Archive for the ‘Summer’ Category

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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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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Lysimachia punctata - Dotted Loosestrife - July 2011 - Hill Farm. Image: HFN

Lysimachia punctata – Dotted Loosestrife – July 2011 – Hill Farm. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Myrsinaceae, formerly Primulaceae. A.k.a. YELLOW LOOSESTRIFE, GOLDEN STARFLOWER. Austria, Italy, and east to Turkey.

This rather romping species is native to Europe, and has been grown in gardens for centuries. It was thought to have medicinal properties, being used as a wound herb to stop bleeding, and also to repel insects. Now we grow it strictly for ornament, for its adaptability and the summer beauty of its bright yellow star flowers.

Looking at the vivid yellow, unmarked flowers, you may wonder why Dotted Loosestrife is a common name, but if you look very closely at the undersides of the leave, you will see the tiny dark oil glands which led to Linnaeus choosing punctata – in Latin, “a point” – as its specific designation.

Lysimachia punctata detail Image: HFN

Lysimachia punctata detail, showing the tiny oil glands – the dark specks on the leaf undersides, looking rather like little spots of dirt – which have led to the “dotted” designation. Image: HFN

This plant is quite a tidy clump former its first few years, but keep an eye on it, as it will suddenly decide it needs more ground and it will expand outwards in all directions, though not by runners, merely by shouldering aside less robust neighbours. Lysimachia punctata is a well-respected garden plant, but it is not exactly what one would call shy, so you will want to site it appropriately.

Though Dotted Loosestrife is decidedly a moisture lover, I have had great success with it in a rather dry, neglected bed. It shares its space with a huge clump of ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea picta), ‘Europa’ tawny daylily (Hemerocallis flava), and a perennial sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides, all of which are equally vigorous and have reached a kind of boundary stalemate. This combination has been working nicely for over ten years, though I do occasionally steal a few divisions to put elsewhere or to sell. I did initially grow it in a moist, fertile, newly prepared bed, but it was much too happy there and overran some more delicately precious plants, hence its relative exile to its present location.

Lysimachia punctata and Ribbon Grass (Phalaris arundinaceae picta) - summer morning - Hill Farm - July 2012. Image: HFN

Lysimachia punctata and Ribbon Grass (Phalaris arundinaceae picta) – backlit by summer morning sun – Hill Farm – July 2012. Image: HFN

Lysimachia punctata grows to about 2 feet tall and wide in its present place; I suspect it would be even taller with more care. It’s a beautiful plant when in bloom, and something I particularly enjoy is its habit of shedding spent flowers like a cloud of star-shaped confetti all over the ground. It blooms for weeks and weeks, mid June right through July and into August most years, and even after flowering the foliage stays handsome, though a few leaves will brown a bit. It is also an excellent cutflower, though it does shed flowers from the bottom up.

A galaxy of fallen starts - Lysimachia punctata - Hill Farm - July 2011. Image: HFN

A galaxy of fallen stars – Lysimachia punctata – Hill Farm – July 2011. Image: HFN

There are two variegated varieties which are now in cultivation, both developed from spontaneous colour breaks in plantings of Lysimachia punctata in England.

The first is a white-edged sport called ‘Alexander’, or sometimes ‘Alexander’s’, named after the late husband of its discoverer, Pauline Alexander. First identified in 1990, the plant was patented in 1998, after nursery trials proved its colour stability and growth trait predictability.

Lysimachia punctata 'Alexander'. Hill Farm, July 2013. Image: HFN

Lysimachia punctata ‘Alexander’. Hill Farm, July 2013. Image: HFN

‘Alexander’ is much slower growing than its mother species, and needs a bit of nurturing and a good moist soil at least the first few years. It has extremely appealing pink-blushed emerging growth in spring, very exotic! If this cultivar has a fault it is that the variegation causes puckering along much of the foliage; “purse-stringing”, as it is called. This puckering looks rather like disease or insect damage at first glance, and may be worrisome if you’re not aware that this is a varietal characteristic.

Spring foliage

‘Alexander’ Lysimachia punctata – exceptionally attractive early spring foliage. Image: HFN

Whatever genetic mutation was at work was not quite finished yet, for in 1998 another colour break was observed, this time in a test planting of ‘Alexander’ at Walburton Nursery in England. The leaf edges were golden, instead of white, and without the drawstring puckering which marked ‘Alexander’. ‘Golden Alexander’ was separated out, reproduced, and patented as a separate variety in 2003.

Both ‘Alexander’ and ‘Golden Alexander’ are hardy and suitable for the Cariboo-Chilcotin. They are not as vigorous as the green-leafed species, and require some care to ensure they reach full potential, but their bright colour is very appealing and they are worth growing for their strong curiousity value.

Something to watch out for in both of these cultivars is their strong tendency to revert to their all-green state. Vigilantly nip out any green shoots appearing in your colony, as these will quickly take over if allowed to remain.

Lysimachia punctata in all its colour variations thrives in full sun to part shade. It can happily be grown very moist, but accepts drier conditions with aplomb. It appreciates average garden soil – don’t grow it too rich. In general, a tough and trouble free species.

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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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Biennial. Zone 2. Caryophyllaceae. Dianthus barbatus originated in the mountains of southern Europe.

‘Sooty’ is often billed as the “black” Sweet William, but in reality it is a deep, rich crimson, with nicely contrasting pure white stamens. Though ‘Sooty’ is often described as “new and improved”, in reality it is almost indistinguishable in my experience from the venerable English heirloom variety, ‘Dunnett’s Deep Crimson’, introduced in the late 1800s.

Many heads of clove-fragranced, velvety crimson flowers are produced in midsummer of the plant’s second year. Foliage shows a distinctive dark red blush, as do stems, particularly at the leaf joints. ‘Sooty’ tends not to be as tall or as substantial in form as many of the other traditional Sweet Williams, reaching only 12 to 18 inches tall, and proving occasionally rather lax in habit.

‘Sooty’ blooms for a fairly extended time. You may get a few flowers in autumn of its first year, but the best show comes in year two, when the cluster-heads bristling with dark-blushed, sharply pointed, modified leaflets unfold their blooms from early June and well into summer. For continued flower production, promptly deadhead when the clusters finally fade, or harvest at peak perfection for bouquets.

Something of a curiousity in the garden, though a very pleasant one.

I must confess that I have sometimes found ‘Sooty’ a little difficult to place. Self-sown seedlings generally manage to find a niche where they can blend well with their neighbours, but my greatest success with Sweet Williams in general, including ‘Sooty’, was way back when I grew ambitious vegetable gardens, which always included several rows of annual flowers for cutting. For a few years I included “biennial rows” which I planted out in late summer, full of Sweet Williams and Canterbury Bells and their like. With abundant fertility and regular watering, these bloomed the following spring and summer with great vigour, providing armfuls of flowers for arrangements. In the mixed border, fighting it out for growing space among various companions, I find that the Sweet Williams don’t reach such majestic proportions as when treated more as “crop” plants.

A true biennial which may carry on by offsets, but usually by self-seeding, so allow a few bloom heads to mature seed to re-sow.

Sun is best, though light shade is tolerated.  Good soil and moisture are appreciated.

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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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Lychnis chalcedonica - Scarlet Maltese Cross - Prince George, B.C. - July 2013. Image: HFN

Lychnis chalcedonica – Scarlet Maltese Cross – Prince George, B.C. – July 2013. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 1. Caryophyllaceae. Russia, Northern Asia. A.k.a., according to the Royal Horticultural Society, an astounding number of common names, among them: Cross of Jerusalem, Fireball, Flower of Bristow, Flower of Constantinople, Gardener’s Delight, Great Candlestick, Knight’s Cross, London Pride, None-Such, Red Robin, Scarlet Lightning,Tears of Christ.

If I think back to the gardens of my childhood, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Maltese Cross is ever-present. My mother grew it and viewed it with great fondness, as did all of her gardening friends. It flourished in its scarlet glory in remote ranch gardens on the Chilcotin plateau as enthusiastically as it did in the town gardens we frequently visited in Williams Lake and 100 Mile House.

I sometimes muse on what a recreated Cariboo heritage garden would contain. Always a lilac bush, of course, and a massive clump of rhubarb. Red currants drooping with their luminescent clusters, promises of sweet jelly and mouth-puckering cordial to come. Raspberries, in generous wire-supported rows. Golden Glow lolling brightly by the fence, tied back with a length of sisal baler twine. In spring, a profusion of grape hyacinths, Johnny-Jump-Ups, striped ‘Pickwick’ crocuses, under a pinker-than-pink Flowering Almond bush. Red and yellow tulips. ‘Persian Yellow’ roses, blooming for a brief but wonderful time in June. Red-and-black oriental poppies, royal purple Cluster Bellflower, those ubiquitous purple and white bearded iris smelling strongly of grape Kool-Aid to my childish nose, identified in later years as the venerable variety ‘Wabash’. Double-flowered Achillea ptarmica – I can’t remember a common  name, though it must have had one. Did Mom call this one ‘Baby’s Breath’? I think she might have, though she had “real” baby’s breath, too – Gypsophila paniculata. Lanky delphiniums in shades of the sky. A colony of tall, pale purple phlox, alongside a fragrant yellow daylily. Columbines everywhere. Canterbury Bells and Sweet Williams. Orange tiger lilies in late summer. Cerise Rose Campion in the most unexpected places, and, inevitably, a sturdy clump of quite ridiculously red Maltese Cross.

My goodness. I should stop right there, before a tear comes to my eye. Our gardens are indeed full of memories…

Lychnis chalcedonica in a contemporary garden setting, in te perennial border at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, July 2013. Image: UFN

Lychnis chalcedonica in a contemporary garden setting, perfectly combined with tall ornamental grasses in the perennial border at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, July 2013. Image: UFN

 

So – here are the basics regarding Lychnis chalcedonica.  It forms strong clumps to 2 feet or taller. The sturdy stems topped by domed heads of brilliant scarlet, cross-like (though 5-petalled) flowers for a reasonably long period in mid-summer, 3 to 4 weeks. It reliably reblooms if cut back.

Maltese Cross prefers full sun, good soil, and average amounts of moisture. Mature clumps may be carefully divided, but so easy from seed that I never bother with division. Not at all invasive; well behaved in all its habits. You may wish to unobtrusively stake it, as it can occasionally birdsnest with summer thundershowers. But it is a truly sturdy thing, and requires minimal fussing.

Garden legend has it that this was one of those plants brought back to England from the Holy Land by returning Crusaders, but this is apparently not the case. More likely it came via regular trade routes from European travellers; the species originated in Russian and northern Chinese forests and steppes, and still can be found growing in the wild. Its first mention in garden literature predates the 1590s.

Can you see the cross-shaped form that leads to the common name? The fact that the blooms actually have five lobes versus four is a bit of a surprise - the effect is definitely geometric and cross-like. Image: HFN

Can you see the flower form that leads to the common name? The fact that the blooms actually have five fused petals versus four is a bit of a surprise – the overall effect is definitely geometric and cross-like. Image: HFN

Siting Maltese Cross in the contemporary garden can prove something of a dilemma, mostly for those who worry about colour harmony and contrasts. Here are some wise words from Cape Breton garden writer Jo Ann Gardner, in her 1992 book, The Heirloom Garden:

I have found folk gardeners to be less intimidated by Jerusalem-cross’s brilliant colour than are contemporary gardeners, who are often afraid of offending sensibilities by planting it near the varicoloured flowers of early summer and mid-summer. But it blends surprisingly well with soft pink Musk Mallow (Malva moschata), Lupines of all sorts, Siberian Iris, Bellflower, Foxglove, the lilac-white plumes of Clary Sage, and the yellow daisy-flowered Golden-Marguerite. One is often advised to banish Jerusalem-cross to the to the safety of low-growing evergreens, where its glowing colour will be reduced or neutralized. Consider that Gertrude Jekyll, the mistress of colour in the garden, grouped it among orange Daylilies, Dahlias, Marigolds and Nasturtiums…

There are a number of variations of Lychnis chalcedonica which you may find interesting. Last heard of in the 1920s and possibly lost forever – though one can hope they exist in some isolated cottage garden, waiting for their rediscovery – are double scarlet (first written about in 1629) and double white (1772) forms, but we do have some pretty singles to console ourselves with. A blushing pink – ‘Morgenrote’ a.k.a. ‘Morning Red’, sometimes sold as ‘Dusky Salmon’ – and a pristine white – ‘Raureif’ a.k.a. ‘Hoarfrost’, sometimes sold as ‘Snowbird’ – are still in the seed trade, and just a year or so ago I saw mention of a more compact scarlet variety, ‘Burning Love’, reported to be a compact 12 to 18 inches tall – perhaps easier to tuck into a small suburban planting?

Lychnis chalcedonica 'rosea' - 'Morgenrote', a.k.a. 'Morning Red', a.k.a. 'Dusky Salmon'. Image HFN

Lychnis chalcedonica ‘rosea’ – ‘Morgenrote’, a.k.a. ‘Morning Red’, a.k.a. ‘Dusky Salmon’. Heads of pale, rosy-salmon-pink blooms change colour as they age to give a variegated effect to the bloom clusters.  Williams Lake, B.C. – July 2014. Image HFN

 

 

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Annual. Papaveraceae. Syn. Argemone platyceras, A. intermedia, A. intermedia var. polyanthemos. A.k.a. WHITE PRICKLY POPPY, BLUESTEM PRICKLY POPPY. North America; Eastern base of the Rocky Mountains and throughout the Great Plains. Argemone is from the Greek argema, referring to an eye cataract, as the sap from the plants was once used to treat that ailment. Polyanthemos = many flowered.

The North American prickly poppies are surprising things. Stems, foliage and even the flower buds are wickedly armoured with thorny spines, yet the large blooms are silken textured and fragile-looking out of all expectation. The weaponry is obviously there to protect against grazing animals, and that useful adaptation has me wondering what purpose the showy flowers fulfill. Perhaps as a beacon and landing stage for pollinating insects, which may be scarce in Argemone‘s desert and near-desert natural habitats?

Whatever the reason for the extravagant floral display, the beauty of this wildflower and its equally attractive relatives is without debate, and it has become a treasured garden annual in botanical and collectors’ gardens around the world.

Grey-green, white-veined, relatively softly spined foliage clumps produce elongated bloom stalks topped by clusters of spiky buds. These bud sheaths break apart to release large, pure white, golden-eyed blooms in June, July and August. Petals are silken-sheened and wonderfully crinkled; the golden stamen clusters release their pollen to colour the flower centers a delicate yellow tint. Pollen darkens with age, tipping the central stamens with burgundy. Individual blooms last only a few days each, but are continually followed by others, for a prolonged period of show.

If you have occasion to snap off a leaf or stem, you will notice the sticky, bright yellow sap. This was once used medicinally by First Nations peoples for a variety of complaints, including eye ailments, and as a remedy against nervous irritability. Argemone polyanthemos is currently used in herbal medicine as a non-opioid, non-addictive, reportedly highly effective pain reliever, similar in action but not in side-effect to that other famed poppy product, morphine. However the body apparently quickly builds up a resistance to the effects of Prickly Poppy’s active alkaloid, argemonic acid, so it is useful for short term effects only. It also is reported to have no effect (beneficial or otherwise) on those already habituated to morphine and codeine use.

Argemone polyanthemos is quite a large plant, from 2 to 4 feet tall. It frequently branches out from a central stalk to form a somewhat bushy clump, though it is in general taller than it is wide. Crested Prickly Poppy fits in well with perennials in the permanent border, or among other annuals.

Reblooms if deadheaded, but leave a few pods to set seed, for if you are fortunate this will self-sow.

Poppies in general are notoriously difficult to transplant, so handle potted seedlings very carefully to avoid disturbing the delicate tap root, and try to get to self sown seedlings when they are still tiny, taking a generous trowel-full of soil with each baby you wish to relocate.

Sun; well-drained soil; drought tolerant.

 

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