Archive for the ‘Xeriscape’ Category

Lewisia rediviva - Bitterroot. Near Ashcroft, B.C., May 2014. Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva – Bitterroot. Near Ashcroft, B.C., May 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Montiaceae – Montia Family – formerly Portulacaceae. Native to western North America, east of the Cascades in southern British Columbia, south to California and east to Montana, Colorado and Arizona.This plant is the state flower of Montana. Also known as ROCK-ROSE and RESURRECTION FLOWER.

This improbable ephemeral of the sagebrush hillsides of southern British Columbia (from approximately Cache Creek, south and eastwards) is of remarkable delicacy, rather unexpected considering its challenging home.

Tiny rosettes of succulent foliage emerge in early autumn, taking advantage of fall rains to fatten them enough for overwintering. In spring, the foliage withers away, and, as the leaves die, elongated flower buds emerge on short stems in April and early May, and proceed to unfold tissue-thin, delicately veined petals in shades of white to rich rose-pink.

Lewisia rediviva was an important food plant for the region’s First Nations people, though European settlers who sampled the roots reported that its bitterness was not to their liking.

The genus is named after botanist-explorer Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark renown, who tried eating the roots of Lewisia rediviva at some point during that exploratory expedition into the Louisiana Purchase lands and the Pacific Northwest, from 1804 to 1806. He wrote in his journal that: “(T)hey became perfectly soft by boiling, but had a very bitter taste, which was naucious to my pallate, and I transferred them to the Indians who had ate them heartily.”

Lewisia rediviva growing in great abundance on cattle-grazed rangeland, west of Ashcroft, B.C., May 2014. Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva growing in great abundance on cattle-grazed rangeland, west of Ashcroft, B.C., May 2014. Image: HFN

Here is an excerpt of this plant’s entry in Lewis J. Clark’s 1972 masterwork, Wild Flowers of the Pacific Northwest.

This extraordinary plant, remarkable for its spectacular flowers and adaptation to a harsh environment, is the state flower of Montana, and gives its name to the Bitter Root Mountains.

The origin of the specific name is illustrated by an anecdote. Captain Meriwether Lewis, on July 1, 1806, when the celebrated expedition he led with William Clark had reached (on their return from Oregon) a point just south of the present city of Missoula, Montana, collected a specimen of what he recognized to be a remarkable plant, and pressed it between dry papers in a botanical press. Months afterward (in Philadelphia) this completely desiccated specimen was planted, since it still showed signs of life – and proceeded to grow! Pursh was so impressed that he aptly named the new species rediviva, restored to life.

We would like to see the Indian name retained, just as we have seen that the native name has survived for Camas, and has even been Latinized as Camassia. Spatlum, or Spaetlum, was even more important as a food resource to the aborigines, being more widespread and more readily kept for winter use. Bitter Root is, of course, the white man’s name – for even after removal of the intensely bitter, orange-coloured, inner bark, the white interior pulp remains rather unpalatable to the European taste.

Lewisia rediviva occurs – at times in vast numbers – both among the rock spurs of the high country, and the desert flats of the inter-mountain regions, from the crests of the Cascades eastward, and from southern British Columbia to southern California.

The relatively big, forked, fat rhizomes of the plant, after the first rains of waning summer, sprout a thick tuft of succulent leaves that resemble large plump fir-needles. These leaves survive the winter but begin to shrivel, and are often quite withered away by the following May, when the arid wastes are sprinkled – it seems almost overnight, miraculously – with brilliant “water-lily” blossoms – white, pink, and rose. These open only in bright sunshine, and afford a quite astounding spectacle. On dull days the spectacular waxen petals become furled, like an umbrella, within the brownish bracts and sepals, only to reappear within minutes – as if by magic – when the hot sun breaks through. The effect is breath-taking on some of the dry flats, where the plants adorn every few inches over many acres.

Each 2-inch flower (with its 12-18 petals) is solitary, carried about 3 inches above the ground, and ripens 6-20 shining brown seeds (that are spread widely when the dried capsule is broken off and rolled away by the wind). In spite of the destruction of many fields by cultivation, the lovely Bitter Root still is abundant in arid flats unsuited for irrigation.

On a 2014 journey through south-central British Columbia, we were thrilled to observe Lewisia rediviva in full bloom along the roadside near Ashcroft, B.C. A casual driver-by might miss this botanical spectacular, but a sharp-eyed plant person will have no difficulty in noticing something worthy of further investigation. Start searching on the west side of Highway 97, just south of the racetrack. Late April to mid-May is the time.

Lewisia rediviva habitat west of ashcroft may 2014 Image: HFN

This is what you’re looking for: Lewisia rediviva habitat, west of Ashcroft, B.C. May 2014. Image: HFN

Lewisia Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva.  Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva close-up Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva. Image: HFN

Plants should not be taken from the wild, but can be grown from collected or commercially-purchased seed. Seeds should be sown in pots in autumn, and placed outside to overwinter in a freeze-thaw cycle. They will sprout when the weather warms in spring, and generally take several years to reach flowering stage.

Lewisia rediviva is only happy in a well-drained location with zero supplemental watering in summer – too much moisture will be fatal. Tiny foliage tufts overwinter under the snow, to give way to the spring blooms. Not for the garden proper, but a lovely rock garden plant, and worth trying in a hypertufa trough, if such is your horticultural pleasure.

Lewisia rediviva - foliage cluster, Napa County, California, May 2010. Image: David A. Hofmann

Lewisia rediviva – foliage cluster, Napa County, California, May 2010. Image: David A. Hofmann

 

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Penstemon hirsutus - Eastern Penstemon

Penstemon hirsutus – Eastern Penstemon

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 - detail of buds and flowrs showing tiny, silky hairs.

Penstemon hirsutus – detail of buds and flowers showing tiny, silky hairs.

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.

Penstemon hirsutus - Eastern Penstemon - in the mixed perennial norder. Image: Vesna Maric

Penstemon hirsutus – Eastern Penstemon – in the mixed perennial border. Image: Vesna Maric

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 in full bloom stage, mid-summer.

Penstemon hirsutus in full bloom stage, mid-summer.

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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Penstemon digitalis - 'Mystica' Penstemon

Penstemon digitalis – ‘Mystica’ Penstemon

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.

Penstemon digitalis - 'Mystica' Penstemon

Penstemon digitalis – ‘Mystica’ Penstemon

‘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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Echinops ritro - Blue Globe THistle

Echinops ritro – Blue Globe Thistle

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

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

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

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

Echinops ritro - Blue Globe Thistle - flowering stage - note the bee. Image: Kristian Peters

Echinops ritro – Blue Globe Thistle – flowering stage – note the bee. Image: Kristian Peters

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Achillea millefolium -  'Cerise Queen' Yarrow

Achillea millefolium v. rubra – ‘Cerise Queen’ Red-Flowered Yarrow

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.

'Cassis' Yarrow - Achillea millefolium v. rubra

‘Cassis’ Yarrow – Achillea millefolium v. rubra

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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Achillea tomentosa - Woolly Yarrow.

Achillea tomentosa – Woolly Yarrow.

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.

Achillea tomentosa - newly emerged foliage rosettes.

Achillea tomentosa – newly emerged foliage rosettes.

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