again, many gardeners deadhead simply to keep the garden neat and beautiful, but another excellent reason to deadhead is to keep an enthusiastic self-sower from spreading itself around too much.  These plants include bachelor’s buttons, obedient plants, daisies, cosmos, hollyhocks and many others.

There are occasions when deadheading might not be recommended.  For instance, if you’d like to encourage self-sowing you should leave some seed pods intact at the end of the blooming period or season; or if bird feeding is a priority, or if you find the seedpods attractive.  Poppies, allium, some roses (their seedpods are called rose hips), clematis and many others have very attractive seed pods.

Going around the garden regularly with or without a pair of clippers (some faded blooms can be pinched off with your fingers) to deadhead all the plants that need it can be a calming and relaxing activity. It is also gratifying that such an easy task adds so much to the beauty of the garden.  

Just a reminder...

Just a reminder…


Plant Life Cycles

Every once in awhile I notice that a plant that was previously doing well has  disappeared or is a shadow of its former self.  This happened to a ‘bleeding heart’ (Lamprocapnos) this year.  In the last few years it has been a star of my spring garden, but this year it was about half its former size and had only a few blooms.  I had to take stock of what may have changed in the plant’s environment.

I noticed that a siberian iris had grown around the bleeding heart and probably hogged the nutrients and space it needed to thrive. Since ‘bleeding heart’ goes dormant and all but disappears in summer, the iris was free to take over the space without my noticing.  Instead of trying to move the bleeding heart I chose to leave it where it was to battle it out with the iris and plant a new one elsewhere that I hope will take over star billing next spring.

An old pic of the ‘bleeding heart’ I enjoyed for many years. Now a shadow of its former self.


Many times I’ve planted something with great hopes, taking into account what kind of light it needs and trying to give it the best start I can, only to have the plant languish, maybe hang on for a year never thriving and finally die a quiet death. All kinds of things can explain these mysterious “failure-to-thrive” deaths, such as unsuitable soil (too acid or alcaline); unsuitable light conditions; not enough drainage; not enough water; not enough nutrients in the soil; parasites; diseases; and the list continues. I used to get quite upset, but now I chalk it up to experience and move on.  If I try planting something a couple of times and it doesn’t work, I assume it doesn’t like it in my garden and try not to take it personally.  If I know that a plant definitely prefers alkaline or acid soil I will amend the area to give it a better chance.   I’ve never tested the soil’s acidity so the amendments might not be enough sometimes but it’s a method that works often enough to keep me using it!

Although one has to take plant deaths philosophically, it can be somewhat saddening and frustrating.  It’s hard if you feel as though you’ve done everything right and still the plant dies.  Unfortunately, you don’t have control over all the variables and sometimes things just die, it’s their time.  Now is the time to enjoy the plants that are thriving and dream of new ones to try out.

A favourite of mine, ‘romantic ruffle rose’,in its former glory. This year it is on its way out. Too many transplants!

Here’s a wonderful rendition of Bernstein’s “Glitter and be Gay” by Kristin Chenoweth.  A wonderful combination of bitter and funny, it seemed appropriate!

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