Sunday, June 21, 2009

Goodbye to old favourites, native and alien: Winter Kill 2008-9

Rain, glorious rain! Last night, unexpectedly, we got 11.28 mm (yes we have a digital rain gauge, so take the last digit on faith). That’s not even half an inch, but brings our HBG total to 26 mm (just over an inch) since Mayday. Looks like more is on the way too, so although that means our planned Sunday Moose Pasture hiking/canoeing is cancelled, I can plant out the last of the seedlings and catch up on blogging.

Last Fall was very dry, the Winter harsh, and the Spring non-existent. Although the snow cover this Spring was good, it came on late (no snow cover until mid- December) and from 13 December through 9 January every night-time temperature was between -10 and -35 C. The rest of the Winter and Spring experienced repeated bouts of extreme cold with -30 as late as 10 March, the last killing frost (-4) on 22 May (three weeks after the usual last frost date), and the last light frost on 9 June.

The harsh weather is no doubt responsible for the devastation of last Fall’s bulb blow-out (~380 new bulbs went in). Although the established and new crocus, squills, chionodoxa, muscari, and species tulips did well, and quite a few of the new hybrid tulips and daffodils survived and put on quite a display, many were frost blasted and there’s been no sign of others. No sign either of the new Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), Checkered Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris), spendy Lilac Wonder Dog’s Tooth Violet (Erythronium denscanis 'Lilac Wonder') , Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica), or Grecian Windflowers (Anemone blanda). Not much surprise with the last two – Zone 4-5 plants that have failed before - but the others were all Zone 3, well mulched, watered in, and should have survived (well, maybe not the Lilac Wonder – a bit floppy when they arrived and that is not a good sign with lily bulbs).

The few Alberta native bulbs that I have (Western Wood Lily Lilium philadelphicum, Nodding Onion Allium cernuum) don’t show themselves until late spring. They are just now in bud. None of the bulbous MIAs are ‘native’, so perhaps they just aren’t well adapted to this life. But the established ‘alien’ bulbs seemed to come through pretty well and without them, the HBG would have been pretty bleak this April and May.

The perennials were pretty badly winter whacked too, with 18 no-shows and 3 more that put up a leaf or two, but are on their last roots. Below I’ve divided them into North American Native or ‘Alien’ listed them with the year they went in and their putative USDA Zone rating. There is no obvious pattern by origin: mortality is about equally divided between exotic and North American natives, including 3 plants native to Alberta (a wild bergamot and two sunflowers).

R.I.P. North American Natives Winter 2008-9:
Doppleganger Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea ‘Doppleganger’ 2005 Zone 3
Purple Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium purpureum 2008 Zone 3
Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa 2003 Zone 3 (AB native)
Garden View Scarlet Bergamot, Monarda didyma ‘Garden View Scarlet’ 2005 Zone 3
Maxmillian Sunflower Helianthus maxmillianii x 2 2004 Zone 3 (AB native)
Sunset Strain' Bitteroot, Lewisia cotyledon 'Sunset Strain' 2008 Zone 4
Purple Leaf Coral Bell, Heuchera americana 'Purple Palace Select' 2005 Zone 4

On the ropes (a couple of leaves left):
Chocolate Mint Foamflower, Tiarella 'Mint Chocolate' 2006 Zone 3
Iron Butterfly Foamflower, Tiarella 'Iron Butterfly' 2007 Zone 3
Ruby Spice Summersweet, Clethra alnifolia 'Ruby Spice' 2007 Zone 4

‘Aliens’ lost this winter:
Fernleaf Yarrow, Achillea filipendulina ‘Cloth of Gold’ 2005 Zone 2
Giant Yarrow, Achillea grandiflora (or maybe Tanacetum macrophyllum) 2005 Zone ?
Monkshood, Aconitum napellus clump 2004 Zone 2
Yellow Loosestrife, Lysimachia punctata ‘Alexander’ x 2 2004 Zone 2
Bronze Garden Mum, Chrysanthemum x morifolium 'Morden Delight' x 2 2006 Zone 3
Siberian Bugloss 'Jack Frost', Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' 2008 Zone 3
Siberian Bugloss 'Spring Yellow', Brunnera macrophylla 'Spring Yellow' 2008 Zone 3
Chinese Lanterns, Physalis alkekengi franchetii 2008 Zone 2b


  1. I don't think we achieved your 11.28mm of rain here on the north side - but I could be wrong as my rain gauage is a bird bath, and the Robins will splash things about...

    I'll have to get a digital one as well. Wireless, is it?

    I have not managed very well with the Echinacea either, which is a disapointment. The Brunnera's rarely seem to last longer than two years. My Joe Pye is coming back slow, but fairly complete.

  2. Hi Adrian,

    I don't want to give any commercial endorsements at the HBG, but if you think of a Confederate general who rode a horse named Traveller and a San Fernando Mall-inhabiting Girl, then I think you can guess the source of the yuppie-priced rain gauge. I love it, but the only way I could rationalize the price was as a gift for Heather.

    The Doppleganger Coneflower is the only Echinacea that hasn’t come back – two Echinacea purpurea ‘Ruby Star’ and four with unknown breeding raised from seed and put into fairly stressful locations have all survived. The Doppleganger had a second whorl of ray flowers in the middle of the cone – one of those mutants that practically SCREAMS ‘just because you can breed it doesn’t mean you should’. It seemed to agree with this sentiment, since the extra whorl of ray flowers never reappeared after the first year and it steadily declined.



  3. Oh, I think my heart would be broken at such losses. I hope that was only a small percentage of your overall garden plants.

    Sheesh, I forgot how harsh this past winter was.

    Let's hope for more rain and a soft and lovely autumn. :)