Friday, February 28, 2014

Nova Scotia - Provincial Post

(Epigaea repens)

The mayflower, or trailing arbutus, is probably the smallest shrub I have ever seen. It is a creeping shrub, hence its scientific moniker repens, and can spread to 3 feet at the most.  The genus name Epigaea is from the Greek epi meaning 'on' and gaea, meaning 'earth', therefore a plant that hugs the earth. Its oval shaped leaves cover the soil and cushion its very fragrant pink blossoms. The species tiny half- inch blossoms fade to nearly white. It is a spring bloomer, from May to June, on the eastern side of North America where it grows. It is found from Newfoundland to Florida, west to Kentucky and the Northwest Territories.

Mayflower is in the Ericaceae family along with other heaths or heathers such as the blueberry, azalea, rhododendron, and ericas. As such it prefers moist, acidic soils and shade. It appears to be sensitive to environmental disturbances, and is considered difficult to establish and cultivate. Trailing arbutus is  extremely susceptible to failure during drought or flood, and is slow-growing even in good conditions. A mycorrhizal association may be necessary for survival. 

photo source:

Trailing arbutus actually has a long history of cultivation as an ornamental plant. Like many other North American native plants it was 'discovered', dug up and sent overseas to be recorded together with its woodland counterparts. In this case it was introduced into Great Britain in 1736.

 In the late 19th and early 20th centuries mayflower was collected heavily. Most likely its heady fragrance and early bloom time brought out the desire to decorate schools, homes and civic buildings. The state of Massachusetts tried to protect the plant from collection by having it declared the state flower.  There were many failed attempts but finally the act was passed in 1918.

The province of Nova Scotia selected the mayflower as its floral emblem in 1901. It was once found on the reverse side of the 1856 Victoria penny.

Trailing arbutus has a number of common names (Mountain Pink, Gravel Plant, Ground Laurel, Winter Pink), but the choice of Mayflower has a very tenuous link to the American Pilgrims of 1620. It has been said that upon making it safely to shore on the sea vessel The Mayflower,  the newly arrived pilgrims named the first flower they saw after their first New England winter.

It can be grown well by seed and in fact has an interesting fruit, a berry with similarities to a little white strawberry studded with seeds that is quickly consumed by mice and other animals as soon as it emerges from its protective jacket in June (according to William Cullina). 

open capsule with fruit

William Cullina says that the fine roots system of Epigaea are highly mychorrizal and grow only in the
the F and H horizons of forest soil. He has had much success in growing the seeds but notes that the roots will not fare well if planted in topsoil. Furthermore, Epigaea does not need fertilizer as it can disrupt the delicate balance between roots and nascent symbiotic fungi that are already present in the soil.

Trailing arbutus is a larval host and nectar source to the Elf and Hoary Elfin butterfly. The seeds are attractive to birds, mice and other insects.
Medicinally Epigaea repens has been used primarily for kidney and urinary disorders.
The name Gravel Plant derives from its use in purging kidney stones. Trailing Arbutus was also used by several Native American tribes in the treatment of kidney disorders. The Cherokee Indians, however, used it to treat indigestion and diarrhea, especially in children and the Iroquois used it to treat joint pain.
Nova Scotia is the small orange province on the right

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Loud Combination

This is my last post on colour combinations in my garden. One photo only to show you, so it will be quick!

This is summer time in part of the garden I do not show very much. This is by the street, a woodland re-creation that is quite wild despite my attempts to calm it down. Most of the garden season it is a quiet and subdued place, except for the moment that  butterfly weed and beebalm bloom.

I was glad to find this photo as it reminds me of this shock of colour in an otherwise sea of green. Despite growing  under birch tree clumps and beside a pine tree, some late afternoon sun enables these two plants to bloom and flourish. The beebalm, or monarda didyma, is of a scarlet hue which works beautifully with the bright orange of the butterfly weed or Asclepias tuberosa.

Never mind spring, c'mon summer!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pink and Blue

This post is on plant combination number 3. I realized that all three plant combinations include a blue flowering plant: Virginia Bluebells, Blue-Eyed Grass and now Willowleaf Bluestar.

Blue, in all its shades and hues from royal purple to light blue or violet, is actually a great supporting plant.  True blue is a primary colour. It works best with the softer hues of pink, pale yellow, white and creams. Think spring time. You will find its neighbour purple or violet on the colour wheel opposite the reds. Planting these complementary colours creates stronger contrasts which typically are found in summer and fall gardens.

Above left is Willowleaf Bluestar or Amsonia Tabernaemontana . A great plant for its willow-like leaves and pale blue star shaped flowers in spring. This is one of those sway- in- the- breeze plants, and mine grows over 3 feet tall and wide. I have heard of its wonderful yellow leaf colour in the fall but this has not been my experience. It gets little TLC apart from some compost at its base every year or two, and bugs and diseases seem to leave it alone. To its right is a perennial Geranium sanguineum 'Max Frei' and a dwarf Willowleaf Bluestar.

My dwarf Amsonia is not a cultivar like , for example 'Blue Ice', but rather Amsonia tabernaemontana var. montana. I think that puts it in the natural hybrid category, but really who cares! This baby tops out at 1 foot in my garden and stands more at attention than its larger cousin. Plus its flowers are a darker blue when in bud. Teamed with these bluestars is the Geranium Max Frei, a vibrant hue of pink especially on cloudy days, that makes the entire combination pop.


The geranium is also a tough as nails plant, and like the bluestars does not need coddling or fussing. Just a trim after flowering to tidy it up for a second flowering is all you need to do. This great combination blooms in spring May to early June in my garden.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Quiet Combination

My last post showing the lovely plant combination of bleeding hearts and Virginia bluebells made me realize for the second time that I take photos of individual plants, not groups. This is something to rectify this year.
I looked back through the last few years of photos hoping to find something worthwhile to show you and despite the dearth of single plant photos, I found two of plant combo's - one of which I will share with you today.

This combination is of Canadian Ginger Asarum canadense and blue -eyed grass Sisyrinchium angustifolium ‘Lucerne’ (say that three times quickly!). The ginger makes a great shade or woodland ground cover, and that's speaking from experience. It slowly spreads its way outwards but would never be considered aggressive, just friendly. It has soft leaves and puts out a weird and wonderful purple flower under the leaves in spring.

Blue eyed grass ‘Lucerne’ is a variety of blue-eyed grass that was discovered growing in a nursery near Lucerne, Switzerland. The plants form a low clump of grassy green leaves, bearing bright blue star-shaped flowers in May and June for several weeks. Despite its name it is not really a grass, but belongs instead in the Iris family.

 I also grow the native blue -eyed grass. You can see its petals are pointed whereas Lucerne's are round. In it's natural habitat you will find it growing across the prairies, park lands and in open meadows. I first planted this little gem in a regular garden bed but it definitely prefers my gravel driveway. So, sun yes, moisture not so much.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Let the Catalogue Orders Begin

My first catalogue order of the year is one of pure practicality. Old fashioned bleeding hearts and Virginia bluebells. If you can get them to bloom at the same time they look great together. If that won't work for you then the options are limitless, especially for the woodland gardeners out there.

Dicentra spectabilis

Mertensia virginiana

Here they are together. A soft pastel combination that is pleasing to the eye.

I stumbled on a great alternative two years ago, my native bleeding heart Dicentra eximia with another native Jacob's Ladder or Polemonium reptans. It's a combination I plan on reproducing again this year.

If you plant Bleeding hearts and bluebells together remember that the Virginia bluebells are spring ephemerals and will die down before the bleeding hearts finish flowering. Have some other shade or woodland plants like ferns, hostas, or ginger planted nearby to fill the hole.