2014 – Mother’s Day Weekend

Columbines (Aquilegia) are great spring flowers for the part shade garden. Our native columbine with its smaller orange flowers held well above the foliage is an important early food source for hummingbirds, when there’s not a lot of food available. Granny bonnets are double flowering types with nodding flowers and my sister’s favourite. They come in yellow, orange, red, pink, purple, blue, and white and some have quite large flowers, like Origami Yellow pictured below. Their foliage can sometimes start to look a little old during the summer, but I just cut them back at this point.Aquilegia Origami Yellow

Hellebores are among my all-time favourite plants. I’m sure I’ve mentioned them here a few times already and I have over 30 different varieties and species planted around my place, mostly on the north side of my house. They are usually the first perennial to bloom, sometimes through the last bit of snow and are happiest in partial shade. Being up that early is great for the honeybees as they are just coming out of their winter rest and are really hungry. They make great Mother’s Day gifts since, in a normal year, they’re always blooming in our climate at Mother’s Day. I threw in the normal year caveat because of this year: for the first time, I only have seven of them blooming this weekend. Of course, I’m always further behind everybody else since I’m in a forest and this was definitely not a normal year. They have evergreen leaves, but I tend to cut them back in the early spring to make the flowers stand out more. They’ll grow more leaves after they’ve finished flowering. While there are many species and hybrids, most can be put into two unofficial categories. Helleborus Onyx Odyssey 02

Orientalis hybrids, like Onyx Odyssey pictured above, are what most people first started with. They generally have bright green foliage, get about two feet tall and have nodding flowers in singles and doubles. There are a lot of seed grown varieties, which means that the flowers can vary between them. It’s not uncommon to see one flower with pink edges to the petals and red markings inside while the next one over is solid in colour, even though they are the same variety. If you’re particular about exactly how you want the flower to look, it’s better to buy these types in bloom.Helleborus Monte Cristo

The second major group are the upright ones, for lack of a better term. These newer hybrids really started taking off four or five years ago. They have single flowers in shades of green, white, and pink. Their flowers face upward and outward, so they really stand out and when they finish, they turn shades of purple, pink, rose, tan or green and hold that colour for quite a long time before drying to a light tan. These finished flowers will usually stay on the plant for most of the year, like a Hydrangea. They tend to be a little shorter at 18 inches or less, depending on the variety. Helleborus Penny's Pink

Another plant that heralds the arrival of spring is creeping phlox. I always forget about until, inevitably, someone comes in asking a carpet for bright pink flowers that they saw while out for a walk or a drive. These tough little perennials thrive in full sun and neglect, never needing water after they’ve been established, even with my ultra dry sand. The small flowers are massed, literally covering the whole plant, and come in white and various shades of pink and blue (gardener’s blue which is tongue in cheek for purple). They have a darker ‘eye’ when you look more closely at the individual flowers.    Phlox subulata

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2014 05 01 – Opening Weekend

Spring is finally here, at least I’m hoping so. That was a long hard winter with lots of damage, dead plants, and lowered spirits. I can’t remember a winter that affected my overall mood as much as this one. Getting out in the garden, turning a blind eye to the plants that didn’t make it and instead concentrating on the ones that did helps to change my mood. And there were some surprises. I had picked last year to plant a number of conifers, trees and shrubs that aren’t supposed to be hardy for here and, surprisingly, most seem to have come through the winter fine. primula blue zebra 01

The best thing, by far, to bring me out of my winter funk is flowers. ‘Blue Zebra’ is a gorgeous new Primula that was introduced last year. The beautiful blue veining is the dominant colour, set off perfectly against the white petals and that bright golden eye just brings it all together and says “Smile. It’s over! Look how beautiful I am.” Last year, when I brought them in for Canada Blooms and the Peterborough Garden Show, we sold out and I didn’t remember to snag one for myself. I’ve already set three aside to help fill in some of the gaps that last winter made in my shade garden. At the Peterborough show this year, I was really happy to hear that they had come through the winter with no problems. Many Primulas are sold as annuals, but always with the caveat that they would probably come back. Saying it, though, and believing it are often a different story, especially with a brand new plant.Primula drumcliff 2

The Kennedy Series are a new group of hardy Primula vulgaris, with dark bronze to chocolate foliage. Pictured to the right is “Drumcliff” with light pink to white flowers that really stand out with the darker foliage. There’s also “Innisfree” with deep burgundy flowers, and “Claddagh” with apricot flowers. There will be more colours introduced in time and I, for one, can’t wait. I’ll be putting some under my “Shidava Gold” Japanese maple, so that the yellow stems stand out against the dark foliage.rhodoblitz2

Rhododendrons are also a spring favourite of mine. They aren’t blooming yet, but now is the time when you get the best selection of colours. Not all rhodos are created equal. Some varieties are hardier than others and for those of us gardening a little further North, getting the right variety makes all the difference in the world. “Blitz” is a new variety for me. It has deep red flowers with large evergreen leaves on a more compact plant, getting to be about 3 feet tall in 10 years. It’s supposed to be hardy, but I usually take such claims with a grain of salt until I’ve actually tried it. Being more on the compact side will definitely help, as more of the plant will remain under the snow coverage. Like all rhodos, it needs an acidic soil. Even being in the middle of a pine forest, I’ll still put some soil acidifier in just to make sure. The picture above isn’t mine, so if it’s yours and you like it removed, let me know and I’ll take it down immediatelyDahlia Lindsay Michelle.

Now is also the time to be looking for Summer flowering bulbs, like Dahlias, Gladiolas, Cannas, and Callas to name a few. Last year, I planted one of each variety that I carried in the planters on my deck. Some had absolutely stunning flowers like “Lindsay Michelle” pictured above, but the ones that really stood out to me were the Gallery series. Pictured below is “Singer”. These shorter Dahlias, at about a foot tall, started blooming long before the others. By the time the taller varieties were blooming, the Gallery Dahlias were absolutely covered in blooms and they stayed covered in blooms for the rest of the summer.Dahlia Gallery Singer

We’re doing something new this year. We’ll be having a featured item or items on sale every weekend, rather than a big sale on long weekends. All of the above will be on sale for our opening weekend, starting tomorrow, Friday May 2, and continuing through Sunday. I’m intending to blog about the weekend features every Thursday, but you might want to like our facebook page, www.facebook.com/johnsgardeninuxbridge, where I will definitely be listing what’s on sale every Thursday afternoon.

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2013 11 30 – Christmas Arrangements

I’ve been more than a little neglectful IMG_1300in updates to the blog. Sorry about that.

For the last month, we’ve been crazy busy getting plants ready for the winter by repotting those that needed it, sinking the bigger guys in the ground and moving the rest to the back yard.

We’ve also been working on plant orders for next year, getting the Christmas Shop set up and ready to go, and of course, we’ve been making lots of arrangements.

Unfortunately, there have been  a number of arrangements that were ‘camera shy’, but I did manage to snag a few pics here and there.


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I also did up the patio at The Urban Pantry. It took a couple of days, but was a labour of love. Best of all, I got some great food and lots of coffee while I was at it.

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2013 08 27 – Blueberries


There is nothing more rewarding than going out to your garden and picking fresh fruit. One of my favourite fruit to plant are blueberries, Vaccinium corymbosum. These are the types of blueberries you get in the grocery stores. I love popping a few in my mouth whenever I walk by, although I rarely stop at a few. Of course, there are numerous health benefits to blueberries. They are high in antioxidants. They can help reduce abdominal fat, triglycerides, and cholesterol and can offer protection against hypertension and colon cancer and improve memory function. For me, the most important benefit is that they make my Bran Buds a lot easier to eat. The joys of getting older.


They are relatively easy to grow and aren’t plagued with problems like many fruit seem to be. I’ve never sprayed my own blueberries with dormant oil in the spring or any other pesticides. You can grow them in full sun or partial sun. Give them lots of organic matter when planting and they need an acidic soil. Acidifying your soil can be quite easy. After you’ve planted your blueberries, sprinkle some elemental sulphur above the roots and work it into the soil a bit, then water well. You’ll need to do this every once in a while to keep the acidity level up. I find it’s very easy to just make this part of my spring chores around the garden and once a year is enough. Acidifying this way also means that you can have an acid lover like blueberries next to a plant that prefers neutral or even sweet soil. It’s not a bad idea to mulch around them to keep the moisture levels up. Adding oak leaves and pine needles to your mulch will help keep the acidity up too. Blueberries are also very winter hardy. My father grows them up in Elliot Lake. He said that North Country was just loaded with berries this year.

Blueberries are one of the best shrubs for attracting birds like cardinals, robins, sparrows, blue jays, cedar waxwings, and woodpeckers, to name a few. They also have a strong ornamental appeal making them easier to work into a garden. Their leaves are a glossy deep green and take on wonderful colours in the fall, ranging from orange to bright red to maroon. When I first opened the garden centre, this was the only small fruit that I sold, because it was the only one that I felt deserved to be in an ornamental garden.


There are numerous cultivars around and they vary considerably in mature plant size. North Country and North Blue are smaller bushes that get to be two and three feet tall respectively. Most will get to be four to six feet tall, depending on the variety. While blueberries are self-fruitful, ie. one plant will produce fruit, if you plant at least two different cultivars, they will cross-pollinate and the number of berries produced increases exponentially. Those two plants don’t need to be side by side either. They could be 100 feet apart and still be effective.

For those who prefer wild blueberries, there is Vaccinium angustifolium. Almost all of the above applies to them as well, except that they prefer dry, acidic poor soil. They are much lower growing, usually between six inches and two feet. You’ll find them in cottage country growing in the least hospitable places, often between rocks.

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2013 06 20 – Sonic Bloom Weigelas

Every once in a while, a new plant or series of plants are introduced that change the rules. A few years ago, it was the everblooming lilacs that, once established, bloom throughout the summer. Before that, the Itoh peonies that stayed standing in the rain and wind and gave us different colours like yellow and peach. And before that, the daylilies that bloom all summer.

Poised to be the next game changer is a new series of Weigela called Sonic Bloom. Weigelas (pronounced wī-gē’la by the way, but don’t worry, everyone says it wrong – I personally call them wigglies) have been around for ages and you’ll find well-established plants in the oldest of gardens. They’re hardy and very easy to grow. The one to two inch trumpet shaped flowers in red, pink and white are a real show-stopper when they’re in bloom and they attract hummingbirds. Every once in a while, we get a hummingbird stuck in the garage and I make a trail of plants leading out the door to help them escape. Weigelas, when they’re in bloom, are one of the plants that I’ll use. They’ve always bloomed reliably in the late spring and often produce a smaller round of blooms in the fall. My own Weigelas are in full flower at the moment in a garden by my pool that has been completely neglected since I started the garden centre over six years ago. The garden is overrun with weeds and grass and many of the plants that were in there have completely disappeared, or are, at best, struggling. Not the Weigelas. They’re big and full, covered in blooms and have a great shape. That garden has been a great trial bed for what does really well in adverse conditions. When people ask me about no-maintence or low-maintenance plants, I always think first of everything that does well there.

Weigela Sonic Bloom PinkThis new series of Weigelas come in three flower colours; red, white or pink. They have green leaves and get to be about five feet tall and five to six feet wide. Sounds like a normal Weigela so far? Here’s the kicker. They have a heavy bloom in the spring, followed by “waves of rebloom until frost”. That’s marketing/lawyer lingo for flowers all summer! The heaviest bloom should be in the spring, with the reblooms being lighter and probably some short rest periods in between, kind of like the everblooming lilacs. Dead-heading and pruning are not supposed to be necessary to get the reblooms. While they’re brand new and I have yet to try them (I do have a couple set aside for myself already), I’m confident that Proven Winners has done enough testing to substantiate these claims. These plants are definitely on my must-have list for this year. I can’t stop thinking of how happy the hummingbirds are going to be and hoping that, maybe, hopefully, we’ll see some with wine coloured leaves in the years to come. Okay, that might be a little greedy of me.

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2013 05 31 – Orchids

This year’s first run of orchids have arrived and there’s some great ones. A number of them are fragrant. Where I know the variety name, I’ve included it in the description.

There are 3 Vandas this year

Vanda Robert's Delight 'Red Berry' 01 Vanda Rasri Gold x Vanda Doctor Anek, No.2 02 Vanda Pachara Delight 01

In addition to the Oncidiums below, there are a few that haven’t opened yet, but they have buds, including Oncidium Sweet Sugar

Oncidium wilsonara Tiger Brew 'Pacific Holidays' 02 Oncidium Unk2 01  Oncidium Odorous Princess 'YH Twinstar' 02 Oncidium Heaven Scent 'Redolance' 02 Oncidium Btcm. Hwuluden Bee 'Wasp' 02 Oncidium Beallara Marfitch 'Howard Dream' 01Psychopsis papilio (Oncidium papilio) 01

We also have a few Cattleya. Not pictured is Cattleya Rlc Hwa Yuan Grace ‘Cat King’

Cattleya unk 02 Cattleya Rlc Memoria Helen Brown 'Full Moon' 02

There’s a nice selection of Miltonias this year too. Not open yet is Miltonia Lennart Karl Gottling #12. Andrea West ‘HOF’ is fragrant in the mornings that you can smell it from 4 feet away.

Miltonia Maui Mist 'Golden Gate' 01 Miltonia Lennart Karl Gottling 'Hula Skirt' 02 Miltonia Bert Field 'Eileen' 02 Miltonia Andrea West 'HOF' 01

Not shown below is Epidendrum floribundrum

Epidendrum Max Valley 'Shiranui' 03 Epidendrum Marble x Encyclia cordigera 01 Maxillaria tenuifolia 02Dendrobium Unaiwan Horizon 03 Dendrobium Burana Starlight 01 Dendrobium Burana Blue Star 02

There are six mini Phalaenopsis

Phalaenopsis Mini  Unk1 01 Phalaenopsis Mini Unk2 02 Phalaenopsis Mini Unk3 02 Phalaenopsis Mini Unk4 01 Phalaenopsis Mini Unk5 02 Phalaenopsis Mini Unk6 01

Any many “not-so-regular” Phalaenopsis.  There are a number of Phal’s that I haven’t included; wordpress is acting up so I’ve stopped here. If I can figure out what’s going wrong, I’ll add them

Phaelonopsis Unk01 01Phaelonopsis Unk02 01Phaelonopsis Unk03 02Phaelonopsis Unk04 01Phaelonopsis Unk05 02

Phaelonopsis Unk15 02 Phaelonopsis Unk14 02 Phaelonopsis Unk13 02Phaelonopsis Unk12 04Phaelonopsis Unk11 01

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2013 05 27 – I Will Survive


What a roller coaster ride May was, weather wise. One day it was snowing and then two days later I was in shorts then a week later, wearing a scarf while we gathered up all of the annuals and tropicals and hurried them into the garage to keep them warm. I can honestly say that I’ve never sold hanging baskets while it was snowing before.


Of course, this unsettled weather can be a little hard on plants, especially annuals that were planted eagerly, if not a little early. I’ve always used June 1 as my safe date to plant annuals in our area, but we’ve been spoiled the last couple of years, so like a lot of people, I had some planted already. That, and I happen to have thousands upon thousands on benches and carts.


I’m a weather junkie at this time of year. I have to be. Checking multiple sites and forecasts, then trying to figure out where the truth is. By the time Environment Canada has issued a frost warning, we’re usually already preparing, as best we can. This past Thursday caught me a little off guard however. At 4:15, the forecasts had changed and all of a sudden, snow was a possibility for overnight and we had an almost fully stocked annual section. We moved as much as we could and covered the rest with tarps and blankets. Then comes the mad rush to uncover everything, dry the tarps and blankets for the next night, on a morning when we’re open to the public and the parking lot is filling up. The parking lot is the only space big enough to dry and fold the really big tarps (one is 40 by 60 feet). It can be a little stressful, but the mood lightens when customers start helping us and kids are having a ball running under the big tarps. There’s no need to take them to Canada’s Wonderland; just bring them by John’s Garden in the morning after a frost!


Eventually, I was able to make my way down the annual aisle to see what kind of damage was done. While we had protected the plants from frost, the cold had taken its toll. Peppers had limp leaves hanging from their stocks, Torenia was completely flattened and the Angelonia looked completely dead. I can be a little overly anxious about the condition of the plants, like an over-protective mother, but Judy and everybody else agreed that there wasn’t much hope, and that the Angelonia was a complete write-off.


For Friday night, we started gathering the worst hit onto carts and put them into the garage and then went about protecting everything again for Friday night. Then on Saturday morning as we were wheeling the carts out of the garage, the last step of the morning frost ritual, we noticed that the Torenia were once again standing up and looked as though nothing had happened. Then we saw the peppers – not a mark on them. What blew Judy and I away though was the Angelonia. We had thrown it on a cart just because there was room, not because we thought we could save them. We were so wrong. A couple of plants needed to be cut back, but the rest looked as good as the day that they came in. Nature can surprise us, plants are tougher than we think, you’re never too old or too experienced to learn something new, and never give up, never surrender. Wow is all I can say.


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