What's blooming

We are experiencing an incredibly beautiful and long-lasting autumn in Alberta. Perhaps it is meant to make up for the summer-that-never-was.  This past week the temperatures reached the low 20’s (Celsius), with a high of 22 degrees. In November! I decided to take a walk through the perennial trial garden on Thursday in search of some late fall colour.

On the way to the garden I had to take a picture of this late monkshood, likely Aconitum arendsii, which is so late-blooming that often it doesn’t get a chance to bloom in Alberta. In the background is the new Enmax conservatory which opened one year ago this month.

Aconitum arendsii

In the perennial trial garden, one of my favourite plants, Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’, was still blooming away. I love this plant; it is a fantastic addition to the late summer/fall garden.

Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’

There were still a few blooms on Clematis ‘Multi Blue’ as well, despite the fact that it was moved in September. The foliage is a lovely bronzy brown colour in autumn.

Clematis 'Multi Blue'

Another of my favourite perennials in the trials, Sedum ‘Autumn Charm’, was still looking great. The foliage has held up well throughout the fall and was still impressive, especially compared to the other sedums in the trials. The flowers  are showing a bit of their dark wine colour, a lovely contrast to the variegated green and creamy yellow leaves.

Sedum 'Autumn Charm'

This little viola, Viola ‘Columbine’,  started blooming in early spring, slowed down just a little in the heat of summer, and is still blooming away in November!  All five plants were planted in 2009 and have survived one winter and two full growing seasons so far.  I would love to be able to evaluate it for one more year.

Viola 'Columbine'

Silene ‘Clifford Moor’ is a graduate from the 2007-2009 trial. Its small pink flowers are held on long, somewhat floppy stalks, but it is the foliage that really grabs our visitors attention. This is a wonderful woodland plant that still looks great in late fall!

Silene 'Clifford Moor'

On the way back to my office I spotted this white phlox, name unknown, still blooming away in the Dorothy Harvie Gardens.

This bright spot of colour  caught my eye under a spruce tree.  Surely it is almost time for the peacocks to move to their indoor winter home. I guess, like the rest of us, they are taking advantage of every good day that we are given.


What a gorgeous autumn we are having in Alberta! In the 26 years that I have lived in this province, I have never seen such beautiful fall colours in the trees and shrubs . The perennial trial gardens are fading gracefully, but there are many perennials still blooming. Some have only started to bloom in the past couple of weeks, adding a lovely splash of colour to the autumn garden. 

The arctic chrysanthemum, Arctanthemum arcticum ‘Red Chimo’ , is one of those late fall bloomers. The flowers have only just opened in the past week, when we finally got a bit of sun and warm weather. What a wonderful surprise to find something blooming so beautifully just when you think the garden is almost finished. 

Arctanthemum 'Red Chimo'


Aster ‘Sapphire’ is another late bloomer which has also only started to flower in the past week. This Proven Winners introduction likely would have bloomed earlier if the late summer and early fall had been warmer. The plants are massive, very healthy and absolutely covered in flower buds. Hopefully they will all have time to open this fall. 

Aster 'Sapphire'


 Solidago ‘Little Lemon’ is a bright spot of colour in the autumn garden. ‘Little Lemon’ is a compact and floriferous goldenrod with bright yellow flowers. Another goldenrod in the trials, the dwarf Solidago ‘Goldrush’ is just about to bloom. 

Solidago 'Little Lemon'


 The flowers on the sedums are just starting to open and turn colour.  Sedum ‘Maestro’, with its lovely dark foliage and purple flowers, is just one of the many sedums blooming in the perennial trial gardens now. 

Sedum 'Maestro'


Eupatorium ‘Phantom’ certainly makes a statement in the garden, especially when there are eight plants in one spot, as there are in the perennial trial garden at the Calgary Zoo! This Joe Pye weed is not a plant for a small space, but it is certainly worth growing if you have the room. There is a dwarf Joe Pye in the trials called Eupatorium ‘Purple Bush’ which is somewhat smaller, but at over a metre high, it still might be hard to find a spot for it in a small garden. 

Eupatorium 'Phantom'

So much for the notion that the garden is finished now that it’s October.  There’s still a lot happening out there! With the right plants you can have blooms right up until winter arrives. We never know when that will be in Alberta, but why not squeeze every last bit of  enjoyment out of our gardens while we can?

Take a stroll with me through the perennial trial garden at the Calgary Zoo on this September day. It has been a wet and cold September so far, but there’s still lots of colour to be seen in the garden.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Last week was just so busy that I didn’t get a chance to post new pictures. The talk and tour of the garden went well and was sold out. Thanks to everyone who came!
The garden looked fantastic when I got back from vacation. The new mulch did just what it was supposed to do – amazing isn’t it? There were almost no weeds, except in the groundcovers that were not thoroughly weeded before I left! Last Tuesday two of our wonderful volunteers, Susan and Verna Mae, weeded the groundcovers as well. Now the next job is to tackle the rest of the Poa annua between the flagstones in the path.
Late in the summer, perennial gardens sometimes start to look tired; often there just isn’t much in bloom. If you need a little inspiration, here are some of my favourites blooming now.
I have mentioned Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’ before, but now it is absolutely covered in flowers. All of the heleniums, or sneezeweeds, are blooming now and add a lot of colour to the late summer garden. This picture also gives a little glimpse of the montane mulch we used.

Helenium 'Mardi Gras'


The three butterfly bushes, Buddleia davidii ‘Black Knight’ are flowering again this year. This plant appears to be marginally hardy here in Alberta, but obviously in a protected site it can survive. 

Buddleia davidii 'Black Knight'


My favourite sedum in the trials is Sedum ‘Autumn Charm’. The plants are dense, compact mounds with dark green and ivory/gold foliage. 

Sedum 'Autumn Charm'


False sunflower adds a pop of  bright yellow colour to the late summer garden. Many of them, however, can be just too large for small urban gardens. Heliopsis ‘Tuscan Sun’ is a dwarf form from Proven Winners that was planted last year inthe trials. It is about 65 cm tall this year and the flowers are just as bright and sunny as the larger varieties. 

Heliopsis 'Tuscan Sun'


 Bouteloua gracilis, also called mosquito grass or blue grama grass, is another one of our visitors’ favourites. It is a small fine-textured grass that is native to Alberta. The seeds heads look like eyelashes.  

Bouteloua gracilis


 Agastache ‘Golden Jubilee’ is  a graduate from 2008. The bright chartreuse foliage is a great contrast to the spikes of the purple flowers. A little warning though – this plant does self-seed, although we haven’t found it to be a huge problem. 

Agastache 'Golden Jubilee'


 The newest ligularia in the trials, Ligularia ‘Osiris Fantaisie’, is flowering for the first time. This is a dwarf ligularia with daisy-like flowers.  The leaves are dark green with dark purple undersides and dark purple stems. 

Ligularia 'Osiris Fantaisie'

Echinacea ‘Coconut Lime’ is looking like it may be a winner. Three plants were put in last year. They emerged early, grew vigorously this year and are now blooming prolifically. Several gardeners in Calgary report that this coneflower has done very well for them over the past few years. 

Echinacea 'Coconut Lime'

 The weather in Calgary is feeling rather autumnal lately. There is even a frost warning for tonight! Let’s hope for a warm and beautiful fall. We certainly haven’t had much warm weather all summer. 

I apologize for not posting in the past two weeks. I have been, and still am, on vacation. However, today I thought I would post a few pictures from the perennial trial garden at the Calgary Zoo just before I left at the end of July. 

East entrance to the perennial trial garden at the Calgary Zoo.


West end of the perennial trial garden at the Calgary Zoo.


The big news in the garden is that we have added mulch for the first time! Until now the protocol for the project has dictated that mulch would not be used. It was thought that most gardeners did not use mulch, and we try to replicate usual home gardening techniques. But attitudes have changed over the 12 years since the project began; most gardeners now use mulch of some kind. We should be promoting the use of mulch for many reasons, including weed deterrence and moisture retention. 

The mulch we used is called ‘montane mulch’, it is a very fine-textured bark mulch suitable for a perennial garden. It was spread about 3 cm (1.5 inches) thick. Because it is so fine-textured, it tends to shed water if it is spread much thicker.  As you can see in the picture below, it looks very much like soil. 

Veronica 'Royal Candles' and Knautia 'Mars Midget'

The garden should be in the peak of its glory right now. Here’s a small selection of what was in bloom before I left: 

Clematis 'Multi Blue'

Clematis ‘Multi Blue’ is a new clematis planted in 2009. It is a Zone 4 plant and belongs to pruning group B1, meaning it blooms mostly on old wood, with a second flush later in summer. I wasn’t overly optimistic about its performance in Alberta, but it has performed better than I expected. It died to the ground over the winter, but started blooming in mid-July on new wood. The flowers are large and quite an attractive blue-purple colour. 

Ligularia 'Little Rocket'

 Ligularia ‘Little Rocket’, despite its name, is only slightly smaller than L. ‘The Rocket’. 

Leucanthemum 'Broadway Lights'

The flowers of Leucanthemum ‘Broadway Lights’  open in a soft yellow which fades to cream and finally to white. You can see the yellow colour of the just-opening flowers in this picture. The mature flower is almost pure white. Only about half of these plants survived their first winter, however they make a beautiful and unusual annual or short-lived perennial. 

Helenium 'Mardi Gras'

 I love this helenium!  The plants are very compact and sturdy and it has a very long bloom-time, from July until fall. Plus, the colours are gorgeous. All nine plants survived the first winter in the garden. They appear to be quite drought-resistant as well as hardy. 

Filipendula ulmaria 'Variegata'

 Filipendula ulmaria ‘Variegata’  is a variegated meadowsweet grown mostly for the dark green and yellow foliage. However the flowers are quite pretty as well. 

Delphinium 'Green Twist'

 Delphinium ‘Green Twist’ is a real favourite with visitors to the garden. 

I will be back on August 23rd and will send out an update on what’s in bloom shortly after that. I can’t wait to see what has happened in the garden while I’ve been away!

Paeonia ‘Yellow Crown’ (P. lactiflora x P. lemoinei) is blooming for the first time ever in the Alberta Perennial Trial garden at the Calgary Zoo! 

Paeonia 'Yellow Crown'


P. ‘Yellow Crown’ is an Itoh peony, a cross between the lactiflora peony commonly grown in Alberta and a tree peony. The flowers most closely resemble those of the tree peony, but the foliage dies to the ground in the winter, making the plants more likely to survive in our harsh climate.  

There are two more Itoh peony cultivars in the perennial trials. P. ‘Bartzella’ and P. ‘Cora Louise’ were planted in 2008 and both have flowers buds this year. Bartzella is another yellow peony and Cora Louise is white with a deep red centre. I will be sure to post pictures when they bloom! 

Paeonia 'Bartzella' flower bud

It finally feels like summer here in Alberta.  Some perennials, including a few of the hostas and coneflowers, are only just emerging. Other plants are responding to the warmth by growing by leaps and bounds.   

Every day there are more and more blooms in the garden. 

Fragaria 'Lipstick'


Aquilegia 'Origami'


Clematis 'Joe Zary'


Geranium 'Philippe Vapelle'


Iris 'Clarence'


Nepeta 'Walker's Low'

Next Page »