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.

 

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

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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