difficult conditions

Submitted by CMiller on

I just renewed my membership for the second year. Last year I was told I could get some seeds but by the time I got a password, it was too late. This year I will try again. I live east of Sault Ste. Marie Ontario near Iron Bridge. I have a large piece of land (160 acres) but it is prone to flooding. The soil is silt over clay and gravel or bed rock. Soil pH is 5.5.
I have lived here 2 years and have killed tulips, rotted potatoes and tomatoes from the Fall moisture in a short growing season (zone 4). I have good snow cover but too much moisture when it all melts in the Spring. Summer nights are cool but there is lots of sun and good breezes.

My question is: what seeds should I order which might be successful. Because my nearest town has a population of only 900 people, landscaping supplies are not readily available so it isn't even easy to create a raised bed. I do have some plants which are doing very well including Iris cristata and even some Dianthus which I didn't think liked acid soil. I tend to like blue, pink and red flowers best.


Submitted by Mark McD on Sun, 12/12/2010 - 12:09

Hello Connie, a hearty welcome to the NARGS Forum.  I had to look up where Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is, and see that you are smack dab in the middle point between the Great Lakes.  To help you get meaningful responses from forumists in the context of the geographical location and climate zone you live it, may I direct your attention to the "Announcements from Moderators and Administrators" board, where you will find a few FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about editing or customizing your signature block on the forum, see: http://nargs.org/smf/index.php?board=1.0

What sorts of plants interest you most? You'll find that people here have a very diverse interest in plants.

The great thing about the broad concept of rock gardening, it can easily embrace woodland and wildflower gardening too, I'm sure there are many beautiful plants that will grow just fine under you conditions, as difficult as your growing conditions may be.  Do you have both sunny and shady areas to garden in?  You mentioned Iris cristata, it is a wonderful plant, available in a number of cultivars, that looks great in a woodland setting, or partly shaded rock garden.  Under such open woodland conditions, I would also recommend Epimedium, a fantastic genus of plants that can grow in dryish woods, even in full shade, but like open shade best, or even sun.  These plants have charming spring flowers, shields of beautiful leaves, often highly colored in both spring and autumn, and while delicate looking, are as tough as nails.  However, since the seed is short-lived (ephemeral) you will not find seed in seed exchanges, you have to buy the plants.  See: http://nargs.org/smf/index.php?topic=178.0

I too have terrible heavy silty clay soil over rock and subterranean ledge, and when I plant a shrub or tree, I get out a pick-axe and a pry-bar to dig a whole :rolleyes:.  The way I garden now, is to dig into the top stony layer where there is a bit of humus or loam material, and I excavate and scoop out paths and heap the soil into berms or raised mounds, I lighten and aerate the soil by adding sand and well-decomposed pink bark mulch and mix it in, then plant on the mounded areas... that seems to work for a large number of easy plants. For more challenging plants, such as true alpines, and western American plants, accustomed to growing in much more austere "soil" conditions with perfect drainage, then much more detailed construction methods are available to accommodate such plants.  But they can indeed be accommodated, and even here in New England (which should not be dissimilar from your climate), a gardener who puts his/her mind to it, can create small environments where most anything can be grown, an excellent example is the garden of friend and fellow Massachusetts resident Peter George, see this link:  http://nargs.org/smf/index.php?topic=373.0

Feel free to ask questions if you have any difficulties using the forum, and looking forward to learning more about your garden challenges and methods to address them.

Submitted by Hoy on Sun, 12/12/2010 - 14:45

Connie, Don't be afraid of trying lots of species. Some will live and some will not!
I have compiled a list of a few plants to try, most of them grow here, often in very wet situations and should be hardy:

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis and I. pallida),
Goldenglow (Rudbeckia laciniata),
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), 
Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria),
Wild mint (Mentha arvensis) and other mints,
Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosa and other Eupatoriums),
tall meadowrue (Thalictrum pubescens) and other Thalictrums,
milkweed (Asclepias incarnata),
Golden saxifrage (many Chrysosplenium sp) picture 1-2
Skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus and L. camtschatcense) picture 3
Siberian springbeauty (Claytonia sibirica),
Snake's Head Fritillary  (Fritillaria meleagris) picture 4
Marsh Marigold  (Caltha palustris) picture 5
Common sea-lavender  (Limonium vulgare) picture 6
many Aconitums and Delphiniums picture 7

Submitted by Lori S. on Sun, 12/12/2010 - 15:59

Hi, Connie, and welcome!
Your conditions are very different from here, that's for sure!  Your wettish conditions sound promising for many of the Primula, and so many other plants that have a tough time eking out a living here in our generally arid conditions. 
Trond's suggestions sound terrific.  I do have to comment on Lythrum salicaria, though - it's a beautiful thing, and is a fine plant in its native European habitats, but is a horrible wetland invasive in North America, and is considered a noxious weed in most jurisdictions... so you'll want to cross that one off the list! 

Submitted by Hoy on Mon, 12/13/2010 - 06:26

Thanks Lori! Sorry about the purple loosestrife! I am unfortunately not aware of which plants being invasive in North America.

Submitted by CMiller on Mon, 12/13/2010 - 07:13

Thank you for all the tips and suggestions.  I am determined to have a beautiful garden so will try a variety of plants.  I have already planted some Primula and they seem to be doing well so I will get more Primula.  My wetland area is "engineered" by beaver so I have even lost my bridge!  That area is too far from my house to cater to the plants properly though.

Submitted by RickR on Mon, 12/13/2010 - 20:59

CMiller wrote:

My question is:  what seeds should I order which might be successful.

Syneilesis spp., Iris setosa, and the water loving irises, Fritillaria camschatcensis, Diphylleia cymosa, Peltoboykina watanabei, Petasites and related, Lilium canadense, all come to mind.  An interesting shrub would be the late fall blooming witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana).  Bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), G. linearis, G. rubricaulis, Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinata), Chelone spp., Mysotis spp., Ramps (Allium triccocum).

Lori is right about the Lythrum species.  Even the cultivars that claim to be sterile have been found to be a little fertile(not a good thing).  So do stay away from them.  Any impatiens will most likely do well, in fact so well that they may become invasive.  Unless it's a native species, be careful with these too.

Submitted by Weiser on Mon, 12/13/2010 - 21:24

Just a few more sugestions.  Sanguinaria canadensis, Thalictrum thalictroides, Uvularia species, Mertensia species(ciliata, virginica, or paniculata), Stylophorum diphyllum, Phlox species( divaricata, stolonifera), Trillium species, Violas, Mimulus species, Linnaria borealis, Erica tetralix, Calluna vulgaris, Andromeda and many more I can not grow in Nevada.  :(