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Celebrating our 20th anniversary with some great garden choices 

Story and photography by Jodi DeLong

Twenty years is a long time in the life of a magazine, though a short time in the life of a tree. I’ve had the delight of writing about gardening (and other things) for Saltscapes during the past 18 of those 20 years, while watching gardens come and go and plants thrive or shuffle off to that great compost heap in the sky. One of the best things about gardening is that there’s always something new to learn—as well as homegrown tomatoes, which is possibly the best thing ever.

It’s a challenge to pick just 20 plants to recommend, especially for a hopelessly addicted gardener like myself. I could easily fill the pages of the whole magazine, but my boss would grumble. So, I broke my thoughts down into a few categories, and that should inspire everyone to either head for nurseries now—or make more gardening plans for next year, right?

'Cherries Jubilee' is one of a number of baptisia varieties available.

Perennials for pollinators

Even on hot, calm days in midsummer, I can be found out in my garden, often with camera or iPhone in hand, stalking pollinators. I never get stung, even by the nasty hornets that think I might be a flower. There’s something so delightful in watching bumblebees and other native bees, along with honeybees, butterflies, and pollinating flies rejoicing in the garden’s profusion of blooms. Pretty much everything I plant is with pollinators in mind, as we all know that habitat disappearance and climate change is affecting these vital creatures, which pollinate a significant amount of our food crops. Here are a few perennials to try.

Baptisia. False indigo is a plant that needs plenty of space, because it becomes shrub-like, with spikes of lupin-like flowers (It’s a lupin relative). It blooms later than lupins, makes interesting seedheads, is deer resistant and beloved by hummingbirds and other pollinators. Look for ‘Twilite Prairieblues’ or any of the Decadence series including ‘Pink Truffle’ and ‘Cherries Jubilee’.

'Hot Papaya' echinacea is a double-flowered variety.

Echinacea. Although they don’t usually start to bloom in my garden until mid-July, coneflowers are one of my most favourite perennials with their big, showy flowers and contrasting central cones. Look for ‘Cheyenne Spirit’, ‘Green Twister’, or the double-flowered ‘Hot Papaya’ among others.

Dianthus. Whether you call them pinks, carnations or sweet William, members of the Dianthus genus are showy, deer and rabbit resistant perennials. Many are fragrant, and many sport grey-green, needle-like foliage that adds a nice colour and texture.
My personal favourite is a chocolate-
coloured sweet William called ‘Sooty’. 

Helianthus and Heliopsis. You will know the cheery, big-flowered sunflower, which is an annual type of Helianthus—but there are many perennial sunflowers as well. They aren’t as huge flowered as our beloved annuals, but they are gorgeous and profuse, too. A must-grow if you have plenty of space is H. ‘Lemon Queen’, which can reach 6 to 8 feet in height and absolutely covers itself in pale yellow flowers. Heliopsis is a closely related genus, the so-called false sunflower, which is equally superb as a mid- to back-of-border perennial. ‘Loraine Sunshine’ has striking green and white variegated foliage and sunny blooms; ‘Prairie Sunset’ boasts striking deep purple stems and leaf veining.

Bee balms attract hummingbirds and other pollinators.

Monarda. Its common name may be bee balm, but it’s also a balm to hummingbirds and many other pollinators, which love its fragrant and showy flowers. This relative of mint can get rambunctious and spread, but there are newer cultivars that tend to be short and clumping. Flowers can be shades of red, pink, magenta or occasionally even white. ‘Raspberry Wine’ and ‘Cambridge Scarlet’ are two easy to find varieties. Dwarf varieties include ‘Balmy Rose’ and ‘Petite Delight’.

 

Easy veggies

This is the year of the new vegetable gardener—it was fascinating to see local nurseries sold out of vegetable transplants (and other annuals) by mid-June this year, as questions about food security and about staycationing in the shadow of COVID-19 sent many into gardening mode. Some vegetables are a lot more effort than others, and for the beginner, can be pretty darn discouraging. These, however, provide quick and delicious gratification.

Radishes. There is something so satisfying about going out to the garden just a few short weeks after planting and harvesting the first radish, so crunchy, crispy and flavourful. If you want something a little different that is also aesthetically gorgeous, try ‘Watermelon’ radish; they have a white and green outer skin, and when you slice them, the inside is a beautiful watermelon pink. These are sometimes referred to as fall radish because they are available in late summer/autumn—and they keep really, really well.

Salad greens. Not surprisingly, you don’t have to have a big garden to keep yourself in salad greens—mesclun, arugula, spinach, lettuces galore, and more—because these plants will grow in a large (8 to 10-in, or bigger) pot on your deck with no problem at all. And you can reseed a pot every couple of weeks so that you’ve always got fresh, tender greens for your meals.

Bright Lights' rainbow chard is as delicious as it is beautiful.

Swiss Chard. Another vegetable that will do well in a good-sized container, chard is delicious and easy to grow. If you’re like me and like your vegetables to be beautiful as well as tasty, try a couple of the rainbow-coloured varieties, like ‘Bright Lights’ and ‘Rainbow’ which produce brilliantly-coloured stems and tints of colour up into the leaves. Chard will go on for weeks and months if you keep picking the larger leaves and let the smaller ones grow on.

Patio tomatoes. There are about a gazillion types of tomatoes, but if you’re looking for something to grow on your balcony or deck, you can’t go wrong with a few varieties that are determinant, meaning they grow to a certain size then stop—no staking or caging required. ‘Banana Legs’ produces 4-inch fruit in pale yellow; ‘Bush Beefsteak’ gives bigger fruit on a 3-ft plant; ‘Sweet & Neat Red’ and ‘Sweet & Neat Yellow’ produce sweet, cherry-sized tomatoes in great profusion; ‘San Marzano’ is a true paste tomato for those who love making their own sauces.

Peas. Whether you prefer shelling peas, sugar snap or sugar pod peas, these vegetables tend to be rewarding because they can be sown earlier in the season than many plants. Do read the seed package as some peas require staking or trellising for best production.

Rewarding shrubs

I like shrubs that offer extra features besides flowers: good foliage colour, fall colour, interesting seedheads, or reblooming. Roses can be finicky (except for the tough rugosa roses) and aren’t necessarily a good choice for beginners. Try some of these delightful, easy care shrubs.

Hydrangea. Some hydrangeas are fussbudgets, while others are dead easy and so rewarding. Look for the Annabelle types, which produce white or greenish flowers; paniculata types such as ‘Limelight’ or ‘Quickfire’; and the simply amazing ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ line of pink flowered Annabelle types, which are tough, don’t require finicky pruning except to shape your plant, and bloom like gangbusters.

Ninebark. This is a shrub with four seasons of appeal—great foliage colour from spring to fall, pollinator-attracting flowers, and interesting, peeling bark in winter. Look for ‘Diabolo’, ‘Coppertina’ or ‘Amber Jubilee’ among others.

Reblooming lilacs. In recent years plant breeders have developed lilacs that rebloom several times in a growing season. Often these are dwarf or semi-dwarf plants, so they won’t grow beyond a certain size like many of the older French lilacs. Look for the Bloomerang series, available at many nurseries.

Barberry. Barberries come in a host of sizes and foliage colours from green to brilliant yellow to deepest burgundy—their flowers are beloved by pollinators, and they produce red fruit which some songbirds find desirable. Yes, they are thorny, so that’s one small deterrent when planting or pruning.

Spirea. Yes, spirea—but not the boring bridal veil types that flower for a week then look like green lumps. Look for some of the colourful-foliage varieties, like the old faithful ‘Magic Carpet’, or newer varieties like ‘Glow Girl’ or ‘Candy Corn.’

 

Foliage all-stars

Flowers are fabulous, but they aren’t always in bloom; adding plants with interesting foliage colour, shape, texture means that your garden is full of colours besides shades of green throughout the growing season.

Grasses. Perennial or annual grasses can add a host of charms to your garden—foliage colour and texture, flowerheads that last into winter, and the whispering sound of wind blowing through them. Make sure you select clump-forming species, not the type that run like variegated ribbon grass. Look for Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa), switchgrasses (Panicum) like ‘Heavy Metal’ or ‘Cheyenne Sky’ and maiden grass (Miscanthus) like 'Huron Sunrise' or purple flame grass.

Hostas. I know, I know. Hostas are deer salad where those long-legged nuisances thrive. But there are miniature hostas that will grow nicely in containers on your deck or in hanging baskets. For those of us unplagued by deer, there are so many varieties, it’s hard to pick
a favourite—or 25!

Astilbes. These deer and rabbit-resistant plants sport lacy foliage that is often tinted with burgundy or gold—the flowerheads are spectacular too, and beloved by pollinators. Look for ‘Colourflash Lime’ or ‘Mighty Chocolate Cherry’ among many others, to give your garden a colourful boost.

Actaea. This perennial goes by the common name of bugbane, which doesn’t do it any favours—think of it as an astilbe on steroids, usually sporting deep burgundy foliage and spikes of white or pink, fragrant flowers. 

Geranium. The botanical name for cranesbill is Geranium, not to be confused with annual geraniums more accurately called Pelargoniums. Hardy cranesbills are deer resistant, long-blooming, attractive to pollinators and sport handsome foliage—often with yellow or wine shades in the leaves. Flowers are white, shades of purple, magenta or pink. Look for ‘Okey Dokey’ or ‘Dark Reiter’ which have deep chocolate-purple foliage, or ‘Ann Folkard’ with golden-green leaves.

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