I’ve really come around to zinnias. I used to think they were more trouble than their worth, a pretty-enough flower that try-as-you-might is inevitably covered in a shower of powdery mildew (a fungal disease that literally resembles a layer of white powder on your plants) by late summer. I accidentally grew a plant last summer, a cast-off from a TV appearance that I couldn’t trade off. It was a hot pink flower bloomed and bloomed all season long, becoming a much-appreciated punch of colour when the vegetable garden was in its infancy and a spark of hope when the drought was at its worse.
I spotted bags of Colchicums, a fall-blooming bulb plant that looks a lot like crocus, while perusing the bulb section of my local garden shop a few weeks back. I’ve long admired the delicate alien beauty of ‘Naked Ladies’, aptly named for their stark, bare petals poking up through the soil. But what caught my eye on that day was that the text on bags of individually packaged bulbs advertised setting the bulb on a bare windowsill (no water tray, no spritzing, no nothing) rather than planting in-ground as a unique, but temporary houseplant. I’m always up for an experiment so I bought one large corm to keep out of the ground, at least temporarily, to see what would happen.
While out on the Leslie Street Spit this past holiday weekend, I noticed that most of the tansy flower heads were turning black. I don’t grow tansy in any of my gardens and have never observed this detail while out walking the railroad tracks in my area where tansy grows wild and abundantly. In the past I’d swear they aged towards a warmer, less haggard shade of brown as the season wrapped up. But maybe I’m wrong and what I really need to do is get myself started on a daily regimen of Ginkgo biloba supplements and craploads of omega-3 fatty acids, stat!
Tansy is known for being distinctly disease and pest resistant, a feature that makes it a great herbal pest spray when brewed into a tea. I have been unable to find any information about possible tansy diseases and am chalking this up to the drought and humidity we experienced in late august when the plants were in full bloom. But of course tansy is also known for being incredibly drought tolerant and I think their survival in the wasteland along the railroad tracks is good evidence of that. So maybe circular logic is bringing me back to my original conclusion which is that I have simply stumbled upon an observation that I either failed to make in the past or one that was previously made but forgotten.
In conclusion: I smart.
Regardless, I really liked the look of fields dotted with thin clusters of blackened tansies poking through wild grass and aging goldenrod.
I took this photo of a field of Gaillardia growing on a hillside on the Leslie Spit back in July before The Worst Drought in Fifty Years took a hold and sent lots of plants into hiatus on a short term or permanent basis. On a return visit in late August I found only a few blanket flowers blooming and many of the plants looking half baked. Gaillardia are an excellent drought tolerant flower but even the heavy hitters have their limit.
We went back to this spot yesterday afternoon on what is reported to be the warmest Canadian Thanksgiving on record reaching over 30 degrees C here in Toronto. In fact we’ve had an amazing Fall overall with plenty of sunshine, warm temperatures, and enough rain to bring our gardens out of the late summer’s drought-induced coma. Evidence of this turnaround is everywhere. The Gaillardia, among other flowers at The Leslie Street Spit have made a turnaround with a second coming of colourful blooms and lots of fresh new growth.
I’ve still got basil and other tender plants in-ground and producing new growth in both my community garden plot and out on the roof. Amazingly, I haven’t even brought my citrus trees indoors to overwinter and they are both still producing tiny fruit.
While I am enjoying a delay in putting my summer gear away I have to admit that I do find the warm temperatures a little bit disturbing since it is a continuation of a trend we saw last year with winter staying mild and rather un-winter-like until well into January. From another vantage point I am fascinated by the way the plants are adapting (or not) to a warmer Fall — instead of going dormant as many of them would at this time of year, plenty of plants just keep keeping on. And some, like the tomatoes and curcubits have either prematurely succumbed to poor conditions early on or are experiencing a second wind after a short break. The sole surviving zucchini plant living in a pot on my rooftop deck has started making flowers again. I have never had a zucchini plant shut down for a while and then come back with a brand new set of leaves and another harvest! As bad as this warm weather may be for the long term, I am learning a lot from really getting first-hand experience of how an extended growing season works in warmer climates. While I have done my homework and know what to expect and I have even experienced second harvests from some early-producing plants in the past, this whole experience is quite different and has been really educational.
This shifting nature of… well… nature is one of those things that makes gardening so interesting and challenging — no matter how much you know you can never know everything. And just when you think you’ve working things out and have got the perfect system in place, nature throws in a curveball or two. Gardening from year-to-year is never, ever the same. As intimidating as that can be, knowing perfection is unattainable is also very freeing and the unpredictability is certainly never boring.
I spotted this lovely gold and dark purple seasonally appropriate container combo at Fiesta Gardens recently. While I am generally not a fan of the traditional seasonal mixed container, this one is a simple concept with a limited colour palette incorporating unusual plants like the ‘Red Boar’ Kale centre piece that is edible and insanely inexpensive if you start it early in the year. Even still a plant that size at this time of year runs between $6 and $10. I would guess that the price of plants for a container like this (not including the price of the container) would total approximately $50-$100. It’s pricey, a little out of my league — I’d replace the Heuchera with something cheap like black or yellow pansies to lower the cost.
Plants: ‘Red Boar’ Kale [centre], Chrysanthemum [middle ring], Heuchera ‘Black Beauty’ [edging].