The Summer of ‘04

by Krys Klassen is an enthusiastic amateur balcony gardener with twenty years on a southwest facing seventh floor balcony.

I was inspired to pass further comment on a friend’s reflection of ‘the summer that never was’, at least at his cottage on Lake Huron with drought hardy annuals. Things were a little different on a seventh floor balcony looking west over Forest Hill.

summer04Thanks to the consistently cool temperatures and ample rain, I was spared twice a day watering, the pansies lasted more beautifully than ever from March until the annual aphid infestation (delayed till August), and for the first time ever, the springtime potted primula transplanted outside did not shrivel and wither in the heat and life-sucking wind, but grew luxuriantly leafy and green and bloomed until late July!

The September bonus of hurricane induced heat and humidity provided a wonderful second lease on life for traditional annuals like geraniums, and lysianthus, if you hadn’t already given up and thrown them out. And that strange tiny-flowered annual I was talked into at Loblaws, whose performance I was initially unimpressed by, it burst forth in gloriously heavily laden shooting stars of delicate pink late in September.

Last winter was another story. The death toll was high: two volunteer Manitoba maples headed for careers as bonsai, my prized Golden Tiara clematis in its fourth year and the General Sikorski clematis (bought to propitiate my husband, an aeronautics buff and fan of the Sikorsky helicopter, but otherwise a colour-blind horticulture-phobe).

However, all the alpine clematis survived (are you surprised? I think not) and the two replacement clematis, Etoile Violette and a native variety, are doing very well.

It was a bad summer for diseases and my feeble organic remedy attempts. The columbine, that has valiantly survived nearly a decade, fell victim to leaf miner and mildew. The aphids came for the pansies as always, but a little later than usual. The rosemary and the rudbeckia (I confess, purchased, already potted, in early August to fill the late summer floral gap) turned into artemesia from mildew, not all that unpleasant actually, except for the flowers…

There were other success stories. The true artemesias (not mildew-induced), silver brocade and silver mound, were as happy as ever; in fact, the pleasant September weather has encouraged the silver mound to excel beyond any previous year, or maybe it was the extra elbow room provided by the demise of the Golden Tiara. (Sigh.) Perilla flourished, its deep mahogany foliage setting off perfectly the artemesias (true, and mildewed rudbeckia) and lysianthus. Its location was determined by my removing it from every container I didn’t want it in, since it liberally seeds itself all winter. It’s worth the effort for its changing display from tiny purple plants like ground cover in spring, through the full gap-filling, contrasting deep rich red-browns of summer, followed by the inconsiderable purple flowering, to the three to four foot tall winter interest stalks with seed heads like the top of a baroque steeple.

The volunteer native(?) grass has also taken hold this year and filled some corners quite nicely. Not as pretty as the more ornamental nursery varieties right now, but I have high hopes for warm straw colour for my winter landscape.

The quest for trailing components took a dive a few years ago when the German ivies kept succumbing to the aphid invasion, but I think I have two new candidates. Lamium, possibly silver beacon, has a lovely vigorous trailing habit and its silver outlined leaves show up beautifully at night, in the distance and against dark containers or foliage. Another late summer fill-in, chocolate orange mint, has the unexpected (by me) bonus of deep purple trailing stems. Keeping it alive for next year will be my winter project.