Archive for the ‘Purple’ Category

Physochlaina orientalis, Hill Farm, May 2017. Image:HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Solanaceae. Eastern Europe into Asia: southeast Russia, Armenia, Crimea and Dagestan, Anatolia, and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Syn. Hyoscyamus orientalis, Scopolia orientalis. Slightly ironically, this is the westernmost species in its genus, despite the “orientalis” common to its synonyms.

The genus name, Physochlaina, comes from the Greek: physo meaning a bladder or air bubble, and chlaina, an outer garment, specifically a short coat. This descriptive epithet is in reference to the inflated calyx at the base of the flower structure, which swells  after the blossoms drop and the flattened ivory seeds develop. Orientalis meaning “of the orient”, “of the East”.

In its native regions Physochlaina orientalis is a plant of rocky mountain slopes and open deciduous forests, being found at elevations up to 2000 metres.

Here at Macalister, this small, rare Nightshade Family member is quietly noteworthy for the month or so of its early spring emergence and flowering.

Flower clusters of Physochlaina orientalis. Note the intricate veining, and the resemblance to its much larger relative Henbane, Hyoscyamus niger. Being in the Nightshade Family, Physochlaina most likely contains some of the powerful alkaloids of its many medicinally-valued cousins, but I am not aware of any herbal uses of this plant. It is presumably slightly toxic if consumed, as are many members of the Solanaceae, but again I have heard no reports of it being particularly dangerous in that way. Image: HFN

First shoots are dark purple – almost black – with the leaves turning green as they unfold. Bloom stalks appear in late April, crowded with clustered buds which open into nodding, smoky-purple, dark-veined bells. Flowers are produced over a period of several weeks, as the stems elongate to an eventual height of 12 inches or so.

Foliage is oblong, softly hairy, wavy-edged and dark-veined. Leaves clasp the bloom stalks and spread outwards as the season progresses, giving an effect similar to a smallish, unspotted Pulmonaria, though the two are not related.

The aging blooms drop off as spring advances, leaving behind inflated calyxes in which the seeds develop. Once seed matures sometime in early summer, the leaves begin to yellow and the plant goes into a dormant stage, completely disappearing until the next spring when it returns with a few more bloom stems than its previous year.

Physochlaina orientalis forms semi-tuberous, rhizomatous roots, with multiple shoots emerging from a central base, and its colonies slowly expand over time. It self seeds modestly once well established, but is in general a very restrained, well-behaved plant, staying exactly where it is placed, and growing in beauty year after year.

Spring-foraging bees are attracted to the small trumpets of the blooms, which are at their peak during appleblossom time, along with Fritillaria meleagris, the earliest species Columbines (Aquilegia flabellata, A. viridiflora), and the early spring Violas and Primulas.

This easy, hardy, summer ephemeral is quite adaptable as to siting. It thrives in sun to part shade, and though it enjoys a humusy woodland soil and early season moisture, it is very summer drought tolerant as it goes into dormancy with the onset of the hottest days. Good in the woodland border, mixed perennial border, or rock garden.

Image: HFN

This plant has been grown in gardens since at least the early 1800s. George Don, in his 1838 book A General System of Gardening and Botany, had this to say:

The species of Physochlaina are extremely desirable plants; being early flowerers, and elegant when in blossom. They will grow in any soil, and are readily propagated by divisions of the root, or by seed. They are well adapted for decorating borders in early spring.

 

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Perennial. Zone 3. Plantaginaceae, formerly Scrophulariaceae. Syn. Penstemon pubescens. A.k.a. HAIRY BEARD-TONGUE. North America. In Canada, from Ontario eastward. The entire plant – leaves, stems, buds, flowers – is entirely covered by tiny, silky hairs, hence the Latin and common names.

Penstemon hirsutus is an attractive North American wildflower which is widely grown in gardens. There are numerous forms, including a dwarf type, Penstemon hirsutus ‘pygmaeus’, which is very popular in alpine gardens. Colours may range from pure white through pale lavender to rosy tones – but the most common is the blushed lavender pictured above.

This Penstemon is a quietly  elegant, rather understated plant. The foliage clumps are attractive, being composed of smooth, satin-textured, dark green, lanceolate leaves. Its roots are rhizomatous, and the plant slowly expands from its center. Penstemon hirsutus is completely non-invasive. Mature plants may be carefully divided and replanted in early spring to prolong the plant’s life, as they can get quite woody and die off  in the centers.

Slender stems arise in early summer, 18 to 30 inches tall. These are lined with loosely arranged whorls of small, pale-purple-flushed-with-darker-highlights, tubular flowers in late June through July. The buds and flowers have a silken sheen which rewards a closer look.

A rather beautiful plant, though not at all what one could call “showy”. I am fond of it, for its ease of growth and self-sufficiency – no need of staking or pruning or any sort of fussing –  and its profuse blooms, always alive with bees. All of the Penstemons are great hummingbird favourites, and this species is no exception.

Penstemon hirsutus is happy in any average garden soil. It is drought tolerant and can be used in xeriscape plantings, but will get larger and bloom more with at least a bit of supplemental moisture in the hottest months of summer. Full sun is best, though it can tolerate part-day light shade. A pleasant front-of-border plant.

Penstemon hirsutus coming to the end of its bloom time - Williams Lake, B.C. - July 2014. Image: HFN

A rosy-purple Penstemon hirsutus coming to the end of its bloom time – Williams Lake, B.C. – July 2014. Image: HFN

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Perennial. Zone 4. Scrophulariaceae. Mid-Eastern North America, including Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. A.k.a. FOXGLOVE PENSTEMON.

Some years ago Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ was absolutely everywhere, and being touted as something of a wonder plant – “Long blooming!” “Beautiful foliage!” “Drought tolerant!”  It was the Perennial Plant Association’s “Perennial of the Year” in 1996, which is generally a recommendation of good garden merit, but in this case I do believe the hype was greater than the plant proved to be. I grew it for a few seasons and thought it nice enough in a minor-key way, but when it succumbed to a not-particularly-hard winter, I shrugged and moved on.

‘Mystica’ is the offspring of ‘Husker’s Red’, and has proven to be a generally better plant than its parent. Released in 2008, ‘Mystica’ is not receiving nearly as much promotion as its ancestor, but the word in the gardening world is uniformly positive. I’ve been growing it for four or five seasons now, and I have found it quietly attractive and reliably hardy.

Penstemon digitalis is a showy North American wildflower, widely adapted to various soils and happy in full sun to light shade. It is drought resistant to the point of being included on xeriscape lists, though the nicest specimens are those which receive at least a bit of attention in the way of decent soil and some summer moisture. Both ‘Husker’s Red’ and ‘Mystica’ are selections of the species, developed by choosing the seedlings with desirable traits (dark foliage, showy flowers, long bloom time, hardiness) through successive generations.

‘Mystica’ makes a tidy clump of purple-flushed, silky-smooth foliage. 18 to 24 inch tall bloom stems emerge in early summer, and produce pretty, white-blushed-with-purple rather foxglove-like blooms for 3 to 4 weeks. Once the flowers drop, the glossy purple seed pods provide garden interest. The foliage stays attractive right until first snowfall, responding to cooler autumn temperatures with a reddening of its dusky leaves.

As with all of the Penstemons, hummingbirds love ‘Mystica’, as do numerous types of bees and other insects. It is nice towards the border front, and is tidy enough for the rock garden. In general, a good plant, attractive for three seasons and adaptable in a wide range of conditions.

‘Mystica’ is propagated by seed, so plants are a bit variable as to ultimate height and coloration of foliage. Occasionally a mostly green plant shows up in a batch, but when I kept a few of these instead of rogueing them out, I found them to be perfectly acceptable, blooming away nicely with their showier-foliaged siblings, and adding some contrast to the small colony in my garden.

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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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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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Viola riviniana - Van Dusen Garden, Vancouver, B.C. - June 2011. Image: HFN

Viola labradorica ‘purpurea’/Viola riviniana ‘Purple Group’ – “Labrador Violet” – Van Dusen Garden, Vancouver, B.C. – June 2011. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Violaceae. Eastern North America, or possibly Europe.

There presently exists some confusion among botanists as to whether the plant widely distributed in the plant trade as Viola labradorica (from eastern North America, including Labrador, and also in Greenland) is actually a very similar European species, Viola riviniana. Until the final verdict is in, there seems to be a broad agreement to keep calling this pretty little violet by the best-known common name, Labrador Violet.

Whatever the classification, it is most garden-worthy.

Viola labradorica 'purpurea Van Dusen Garden, Vancouver, B.C. - April 8, 2014. Image: HFN

Viola labradorica ‘purpurea’/Viola riviniana ‘Purple Group’ – Van Dusen Garden, Vancouver, B.C. – April 8, 2014. New spring foliage is darkest in colour, and decidedly glossy in texture. Image: HFN

The most instantly noticeable thing about this violet is its silken-textured red-purple flushed foliage. This is particularly noticeable in early spring, but the foliage remains dark-blushed all summer, with deeper shades developing in autumn. Plants reach 6 inches or so tall, and spread in a gently determined sort of way to form substantial colonies. It self-seeds about quite abundantly, but the young plants are easy to transplant or pull out if they overstep their allotted bounds.

Classic small purple violet flowers are produced in great abundance in spring and early summer. Sadly, these are not noticeably fragrant, but they are beautifully decorative. A hardy and attractive groundcover for under ferns, taller perennials, and shrubs, or in the nooks and crannies of rockwork.

Labrador Violet is content in sun to deep shade, in average soil with some summer moisture.

Viola labradorica purpurea (?) - "Labrador Violet" - May 2014, Hill Farm. Image: HFN

Viola labradorica purpurea (?) – “Labrador Violet” in a lush carpet under an old apple tree – note the fallen petals – May 2014, Hill Farm. Image: HFN

Another look at this pretty plant - "Labrador Violet" - May 2014. Image: HFN

Another, closer look at this pretty plant (and possible imposter) – “Labrador Violet” – May 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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