Posts Tagged ‘Blue’


Aquilegia alpine - Alpine Columbine - Chilliwack, B.C. - June 2013. Image: HFN

Aquilegia alpina – Alpine Columbine – Chilliwack, B.C. – June 2013. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Ranunculaceae. From the European Alps and Apennines.

This is a grand, very long-blooming species, native to European mountain meadows and open forests. It has been grown in gardens for centuries, and has been much used in Aquilegia hybridization.

Large, short-spurred, dusky violet-blue flowers in profusion top 12 to 18 inch tall plants from mid-spring well into summer. A tidy plant, hardy and adaptable. It will self sow, and will cross pollinate with other Aquilegias growing nearby, so your seedlings will always be something of a surprise as to colour and form.

Aquilegia alpine - Vancouver, June 2011. Image: HFN

Aquilegia alpina – Vancouver, June 2011. Image: HFN

It is noted by Aquilegia authority Robert Nold in his definitive 2003 monograph, Columbines: Aquilegia, Paraquilegia, and Semiaquilegia, that Aquilegia alpina in its pure form is seldom to be had in the plant trade due to the general promiscuity of this genus, to whit: “As with many columbines, the genetic purity seems to have been diluted by cultivation through the centuries…”

Plants I have grown from reliably-sourced seed labelled “alpina” have always shown a strong similarity in colour and habit; the species (or at least the cultivated, evolved form of the species) seems to exist in a fairly stable type.

It would be interesting to grow out some wild-collected seed from Aquilegia alpina’s native habitat to compare with the cultivated strain; perhaps I will request some from this fall’s collectors’ seed lists and see what we come up with.

Sun to shade, good soil and moisture.

Aquilegia alpine - June 2013. Image: HFN

Aquilegia alpina – June 2013. Image: HFN

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Aconitum carmichaelii ‘arendsii’ – Hill Farm – October, 2012. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Ranunculaceae.

This is a very late bloomer; the photo here was taken in October of 2012. Many years the buds are frozen before it can bloom, so I’m not going to recommend it for Cariboo gardeners, unless you’re willing to put up with several years of disappointment to each lucky combination of circumstances which will give you bloom. But when it does bloom, it’s a lovely, unexpected thing!

Aconitum carmichaelii 'arendsii' - Hill Farm, October 2014. Image: HFN

Aconitum carmichaelii ‘arendsii’ bud cluster showing petal veining – Hill Farm, November 2014. Image: HFN

This is a tall Monkshood, with sturdy stems which can reach 6 feet. Buds are produced in August and take their time maturing and opening, but when and if they do they are classic monkshood cowls; smoky, dusky blue with green veining and sooty black stamens. The flower spikes are densely crowded, occasionally branched.

Very handsome, dark green, deeply cut foliage in healthy, ever-increasing clumps.

Site at the back of the border, with extra moisture during the dry times, and light shade if possible. Then cross your fingers!

This is another one you won’t often find for sale; we won’t be offering it this year either, but may one day in the future. Our own cherished clump is coming along nicely, but we are hesitant to disturb it until it gets a little larger and we can steal some pieces off the edges instead of digging the whole thing up.

Note: All monkshoods are poisonous, in all of their parts. Handle with care.

Aconitum carmichaelii 'arendsii' - Van Duen Garden, Vancouver, B.C. - October 2014. Image: HFN

Aconitum carmichaelii ‘arendsii’ – Van Dusen Garden, Vancouver, B.C. – October 2014. Image: HFN

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Campanula cochlearifolia - Image: HFN

Campanula cochlearifolia Fairies’ Thimble Bellflower – Prince George, B.C., June 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Campanulaceae. European Alps. Syn. Campanula pusilla, C. bellardii, C. pumila. A.k.a. SPIRAL BELLFLOWER. Cochlearifolia is from the Latin cochlear, (from the Greek kochlarion), meaning “spoon”, in reference to the shape of the delicate, inwardly curved, mat-forming basal leaves.

Probably the most popular of the alpine bluebells, and rightly so, for this wee plant is utterly adorable. Tiny, heart-shaped leaves arising from shallow-rooted, wiry rhizomes form an ever-expanding mat of foliage. From this arise numerous 2 to 3 inch stems topped by perfect, tiny, shyly nodding bellflowers from June until August, in varying shades of soft violet blue, and occasionally pure white.

A number of named varieties of this little beauty are available, as well as the species type. All are excellent, though the “improved” varieties have unavoidably lost as bit of the charm of their petite ancestor, tending to have lusher, more upright foliage and a more “tuft-forming” habit.

Newer cultivars ‘Bavarian Blue’ and ‘Bavarian White’ tend to be larger in all of their parts than the species, to 6 inches tall. You may also come across ‘Alpine Breeze’ (blue, very vigorous, with larger-than-the-species foliage), and the self-explanatory ‘Baby Blue’ and Baby White’.  ‘Elizabeth Oliver’ is a beautiful pale blue double, first introduced in 1970.

The species type in particular is fabulous anywhere a delicate groundcover is desired. Perfect over the smaller spring bulbs such as species crocus and tulips, as Campanula cochlearifolia is very shallowly rooted. Easily divided to spread it around; easily nipped back where not needed. Extremely pretty, and very hardy and adaptable.

Sun to light shade, average conditions.

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Low Larkspur growing on grassy dry sidehills along the Chilcotin River at Farwell Canyon, near Riske Creek, B.C., May 13, 2010. Note contrasting violet veining on the cobalt blue petals.

Perennial. Zone 2. Ranunculaceae. Western North America, from California north to southern third of British Columbia, and eastwards to southern Sakatchewan, South Dakota and Wyoming. Abundant in areas of the eastern Rocky Mountain foothills.  A widely variable species, from alpine forms only a few inches tall to grassland individuals reaching 18″ or taller, D. bicolor is now sometimes classified as D. nuttallianum, with regional subspecies.

This low-growing spring-blooming flower is frequently found on the dry hillsides and grasslands of the Cariboo-Chilcotin, especially along the Fraser River corridor in the dryland fir and sagebrush belt. Though a close relative of the tall garden delphiniums and larkspurs, as flower form and colour show, this is a much more petite thing, growing from 6″ to 18″ or so in height, and blooming briefly in April and May.

Lewis J. Clark calls it

…A small but showy species, inhabiting Bunch-grass and Ponderosa Pine country from Osoyoos to the Rockies.

At Macalister, just south of Quesnel on the Fraser River, we are at the northern limit of its grassland range, though variant populations have been reported in subalpine regions northwest of Prince George.

Low Larkspur is a tuberous rooted plant, which frequently behaves like a summer ephemeral. Slender bloom stalks appear in earliest spring, the flowers expand and are pollinated by butterflies and long-proboscissed bumblebees, and the finely divided foliage then withers on the stems, with the plant fading away into the surrounding vegetation, leaving clusters of innocuous yellow seed capsules in place of the cobalt and purple-blue blossoms.

On our own dry and rocky Fraser River hillside, this lovely larkspur blooms in early May alongside golden Arnica, creamy Heuchera cylindrica, sulphur-yellow Lithopspermum ruderale, and rosy-flowered Geum triflorum – a rewarding palette of contrasting wild colour for the springtime rambler to enjoy.

Despite its great beauty there is a sinister side to this gorgeous flower. In its spring growth phase, D. bicolor (and, incidentally, all of its relatives) is highly toxic to cattle. Because its foliage turns green before many of the rangeland grasses, browsing cattle sometimes seek it out, and there are numerous well-documented cases of mass bovine fatalities in regions where wild larkspur is abundant. By seed stage the toxicity has greatly abated; in our region this generally coincides with range turnout, and I am not personally familiar with toxicity episodes in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, though when I was working on a ranch in the Alberta foothills it was a very real concern for local cattlemen during spring turnout. Interestingly enough, the toxic effect seems specific only to cattle; sheep and wild browsers appear to be unaffected, and sheep have been used to eliminate the plant in some areas where bovine larkspur poisonings are of particular concern.

Low Larkspur moves happily into the cultivated garden, but with its delicate habit and summer dormancy it is best planted in an alpine bed, or among grasses, where conditions mimic those found in its natural habitat. I do not generally condone transplanting of wildflowers into the garden, but the collection of a modest quantity of mature seed in midsummer – being sure to scatter some about; never collect the entire contents of a plant’s seed capsules – should in no way impact our local populations. Sow immediately, preferably in a nursery bed, and look for seedlings the following spring, as many of the Ranunculaceae family (of which D. bicolor is a member) require a winter stratification period to trigger germination.

Sun; average conditions; tolerates summer drought.

This and following photos were all taken in the same area of the Chilcotin, at Farwell Canyon. Note the variability of the flowers even within this small population. May 13, 2010.

This and following photos were all taken in the same area of the Chilcotin, at Farwell Canyon. Note the variability of the flowers even within this small population. May 13, 2010.



Hooked spurs and contrasting “bee” petals are nicely portrayed here. Some individuals are also intricately veined with bright violet – as in the first photo at the top of this post – which is the inspiration of the species name, “bicolor”.


The entire plant is finely pubescent, with the central “bees” being prominently hairy. Note the long spurs, which are often hooked. The nectary is so deep and narrow that only certain insects – most notable butterflies and native bumblebees – are able to access the nectar.

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Perennial Cornflower blooming in late May, 2014 around the ruined foundation of an old ranch house near Roberts Lake.

Centaurea montana – Perennial Cornflower blooming in late May, 2014 around the ruined foundation of an old ranch house near Roberts Lake, northeast of Williams Lake, B.C. Obviously a relic of a one-time cherished garden, for nestled in the grass growing over the tumbled foundation stones we also found creeping sedums and a solitary Dianthus deltoides (Maiden Pink), as well as the ubiquitous rhubarb plants and a few straggly lilacs. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2.  Asteraceae. Europe, “from the Ardennes in Belgium south to the Pyrenees in Spain and east to Poland and Yugoslavia, growing in subalpine meadows and open woods, flowering in May-July”, according to the reliable Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, in their two-volume masterwork, The Random House Book of Perennials.

This is a clump former which spreads to 2 feet or so in diameter where happy, depending on stoloniferous underground stems to slowly expand its girth every year. Though not exactly shy about advancing on its garden neighbours, it is easy to keep in check in the garden by some judicious trowel work in the spring.

Deep green, silky-haired, broadly lanceolate leaves alternate up the multiple sturdy stems, which are topped by numerous black-bracted buds. These open into large, electric blue cornflowers in late May, and continue well into July.

Some years the plants may “bird’s nest” in heavy rainfall. If this happens, ruthlessly shear the whole plant back to 6 inches or so, and tactfully ignore it for a week or two; it will quickly recover and regrow into a much more tidy clump, and will usually rebloom later in the season.

An excellent bee plant and attractive to numerous species of butterflies.

Esteemed Ontario gardener Patrick Lima, in his 1987 book The Harrowsmith Perennial Garden, has this to say about the Mountain Bluet:

Early in June…and for almost a month, 2½ foot stems rise up, carrying the many dark blue thin-petalled blossoms that always remind me of little jets of flame.

Perennial cornflowers look best set in groups of three or more – a single plant makes little show – just back of front [in the border] in company with poppies, irises of any colour, dianthus and the like…They might be left out of smaller garden in favour of something showier…but are a good choice for next-to-no-maintenance flowerbeds that could include Siberian irises and daylilies.

Although they are not spectacular, perennial cornflowers are practically indestructible; A. Clutton-Brock says in Studies in Gardening (1916) that if the hardy cornflower “were not so easy, it would be prized, and it deserves to be more prized for its easiness.”

There is a white mutation of the common blue variety, ‘Alba’, which is very pretty, and a number of recent hybrids, of which the purple-centered, white-petalled ‘Amethyst in Snow’ shows great promise in my garden. There is also a golden-leaved, blue-flowered form, ‘Gold Bullion’, which looks rather interesting. These last two are patented hybrids from the venerable Blooms of Bressingham in England, and are often found in the “premium perennials” section of our better nurseries. (Try Richbar Nursery in Quesnel, and Art Knapp’s in Prince George.)

Flower bud detail showing the distinctive bracts. The Centaureas are also known as "Knapweed", and the highly invasive range Diffuse and Spotted knapweeds, Centaurea diffusa and Centaurea biebersteinii, are serious rangeland invaders, being highly unpalatable to grazers and browsers both wild and tame. We pulled some knapweed last year which appeared on the side of the railroad tracks which pass through Hill Farm, and the plants left a bitter residue on our hands even through our leather gloves, which took several days to completely subside despite numerous scrubbings. Our garden denizen Centaurea montana does not appear to be quite as unpalatable, but keep an eye on it and confine it to your garden, just to be on the safe side.

Flower bud detail showing the distinctive bracts. The Centaureas are also known as “Knapweeds” due to these overlapping bracts, and the highly invasive Diffuse and Spotted knapweeds, Centaurea diffusa and C. biebersteinii, are serious rangeland invaders, being completely unpalatable to grazers and browsers both wild and tame. We pulled some knapweed last year which appeared on the side of the railroad tracks which pass through Hill Farm, and the plants left a bitter residue on our hands even through our leather gloves, which took several days to completely subside despite numerous scrubbings. Our garden denizen C. montana does not appear to be quite as unpalatable – I have seen sheep eat it with great relish – but keep an eye on it regardless and confine it sternly to your garden, just to be on the safe side. Image: HFN

This Centaurea will be very familiar to those who garden in the Quesnel and Prince George regions, as it thrives in the cool, moist subclimates of the aspen-forested areas, and in some places has escaped gardens to form thriving naturalized colonies along road edges and in ditches, where it is very lovely in its long bloom season. There are some handsome specimens growing in Wells-Barkerville area gardens, and it grows up on the hillside behind the Barkerville Heritage Site buildings, where it coexists quite nicely with native lupines, Indian paintbrush (Castilleja), arnica and wild valerian.

The invasive plant people are keeping an eye on it, being concerned that it might some day become a pest, but I am not overly worried about it, as it has been grown in our region for well over a century, and its “naturalization” appears to be confined to areas of disturbed soil, or places where there have been previous gardens. In my own microclimate it has in fact proved rather difficult, apparently not caring much for my clay soil and sun-baked summers.

Sun to light shade; average soil and moisture. Very long-lived.

Naturalized at the site of an old garden, near Roberts Lake, B.C.

Naturalized at the gone-to-bush site of an old garden, near Roberts Lake, B.C. Image: HFN

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Eryngium planum 'Blue Cap" - thriving in less than ideal conditions at the 108 Heritage Site, Lac La Hache. We planted the raised perennial beds at the rest stop over 10 years ago with "tough, no-maintainence" plants, and it is quite interesting to see what has survived and, in some cases, thrived. This sea holly and Achillea filipendulina, Salvia nemerosa, Lychnis coronaria and Silene maritime, a goodly number of columbines, Erigeron 'Pink Jewel' and various sedums are hanging right in there. Exposed site, no supplementary water or fertilizer, and lots of traffic back and forth - we're pretty happy with how this planting has held up.

Eryngium planum ‘Blue Cap” – thriving in less than ideal conditions at the 108 Roadhouse Heritage Site, Lac La Hache. We planted the raised perennial beds at the rest stop there over 10 years ago with “tough, no-maintainence” plants, and it is quite interesting to see what has survived and, in most cases, thrived. This sea holly and Achillea filipendulina, Salvia nemerosa, Lychnis coronaria and Silene maritima, a goodly number of columbines, Erigeron ‘Pink Jewel’ and various sedums are hanging right in there. Exposed site, no supplementary water or fertilizer, and lots of traffic back and forth – we’re pretty happy with how this planting has held up. Photo taken in the late evening while stopping by for a quick break to stretch our road-trip weary legs, mid-August, 2012. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Apiaceae. Central Europe, from Germany and Austria eastward to Russia; throughout the Caucasus Mountain region and into central Asia, where it grows happily in grassy meadows and on rocky, sun-baked hillsides.

I’ve been a die-hard fan of the sea hollies in general and this species in particular ever since my mother planted one out on her difficult-ground shale hillside north of Williams Lake over four decades ago. It self seeded about, and made a thriving colony, and provided untold hundreds of sturdy bloom stems which ended up being dried and made into everlasting wreaths and arrangements which Mom then gave to friends and sold at various arts-and-crafts sales.

It really is as blue as it looks, and the stems carry that cobalt blush as well, almost as if the whole thing were dusted with spray paint by someone seeking to enhance things.

Leathery, silvery-green, rounded leaves in basal rosettes send up 18-24” tall multi-branched stems topped by loose clusters of bristly, bracted, cone-shaped flower heads summer through fall.  Stems and flowers are flushed a deep electric blue. A very long season of bloom through summer into autumn.

An excellent cutflower and everlasting. A popular bee and butterfly flower, always alive with insect activity.

‘Blue Cap’ – translated from ‘Blaukappe’ – is a premium German selection of the species, and is even more compact and floriferous (and darker blue) than its attractive ancestor. A number of other E. planum cultivars have appeared in recent years, such as the very dwarf ‘Blue Hobbit’, and white forms such as ‘Silver Salentino’ and ‘White Glitter’.

A variegated form, ‘Jade Frost’, with pink-blushed, white-edged foliage, has been appearing in garden centres for a few years; I have a small planting of this cultivar and am at this point not terribly impressed, as one of the original trio mysteriously withered and died, and the other two are less vigorous than I had hoped for from this generally reliable species.

Sun; any soil; drought tolerant. Fantastic xeriscape plant. A generous self-seeder, but not a “runner” – individual plants stay put, and are tap rooted and very long lived. Oh – and it is reasonably deer resistant, too!


Definitely approved by bees! A late evening forager on ‘Blue Cap’ Sea Holly at the 108 Roadhouse Heritage Site at Lac La Hache, B.C., mid-August, 2012. Image: HFN

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UBC Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C. April 8, 2014

Trachystemon orientalis – UBC Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C. April 8, 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 4/5. Boraginaceae. Syn. Borago orientalis. Bulgaria, Turkey, northern Asia.

Something of a bio plant (“botanical interest only”) but one which I am intrigued by, having long had a strong affection for the members of the Boraginaceae as a whole.

Deep green, crisply wrinkled, rather bristly leaves arise in early spring, along with many 6-inch stems topped by loose spikes of many small, star-shaped blue blooms with curiously reflexed petals and prominent stamen clusters. A rich nectar source, the flowers are a favourite of foraging bees. Once the flowers subside in May, the foliage expands to form a dense colony of 18-inch long, bright green leaves, reminiscent of a colony of furry-leaved hostas.

Most literature dismisses Trachystemon orientalis as hardy only to Zone 6, but properly sited, in humus-rich soil in areas with reliable snow cover, this one is worth a try in our region’s Zone 4-ish woodland gardens.

From UBC Botanical Garden horticulturist Jackie Chambers, April 2, 2008:

A fine example of Trachystemon orientalis can be found in the David C. Lam Asian Garden here at UBC. The coarse-textured, heart-shaped leaves are bright green and reach 25-30cm long. However, it is the dainty blue flowers, currently in bloom, that are the most striking feature of this perennial groundcover.

The flowers are held on hairy, purple flower stalks of 15-30cm in height. Flower stalks emerge in early spring (March-April) before the leaves have reached full size. Individual flowers are about 1cm in diameter, and are hermaphroditic – meaning they have both staminate (pollen producing) and carpellate (ovule producing) structures. Stiff hairs and blue flowers are typical features of members of Boraginaceae.

Trachystemon is derived from the Greek trachys, meaning rough, and stemon, a stamen. The species name orientalis means eastern or from the orient, and is a reference to the native distribution of this species. Trachystemon orientalis is endemic to southeastern Europe and western Asia.

In Turkey, the plant is eaten as a vegetable, and has the common name aci hodan. The flowers, stems, young leaves and rhizome may all be cooked and eaten.

English common names include Abraham-Isaac-Jacob, and Eastern or Oriental borage.

From a horticulturist perspective, this plant is an extremely useful groundcover; while it prefers partly shaded woodland locations, it can tolerate full sun to shade, and a range of soil conditions. It even performs well in dry shade which is always a challenge for gardeners.

Trachystemon orientalis grows in forested and subalpine areas of its native lands, where it is collected in early spring as a much-loved delicacy. It is sold in the local farmers’ markets and prepared rather like spinach, though I would fervently hope that the overall bristly texture is subdued by cooking.

A gardener from Ankara, Turkey, shared this comment on an online garden forum I occasionally visit:

This plant is highly edible and grows in the Black Sea mountains in Turkey. Much like spinach it needs a very good soak and rinsing several times because of the bristles. It is a lovely food, stem and flowers included, when chopped and added to sautéed chopped onions then whisked eggs stirred in and allowed to cook through. Salt and pepper to taste.

It is a seasonal plant and not available except by foraging for it. (The common name in Turkey is) ‘Kaldirik’.

Grown as an ornamental in Great Britain since the 1860s, it was reportedly introduced to North American in the 1970s by renowned plantsman John Elsley, who has been instrumental in introducing many new-to-the-continent species and cultivars to the North American nursery trade.

Still very rare in the nursery trade in Canada. Reported to be easy from seed, so a good place to start would be the various alpine garden club seed exchanges, or keep an eye out if visiting a coastal specialty nursery. Hill Farm Nursery hopes to be able to offer this plant in the future. A test planting is in the ground as of fall 2014.

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Biennial or Short-lived Perennial. Zone 4. Boraginaceae. Mediterranean region.  A.k.a. ALKANET, ITALIAN BUGLOSS.

Clusters of intensely cobalt-blue flowers rather like large forget-me-nots appear late spring into summer on 4 foot plants. Deep green, bristly, elongated foliage. It is related to Borage, and so it is no surprise that it is much beloved by bees.

A selection of the Italian wildflower,  ‘Dropmore Blue’ is an excellent Canadian cultivar introduced in 1905 by the famed Agricultural Research Station in Dropmore, Manitoba.

Anchusa is beautiful with yellow grandiflora foxgloves and other early summer flowers. I fell in love with this years ago during a late June visit to Butchart Gardens, where it was in full bloom in the rose garden – it was absolutely stunning with the rosy reds and pinks! You do see it occasionally in botanical and show gardens, but though once popular in home plantings, Anchusa is now quite rare; not many are familiar with this pretty plant.

The roots of the wild Anchusa are used to produce a red dye; apparently this trait carries over in the domesticated strain. There are also medicinal uses as a wound herb. I find that I need to be cautious when handling the bristly leaves, for, as with Borage, I have developed a sensitivity to the bristly hairs and break out in a mild but annoying rash from over-exposure. I would recommend wearing gloves when pruning or tidying up this one, just to be on the safe side.

Cut back after blooming for new flowers on fresh, lower growth in autumn. Anchusa is tap-rooted, so do not attempt to move plants once established, and transplant seedlings with care. It may sometimes self-sow modestly.

Anchusa generally acts as a biennial, though some plants may overwinter a third and fourth year, so keep an eye out for seedlings, or collect the large, black seeds to re-sow next season.

Plant in full sun. Thrives in any average soil with good drainage. Quite drought tolerant once established.



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