Adventures in gardening: ‘free’ plants and fragrant flowers
Exciting news – today is Canada’s inaugural ‘Garden Day’. On the Friday before Father’s Day, activities are taking place from coast to coast to promote and celebrate our many public gardens and green spaces. Enjoy these treasures - a visit to a local garden can give you all sorts of ideas to take home and incorporate into your own. Admission to many of these gardens is free, which brings me to today’s first topic…
When you look around your garden, are there empty spots that need filling in? Before you rush off to buy new plants first consider if you can get them for free. As perennials grow they often need to be divided, either because they’re getting too big, too crowded or often because it helps them stay healthy and performing at their peak. Even some smaller plants can be divided as long as they’re healthy and well-established.
Dividing and transplanting – also known as ‘free’ plants - here’s what you need to do:
- Take a close look at the plant you’ll be dividing, decide how many smaller plants you are going to cut out from the main plant and where you’ll be putting each one.
- Prepare the new planting spot(s) by pushing away the covering layer of mulch. You can also dig a hole of the approximate size you’ll need, but I find it easier to wait until I have the new plant in hand.
- Look at the plant and figure out if there’s a natural place for the division. Look for clusters of stems or gaps in the plant. Decide where you’ll make the cut so that the remaining plant and the piece you’re cutting away will both look balanced.
- Using a sharp, clean shovel place the blade in the middle of the plant where you want to make the cut, with the blade edge resting on the bottom of the plant stems or right on the soil.
- Put your foot on the top edge of the blade and push down hard to make a clean cut right through the plant’s roots.
- Repeat this shovel blade placement around the plant about four times until you’ve cut around the entire section you are removing, pushing down hard each time to make clean cuts through the roots.
- The plant should now be sufficiently loosened from the soil to allow you to ease it out and transfer it to its new spot.
- Fill in the hole with soil, top with mulch, and keep it well watered for the first few weeks. You can also use a transplant solution containing a stimulator for roots, if you think the plant needs a boost in getting established.
The answer to those empty spots could be right there in your garden – or your neighbour’s, parents’ or friend’s garden. One of the great things about gardening is sharing your plants with other people and dividing some of their treasures to transfer to your own garden. It’s an easy and inexpensive way to experiment. So many flowers, so little time - and really, who doesn't like free stuff?
Hostas make a nasty-sounding squeak when the shovel blade slices through them. Ignore it - the plant will be fine! In fact, this is one plant that you can divide over and over to create multiple new plants.
Be sure to keep the plant’s roots and surrounding ball of soil as intact as possible when dividing and transplanting. The more established a plant’s roots, the healthier it is. So when I’m splitting and moving plants I like to think that in a way I’m fooling them – if they’re taking all their soil with them then they won’t even know they've been moved. Yes, I do know that plants don’t really have feelings…
Whether you’re designing a garden from scratch or simply adding to your existing flower beds bit by bit, garden design means considering basics like how much sun or shade a plant needs, how much space it will take up as it grows, and in which season it will bloom. It also means making the most of a plant’s natural assets. For example, when it comes to fragrant perennials you want to plant them where you can enjoy them – near a deck, patio, walkway or window. This photo from Weather Network viewer Larissa Bahadori is so vivid it feels like I can actually smell the Dianthus. The Dianthus family includes many varieties of the classic Carnations, the popular biennial ‘Sweet William’ and Pinks. Other fragrant perennials to consider include Phlox, Monarda/Bee Balm, Lily of the Valley, Honeysuckle, Nepeta/Catmint and Sweet Woodruff.
It’s always hard to pick just one favourite but at the very top of my list of fragrant perennials is the Peony. It is, without question, an outrageously beautiful flower. The heady perfume takes your breath away – as do the massive blooms, full heads of delicate petals. I had a rather unfortunate adventure with mine this spring. The blooms are heavy, especially when full of rainwater. I didn't stake up the plant sufficiently this year – so when I came home from a wet weekend away I found my beautiful peony stalks all lying virtually flat on the ground. It was as if an animal had come along and sat in the middle, splaying out the stalks in all directions! Amazing what wet weather can do to your garden in a very short period of time.
Early summer ‘to do list’
- Deadhead, snip or pinch off dead flower heads. Depending on the perennial this will encourage repeat blooms and new growth, and prevent self-seeding.
- Watch for signs of bugs and treat plants promptly before damage accelerates. I’m currently battling earwigs that are chewing through my Buddleia/Butterfly Bush by using a product containing diatomaceous earth.
- Everything’s growing quickly now, including the weeds. Weed properly and thoroughly now and you won’t have many to deal with in July and August.
- Prune or cut back certain summer perennials by one third to one half, if desired.
- Prune or cut back certain autumn perennials mid/late June (depending on your zone) for height control, once they reach 12-16”/30-40cm in height.
We talked in an earlier column about using creative vessels when container gardening. This colourful picture comes from Cory Hogenson in Lethbridge, Alberta. Looks like a very inviting spot for morning coffee or afternoon refreshments – well done!
I look forward to hearing your gardening stories and suggestions and will be incorporating them into future columns. So please be sure to add your comments below, upload your photos to our website, or tweet me an update and photo of your garden at @SuzanneTWN. Join me on TV weekday afternoons and early evenings for the latest weather news and forecast so you’ll know the best time to work and play in your garden.
Recent cool spells all across Canada remind us that summer can be all too short. But the outdoors is always beckoning - what are you waiting for?
Happy gardening adventures!
“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.”
― Iris Murdoch