Plants tough like Gordie Howe

To honour Mr. Hockey, these flowers bring beauty despite body checks of black thumbs, drought, wet soils or deep shade

  • May. 7, 2015 4:00 p.m.

I found another excuse to infuse a little of our national game into gardening, and it turns out, none other than ‘Mr. Hockey’ himself, Gordie Howe.

I was watching a documentary the other day on his controversial stem cell treatment and the resulting miraculous recovery from a stroke and I thought to myself, that’s one tough 87-year-old.

Then again, he was always that perfect balance of skill and grit throughout his legendary 32 years of professional hockey – a guy who could score goals and still knock your teeth out with his wayward elbows or fists.

Yet, off the ice, he morphs into this kindly father figure who always treats the fans and the game he loves with the utmost respect.

So in honour of Gordie, I thought I would share with you the toughest plants I know –  those that can flower and bring beauty despite black thumbs, drought, wet soils, deep shade or incessant pruning.

• Wet soils: wet soils bring with them the dual problems of potential crown rot and a lack of air to the root system, particularly during the winter rains. Two plants that overcome both these obstacles are shrubby dogwoods such as Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ and the Siberian Iris (I. sibirica). The dogwood provides variegated summer foliage and attractive red stems in winter, while the Siberian Iris is also available in compact forms such as ‘Baby Sister’.

• Drought: steep south-facing slopes can be a challenge and while they need coverage to prevent erosion during the winter rains, these same slopes are quite arid in summer if no irrigation is available. Two shrubs that provide the dual purposes of groundcover and drought tolerance are the non-invasive Genista pilosa ‘Vancouver Gold’ (a UBC introduction) and the taller Genista lydia. Both have green stems and bright yellow flowers that smother the contour when blooming from late spring to early summer.

• Deep shade: nothing withers a gardener’s soul faster than deep shade, yet there is a limited palette of shrubs that thrive on the dark side. Two of the best include the evergreen Aucuba japonica ‘Picturata,’ with its glossy green leaves and inset gold variegation, as well as the sweetly fragrant Dwarf Christmas Box (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis), which blooms in winter and forms a dense groundcover.

• Easy to grow: Even your black thumb might be challenged to kill the durable Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm,’ with its venerable golden daisies (accented with a brown central cone) brightening up the late summer garden. All they really need is sun and good drainage.

Of equal vigor is the hardy Hydrangea paniculata ‘Quickfire,’ with its pink-tinted cone-shaped flowers that are borne from midsummer through to autumn.

• ‘My husband prunes too much’: give a man any tool that cuts and he’s going to be out in the garden making a pest of himself.

What he really needs is a pruning hobby and both the Nishiki Willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’) and Viburnum plicatum ‘Summer Snowflake’ (another UBC introduction) need constant attention to stay in their best form. The white, pink and green new growth of the Nishiki Willow looks best when it is groomed with a tight contour while the May to frost lacecap blooms of the ‘Summer Snowflake’ also look better on a dense shrub.

• You can find the true story The Night Gordie Howe Met His Match on my personal blog (www.soulofagardener.wordpress.com) by typing his name into the search engine.

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (hebe_acer@hotmail.com).

 

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