Evergreens and Unusual Bulbs

There Are Tons Of Great Evergreens, So Why Do We Plant A Bulk Of Just Two Or Three Types; And It Is Time To Start Looking For Unusual Bulbs
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

August 16, 2015

Above, Though it is not obvious from this shot, the Serbian spruces all have two almost-white lines on the bottom of each needle giving them a distinctive look. The habit of this one is definitely not typical! Diplodia tip blight usually ruins the new tip growth on Austrian pines and similar trees. Below, two beautiful large bulbs available now, or soon, for bloom next spring; Allium gigantium, and Fritillaria lutea ‘Maxima’. The most common flower colour is bright orange but I prefer the yellow. Author photos.



Were you expecting to read more about the Toronto CNIB Fragrant Garden in this place last week? It had been my intention to update the situation but as it happened I still didn’t and do not now have enough information to pass on to you. I think when I do get the whole story some readers will be amazed at the current situation. So, just stay tuned as they say in the electronic media!

Evergreen trees such as spruce and pine add year-round beauty to your home. However, it seems to me virtually 60 to 70 percent of the large evergreen trees one sees throughout our cities and suburbs are one of two common types--Austrian pines, or one form or another of the Colorado blue spruce. Not that these trees aren't nice, but both are affected by pests that can be a real nuisance. The Austrian pines particularly during wet years are affected seriously by Diplodia tip blight which caused entire huge sections of the older trees to turn brown and die. The Colorado and Koster blue spruces, on the other hand, are subject to a galling aphid which causes tip die back; and when they get older, these spruces almost always suffer from a disease called Cytospera which is identifiable by the white mildew-like substance on the interior branches. The disease causes a slow decline in older trees. There are many other options to these trees. First of all, if you must have a blue spruce, plant one that has a good conical shape--and that cannot be said for Koster. Look for one called Hoopsi which I think is the best of the blues. Another spruce to look at is the Serbian. It has a different and varying colour effect thanks to the two light lines on the undersurface of each needle.

Scot's pine, the one commonly grown for Christmas trees, is sometimes resistant to the Diplodia tip blight however my two trees one year showed some signs of infection. Scot's pine has shorter needles but is at least as fast growing. As is done with Christmas tree plantations, an annual shearing of part of the new growth in June or July will yield a beautifully shaped tree either for a lawn specimen or for screening purposes. Visit your favourite garden centre and take a good look at just what they have to offer. Why not try something just a little different?

It used to be de rigeur to plant some medium-sized evergreens against the house as a "Foundation Planting." The old idea behind foundation planting was really two-fold: first to hide the ugly block foundation of the home; and second, visually to tie the abrupt vertical wall of the home to the surrounding landscape.

Much of that idea has now been modified. Yes, still there often is a need to hide ugly foundation walls; but the visual effect, it is now generally agreed, is better achieved by planting some small- to medium-sized evergreens in a planting bed that extends out from the front of the home, perhaps tying in with a curving walkway to the front door.

The other change is the much wider range of plants available. The first great stride was a much better selection of foliage colours. We now have bright yellow evergreen foliage such as Sunkist arborvitae (cedar) which hold their colour relatively well in the winter. These contrast well with the many green and blue junipers. It is important to remember, however, that most of these demand a location with at least six hours of sun per day if they are to retain their beautiful foliage colour.

If your planting area in the front of your home is shade for the greater part of the day, there are still many plants from which you may choose, and that will tolerate the shade they'll have to endure. The mainstays of shaded plantings are Japanese yews and yew hybrids, Euonymus, Korean box, blue hollies and Oregon grape. Unfortunately, these plants are not hardy in the coldest parts of Canada--yews, for example are the hardiest of those mentioned, and they are only hardy to zone 4 (eg. Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. and Québec City). In the colder climates, gardeners need to rely on either deciduous shrubs, or reliably hardy plants such as junipers and native ground covers like wintergreen.

The other criteria when designing a planting at the front of your home using small- and medium-sized evergreens, is growth rate, and ultimate size of each plant. Your garden centre will be pleased to help you with guidelines for, and information about, the plants you choose, and of course, to help you choose them.

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It's spring bulb planting time again! It was in 1594 that the first tulips bloomed in the botanical garden at the University of Leiden in Holland, where they had been planted by the then new curator, the early botanist, Carolus Clusius.

While there is plenty of planting time yet (although the earlier you plant daffodils and narcissi, the better!), many of the smaller, not-so-well-known bulbs, or the more unusual cultivars of them, often sell out fast. So, if you would like to plant delightful and rare items such as snowdrops, Winter aconite or Summer snowflake, or, at the opposite end of the height scale, giant alliums, NOW is the time to get into your favourite garden centre.

Bulbs such as tulips may easily and safely be planted as late as December, depending on frost conditions in your part of the country, but as mentioned, daffodils need more time to make root before a total freeze-up, so they should be in the ground at the latest by the end of October. Daffodils prefer partial shade, so avoid planting them in areas which receive direct mid-day sun. I suggest you consider naturalizing them under large trees. The same applies to Scilla; you can in fact create entire meadows of blue in early spring by planting Scilla under trees and on ravine slopes.

Most of the other bulbs, however, prefer full sun locations. That means you should plant tulips, hyacinths, alliums, Fritillaria, crocus etc. all in full sun; at least they should be sunny spots during the time the bulbs are in flower. Good drainage is essential for good bulb growth. Break up and loosen the soil to a depth of at least 25 cm (10"). My advice about the planting depth for bulbs--figure on planting them just about twice as deep as the actual height of the bulbs themselves.

If damage by squirrels has been a problem in the past, simply purchase a package of nylon garden netting at the time you buy your bulbs, and place several folded layers of it over each planting of bulbs just below the surface of the soil.


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