Earth Day paean to old friends

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by Jackie Alfonso | April 22, 2009 • An exploration of the many local garden centers turns up some interesting facts. Especially today, it may be worth thinking through some of them. We seem to have a bias that the most beautiful outdoor plants are tropical, and our gardens are filled each spring with impatiens and we fuss over them because in this climate they are not really very happy. On the other hand, bright, not to say garish plants, such as asclepias which thrive in our hot clay, are thought to be ‘common’.

Lemonade Chronicles is a blog written by Jackie Alfonso, a local writer who is deeply concerned about food … and other issues.

We are determined to grow plants like Colorado Blue Spruce, which is about as happy here as the impatiens, if for different reasons. Our native evergreens are quite lovely, but often ignored. My own preference is for growing edible plants, annuals, of course, but also shrubs and trees that are tough and give shape, bloom, fruits, and fall color. There are so many lovely plants.

Last summer, a great 60’ Norway Spruce had to come down before it fell down, and now I have an opportunity to broaden the plant materials in its stead. What fun to plant serviceberry, viburnum, some shrub roses with huge red hips! Serviceberry is also called Juneberry and Saskatoon – it has been around for a very long time, has lovely early pink-white bloom, tasty blueberry-like fruits, breath-taking fall color, and can grow in Winnipeg. Viburnum is also called highbush cranberry and pembina – its bright red sour fruits are acid enough to keep other foodstuffs from spoiling, so it was a component of pemmican. It, too has stunning spring bloom, does fine in partial shade, and keeps many birds happy if I forget to pick some berries.

Prunus tomentosa is not native here, but to northern China and eastern Siberia. Its pink blooms on a horizontal axis are among the first in spring. The fruits very conveniently hang below each branch, so that one can strip a whole stem in one gesture. The other,
more important feature of this beauty is that birds prefer its fruit to the cherries across the garden, to the strawberries or raspberries. One plant will get to 8’ x 8’ and distract many birds for weeks. This is great, because the prolific fruits are fairly bland for jam or jelly
(although they make a nice fruity wine).

Another change required by circumstance is to redirect the meltwater that has insisted on running down my front steps, so that it can freeze overnight, causing mail deliverers and visitors to scrabble up the slippery slope. Changing the water flow will mean taking out an old rosa rubrifolia which is about 10’ tall and 8’ wide. She has left offspring around the yard, so there is a replacement in the wings. This one is sometimes hard to find – if you would like to try it, let me know, as I have an abundance of seeds. The small, single cerise blossoms have each a bright white eye and golden stamens. She has never been watered, has never had a disease or aphid. Her ripe hips look like dumdums from the movie house – chocolate brown. The leaves, as the name suggests, are a beautiful soft purple-red, and she has very few thorns. Cardinals, waxwings, and many others love the fruits.

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