Talk to the hand (that holds the trowel)

Try talking to a gardener about anything but gardening at this time of year. You’ll probably get vague grunts like “Hmm … yeah … sure … whatever …”

The Pixie grapevine can be grown and overwintered in a container.
The Pixie grapevine can be grown and overwintered in a container.

That’s because our heads are filled with thoughts of plants, colours, equipment and all the other things we want to add to our gardens this season. I’ll share some of my finds with you:

• Garden equipment: I don’t like long-handled hoes in a city garden. They hurt my back and aren’t practical for closely packed plants. My choice is a hand weeder/cultivator called the Culti-weeder, made by Garden Works, Inc. It’s a sort of curved sickle-shaped thing with a toothed edge and spiked tip that looks like something Freddy Krueger dreamed up in Nightmare on Elm Street. Sturdy and stainless steel, it lets you really dig into tough roots like lily-of-the-valley (locally available at the Urban Nature Store in Leaside).

• Sheridan Nurseries, an all-Canadian family-owned business, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Besides publishing a commemorative book (Sheridan Nurseries: 100 Years of People, Plans, and Plants), they’re offering three new anniversary plant introductions.

Purple Be Dazzled lilac re-blooms and stays a tidy 1 m tall. The Sheridan Anniversary blush rose grows to 2 m, with sweet-smelling, pearly-pink blooms. Largest of the lot is Mahogany Magic nineback, growing 3 m tall with a spread of 2 m. In mid-summer, it bears handsome clusters of starry-white flowers.

• Lots of new annuals are being brought out this year by the Proven Winners plant brand people. I grew several last year on a trial basis, and I was really impressed by three in particular (locally available this year at East End Garden Centre and Sheridan Nurseries).

Lemon Slice calibrachoa has a perfect yellow colour, not too bright and not too washed out. Up close, the flowers are lemon yellow, with small white stripes radiating from the centre. It bounced back from my occasional lapses in watering and kept blooming through early fall – without deadheading.

I love verbenas, but they often mildew and poop out in the heat. My plants from Proven Winners’ Superbena line, though, stayed strong and serene all through last year’s hot summer.

Cleomes are an interesting annual with a bad reputation. Frankly, they stink. Like skunk. And they have sharp thorns in unlikely places. That’s not the case with Senorita Blanca (white) and Senorita Rosalita (pale mauve) Proven Winner cleomes. They can grow really big (1 m) in the ground, but mine stayed a neat 48 cm in a container.

• Some folks think of Loblaw garden centres as just another big box store. There’s a big difference, though: Loblaw is Canadian. They buy from Canadian growers (promoting our own garden industry). And they hand-select the President’s Choice plants they sell, working with growers at least a year in advance. Here are some to look for this spring.

Amazing edibles: Number one is the President’s Choice Mighty ’Mato. One plant (nearly 2 m tall) may be all you need. It produces double the crop of a regular plant (even in a container) and you don’t have to rotate your tomato patch from year to year. All this happened not through genetic manipulation, but by grafting choice eating tomatoes onto extra-strong rootstock. (Don’t bury the knobby graft, or Mighty ’Mato will lose its magic.) It’s a bit pricier than regular tomatoes, but a bigger harvest with less work should make it worthwhile.

Other novelties include the hardy fig tree that you can leave outside in winter. There’s also the Pixie grapevine, a true dwarf complete with grapes, that can live and overwinter in a container. Last on my list is the Haskap berry, a cross between blueberries, raspberries and Saskatoons. You need two varieties to get berries, so the plants come in a convenient double pack.

Heavenly  hostas: Shade gardeners can snap up the Hosta of the Year, ‘Rainforest Sunrise’. It’s compact, slug-resistant and gold with dark green edges. Or try the new ‘Designer Genes’ hosta – tall and gold, with bright red stems (but unfortunately thinnish leaves).

There’s more, but I’m out of space, so go see some of these beauties for yourself. And for perennials, don’t miss the Beach Garden Society Plant Sale, May 18, 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Adam Beck Community Centre, 99 Lawlor Ave.

Mary Fran McQuade is a hobby gardener and freelance writer


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