Northern Shade Gardening

Camping in the Mountains

Thursday, October 23, 2008 Category: General
lower Sunwapta Falls

lower Sunwapta Falls

Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies is brimming with beautiful scenery, plentiful wildlife, and peaceful trails. We went tent camping on the weekend, and had a fantastic time. In the late fall there are few other hikers on the trails. The woods are tranquil with only occasional visitors, but the temperatures are cool. At night it went to -11 C (12 F), while during the day it went up to 5 C ( 41 F). We mostly hiked at the mid elevations, where there wasn’t too much snow yet.

happy little tent

happy little tent

Here is one of our two tents. The silver fly is designed to help reflect heat, to keep the inside cool, but that wasn’t a priority for this trip. If you camp in cooler weather, you know the tricky part is leaving the warm campfire for your cold sleeping bag in the tent at night. I curl up into a little ball inside my sleeping bag, until it warms up. Once it warms up from body heat, it is quite snug and cozy inside.

cooking new banana dish

cooking new banana dish

I love to start a fire first thing in the morning and drink my coffee, while warming my toes close to the blaze. Chopping wood for the fire is also great for warming you up. Our bananas froze over night, so we had to get inventive. We put peanut butter chocolates inside the banana and grilled it in its skin over the fire. What a delicious breakfast it made.

Trail above Pyramid Lake

Trail above Pyramid Lake

Instead of doing the usual longer hikes to the summits, we did shorter hikes, keeping mostly below the snowline. This walk was by Pyramid Lake. It’s a scenic stroll up the ridge from the lake, following the ridgeline, with views over to the Jasper townsite and back to the lake. In the mountains the weather changes very quickly, so it went from blowing snow, to almost clear by the time we got to the top. We were fortunate it partially cleared, allowing us to see the vista back across the lake.

Athabasca Falls

Athabasca Falls

We stopped at Athabasca Falls, which is a very short stroll to some great outlooks. In late fall the water levels going over the falls are probably at their lowest, but it is still beautiful. To give perspective to the shot of Athabasca Falls, the little red speck at the very top is a person.

Athabasca River 2

Athabasca River 2

The Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff is one of the most scenic drives. As you go south of Jasper, on the Icefields Parkway, there are views over the Athabasca River, with the mountains on either side. I’ve sometimes spotted mountain goats here, but not this visit. We did, however, see lots of elk (wapiti), mule deer, big horn sheep and coyotes around the park. It would be hard to visit Jasper and not see these ubiquitous animals. We didn’t spot any black bears or grizzly bears this trip, probably because they are making their way up to their hibernating spots now. A couple of years ago in October, while hiking in the alpine area, we saw a mother grizzly with three roly poly babies following behind her. They all looked fat enough to survive their winter hibernation. There were plenty of small mammals this visit as well. Jasper is an excellent park for wildlife viewing, but for some reason I didn’t end up taking any animal photos this trip.

At Sunwapta Falls there is a short 4 km (2.5 mile) walk to a series of falls. After the first falls, there is a lovely walk along the top of the canyon, with rushing water, cliffs and forest. You gradually come out down at the water level, to the lower falls. It is a wonderful area for exploring.

If you are looking for an excellent place for wildlife viewing, hiking and other outdoor pursuits, Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada is a great choice. There are a wide variety of walks, from short strolls to backcountry hikes. Here is another post I wrote about  hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

I’ve put some shots into a gallery so it will load faster. You can click each photo to get a medium sized picture, and click again to get the full size picture.

New Bulbs for Spring Dreams

Saturday, October 18, 2008 Category: Bulbs
Scilla siberica (squills) on garden glove

Scilla siberica (squills) on garden glove

Planting bulbs in the Autumn gives you a chance to dream, and connects the garden to the next flowering season.  After a long, cold winter, the spring flowers are the most anticipated. When the snow is almost melted, I check the ground a couple of times a day for signs of green life. When the Puschkinia (striped squill) first showed a bud last spring, I was delighted with its beauty, and its stand against the snow and cold. I took dozens of photos of the first brave bloom, even though it was soon halted by a fresh snow storm.

Here are some of the new bulbs I am planting in the garden this fall. They are the small, early spring bloomers. One advantage to the small bulbs is that their foliage is smaller too, so it is easier to hide after blooming. The leaves of these bulbs die back relatively quickly. The little bulbs look best planted close to the door or walkway where they can be viewed up close, or in large patches, that blaze from a distance. I planted 380 bulbs, which sounds like a lot, but with these small bulbs, it’s not at all. They disappear into the garden quickly.

I’m still amazed by how these small brown lumps that I bury will burst forth in spring, transformed into beautiful flowers. The next photo was taken in May this year.

Puschkinia scilloides 'Libanotica' (striped squill) spring bulb

Puschkinia scilloides (striped squills)

I added some more bulbs of my old favourites, including Puschkinia scilloides ‘‘Libanotica’ (striped squills). Since these are the very first blooms in the garden, I planted some additional groups, to bring even more cheer. A dozen or more little bells hang down the flower stalks for each bulb. Puschkinia flowers are white with light blue stripes, and make a good show in a group.

I’m adding more Muscari ‘Blue Spike’ (grape hyacinth) too, which is another bulb I admire. This type of grape hyacinth is extra showy because its flowers are more open, giving it a frilly appearance. The colour is more noticeable, so the blooms have more of an impact.

Scilla siberica (squill) spring bulb fall planting

Scilla siberica (squill) spring bulb fall planting

This photo above is of my Scilla from this spring. I’ve added more of the Scilla Siberica (squills) in a large group. These are a very pretty bright blue bulb of early spring .

I also picked up some new varieties of some spring bulbs I already have. The Muscari azureum (grape hyacinth) is a pretty, light blue muscari. It also has the open petals like ‘Blue Spike’.  I can’t wait to see it blooming in the garden to compare it to the other Muscari.

I bought another variation on a treasured bulb,  Chionodoxa ‘Alba’ (white glory of the snow). I have the bluish purple glory of the snow, which are charming. The Chionodoxa usually flower right after the Puschkinia, their bloom time overlapping for a short while. These flowers face upwards, so they are easy to admire.

I wanted to plant yellow and purple crocus under the lilac tree, between the geranium plants. I have a lot of blue or white bulbs in other parts of the garden, and I thought this would make a nice combination of spring colours. They would bloom before the geraniums got too big, and then the geranium leaves would hide the bulb foliage after the blooms have finished. I got the idea for the planting after everything else had been planted, so it was a little late to find all the bulbs. In zone 3 most of the bulbs have already been planted, so I had to search. I finally found a few Crocus vernus ‘Remembrance’ in a purple colour, but no yellow crocus. My idea of a hundred purple crocus behind a group of a hundred yellow crocus has now been reduced to a group of 30 purple crocus only. Next year I’ll finish the planting.

I bought some Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops), despite the fact that not one of the Galanthus I planted last year came up. Normally, when a plant avoids my garden that completely, I would give up.  However I kept wondering if they were just old bulbs, or if a discriminating squirrel ate every one, so I bought some more this year. As I was planting another type of bulb in the old Galanthus spot, I think I dug some snowdrops up. Perhaps the bulbs are still there and will come up next spring.

After the desert of winter, spring bulbs are an oasis of beauty. Are you planting bulbs for spring? Do you plant more of your old favourites, new varieties of familiar bulbs, or try all new bulbs?

Fall Leaves Cover Garden Beds

Saturday, October 11, 2008 Category: Perennials
Athyrium 'Ghost' (ghost fern) Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley)

Athyrium 'Ghost' and Convallaria berry

The garden beds are slowly disappearing under the fall leaves. The yellow, orange and brown blanket provided by the trees will protect the perennials as the cold deepens. In the Spring, the leaves will decompose, adding their nutrients to the soil, and nourishing the plants. The tree leaves and mulches are the fertilizer for my plants.

Here is Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (ghost fern) with a red berry from Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) in the shade. Many of the the ghost fern’s fronds have died down already. I like the feathery texture and silver colour of this fern, and have added more around the garden. The remaining silver fronds look good rising up through the maple leaves, behind the lily of the valley. Two ferns have made a substantial clump about 0.6 m (2 feet) tall and 1 m (3 feet) across. Athyrium ‘Ghost’ seems to have inherited its vigour from one of its parents, Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern). Its other parent, Athyrium niponicum (Japanese painted fern) is much shorter and narrower in my garden, with fewer fronds.

Campanula poscharskyana 'Camgood' (blue waterfall bellflower)

Campanula poscharskyana 'Camgood' (blue waterfall bellflower)

Campanula poscharskyana ‘Camgood’ (blue waterfall Serbian bellflower) continues to impress me with its extended blooming period, and the sheer number of blooms. Here it is, a third of the way through October in zone 3, and this group of three plants is having a bloomfest. Despite the competition from the iris behind, and the pine above, these stars are still shining bright. I will have to cut back the iris foliage, since it does not age as gracefully in the fall, as the pretty Campanula does. Both pine needles and deciduous leaves are sprinkled between these plants in the garden.

Campanula portenschlagiana 'Hoffmans Blue' (Dalmation bellflower)

Campanula portenschlagiana (Dalmatian bellflower)

These are the flowers of Campanula portenschlagiana ‘Hoffman’s Blue’ (Dalmatian bellflower) in October. This perennial was covered in blooms in the summer, but now there are just a few scattered flowers. The foliage of this plant is fresh and green as soon as the snow has melted in spring. With a short garden season, this is an admirable trait. The leaves continue to form a healthy carpet until the snow falls again. A ground cover with unmarked leaves and pretty purple flowers is a winning combination. I have it in a long narrow section under the roof overhang, and rarely water it, yet it never droops. In the plants that have knit together there are very few weeds.

Impatiens October 9

Impatiens 'Fiesta White' doubles October 9

This must be the latest I have ever had tender plants such as impatiens still blooming in the garden. The little rose-like blooms of these doubles are appreciated so late in the year, and look very pretty in the shade. We just got frost last night, so they can’t last much longer, and will soon turn to mush. I will plant new impatiens next year when all danger of frost has passed.

fall leaves over garden bed

fall leaves over garden bed

Here the Linum perenne (flax) and lobelia are covered with falling leaves. The blue lobelia flowers are swimming just above the cover. The lobelia should have no problem with light frosts, and I expect they will bloom for a while.

Lobelia and fall leaves

Lobelia and fall leaves

This is another section of lobelia and Dianthus caryophylus (carnations) with crisp brown maple leaves. The lobelia has formed a river of blue through this bed since the end of May. I think this annual blends well with the perennials in the garden. It enjoys our cooler summers, so the blooms never falter for five months. It is so easy care that I do nothing to it after planting, except give it a spray when I have the hose out.

Pulmonaria Athyrium Brunnera Asarum and fall leaves

Pulmonaria, Athyrium, Brunnera, Asarum and fall leaves

With the exception of the yellowing ferns and fallen leaves, this little shade bed looks much like summer. The Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss) and Pulmonaria (lungwort) have no trouble lifting above the rising pile of maple leaves, but the little Asarum europaeum (ginger) groundcover are barely level with the top.

Pulmonaria x 'Samourai' (Samourai lungwort)

Pulmonaria x'Samourai'

Above is a closeup of three Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (Samourai lungwort) in a sea of fallen maple leaves. Their silver swords cut their own path above the tree debris.

Here is another post on protecting your perennials in winter by using a mulch of  fall leaves.

As the tree leaves settle in the garden beds, the perennials one by one get ready for winter in my Northern garden. Soon the frosts will send them the signal to dismantle the above ground structures, and the insulating layer will keep the crown and roots safe until next spring. How is your garden getting ready for winter?