Northern Shade Gardening

Lovely Dalmation Bellflower

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 Category: Perennials

Campanula portenschlagiana \'Hoffman\'s Blue\' (Hoffman\'s blue Dalmation bellflower)The Campanula portenschlagiana ‘Hoffman’s Blue’ (Hoffman’s blue Dalmatian bellflower) are covered with more blooms every day.  This petite bellflower has purple bells that face upwards with petals that flare back. The word ‘blue’ in the name is applied loosely, as it often is with flowers, to mean something from the blue/purple part of the spectrum. These perennials are very long blooming. This is the first Campanula to bloom in the summer in my garden, followed by C. posharskyana (Serbian bellflower).

The deciduous foliage of C. portenschlagiana is great in a cold climate. It shows green after the first frosts, and provides early greenery in the spring. The old foliage fades as the new fresh foliage appears in the spring.

This area between the houses is very shady, getting mostly indirect light, but you can see how many flowers it gets, even in these conditions. This perennial does very well, squeezed into this narrow space between the foundation and the walkway. The bed is usually dry, since it is under the roof overhang, and I don’t give this area as much supplemental water as the rest of the garden, but this plant seems very tolerant. I have a 10 metre (32 feet) long purple path of these blooms. Half of this strip had gravel when I moved in, but this bellflower is much prettier than white gravel.

When I first moved here, the other half of this section next to the house had been planted with Aegopodium (variegated goutweed). I allowed it to stay at first, since I mistakenly thought it would  be contained by the sidewalk in front of the bed. It furtively sent runners under the sidewalk that started popping up in the lawn, grrr. I ran the lawn mower over those insidious scouts every week, and every week they popped back up, just as fresh looking. I dug them out of the lawn, but they popped back up.

Finally realizing that containment was a losing battle, I removed all the goutweed from the area next to the house 2 years ago, and replaced it with Campanula glomerata (clustered bellflower) from another part of the garden. I thought this would easily suppress the goutweed, since it has its own domination issues. The Aegopodium still grew again, springing from unseen rhizomes. Short of digging up all of the soil and sterilizing it in my oven, I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally rid of the goutweed.

Last summer I removed the C. glomerata, and the medusa-like Aegopodium sprouts which kept returning, and filled the space with the Hoffman’s Blue’ Dalmatian bellflower. So far it seems to be working much better. There are a few goutweed leaves now and then, but the Dalmatian bellflower is starting to cover the area. Although the Campanula portenschlagiana does spread, it is better behaved than C. glomerata.

Campanula portenschlagiana \'Hoffman\'s Blue\' (Dalmation bellflower)

In this picture, the wind is driving the rain into this usually dry area. Even with its flower heads heavy with rain, causing the bells to hang down, Dalmatian bellflower still remains pretty.

The next photo shows this plant the day after the storm. It shrugged off all the rain, turned its face to the sky, and is looking good again. I like a plant that recovers well and always looks fresh.

Campanula portenschlagiana (Dalmation bellflower)

The flowers of Dalmatian bellflower are particularly attractive, with a long blooming time. The foliage forms short neat mounds. The perennial looks great at the front of the border, or squeezed into small spaces. This might be the origin of its other common name, wall bellflower. The plant tolerates shade very well, while still blooming profusely. It’s also moderately tolerant of dry soil. Campanula portenschlagiana is a choice plant for a variety of conditions.

You can read more about other Campanula (bellflowers) here.

This post has more information about double flowering bellflowers.

Colourful Iris Blooms

Sunday, June 22, 2008 Category: Perennials

Iris blueThese iris recovered from the hail better than anticipated. We had a severe wind storm with accompanying hail. Although the plants were whipped around, pounded by frozen ice, and bent by sticks landing on them, most bounced back nicely. Afterwards, I played the willow tree’s favourite game – pick up sticks. The willow never grows tired of this game. I play this weekly with this tree, but this time we had a longer session.

This iris has very pretty purplish blue flowers. You can see the unopened dark blue bud just behind, which is attractive in its own right. The petals are slightly streaked from the hail, but not bad.

blue iris and yellow irisI only have a small section of this perennial and they have not been consistent bloomers. That might be because the Campanula glomerata (clustered bellflower) was invading its territory. C. glomerata does not respect other plant’s personal space. I’ve removed a lot of the clustered bellflower from the area which might have helped the iris, since it didn’t even bloom last year. This year it has the most buds ever, about 8. However, the yellow and maroon iris which are nearby, never have a problem blooming. It’s also possible that this iris does not do as well in semi-shade, or is just not as vigorous. If it were any larger, I would divide it, and try it in a different area.

Iris yellowThe standards on these yellow iris weren’t standing upright after the storm. They were pretending they were falls, but enough new blooms opened that it’s not really noticeable. This 4.5 metre (15 foot) bed of iris goes across the front of the deck. When it’s flowering, this yellow iris is dense with blossoms.  I like this plant in a large group as a cloud of yellow. You can see this iris combined with clustered bellflower here.

These two iris have such different personalities. Although I love the colour of the blue one, it is not as hardy. It has stayed about the same size for seven years, and some years it is hardly noticeable. The faithful yellow and maroon iris seems to thrive, spread and bloom no matter where I put it. I wish I knew the names of these two. Do you have a favourite iris?

Plant Bloom Record Keeping

Saturday, June 14, 2008 Category: Garden Record Keeping

Linum perenne \'Blue Sapphire\' (flax)I like to keep track of when my flowers bloom each year. I record the information on a simple horizontal bar graph, which I’ve attached as a sample bloom table. Of course flowering times for perennials in the garden vary from year to year, depending on the temperature, amount of sun and rain, etc. I find the spring plants especially can vary in their bloom time by quite a bit, depending on the weather. Still, it’s helpful to know about when to expect various flowers such as this Linum perenne (flax), for how long they bloom, and which other plants are flowering at the same time. Will the flowering time of those pink Dianthus caryophylus (carnations) on the left overlap the flowering L. perenne?

I make a simple table with a word processor, with the first column for the plant name and then columns labeled with the names of the months. I put the plant names in order according to when they start flowering, in rows starting at the top. I do this as I go, or by editing last year’s table. For each plant, I type a line across the cells, from left to right, corresponding to how long during the month it’s in bloom. If a plant starts blooming a quarter or halfway through the month, the line starts a quarter or halfway across the cell. It’s easy to mentally divide the cells into 4 sections for weeks. Then you can see in one glance, the cycle of flowering from the top left to bottom right.

The bloom table is useful to see the length of time different plants are in flower, by scanning across the rows sideways. It’s very easy then to visually sort the long bloomers from the short bursts of beauty.

You can also scan down the columns to see which flowers overlap their bloom time. Then you know if you have any hope of 2 plants blooming at the same time before transplanting them. As well, you see which months/weeks have lots of perennials and shrubs blooming, and which periods in the garden are more sparse, by scanning in a line down any month.

It’s a simple table, but very useful. It’s easy to see the bloom times in summer, when you’re standing in your garden, but the chart is helpful visualizing when you’re planning at different times. I’ve included a pdf attachment of my 2008 bloom table, as a sample of how it looks. The names are abbreviated to fit the cells.

The table only goes from May to September, because the rest of the months are usually white, both on the bloom table and on the ground. This could be why I have more time for record keeping. Do you like to keep track of the flowering times of your plants?

You can find another  garden record keeping spreadsheet I use to keep track of all the other plant details in this other post.