Archive for the ‘Blue’ Category

Perennial. Zone 2. Asteraceae, formerly Compositae. East-Central Europe, Asia.  The genus name is from the Greek echinos = “hedgehog-like” (in some references “sea-urchin-like”) – in reference to the spiky structure of the bloom; ritro = “of gardens”.

This is often the first Globe Thistle every gardener starts out with – my original plant is alive and well and giving great pleasure more than twenty years after I received a hefty division of it, overflowing its disintegrating cardboard box, from a fellow-gardener friend. I’d admired her gorgeous dried flower bouquets containing the perfectly round, frosted blue Globe Thistles at an early autumn farmers’ market, and she remembered my interest the following spring.

Though the common name “thistle” might cause the neophyte Echinops grower some initial concern, the prickles on this plant are soft and benign. The lush, dark green, raggedly-cut foliage is tipped with flexible points, but they do not detach, and the plant can be handled easily with bare hands.

Echinops ritro is a clump former, with a height of 2 to 4 feet or so, depending on soil fertility and moisture, and a spread of about half its height.

Sturdy stems covered by fine white hairs produce perfectly globular buds in mid-summer, and these enlarge and expand and take on an increasingly intense blue tint, until the tiny electric-blue flowers pop open one by one and immediately attract bees, butterflies, and a host of other nectar and pollen seeking visitors. Bloom time of the large golf ball-sized and -shaped flower clusters is extended, easily 6 to 8 weeks or more, and the aging flower heads stay attractive well into fall, when they will be visited by chickadees and other small birds which relish the seeds.

Echinops ritro aging seedhead - still blue, ans still showing its perfectly globular structure - Hill Farm - early October, 2013. Foliage in background is of Plume Poppy, Macleaya cordata. Image: HFN

Echinops ritro – aging seed head – still blue, and still showing its perfectly globular structure – Hill Farm – early October, 2013. Foliage in background is of Plume Poppy, Macleaya cordata. Image: HFN

Echinops ritro is hardy and drought tolerant, but produces the best show in good garden soil with summer moisture. It spreads modestly at the roots, expanding its clump year by year, and it will also self sow in a mild way. Plants are tap rooted, but mature clumps may be divided with care in early spring.

Full sun to light shade is acceptable to this plant. It combines beautifully with the other blue garden thistle, Eryngium planum (Blue Sea Holly), as well as fall-blooming sedums such as Hylotephium x ‘Autumn Joy’, any of the Rudbeckias, and all sorts of ornamental grasses.

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Brunnera macrophylla - Vancouver, B.C. - April 2014. Image: HFN

Brunnera macrophylla – Vancouver, B.C. – April 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Boraginaceae. Syn. Anchusa myosotidiflora. A.k.a. SIBERIAN BUGLOSS. Caucasus Mountains; Asia Minor. The odd common name “Bugloss” is derived from the Greek words for “ox’s tongue” – bous = head of a cow, and gloss = tongue – in reference to the shape and texture of the leaves. The Siberian moniker is a bit inaccurate, as there is another, very similar, but much rarer species, Brunnera sibirica, which no doubt better deserves the title. The genus is named after Samuel Brunner (1790-1844), a Swiss botanist. Macrophylla = “large leaves”, again in reference to the substantial basal foliage.

I am very fond of this attractive spring bloomer, though I must admit that I once killed a newly transplanted colony through neglect one hot, busy summer, from lack of water. It’s definitely a shade/good soil/plenty of moisture sort of thing in our Cariboo-Chilcotin climate, and it is very happy in the high shade of trees, or even at the north side of the house, far enough out from the wall so it can catch a few sun rays for part of the day.

Handsome, heart-shaped, rough-textured, deep green foliage in big clumps to 18 inches tall produce many clusters of tiny, true blue, yellow-eyed, forget-me-not-like flowers from mid-spring into summer.

An excellent pairing of Brunnera macrocephalla and a red-leaved Epimidium at the UBC Botanical Garden, April 2014. Image: HFN

An excellent pairing of Brunnera macrocphylla with a red-leaved Epimidium at the UBC Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C. – April 2014. Image: HFN

Brunnera macrophylla received much attention in 1802 from European botanists and gardeners when it was collected during an exploratory expedition to the Caucasus Mountains led by Count Apollos Apollosovich Mussin-Pushkin, a dedicated scientist with interests in both mineralogy and botany. Others had apparently noticed the plant’s horticultural possibilities before the roving Russian Count brought it home, as the plant was first documented in English gardens almost a century earlier, in 1713.

I think it’s a rather wonderful plant, and so did the noted American gardener and writer Louise Beebe Wilder, for in her charming and informative 1935 book, What Happens in My Garden, she had this to say in the chapter titled “True Blues Among the Early Blossoms”:

Anchusa myosotidiflora, like a giant dark blue Forget-me-not and blooming before it, is invaluable. It grows well in sun or shade, but likes a soil that is not too dry. It has a thousand uses in the garden. It wreathes the yellow skirts of the Forsythias with lovely effect, is lovely in low borders with early Trollius, Doronicum, and blue and white Camassias, is lovely as an interplanting for Tulips of almost any colour. Try it with some of the “difficult” bronzes, as well as those of purer hue…The Anchusa enjoys a long season. It is, I believe, now properly known as Brunnera macrophylla.

Stylish silvery-white-variegated cultivars of this old-fashioned plant are supremely popular right now, but the good old green-leaved sort sets off the pretty flowers without distraction, and I think I may still like it best.

A silvery-variegated cultivar of Brunnera macrophylla pairs up with species daffodils at Van Dusen Garden in Vancouver, B.C. - April 2014. Image: HFN

A silvery-variegated cultivar of Brunnera macrophylla pairs up with species daffodils at Van Dusen Garden in Vancouver, B.C. – April 2014. Image: HFN

And here is a lovelu planting of a strongly variegated cultivar at the now-closed Minter Gardens in Chilliwack, B.C. - May 2013. Image: HFN

And here is a handsome planting of a strongly variegated Brunnera macrophylla cultivar at the now-closed Minter Gardens in Chilliwack, B.C. – May 2013. Image: HFN

Once the flowers finally subside in early summer, the plants can start to look a little bit tired, but can be refreshed by some judicious pruning, and perhaps some compost or well-rotted manure gently scratched into the soil at the base of the foliage crowns. Don’t forget to water this in well, and keep an eye on soil moisture levels, especially through the heat of July and August.

Brunnera macrophylla is shallow rooted, and is anchored in the ground by long, brittle rhizomes. It spreads to form a substantial colony where happy, but is very easily curbed by pulling back encroaching roots. It divides well in early spring, though divisions may take a season to re-establish.

Sun to shade, good soil and moisture.

Brunnera macrophylla has a long bloom time. Here it is, getting a bit tired but still lovely, in mid-June, 2011, at Van Dusen Garden in Vancouver, B.C. Image: HFN

Brunnera macrophylla has a respectably long bloom time. Here it is, flower clusters looking a bit tatty after 3 months of continual show in the coastal climate, but still very appealing, in mid-June, 2011, at Van Dusen Garden in Vancouver, B.C. Image: HFN

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Aquilegia alpine - Alpine Columbine - Chilliwack, B.C. - June 2013. Image: HFN

Aquilegia alpina – Alpine Columbine – Chilliwack, B.C. – June 2013. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Ranunculaceae. From the European Alps and Apennines.

This is a grand, very long-blooming species, native to European mountain meadows and open forests. It has been grown in gardens for centuries, and has been much used in Aquilegia hybridization.

Large, short-spurred, dusky violet-blue flowers in profusion top 12 to 18 inch tall plants from mid-spring well into summer. A tidy plant, hardy and adaptable. It will self sow, and will cross pollinate with other Aquilegias growing nearby, so your seedlings will always be something of a surprise as to colour and form.

Aquilegia alpine - Vancouver, June 2011. Image: HFN

Aquilegia alpina – Vancouver, June 2011. Image: HFN

It is noted by Aquilegia authority Robert Nold in his definitive 2003 monograph, Columbines: Aquilegia, Paraquilegia, and Semiaquilegia, that Aquilegia alpina in its pure form is seldom to be had in the plant trade due to the general promiscuity of this genus, to whit: “As with many columbines, the genetic purity seems to have been diluted by cultivation through the centuries…”

Plants I have grown from reliably-sourced seed labelled “alpina” have always shown a strong similarity in colour and habit; the species (or at least the cultivated, evolved form of the species) seems to exist in a fairly stable type.

It would be interesting to grow out some wild-collected seed from Aquilegia alpina’s native habitat to compare with the cultivated strain; perhaps I will request some from this fall’s collectors’ seed lists and see what we come up with.

Sun to shade, good soil and moisture.

Aquilegia alpine - June 2013. Image: HFN

Aquilegia alpina – June 2013. Image: HFN

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Aconitum carmichaelii ‘arendsii’ – Hill Farm – October, 2012. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Ranunculaceae.

This is a very late bloomer; the photo here was taken in October of 2012. Many years the buds are frozen before it can bloom, so I’m not going to recommend it for Cariboo gardeners, unless you’re willing to put up with several years of disappointment to each lucky combination of circumstances which will give you bloom. But when it does bloom, it’s a lovely, unexpected thing!

Aconitum carmichaelii 'arendsii' - Hill Farm, October 2014. Image: HFN

Aconitum carmichaelii ‘arendsii’ bud cluster showing petal veining – Hill Farm, November 2014. Image: HFN

This is a tall Monkshood, with sturdy stems which can reach 6 feet. Buds are produced in August and take their time maturing and opening, but when and if they do they are classic monkshood cowls; smoky, dusky blue with green veining and sooty black stamens. The flower spikes are densely crowded, occasionally branched.

Very handsome, dark green, deeply cut foliage in healthy, ever-increasing clumps.

Site at the back of the border, with extra moisture during the dry times, and light shade if possible. Then cross your fingers!

This is another one you won’t often find for sale; we won’t be offering it this year either, but may one day in the future. Our own cherished clump is coming along nicely, but we are hesitant to disturb it until it gets a little larger and we can steal some pieces off the edges instead of digging the whole thing up.

Note: All monkshoods are poisonous, in all of their parts. Handle with care.

Aconitum carmichaelii 'arendsii' - Van Duen Garden, Vancouver, B.C. - October 2014. Image: HFN

Aconitum carmichaelii ‘arendsii’ – Van Dusen Garden, Vancouver, B.C. – October 2014. Image: HFN

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Campanula cochlearifolia - Image: HFN

Campanula cochlearifolia Fairies’ Thimble Bellflower – Prince George, B.C., June 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Campanulaceae. European Alps. Syn. Campanula pusilla, C. bellardii, C. pumila. A.k.a. SPIRAL BELLFLOWER. Cochlearifolia is from the Latin cochlear, (from the Greek kochlarion), meaning “spoon”, in reference to the shape of the delicate, inwardly curved, mat-forming basal leaves.

Probably the most popular of the alpine bluebells, and rightly so, for this wee plant is utterly adorable. Tiny, heart-shaped leaves arising from shallow-rooted, wiry rhizomes form an ever-expanding mat of foliage. From this arise numerous 2 to 3 inch stems topped by perfect, tiny, shyly nodding bellflowers from June until August, in varying shades of soft violet blue, and occasionally pure white.

A number of named varieties of this little beauty are available, as well as the species type. All are excellent, though the “improved” varieties have unavoidably lost as bit of the charm of their petite ancestor, tending to have lusher, more upright foliage and a more “tuft-forming” habit.

Newer cultivars ‘Bavarian Blue’ and ‘Bavarian White’ tend to be larger in all of their parts than the species, to 6 inches tall. You may also come across ‘Alpine Breeze’ (blue, very vigorous, with larger-than-the-species foliage), and the self-explanatory ‘Baby Blue’ and Baby White’.  ‘Elizabeth Oliver’ is a beautiful pale blue double, first introduced in 1970.

The species type in particular is fabulous anywhere a delicate groundcover is desired. Perfect over the smaller spring bulbs such as species crocus and tulips, as Campanula cochlearifolia is very shallowly rooted. Easily divided to spread it around; easily nipped back where not needed. Extremely pretty, and very hardy and adaptable.

Sun to light shade, average conditions.

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Perennial. Zone 4. Labiatae. Central and southern Russia, Romania, most notably in the Transylvanian Alps.

We are fortunate in the Cariboo in regard to our many summer perennial plant choices. The Salvias in particular appreciate our generally hot and dry summer season, and this handsome species puts on a grand show in July and August.

Large, dusky indigo-blue-violet flowers, “dragon head” shaped as is typical of all members of the Salvia genus (the Sage Family), are produced in loose whorls on multi-branching 18 to 24 inch tall bloom spikes. These arise from substantial rosettes of long, prettily wrinkled, rather hairy, deep green leaves. Foliage is slightly aromatic when touched, but is much less pungent than many of its relatives. A vigorous plant can be 2 feet or more in diameter, and rather sprawling in habit. Great on a slope, or under high-pruned, not-too-dense shrubs such as roses or spirea.

Transylvanian Sage blooms for a long period in summer, and, if spent spikes are clipped off occasionally, well into autumn. Grand for a sunny border, and drought tolerant enough to be a good xeriscape plant.

Plant it under roses in the traditional border, or with sedums and ornamental mulleins in the dry border. The colour harmonizes marvellously well with almost anything, and can be used for gentle compliment of other pastel shades or to set off hotter colours.

I have found that Salvia transylvanica overwinters extremely well as a young plant, but sometimes tends to bloom itself out, so I do not consider it particularly long lived. Allow it to set seed, and you will find enough babies to keep it going in your garden. These transplant well if you move them at a young age. Older plants should be left undisturbed; I wouldn’t recommend transplanting or dividing.

Sun is best, though very light shade is acceptable. Average to well drained soil; average fertility; average watering. Nicely drought tolerant once established.

Salvia transylvanica in full summer show in a Williams Lake garden, July 2014. Image: HFN

A Hill Farm-sourced Salvia transylvanica in full summer show in a Williams Lake garden, July 2014. Image: HFN

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'New Millenium' unnamed variety growing at Hill Farm from a packet of mixed seed - 2 year old plant. July 2014. Image: HFN

‘New Millennium’ unnamed delphinium variety growing at Hill Farm from a packet of hand-pollinated breeder’s mixed seed – 2 year old plant. July 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Ranunculaceae.

Delphiniums are such stalwarts of our Cariboo-Chilcotin gardens that we tend to take them somewhat for granted. But there are delphiniums, and then there are Delphiniums. I’ve long been aware but not particularly envious of the many British cultivars which are being continually introduced in such an amazing array of variations: rich buttery yellows, warm salmon pinks, bicolours, doubles and triples, and ever more and “better” blues. “Very nice,” I think to myself, “but not terribly hardy, because of their complicated ancestry involving numerous tender species. And only available from cuttings, if at all…these are not for us.”

Then I heard rumour of a new strain of delphinium coming out of New Zealand, under the trade name ‘New Millennium’. Seed grown, hardy in the colder zones, and strikingly beautiful. I investigated the website of the breeder, and highly impressed by what I saw there, and what I’d heard elsewhere – these were just then coming into commercial production and were receiving early rave reviews – I took the plunge. Off I sent for seed, taking a deep breath at the cost, NZ$18.50 for 50 seeds, which worked out to something like 35 cents per seed Canadian. But hey, if a substantial number sprouted, that’s not too bad, right? And they germinated promptly in reasonable numbers, and I ended up with a goodly number of young plants, most of which made their way to that year’s market, though I kept a few back for myself.

'New Millenium' Hill Farm, July 2013. Image: HFN

‘New Millennium’ Delphinium – ‘Moonlight Blues’ strain – 3 year old plant. Hill Farm, July 2013. Image: HFN

'New Millenium' Hill Farm, July 2014. Image: HFN

‘New Millennium’ Delphinium – ‘Dusky Maidens’ strain – Second year plant –  Hill Farm, July 2014. Image: HFN

'New Millenium' Hill Farm July 2014 Image: HFN

‘New Millennium’ Delphinium – unnamed seedling from breeder’s hand-pollinated mixture. Second year plant. Hill Farm, July 2014. Image: HFN

'New Millenium' Hill Farm July 2014

‘New Millennium’ Delphinium – unnamed second year seedling from breeder’s hand-pollinated mixture. Hill Farm, July 2014. Image: HFN

If you love delphiniums, take a look here: Dowdeswell’s Delphiniums. Their seed comes fresh and ready to sprout; if you are even the tiniest bit experienced with growing things from indoor-sown seed, give these a go. Much too costly to scatter about the garden, but with a bit of care the germination in starter packs is excellent. (Grow these cool, as too-hot temperatures are fatal.)

Colour and form of every strain of these we’ve tried have been outstanding. If you love delphiniums these will make you a very happy gardener!

Most are traditionally tall, from 6 to 8 feet once established, with multiple strong bloom stalks from basal clumps of healthy foliage.

Definitely prepare to stake these before they bloom, for though nicely sturdy they will snap off in summer storms if unsupported while in bloom. There are some shorter strains, which also need to be supported. The flowers are huge, and the bloom stalks very heavy.

At Dowdeswell’s the delphiniums are grown through grids, and a planting I recently visited at Van Dusen Garden in Vancouver had done much the same, with bamboo stakes neatly tied together. In my own garden I use upright stakes, but the grid idea has a lot of appeal, and would definitely be best in a dedicated planting to save much time and energy over tying every stalk up individually.

Delphiniums of all sorts thrive best in rich garden soil, with average moisture. Full sun is preferred, though they will take very light shade for part of the day.

A plot of seedling 'New Millenium' Delphiniums at Van Dusen Garden in Vancouver, B.C. - October 2014. The young plants frequently put out bloom in the autumn of their first year, a teasing foretaste of the glories to come when they reach full maturity. Note the bamboo grid arrangement, for support of the heavy bloom stems. Image: HFN

A plot of seedling ‘New Millennium’ Delphiniums at Van Dusen Garden in Vancouver, B.C., October 2014. The young plants frequently put out bloom in the autumn of their first year, a teasing foretaste of the glories to come when they reach full maturity. Note the bamboo grid arrangement, for support of the heavy bloom stems. Image: HFN

Here are the named ‘New Millennium’ strains we’ve grown so far. The following photos are from the breeder, and, from what we’ve personally experienced, do truly reflect the quality of these flowers.

 

 For more, take a look at the Dowdeswell’s website.

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