Categories > Gardening tips

How to Grow a Great Pumpkin

One may think the timing on this blog is a little late, kind of like closing the gate after the cows have escaped but….since the spotlight is on pumpkins at this time of year, let’s talk about how to grow a great pumpkin and store this knowledge up for the spring. We may even do a reprise of this as the warmer weather draws nigh in the early months of the new year with suggestions for good pumpkin varieties.

Here are some things to consider when mulling over pumpkin cultivation:

General guidelines:

  • Pumpkins are very frost sensitive (as are squash, zucchini and cucumbers).
  • In our climate, we usually have to start them indoors because we average round 115 frost free days, so be sure to investigate pumpkin varieties that have a maturation time between 85 and 125 days.
  • Miniature and large pumpkins often share the same maturation times.
  • There is a difference between pie pumpkins and carving pumpkins, so look for those features as well.

Preferred locations look like:

  • Full sun – 8 hours of sunshine
  • Lots of room – pumpkin vines take a LOT of space
  • High quality, well draining soil – pumpkins hate to have their feet soggy

When to plant:

  • Again, because pumpkins are very frost sensitive, it’s a good idea to start them indoors in 4” pots at the beginning of May to give them a good start and then to transplant them out in the garden after the last threat of frost has passed – which is THE $64,000 question – our Grandpa John Wallish says June 9 is safe – we can probably get away with the 1st week of June.
  • Watch for night time temperatures & cover them if the temperature looks like it will be flirting around 5 C.
  • They don’t have to be to be planted in a mound of soil – a mound is only needed if there is poor drainage.

Growing Tips:

  • Water only when needed – otherwise leave it alone
  • Water in the morning so it dries during the day & it is not damp at night
  • Too much water = powdery mildews or rotting
  • Avoid water on the leaves because that as well can lead to powdery mildew
  • Decrease watering as they begin to turn orange, no more watering is needed 7-10 days before harvesting
  • Blossoms do need to be pollinated, bees usually take care of that but you can use a paint brush to pollinate
  • Beetles sometimes bug pumpkins, pick them off & drop them in a jar of vinegar or just squish them

How to tell your Pumpkin is ready:

  • Look for the a very bright orange color or whatever the end color should be, sometimes they are yellow or white but they all start off green.
  • The vine has begun to age – starts to look dry, stems begin to twist.
  • It has a hard outer shell.
  • Leave about 4-6” of stem so the pumpkin will dry well.

Take this and store in your memory banks for spring, home grown is always tastier and more fun.

Contact us today!

Tips on Making Cut Flowers Last

Summer is the time when we can cut our own fresh flowers and grace our spaces with the colors of the garden. Delphiniums in blue, Dianthus in pink, Salvia & Limonium in purple, and Rudbeckia in yellow all great vase flowers. Here are a few tips on maximizing the lifetime cut flowers and how to get them to last a longer.

About the Vase:

  • Make sure your vases are squeaky clean – this slows the growth of bacteria in the water.
  • Use clean, fresh, cool water to fill the vase.
  • Add anything to the water?
    • This is a question with a LOT of discussion and opinion! There isn’t much agreement on what is best here…with ideas starting at adding pennies or lemon juice or sugar or vinegar or bleach to getting hairspray involved on the top end.
    • Here’s one recipe:
      • To 1 Litre of water add – 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (some acidity) + 1 tbsp sugar (food source) + a few drops of household bleach (to deter bacterial growth) — but we’re making no guarantees on how this will work.
  • Change the water in the vase regularly, like every 3 days — nobody really does this – BUT it would keep things from getting slimy.

About the Flowers:

  • Cut your flowers first thing in the morning while they plumped up and fresh from a good night’s rest.
  • Some flowers are best cut closed – do a quick check online for recommendations to your specific flower.
    • cut peonies closed when they feel like a marshmallow
    • allium, tulips, roses, daffodils all do best cut closed
  • Other flowers are best cut open or partially open like:
    • delphiniums, dahlia, dianthus, gladiolus, liatris, lilies, rudbeckia, stocks, salvia, sunflowers, sweet peas, zinnias
  • Use a knife to cut the flowers – this ensures a clean cut which leave the xylem & phylum open, clippers can crush the xylem & phylum if they aren’t sharp and this makes it more difficult for them to take up water & sugar.
  • Cut the stems at a 45º angle – this maximizes the surface area of the stem to take up water.
  • Strip leaves off the stems that would otherwise be below the water level – this decreases the amount of plant material that will rot in the water and decreases bacteria counts.
  • Keep your cut flowers away from direct sunlight and sources of heat to keep them from drying out.
  • Some sources say that storing flowers in the fridge overnight will extend their life, that’s why florists keep most of their flowers in a cooler.

We have a blog on Peonies as Cut Flowers that gives more specific instructions on getting the most mileage out of this spring bloomer.

Contact us via our website or give us a call on the phone (780-467-3091) and we will be happy to talk fresh cut flowers with you!

Sources:

Let’s Talk Tomatoes | Gardening Tips | Alberta

Tomatoes are probably the strongest draw for the non-gardener to venture into trying to grow something because there really is nothing like a fresh tomato.  Tomatoes are originally native to the tropics, producing smaller berry-like fruit than we know today. Here are a few tips on the environment of their choice and care.

Because of their rtopical ancestry, tomatoes love it hot and humid.  They grow well in pots, raised beds, and gardens. They love to have their feet warm, so containers and raised beds are a favorite. Tomatoes are split into 2 basic categories: determinate and indeterminate.  Determinate tomatoes have a finite height that they reach and are known as bush types and indeterminate tomatoes just keep growing.  Some determinate varieties need to be staked and generally all indeterminate varieties need the support of staking.

Tomatoes are what we call heavy feeders and heavy drinkers.  Tomatoes grow rapidly, produce large crops and consequently need plenty of water and fertilizer to maintain that growth.  If they are growing in a container on hot summer days they will likely need a large drink of water in the morning and possibly at night as well.  When you water our container tomato, be sure to let the water run out of the bottom of the pot so you know that it is completely watered.  Use fertilizer specific for tomatoes weekly, or follow package directions as some fertilizers are slow release and need to be reapplied less frequently.  Another very helpful tip is to put 2-3 inches of mulch around the base of the tomato, be it in a container, a raised bed, or garden.  The mulch will keep roots cool, decrease water evaporation, and protect the roots from repeated waterings.  If you choose to grow tomatoes in pots, be ensure that you select a sufficiently large pot so that the tomato has plenty of soil capacity to hold enough water for its metabolic needs. There is nothing worse than having to water a tomato 50 times a day just to keep it from wilting on a hot day.

There is no rule of thumb any longer regarding whether to pinch back suckers or not.  Suckers are additional stems that grow on stem nodes between the stem and leaves.  At one time, it was recommended that they are all removed but that is no longer the case.  In view of that, our recommendation is to just trim your tomato so it is manageable, because sometimes they can get quite, let’s say, ‘ambitious’.

Tomatoes and Basil are best garden buddies, companions that love each other and grow well together.  You can even pop in a basil plant at the base of your tomato plant if it’s in a container or in a garden, plant it right next to it.

Enjoy your fresh tomatoes!

Have more gardening questions? Call us today: 780-467-3091

Canadian Classic: Hollyhocks

Because hollyhocks have graced country and cottage gardens across this country for so long, one would think that hollyhocks are native to Canada.  Interestingly, though, they are not.  Hollyhocks actually originate from southern Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia.  Hollyhocks have the Latin name, Alcea. These tall, stately flowers can be from 3-10 feet tall.  They add structure and vintage charm to any garden showing off their single or double peony-like blooms.  Let’s talk a bit about the details on who hollyhocks are and how to grow them.

Are hollyhocks annuals or perennials?

  • Hollyhocks are a little challenging to classify. Most correctly, they are biennials.  Biennials are plants that grow from seed and in their first year of growth, have green leafy growth.  During this first year they are establishing a good root system and fortifying themselves to live through the coming winter.  The leafy growth dies back and it regrows from the ground the following spring.  Biennials then bloom and produce seed in their second year.  Most hollyhocks self-sow.
  • The seed overwinters and freezes in a necessary process called vernalization. Having had their cold period, the seeds germinate the next spring, the plant produces green leafy growth and the cycle repeats.
  • The way to get blossoms every year is to plant Hollyhocks 2 years in a row, and then you will get a succession of flowering while some plants are blooming and others are just having green growth.
  • The thing that makes it difficult to categorize Hollyhocks is that some Hollyhocks actually perennial over for a time and some bloom in their first year of growth. When clumps of Hollyhocks bloom year after year, it gives the illusion that the Hollyhocks are perennial.

What zone are they?

  • Check tags for zone ratings on the perennials or perennial seeds you purchase. Some Hollyhocks are tender zone 5 flowers, but there are a lot of options in the zone 3 category.
  • As a general guideline, single trumpet shaped flowers are more hardy that the double flowered varieties, but there are doubles that live in our area too.

How to care for Hollyhocks?

Hollyhocks are quite easy to grow – they have few diseases and are bothered by few pests.  They are a great addition to a garden because they attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.  Bees love their pollen.  They are occasionally bothered by a disease called Rust, but pick varieties that are resistant to rust.

Exposure:

  • Hollyhocks love full sun – 6 or more hours a day, so plant them on the east, south, or west of your home.

Flowering:

  • Hollyhocks have a long bloom cycle – they bloom for 4 weeks or longer.
  • They bloom from the bottom of the stalk upward.
  • Bloom colors are in almost every colour of the rainbow except for blue.
  • Single blossom varieties have blooms that look like trumpets.
  • Double blossoms look like old fashioned wedding car flowers.

Soil requirements:

  • Hollyhocks thrive in good quality, rich, well draining soil.

Watering requirements:

  • Water newly transplanted clumps as they are dry to keep them from wilting.
  • Use mulch to decrease water evaporation and to control weeds. The Magic of Mulch?
  • Fertilize new transplants weekly or biweekly for a month or two.

Staking

  • Depending on the variety, hollyhocks generally grow from 6 to 10 feet tall and clumps can be 3 to 5 feet wide. There are dwarf varieties but they tend to be a little more tender than the taller varieties.
  • Because of their height, they can lean over and the wind could blow them over – to offset this, stake them with a large, sturdy tomato cage. The leaves can poke through the cage and eventually you don’t even see it as the leaves weave through the wire once they hollyhock gets established.

Hollyhocks are a great plant when you are looking for a flower with impressive dimensions.  They are hardy and easy to grow in our Edmonton area.  Come by and check out the varieties we have grown in our perennial department.  If you have any questions, feel free to email us via our website or call us at 780-904-3514.  We love to talk plants.

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Stressing Out: Geranium Bud Death

Geraniums (aka Pelargoniums) are colorful, hardy, easy to grow, and well adapted to our Edmonton area climate; but at times they can be puzzling, especially in early spring when they start to abort their buds.  Let’s take a look at the causes of bud death and some things that can be done to remedy it.

Geraniums drop their buds due to stress.  If the plant is sensing that its life is in danger, it will focus its energy on preserving its own life rather than reproducing, so it sloughs its buds.  The buds get dry and turn brown. What kinds of things cause the stress?

Transplant shock

  • this is the most common stressor – when plants are taken from the greenhouse environment of controlled temperatures with regular watering and fertilization to outdoors, they need to adjust to their new surroundings
  • cool outdoor temperatures in the adjustment from the greenhouse
  • water them well after transplanting, we never recommend using root booster because we feel it is generally too strong for newly developing roots
  • avoid overwatering, keep them moderately moist
  • be patient, new bud growth should appear in about 2-3 weeks
  • fertilize weekly with a balanced fertilizer like 20-20-20 or ‘Nature’s Best’

Overwatering/high humidity

  • watering too frequently – avoid watering on a schedule, it is preferable that they are watered as they begin to get dry
  • soil that is too heavy & retaining moisture will result in an overwatered / over-wet scenario – change out the soil to a professional mix, avoid potting soil that is fertilizer-infused
  • too rainy – it’s just difficult to control the weather….

Inconsistent watering

  • occurs with high heat temperatures – again, avoid watering on a schedule –  keep geraniums moderately moist and check them regularly – not too wet, &  not too dry
  • fertilize weekly with a balanced fertilizer like 20-20-20 or ‘Nature’s Best’

Too shady

  • geraniums like to be in part to full sun, or in an east, south, or west exposure
  • geraniums like to have a minimum of 6 hours of sunshine, 8 is even better

Is it a Honey Bee or a Wasp… How Can You Tell?

Did you know that the 3rd week of June is International Pollinator Week? Pollinator week started about 10 years ago in the United States and has since grown to into an international event. Pollinators aren’t just limited to bees and wasps but include flies, beetles, lady bugs, and a host of other bugs and insects. Wasps are some of the smallest insects in the world and they have a role in biological insect control programs. Not all wasps sting, actually, but the ones most of us are familiar with do.

Since we gardeners have been known to spend HUGE quantities of time outdoors in our gardens, which attract honey bees and wasps, it’s a good thing to know the difference between the two. It’s good to know who you are dealing with because pest control, nest elimination and wound treatment differ a little.

Let’s turn the camera lens onto honey bees and wasps & focus on their similarities & differences.

Let’s Compare Bees & Wasps

Honey Bees Wasps
both are from the Hymenoptera order of insects
Photo
Environmental Contribution plant pollination
  • predators of crop eating insects
  • used in pest biological control programs because of their ability to parasitize
  • food for other species (birds)
  • inadvertent pollinators
Color
  • completely black or
  • black or brown with orange or yellow stripes
  • brightly colored with black & yellow patterns

 

Body hairy body & legs smooth & shiny
Legs flat & wide round & waxy
Length 2.54 cm < 1-2.5 cm
 
Abdomen & Thorax
  • round & chubby
  • cylindrical, elongated shape
  • narrow waists
Number of Wings
  • 2 sets for a total of 4 wings
Colony
  • >75,000 members
  • very social
  • live in geometric wax hives
  • produce wax
  • <10,000 members
  • less social than bees
  • live in paper-like nests made from wood pulp in trees or in the ground
  • do not produce wax
Hibernate
  • no – cluster together to generate heat & stay alive on food resources stored in the hive
  • yes – the queens hibernate over the winter
  • do not reuse old nests
Honey Producer
  • produce honey
  • do not produce honey
Habitat
  • flowers, trees, shrubs
  • verandas, attics, walls
Feeding Habits
  • vegetarian: pollen, sip on nectar & produce honey
  • drink water – tend to hang out near pools & water fountains in the summer

 

  • scavengers / predators
  • omnivores
  • all prey on or parasitize pest insects (caterpillars, flies, spiders)
  • sometimes feed on nectar
  • are attracted to human food, especially sweet drinks & fruit
Sting Provocation Neither bees or wasps sting for the fun of it – they sting when they feel threatened and use stinging as self defense or to defend their colony
Sting
  • when threatened

 

  • naturally more aggressive, more easily provoked – releases pheromones in response to threat (to itself or it’s nest) that alerts other wasps who then swarm & join in defense
  • may sting multiple times
Stinger
  • sharp & pointed & barbed
  • usually stays in the skin & continues to inject venom
  • rips from bee’s thorax – this damage causes the bee’s death
  • smooth & unbarbed
  • easily slips out of the skin enabling the wasp to sting multiple times
Intensity of Sting
  • honey bee: more intense with a barb & venom sac attached
  • intense due to multiple stings
Wound Treatment regarding stinger
  • look for stinger – wipe over it with a piece of gauze or a straight edge to remove
  • do not pinch / squeeze it with tweezers – this could cause more venom to be injected
  • wash area with soap & water
  • apply ice to reduce swelling
  • contact proper medical resources for more information
  • look for stinger – wipe over it with a piece of gauze or a straight edge to remove
  • wash area with soap & water
  • apply ice to reduce swelling
  • contact proper medical resources for more information
Preventing colonization in your home
  • eliminate food sources for them (ie. food lying around)
  • seal cracks & openings for them to come into walls, etc

Sources:

Growing a Pollinator Garden

Much has been in the news about creating garden environments that provide pollinators, especially bees, with plant accessibility.  Pollinators are not just bees and wasps, but include flies, moths, bats, hummingbirds, butterflies, and beetles. Their role in horticulture is critical for many reasons.  Why not plant your own pollinator garden?

Here are some things about pollinators:

  • Color preferences: Pollinators prefer bright colors: purples, yellows, whites
  • Pollinators love fragrant, single blooms
  • Gardens with varying blooming times give extended opportunities for pollinators to stick around. Perennials are a great way to make this happen because most of them have a season of bloom: spring, summer, and fall.
  • Be sure that your garden is pesticide free – pesticides kill pollinators, plain and simple. The internet is full of ideas that use home remedies to help with warding off garden pests that don’t interfere with pollinators.
  • Including a water feature in your garden creates an inviting environment for pollinators.
  • Deadhead old blooms so there are always fresh flowers available.

The chart below lists favorite annuals and perennials for pollinators.

Pollinator Chart
Annuals Perennials
Spring Bloomers: Summer Bloomers: Fall Bloomers:
Fragrant Herbs:

Basil, Catnip, Marjoram,  Mint, Oregano, Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme

Allium

Anemone
(Pasque Flower)

Coreopsis
(Tickseed)

Delphinium

Echinacea
(Cone Flower)

Iris

Hellebore

Phlox subulata

Primula

Creeping Thyme

Agastache
(Giant Hyssop)Asclepias
(Butterfly Weed)

Alcea
(Hollyhock)

Eupatorium
(Joe Pye Weed)

Gaillardia

Globe Thistle

Heliopsis
(False Sunflower)

Heuchera
(Coral Bells)

Leucanthemum
(Shasta Daisy)

Lily

Monarda
(Bee Balm)

Papaver

Salvia

 

 

Aster

Liatris
(Purple Gay Feather)

Tall Fall Blooming Sedum

Solidago
(Goldenrod)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

               

Annuals:

Alyssum                 Asters

Calendula             Cleome

Cosmos

Evening Scented Stocks

Geranium            Gladiola

Lantana             Marigolds

Mirabilis
(4 O’Clocks)

Nasturtium          Nemesia

Phlox               Rudbeckia

Stocks              Sunflower

Verbena                  Zinnia

Veggies:

Cucumber, Pumpkin, Tomatoes

Sources: 

Maintaining with Mulch

Mulch really IS magical! Mulch technically is a top dressing for soil. For this conversation, we will define mulch as shredded wood or bark chips or leaves; or a mix thereof. It truly is the golden ticket to simpler gardening. With a mulched garden you water less and weed less and still can have a beautifully maintained yard. With a little muscle power on the front end, you can reduce your gardening work load significantly.

Mulch can be placed in flower gardens, vegetable gardens, and even containers. In all of these applications, mulch keeps roots cooler and reduces water consumption because the water evaporates less.

Listen to how your life can be simplified by using this modus operandi in your garden.

For more information on mulch, click on this link to view our blog on The Magic of Mulch / Gardening Tips on our website. If you have more questions about types of mulch or on techniques, reach out to us via email via our website, or feel free to call us at 780-467-3091. We are always happy to support you in your quest of gardening.

Crazy for Cucumbers

Like tomatoes, there are few foods out there that taste better than a fresh garden grown cucumber.  Cucumbers require some finesse to grow because they are a tender crop (they don’t like the cold) and they have some idiosyncrasies that we gardeners need to iron out:

  • Cucumbers like it warm
    • have no frost tolerance whatsoever
    • temperatures below 10C have a negative impact on their growth and fruit quality
  • Because of their intolerance of cold, start cucumbers indoors, 2-4 weeks ahead of when you would like to plant them outside.
    • for us in the Edmonton area, a good target date for planting cucumbers outdoors is the 1st or 2nd week of June but still keep an eye on overnight temperatures. If it is looking under 10C, cover them.
    • get them started indoors in the first 2 weeks of May
  • Grow cucumbers in high quality, well-draining soil – cucumbers have a high demand for water, they like to be moist but they become despondent if their feet are sitting wet & soggy
  • If cucumbers are too wet (and cold) they become more susceptible disease & insect pressures
  • Fertilizer requirements for cucumbers:
    • cucumbers have lower requirements for nitrogen (N), and higher for phosphorous (P) and potassium (K)
    • fertilizer numbers are in the order of N-P-K so look for fertilizers that have a sequence something like this: 5-7-6
    • for more information on unwinding the fertilizer numbers, click this link Unwinding the Fertilizer Numbers
    • soil types have an effect on fertilizer needs
      • well-draining soils will need more applications because fertilizer leaches out with the draining water
      • heavy soils that drain less tend to build up fertilizer salts.  Cucumbers burn when the salt level gets high
    • compost adds organic matter to heavy soils and helps them to drain better
    • consider using mulch – mulch keeps roots cool and helps the soil retain moisture
    • consider using a slow release fertilizer and apply once a month
    • soluble fertilizers work well, apply them weekly
  • Training the cucumber stalks up a trellis affords easy access for maintenance and picking; and keeps leaves dry and off the ground.

Maybe contemplate growing a juicy, tasty cucumber this year!  We carry cucumber seeds and started plants in our sales greenhouse alongside our other vegetables.  June is a perfect time of year to plant cucumbers because the day lengths are long, the light intensity is high, and the risk of frost is significantly reduced.

Got questions?  Please call us at 780-467-3091 or email us via our website we’d be happy to dialog with you!

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On the Rocks – A Blog about Rock Gardens & Alpine Perennials

There was a day when I mocked my good friend Allison about her alpine rock garden…and then I discovered that I had a rock garden in the yard of our new home, but it was covered with quack grass. I cleaned it up, got rid of the weeds, and now it is one of my favorite gardens in my yard, and I even made it BIGGER! My rock garden makes me smile. It is the first to show signs of life and the first to show off its shades of pink and purple while the other gardens are just waking up. It is low maintenance and starts blooming long before I have a chance to give it any attention. Here are the reasons why rock gardens and alpine perennials work SO well together.

Why Alpines?

  • Alpine plants have their roots – excuse the pun – in mountain meadow landscapes.
  • Alpines are able to grow and thrive in harsh conditions, which mountainsides offer: cold & windy & very short growing seasons.
  • To have enough time to reproduce, they emerge from dormancy very early in the spring and they bloom quickly so they can produce seeds.
  • Alpines have shorter heights, with average size ranging from 2” to 10” tall.
  • They are really zone hardy for our area, many are zone 2, so that works well for our zone 3/ 4 climate here in Edmonton.

Because alpines bloom early, consider adding some shorter perennials that aren’t specifically alpines like short perennial geraniums, that bloom little later in the summer and dot some continuously blooming annuals to pull color through all season long. Some great shorter annuals for this type of garden include:

  • alyssum
  • fibrous begonias for shady gardens
  • gazanias
  • livingstone daisies
  • lobelia for shady gardens
  • short petunias
  • marigolds
  • million bells (calibroachoa)
  • pansies
  • violas

Here is a chart of perennial plants that do well in rock gardens – we need to keep in mind that rock gardens tend to be a little drier. Not all the plants listed in this chart are genuine alpines but they do well in rock gardens and their heights are shorter.

Give these tough little a guys a chance when you are looking to fill a small spot in your garden – we have a section set out just for alpines & rock garden flowers on our perennial department. Because we love alpine perennials and rock gardens, we like to build a unique collection and we would be happy to walk you through it and show you how these would work in your garden.

Got questions? Fire us a quick email or call us on the phone at 780-467-3091.

Rock Garden Flowers

Full Sun
6 or more hours of sunshine
Part Sun
4-6 hours of sunshine
Shade
< 4 hours of sunshine
Alpine Plants (2-10” tall)
  • ajuga
  • alpine daisy
  • alpine eryngium
  • antennaria pussy toes
  • armeria
  • bergenia
  • campanula
  • cerastium
  • dianthus
  • Dicentra
  • dwarf chelone
  • dwarf heuchera
  • dwarf iris
  • dwarf lilies
  • dwarf veronica
  • dwarf yarrow
  • echium – red feathers
  • gypso repens
  • leontopodium
  • lewisia
  • ornamental thyme
  • primula
  • pulsatilla
  • saxifrage
  • sedum
  • sempervivum
  • shasta daisies
  • short daylilies
  • short grasses
  • tradescantia
  • vinca
  • viola
  • ajuga
  • antennaria pussy toes
  • bergenia
  • Dicentra
  • dodecatheon
  • dwarf chelone
  • dwarf chelone
  • dwarf heuchera
  • dwarf heuchera
  • leontopodium
  • primula
  • vinca
  • vinca
  • viola
  • ajuga
  • alpine columbine / aquilegia
  • bergenia
  • Dicentra
  • dwarf heuchera
  • dwarf heuchera
  • dwarf hostas
  • leontopodium
  • primula
  • vinca
  • vinca
  • viola
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