| Above, Begonia ‘Bonfire’, Begonia ‘Glowing Embers’ tuberous begonias in baskets on our woodshed, and tuberous begonias planted in a bed at the Laurel Point Inn, Victoria, B.C. Below, a hardy Fuchsia growing against the west wall of my office, and a hoophouse with winter vegetables courtesy of Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Other photos by the author. |
Three weeks ago resultant from a note from Barbara Draffin of Scarborough, I wrote about what I was pretty sure was Downy Mildew on Impatiens. I have not heard further from her but a recent item from a British gardening blogger (Howard Drury) seems to re-confirm a suggestion I made in that item: “any other bedding plants can be grown without risk. Semperflorens-Cultorum begonias and bedding fuchsias perform well in the shaded areas for which busy Lizzies are invaluable.”
Howard, just ten days ago wrote: “So while the Impatiens walleriana may be on its way out here is a real opportunity to promote alternatives like the Begonia family–look at the huge range and types. Why is nobody talking about the good alternatives? Or do we just let the public down again, after all downy mildew on Impatiens has been around for years and nobody in the media seems to be helping them find good alternatives.”
Howard Drury’s view of the Downy Mildew situation on Impatiens is an opportunity to seek alternatives. “I am old enough to remember the introduction of the modern busy lizzie and while gardeners moan about the mildew problems, it’s really an opportunity to find alternatives. We have been in similar circles before–geranium rust on the old cutting varieties, rotting heads on African Marigolds, Pansy leaf spotting and root rots never mind the mildew on the so called winter Pansies [which never really flowered in the winter] and what did we get? The hybrid violas that flower at lower temperatures and are much easier to grow.”
I too, Howard, am old enough to remember most of those happenings and similar ones here in this country. It certainly seems to me that the Begonia family should be the first place to look for already-available alternatives to the Impatiens (or busy lizzies). Of the several I have grown recently, B. ‘Bonfire’, ‘Glowing Embers’ and even many of the tuberous varieties can make a beautiful show as my shot of Victoria’s Laurel Point Inn demonstrates here.
The other genus I mentioned was Fuchsia, and again there is a wide selection available. If you happen to garden out here in British Columbia as I do, there are many Fuchsias that can be planted permanently in the garden, and only in particularly hard winters will the plants die right down to the ground. But even then, they can be expected to sprout from their roots as soon as spring rolls around. Unfortunately for those of you in colder cli-mates such as Ontario (and colder) these are not an option! But then, Impatiens do not live over the winter either!
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I think I should conclude this week’s article with a few comments on a topic that seems to be of increasing popularity to gardeners everywhere—self-sufficiency in as many food crops as possible. Seed companies as well as nurseries and garden centres in many parts of the world report dramatically increasing sales of vegetable seeds and young transplants. Here, for example is a partial list of veggies that can be grown over a much longer season than most gardeners have in the past: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, greens, greens salad mixes, kale and collards, kohlrabi, lettuce, radish, spinach, Swiss chard and turnips. Now, depending on your climatic location, you may need some assistance in growing some or all of these out of the normal spring/summer season.
That assistance should come from what are generally classified as “season extenders” and more of them are appearing on the market every year. A key example are Quick Hoops™ low tunnels which allow you to extend the growing season for your cold-hardy crops with a very late season harvest; or you may overwinter them in the low tunnel for earliest possible spring harvest. What can you grow in these low tunnels? Consider lettuce and greens both early and late in the year; strawberries in spring; raspberries and tomatoes in summer; and spinach and other cold-hardy vegetables over the entire winter.
The other similar form of protection that is in use extensively now are high tunnels—these are generally on hoops that allow you to walk into the centre of them to seed, plant, and work on the crops. They are basically extremely economical un-heated greenhouses consisting of a single layer of greenhouse poly (varying weights are available, depending on how much snow is anticipated) over light metal or PVC hoops. The sides are generally able to be rolled up during warm days, and let down in late afternoon so the sun’s heat is retained over the night.
In some cases, some form of heating may be added for short periods of time depending on the degree of cold (to be) experienced. Also, it is not unusual to have low tunnels installed directly over certain crops beneath a high tunnel.
To start, most gardeners often seed overwintering spinach just before the first frost in low tunnels covered with a row cover and, later, with poly. Such spinach will reach 8 – 10 cm (3 – 4”) before winter cold stops their growth. They will resume growth in late winter and be a month earlier than spring-sown spinach. Carrots too can be planted under similar conditions, and the added bonus is there should be no interference from the annoying carrot rust fly. In fact, many gardeners use such covering all summer (with hoops covered in Remay cloth which admits good light but keeps away the insects).
Another option is early next year in a high tunnel, direct seed spinach, lettuce, and greens as soon as day length exceeds ten hours. Cover the beds with row cover on hoops for extra frost protection. If you don't have a high tunnel, make a low tunnel of hoops covered with greenhouse poly and plant spinach, Asian greens, mache (corn salad or miniature gourmet salad greens with a delicate flavour), and onions as soon as the soil can be worked.
One of the best sources for more information on this subject is the Johnny’s Selected Seeds site ( www.johnnyseeds.com ). They also have a toll-free line that operates in both Canada and the U.S.—1-877-JOHNNYS (1-877-564-6697). They are located in a fairly cold climate (Winslow, Maine) so if you too are in such a climate, you will find their information applicable. Of course, in addition to seeds, Johnny’s also sells a huge line of season extenders including those I have written about here. They also sell a book, The Hoophouse Handbook by Lynn Byczynski at a cost of $15.95 (US).