Saturday, August 27, 2011

Growing Grasses in Calgary, AB - Part 1

Calgary's Gardeners Deal With a Very Challenging Climate
Fortunately there is an ample selection of grasses for the challenging conditions in the Calgary area, as proven both by controlled hardiness trials at various universities and by the more prosaic trial-and-error methods used by nursery growers and home landscapers.

Below are descriptions of six of the best grasses for the Calgary area. A list of specific grasses will follow in a separate post.

Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ (Feather reed grass): This hardy, narrow and tall (up to 2 M), cool-season grass grows to its fullest potential in open, sunny areas with extra water during dry spells. However, it is very adaptable and can also be grown in partial shade in a variety of soil types and moisture levels. A single ‘Karl Foerster’ plant makes a striking specimen, but they can also be used to more dramatic effect in greater numbers. A swath of them planted along a border becomes a kinetic weathervane as their upright flowers dance in a breeze.
Follow this link to view further info about "Calamagrostis Karl Foerster" on our website.

Deschampsia cespitosa (Tufted hair grass): In terms of growing conditions, the many forms of Tufted hair grass are similar to ‘Karl Foerster,’ and the two grasses are often planted together. Boasting names such as ‘Bronze Veil,’ ‘Gold Veil,’ and the smaller ‘Gold Dew,’ they reveal Deschampsia’s versatility and charm. Like ‘Karl Foerster’ they start blooming in late June and their flowers persist into winter. Their blooms are large but are so finely textured that they resemble a sublime haze of gold floating above foliage. Both ‘Karl Foerster’ and the green-leaved varieties of Tufted hair grass are great choices that can hold their own against Calgary’s winters.
Follow this link to view further info about Deschampsia on our website.

Carex muskingumensis (Palm sedge) and Luzula sylvatica (Greater wood rush): Even though much of Calgary is dry and sunny, many shady areas occur around buildings and taller vegetation. These niches that have lower light levels are appropriate places to plant Palm sedge and Wood rush. Neither plant is a true grass, but both are good choices for handsome, winter hardy plantings.
Palm sedge (up to 1 M tall) is adaptable, but in natural conditions it favors moist (even wet) areas when it is growing in full sun; in shadier locations it tolerates drier conditions. It is often used in landscaping to display its palm-like foliage which nicely complements perennials with large leaves such as Hosta.
Wood rush is a slow-to-establish small plant that is useful for lightly to moderately shaded areas. Although some protection from winter winds is helpful for reducing dieback of the tips, it is somewhat amazing that Greater wood rush maintains its green color year-round. Also, once it settles in and its roots spread, wood rush is a very tough plant for shade. Its fibrous root system allows it to become a weed-proof groundcover that can handle a fair amount of drought (larger plants are produced if the soil around them isn’t allowed to dry out).
Follow this link to view further info about Luzula sylvatica on our website.

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem): Native to mixed grass prairie habitat, Little bluestem (50-100 cm tall) is an excellent choice for just about any sunny garden in Calgary. Its fountain of narrow leaves is appealing year-round. The most commonly grown variety – both for hardiness and ornamental qualities – is ‘Blaze,’ whose name conjures an image that captures its fall colour. For a combination that will produce decades of enjoyment, plant large drifts of Little bluestem around groupings of Pinus flexilis (Limber Pine), which grows wild in this region.

Miscanthus sinensis (Chinese silver grass and various other names): If you took a survey of what ornamental grass first captured the public’s attention, the majority would probably say Miscanthus – this wouldn’t be surprising, given Miscanthus’s stunning visual presence and its physical stature, which is closer to shrubs than perennials. Its various cultivars and species come in a range of sizes but they tend to be medium to large. To grow the best specimens it is important to consider micro-climates: The ideal position is a sheltered area that receives at least six hours of summer sun; a good location would be near a southwest-facing wall that reflects extra sunlight in summer and retains some radiant heat in winter. All of the many varieties of this grass are quite attractive, but Miscanthus sinensis var. purpurascens merits special mention: It is winter hardy, its reddish-green foliage and fall color are alluring, and its smaller size allows it to be mixed in with other perennials without overwhelming them.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Planting Our Bare Root Plants & Plugs

Many of our customers order the bare root Miscanthus plants, particularly Miscanthus Giganteus. Just in case you don't know how to plant it, I have a picture of one below. The green line indicates the soil level. There should be a point where the stalk changes from light to dark. That is the previous soil level. So try to plant it to approximately the same depth again.

For planting the plugs and other bare root plants, we have a video. Sorry it is not as crystal clear as we would like it to be. It became unclear in the upload to YouTube.

Monday, March 28, 2011

For Screening or a Fence: Willow Fedge vs Coppiced Willows

That Jim (6'2"), the owner of Bluestem Nursery, standing amongst
Salix viminalis Superba. That is just one year's growth!
(on the willows, not Jim!)

Willows are great for screening. They put on a lot of growth in a single year, especially when coppiced (cut to ground level) in late winter/early spring.
There are two ways to grow them: upright, which involves putting cuttings in the ground, and building a fedge, which involves putting 6'+ rods into the ground on an angle. Let's consider the pros and cons of a building a fedge vs a simply planting a stand of willows:

Fedge (more info on our website)

  • sturdy
  • permanent (meaning year round)
  • unique
  • will keep out deer and other larger animals
  • can be kept narrow
  • gives you screening the first year 
  • will require pruning at least twice a year
  • if not pruned the branches will flop and look messy
  • requires some effort to build
  • because of the pruning required, it may not be very tall

A stand of coppiced willow plants

  • inexpensive
  • easy
  • requires pruning only in late winter
  • many ways to approach it (see Willows for Screening) on our website 
  • will probably keep out deer, once it grows taller
  • shelters wildlife
  • needs to be cut down at some point (however, see the link above)
  • will not give much screening the first year
  • will be quite wide, though stray branches can simply be pruned, at anytime of the year

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Root Systems of Prairie Plants

A customer pointed out this interesting information, from the Illinois Native Plant Guide, on the root systems of native plants. Since we occasionally get asked about the root depth of our grasses, and because we sell 8 of those shown in the diagram, I thought it may be of interest. Click here to view.

It is a bit difficult to read the names of the plants, so here are those that we carry:
Note that the first one is so small that you may miss it when counting from the left (its Kentucky bluegrass)

Click on the coloured text to go directly to our website to view more info aabout each grass.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nova Scotia Community College - Living Wall

I received a link to this video of a living wall under construction at the Waterfront Campus of NSCC in eastern Canada.

Congratulations to all involved. It looks beautiful!!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

If You Have Streambank Erosion Issues

From a newsletter we receive:

Streambank Soil Bioengineering: How to Build & Install Vegetative Structures for Reducing Streambank Erosion

Same Agenda, Two Locations:
February 23-24, 2011 Portland, OR
March 9-10, 2011 Spokane, WA

"Join us for a very practical, in-depth and applied workshop on building and installing vegetative structures for reducing stream bank erosion. Our two very experienced instructors will cover all aspects from understanding stream functions, and riparian sites to the building, applied uses and life expectancy of stream bank erosion control techniques. A wide variety of designs and applications will be covered with an on-the-ground assessment of what works and what doesn't. The same workshop will be offered in both Portland, OR and Spokane, WA to make your travel plans easier."

For more information and to register, click here.....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Living Walls or Vertical Gardens

A vertical wall of greenery is not only aesthically pleasing in concrete jungles, but it also significantly cools the wall.

The vertical garden is not just ivy growing up a wall, rather the plants are rooted in the wall. It is closely related to a green roof.... simply a green roof suspended vertically.

Previous to the Olympics in Vancouver, I had been seen pictures of living walls(aka vertical gardens, green walls, plants walls, biowalls), but I hadn't been able to get up close to one until I saw this one on display during the Olympics. The picture below looks a bit like it could be a bunch of plants at a nursery, waiting to be purchased, doesn't it? However this small panel is hanging vertically and while he plants have not filled out yet, you can see the various colours and textures have created something visually appealing:
To explain the concept, from Wikipedia:
"In vertical gardens, plants are rooted in fibrous material anchored to a wall. Water trickles down between the sheets and feeds moss, vines and other plants. Bacteria on the roots of the plants metabolize air impurities such as volatile organic compounds."
To further develop the idea of using various leaf colours and textures Patrick Blanc has designed many incredible vertical gardens around the world. This one is on the Marché des Halles in Avignon, France:

The overpass below is Pont Max Juvénal, in Aix-en-Provence, France:
A living wall on the CaixaForum, a new museum in Madrid, Spain:
Made by Scotscape Living Walls, in Scotland:

The walls can also be indoors, such as in offices, hotel atriums, etc, to improve the air quality, but I will save that for a future post.

Some further info and pictures can be seen at these websites: