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            Mid/Late April Gardening            

with Wes Porter

    You can always rely on Lewis Carroll to get things right.  “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on earth; the time of the singing birds is come!” he wrote in Sylvie and Bruno (1889).  Lewis Carroll was an Englishman, and so used to rain.  Two centuries before him, the writer Thomas Puller proclaimed: “ A change in weather is the discourse of fools”.  Abraham Cowley, the commander of the good ship Bachelor’s Delight, which circumnavigated the world 1683-85, believed “Discoursing of women at sea was very unlucky and caused the storm”.  Canadian humourist Eric Nichols in his Anything for a Laugh (1998) claimed to have been -as a boy raised in Vancouver- singularly unimpressed about accounts of the Biblical Flood since “its raining for forty days and forty nights was fairly normal precipitation for a West Coaster”.  About the best we can expect of the Toronto weather this month is anything.  Almost 40 years ago, with an Easter as late as this one, we received six inches of snow the third week of April.  Ah well, as Mark Twain pointed out: “April 1st: This is the day on which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four”.  On to more certain things.

The professional association Landscape Ontario (L.O.) has chosen three plants to receive the first of this year’s “Excellence Awards”.  Dwarf Korean Lilac, Syringa meyeri ‘Paliban’ will not grow higher than five feet.  In season it is literally covered with a mass of fragrant pink-purple blooms.  Plant close to a frequently used walkway, patio or deck to best appreciate this deciduous shrub.  When students ask me for a vine that will grow in sun or shade, flowers profusely and is fast growing, there is no better recommendation than the long popular Silverlace Vine, Polygonum aubertii.  True, it will do best in full sun, as L.O. rightly insists, but my experience is that it tolerates shade also.  The last choice for an L.O. Excellence Award goes to Bluebeard ‘Dark Night’, or to be formal about it, Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Dark Night’.  Although in milder climates a shrub, it is treated as a sun-loving perennial here in northern climes.  Up to three feet high and about the same width, it has the deepest of purple-blue blooms in later summer through fall, which attract butterflies.  Unlike most perennials, this one must not be cut back until spring and then to just six inches high.  All these plants should be available at local garden centres.

Having planted these and perhaps other shrubs and perennials you might consider getting a decorative layer around them.  As Don Herron in his alter ego of Charlie Farquarson would say, “Getting mulch?”  Diminutive Rebecca Quisumbing has a big idea here: Coco Peat.  Imported from her native Phillipines, it is made out of coconut husk and so is 100% natural.  Not only does it dress up flowerbeds, it improves both clay and sand soils.  If used as a growing medium in planters, it lasts for up to four years, in addition to being useful for sprouting seeds, root cuttings, and, should you be interested, hydroponics.  Hopefully coco peat will find its way into garden centres and other retail outlets this season. 

The Forsythia buds bursting into yellow reminds one of things to do.  If crabgrass was a problem last season the seeds will be germinating about now to cause havoc later in summer.  There are no cultural methods that will assure removal of this weed.  Pre-emergent herbicide, usually blended with lawn fertilizer, is the only answer but must be applied as the Forsythia flowers.  This useful shrub will not bloom until danger of damaging cold is past and so also serves to demonstrate that it is safe to uncover the HT, Floribunda and Grandiflora rose bushes.  Thin these to three to five of the thickest canes.  Prune these back to three buds from the base, then spread a compost mulch and fertilizer around them.  Discard the prunings.  The home composter does not reach high enough heat to destroy the black spot spores that overwintered on these trimmings.

If all this seems a bit much, why not plant Canadian roses?  The “Explorer Series” are world famous, developed for our climate and named after Canadian discoverers.  They are disease resistant, withstand hot summers and cold winters, need no protection from the latter, all while flowering magnificently with minimal pruning.  For those with Explorers in the garden already, soon to come will be a Canadian “Artist Series”.  And to wrap it up, here’s a news item that will be of interest to many politicians: Be wary when walking in city parks or out in the country.  Protective headgear may be advisable.  The woodpeckers are back.

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