Thursday, November 27, 2014

Zigzag cactus – cool plant even before the flowers

Easy to see why Epiphyllum anguliger is also called the zigzag, ric rac or fishbone cactus
I've had a crush on this plant in the Allan Gardens cactus house for ages. A big crush. Look at those cool leaves! Well, not leaves, actually – as these are in the cactus family, they're flat, zigzaggy stems, like living architecture.

How thrilling to learn that its flowers would be just as cool. The Epiphyllum genus is also called the orchid cactus, for its showy, sometimes fragrant blooms. Wouldn't it be amazing to catch this huge specimen in bloom? Have you seen it?

They say these plants are fairly easy to look after. The caveat for Helen the Houseplant Killer is that they shouldn't be allowed to completely dry out. Alas, that means I'll have to admire them from afar.

If you're interested in growing them, here's a good overview on Epiphyllum care from the RHS. And if you want to learn all there is to know and more, check out this comprehensive article by Marina Welham on The Amateurs' Digest – amateur in the true sense of the word, most likely. Because there's lots to love about this plant.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Remember the driveway

An almost-panoramic view of a Pittsburgh driveway that doubles as an entry courtyard.
Nice to see a driveway that paving choice and framing makes both doubly functional and beautiful
Of course, my whole garden would fit into this many times over. Still. Inspiring.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A rain garden in Hogg's Hollow

This lush rain garden was on the 2014 Through the Garden Gate tour in Hogg's Hollow
Hogg's Hollow is set in a (surprise!) hollow – a steep-sided ravine – in some places steeper than others. The lucky homeowners who live in this charming setting aren't always so lucky during heavy rains. Water scoots down the sides of the valley and can cause serious drainage problems.

This garden mitigated that situation with a rain garden, which is a deep trough filled with coarse granular material such as gravel and river rocks, often embedded with weeping tile.

It looks pretty cool as a design feature, especially when set off by large boulders, moisture-loving plants (love the large Astilboides tabularis in that first picture) and the perfect piece of artwork.

Rain cascades down the deep slope, and run-off is captured by the rain garden
Two or three cultivars of lungwort (Pulmonaria) thrive in the moist soil at the edges
This lungwort with leaves that are a solid silvery white is possibly Pulmonaria 'Milky Way'
With its forked tips, this looks like the Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum pictum) called 'Applecourt'

Monday, November 24, 2014

Stop the spread of invasive Phragmites

It has become so common, you might pass invasive Phragmites without recognizing it as a problem
With all the excitement over ornamental grasses, you might not even recognize this towering escapee growing in many of the city's wet spaces as an invasive species. The picture above is of a huge stand of European common reed (Phragmites australis subsp. australis) near the entrance to the Leslie Street Spit. These stems are at least three metres (9+ feet) tall, and wave boldly in the breeze.

Bold is right. For pig-headed invasiveness, this non-native grass has become a problem in the same league as garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), or my particular bugbear dog-strangling vine (Vincetoxicum rossicum).

Complicating matters, there's also a native Phragmites. But, last March, the folks at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority confirmed that all of the Phragmites on the Spit, which includes Tommy Tompson Park, was the non-native variety. Yes, all of it.

Have you been to the Spit lately? At this time of year, the area around the ponds looks like an ocean of fluffy Phragmites seed heads. They seem to go on forever.

This fact sheet from the Ontario Invasive Species Program helps you tell the difference between the native and non-native species. Generally, when the grass is this tall, it's the alien.

Let's help by practicing citizen science. In Toronto, or anywhere in Ontario, help map the spread by contacting Stop the Invasion. Visit that site for scary details and ways we can do something about it.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Breakfast cereal as a floral design tool

Hmmm. Not sure how I feel about this.
Here's a little Sunday Surprise for you – a novel use for Honeycombs cereal, spotted in a restaurant on a Montreal getaway this weekend. What do you think? Inventive or idiotic?