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More About Summit Perennials

Established in '91 to introduce local gardeners to the less usual mainstream perennials, as well as having some of the more normal material for novice gardeners. Starting in about 2010 I have been scaling back, and since 2013 I have restricted myself to selling only peonies, which I had been specializing in for over a decade.

The motto is "Beyond the Usual", which describes not only the plant selection but also just about every darn thing around here. Part of the Unusual is that I won't sell a plant that I can't keep growing here. I'll also tell you how to grow anything I sell you. But I won't tell you how to grow a plant you bought from a less informative nursery or a supermarket plant stand, so please don't ask.

It was initially set up for on-site sales, but being a bit off the beaten path and in bug territory, and given that our rural roads'o'potholes are such a joy to drive on, mail-order has become a logical extension — by evolution, not by initial design.

I believe in providing information with my plants, none of that buyer beware stuff. So I've researched them to the extent possible in my books (not exactly a huge library, though), and on the Internet where the books came up short. I then added my own observations. I present a fair bit of the result here on this site and also did so in my printed catalogue (since discontinued). A more detailed printout of everything in my database is provided to customers, about their plant purchases, although the database is sometimes out of date and nothing useful comes out (kind of like a Google search, in that way).

For newcomers, the nursery is situated in about a 1 acre partially-cleared corner of my almost 4 acres of wilderness, with one small neighboring property and surrounded on this side of the highway by about 1000 acres of woodlot (60% clear-cut in ‘94/95, more in progress from time to time but they say they're switching to selective logging), while across Highway 1 is the undeveloped end of the 2 square miles of the Uniacke Estate Museum property. So you will understand that there is lots of wildlife of all sorts, from plants to insects to frogs to deer. (Also many “wildflowers” trying to get their seeds into the nursery beds and pots, where they become weeds or bonuses, depending on your point of view.)

In addition to the wildlings, there was for several years a commercial bee hive on the property, well out of the way, but the residents were happily at work in my flower beds. They were actually a very docile hive even when being handled by their keeper, and have given no problem. The hives were in decline for awhile, which we believed was because of increased pesticide use as "lawn care" companies with a penchant for indiscriminate spraying attempting to move their commercial base out of reach of the HRM anti-pesticide bylaws by pursuing new business in other municipalities. Then following a year of improvement the remaining hive was killed by the winter of 03/04 (as were many others throughout NS). I hope to get another hive in a few years when the bee keeper builds up his numbers of hives again. As a post-script the lawn care companies have discovered how to sell people and governments on the idea of "Green Pesticides"-- all natural and therefore all safe. I'm sorry, a poison is a poison whether it comes form a green plant or concrete plant; there's some pretty toxic stuff in nature. Hell, uranium is natural, all industry does is concentrate the stuff.

While the plants are fairly well organized here in the web catalogue, it's a different story at the nursery, where it's necessary to put them wherever there's room. Since the potted plants are spread out in small groups all over the place (believe it!), if you know some of the plants you want, asking is the best way to find them. The only organization theme will be most of the shade plants together in the wooded area, but some of them end up elsewhere too. I’ve finally gathered all the shrubs and trees into a single area at the edge of the woods.

Name tags of plants in my display beds are somewhat in disarray (still) and disappearance; I’ve finally decided how I want to deal with that problem and will be getting at it as time and funds permit. No progress yet...

Special Order: I regret that I don't really have the resources to deal with special orders for plants that are not already in my stable.

Some Words About My Plants: As before I continue to seek out interesting material which is not readily or inexpensively available from other sources, and worthy plants that deserve to be tried in our climate. When I grow plants from seed I usually do not thin them out to individual plants (except with expensive seed). So when you buy a pot you get a small colony of the plants. This is especially useful with biennials, because some of them will be stunted by the faster-growing plants and will wait with flowering until they get some time in the sun, which will be a year or even 2 later.

While the adage “you get what you pay for” is often as true for plants as for other things, I strive to give you more than what you pay for by selling mainly overwintered mature plants in good soil at rather modest prices. You will see some pretty small, and sometimes even sad looking, things here but these are plants that are really meant for later sales or even next year or the year after, and have to be put somewhere while they grow on. Rather than be continually moving plants around even more than is already the case, I intermingle them with more sellable plants.

The Search for Better Labels: Every time I think I've licked the problem of labels being shorter-lived than the plants they belong to, some intelligent folk decides to make a small change in the formula of the glue or material used, and suddenly I find myself with a crop of disintegrating labels. This has happened with more than one formerly good product.

The Growing of the Plants

Most of the plants are now grown in pots, although some may spend some time in a nursery bed first. Peonies are in 1 to 5 gallon pots, although these days my back is objecting to the larger sizes and I will be scaling back to smaller ones, since I have found that they do grow well enough in those sizes. The plants overwinter in their pots with no particular extra protection except in some years a berm of leaves around the outside of each pot group.

Potting soil is a good mix of topsoil, sand, compost and bark in proportions which vary depending on the needs of the plants. This is heavier than the soil-less mixes used by many nurseries (especially mail-order) and doesn’t allow for as much top-growth while potted (leaves and stems are shorter and smaller) but the root growth is superior and the plants transplant much better because of the similarity to the soil they are being planted in. Chemical fertilizers are administered only in special cases, because I want to avoid forcing the plant to a size inappropriate for the rootmass and pot. I have also found that by avoiding chemical fertilizers, by using this soil mix and by treating the pots as I do, few require any irrigating even in dry summers. I allow the plants to go gradually and naturally into drought-induced semi-dormancy, which they recover from when water is again available: next rainstorm or on planting out. It has quite amazed me to see this happening.

Pricing: Prices are individually shown in the website listings. GST is not charged, due to the modest sales volume; this is within the rules. Here, a $5 plant is $5, not $4.99 + 15%. Payment on site: cash, or cheque. I am no longer able to take any credit cards, due to the ridiculous fees levied by the providers of that "service".

Some Things You Can Find at the Website:

Common names are listed, though, so you can use your browser's Search or Find function to look for a common name on the page you're at. And similarily for botanical synonyms.

For each plant, the following information is usually presented, generally in the order below: General description (usually including geographic origins), then Cultivation recommendations (usually including native habitat), then a bit about the Foliage if it is noteworthy, then description of the Flower, and finally some suggested uses. Once you see how an aspect is phrased, you'll be able to search for that phrase. Please note the Uses are not all-inclusive, and especially with regard to ecological issues absence of recommendation does not mean the plant has no role; for example, a plant not showing Honey Bees or Hummingbirds as some uses does NOT mean that these critters don’t enjoy the plant, it only means that I haven’t myself seen them going after it and none of my books or internet sites I've checked have mentioned it either.

Mainly, the catalogue is short on a description of the visual impact of the plants and flowers; my brain just doesn't go that way! Fortunately there are digital cameras.

Butterflies:

I've left this paragraph in here as a matter of education, though peonies are not exactly butterfly plants in North America. But buterflies are sometimes seen on peony flowers.

If you select plants specifically to attract butterflies (and even if you don't), be kind to your butterflies. Remember the reason the butterflies are attracted to your plants: they're either there for a quick meal or to lay eggs on a specific type/ species of plant which will host their caterpillars. So please don't go all squeamish when the caterpillars show up, and definitely please don't go for the insecticide or declare war on them. They are there so that you will have butterflies again in the next year or in a few years, depending on the life-cycle. Host perennials are usually quite capable of surviving even the loss of all their leaves to the caterpillars, it is part of their role in the eco-system and they have adapted to it. Bottom line, if you can't stand to see caterpillars on your plants, it's best not to plant deliberately anything attractive to butterflies.

References List (somewhat out of date)

These are roughly in order of most to least useful and significant for me, although some near the end of the list are better for limited specific purposes. Data gleaned from these books is always modified or confirmed by my own observations specific to this climate, although it sometimes takes several years of waiting for conditions. I haven't updated this list for several years although I have added a few books to my library, notably about peonies.

“Low Maintenance Perennials”; R.S.Hebb; 1975
“The Random House Book of Perennials, Vols. I and II”; R.Phillips and M.Rix; 1991
“The Random House Book of Shrubs”; R.Phillips and M.Rix; 1989
“Gardening With Trees and Shrubs in Ontario, Quebec, and the Northeastern US”; T.Cole; 1996
“Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials”; E.Phillips & C.C.Burrell; 1993
“Roland’s Flora of Nova Scotia”; rev. by M.Zinck; 1998
“The Simon and Schuster Pocket Guide to Garden Plants”; H. Johnson & P. Miles; 1981
“A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs” (Peterson Field Guide Series); G. A. Petrides; 2nd Edn, 1972
“Peonies”; A.Rogers; 1995
“The Genus Paeonia”; JJ Halda with JW Waddick; 2004
“Greer’s Guidebook to Available Rhododendrons”, 3rd edition; H.E.Greer; 1996
“Ornamental Grasses and Grasslike Plants”; A.J. Oakes; 1990
University of Guelph “Course Notes for the Horticulturist I, II and III” 1992 revision
“Reader’s Digest Guide to Creative Gardening”; British Edn, 1984
“The Colour Dictionary of Garden Plants”; R. Hay & P.M. Synge; Compact Edn, 1969
“The Perennial Encyclopedia”; J. Kilmer; 1989
“The Photographic Encyclopedia of Wildflowers”; T.Farino; 1991
“Atlantic Wildflowers”; D. Griffin;1984
“Spring Wildflowers”(NS Museum Field Guide Series); A.E. Roland & A. R. Olson; 1993
“The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Their Medicinal and Culinary Uses”; ed. S Bunney; 1984
“Ontario Weeds”; J.F.Alex; 1992

 


 

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