Merry Christmas. I hope that everyone is enjoying the season. It is very cold and snowy here, so I look out the window wistfully at the parts of the garden that manage to rise above the snow, and make plans for next year. I’m looking forward to the first spring bulbs, but meanwhile I’ve got a few bulbs growing indoors.
In order to enjoy the scent of soil and the satisfaction of watching something grow, I’ve got some Hippeastrum (amaryllis) bulbs in various stages of growth. It’s such fun to watch their progress, and of course so easy since they don’t require chilling. From the first tiny point of emerging green to the splendid, showy flowers, they are fun to observe. The ones in bloom need staking, even after only one of the flowers fully opens, and the heavy pots help keep the tall, top-heavy flowers stable.
Here’s a warm fire to offset the frigid temperatures outdoors. The Christmas bears are warming their toes, after having fun in the snow, but I’ve warned them not to get their paws too close.
This collage shows some of the ornaments from my tree. I have some birds that I’ve had since I was a child, given to me by my father when I belonged to the young naturalist’s club. I got one per month, and now 40 or so of them nest in my tree. The little presents were ones that I made from homemade wrapping paper, by carving and printing them with ink onto tissue paper. There are more teddies on the tree, and various mini-wreathes and mini-baskets I’ve made and wrapped with ribbons, berries or cones. I made some little cross stitched ornaments, too.
I hope that Santa is good to you, and that you have a peaceful holiday. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Northern Shade.
The garden has transformed from late fall colours to a mostly monochrome winter white. The conifers, Picea (spruce), Pinus (pine) and Taxus (yew) are what provide most of the colour now.
In the middle of October, the Hydrangea paniculata flowers still had tinges of pink, the Phlox paniculata were white and purple, while the leaves of Tiarella and Heuchera were providing decorative patterns in the garden. The various Campanula were mostly still sporting pretty blue flowers, for an almost summer look.
Then at the end of October, the garden had a light frosting of white. It decorated the leaves of evergreen plants, like Cornus canadensis (bunchberry), Tiarella (foamflower), Heuchera (coral bells), Helleborus (hellebores) and Epimedium (bishop’s hat). The snow etched the edges of the birdbaths, but there was still water for the birds to visit.
Now, we have over 30 cm (a foot) of snow, enough to cover the low perennials, and beat the taller perennials to the ground. The birds will have to bring a snow shovel if they want a bath. We’ve changed to winter, and the plants that take centre stage are the tall conifers. They will remain the stars for the next 5 to 6 months. The large spruce and pine, so prevalent in the Boreal Forest just north of here, easily withstand the weight of snow on their branches. It collects on their outstretched branches, and then eventually rolls down the sloping boughs of the spruce, or sifts through the widely spaced needles of the pines.
Here are some tall Picea (spruce) in my front yard showing their best trait, which is to upraise piles of white snow with their long green boughs. These living sculptures are a wonderful antidote to the blandness of winter. The conifers are over 35 years old, so they are imposing on the landscape. Although I live on an average sized lot in the suburbs, they create a forest atmosphere. Wildlife appreciates them, too, all year round.
My tall Pinus mugo (mugho pine) has multiple stems. It’s a rangy forest pine, rather than one of those cute little mini mugho shrubs for the mixed border. I’ve been wanting to add a more compact mugo to a different garden area, but this large one is a match for the spruce trees here. In the garden underneath there are lots of Tiarella (foamflowers) covered up for winter.
Here is where a pine and spruce meet in front of my house. You can follow the animal tracks under the trees to a cozy conifer cave.
More tracks lead under some spruce branches that are about 60 cm (2 ft) off the ground. There are many short perennials planted under these trees that are buried until spring. The snow helps insulate the Heuchera (coral bells), Tiarella (foamflower), Brunnera, Hosta, dwarf Aruncus (goatsbeard), Epimedium (bishop’s hat), Asarum (wild ginger), Hepatica (liverleaf) and others in the garden here. In the summer I’m always looking down to see the perennials, and don’t notice the evergreens as much. In winter it’s the conifers, twice the height of the house, that catch your attention, and force you to look up.
We’ve transitioned from late fall into full blown winter. Snow is piling up on every surface, and last night it was -19° C (-2° F). Instead of hunching over, and staring at the snow as I rush from car to house, I can look up at the sparkling conifers and the blue sky. When the sun shines, and the snow glistens, it can be enjoyable to be outside and delight in the winter sights.
Cornus canadensis (bunchberry) is a woodland plant that is native to large parts of Canada. It works as a groundcover under trees in the garden, too. This subtle plant with green leaves perks up with seasonal changes, adding colour to the garden with white flowers in late spring as well as bright red leaves and berries in autumn. This fall, I was hiking in the montane and subalpine areas near Banff, and saw bunchberry plants spread out into the distance as I hiked under the pine and spruce trees. You can see the wild bunchberry in the picture above. My own bunchberry patch is more modest in scale.
In my garden the Cornus canadensis is growing under a large spruce tree on the north side of the house, next to a walkway. It makes a very natural looking, easy care groundcover. I’m seeking an appearance that is a combination of forest floor and garden in this bed, so the Cornus canadensis fit in perfectly. I’m aiming for this bunchberry section to look like the photo above from the mountains.
The picture of the white bunchberry flower is from my garden in very late spring. I planted my C. canadensis 3 year ago, and they are just filling in now. Since they are a native wildflower, I expected them to spread a little faster, but I suppose the extra shady site under the conifers and the occasional dryness have slowed them down, or the bunchberry just took a while to settle into the garden. I often see larger patches of it in slightly damper conifer forests, so it might spread faster if I gave it more supplemental water.
The feather mosses are common on the forest floor, and give it a springy surface. I’d love to have more moss growing between the Cornus canadensis in my garden, like the picture above.They are often found in spruce and pine forests, so I thought they would enjoy my mini-forest of spruce and pine.
Here is another shot of the typical habitat where you will find bunchberry growing in the wild. There is lodgepole pine, Douglas fir and white spruce in this forest. Sometimes I see bunchberry growing with twinflower or kinnikinnick plants. I purchased mine from a garden centre and planted them 3 years ago in a group on their own in between some Tiarella and Hosta, but I’ve thought about planting some of those other natives with it.
Cornus canadensis gets small white flowers in the late spring. The photo shows the white flowers on my plants back in June. Those 4 decorative, white shapes are the bracts, and the flowers are the little green part in the middle.
Come autumn, the plants develop cluster of bright red berries. Mine didn’t get the berry clusters like the wild ones in the shot above. Birds and wildlife eat the berries, so either the neighbourhood wildlife got them already, or they never developed.
Looking at this shot from the mountains, I think I need to add some fallen tree logs. I do have a piece of bark that is developing a nice mossy coating on the other side of this bed that I might place in the bunchberry patch.
The understory in the mountains can be very serene in myriad shades of green, with shafts of sunlight reaching through the tree branches to highlight the little plants of the forest floor. For most of the year Cornus canadensis wears its green camouflage like the picture above, blending in to the forest floor.
Then the bunchberry leaves make a brilliant transformation in the fall, changing to bright shades of red and purple. Mine develop red and burgundy coloured leaves as the cooler weather sets in. The collage above is made with my garden photos from this fall. Before the snow comes, they give one last jolt of colour under the trees.
The colour flashes on the leaves are still visible as the snow settles on them. If you’re searching for a natural looking groundcover for a shady area, Cornus canadensis is a low maintenance choice.