May 14, 2012

Toronto lilacs are nice but...

Fragrant snowballs rock!

Closeup of white Fragrant Snowball Viburnum x carlcephalum flower in bloom by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
Detail of a Fragrant Snowball (Viburnum x carlcephalum) bloom

When we started planning our garden circa 1993, admittedly my wife and I knew very little in terms of plant selection. I suppose, like many other new homeowners, we were preoccupied by little distractions like a leaky roof and an ugly kitchen. The backyard was literally a junkpile! But we knew that we "needed" a plant that would give off a nice scent when we imagined ourselves relaxing on an imaginary deck some time in the distant feature. 

I did some research, pre-Google, and found a possible choice for a fragrant shrub that had to survive newbie gardeners and a semi-shady site. I remember going to a "choice" garden centre in Toronto and finding the most forlorn looking excuse of a shrub that had a hefty price tag (what did know?) As we all know, hope triumphs experience (especially in a garden centre) so I bit the bullet and bought a rather non-descript two gallon Fragrant Snowball (Viburnum x carlcephalum).

Over the years, it has bloomed with varying success, dependent more on whether the marauding squirrels left it alone (you will know my pain when you see anticipated blooms left on the ground, nipped off by these culprits for no other apparent reason than relieving their boredom.)

We, near Lake Ontario, had a very mild winter into 2012 with almost no persistent snow cover and fewer than average bone-crushing cold days  so perhaps this explains why my beloved Snowball is now having its best show ever. (Viburnum x carcephalum is a cross between V. carlesii and V. macrocephalum if you're wondering about its parental history.) The snowball-like cymes emerge with a pinkish tinge which turn white and smell fabulous (spicy/clovey to me.) 

My snowballs never set fruit which is an important ornamental feature for many in this genus (but not a big deal to me with x carlcephalum). The shrub's form is rather gangly but I've seen standards (single-trunked lollipops) blooming right now in Toronto (not a bad route to go if your into this sort of thing.)  Fall foliage is alright as well, running from a red-brown to wine to burgundy description. Maybe if you have 6' by 6' spot near a deck (they do get big) or patio, a fragrant viburnum (which x carlcephalum is one) would work.

I profiled another fragrant viburnum, Bodnant Viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense "Dawn") last year in a similarly titled post called "You can keep your lilacs..." if you want to investigate further other sweet-smelling members in this genus. 
I wanted to show you, on the other hand, a non-fragrant (actually no smell at all) snowball viburnum also blooming its pretty head off in the back:

Clusters of white Popcorn doublefile Viburnum plicatum flowers by garden muses: a Toronto gardening blog
"Popcorn" doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum "Popcorn")

Viburnum plicatum "Popcorn" is  known as a Japanese snowball and likely not as well-known as the other doublefile viburnums like Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum "Shasta", "Mariesii" or "Summer Snowflake". As the cultivar name suggests, the white flowers are massed in layers but are sterile pom-poms instead of fertile lacecaps.  

I bought this as another two gallon container at the other end of the garden centre spectrum: Wal-Mart! I was stunned to see this in the sea of baby junipers, mugo pines and Emerald cedars. And the price was certainly agreeable! It's about 6 feet high now and a showoff now in May like the other plicatums. It does look like giant popcorn doesn't it?

Alas, invariably I get asked "I like those hydrangeas, but can you get them in blue?"

Next post will cover lacecap viburnums in bloom right now. Call me the viburnum enabler!

May 06, 2012

When plants come with warning labels

Buyer beware at a Toronto garden center

Maybe this is a start of new trend among garden plant retailers but I saw this notice at a big box store recently (actual location cropped to protect the innocent, me!):

no warranty sign on plants at big box store paul jung toronto ecological organic gardening services
Yer pays yer money and takes yer chances!

At first I thought this applied only to those evergreens which were profiled in my last blog entitled "The March of the Emerald Cedars"  since many are returned for refund at this time of the year; however, after I purchased at this same store some "Serenade" Japanese Anemones this week, I found the same wording on my receipt.


I guess this new stance is Crappy Tire's (this location anyway) reflects a new philosophy: Our bottom line for garden center operations is so lousy due to returns that you, the gardening public, are on your own when it comes to choosing and caring for that specimen euonymus (not!) or mom's geraniums ("whaddya mean, they don't come back every spring?")

I rarely, if ever, defend a Big Box Store (especially its garden center) but I can see this policy from their viewpoint (a first for this blog!) I am quibbling about the wording on warning label. It should be like this, verbatim:

"Our once generous plant warranty (which used to be two years, then one year, then 90 days, now zero) reflects a re-positioning of  the BBS plant care pact with you, our dear customer: 

If  we exert the minimum energy to throw some water on our valuable inventory during a heatwave or drown the poor things when rain is forecasted tomorrow or hide the roses in a shady nook by the patio pavers, then the very least you can do is research and execute: a)  what "full sun" and "part shade" mean  b) what "plant at the original depth of the container" is interpreted as and c) what "water deeply" for the first year represents. (For more information about what "fundamental care" means, look it up. That's what the internet's for!)

Recently, you haven't lived up to your end of the pact as we get bum-rushed with half-living or scorched plants at customer service. Naughty you!  

Starting today, you're SOL if  the plants you bought from us actually don't make it through a harsh winter, less a harsh summer. Not enough due diligence on your end, buddy.

Oh, by the way, don't bother talking to our minimum-wage staff who don't know and don't care about your soil's pH or pruning grandma's heirloom climbing rose. Remember that old nugget about getting what you paid for?"

I find the language on the warning label actually very honest (apart from the disingenuous "thank you for understanding" corporate add-on) since it now forces the horticultural newbie and old-fart like moi to do some research. (This, of course, is nearly impossible when a plant is in full bloom as those garden center managers know so well!)

I believe, in all sincerity (right!) that this new hardball stance is win-win for everyone. It will reduce the lineup at returns at this BBS location (no more jostling between very dead yews and possibly dead power washers), drive business to local mom and pop garden centers (don't know about their return policies but anything above zero is a bonus), and force responsibility on the homeowner to ask questions before plunking that beauty into the ground.

I'm such a Pollyanna about these things...