The Container Grocery Store

The Container Grocery Store

Whether you’re a young couple that’s just starting out or a couple facing retirement, you know that you often have to stretch your budget to cover all of your expenses. You may need to move to larger accommodations, there’s furniture to buy, there may be student loans or a wedding to pay off. Well, you can cut a lot out of your budget, but everyone needs food to live that’s one cost you can’t eliminate. However, you can make a dent in your grocery bills by growing fruits, vegetables, and herbs in containers.

Containers are great because you can use them whether you’re living in an apartment or a house; plants will do just fine in containers perched on balconies or sitting on patios. Just make  sure to put them in a location where they’ll get as much sun as possible; vegetables need at least six hours of direct sunlight per day to develop properly, and herbs need five. A south-facing location is best, but if that’s not possible, a west-facing one is almost as good.

Vegetables growing on east- and north-facing balconies and patios will still provide some produce, but the yields won’t be as high. Herbs growing indoors should be cultivated close to the windows that get the most sunshine; it’s also important to grow them in high-humidity areas, like the kitchen.

Choosing the right pot is crucial. For vegetables, I never use pots smaller than 25 cm wide for container vegetable gardening; 30 cm wide is preferable. These plants need space to grow, and pots smaller than this just don’t provide enough volume. For materials, I prefer glazed ceramic, plastic, or fibreglass; all hold water well and are easier to handle than clay pots. Large hanging baskets and troughs are good choices for patio or balcony vegetable gardening, too; even whiskey half-barrels will work. I’ve seen people use all kinds of cheap but effective containers—old milk cans, toilets, bathtubs, trash cans, even washing machines. Just make sure that whatever container you choose has enough volume to provide the plant with enough room to grow. Herbs can be grown in pots that are slightly smaller, though; feel free to keep them in the 10 or 15 cm pots that you buy them in for a while. When they’re big enough, move them to larger pots or a trough. You can plant more than one plant in a large pot; stuffing half a dozen herbs into a 30 cm container or a long trough would be a fine way to grow them, as long as you’re careful not to mix aggressive herbs with the less competitive varieties.

Potting soil is the root medium of choice for potted plants, chiefly because it doesn’t compact like garden soil does—potted plants need rich, well-drained soil to promote healthy root growth. Potting soil has another advantage: it’s free of the soil-borne diseases and insect pests common to regular garden soil. I incorporate a controlled, time-release 14-14-14 fertilizer that will feed the plant for many weeks. This non-leaching fertilizer becomes a reservoir backup that prevents the plants from yellowing and cuts down on maintenance.

I always say that watering is the most important job a gardener has to do. It’s a simple task, but that doesn’t mean that it can be done without thought. Since containers can’t hold much water, you may need to soak your plants twice a day during heat waves—once, thoroughly, in the early morning and once more, if needed, in the evening. Hanging baskets should be checked more often for moisture; the wind can dry them out quickly. To seal in moisture and keep down weeds, you can cover the soil with a mulch of shredded bark. As for fertilizer—I usually just add a pinch of 20-20-20 to the pot each time I water and give the plants a heavier feeding once a week. All vegetables need these extra nutrients, especially heavy feeders like tomatoes and cucumbers, so don’t skimp.

Speaking of tomatoes and cucumbers, just what kinds of plants should you be growing in containers? I’ve drawn up a list, and there are a couple of products that merit special attention.

The first of these is mesclun. This is a mixture of “instant salads” created by the French that’s really catching on in North America. The idea is wonderfully simple: a number of different greens are grown together in one pot. Sound complicated? It isn’t. All you have to do is buy a packet of mesclun seed, sow into a container, and watch the greens spring up. Every two or three weeks, when the plants reach a few inches in height, all you have to do is take a pair of scissors out, cut off the greens, and throw them into a salad bowl. You should leave about two inches of growth in the pot, since mesclun can be harvested several times. Over the course of a growing season, you can expect to harvest five or six meals—meals big enough to feed three or four people, so plan to invite another couple over each time you harvest.

The second item of note is the potato barrel, a British invention that I think is the best way to grow container potatoes. It’s a Victorian style barrel made of polymer with sliding “windows.” Instead of digging up the soil to harvest the potatoes, all you need to do is slide open a window, reach in, grab the spuds, and slide the window shut. Sweet potatoes or other tubers can be grown in this innovative device, too.

There are other benefits to growing your own vegetables. For one thing, there’s something very arresting about vegetables growing in containers; they make great conversation pieces, especially for repeat visitors who can see the plants slowly come to fruition. Plants like cucumbers have long vines that can be trained to grow around balcony railings, adding some life to your apartment.

If you’re really adventurous, you can try growing peanuts on your balcony, or figs, dwarf lemons or limes, or even coffee indoors. These are novelty crops—you’ll be lucky to grow enough beans for one cup of coffee, for example—but they’re fun to have around. The most important thing is that you enjoy yourselves, whatever you choose to grow.

Vegetables (and one fruit) That Grow Well in Containers

Leaf lettuce
Bush-type melons (in large patio containers only)

Herbs That Grow Well in Containers

Try growing oregano, marjoram, thyme, and chives in the same container as your tomatoes—these plants grow quite well together, and broiled herb tomatoes make a delicious snack.

Edible Flowers That Grow Well in Containers

Daylily flowers—especially new multiple blooms, e.g. Stella d’Oro

The Office Jungle

The Office Jungle

A lot of us spend half of our waking hours in an office—often an office with drab walls and colourless furniture that creates claustrophobia. I always feel much more comfortable in an office that has a few plants in it. The simple beauty of plants is more than enough justification to fill the office with them.

Due to the nature of most working environments, plants in the office will almost always be grown in containers. Indoor container gardening requires procedures and planning a little different than regular outdoor gardening; for the best results, there are a few simple points to keep in mind.

First, choose containers that will match the office decor. Colour, shape, and size should complement, not compete with, other elements of the office design. Ceramic pots are an attractive choice; they’ll be at home in most office environments. Plastic is lightweight, durable,
and retains water well, but often the selection of styles and colours is somewhat limited.

Anything grown in containers should be planted in potting soil, not regular garden soil. Ordinary soil gets packed solid in containers, which can choke roots; potting soil is looser, giving roots room to breathe. Since potting soil is actually a soilless mix, it’s free of most soil-borne diseases common to garden soil.

Careful attention needs to be paid to the feeding and watering of office foliage. Most indoor plants like a dose of 20-20-20 fertilizer once every two weeks during the growing season. During periods of slow growth or dormancy, fertilize at 1/2 rate every two to four weeks. At
Hole’s we often feed plants with Nature's Source 10-5-3.

Transplanted potted plants should be started off with 10-52-10 at a low concentration of 2.5 ml per litre of water, repeated every two weeks for up to one month. The high phosphorus content (represented by the middle number in 10-52-10) is important for root development.

Different plants have different watering requirements; check with your garden centre when you buy the plants to find out the particulars. In general, the most important thing to remember is to prevent the plants from drying out. Consistent watering is much better for the plant than droughts followed by overwatering. For most indoor plants, wait until the soil surface is dry; then water thoroughly, enough so that the excess starts to flow out of the pot’s drain holes. On a related note, most indoor plants require high humidity. If the office is dry, pots should be placed in water-filled trays that have a layer of pebbles for the pot to rest on. (This prevents the water from entering through the pot’s drainage holes and saturating the soil.) The water from the tray will evaporate over time and raise the humidity level of the area around the plant.

Indoor plants are often prone to attack from insect pests. To combat this, you may have to spray with insecticidal soap every so often.Plants should be checked regularly for bugs to prevent them from being overwhelmed. Plants with smooth foliage should be syringed or gently rinsed once a month to get rid of dust and grime; buildup of these materials can inhibit plant respiration. Larger plants with sturdy leaves can be wiped with a damp cloth or sponge. For stubborn dust, try a very weak tea solution; it will keep the foliage nice and shiny.

It’s important to choose the right spots for your plants. All plants need some sunlight, even if it’s indirect; try giving them spots near windows, or be prepared to supplement natural light with grow lights. If you use hanging baskets, avoid spots where they could interfere with foot traffic or access to supplies. Plants should never be placed to close to machines like computers or photocopiers; these devices give out heat that dries out plants very quickly. There’s also some danger to the machines; it’s not difficult to imagine spilling some water or fertilizer into a delicate piece of office equipment while tending to the plants. Drafty spots need to be avoided, too; air movement will dry out plants, so avoid spots next to air conditioners or fans.

Probably the most important decision you have to make is what to plant. Are you more interested in bright splashes of colour, or low maintenance? You might not have a good deal of time to invest in your office garden—in that case, look at choosing low-maintenance plants like cacti. You might even want to grow a few herbs to add some zing to those bag lunches or microwaveable soups.

Before you buy any plants for the office, do a survey of your coworkers to discover their preferences—some might have allergies, so this too must be taken into consideration. It’s also a good idea to know who will be responsible for the plants; indoor plants need consistent, regular care. Watering, fertilizing, checking for insects—none of these tasks can be ignored while the primary caregiver is on a two-week vacation, so it might be necessary to select only low-maintenance plants.

Whether you choose a simple cactus or an indoor palm, a single pot or a dozen, plants bring a touch of nature to the office that makes work a lot less stressful.

Office Plant Varieties

There are a staggering number of plants suitable for office use. Here’s a breakdown of some of the popular varieties.

Plants for low maintenance • For offices on the go, there are several choices • cacti, Sansevieria (Snake Plant, Mother-in-Law’s tongue), spider plants, Bromeliads, Aspidstra (Cast Iron Plant, Barroom Plant), and succulents (aloe, jade plant, burro’s tail) are but a few. Plants in terrarriums require very little maintenance after the initial setup; terrarriums may be the best choice of all for some hectic offices.

Plants for fragrance • Jasmine, Gardenia, and Stephanotis all have lovely fragrances, but they require careful attention; if you must have fragrance in the office, be prepared to spend some extra time looking after them.
Plants for colour • Poinsettias, Crotons, and Pot mums all add bright splashes of colour to the office.
Plants for low light levels • For spaces that receive no direct sunlight or are more than 3 metres away from windows or skylights, there are a number of tropical plants that can adapt to this kind of environment. Asparagus fern, Aspidistra, Chinese evergreen, Kentia Palm, Neanthe Bella Palm, Peace Lily, and Sansevieria are all good choices.
Non-tropicals • Herbs are great for flavouring, and they also make attractive greenery. Make sure they’re placed in an area with plenty of light.
Holiday plants • Easter lilies and poinsettias are lovely additions to the office, and can be enjoyed for longer than just the duration of the holidays. Easter lilies only last three or four weeks, but properly maintained poinsettias bought in December are known to provide colourful leaves until May.
Plants for desktops • African Violets are perfect for desktops—they’re small, easy to care for, and grow well under artificial light.

Raised Bed Gardening

Raised Bed Gardening

By Lois Hole

If there’s one thing about gardening that I don’t like, it’s the sore knees and back I sometimes get after stooping over my plants for a while. Fortunately, there’s a technique that can take some of the pain out of gardening—and it’s an especially great way to make the joy of gardening more accessible to seniors and the handicapped. It’s called raised-bed gardening, and the idea is simple: plants are grown in beds that are lifted to a height that makes it possible to garden from a seated or standing position.

It’s easy to create a raised bed. First, figure out a comfortable height for the bed. If the gardener uses a wheelchair, the bed should be approximately 76 cm high for ease of access. This is also a good height for gardeners who find it easier to work while seated. If you think you’d like to work standing up, about 90 cm would be a good height. The other dimensions are up to you; width and depth are dependent upon how much space you have in your yard, garden, or greenhouse. Just make sure that you don’t make your beds too wide to reach the middle without straining.

Alternatively, you could combine raised-bed gardening with square-foot gardening. Square-foot gardening is an orderly way of growing plants in a small space. The garden is divided into blocks, 4 feet on a side. Within each block are 16 one foot square areas; a different plant is planted in each square. One square, for example, might contain one tomato plant, while another might be home to 8 carrots.

Once you have decided on the dimensions of your raised bed, you need to select materials. Old tires, wooden blocks, bricks—all would make good walls for a raised bed. Arrange the building blocks in the pattern you’ve decided on (a simple square is the most common, and it’s the obvious choice for square-foot gardening) and fill up the empty space with a light peat moss/soil mixture. It’s important to use potting soil rather than regular garden soil for raised beds; potting soil has better drainage, won’t get packed, and warms up faster than garden soil. It also contains fewer weeds and soil-borne diseases.

The difference between caring for plants in an ordinary garden and caring for those in a raised bed is slight. Water regularly, early in the day; fertilize according to the needs of specific varieties (this is especially important when you use potting soil); and weed when they become a problem. Indeed, one of the nice things about raised beds is that since they are containerized, weeds are less of a problem than they are in traditional gardens. Those that do appear are easily taken care of with that indispensible tool, the garden fork. Raised-beds are just one way of showing that gardening is open to everybody.

Training Trees to Fantastical Forms

Training Trees for Fantastical Forms


There’s something magical about a tree that’s been carefully trained into the form of a graceful beast or an intriguing abstract shape. A trained tree or two in the yard attracts attention like no other feature. Creating formed trees involves pruning, shearing, grafting, wiring, training, staking, or combination of these. Some forms, such as those involving grafting, need to be started  while plants are young, while others—pompons, for example—may be undertaken once the plants have reached maturity. Trained forms require constant maintenance to maintain their shape. Imagination and perseverance are the only limits to the kinds of forms that can be created, though most fall into one of the following groups:


Also called “sculptured” by some artists, topiary forms include anything you can imagine. One interesting topiary scene features a dancer and an admirer who watches her while quaffing a glass of beer. Naturally, there are simpler topiaries, too—baskets, spheres, cubes, pyramids…topiaries can be as simple or complex as the creator desires. They can often be spotted on large estates and in city parks. Yews, spruce, and broadleaf evergreens like laurels and boxwoods are particularly suited to this art form.


Many people associate bonsai with small shrubs, but larger plants can also be trained in the traditional Japanese manner. However, cabling or staking may be required to train parts of the tree to various heights. Any tools and equipment used to create traditional bonsai may be used to create the larger forms—the scale and plant variety is all that changes.


Espaliers are typically two-dimensional forms, with branches trained to grow horizontally, nearly flat along a fence or wall. Pyramids and diamonds are common “pictures” drawn with espaliers, though the possibilities extend far beyond such simple shapes. The cordon, a variation of the espalier, is a form often used for fruit trees. In cordons, the branches are often trained to follow a vertical or oblique pattern.

Oriental Pompon

Oriental Pompons usually appear as upright, multi-branched forms, each branch topped with a sphere of foliage. A variation is “Hindu Pan,” which usually (but not exclusively) uses pines and is larger than the typical oriental pompon, which uses most evergreens and broadleaf evergreens.


Spirals are relatively simple forms—a tree is trained to grow in the form of a corkscrew. Spiral forms are excellent for framing an entrance to a garden or driveway. Junipers and cedars are the most common trees used for spirals.


Trees trained into a serpentine form have an upright, snake-like main stem; smaller branches hang or weep down from this main stem. Birch and larch trees are the most commonly used trees for serpentines.


In dautsugi, two or more different cultivars of a plant are grafted onto a single rootstock. For example, a globe spruce may be mated to a weeping Norway for a striking combination of upright and weeping branches.


Standards describe any trees that have been grafted onto a compatible understock. The height of the graft varies according to the desired effect. Top growth is usually spherical, and there are no branches along the trunk. The resulting form resembles a popsicle.

The Cold Equation - Why Plants Die Over the Winter

The Cold Equation – Why Plants Die Over the Winter

By Jim Hole

By the time spring arrives, our gardens have endured a very long and arduous season. Months of sub-zero temperatures can take their toll on even the most stoic gardeners, but at least people spend most of their time on the warm side of the living-room window. Garden plants have little choice but to endure what winter throws their way. They must persevere or die.

Cooling Passions

What is it that allows a tulip bulb to survive extreme cold while a croton is damaged when temperatures drop to just a few degrees above freezing? The secret lies in water management. Plants have a love/hate relationship with water. During the growing season, plants are very enamoured with water, absorbing vast quantities of it to maintain vigour and encourage new growth. But during the winter, the love affair cools. Plants naturally retain some water within their cells. However, the water trapped in these cells is a recipe for disaster—when temperatures drop, it freezes and forms ice crystals. The expanding crystals burst cell walls, allowing the vital contents of the cell to leak out. The cell dies, and when this happens to enough cells, the plant perishes.

Coping Mechanisms

Plants that are native to areas with cold winters have several coping strategies to avoid the ice crystal problem:

  • One simple and obvious adaptation is the movement of the water out of the cells. Some plants transfer the moisture into the space between the cells rather than letting it lie within the cells and the cells do not burst.

  • Certain plants adapt by increasing the sugar or salt content within their cells. Water with higher levels of sugars or salts won’t freeze as readily as clear water —the higher the salt and sugar content, the greater the resistance to freezing. Ironically, plants may also suffer winter injury if their cells do not have enough water. Instead of freezing and bursting, these cells shrivel up and die from dehydration.

Running Hot and Cold

The water content issue isn’t the only factor involved in determining whether or not plants survive the winter. Sometimes, they are simply caught off guard. If temperatures drop rapidly following a warm spell, the plants do not have enough time to prepare for freezing temperatures.

Often, it is not low temperatures that kill plants, but rapid temperature fluctuations. It is much easier for a plant to adjust to gradual rather than brisk temperature changes and the ideal situation is for temperatures to cool slowly in the fall, remain moderately cold all winter, and then gradually warm in the spring. Of course, Mother Nature is rarely this benevolent. We’re all familiar with wildly fluctuating temperatures throughout fall and winter, and these conditions really test a plant’s hardiness.

Combating Winter’s Bite

There are ways to alleviate the winter weather woes:


  • Take steps to protect your more vulnerable garden inhabitants. Mulches of peat moss and compost can stabilize root zone temperatures of perennials, while wind and sunscreen fabrics can be staked up to protect sensitive fruit trees.

  • Finally, give your plants a good soaking a couple of weeks prior to freeze-up. This will ensure that plants strike the right balance between too much and too little moisture. Ultimately, plant survival over the winter is part skill and part luck. Don’t be immobilized by the fear of losing a plant. Take a chance and plant a few of the more tender perennials and trees. A great deal of satisfaction in the garden comes when a gamble turns into a success.

Foliage Shrubs

Foliage Shrubs

By Christina McDonald

Most novice gardeners tend to fill their urban plots with an array of beautiful blooming but short-lived plants. Gardeners who have been playing the game a little longer often take a closer look at what's available in nurseries and gravitate towards plants with long lives and unusual foliage.

Some claim that foliage is uninteresting. Not at all! A great foliage shrub will add inspiration to your garden for a long stretch of the season, as well as texture and large blocks of colour— important elements in good landscape design. Foliage shrubs can even serve as a background that makes those beloved blooming plants stand out even more.

Diabola Ninebark

'Diabola' ninebark is a relatively new foliage shrub from Europe. Its dark stems support deep purple/burgundy leaves with fuchsia-pink buds opening to soft pink blooms in spring. This shrub is outstanding on its own and also pairs up nicely with gold-toned foliage shrubs such as the lacy-leafed 'Golden Plume' elder for a long-lived show of colour and texture. Or try combining 'Diabola' with the soft pink 'Morden Blush' rose—the dark leaves of the ninebark make the roses jump right out at you.

Cutleaf Stephanandra

Another underused new introduction, Cutleaf Stephanandra has finely textured foliage on long, arching stems that tend to root wherever they touch the soil. This shrub is gorgeous when it winds around rocks or when plopped in front of an Emerald Mound honeysuckle—or, for that matter, any one of the old favourite variegated dogwoods.

Silver and Gold Dogwood

Another new introduction, 'Silver and Gold' dogwood is quite striking with its variegated foliage and bright yellow twigs –– perfect for adding interest to a winter landscape. If you love the look of variegated dogwoods, consider trying 'Madonna' elder, 'Emerald n' Gold'  euonymus, or 'Carol Mackie' daphne.

Compact Trees - Good Things Come in Small Packages

Compact Trees – Good Things Come in Small Packages

By Shane Neufeld and Christina McDonald

In the nursery, customers often ask us to recommend trees small enough to fit an urban landscape. Many have battled with a tree that has overgrown its site – branches endangering power lines and roots invading flowerbeds. However, there are plenty of compact choices with shorter heights, narrower spreads, and more balanced forms than typical trees.

Know What You Want

Before you choose a compact tree, try to estimate how large you'd like it to be at its full growth. You should also take into account how much sunlight is available, what your soil conditions are, and what function you would like your tree to accomplish—will it provide shade, screen off unpleasant views, fit in with an existing theme? Do you want fall colour, or an evergreen? By knowing these things before you head to the nursery, you stand a much better chance of finding a plant that suits your garden.

The Short List

These are some of our favourite compact trees. Some of the varieties mentioned here are naturally compact, while others are the result of hybridization programs. All are great choices for gardeners looking for big beauty in a small package. Regardless of your space and design constraints, there are many varieties to meet your needs.

Dwarf Deciduous Shade Trees

Fast-growing and particularly disease resistant, 'Assiniboine' and 'Prairie Sky' poplars are great choices for smaller yards. Also check out 'Bailey's Schubert' chokecherry, 'Snowbird' or 'Toba' hawthorn, 'Advance' mayday, or 'Columnar European Mountain' ash.

Compact Ornamental Fruit Trees

Ornamental fruit trees provide an awesome spring showing of blooms, attractive small fruits and frequently great fall colour. 'Mountain Frost' pear and 'Rosy Glo' or 'Siberian Columnar' crabapples are terrific compact ornamental fruits.

Dwarf Fruit Trees

You don't have to have a huge amount of space to enjoy fresh fruit from your tree. Dwarf apple trees have normal sized fruits of exactly the same variety as full-sized trees, but with more manageable yields. Look for dwarf 'Norland,' 'Norkent,' 'Fall Red,' 'Goodland,' and 'September Ruby.' 


Columnar evergreens are always popular, and 'Brandon,' 'Degroots Spire,' and 'Holmstrup' cedars offer very narrow columnar forms in a variety of heights. Junipers such as 'Blue Arrow,' 'Cologreen,' and 'Grey Gleam' or spruces like 'Cupress,' 'Dwarf Serbian' and 'Iseli Columnar Blue' are definitely varieties worth trying.

The pHacts on pH

The pHacts on pH

By Jim Hole

Whenever a discussion about the effects of soil pH on plants comes up, I'm willing to bet that many gardeners are a little mystified by the issue. Almost everyone knows that pH has some kind of impact on plants, but by and large it seems that people are still unclear on the specifics.

Soil pH really isn't that complicated. It's simply a number that represents the degree of acidity or alkalinity (also called basicity) of the soil. pH scores run from 0 (very acidic) to 14 (very alkaline or basic), with 7 being neutral. (Distilled water has a pH of 7). In the real world, soil pH values are never as low as 0 or as high as 14.

My Cup of Tea

To visualize how pH works, I like to use the tea analogy. Have you ever noticed how quickly and easily sugar dissolves in hot tea versus how slowly it dissolves in ice tea? Soil with a high pH is like cold tea; soil with low pH is like hot tea.

Most, but not all, nutrients are affected by pH as follows: at a very high pH, insufficient nutrients are dissolved for the plant roots to absorb, and the plants suffer. In other words, the tea isn't sweet enough. At a very low pH, many nutrients and some toxic metals are too soluble in the soil—so soluble, in fact, that they may be a little bit too available to the plants, resulting in injury. In this case, the tea is too sweet.

Ideally, your cup of tea should be neither too sweet nor too bland—you want a pH that's "just right." For most garden plants, a soil pH between 6.2-6.8 is ideal. (Some plants, of course, do like the extremes: acidic for azaleas, rhododendrons, and blueberries versus basic for gypsophila, Russian olive, etc.).

When soil pH falls a little outside the desired range for your plants, it can be adjusted. Sulphur, sphagnum peat, and aluminum sulphate lower soil pH, whereas limestone will raise it. Often, garden soils are in the correct pH range, but the only way to be certain is to have them tested. Soil pH test kits can be found at most garden centres, though they vary in quality. I've found the cheap $10 pH meters to be essentially useless. Reasonably good-quality pH meters start at around $50. A mid-range alternative is one of the kits that involve pouring powders into test tubes and using colour as an indicator of pH value. These are, generally speaking, quite good. The kits aren't as precise as a quality meter, but they give a reasonably accurate reading. Soil pH isn't really that complex when you take a closer look. A little basic knowledge will help
you pass the acid test.


pH is an abbreviation derived from the French phrase "pouvoir hydrogène", or the power of hydrogen. It refers to the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution. pH values are on a negative logarithmic scale. What that means is that the difference between pH 5 and pH 6 is larger than it first appears; 5 is 100 times more acidic than 6; and, going further, 4, is 1000 times more acidic than 6. So if your plants happen to require a soil pH of 6, 5 definitely isn't close enough.

Soil pH has a tremendous effect on soil microorganisms. Some soil microorganisms work hard to convert compost , manure, and other organic matter into usable nutrients for your plants. Such organisms can't survive in extremely acidic soil, leaving your plants with few nutrients to absorb.

Matchmaking with Perennial Vines

Matchmaking with Perennial Vines

By Jill Fallis

One of the easiest, fastest and inexpensive ways to transform your yard from simple to spectacular is by growing vines. Perennial vines are wonderful. With an array of varieties to choose from, they are both functional and beautiful. From the practical end, vines provide shade, privacy or camouflage. Aesthetically, they add the element of height as well as seasonal colour, interest and sometimes fragrance. It’s fine to grow one vine, all on its own, but when you mix and match your vines, allowing one to weave itself within the tendrils of another, you create a glorious garden tapestry.

The house where I now live has a splendid garden; against the unpainted wooden fence,
weathered to a soft grey, grows a patchwork quilt of vines. In the early fall, when the Virginia creeper blazes crimson, an adjacent clematis throws out a late magenta flower or two, the yellow stamens a brilliant statement against the fiery backdrop.

Making the Match

Use your imagination. Think of colours, blooming periods and flower size. Do you want to blend or contrast? Think, for example, about whether you would prefer the purple of clematis blended with the mauve of perennial sweet peas, or contrasted against the red of roses. Do you want flowers to follow in succession, so that your vines appear to be in unending bloom from spring through summer? Or do you want a great mix of flowers all at once?

Consider choosing flowers entirely of the same or different sizes. While the effects are altogether different, both displays can be stunning. Two clematises climb up my neighbour’s fence, spilling twin blooms in white and purple over the fence top. In another garden, multiple vines mask the fence in a glorious tangle of big purple clematis flowers floating on the creamy cloud created by the small lacy blooms of silver fleece vine.

Practical Considerations

For best results when mixing vines, choose varieties that are compatible in their growing requirements for sun or shade as well as their growth habits and vigour. As a general rule, don’t mix the self-clinging types, such as climbing hydrangea and English or Boston ivy. They attach themselves to whatever they’re growing against with aerial roots or little adhesive pads, and they’re too aggressive to grow with other vines. Hops and perennial morning glories are also off the list for the same reason.

Annual Alternatives

Use annual vines to enhance your display. A new perennial vine may take a few years to reach its peak performance, so in the interim, enhance the floral show with faster-growing annuals.

Again, choose an annual vine that is not too vigorous, so it won’t overtake the perennial vine. Morning glories, for example, may grow too eagerly and shade the perennial vine with thick foliage. However, canary bird vine or annual sweet peas will clamber alongside happily, still allowing the perennial vine sufficient sunlight, moisture, nutrients and space to grow.

Where to Plant Vines

Grow vines on a lattice, arbour or fence. Attach them to a trellis: either freestanding or affixed to a sturdy fence, the side of the house, or even a cement wall. Use vines to enhance your view. You can screen or camouflage an unsightly object with a vine. A flowering vine transforms a plain garden shed or garage into a thing of beauty.

Another option is to focus on the vine itself. One gardener found his next-door neighbours were a little too close for comfort. His bathroom window faced directly into one of their windows. Rather than using privacy blinds, he trained evergreen and montana clematis to grow horizontally along the side of his house and over the bathroom window. The result was a living, leafy lace curtain that allowed sunlight to dapple the room, and as a bonus, perfumed the air in spring with fragrant flowers.

Perennial Vines for Matchmaking


With many species and varieties to choose from, you can have clematis blooming from spring through fall. Clematis mixes wonderfully, as long as you segregate the hybrids from the species types. The latter will overwhelm the slower-growing hybrids. Grow two or more hybrids together, or mix a couple of species clematis with different blooming periods. In warmer zones, grow Clematis montana with the earlier-blooming evergreen clematis (C. armandii), or in cooler zones, mix C. macropetala with the later-blooming golden clematis (C. tangutica). Consider combining clematis with other vines. Again, however, make sure that whatever partner you choose is equally aggressive.


Lonicera spp. Scarlet trumpet blooms from spring through fall and is the hardiest type of honeysuckle. Treat yourself to a show by mixing it with hummingbird vine (Campsis radicans)— the red trumpet flowers of both vines not only look gorgeous, they also attract hummingbirds.

Perennial sweet pea.

Like the annual sweet peas, these flowers can be cut for bouquets. The perennial type blooms in mauve, pink or white; unfortunately, it lacks fragrance. Grow this carefree vine in a sunny location, mixed with any of the vines listed here.

Silver fleece vine.

Polygonum aubertii, also known as silver lace vine, is a fast-growing vine with glossy, heart-shaped leaves and frothy masses of flowers in late summer. In cooler climates, an early frost may prohibit blooming; try planting in a sheltered location. Mix with vitacella clematis and perennial sweet pea.

Virginia creeper

A favourite vine for its brilliant fall foliage, Virginia creeper produces thick masses of five-fingered leaves. Grow it with alpine clematis, which blooms in spring and again in late summer. The clematis flowers into fall and holds its foliage after the creepers have shed.


The most reliable climbing roses for gardens across Canada are the Explorer series, which bloom profusely in red or pink. Gardeners in warmer parts of the country have more choices. Unlike vines, roses aren’t natural climbers and will need to be tied to a trellis or lattice.

Roses with clematis are a marvellous mix. I first discovered this in the garden of a house where I lived years ago. Against the lattice that hid the deck supports, purple-flowered clematis and a red climbing rose were intertwined in a breathtaking display. And ever afterward, when I see a huge clematis in bloom, I think to myself, “That vine needs a rose.”

The Scoop on Soil

The Scoop on Soil

A Beginner's Guide to Soil

Good soil is the foundation of a great garden. Without the right soil, whether in the garden or in containers, plants will wither. Sometimes the right soil is untouched clay loam; sometimes it's not soil at all, but a soilless mix. Tilling soil, adding organic matter, testing and adjusting the pH level—all of these actions give your plants the solid and nurturing earth they need to prosper.

A Simple Test

Reach down and gather up a handful of soil. Then, give it a squeeze. Does the soil hold together, or fall apart? If it does hold together, is it soft and springy or does it feel like a lump of clay?

What colour is it?If you have a nice, dark clump of earth that crumbles easily between your fingers, you're well on your way. Otherwise, your first step should be to improve your soil quality. Loam is the ultimate goal: a perfectly balanced blend of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter.

Soil's Job

Good soil must perform a number of functions. First, it should contain all the nutrients your
plants require. And good soil helps, rather than hinders, root absorption of plant nutrients. It
anchors plant roots firmly, but is loose and porous enough to allow them to grow and branch out.
Good soil retains moisture, but at the same time has adequate drainage to prevent waterlogged roots. Finally, good soil is neither too acidic nor too alkaline. All this is also true of soil in containers.

Amending the Soil

If you're not blessed with perfect soil from the start—and few of us are—you will need to amend the soil. That means adding plenty of organic matter: peat moss, well-rotted manure, or compost. Organic matter can be added to the soil anytime that the soil is warm enough to work, though the most convenient times tend to be in the early spring, before you've planted your gardens, or in the fall, after the growing season is over.

Amending the soil can take a lot of organic matter; generally, you need enough to cover your
beds to a thickness of 5-8 cm, or more if your soil is particularly dense (too much clay). Till in
the organic matter with a rake or rototiller, and you're on your way to a healthier garden!
Note that amending your soil isn't a one-time affair; since your garden uses the soil year after
year, it's only natural that the soil's quality will erode over time. Adding soil amendments once a year is an excellent way to keep your soil fertile.

Sea Soil.jpg

National Composting Conference


By Jim Hole

In September 2000, Edmonton hosted the 10th annual National Composting Conference. The focal point of the conference was the Jekyll and Hyde nature of compost. So, how do we turn liabilities like dead plant matter, lumber mill waste, and manure into a manageable resource?

Climbing the C:N Tower

Delegates at the conference noted that any material to be broken down must be organic; in other words, it must contain the element carbon. Fortunately, all terrestrial life is made with carbon building blocks, so this is never a limiting factor. What can limit your compostable materials, though, is nitrogen, the same nutrient found in many fertilizers. The carbon:nitrogen, or C:N, ratio was frequently discussed at the conference. Unless the C:N ratio is within the correct range, the breakdown of organic matter comes to a virtual standstill. Ideally, the waste that you are breaking down should have a C:N ratio of 30:1.

Sawdust—a waste product many have tried to compost with frustrating results—has a C:N ratio of 400:1. Sawdust's very low nitrogen count explains why it takes so painfully long to decompose. Grass clippings, on the other hand, have tons of nitrogen, and if added to a pile of sawdust they can help to strike the right balance between carbon and nitrogen.

Moisture Balance

Finding the correct moisture balance is the second big issue in composting. In one presentation, researchers from the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Centre in Lethbridge explained the difficulty they faced with composting feed lot manure. Initially, the moisture level in manure is excessive, but after a few short weeks of hot, dry winds, the composting manure becomes too dry for proper decomposition. Whether the compost is too wet or too dry, the breakdown process slows down to a crawl. In back yards, the scale is smaller but the problem can often be the same. Ideally, compost should feel like a moist sponge that's just been wrung out. If your compost is too dry, simply water it. If too wet, turn it with a pitchfork to expose as much of the material as possible to the air.


Finally, remember that compost should never be allowed to get too heavy or dense; this, too, will hinder decomposition. Regular aeration of the compost pile is critical, and easily achieved by turning the pile with a pitchfork once a week.

The Black Thumb's Guide to Containerized Vegetables

The Black Thumb’s Guide to Containerized Vegetables

By Earl J. Woods

Using Your Imagination

Some culinary containers can get pretty wild—you’re not limited to potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and the other standard vegetable crops. While working on Herbs and Edible Flowers in 1999, we mixed edible nasturtiums, fuchsias, parsley, calendula and pansies in one huge hanging basket. It looked and smelled great, and provided plenty of flowers for garnishes and salads. 

I confess. Even though I’ve been working at Hole’s for almost four years, I’m still not a successful gardener. In fact, if I were a comic book super villain, I’d have to use the name “The Black Thumb,” malicious murderer of all things green and growing.

But as a thirty-something bachelor who usually alternates between pizza, cold cereal and microwave dishes, I do appreciate the fresh vegetables that Mom and Dad bring from their bountiful garden. A steady diet of fast food will numb your taste buds as quickly as it expands your waistline, and biting into one of Mom and Dad’s tomatoes is an all too rare treat.

So I’ve made a resolution—I’m going to start growing my own vegetables in balcony containers. One of the advantages of working at Hole’s is that I have a good head start on how to proceed.

Rule One: ­­­Big Pots

Lois Hole drilled into my head a very important rule of container gardening: always, always, always use large pots. The bigger the container, the more space there is for water, soil and roots. That’s not to say that you can’t grow a perfectly good pepper plant or two in a 25- cm pot, but for really impressive yields, go for the large pots.

Rule Two: Good Soil

Always use the best quality potting soil, never garden soil. Quality potting soils are free of weeds, pests and the most serious diseases. They are light and easy to use. Garden soils are much too heavy, and get compacted easily (besides, living in an apartment, I would have to steal garden soil from someone’s yard in the dead of night. It’s far less of a hassle to buy a bag of the good stuff).

Rule Three: Grow What You’ll Use

Any singles attempting to change their lifestyles must know their limitations. I love potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, so it makes perfect sense to pick up tubers and seeds for these. On the other hand, the only use I’d ever have for eggplant (gag) would be to toss it off my balcony at innocent bystanders below.

Start small. There’s no sense in growing far more than you can use. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with growing extra produce to donate to charities or local food banks and Grow A Row charities.

Rule Four: Quality Seed

Make a point of tracking down the best varieties. Quality seed is more expensive, but well worth it in the end. Germination is much better and the plants will be more vigorous.

Rule Five: Water Daily and Fertilize 

Vegetables in containers are like pets: they depend on you to provide for their every need. This means you need to tend to your plants with far more frequency than, say, you vacuum the carpets. Give each container a good daily soaking of water and add some 20-20-20 fertilizer to the watering can once a week. This will keep your plants healthy and increase the bounty you harvest. If the weather is hot, sunny and windy, you should probably soak the containers heavily in the morning and again in the evening.

From Black Thumb to Green?

Growing vegetables in containers is really quite simple. In fact, I’m almost convinced they’re bachelor-proof. Maybe it’s time for “The Black Thumb”— to turn green—after all, even super villains have been known to turn over a new leaf.

Container Roses Light Up Your Patio or Balcony

Container Roses Light Up Your Patio or Balcony

By Christina McDonald

There are many reasons to have roses in containers rather than in a traditional garden or order. Perhaps you have limited space, making the deck or balcony your only option. Or you may want to have a rose close at hand, to easily enjoy its beauty, scent and burst of colour.

Regardless of the reason, a container rose is an easy-to grow delight.Choose your rose and the container carefully. A 24-cm pot will easily accommodate a small miniature rose, whereas a large, robust Hybrid Tea will need a container at least 37 cm in diameter. Consider the shape, colour and material of the pot and whether it will compliment the form of the rose and its bloom colour. Traditional urns of roses are stunning, but so are hanging baskets; don’t be afraid
to try something new. Keep in mind that roses growing in plastic or glazed pottery vessels will require less water than clay or fibre.

Whichever pot you choose, fill it with good quality potting soil; regular garden soil will harden in the pot, and may carry soil-borne diseases. Potting soil won’t compact, allowing for better drainage; plus, it breathes and holds fertilizer well.

Select roses that are well suited to container growing. Roses with strong, upright growth that supports blooms above the foliage are ideal, as they hold up well to the elements and you can see each bloom. Cascading forms look striking with their blooms tumbling over the sides of a pot and compact forms can provide a very formal mounded look to a patio setting. The fun part is choosing a rose based on your own preference for flower form, fragrance, foliage and, of course, colour.

Roses prefer full sun, so place your pots accordingly (try moving your pots around the deck to follow the sun—that’s what I do as the season progresses). Make sure to keep your roses well
watered and once a week it helps to add a pinch of 20-20-20 fertilizer to the watering can. Remember to remove spent blooms regularly. While container roses are far more prone to drying out than those in the garden, take heart—they are much easier to weed. That feature alone may inspire you to try your hand at growing a glorious pot of roses!

You’re sure to find a suitable rose in every class—some are even purposely bred for this use. Here are a few of our tried and true favourites and some newer varieties to consider.
Abbaye De Cluny
Abraham Darby
Baby Love
Barbra Streisand
Bronze Star
Cyril Fletcher
Dream series
Flower Carpet series
Marmalade Skies
Palace series
Ruffles series
Sheila’s Perfume
Singin’ in the Rain
Weeping China Doll

Perennial Planters—The Bachelor’s Best Friend

Perennial Planters—The Bachelor’s Best Friend

By Earl J. Woods

As I approach my mid-30s, it occurs to me that one of these days I’m going to have to make the terrifying leap into the world of home ownership. But what if I should buy a new house, one without any landscaping? I’ll need a quick and easy way to add some colour and life to the yard.

Fortunately, Hole’s perennial expert Jan Goodall has come to my rescue with some expert advice on simple landscaping solutions. Her suggestion? Perennial planters. When you think of planters, it’s usually bedding plants or vegetables that come to mind. But Jan showed me that with a little imagination and planning, I could create colourful and creative perennial pots.

A Landscaping Solution

My lesson began with a short lecture from Jan. “Perennial planters are ideal when used as an interim landscaping solution,” she said. “Often, people move into newly constructed homes without any landscaping—no lawn, no plants of any kind, and it just looks terrible. Who wants to wait for seeded grass and small trees to reach their mature sizes? Perennial pots can instantly add some colour to that dusty brown emptiness during the summer.”

When you have completed the landscaping around your new home, you can remove the perennials from their pots and install them in traditional perennial beds. The empty pots can then be used for late-season annuals or indoor plants.

Starting Out

When creating perennial planters, you need a few essential ingredients

  • A sturdy, aesthetically pleasing pot

  • High quality potting soil

  • Several perennials of mature, blooming size

Care and Nurture

Perennial planters require little maintenance. Consistent watering is vital—irrigate only when the top 3 cm or so of soil has dried out. For fertilizer, add 20-20-20 once every two weeks or once a month until the first week of August.


In colder zones, perennials will not overwinter in pots outdoors. Wait for the first hard
frost of the fall then cut the foliage to about 5-8 cm tall. Leave the pots outside until the
weather remains consistently cool, but before the soil freezes solid. Then, you have a
choice—you can remove the plants from their pots and plant them in the garden or bring
the pots indoors. A heated garage is ideal, but any indoor location with a temperature
that hovers close to the zero degree mark and receives some light (as from a window)
will do.

“Overall, though, I’d recommend taking the plants out of the pots and planting them in your garden,” Jan notes. “They’ll always have a better chance of overwintering successfully in the ground than they ever will in a pot. Also, if you plan to overwinter perennials in their pots, then you must make sure that the pots you choose are large enough to contain the mature roots.”

Jan had one other caution for me—if you love the look of your perennial planters so much that you move them from your garden back into the pots each year, you should choose varieties that don’t mind having their roots disturbed on a regular basis. Hostas, variegated sage (Artemesia ‘Oriental Limelight’), daylilies, bluebells (Campanula), stonecrop (Sedum), Hens & Chicks (Sempervivum) and ornamental grasses such as moot grass (Molinia), lime grass (Elymus) or blue oat grass (Helletotrichon) are good choices. But astilbe or bugbane (Cimicifuga) will probably deteriorate if you move them around too much.

The Black Thumb’s Dilemma

Jan makes a convincing case for perennial planters. In fact, she was so enthusiastic that I may actually discard my arrested adolescence and start looking for a real home, rather than a teeny apartment crammed full of comic books and DVDs of old science fiction movies. And if the Black Thumb can enjoy and appreciate perennial planters, it’s a cinch that you will, too.

Uses for Perennial Planters

Condo or apartment balconies
Housewarming, wedding and graduation gifts
Temporary landscaping

Training Shrubs to Single-Stem Tree Form

Training Shrubs to Single-Stem Tree Form

Looking to add a distinctive feature to your yard? Try training shrubs into a long, branchless central stem topped with a full head of foliage. With quality plants, the right technique and patience, you can transform your favourite shrubs into dynamic tree silhouettes. Here’s how.

  • Start with a high-quality shrub in a one or two gallon pot and plant as you would any shrub.

  • Examine the shrub and select the largest, healthiest stem. This will become the ‘trunk’ of your tree-form shrub. Prune off most of the other stems, leaving some extra branches untouched for the moment. The extra foliage of these branches will give the plant the energy it needs to grow.

  • Maintain the tree form by pruning off new side shoots so that all of the plant’s energy goes into the remaining stem.

  • Stake and rod the stem to keep it upright. The rod and stakes should remain in place until the selected stem is able to support the weight of the plant.

  • Once the shrub reaches the desired height (1.2 m of clear stem is a good guideline), clip the top to force buds out, and remove any buds on the stem. This is also the time to remove those extra branches you left on the stem for plant growth. Treat like a normal shrub to produce a nice round head.

  • The shrub will continue to produce shoots in unwanted areas. Remove these shoots to maintain the tree form.

Make sure your expectations are realistic—training will not transform a 2-m tall shrub
into a 4-m tall tree, though your shrub may grow a little taller than usual because the
plant’s energy has been redirected to a single, central stem.

You can train almost any shrub, but here are a few suggestions to get you started.

Amur maple
Russian olive
Evans cherry
Hardy roses

Multi-Stemmed Tree Forms

Many large shrubs can be trained to multi-stemmed tree forms of three, five or seven
stems. Russian olive and amur maple look beautiful when trained to these forms.

Buying Tree-Form Shrubs

If you like the look but don’t feel like doing the work, you can buy mature shrubs in tree
form. Some of these shrubs are trained to tree form (dogwood, potentilla, ninebark, hydrangea), while others are created by grafting a shrub such as lilac or caragana to a
compatible rootstock. Note, however, that grafted tree-form shrubs are generally easier
to maintain than trained tree-form shrubs, as the rootstocks are chosen both for height
and their tendency to avoid creating side shoots. Grafted tree form shrubs come in a
variety of heights. In some cases, the central stem may be a metre tall, in others only
half that. It all depends on what the grower has chosen.

A Tale of Two Pesticides

A Tale of Two Pesticides

August is the prime season for picking up some terrific, locally grown fruits and vegetables. But for many shoppers, there is always that one issue that creates a bit of anxiety: “Should I purchase organic or non-organic produce?”

Any debate about organic gardening is bound to generate a lot of heat, but not much light. Now, organic gardening is more than just a debate about pesticides. It encompasses issues such as composting, recycling and the role of megacorporations. But pesticides are always at the forefront. Perhaps a tale of two pesticides will help clarify where organic and non-organic gardening methods share common ground, and where they do not.

A Choice of Philosophies

There are many conscientious market gardeners, both organic and conventional, who are dedicated to providing safe produce while remaining good stewards of the land. Yet some claim that you can’t be a responsible grower if you use pesticides, and that any pesticide-treated crop presents an unacceptable health risk. The reasoning I hear cited most often to assert the superiority of organic produce is that it’s free of pesticides. But this is not necessarily true—it’s just that the choice of pesticides is different for organic gardeners versus non-organic gardeners.

Rotenone vs. Permethrin

Rotenone is one of the stalwarts of organic gardening. It’s a chemical derived from a variety of plants from the pea family. Rotenone is extracted from the seeds, leaves and roots of these plants, and it controls a wide range of insects.

Permethrin, on the other hand, is a non-organic pesticide, commonly sold under the trade name Ambush. It’s categorized as a synthetic pyrethroid, which means that it’s a chemical similar in structure and effect to pyrethrum, a naturally occurring insecticide found in chrysanthemums. Like Rotenone, Permethrin controls a wide range of insect species.

So what’s the difference between the two when it comes to their effect on the environment?

Both are very safe products, when used properly. But surprisingly, organic Rotenone is more acutely toxic to people than non-organic Permethrin. In fact, if you ate pure Rotenone or pure Permethrin (definitely not recommended!) you would need to eat about four times as much Permethrin as Rotenone to have the same dire effect on your body.

But at the low rates that these two products are applied to edible plants, neither poses any acute toxicity risk, if they are used properly and if the recommended pre-harvest interval (the days between spraying and consumption) is observed. Toxicological data also shows that neither chemical appears to be carcinogenic, even if large amounts of fruits and vegetables treated with these products were consumed every day.

The Lowdown on Breakdown

When it comes to the fate of these two chemicals in the environment, there again appears to be a lot of similarity. Both Rotenone and Permethrin break down in soil rapidly, thanks to the work of microorganisms—Rotenone will break up completely in a few days, while Permethrin might take a few weeks. However, neither chemical moves much in soil, staying in the top few centimetres before they break down, so there’s very low potential for groundwater pollution.
The sun’s ultraviolet light breaks down these chemicals very quickly, which explains why insects can consume the chemically-treated leaves only a day or two after spraying without any ill effects.

Effects on Fauna

Rotenone is very slightly toxic to birds, while Permethrin is practically non-toxic. However, each of these products is toxic to fish, Rotenone particularly so. In fact, Rotenone is often used as a “piscicide” to kill unwanted fish in lakes. On the other hand, Permethrin, although not nearly as toxic to fish as Rotenone, is extremely toxic to bees, while Rotenone is far less so. Of course, you can avoid killing bees by not spraying when they’re pollinating your flowers.

Rational Choices

Choosing the right pesticide isn’t a trivial matter—it’s important to use the correct pesticides only when necessary and only after the pest has been correctly identified. And nobody knows that fact better than the people who provide fresh produce for a living, whether they use organic or conventional means.

Peony Paradise

Peony Paradise

Perennial gardeners have enjoyed a long love affair with peonies. They’re extremely long-lived, lasting two decades or more, they’re tough as nails, standing up to the worst northern winters, they require little fertilizer, and they’re among the showiest perennials around. It’s no wonder that peonies have such a devoted following.

Several different peonies are hitting the market that will attract devoted collectors as well as casual fans of this perennial favourite.

Cactus Flowered Peonies

These unique peonies put on a stunning display, with blooms very similar in shape to the popular cactus flowered dahlias. Many varieties feature twisted, distorted petals that really draw the eye. Smaller in stature than double-flowering peonies, cactus flowered peonies grow to about 80 cm in height. The more compact growth habit and the lightweight, single flowers combine to help these peonies withstand wind damage much better than their larger counterparts.

  • ‘Pink Luau’ features fragrant blooms with spoon-shaped petals of soft pink, with dark raspberry streaks, resembling a single-flowered rose.

  • ‘Pink Firefly’ has rich, light-pink blossoms. The petals have serrated edges that look as if someone made tiny little decorative cutouts with a pair of scissors.

  • ‘Raspberry Rumba’ has a wild, untamed, tousled appearance of peppermint candy, with white petals streaked with pink and raspberry.

Rock Garden Peonies

Rock garden peonies are compact, some varieties less than half the size of other peonies. As the name implies, they look great in rock gardens, but they can also be used in small gardens. The introduction of rock garden peonies is a great new development, the first compact peonies that are actually named varieties rather than species types. Now you can enjoy them in a small garden without sacrificing any of the outstanding vigour and beauty!

  • Fairy Princess’ forms a beautiful, compact, forest-green bush that produces lovely, true-red, cupped blooms on red stems early in the season. The plants are 40-45 cm tall and wide.

  • ‘Thumbellina’ is a fragrant, early-blooming, very floriferous peony, producing many rosy-pink blooms on a plant only 40 cm tall!

Unusual Bulbs Spice Up the Garden

Unusual Bulbs Spice Up the Garden

By Marlene Willis

Gladioli, dahlias, lilies, begonias, elephant ears, cannas and calla lilies are among the most popular spring bulbs. Most gardeners are familiar with these beautiful species and routinely plant them each spring for a beautiful show of summer colour.

But there are many other exotic summer-flowering plants, available in their dormant state as bulbs just waiting for plant enthusiasts to apply their magic touch. With the provision of suitable temperatures and adequate moisture, plants native to countries such as South Africa, India, Mexico and the Mediterranean can burst forth into bloom in the temperate garden.

Creative Container

One of our greenhouse staff, Jenyse Green, used the African lily (Agapanthus) as a feature in this container. Atop the lily’s tall (60-75 cm) stalks were clusters of deep blue, star-shaped flowers. Blue lobelia, vinca ivy and Mexican heather spilled over the edge of the pot, creating an impressive display. Even when the lily finished blooming, the seed head remained interesting and attractive. A similar effect can be achieved by planting Brodiaea instead of Agapanthus, although Brodiaea is somewhat shorter. Agapanthus is native to South Africa and enjoys full sun and well-drained, moist, organic soil.

The Pineapple Lily

The pineapple lily (Eucomis) is another interesting spring bulb, native to South Africa. This is an apt name for this bulb, as a cylindrical stalk of starry blooms is capped with a tuft of green leafy bracts that resemble a pineapple. There are two varieties available: Eucomis bicolor has pale green flowers with lilac edges, while Eucomis comosa has pale pink flowers tinged with green.

The pineapple lily is an excellent replacement for the traditionally used dracaena spike as a focal plant. The flower stalk is attractive, long-lasting and an attention-seeker. This bulb can be grown in the garden or in containers.

Poppy Anemones

If rich, vibrant colours are needed to punch up the landscape, try incorporating some poppy anemones (Anemone coronaria). There are single and double varieties in a wide range of bold colours, most with a contrasting black centre.

These anemones originate around the Mediterranean Sea in southern Europe. They like a warm, sheltered, sunny location and light, sandy soil, and you should hydrate the corms before planting by soaking them in water overnight. Use in borders or containers. The blooms make excellent cutflowers that last about a week.

A Neglected Palette

The selection of underused but gorgeous spring bulbs is vast. Members of Hole’s staff have enjoyed growing many unusual bulbs in their own gardens, including Mexican Shell Flower (Tigridia), Peacock Gladiolus (Acidanthera), Peruvian Daffodil (Hymenocallis), Summer Hyacinth (Galtonia) and Crocosmia, to name just a few. Bring the exotic colours and textures of faraway places home by planting some of these unusual choices this spring!

The Annual Elite

The Annual Elite

All-America Selections is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting excellence in plant breeding. Each year, a panel of volunteer judges selects some of the very best varieties, recognizing them for outstanding garden performance, beauty or, in the case of edible plants, flavour. AAS winners usually have at least two or three significant improvements over previous similar varieties!

‘Blue Wave’ Petunia

The ‘Wave’ series is already well-known for unparalleled vigour, producing dozens of large, vibrant blooms on huge, bushy plants. ‘Blue Wave’ possesses the same admirable qualities as its predecessors, but the blooms are a rich, fade-proof, deep blue. And it flowers all season with no pinching or pruning!

‘Prairie Sun’ Rudbeckia

‘Prairie Sun’ is a show-stopping, 90-cm tall rudbeckia with fantastic 12-cm blooms. The golden petals are tipped in primrose yellow and the eye is a gorgeous light green. It looks great as a focal point in containers!

‘Corona Cherry Magic’ Dianthus

This unique dianthus blooms in cherry red, lavender or a bicolour mosaic of both, resulting in an unpredictable but beautiful array of colour.

‘Purple Majesty’ Ornamental Millet

Ornamental millet is great for adding height and texture to a bed. ‘Purple Majesty’ accomplishes both feats and brings a fantastic dark purple colour to the garden. Plus, the tall flower spikes make ideal cut flowers.

‘Can Can Scarlet’ Carnation

A bouquet of carnations will warm the heart and these beauties have the added attraction of a powerful, spicy fragrance. The blooms are a vibrant scarlet, while the stems are an attractive shade of grey-green. The flower shape and quality are similar to commercial cutflower carnations!

Vegetable Virtue

Vegetable Virtue

‘Sweeter Yet’ Cucumber

The search for the perfect cucumber is one step closer to completion with the introduction of ‘Sweeter Yet.’ This new variety garden cucumber has all the great characteristics of the Long English types, which are normally confined to greenhouses. ‘Sweeter Yet’ is very sweet and juicy with no bitter aftertaste, plus it’s burpless and thin- skinned, so you don’t have to peel it. It’s an excellent performer, with good disease resistance and it’s suited to trellising and can, therefore, be grown in a container.


Cucumbers are heat-loving vegetables—grow them in the hottest spot in your yard.

‘Rapid Star’ Kohlrabi

Everyone was surprised when Jim harvested this massive ‘Rapid Star’ kohlrabi last summer. He took it to the Hole’s lunchroom and served it up like watermelon, slicing generous portions for over a dozen people.

‘Rapid Star’ has a very sweet, juicy taste, with tender green flesh. Of course, one shouldn’t overindulge—Hole’s graphic designer Greg Brown did so and paid the price. “I was burping all afternoon, and all I could taste was kohlrabi!”


  • Seed kohlrabi outdoors from early spring to midsummer. Don’t be afraid to plant early; the seedlings can survive a late frost.

  • Kohlrabi is easy to grow and has a very unusual appearance, making it a great candidate for children’s gardens.

  • Kohlrabi is delicious when eaten raw with a vegetable dip or cooked in a stir-fry.