Thursday, February 19, 2015

Wild Gardening


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A few years back, visiting the Agawa Canyon in northern Ontario, I saw some very attractive flower beds where garden flowers and native plants were growing together beautifully. It was a particularly good example of what Gertrude Jekyll calls "wild gardening," and I wanted to do something similar.


Wild and cultivated plants at the Agawa Canyon




I was also inspired by another example of "wild gardening" at the Métis garden in eastern Québec. It is made up, if I remember well, of native plants and a smattering of tough garden plants. Most prominent at the time the picture below was taken, was the native fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), its pink colour being echoed in the clouds above.

 Epilobium angustifolium
Wild Gardening at the Métis garden

In the last two years, I have attempted to create such a bed. I set aside an area where I put in some cultivated plants and let all the wild ones (weeds) grow. So far, it has not been much of a success. I now realize that the soil should not have been turned over before putting in the clumps of garden plants, because in so doing lots of buried weed seeds were brought up, and they all germinated. Things like sweet clover (Melilotus albus) and Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota) quickly took over. As many of them as possible were removed last autumn.  We will see if things improve this summer.


A Few Rudbeckias lost in a sea of Queen Anne's Lace

I should have paid more attention to the second part of what Gertrude Jekyll was saying: "Wild gardening is a delightful, and in good hands a most desirable pursuit, but no kind of gardening is so difficult to do well."

One type of wild gardening that is much easier to achieve is to plant a drift of a single garden plant in a "wild" setting. We have a border of Pheasant's Eye narcissus planted in the grass along a path, which does very well. When the bulbs come up in the spring, they are much taller than the grass, but by the time they have finished blooming, the grass is higher and hides them.

Pheasant's Eye narcissus

Along the inside of the same path, we also have small daffodils and short irises that take care of themselves.




Another good example of wild gardening with a single variety of garden plant growing among weeds, is a long stretch of iris sibirica I saw growing in a hay field. Presumably it gets mowed down every year at hay making time.


We have tried to imitate that as well, and it is working. However, it looks like it will take at least 20 more years before it gets to be an impressive drift!


To come back to the "wild garden" started two years ago, it looks good in some areas some of the time. But most of the year, it is a mess.



Over time, I hope some plants will do very better while others will disappear. I will have to interfere to slow down the most invasive weeds.  Last year, in the second summer, golden marguerites (Cota tinctora) did better and was able to easily fight its way among the Queen Anne's Lace.

Anthemis tinctora
Golden marguerites

So did gooseneck (Lysimachia clethroides). Of course, both of these are thugs in regular gardens, so it is not surprising they can take care of themselves even in more challenging situations. Regale lilies and Ballerina roses have managed so far to survive and to bloom in the crowd. One advantage of Ballerina is that, more than any other rose we have tried to propagated, it comes very readily from cuttings. Besides, it has a natural 'wild' look to it.

Ballerina roses

One thing that was very attractive at Agawa Canyon was bracken (Pteridium) among the garden plants, mostly among phlox. We have patches of bracken elsewhere on the property, and moved some to the wild bed in 2013. Last spring, two or three very small bracken came up (out of perhaps 50 planted). I have since learned that they are actually difficult to establish (however difficult to get rid of once established). So there is some hope that more will come up in 2015.



Some native plants are growing, but not doing as expected. This is the case of the cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum). It probably needs a few years to get established. Hopefully, it will eventually  tower over the rest. Some unidentified cultivars of Rudbeckia are doing well, and so are of course oxeye daisies, which came in uninvited but are most welcome.




30 comments:

  1. One of the best benefits of blogging is the sharing of information from vastly different parts of the world.

    I found one Daucus carota growing in my southern California yard about four years ago. I have no idea where it came from as it is not at all common in the wild places. It took two years to bloom as it's a biennial here. Next year nothing, but a few tiny rosettes. This year it has exploded to line most of the path. So odd.

    I have 'Ballerina', too. It does look wild. Very tenacious. It suckers profusely, coming up ten to twelve feet away from the original. Trying to grub it out is very painful, so many prickles.

    Very nice spring-time post. I particularly enjoyed the plants in their habitats (rather than just a close-up portrait).

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    1. Thank you for your visit Jane.
      As you can see, Daucus carota is a very bad weed here. At least if you pull it out and do not let it seed, it will disappear (that is until you dig in some other part of the garden and wake up more old buried seeds).

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  2. I would agree with Gertrude Jekyll, but you clearly have good hands. I love the iris sibirica in the long grass especially.

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    1. I will have to try to find the owner of the field to get the story of this planting.

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  3. I wonder how many years I must pull weeds before they are choked out by the good stuff. Hmmm...

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    1. I am afraid Joanne it is a life commitment!

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  4. Some very interesting combinations there.

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  5. Iris sibirica in the middle of long grass : wouah !
    Maybe yours are propagating slowly because it is a cultivated form that is not used to competition ? It seems to me that the wild species grows stronger and faster here than the hybrids which can be very slow at the beginning.
    I love the pheasant's eye daffodils : they give an impression of peace.
    Bonne journée

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    1. You are no doubt right as the plants I moved were cultivars. I would have to get some from the field. It would be interesting to know how old that planting is. I am not even 100% sure it is sibirica - it does look very much like it but there are a great many irises. The wild one around here that is similar is versicolor but that is not it.

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  6. Love your photo of the pheasants eye narcissus, the perfume from all those flowers must be heavenly!

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    1. They do seem happy growing there, don't they! You would no doubt be surprised to learn that they grow in about 4 inches of poor soil over bedrock. They cook in summer and are quite wet in winter (though well drained). No doubt that is what they like!

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  7. I love the wild look We call fireweed 'rose bay willow herb' and also railway flower as it grows along railway embankments. I guess in the days of steam trains these embankments would often catch fire so I wonder if that us where fireweed came from. You have me worried as I have bought some daucus seed this year for my annual bed. I've bought a purple variety so hope that isn't as invasive.

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    1. Daucus cultivars are no doubt not as invasive as the original thing. As I say though, once it is all removed it does not come back unless there are buried seeds. I am not sure about the origin of the name "fireweed", however I believe that it is due to the fact that a few years after a forest fire (which we have lots of), the ground gets covered with "fireweed".

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  8. I have been trying something similar to your wild garden. I have difficulty with the existing grass which is quite aggressive and manages to return and swamp my more delicate plants. I am learning from this: clear and establish small areas at a time; keep on top of the (!*) grass; and only replant what is surviving -move the delicate plants elsewhere.

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    1. This sounds like good advice Patty. I will try to follow it.

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  9. 'Ballerina' is beautiful but does indeed have a wild rose look, which I consider a good thing. Have you considered adding fireweed or one of the Silphiums to your wild garden?

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    1. I have added Silphiums but they seem slow to start. As for fireweed it does not like the area. I think it is because we are very basic and it prefers acidic soil. I have never managed to grow it anyhow.

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  10. A most entertaining and informative post Alain! Wild gardening has always been an envy of mine as I simply do not have the space in order to experiment with it. I highly encourage you to source out 'The Wild Garden' [Expanded Edition] by William Robinson. Methinks he trumps even Gertrude on this subject, and the new edition comes with additional chapters and updated colour photos by Rick Darke.

    You must not be discouraged. We [gardeners] are strange bedfellows with Mother Nature. I am one for the rare and unusual [which usually translates into hybrids] but I love to have a sense of the wild, untamed naturalistic feel in these same borders. Your project is coming along nicely. I have so many clients come into the nursery with a photo taken in the wilds of nature, and they want to replicate it. I for one am not sure that I want to risk Mother Nature's ire! We can try and 'copy' - but as far as replication - methinks not. But it doesn't mean we won't keep trying!
    Cheers!

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    1. Thank you for your encouraging words. Like all project you have to be patient!

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  11. I love wildflowers. Lovely pictures. Thank you for sharing !
    Greetings

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  12. Hello Alain, I love the combination of the mass of white lace punctuated by shocking yellows of rudbeckias - that is definitely worth persevering with. I think you also need to give yourself far more credit than you do in your post, the iris sibirica will gradually establish and you'll have a meandering river of blue, the daffodils lining the path are stunning and I love the wild mix of plants in he "wild garden". Look forward to seeing how this part of the garden develops.

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    1. Thank you Sunil. That is very encouraging.

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  13. Bonjour de Montreal, Canada, Alain.

    Your photos are beautiful, thank you so much for sharing.

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  14. Miss Jekyll knew a thing or two. Wild gardening is incredibly challenging, but you're up to the challenge. There are some gorgeous elements in your garden - I agree with Sunil - give yourself a pat on the back - it's all going in the right direction!

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    1. Thank you Sarah. I am planning a few more change for this year.

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  15. Nice wild plants, Alain. I have one spot in my garden where I can't fight weeds. Maybe let them grow and sow some cultivars between them? I think it could be as a wild corner in my garden.

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    1. It should be nice but, as you can see, it is a long time project.

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  16. Some lovely images here, I do love to see wildflowers, I'm sure the bees appreciate them too. I love the Pheasant's Eye narcissus planted in the grass along the path, it looks lovely.xxx

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  17. Thank you for your visit. I will have to divide the Pheasant's Eye this spring. I should have done it some years ago.

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  18. Rosebay willowherb (I'm too more familiar with its Brittish name) is also very common for us in Estonia, filling all the edges of forests and freshly cleared spaces. And even though it is very beautiful, and makes a good tea BTW!, it is little too common for me to have it in the garden. However, there is a white vartiety, very popular in modern British gardens, I would love to have. I haven't seen it on sale here though.
    Natuturalized bulbs in grass and woodland areas are wonderful, starting from snowdrops and crocuses, going up to tall summer alliums.

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