Echinacea Fantasia

I stopped by the Toronto Botanical Garden on my way out of town yesterday, because I knew if I left it until I returned to the city in 10 days I’d miss the echinacea show.  The TBG has incorporated into its various gardens the “regular” (pinkish) purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea), like these ‘Rubinstern’ flowers in the entry border…..

Echinacea purpurea 'Rubinstern'

……and many of the beautiful colour variations that have permeated the market over the past few decades, including white, yellow, orange and red hybrids.  The varieties below are featured in the President’s Choice Show Garden.  Many are the fruit of the echinacea breeding program at Portland’s Terra Nova Nurseries.

Echinacea array

And, of course, they were all ravishingly beautiful, for their moment to shine is mid-July.  ‘Amazing Dream’ from Terra Nova is a dramatic, glowing, crimson-pink.

Echinacea 'Glowing Dream'

Orange ‘Tangerine Dream’ and double gold ‘Secret Glow’, both from Terra Nova, make fine bedmates.

Echinacea 'Secret Glow' & 'Tangerine Dream'

Reproductively, echinacea is self-infertile, meaning it must be cross-pollinated to make seed.  It does that in an interesting way.  Each inflorescence (capitulum) is composed of ligulate or ray florets (the colourful petals) on the outside and an inner cone made up of roughly 276 tiny, whorled, bisexual disk flowers, each subtended by a tough bract that lends the plant its Latin name, echina, meaning hedgehog.  Each whorl of disk florets, starting from the outside and working towards the centre during the bloom period, goes first through a staminate stage, in which the stamens elongate and release pollen on the first day, then a pistillate stage on the second day, in which the ovary becomes receptive – but only after the flower’s own pollen supply has been disseminated. This sexual strategy of separating the male and female phases on one inflorescence to facilitate cross-pollination is called protandry,  Nectar production is not left to chance, but is carefully controlled by the plant to ensure pollinators visit at the appropriate time to effect cross-pollination.  This tiny sweat bee (Agapostemon virescens) got the message, and was carefully probing each tiny disk floret for sweet nectar.

Sweat bee on Echinacea 'Tangerine Dream'.JPG

And not just the little sweat bee, but the bumble bees, too, like this Bombus impatiens on ‘Amazing Dream’..

Bumble bee on Echinacaea 'Glowing Dream'

And this one on ‘Meteor Red’ (which made me happy, because though it’s a semi-double, some of those nectar-rich flowers are accessible to insects).

Bumble bee on Echinacea 'Meteor Red'

The butterflies got the nectar memo as well, like this American painted lady. We were all there for the sweet echinacea fantasia festival!

Painted lady on Echinacea 'Tangerine Dream'



The Gardens of Lakewinds

There’s nothing nicer than a mini-summer-holiday with old friends.

Unless it’s old friends and really good theatre.

Scratch that. Unless it’s old friends and really good theatre and good food and wine.

Scratch that.  Unless it’s old friends and really good theatre and good food and wine while staying in a lovely bed & breakfast with a spectacular garden. That’s how I spent several days last week in the lovely theatre town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, while taking in five productions of the annual Shaw Festival.  And, of course, catching up with old friends, as we do every summer here; dining in town; sipping wonderful Niagara wines; visiting the Niagara Parks Botanical Garden; and resting our heads at the charming Lakewinds Bed and Breakfast.

Lakewinds Bed & Breakfast

This was our first stay at Lakewinds and I was excited, as I’d visited it on a garden tour years ago. Jane and Steve Locke bought the manor house in 1994 (once the summer home of a scion of the Fleischmann yeast family of Buffalo) and refurbished it completely.  It’s a wedge shot from the historic (1875) Niagara Golf Course across the street and beyond that, the shore of Lake Ontario (thus the Lakewinds name) and a healthy 6-9 block walk from the centre of town, all three Shaw theatres and lots of restaurants and shopping.  Not to mention thousands of tourists!

After seeing the matinees and before heading out to dinner, we sat on the big front veranda in the late afternoon.

Main Veranda

In fact, there are two shady verandas at Lakewinds.  The side one has a nice view of the long, shade border.

Arbor & Side Veranda

And a great centrepiece of Rex begonias.

Rex begonia

A stroll towards the border takes you past the stairs festooned with a massive swath of Hall’s honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’) mixed with clematis.  As big as it was, Jane said she’d recently trimmed most of it away!

Clematis and honeysuckle

Here’s the long border, with its quiet mix of mostly green hostas and other foliage plants.

Front Border

On the most hot, humid day of the summer so far, we took a post-matinee dip in the lovely swimming pool.

Swimming pool

Stand under the redbud tree and you get a view over the pool along the checkerboard paving into the potager-style vegetable garden.

Pool view to potager

I love this kind of path!

Checkboard flagstone path

In early July, it’s just getting started, but the potager is full of colour..


There are lots of cottage garden flowers here, including red breadseed poppies (Papaver somniferum) and orange Spanish poppies (P. rupifragum).


And Clematis ‘Rooguchi’ is climbing the obelisk.

Clematis 'Rooguchi'

Off in a corner is a little formal space centred with a fountain.

Fountain garden

And at the back of the property is a serene, shady woodland with a path running through.

Shade walk

Jane keeps a bowl of flowers on long dining room table where we enjoyed breakfast…..

Flowers on table

And on the table in the lobby where afternoon sherry was accompanied by the curried almonds that Jane has made famous.  By chance, I found these nuts on the internet years ago and they’ve become part of my Christmas cooking routine.   The breakfasts were delish – eggs Benedict, Belgian waffles, and baked French toast, below.  Because you can’t start a day with George Bernard Shaw on anything less than a full stomach!

French toast