Hamamelis and Hummers–5 Things

Hummingbirds and Witch-hazel.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’

I don’t know how this escaped my notice all these years, but it appears that the hummingbirds LOVE Witch-hazel–Hamamelis. The boys and girls were out there this morning drinking to their hearts’ content.

I scoured Google images for one of a Hummingbird enjoying the nectar of the Hamamelis, without success. And try as I might, I couldn’t get one myself.

So I’m afraid you’ll have to take my word for it–and the word of multitudes of garden writers like Ciscoe Morris in Seattle.

And here are a few other items of interest about the lovely Hamamelis species:

  1. The most commonly noted virtue of the witch-hazel is its fragrance. And indeed, if you’ve smelled ‘Arnold Promise’ or ‘Pallida’, you’d have to agree. But before you buy that ‘Diane’ (above) or ‘Jelena’ you’ll have to choose either colourful flowers or fragrance. ‘Diane’ reputedly has “subtle fragrance”, but it’s too subtle for my nose.  ‘Jelena’ has no fragrance.
  2. The shape of the Hamamelis is also delightful: some like ‘Diane’ and ‘Arnold Promise’ are vase shaped, others much rounder.

    Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’. This pic is from 2015 when I still had a tiny front lawn. (Chafer beetle- and raccoon-assaulted as you can just see on the right upper corner.)

  3. Hamamelis, according to Cass Turnbull from Plant Amnesty ( highly recommend her pruning videos) is an “untouchable”. You will quickly destroy that desirable branch structure if you are a little too aggressive pruning her. Hamamelis easily suckers, which means you could have a shrubby messy hedge instead of a tree before long. The suckers must be removed and the earlier the better. If they’re only a couple inches tall when you notice them, removing them won’t do the tree any harm at all. On the other hand, if you’ve planted it a bit too close to the walkway or drive, and feel the need to remove some branches for convenience sake, you may end up with not only more suckers, but watersprouts as well. That’s shoots/branches that appear from some random spot on other branches or the trunk, and most often with a different appearance from the rest of the tree. Avoiding watersprouts is a good think. So plant your Hamamelis where it will have room to grow to its full natural size, only ever cut branches when you really have to, and cut whole branches, don’t “heading-cut”.
  4. Fall colour: hard to beat. Nuff said.
  5. Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ from Oct 2017.

    Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ from Oct 2017. This isn’t even late day sun; apparently it’s 10:24 am.

There’s More to Shrubs than Just Hedges

The “bones” of a garden are usually provided with two very different features: hardscape and shrubs. I’ll leave the hardscape to another post and address shrubs for now.

Layers

I think the thing I find the most essential in a perennial border or garden space is variety of heights. Even when my garden was very young, I appreciated the completely accidental feature of taller perennials interspersed with masses of low-growing self-seeded alyssum.

Controlled Chaos under the shade of big cedars.

Controlled Chaos under the shade of big cedars.

The garden looks nothing like that now, but I haven’t abandoned that layered look–now it’s achieved with shrubs. Your avian friends will appreciate the varying sized shrubs, some liking to be up high, others liking to just perch a couple feet off the ground. The more heights your garden has to offer, the more species of birds you’re likely to invite.

Tiny (stunted actually) Hydrangea paniculata 'Brussels Lace' in front of Sambucus nigra 'black beauty

Tiny (stunted actually) Hydrangea paniculata ‘Brussels Lace’ in front of Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’.

Separate spaces

Areas in your garden don’t have to be walled off from one another to still create the sense of “rooms”. In fact, just a couple of shrubs may be enough to clearly differentiate one space from another. When I wanted a “secret garden” patio, I thought it should be surrounded by various shrubs so that when I was inside, it was completely private. I planted a lilac (Syringa vulgaris) for fragrance, black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’) for drama, an Italian Plum–for plums!–and Viburnum tinus for evergreen leaves and winter flowers. Then along came the Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon) because there was space, two rhodos, because I just had to buy them, a hydrangea that liked the area, another lilac cutting from a friend’s garden…

Aaack!–way too much enclosure. The Sambucus is getting “shovel pruned” this summer, the hydrangea, small lilac and both rhodos will be moved, the older lilac pruned back a bit, the Hibiscus limbed up. Aah, now there’s room to breath, yet still fell comfortably “secret”.

Drama

But speaking of drama (the Sambucus ‘Black Lace’), a few shrubs with interesting detail, texture, colour, or flowers will contribute a certain je ne sais quoi to your garden.

SAmbucus nigra 'Black Beauty'

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’

Hypericum perforatum 'Albury Purple'

Hypericum perforatum ‘Albury Purple’–used as a perennial, but it’s really a woody sub-shrub. Growing about 24″ high in my garden, and at about 4 years old, it’s grown a bit bigger every year.

Punctuation

Just as a comma or question mark helps define a sentence, so a shrub can help define a garden space. Back to my Sambucus nigra, being very dark in colour, it provides a great backdrop to the white lilies growing underneath, which aren’t in bloom any more, so I can’t show you. But I can show you the Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ providing a foil for the shasta daisies. Like quotation marks, perhaps?

Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple'--Smoke bush-- with Shasta daisy --Leucanthemum x superbum

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’–Smoke bush– with Shasta daisy –Leucanthemum x superbum

Structure

For some of us, winter is a long season. Not so much here on the West Coast, but most of the rest of the country. So your garden should still be attractive and inviting for those 4-5-6 or more months between growing seasons. Shrubs will do that for you. Deciduous shrubs still have a network of delicate branches that you can appreciate all the more for not being obscured by leaves. (That sentence is a little like an old friend from a tree-challenged region of Scotland who felt the view as we drove south to England was hidden by too many trees!) And of course, evergreen shrubs provide colour when we most need it, and sometimes even fragrance–like my beloved Sarcococca humilis that blooms in early February, and fills the front entrance of my house with amazing fragrance.

Tiny little flowers, big impact!

Sarcococca humilis–Tiny little flowers, big impact!

If you want to consult RLGS to establish some structure in your garden, go to the About/Contact page.

Veggie Tales Day 20

Chives

Chives

Herb Gardens. Boot Camp is almost done, and growing herbs is definitely the easiest way of getting going with your edible garden. I’ve written often about herbs,  so I won’t re-hash everything here. A few quick notes:

1. Most of our popular herbs originate in the Mediterranean, so they like sunny exposures, but most, with the notable exception of basil, will tolerate a moderate amount of shade, so as with greens that I mentioned in Day 19, they can be tucked into ornamental borders, or between tall plants, or grown in containers, or in devoted raised beds. Really, almost anywhere.

2. Many of the annual herbs will self-seed, dill and cilantro (the seed of which is coriander) being the commonest.  Basil is annual, but doesn’t self seed in my garden–maybe because it never grows enough to actually make seeds.

3. Basil deserves a note of its own: It loves heat and full sun (8 hours per day here in coastal BC), enough but not too much water, really good drainage, so containers or raised beds are suitable locations, constant harvesting, pinching out of new growth tips to stimulate more new growth tips. Don’t plant it out until the nights are consistently over 10 C. (Same rule as tomatoes.) It is said to be easy to grow, but I have failed more often than succeeded.

4. Mint also needs special care–plant it in seclusion! Either in a pot, or otherwise contained; all the mint family will spread like wildfire. You can use a 2-gallon black plastic pot and cut the bottom off and plant it whole in the ground, But you’ll still need to catch flowers before they set seed, because the seed will scatter and you’ll be finding mint everywhere. But you might like that–most mints are attractive plants, not too big, and will help deter pests because of their strong fragrance.

Lemon balm, of the Mint family. Planted by my tenant and now years after trying to remove it all, I'm still finding it in the garden. But pretty much limited to about 20-30 square feet.

Lemon balm, of the Mint family. Planted by my tenant and now years after trying to remove it all, I’m still finding it in the garden. But pretty much limited to about 20-30 square feet.

5. Oregano, marjoram, thyme, sage are all easy to grow–even for me!– and hard to kill. Rosemary would also belong in that category except for our wet winters here. As long as they have a little shelter, and really good drainage, your rosemary will do well. Last November’s 2 weeks of -10-12° weather was hard on the larger of my rosemary plants, but the smaller did just fine.

Rosemary--Rosmarinus officinalis

Rosemary–Rosmarinus officinalis

One day left–tomorrow’s lesson is TOMATOES!

Vegetable Garden Day 7

5 Gallon cloth containers. these dry out FAST.

5 Gallon cloth containers. these dry out FAST.

Getting tired of this yet? Hope not, because today is only day 7 of Garden Tribe’s 21-day Vegetable gardening Boot Camp.

Today’s topic is nice and simple, Container Gardening. I’ve written quite a few posts on container gardening, so you’re probably all experts by now.

Growing vegetables in containers is exactly the same process as growing anything else in containers. And offers the same advantages. Your containers can follow the sun Put your large pots on castors), they can fit in the smallest of spaces, they can create a doubly colourful focal point, they can create height…

Here are the chief principles in growing your veggie garden in containers:

1. Drainage. More holes in the bottom than you think you need. Some perennials and shrubs tolerate soggy soil, but virtually NO vegetables will. Coffee filters over the holes will keep the soil in.

2. Size: Bigger is better. The container soil is the entire reservoir for food and water for your plants, so whereas in the ground the reservoir is unlimited (sort of), in the container it’s very limited. Even plants that have a small root system, like lettuce, still need lots of food and LOTS of water.

3. Potting “medium”: Don’t use garden soil in your containers. There are a lot of reasons that I won’t go into here in detail, but it has to do mainly with drainage and weight. Buy a “soilless” potting mixture (inconveniently called “soil”!) It will have peat or coir, perlite for  drainage,and compost, and might have some fertilizer that will get used up quickly.

4. Feeding: A granular (aka “slow-release”) fertilizer at planting, and then liquid fertilizer every week or so once the plant really gets going. Remember the container is the entire reservoir, compared to an in-ground garden that has a vast reservoir. As Doug Green says (Rule #1), if you want roots, fruits, or flowers, fertilize.

5. Water more often than you think you need to. Remember “reservoir”.

Container-grown tomato from last year. No idea what variety.

Container-grown tomato from last year. No idea what variety.

Veggie Garden – Day 5

Potato harvest. One of my favourite things to grow, even tho' they're cheap to buy.

Potato harvest. One of my favourite things to grow, even tho’ they’re cheap to buy.

Day 5 of Garden Tribe’s 21-day Boot Camp is sub-titled “Right Sizing for Success”. Which incidentally I’ve already addressed in Veggie Garden Day 3.

But since if you’re anything like me you haven’t actually started yet, let’s just do a quick 3-point lesson:

1. No garden is “no-maintenance”, so be realistic about how much time you can spend working in the garden. I’m usually reluctant to use the word “working”, because I always want people to feel like this is an enjoyable activity, not a chore. But in this case, since success is what we’re after here, I have to admit there are a few garden-related tasks that are less fun, more duty. Like weeding. It’s pretty hard to grow vegetables without incurring weeds. So what do you think? One hour per day? Two hours per week? Can you get into the garden for 15 minutes before or after an 8-hour work day?

2. We’ve already established that as a novice vegetable-gardener, you’re going to start with just 5 crops. But if some of those 5 are cool season crops, they’ll stop growing early to mid summer, so in the same location, and for no extra work, you can substitute a 6th crop. Say you started with radishes in one 3’x3′ space. By mid June they will pretty much give up trying, so why not sow beans now in that space? Better yet, if you knew beforehand that by mid-June your radishes would be exhausted, at the end of May you could have started beans indoors and have transplants ready to go into that spot. (That’s what calendars are for!)

This is a terrible photo of radishes and peas. They'll both be done by mid-summer, so I'll transplant some beans babies into the same spot. Maybe...

This is a terrible photo of radishes and peas. They’ll both be done by mid-summer, so I’ll transplant some bean-babies into the same spot. Maybe…

3. Another thing–mentioned yesterday–is to only sow a portion of your patch at a time, then sow a few more next week and a few more the following week. That way the crop will mature over an extended time instead of all at once. Now having said that, some crops that are slow to put on growth in the cooler weather will be faster when it warms up a bit, so the later-sown ones may actually catch up the the earlier-sown ones. No problem, you’re still getting vegetables on your plate.

Tomorrow’s subject: draw it all out.