This is the most frenetic weekend of the gardening year when we all head in massed formation for nurseries at the same time. This is craziness, of course, and I hope people do it because they think it?s fun. Our spring has been so early and so benign in Southern Ontario, however, that the credit cards are now dictating the shopping spree is over ?? until I come across something I can?t live without.

I don?t remember a season when I?ve gone into the nurseries with as much excitement. First of all something has changed drastically. The local nurseries, and we have really good ones across the country, seem to have made a special effort to get new plants in; many of them have set up special sections for new or unusual plants.? There is a sense that nurseries are taking on the responsibility of educating us.? I?m all for that. The more information we have, the more and interesting plants there are around, the more dynamic our gardens will be. Here are few interesting offerings:

Physocarpus opulifolius commonly known as ninebark. This is a neat plant with peeling bark, and dark kidney-shaped leaves with white flowers in early summer.? The hot new cultivar is ?Diabolo? which has burgundy foliage. It hasn?t been in my garden long enough to see its full glory yet but it will grow in poor, slightly acidic, well-drained? soil and will tolerate dry conditions which is what I suspect we?re going to have this summer.

Uvularia grandiflora, merry bells, is a native woodland plant with magnificent nodding yellow bells and grasslike foliage. It will expand gently over the years and the foliage looks wonderful as a background to other woodland plants. It hasn?t been generally available but it?s now coming into catalogues such as Perennial Gardens Nursery (formerly Rainforest Gardens) and Lost Horizons where you can be assured they aren?t ripping them out of the wild.

Tradescantia or spiderworts particularly T. ?Concord Grape? have deep violet flowers, and reed like foliage, that will bloom for up to two months if you keep deadheading them. They will also return if you chop them back in mid-summer. They grow in sun to semi-shade. Other new ones include ?Hawaiian Punch?, ?J. C. Weguelin? and ?Little Doll? a smaller version than the others with light blue flowers.

Tricyrtis, or toad lily, blooms? in autumn just when you think nothing else will. It takes a few years to establish but is worth the wait. Some people find them just too large (they spread by rhizomes and stolons), but I haven?t found this a problem yet. There are forms with exotic orchid-like blooms that might be difficult to place in the woodland but these shade plants are gorgeous.

I?ve also found a stunning new (to me) form of dogwood: Cornus stolonifera (syn. sericea) ?Kelseyi?. It has brilliant red twigs rising only to 30cm high and spreads to about 1.5 M at maturity. I think it will make a wonderful screening plant or used to separate different parts of the garden.? I?ve got it placed so that it will make a low barrier between me and the street where I?ll b able to enjoy it all winter long.
I?ve been a big fan of oakleaf hydrangea for a long time and now there?s a new slightly smaller form called H. quercifolius ?Pee Wee?. This is a great boons for a small city or pocket garden. The lace-cap white blooms are just as refreshing as any other form.

The trees in southern Ontario have been going berserk flowering (or is that over-flowering?) and scattering their seeds. We?re in the middle of a drought after a winter that brought little snow (it came all at once and you?ve heard about that). Showers of blooms from the weeping willow caused my grandson (age 4) to exclaim ?It?s a hay tree!?? We quite literally had to shovel out the garden from this onslaught. Keep an eye on your trees this summer, they are under severe stress. They may need very deep watering to keep them safe. But don?t just leave sprinklers on ad nauseam. Dribble in water at the base very, very slowly. This is the time to hand water other plants not just be profligate with the precious little water we have.

A few problems that have come flying over the transom:

  • Algae on the pond. Don?t start spreading chemicals around. The bloom won?t last for long and it might just be triggered by leaf litter which is easily cleaned up. Shade out the algae with plants over two-thirds of the surface. You should buy water plants native to your area but look for duckweed, skunk cabbage, sedges, rushes, and add snails and frogs.
  • If you are plagued by Canada geese, as many people on the littorals of Southern Ontario are, let your grass grow. These animals make a devastating mess with their droppings but they don?t like wading through 15cm grass to do it. This may not be quite the effect you?re looking for, so it?s? the time to start replacing cropped turf with native fescues and ornamental grasses. They require far less watering than ordinary grass and won?t need herbicides to look good.? Adding grasses will animate the landscape in a whole new way attracting birds, butterflies and bees. Grass has no sound and this solution will give you the benefit of ever-changing and ever-moving beauty.

Originally published: @BT May 22, column