Time to visit nurseries and garden centres!
They’re downsizing their inventory prior to winter with sales and discounts ranging from 30 to 75 per cent off. I bought a whole flat (eighteen 4” pots) of the native perennial Dodecatheon or Shooting Star. What would’ve been $89.82 (without taxes) was $22.46! For a collection of soil filled pots topped with scraggly, dead leaves, they were a bargain! At this time of year Dodecatheon are dormant and nothing to look at – from an accounting department point of view impossible to sell without drastic incentives.
Plant Dodecatheon in sun or part shade and in spring they’ll awake and send up their curious flowers like miniature cyclamens on a stem with magenta coloured petals swept backwards, united at the base by a short yellow tube. They are attractive to bumblebees who struggle to hang on while they buzz the pollen out of them. As perennials Dodecatheon will continue to brighten up the spring garden for years to come.
Why talk of spring during fall?
Snowdrops, crocus, daffodils, hyacinths, tulips alliums and other bulbs are planted now (but seldom discounted until November). They need the winter freeze in preparation for their spring emergence. Yet what can we do in the meantime?
Summer’s glorious Coleus have seen better days (update on Coleus: against my expectations, bumblebees, not flies, were frequent visitors to the flowers); cooler weather nips at the yellowing, lanky tumbler tomatoes; frost, snow and arctic outflows (God forbid) are on their way.
Environment Canada has it we’re in for a dry and warm winter, which does not bode well for summer’s water table. By contrast, the 2019 Farmer’s Almanac says Pacific Canada will be snowy with normal temperatures. We’ll see.
Continuing with the ‘Grow plants suitable to growing area’ or the ‘Right plant in the right place’ philosophy – in our case: the rainforest – we have Heuchera, native to North America. Up the evolutionary ladder from moss and lichens, several species of Heuchera, a low-growing mostly evergreen perennial, are found along the Pacific coast from Mexico to the Alaska panhandle.
Among First Nations, preparations of the root ranged from poultices for inflammation, cuts and sores to a hair-thickening agent for young girls. The Haida combined the leaves with those of the skunk-cabbage (Lysichiton americanum) in sweat baths to alleviate rheumatism and fevers.
Heuchera is named after Johann Heinrich von Heucher (1677–1746.) a doctor professor at Wittenberg University. The ‘eu’ sounds like the ‘oy’ in ‘boy’ while the ‘ch’ is a softer version of the ‘ch’ in ‘loch’ or ‘Bach,’ slightly stronger than the ‘h’ in ‘her.’ ‘Hoy-Her-a’ can be a mouthful so the closest the average gardener gets is ‘Hu-ker-a.’ A Wittenberg graduate would know the proper regional accent but I couldn’t find one.
Heuchera have undergone extensive hybridization with a colour range reminiscent of Coleus, albeit more subdued and low growing by comparison. They stay evergreen throughout the winter warming up the balcony with a large palette of tarnished bronzes, mottled brass, coppered greens, to warmer shades of burnt umber, sienna, amber with inclusions to startling bright greens near luminous despite huddling in a shadowed corner. Variations occur within the same cultivar.
Hybrids and their colours inspire nomenclaturists to invent evocative names. Terra Nova’s Fall™ Series tend to a trailing habit and have names like Yellowstone Falls and Redstone Falls. Ruffled series, Midnight Ruffles with purple brown leaves and Wild Rose Fancy Leaf have large silvery wine leaves with darker veins and ruffled edges.
To be expected are culinary names like Ginger Ale, Crème Caramel, Apple Crisp, Lime Marmalade, Key Lime Pie and Blackberry Ice. A cute name, also from Terra Nova, is Brass Lantern with leaves with dark brown centres and brassy edges in need of a polish. Sadly, no Genie but its happy presence is enough. Both Black Pearl and Obsidian are darkest magenta-purple verging on black. Midnight Rose is dark burgundy with pale purple-pink splotches. The list is endless. Choose the ones that are available at your nursery.
At this time of year, I remember the gardens and plantings I left behind. When you downsized and moved into your West End balcony condo-apartment, what did you do with your garden? Did you bring anything with you? What does the damned Strata allow? What are the policies of the gardening committee? Make sure they know what they’re doing. Some do, some don’t. One I knew pruned one side only of an elegantly planted avenue of mature trees (installed by the original landscaper) because someone complained of leaves getting into the parking garage. Now the avenue is permanently scared and unsightly. I could not walk along there without bridling at the desecration and so no longer do.
One weekend when I was a Boy Scout we planted a forest’s worth of young pine trees (6 - 8” long) in the greenbelt outside Ottawa. We planted thousands that day. The adult of each ‘three man team’ dug a quick hole, then I planted the seedling and my same-aged partner straightened and firmed the earth around it. Several years later driving by the lot it was astonishing how tall they were. Today, I’ve forgotten where they are but this was my first planting for posterity.
By contrast, every spring when weeding, I pull up countless little maple trees – two large maple trees grow alongside the property – and guilt assails me. I think of the massive maple forest that would otherwise thrive here but for my weeding presence. At the north end of the property, the 90-year-old Hawthorn attempts similar incursions. Yet my neighbours, owners and civic authorities would not be pleased if I gave my guilt free rein. Thus the mini-deforestation continues with seasonal regrets.
One of the most delightful tales of planting for posterity is Jean Giono’s work of fiction “The Man Who Planted Trees”. Published originally in French in 1953 it was turned into the stunning animated short by Frédérick Back of Québec who won a well-deserved Oscar in 1987. Rent and watch it with the grandkids or members of your gardening club or, even more seditious: the Strata. The book and movie has since gone on to inspire others to start successful tree planting efforts of extraordinary proportions around the world mostly in Africa, India and Asia.
Not too long ago, Roz, a gardening friend and colleague, took me on a walk along the edge of a bramble-infested forest in Burnaby where she pointed out traces of a long, vanished garden. Foundations of the house and barn were choked under blackberry, bindweed and buttercup, but in the middle of the invasive alder trees soared a magnificent magnolia. Nearby, so did an incense cedar perhaps eighty feet tall. She pointed out stands of holly, which she freely picked to dress her table and wreathe her door during the festive season. In the spring, daffodils would spring up bringing an unexpected sparkle to the undergrowth. It’s nearly impenetrable now, but where it’s not, the homeless doze under sleeping bags in the gloom. Beyond them redevelopment is making inroads with attractive housing units, which didn’t exist the last time Roz was hiking. It was reassuring to see builders and landscapers had incorporated some of the larger trees of the original property into the new.
Intentionally or not, we gardeners plant for posterity more than we know, and we should cast our thoughts forward to future generations. In years to come someone may picnic, lie or doze beneath a tree or bush you planted and ponder and dream of the beauty found in forgotten or transformed places. They may send a little prayer of thanks to you who, with anonymous generosity, considered the shade of an unknown’s posterity.
I wonder how posterity will proliferate my collection of Dodecatheon for the generations of bumblebees to come.