Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cherries on the Prairies by Laura Rempel


I’ve been dreaming and scheming for a number of years now. Not that you would know it, by looking at my front garden. I have a small yard, and that’s my entire problem. You see, I want cherries. In my yard. And I can’t have them. Ten years ago, I was looking for an attractive, small tree to put in my front yard. I wish I had known more about cherries back then.

The only cherries I knew of were the Nanking cherries, and I wasn’t interested in a large shrub taking up a large portion of my space. Nanking cherries are in the 6 foot range, generally growing as tall as they are wide. They have beautiful, fragrant spring blooms and the fruit makes lovely jam and pies, but can also be eaten out of hand. The tart fruit is small, only ½ an inch or less, but a single bush can yield over 10 pounds of fruit. NANKING CHERRY

The Nanking cherry is a lovely specimen plant, but also makes a beautiful hedge, as does the Prinsepia cherry. Both should, however, only be pruned after blooming, but use gloves while pruning the Prinsepia to protect yourself from the spiny branches. The Prinsepia cherries are also edible (although tart) and the birds do love them. The shrub turns a beautiful gold in the fall. Its size is similar to the Nanking, so it still would not have been a good choice for my yard.

But then I met Evans. (The Evans cherry, to be specific.) Named after the plant researcher who found it, Dr. Ieuan Evans, it is everything I’ve ever wanted for my small front garden. It is a small tree, growing to a height of about13 feet, with a spread of 10 feet. The tree flowers with masses of white blooms in early spring, and the fruit is large (1” in diameter) and is excellent for baking, jams and wine. It also has excellent flavour eaten right off the tree, however, the longer the cherries are left on the tree, the darker and sweeter they become!The foliage turns a beautiful yellow-orange in the fall. It is self-pollinating, and ripens by mid-summer with a very good yield. It even has an interesting history; the cherry was found by Dr. Ieuan Evans, growing in an established orchard northeast of Edmonton since 1923. He took some suckers from the trees, began propagating them, and now, it is the No. 1 selling cherry tree in Canada.

EVANS CHERRYEven though the Evans cherry is my favourite, I should try to be a bit more impartial, because there are many more wonderful, hardy cherries that have been bred for the prairies. The University of Saskatchewan has come out with a cultivar called Carmine Jewel. It is an 8 ft by 6 ft shrub that also has ornamental value; very large flowers and glossy leaves. The cherries are dark red, almost purple, and moderately sweet (brix 17). This cultivar is the earliest to ripen, during late July. The fruit is good for fresh eating, jams and jellies, and wine.

In fact, the University of Saskatchewan has been breeding sour cherry cultivars for over 60 years. The two sweetest cherries of these cultivars are Crimson Passion and Romeo. They both have a brix 22, but the Crimson Passion ripens slightly earlier with larger fruit, is shorter by a foot (at 5.5 feet) and the least likely to sucker. Unfortunately, they are both a little less hardy when they are still “young.” Crimson Passion has been known to produce fewer cherries, but the fruit has the best texture. If you are most interested in harvesting for juice, Romeo would be the best choice, as it also has a high yield.

Cupid is the latest to ripen, with the largest fruit, moderate sweetness and good flavour.

Juliet and Valentine both ripen early to mid-August, with similar size fruits. Juliet is the second sweetest, so it is very good for eating fresh, but also for processing. Valentine is the most tart of all the cherries, coming in at a brix 15, so it is mostly recommended for cooking and jam. It is also the most prone to suckering, and the tallest at 8 feet.

All sour cherry cultivars are self-pollinating, which is good if you only have room for one plant. For the most part, the cultivars are moderate to high producers, but you may have some competition from the wildlife – birds and chipmunks enjoy them, too. Fruit production will start within the second year. The lifespan of the cherry trees and shrubs is about 30 years, with a medium growth rate, so you’ll be enjoying your cherry harvest for a very long time!
Posted by Tammy Jensen at 12:00 AM 2 Comments

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

But what can you grow here? by Laura Rempel

But what can you grow here?

I’ve had this question posed to me more than once this summer, and I’ve had to answer it in two different ways.

The first time, the question came from a customer who moved to Manitoba from B.C. They weren’t happy with having to ask the question, as many of the plants that they were used to growing “back home” couldn’t survive the Winnipeg winters.

The second time, the question came from a woman who had just moved into Winnipeg from Thompson, and she was thrilled with the variety of plants she now had the ability to put in her garden.

The early pioneers of the prairies faced the same question, and they had to answer it in their own way. Of course, there are many native trees and shrubs. Among these are the Black ash, Green ash, White birch, Showy Mountain ash, Hackberry, Trembling aspen, Peachleaf willow, Manitoba maple, Black spruce, White spruce and Jack pine. The shrubs include Nannyberry, Downy arrowwood, Highbush cranberry and Lowbush cranberry; wild plum, and the wild rose.

These native plants are not always the most attractive of trees and shrubs to plant on a small city lot; in fact, you rarely see them planted in the city for that very reason. Thank goodness we do have more diversity in our plant selection; but do we know who to thank?

There are a few pioneers in the plant breeding program; pioneers who missed the diversity of vegetation from their European homelands. Georges Bugnet, Richard Patmore, and Frank Skinner were all dedicated to plant breeding and hybridization. These men were all challenged with the question, “What can you grow here?”

Georges Bugnet and his family moved from France to Canada (Alberta) in 1905. By 1912, he was studying plant geography, and was writing to botanical gardens around the world, asking for plants that would grow under similar conditions to his geographical area. He received plants from as far away as Finland. He was able to work in conjunction with other research stations in Canada, including the Morden Research Station (which was established in 1915.) By 1925, he was hybridizing stone fruits and apples. In his later years, he began breeding roses, with many good results, including the popular Marie Bugnet rose and the Therese Bugnet rose. They are named after his daughters.

Frank Skinner began his notable career with the introduction of prairie winter hardy lilacs in the early 1930’s. Asessippi is a bluish purple, and Pocohantas is a dark purple; both still available. Pocohantas has the distinction of being one of the earliest flowering lilacs. He is also noted for the Maiden’s Blush, Royal Purple, Donald Wyman and the Dwarf Korean lilacs. He worked extensively with roses, and the results have been the background for many of our favourite rose cultivars, including some of the Explorer and Parkland series. Mr. Skinner’s plant breeding efforts began with lilacs, roses and lilies; but he is responsible for at least 25 cultivars that are still marketed in the prairies, including the Dropmore linden and the Dropmore Scarlet Trumpet honeysuckle.

Richard Patmore was the owner of Patmore Nurseries in Brandon. The nursery had been founded in the 1890’s by his father, and employed some of the prairie horticulturalists. Mr. Patmore was responsible for the development of the very popular Brandon cedar, and the Patmore green ash. The Patmore green ash is a grafted cultivar of the native Green ash, grows to about 60 feet, is seedless and very hardy.

Through the efforts of Georges Bugnet, Frank Skinner, Richard Patmore, and many other dedicated horticulturalists, it has now been demonstrated that our harsh prairie climate is indeed home to many beautiful and productive plants. The continual testing, development and plant management that is still carried out by nurseries such as Jeffries Nurseries in Portage la Prairie is living proof of what we can grow here.

Spring is just around the corner. Start planning now, and soon you’ll have a very satisfactory, very diverse and beautiful answer to the question, “but what can you grow here?”
Posted by Tammy Jensen at 12:00 AM 0 Comments

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Tammy's Favorite Plants

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Well I guess it is time to Blog again! It is turning out to be a challenge to look out at nothing but whiteness and talk of spring! But as I sit here dreaming of greener days, I find wow I do have something to say after all!  I sent out a webmail recently with pictures of all the new dahlias and gladiolus that we will be carrying in our garden centre this spring. It was so nice to get back numerous emails about how I made their day by giving them a touch of spring. So maybe I will just pass along a little more spring your way today!
Here is some of my personal favorite plants, and how you can use them in your garden!  

  Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea
This hot new hydrangea features enormous ball shaped deep pink flower heads starting in mid summer. They make excellent cut flowers! It can be grown in a full sun or a full shade location. It prefers a moist location, and should not allowed to dry out. I find that with a thick mulch applied in the late fall around the root area, it does quite well in our climate. It may take a while to get going in the spring, but is well worth the wait! I also love cutting the flower stocks and bringing them indoors for a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers!

Millennium Series Delphiniums "Pagan Purples"

The "new" Millennium series delphiniums are a very showy double flower. They are much more sturdy and do not require staking! It matures at about 5 feet tall, with a 18" spread. It grows best in full sun, and average to moist conditions. It  will it attract butterflies, and hummingbirds to your garden. It also makes a great cut flower!

Ghost Weigela

This plant really was a pleasant surprise! It had beautiful showy flowers from late spring to mid fall. It's foliage was dense and full from early spring till after the frost came. By fall the foliage had turned a ghostly white colour, which made a great contrast for the purple coral bells I planted in front of it! It prefers full sun, but did perform very well in part shade for me. A good layer of mulch was all that was required to bring it through our winter! It is best to prune it after it flowers to avoid cutting off next year's blooms. It also attracts hummingbirds while in bloom!

Sunsation Japanese Barberry

This plant starts off as a brilliant golden colored dense shrub, and turns into a bright orange color in the fall! It is very compact growing and matures at 3' high and 3' wide. Deers tend to avoid this plant because of the spikey thorns. I use this plant alot in shrub beds, for color and texture. It can grow in sun or part shade, dry conditions, or wet conditions. It will not tolerate standing water though. I have found that it can die back some if we have a harsh winter. But if you are patient it usually makes a full recovery. Mulching can protect it if we have a winter with little snow cover.

Smooth Sumac

If you have a large area that you need to fill in, this is a great option. It can grow 12' high, and 12' wide at maturity.
It starts of with exotic tropical looking dark green leaves, and turns to a brilliant scarlet by fall. It has green flowers in mid summer followed by scarlet fruits that are displayed in abundance right through to late winter. It is a feast for the eyes throughout the season! It will grow in full sun to partial shade, in dry or moist conditions. It will not tolerate standing water. I find it is slow to leave out in spring. But once it starts it seems to fill out within days.
Posted by Tammy Jensen at 12:00 AM 2 Comments