Archive for the ‘Perennial’ Category

Geranium argenteum - Universtity of Northern British Columbia alpine garden, Prince George, B.C., July 2014. Image: HFN

Geranium argenteum – Universtity of Northern British Columbia alpine garden, Prince George, B.C., July 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Geraniaceae. An fairly rare alpine native to the mountainous regions of France, Italy and the former Yugoslavia.

Prowling about with my camera on a botanical field day this past summer, I was smitten by this lovely small Geranium in the Alice Wolczuk Alpine Garden located on the UNBC campus in Prince George. Luckily it had a legible name plate, and I was able to do some research on it when I returned home. (This is sadly not always the case – there are a number of interesting “mystery plants” which I’ve not yet managed to identify from this garden. Those harsh Prince George winters are obviously tough on plant labels!)

I have just requested seed of this beauty from the Alpine Garden Club of British Columbia annual winter seed exchange; I do hope I will be lucky enough to receive some, and, if I do, that it will germinate for me. Fingers crossed!

The species name, argenteum, “silver”, refers to the foliage, which is finely cut and decidedly silver, being covered in glistening down. The plant is a tap-rooted clump-former, to 6 inches tall and perhaps a foot or so in diameter. It blooms in early summer, with bright magenta flowers prettily striped with darker veins.

Geranium argenteum is a plant of higher elevations, and is tolerant of cold and wind. It does however need good drainage to successfully overwinter – wet around the roots is not recommended. Site this one on a slope or in a raised location of the border.

Geranium argenteum forma a tidy rounded mound, and looks respectable spring through autumn. Prince George, B.C., July 2014. Image: HFN

Geranium argenteum forma a tidy rounded mound, and looks neatly respectable spring through autumn. Prince George, B.C., July 2014. Image: HFN

Silvery Geranium would make a dandy edging plant, if one were able to find a plant source. I don’t think that I’ve ever come across this one in a nursery. If I do in future, I will be sure to snap it up. In the meantime, I ‘ll be waiting to see if I will have a chance to grow it from seed.

This plant has been known in cultivation for several centuries, and a casual browse through several of my old garden books revealed a warm approbation.

John Wood, writing in 1884 in his book Hardy Perennials and Old-Fashioned Garden Flowers, had this to say:

A hardy perennial alpine from the South of Europe, introduced in 1699. It is, therefore, an old plant in this country, and is one of the gems of the rock garden; very dwarf, but effective… The foliage is of a distinct and somewhat conglomerate character, besides being of a silvery-grey colour. Well-grown specimens of this charming Crane’s-bill look remarkably well against dark stones. Its flowers are large for so small a plant, and wherever it finds a suitable home it cannot fail to win admiration…

The flowers are fully an inch in diameter when open, cup-shaped, and striped in two shades of rose colour; the unopened flowers are bell-shaped and drooping; they are borne on long naked pedicels, bent and wiry, oftentimes two on a stem… The leaves are produced on long, bent, wiry stalks…they have a silky appearance, from being furnished with numerous fine hairs or down. The plant continues to flower for many weeks, but, as may be judged, it is, otherwise than when in flower, highly attractive. To lovers of ornamental bedding this must prove a first-rate plant. As an edging to beds or borders of choice things it would be pleasingly appropriate, and, indeed, anywhere amongst other dwarf flowers it could not be other than decorative.

Louise Beebe Wilder, in Pleasures and Problems of a Rock Garden, 1928:

Geranium argenteum is…one of the loveliest things in Nature, with its glistening silver foliage and its “great dog-rose blossoms”…

Reginald Farrer, in My Rock Garden, 1942:

Geranium argenteum, the little Pyrenean, with silver leaves and rosy blooms, is a jewel of jewels…

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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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Monarda fistulosa - Lilac Bee Balm - July 2014 - Soda Creek, B.C. I see at least three insect visitors - these plants were a-buzz with nectar gatherers. Image: HFN

Monarda fistulosa – Lilac Bee Balm – growing in the wild – July 2014 – Soda Creek, B.C. I see three insect visitors on this one small flower cluster, including a wild bumblebee (Bombus sp.) – these plants were a-buzz with nectar gatherers the hot summer day these photos were taken. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Lamiaceae. Native to North America, including the Okanagan, Thompson-Nicola, and Cariboo-Chilcotin regions of B.C.  A.k.a. HORSEMINT, PURPLE BEE BALM. Monarda was the name given to this species by Linnaeus, after the Spanish botanist Nicolas Monardes, who published a well-regarded treatise in 1574 describing the plants of the New World, though Monardes himself never travelled there, and worked from specimens collected by others. The Latin species name fistulosa = “hollow, pipe-like’, in reference to the tubular structure of the individual flowers.

This is a somewhat variable but always lovely species native to prairie and foothills ecosystems. It grows wild in the Cariboo-Chilcotin on dry hillsides and on the fringes of Douglas fir forest throughout the Fraser River corridor at least as far north as Marguerite.

Monarda fistulosa - Wild Bergamot - Soda Creek, B.C. - July 2014. Image: HFN

Monarda fistulosa – Wild Bergamot – Soda Creek, B.C. – July 2014. Image: HFN

2014 was a stellar summer in our area for Wild Bergamot and many other wildflowers. The hillsides around Soda Creek were ablaze with purple for weeks in June and July, as the bloom times of the aster-like native Showy Fleabane, Erigeron speciosus, overlapped with that of the Monarda.

The First Nations peoples of the areas where Monarda fistulosa grows thought very highly of it as a useful plant. The strongly aromatic foliage, which is high in the compound thymol, was used in cooking and medicine, as a tea, insect repellant and smudge ingredient. European settlers appreciated it as well, in particular using it as a tea ingredient; the “bergamot” of the common name refers to the similarity of this species aroma and flavour to that of the Bergamot Orange (Citrus bergamia) essential oil which gives Earl Grey Tea its distinctive character.

Wild Bergamot was adopted into domestic gardens as soon as specimens made it back to Europe and England, for its usefulness as well as its considerable beauty. Monarda fistulosa has been widely used in hybridization with others of the genus, in particular the showy Scarlet Beebalm, Monarda didyma, to produce a number of stellar Beebalm cultivars, such as ‘Violet Queen’, and the wonderful ‘Blue Stocking’.

Monarda fistulosa is a grand garden plant in our area, and particularly useful in xeriscape plantings, though it also appreciates the richer, moister climate of the traditional perennial border.

Monarda fistulosa - bee balm with a butterfly visitor - July 2014 - Soda Creek, B.C. Image: HFN

Monarda fistulosa – bee balm with a butterfly visitor  – Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui – July 2014 – Soda Creek, B.C. Image: HFN

Sturdy clumps of 24 to 36 inch tall, square-sided, leafy stems are topped by large whorled clusters of pale lilac-purple “dragon’s head” blooms in summer. Shades range from almost-white palest lilac to a rich rosy purple; the norm is the shade shown in these images.

The common name Bee Balm is very apt; these plants are highly attractive to bees of all sorts, to butterflies, and to hummingbirds. The tubular blooms are rich in nectar, and on sunny days the clusters are busy places, being “worked” flower by flower neatly around the floral ring by various foragers.

The Herb Society of America chose Wild Bergamot, Monarda fisulosa, as its Notable Native of 2013.

Sun, average conditions. Very drought tolerant once established.

This species can be afflicted by the fungal powdery mildew in very dry years; cut back affected plants and dispose of the clippings away from the garden – do not compost – to reduce its future occurrence. Occasional supplemental watering in very dry years, even in your drought-resistant xeriscape plantings, will strengthen plants and prevent such problems from occurring.

As individual blossoms mature, they drop away, exposing the central crown of the maturing seed head. Image: HFN

As individual blossoms mature, they drop away, exposing the central crown of the maturing seed head. Image: HFN

Last year's seed heads are an interesting architectural feature of this wild clump. Note the geometric precision of the assembly of tiny seed cups. Image: HFN

Last year’s seed heads are an interesting architectural feature of this wild clump. Note the geometric precision of the assembly of tiny seed cups. Image: HFN

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Perennial. Zone 1. Asteraceae. Achillea millefolium is native to the Northern Hemisphere, and is found in Europe, Asia, and North America. Common names are numerous, including MILFOIL, BLOODWORT, SOLDIER’S WOUNDWORT, and SANGUINARY, most in reference to the plant’s reputation as a wound-healing herb.

The common name Yarrow comes from the Anglo-Saxon gearwe, “to make healthy”, in reference to the plant’s long use as a medicinal herb.

Achillea is after the Greek mythic hero Achilles, who was reputed to have been tutored in herbal lore by Cheiron the Centaur. This herb has long been used as a “wound herb”, as it has blood-stopping and pain-killing properties. (Handy for a warrior-hero to know the use of, one would agree!)

Millefolium = “thousand leaved”, for the finely cut, ferny foliage.

The species form found most commonly in the wild, Achillea millefolium, has pure white blooms, but there is an Appalachian strain, A. m. var. rubra, which has been “improved”, and which has contributed its rich colour to numerous garden cultivars.

Red-Flowered Yarrow has been a common garden plant for at least a century in North America. The Red Yarrows produce many flat-topped heads – corymbes – of small, ash-grey-eyed, rosy pink to deep red blooms on sturdy 18 to 24 inch tall stems in summer. The bloom time is long, and cropping off the spent flower heads will keep more coming.

Foliage is deep green, beautifully ferny, and pungently aromatic when crushed.

All of the Red Yarrow cultivars are very easy and dependable. The plant spreads from a central clump by creeping, rooted stems, but it is well behaved and easy to curb. It is also decently drought tolerant, so worth consideration in xeriscaping. These plants will get taller and appear more lush with good soil and supplemental summer moisture.

The Red Yarrows are very good cut flowers and everlastings if cut in the early bloom stage.

Cultivars of note are:

‘CASSIS’  – Many corymbes of small, intensely burgundy red flowers on 18-inch tall stems in summer. Cut as everlastings these dry to a rich black currant colour, hence the cultivar name. Very easy and dependable. This cultivar was a European Fleuroselect Winner  in 2002, chosen for garden merit.

‘CERISE QUEEN’ This cultivar been around for quite a few years. It has corymbes of cherry red blooms which fade through stages to a washed-out almost-white. It has a long bloom time, spreads steadily but not invasively, and is essentially as tough as nails. 12 to 24 inches tall, depending on richness of soil and amount of moisture.

You may also come across ‘RED VELVET’, ‘STRAWBERRY SEDUCTION’, ‘SUMMERWINE’, and several others. All are fairly similar in habit, though degree of redness will vary. The red flowers of all of these will fade as the bloom season progresses, ending up a greyed pink-white. As mentioned earlier, clipping these off will keep the plants looking fresh, and will usually trigger re-bloom.

Average soil and moisture, sun to light shade. Drought tolerant once established.

 

 

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Perennial. Zone 3. Asteraceae. Central Europe, namely France, Italy and Spain. Tomentosa = Latin term meaning “covered with hairs”, referring to the dense silver hairs covering the leaves and stems of this species.

This tends to be one of those quietly ignored species. It is not showy or particularly exciting, but it is completely charming, especially in spring, when its freshly-emerged woolly rosettes are truly beautifully, especially when misted with tiny drops of morning dew.

After emergence of the ferny, fuzzy foliage rosettes, densely furred bud clusters emerge in May, opening up into corymbes of clear yellow flowers on 6 inch tall stems. These bloom through June and into July. The bright yellow tarnishes as the clusters fade, and the plants can then be shorn of bloom stalks, which, quite frankly, look rather tatty once flowering is finished.

The foliage and flowers are warmly aromatic when touched.

Achillea tomentosa is well suited to rockery or border edging, and thrives on well drained soil. It is very drought tolerant once established, and is a good xeriscape plant. It spreads to a foot or so in diameter, and makes a good cover plant over small bulbs such as crocus or species tulips, or early spring-blooming alliums.

The main named variety found under the name Achillea tomentosa  is ‘Maynard’s Gold’, also listed as ‘Aurea’.

There is another tomentosa-connected cultivar, ‘King Edward’, a hybrid cross (Achillea x lewisii), which is taller, with soft sulphur yellow flowers.

Sun, average soil, good drainage.

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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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Phlomis tuberosa - Hill Farm, June 2011. Image: HFN

Phlomis tuberosa – Hill Farm, June 2011. Apologies for the poor image quality, as it was taken in the evening, after rain. I have some better photos somewhere, from the pre-digital camera era, but this shall have to suffice for now. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Lamiaceae, formerly Labiatae. Eastern Europe, Turkey, Iran, Siberia. A plant of steppes and dry meadows.

The quirky Phlomis genus has always rather fascinated me. Without any real hope of having them succeed, I’ve labouriously grown from hard-to-germinate seed and promptly lost their first winters the beautiful yellow-flowered Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem Sage) and P. russeliana (Turkish Sage). “Root hardy to Zone 5,” say those who should know, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be good enough. But I will doubtless try again, for I’ve just been through the Mediterranean section of Van Dusen Garden in Vancouver, and even in its autumn disarray Phlomis fruticosa looks darned good, all velvet foliage and intricate seed heads.

Phlomis fruticosa - Jerusalem Sage - a true Mediterranean plant, shrubby and silver-leaved. In Vancouver's mild climate it thrives in a raised bed at Van Dusen Garden. (And check out the flourishing Bay Laurel behind it! Oh, envy...) October, 2014. Image: HFN

Phlomis fruticosa – Jerusalem Sage – a true Mediterranean plant, shrubby and silver-leaved. In Vancouver’s mild climate it thrives in a raised bed at Van Dusen Garden. (And check out the flourishing Bay Laurel behind it! Oh, grounds for some serious plant envy right here in this small image…) October, 2014. Image: HFN

So I turned my attention to the only other readily available species on the seed lists I had access to, the pink-flowered Phlomis tuberosa. A few seeds sprouted, and quickly grew into sturdy young plants, with dark green, elongated-heart-shaped foliage. Planted out, these survived their first winter with vigour, re-sprouting in spring in much more substantial clumps than I had anticipated. By year three, obviously happy in their Cariboo home, long bloom stalks appeared in late May, with whorls of intriguing buds, each sporting a pair of elongated leaves at the base. The buds eventually popped open into the most fascinating small, mauve pink, delicately fringed dragon’s head flowers. Not as spectacular as the much larger blooms of my yearned-for Phlomis fruticosa, but charming nonetheless.

Phlomis tuberosa has now been in my garden for almost two decades. It keeps getting moved around, and I’ve lost track of the many places I’ve rather heartlessly plunked it down in during our endless plant shuffles, for I found out early on that it was an agreeable sort of creature, easy to transplant and happy almost anywhere.

Phlomis tuberosa is a slender sort of plant. It will reach 3 or 4 feet tall in bloom stage, with numerous wiry, angular-sided stems arising from a tidy basal rosette perhaps a foot or so in diameter. Foliage is excellent and looks good spring to fall, being glossy, dark green, and roughly heart-shaped.

Whorls – technically “verticillasters” – of tiny, tubular, deliciously fringed pale purple-pink flowers in tiers on the slender but sturdy red-blushed stems appear in late spring. Each “ring” of blooms in the cluster opens at the same time, and the quiet show goes on through June and often into July, after which the developing seed heads may either be clipped off or left for garden interest.

Phlomis tuberosa has never needed staking, despite its height. The roots are quite fascinating, as you will find if you have reason to transplant a mature plant. Hanging from the ropy root clusters are many perfectly round tubers, like tiny potatoes. These are apparently quite edible – though please don’t experiment only on my say-so! – and were used as food by indigenous peoples in the plant’s native ranges.

Those storage roots may also explain Phlomis tuberosa’s wonderful adaptability. Established plants can take severe drought, and hold their own well among encroaching grasses, which has led to its use as a flowering accent in the famous “prairie borders” of such influential landscape designers as Holland’s Piet Oudolf. A potentially useful xeriscape plant for the Cariboo.

Though you may see Phlomis tuberosa rated at a conservative Zone 6 or so in much literature, rest assured that it is a lot hardier than that, and, if planted in the spring and given a growing season to get its roots down, can handle Zone 2 conditions without any trouble whatsoever.

This is not a particularly showy plant, but it is happily interesting, and I hope to continue growing it for many years to come. I’ve just pulled my own much-abused plants out of a border where they were being overshadowed by a massive Joe-Pye Weed, and have plunked them in the nursery rows in the garden to await a new placement come spring. I’m not quite sure where they will end up this time around, but I do know that they are “keepers”.

Bees and butterflies love Phlomis tuberosa, too. It may be grown in sun to light shade, and can handle any sort of soil. Good with sedums and ornamental grasses.

You may see Phlomis tuberosa listed with a cultivar name. A commonly seen tag is ‘Bronze Flamingo’, though as far as I have been able to discover this is merely a plant trade invention to up the appeal of the rather ho-hum species name. If visiting specialty plant nurseries on the coast, you may come across a cultivar named ‘Amazone’, which is reported to be an improvement of the species type, being larger in all of its parts and much taller, apparently to 7 feet.

 

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Leontopodium alpinum - Alpine Edelweiss - Williams Lake, July 2014. Image: HFN

Leontopodium alpinum – Alpine Edelweiss – Williams Lake, B.C., July 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Asteraceae, formerly known as Compositae. Widespread in European and North Asian mountain regions. Perhaps most famously this plant is found the Swiss-Austrian-Bavarian Alps, where much of the popular culture folklore surrounding it has originated. Leontopodium is a Latin translation from the Greek and literally means “lion’s paw”, for the shape of the flowers. This appearance is also noted in the local common name, Chatzen-Talpen, Swiss-German for “cat’s paw”. Alpinum is self explanatory. The common name Edelweiss is from the German: edel = noble, and weiss = white.

This small alpine plant has a fascinating history. It was something of a Victorian era symbol of bravery and devotion, for the flower was reputed to bloom only in the most inaccessible alpine regions. Fetching a bloom for one’s loved one to wear on her bosom proved your courage and dedication beyond doubt. This was something of a fictional fabrication, as the plants were not terribly rare or particularly hard to access, until the tourist boom in alpine climbing in the 1800s and over-picking as a souvenir caused heavy pressure on the species. It is now a protected plant throughout its native ranges.

Edelweiss was used as a military badge device by various European alpine countries, and, during World War II, ironically both by German special forces and by anti-Nazi youth groups in Germany.

Edelweiss is now perhaps most strongly associated with Switzerland, though its range spreads far beyond the Swiss Alps. It appears on mountaineering club badges, coats of arms, and of course all sorts of tourist merchandise and handicrafts.

And of course then there is “that song”, made famous in American popular culture by the Hollywood musical “The Sound of Music”, with its sentimental ode to the little alpine flower crooned lovingly by Julie Andrews and a troupe of winsome children.

How does this plant live up to the romance of its legend, one might ask oneself. Is it really that special? I think it depends on each gardener’s susceptibility to imaginative and emotional associations. I do know that I have sold a goodly number of these to Swiss expatriate gardeners over the years, their general reaction when spotting these on the table at the Farmers’ Markets we attend throughout the Cariboo being something like “Ah! Edelweiss! Wonderful! How many do you have?!”

It is rather a sweet little thing, with the added appeal of being a grand everlasting. The wooly flowers dry perfectly, and always remind me of tiny white starfish.

Tidy clumps of densely fuzzy, pale green foliage send up many 6 to 8 inch tall stems topped by clusters of woolly-white star-shaped blooms in summer. These last for a very long time in the garden, and, as just mentioned, make excellent everlastings. A very soft and appealing flower.

Leontopodium alpinum is perhaps happiest in a rockery or on a slight slope at the border edge; it appreciates sharp drainage. Any average soil will do, with some summer moisture appreciated. Full sun is best, to very light shade.

For the dedicated rock gardeners, it is worth noting that are quite a number of excellent Leontopodium species, from tiny ground-huggers to substantial clumpers up to a foot tall, hailing from a wide array of mountain ranges, including the Himalayas. Alpine garden club seed exchanges are a rich resource if seeking these out.

Not a long-lived plant by nature, Edelweiss often fades away after a few years. It is a profuse bloomer and this sometimes causes the plant to not have enough resources to overwinter after a few seasons of pushing out an endless succession of flowers. One may allow a few blooms to mature seed to collect for re-sowing indoors in early spring. I have never noticed self-sown seedlings, though in a less crowded garden than my own and with a certain amount of care and attention I suspect one could create a naturalized, self-maintaining colony of this easy little alpine.

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