Weekly Plant Pick

Well my gardening friends, it seems I’m having trouble keeping up with this page again this year – I got off to a good start, but then… well, life and work just got in the way. So to try and make up for it, I give you – not one, not two, but three plant picks. The first is…

Rosa rugosa ‘Scabrosa’

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

I’m not really a big rose fan – or I didn’t use to be. Some seem so persnickety, others really ho-hum, and some just downright misrepresent themselves, their big velvety flowers and subtle yet beguiling scent belying their sloppy growth habit. But I guess somewhere along the way I must have been converted, because every year at least one rose finds its way onto this page.

Rosa ‘Scabrosa’ is a robust, extremely disease-resistant shrub rose with a compact bushy growth habit, glossy green leaves and large, delicate, single magenta blooms. In our climate it will reach 3 to 4 feet in height and spread.

Like all rugosas it is tolerant of poor soil, a little shade, drought, and very cold temperatures. However, it surpasses other rugosa hybrids in a number of ways – the leaves are larger and glossier, the fruits are the largest, raspberry red hips I’ve ever seen, and it doesn’t tend to suffer iron chlorosis to the same degree (at least not in my garden where other rugosas turn sickly yellow and require iron chelates or acidifying soil treatment).

Soft fragrance and summer long bloom round out this lovely rose’s appeal – I guess there’s a reason this rose is the recipient of the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM)!

My second plant pick this week is…

Cornus alba ‘Ivory Halo’

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

There are numerous variegated dogwood cultivars available in the Calgary market. I have tried them all – with varying degrees of success – but the one I find myself coming back to when others don’t perform as required, is Ivory Halo.

The last few winters have been particularly hard on dogwoods – many suffered significant winter dieback and/or had trouble waking up in the spring. It may in fact have been the weird spring weather that was the problem rather than winter – an early spring tease seduced them out of dormancy, only to be set back by more cold weather. So the dogwoods remained in stasis until they were sure spring had actually come. Then to add insult to injury, the spring rains that normally bring verdant vibrancy to our gardens, never came. What’s a poor dogwood to do but languish in the heat and dry?

Well not bold Ivory Halo – spring cold didn’t set it back much and it copes with heat and sun better than any other dogwood. So when other dogwoods were just beginning to get their groove on, Ivory Halo was proudly strutting its stuff.

A smallish, compact dogwood cultivar, it is very bushy and somewhat wider than it is tall (3-4 feet tall x 4-5 feet wide). It requires very little pruning to maintain its naturally globose form, though like all dogwoods will provide best winter stem colour if older wood is removed periodically to allow for more colourful younger growth. Ivory Halo can be used as a single specimen or can be massed in odd-numbered groups, the creamy white variegations providing a stunning backdrop to brighter garden denizens.

If you’ve lost faith in dogwoods as a prairie garden staple, Ivory Halo just might make you a believer again!

My third pick of the week is…

Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

I don’t use globe thistle – neither in my own garden nor in client designs. It isn’t that I question its cold hardiness or its drought tolerance, because I know it is both. It does have interesting texture, but I find its desaturated grey-mauve colour to be somewhat lacklustre, especially since it blooms mid to late summer when I really want a shot of rich royal purple or iridescent purple-blue. So I look right past the spiky-but-otherwise-nondescript plants when I see them in a garden or a nursery.

All that changed last week when I visited Olds College Treatment Wetlands and espied a stunning hillside planting of Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’ massed alongside other prairie hardy flora – indeed I couldn’t look past it if I tried. The flower colour was so rich it demanded attention, grey-green foliage and silvery stems providing a perfect backdrop for the intense purple-blue flowers. In its exposed location, at the mercy of cold winter winds and hot dry summer winds, it was clearly thriving.

Globe thistles are disease and pest free, easy to grow and low maintenance. Bees and butterflies love them as do most gardeners – and now that I’ve seen Veitch’s Blue, so do I. Indeed I will be using them whenever I can henceforth. Fortunately the design I am currently working on calls for just such a plant!

Past Picks

Campanula portenschlagiana ‘Catharina’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

A few years ago I chose Campanula portenschlagiana as a weekly plant pick.  Since robust performance is a requirement I like to ensure in my weekly picks, in hindsight I realize this particular plant wasn’t the soundest selection.

I was just so thrilled to finally find it here, and it was so darn pretty… well it seemed like a good choice at the time. No doubt it is a stellar performer in some climes – indeed I’d read warnings of its rampant spreading habit. But not here – at least not in my garden.

I planted three of them, one of which didn’t make it past the first winter. One has come back faithfully every year and is quite healthy, but has been slow to increase in size. The other one just limped along until finally I replaced it last year with a cultivar of the same species.

This cultivar, ‘Catharina’ is her name, has proven to be considerably more vigorous than the species, very much deserving a place on this page.  She flowered right up til frost, made it through a weird winter (all Calgary winters are weird) and came to life in the spring, hale and hearty – a tight, round mound of dark green foliage three times the size of her last year’s breadth.

Catharina began flowering about a month ago; many star-shaped, mauve-blue flowers, darker and more intensely coloured than the species, now smother the plant. Hundreds more buds waiting to open suggests she will again flower until frost. I purchased another one this year and planted it in a much shadier spot (half sun at most) – it is growing and blooming and thriving in its new home, true to the claim that Catharina is more tolerant of shade than most members of the genus.

This eye-catching little beauty grows 6-8 inches tall, about 2 feet wide at maturity, and is reasonably drought tolerant once established.

Catharina – she’s one classy Campanula.

Iris ‘Raspberry Blush’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Iris ‘Raspberry Blush’
Photo: Sue Gaviller

As a young girl growing up on an acreage in Southern Ontario, I loved the month of June – school’s end fast approached, the days were warm and long, and my Mother’s garden bloomed sweet with old-fashioned perennials; big blousy peonies, clove scented Sweet Williams, and best of all, irises. Velvety blooms atop strong stiff sword-like foliage, subtle fragrance, and an array of soft sherbet colours made this flower the quintessential early summer bloom.

I have grown many irises in my own garden – with varying degrees of success. A large canopy tree once shaded much of the yard, which meant less-than-stellar performance from my irises. The exception was Iris ‘Raspberry Blush’ – always reliably floriferous despite less than adequate sun. Shade is no longer an issue since we lost the tree in a wind storm a few years back – and this beautiful pink iris continues to impress, with still more blooms.

Raspberry Blush is an intermediate bearded iris, meaning it is of medium height and blooms midseason. I’ve found this Iris to be less prone to bacterial soft rot than other irises, and it suffers very little winter kill.

None of these qualities are what makes it stand out for me though – nope, it’s all about the colour. This is the truest pink I’ve ever seen in an Iris – not peachy pink, not mauve-pink, but clear, cool pink. A contrasting bright orange beard adds to its allure

This pretty pink gal came to my garden more than a decade ago, via my sister, who’d ordered it from a mail order catalogue – the small piece of rhizome she gave me very quickly became a big blooming patch. And the rest as they say is history.

Colour your early summer garden with a little Raspberry Blush!

Helictotrichon sempervirens

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Every year around this time, big blue clumps of Helictotrichon sempervirens take centre stage in my garden. And every year since beginning this blog, I want to choose this elegant ornamental grass as a weekly plant pick. I snap photo after photo, but never quite capture the grace of the arching inflorescence, its oat-like seedheads glinting in the sun like sprays of water – so I choose another plant instead. I still haven’t managed to successfully capture its beauty in a photo, but have decided to make it this week’s pick anyway – it is deserving of the honour even if my photos don’t do it justice.

Blue oat grass is a cool season grass, large and imposing – it is cold hardy, disease and pest free, and with a few simple maintenance practices won’t overstay its welcome. In fact this is the key – don’t let it overstay its welcome. This means cutting down the inflorescence (flowers) as soon as the elegant arching stems aren’t so elegant anymore – about mid July they’ll begin to look floppy and turn brown because the seeds are ripening (and will soon begin to self-seed). You can trim the stems down to the height of the foliage, or if you’re a little more fastidious (that would be me), remove each flower stalk individually from the base of the plant – this is of course more time consuming but in the end produces a tidier clump of foliage.

I know there are garden purists who will argue with me on this point, advising you to leave the seedheads on the plant for winter interest. Unfortunately this is at the cost of the plant’s overall health and thus its appearance for the remainder of the summer – considerable energy is expended producing seeds hence the entire plant begins to look sparse and brown. By removing the inflorescence, the steely-blue clumps of grassy foliage will remain tidier, bluer and healthier well into the winter – so you aren’t really giving up winter interest are you? By springtime, at least in Northern climes, most of the blue foliage will have turned brown and dry, and should be trimmed back to allow for spring’s fresh new growth.

Helictotrichon sempervirens will mature to a spiky mound about 24 inches tall (36-40 inches when in flower), and 24-30 inches wide. If you have lots of space they can be massed for a wavy, watery effect, or it can be used as a single specimen, standing out when in flower and playing a more supporting role when not. Blue oat grass does well in sun or part shade and isn’t terribly fussy about soil type. Though relatively drought tolerant, a little extra water will be appreciated during extreme heat.

Whether your taste is casual or formal, traditional or contemporary, naturalistic or stylized, this dramatic ornamental grass will be at home in your garden.

Thymus ‘Pink Chintz’

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Photos: Sue Gaviller

Creeping thymes are a great addition to a dry sunny border, and as such, are an excellent plant choice for Calgary’s warm dry summers. Being of Mediterranean origin, these creeping groundcovers also enjoy mild moist winters – uh, not exactly our winter experience, right fellow Calgarians? They can manage the cold just fine but they don’t like the drying Chinook winds – hence widespread desiccation can be a problem. Not so with this little pink gem – while all of my other thyme species and/or cultivars have significant winterkill this year, Pink Chintz is thriving. It is one of the earliest thymes to bloom – and the plants are currently smothered in clear pink flowers.

The foliage is an attractive medium green with a light downy surface, making it very soft to the touch. And when touched, the tiny leaves give off characteristic thyme aroma – strong and spicy.

Like most creeping thymes, Pink Chintz is low and ground-hugging and though it will spread indefinitely, is not at all invasive – when it outgrows it space, I just yank the offending strands off. After flowering, a light shearing is all that’s required to maintain a tidy soft green mat.

Pink Chintz is by far my favourite thyme – give it a try; it might just be the ‘thyme’ of your life.

Rosa ‘Never Alone’

Today was Victoria Day; the day most Canadians celebrate summer’s beginning. Barbeques are dusted off, patio furniture comes out of storage, gardeners decide (often erroneously) that it’s safe to plant their tender annuals, and I revive my Weekly Plant Pick – well that has always been my intention anyway. This year I’m actually getting started on time.

The first pick for the year 2015 is a most worthy candidate.

never alone rose resize2

Photos: Sue Gaviller

I’ve never grown this rose before.

Nor has anyone I know.

Say what? How can I choose, as my weekly cream-of-the-crop selection, a plant I have no experience with whatsoever? Well I have my reasons.

I was wandering the aisles of a local garden centre last week when a shelf-ful of dark, glossy, wine-coloured foliage caught my eye. As I neared the display I realized it was rose foliage. Wow, I thought, these are quite stunning. As much as I love beautiful foliage though, it isn’t the reason I chose this rose for the year’s first plant pick. When I examined the tag I discovered the rose is named ‘Never Alone’, a tribute to the Never Alone Foundation, which was founded by CFL alumnus (and former president of our own Calgary Stampeders), Lyle Bauer, after his 2004 cancer diagnosis.

The foundation’s mission is to “improve the lives of those affected by cancer.” Their vision: “a world where no one enters the fight against cancer alone.” Through a series of connections between Lyle and the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association (CNLA) this unique rose was named ‘Never Alone’, a 1$ royalty from the sale of each rose going back to the foundation to continue its work. To read more on the story check out this article by garden writer Colleen Zacharias.

CNLA and the Canadian Football League Alumni Association (CFLAA) have partnered to market this little beauty across the country this spring – it’s now available in select garden centers in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The hardy shrub-rose is purported to be exceptionally floriferous, disease resistant, compact, and even a little shade tolerant. Its new growth emerges in the richest dark wine colour I’ve ever seen in rose foliage, then matures to a deep glossy green. Sounds like a winner to me.

My family has been touched by cancer too many times (though even once is too many), the latest being my sister – unfairly, the second time around for her. She had her final round of chemo last week. A few days later I found this rose and it seemed only right that she should have one. So another of my sisters and I planted one in a pot with some purple catmint and gave it to her this afternoon; in celebration of chemo being finished and as a reminder that she is not alone.

If you know someone fighting cancer why not go out and purchase one of these hardy beauties – let them know they are ‘Never Alone’.

2014 Picks

Eutrochium ‘Phantom’

phantom joe pye

Photo: Sue Gaviller

It’s the second week of September and I’m afraid my Weekly Plant Pick hasn’t been very ‘weekly’ – it’s been twice-monthly at best. It seems I’ve been playing catch-up ever since we returned from our trip south in June – and now; believe it or not, we’re experiencing our first snowfall!

Shortest summer ever!

Warmer temperatures will return in a few days, but in the meantime, the weight of very wet snow could flatten plants that would otherwise be quite lovely for many more weeks. Fortunately, today’s pick should be just fine due to its strong sturdy stems. In fact the stems of this dwarf Joe Pye weed are part of its appeal – a deep plum colour that contrasts beautifully with the mauve-pink blooms.

A late bloomer, ‘Phantom’ has lush green foliage with purple veins and petioles, medium-coarse texture, and a bushy upright growth habit – which means great garden appeal from when it emerges in the spring through its late summer bloom.

Though considered a dwarf variety it will reach a good four feet tall and 3 feet wide, making quite a statement in the late season border.

What impresses me most about this plant is how quickly it matures into a full size specimen – the plant in the photo has seen only two summers in my garden and it was purchased as a mere 6 inch pot. It has proven to be quite drought tolerant in its hot sunny home, needing supplemental watering only once or twice during the hot dry weeks of this past July and August.

And in case you’re wondering, Joe Pye weed once belonged to the genus Eupatorium, but has been moved to the genus Eutrochium. Since the cultivar ‘Phantom’ is listed as either species maculatum or dubium (from two different but very reliable sources) and both have been moved to the new genus, you should have no trouble finding it simply as Eutrochium ‘Phantom’.

Phantom Joe Pye weed is a fine addition to the mixed border – and ‘no ordinary Joe’.

Sambucus racemosa

Sambucus racemosa

Photo: Sue Gaviller

As midsummer rolls into late summer and garden colour begins to wane, berries, seedheads and other fruits bring a little extra to our gardens.  A gorgeous example seen in Calgary landscapes right now is Sambucus racemosa, the red-berried elder. Our hot dry weather this summer has resulted in early ripening and a bumper crop of the stunning red fruit (which are reputed to be somewhat toxic unless cooked).

Sambucus racemosa is native to much of Canada and the U.S. and grows well in many different environments – I’ve seen it thrive in low-lying areas that are prone to flooding and do equally well on hot, dry exposed sites.

Roughly vase-shaped in form, this 2-3 meter shrub will become a little amorphous if not pruned – with gentle pruning though, a graceful vase-shape can be easily maintained.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Their compound leaves provide good texture in the landscape with the medium-dark green colour providing a nice backdrop for brighter-colored garden elements. At this time of year they become real standouts, their bright red berries providing a blast of colour from now until winter.

There are numerous cultivars of this species, most of which have more colourful foliage, but I rather like the understated elegance of the simple green shrub with the bright red berries.

Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Loraine Sunshine’

Heliopsis 'Loraine Sunshine'

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Rarely does a ‘Blooms of Bressingham’ introduction disappoint, and this variegated false sunflower is no exception. Although introduced to the gardening world by the renowned Bressingham nursery, the story goes back to a lady named Loraine Mark who discovered this unique seedling growing in her Wisconsin garden in 1992. She worked for a local nursery and garden centre, Hanson’s Garden Village and took a cutting to work for the nursery owner, Brent Hanson, and another employee to have a look at. All agreed this was indeed something unique and they began growing and testing it in the nursery, eventually bringing it to the famed Blooms of Bressingham.

The rest as they say is history, though sadly Loraine didn’t live to see her discovery become the popular garden plant it is today. In her memory, Brent and her other colleagues decided to honour Loraine by naming the plant ‘Loraine Sunshine’ depicting her sunny personality, loved and missed by all.

Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Loraine Sunshine’ boasts cheery golden-yellow flowers against a backdrop of handsome white and green variegated foliage. Its upright bushy growth habit and striking foliage colour afford it season-long beauty.

Cold hardy (to zone 2 or 3) and drought tolerant (once established), it tolerates a wide range of soil conditions. Though it flowers best in full sun, a little shade will bring out richer foliage colour. Loraine Sunshine is the earliest blooming of the false sunflowers and will reach a height and spread of a about 3 feet.

Make your garden a little bit brighter – bring a little ‘Loraine Sunshine’ into it!

Spiraea japonica ‘Goldmound’

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

I’ve had difficulty this past week finding a plant that really impresses me – not that there aren’t lots of beautiful plants around, but everything just seems so ho-hum. Perhaps I’ve been so busy playing catch-up after being away that I’m indifferent to the beauty around me.

However, going through my photos today I noticed a particular shrub kept photobombing the shots – a mound of bright chartreuse Spiraea japonica ‘Goldmound’. I use this indispensable shrub quite regularly in client designs and I have several in my own garden – they’ve been there for as long as I can remember. So much a design staple is this shrub that I overlooked it as candidate for this page.

Photo: Sue Gaviller

Photo: Sue Gaviller

It’s a tidy, compact little beauty that maintains roundish form with minimal pruning. The foliage emerges intense golden-yellow in the spring (it’s one of the first shrubs in my garden to leaf out), then settles down to bright lime green, holding its vivid colour throughout the season. Pretty medium pink blooms adorn the plant beginning in early summer and if deadheaded will continue blooming for most of the summer. To top it all off it has gorgeous orange-red fall colour.

Goldmound spirea does best in full sun but will tolerate partial shade – in less than 3 or 4 hours of sun per day, it’s colour will become dull, and powdery mildew will likely be a problem. Drought tolerant and cold hardy (to zone 3) it will mature to about 2 – 2.5 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

Spiraea japonica ‘Goldmound’ – not to be overlooked!

Heuchera ‘Frosted Violet’

Heuchera 'Frosted Violet'. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Heuchera ‘Frosted Violet’. Photo: Sue Gaviller

So y’all know purple foliage isn’t really purple right? It’s kinda dark chocolatey-red or burgundy-wine colour. The foliage of Heuchera ‘Frosted Violet’ however, is the closest to purple I’ve seen.

It emerges very dark and dramatic in a matte aubergine hue, then develops a silvery overlay with deep purple veining, and as the nights cool again in late summer and fall, it becomes rich dark violet-rose.

In early summer, and for the rest for the season, many tall stems with sprays of tiny pale pink bells rise from the foliage. Indeed it is the one of the most floriferous Heuchera in my garden.

An H. villosa hybrid, Frosted Violet is both heat and drought tolerant, and like all Heuchera, it is also shade tolerant. Keep in mind though, that in full shade the colour will fade to grey-mauve – those deep dark anthocyanin pigments are a response to sunlight, acting as a leaf ‘sunscreen’. So… no sun, no pigment.  It may however appreciate some protection from the hottest afternoon sun. In my own garden, this cultivar performed best with full sun, except for an hour or so at midday when a large ash tree provided some light dappled shade. We lost the tree in a heavy wind storm a couple of years ago, leaving Frosty fully exposed – a wee bit o’ leaf scorch has since occurred, but all in all it still appears to be thriving.

This lovely foliage perennial will spread to about 18”, with a height of 12-14” (foliage) and at least 18” when in flower. The leaves are quite thick and leathery for a Heuchera, making them somewhat more hail-resistant than others in the genus.

Heuchera ‘Frosted Violet’  – let one of these frosty fellas cool down your garden this summer.

11 comments on “Weekly Plant Pick

  1. jeanne says:

    I love how the leaves on Diablo go almost black, in the sun, by late August.

  2. Shelyn says:

    Thank you so much for this beautiful blog! I am so excited to try some of your picks in my own Calgary garden.

    • Thanks for your kind words – gardening in this Chinook-challenged climate isn’t easy, and even when we start with good plant choices things don’t always work out the way we hope. I wish you the best of luck with your own Calgary garden.


  3. Just discovered this gem of a blog. An experienced gardener sharing her, well, experience. It’s all I need to know in brief, informative, and lovely prose. I’m not a follower of any blogs, but will make a habit of visiting again if you are still sharing.Thank you.

  4. Vanessa Weiss says:

    Your photos and descriptions are awesome, Sue! I garden in High River and can’t believe my luck twigging onto a resource like this for the Calgary area. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience in such a friendly and accessible way!

    • Hi Vanessa,

      Glad you find the blog to be a helpful resource. The internet wasn’t a thing when I started gardening so there were fewer resources for budding gardeners – happy to share the knowledge and experience I’ve gained over the years.


  5. Glenn Ward says:

    Hi Sue
    I am an avid gardener and read a lot of gardening sites/blogs with a specific interest in design and without a doubt, your postings are the most insightful and succinct, and are my favourites. Is there a way to sign up to have your blog postings sent to me, or to be notified of what you have just posted?

    • Hi Glen,

      Thank-you for your kind comments. I see you have signed up for email notification which will notify you the next time I post something. Unfortunately it has been an extraordinarily busy couple of years for me with design work, magazine articles and speaking engagements – so I don’t think I’ve posted in more than a year. I’m grateful for the patience of my readers though, and I do hope I’ll be able to find the time for blogging again soon.

      Thanks for reading,


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