Posts Tagged ‘Spring’


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

Read Full Post »

Biennial or short-lived perennial. Zone 2. Brassicaceae. Syn. Cheiranthus x marshallii. Despite the common name, Siberian Wallflower is most accurately described as originating in England. It was a deliberate cross made by John Marshall in 1846 between Erysimum perofskianum, originally native to the Middle East, in specific Persia, and E. decumbens, from northern Spain, the Pyrenees and the southwestern Alps.

The Brassica Family makes up for its generally utilitarian foliage – think of the humble cabbage, and kale, and all of the mustards, not to mention the inconspicuous foliage of our cottage garden stalwarts such as Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis) and Stocks (Matthiola) – by frequently having the sweetest scented of flowers. The Wallflowers surpass all of their relatives in this characteristic, being famously planted in combination with less-fragrant spring bulbs such as tulips, both for the contrasting beauty of their velvety flowers and for their outpouring of honey-rich, spicy fragrance.

Sadly, the “traditional” English wallflowers, Cheiranthus/Erysimum cheiri, with their large blooms in shades of antique red and rich brown, copper, cream and crimson are not reliably hardy in our Canadian climate, unless one happens to live in gentler-wintered regions such as B.C.’s lower mainland. The Siberian Wallflower happily steps in to fulfill the role of its more delicate cousin for us Northerners, and it does so in a most eye-catching and deliciously fragrant way.

Siberian Wallflower is technically a biennial, but I have had it flower profusely in its first year from early-sown seed. From fast-growing clumps of strap-shaped foliage sprouted in early March, an abundance of bud clusters appear in May, which quickly pop open in an endless succession of very fragrant, absolutely neon-bright orange blooms well into mid-summer.

The plants elongate and get a bit weedy looking as summer advances, but it is best to ignore this and leave at least a few plants to mature their seeds, because this pretty flower is quite happy to establish itself as a self-sowing permanent resident in the garden. It naturalizes quite nicely; we’ve seen it used among other wildflowers as a bank erosion planting, as well as in more traditional plantings.

Despite the self-sowing trait, it is considered non-invasive; seedlings are shallow rooted and very easy to eliminate, but are generally welcome wherever they appear, or you can clip the plants back after blooming.

Siberian Wallflower is a fairly modest thing, size-wise, growing about a foot or so tall. It is easy to tuck in here and there where its vibrant colour will accent other spring and early summer flowers, and it harmonizes particularly beautifully with its fellow biennial Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis), the warm orange and cool sky blue proving the artistic theory of contrasting colours to be a Very Good Thing in the garden as well as on the canvas.

Siberian Wallflower is occasionally offered in a bright yellow variation, ‘Citrona Yellow’, and in a number of other named strains in various degrees of yellow, gold and orange.

Full sun is preferred, and any sort of soil. Thrives with average fertility and watering care, and is quite drought tolerant once established.

Read Full Post »

Corallorhiza striata - Striped Coral-Root. Near Tyee Lake, B.C., June 12, 2014.

Corallorhiza striata – Striped Coral-Root. Near Tyee Lake, B.C., June 12, 2014.

Perennial. Zone 1/2. Orchidaceae. From the southern Peace River district and through B.C. and the Pacific Northwest into California. Found in most Canadian provinces and in many American states, and into Mexico and Central America.

This unusual and rather rare orchid is occasionally found in the moist forests of the Cariboo-Chilcotin, most often in conjunction with rotting wood, as it is a saprophyte, a plant which feeds entirely off of decaying organic matter in the soil. As it has no need of chlorophyll, the leaves are merely small bracts on the stem, and there is no green coloration to any part of the plant.

I was very pleased to come upon this thriving clump yesterday, on the edge of a wet meadow next to a fallen poplar tree. It may be found in bloom from May into mid-summer, and is often an unexpected find, having no foliage clump to mark its presence in the times before and after blooming, though the dried flower stems will give the sharp-eyed botanist a clue.

The bloom stems arise from rhizomes – elongated underground stems – and vary from a single spike to a generous grouping. Stems are pale brownish-purple, and typical hooded orchid flowers are vividly striped with darker purple over a whitish background.

Up to 20 intricate flowers are produced on each 12-inch (or taller) stem, and are pollinated by a variety of insects, including mosquitoes and tiny parasitic wasps. There is no detectable (to a human) fragrance. Seed capsules form after pollination, and mature many tiny seeds which are dispersed by wind or by disturbance of the dried flower spike.

Lewis J. Clark, Wild Flowers of British Columbia, 1973:

Like most members of the Orchid family, the Coral-roots are becoming increasingly rare as cultivation progressively destroys their habitats. The plant-lover should not attempt to transplant Corallorhiza species to the garden, because the odd, clubbed rhizomes are associated, for their work of extracting nourishment from decayed organic materials, with a complex group of fungi found only in natural sites.

A plea, then, to enjoy in the wild, and to leave undisturbed in the hope that this unusual flower may continue to thrive as part of an intricately balanced natural forest community.

Corallorhiza striata - June 12, 2014

Corallorhiza striata – June 12, 2014

Read Full Post »


Convallaria majalis - Lily-of-the-Valley - Williams Lake, B.C. - May 23, 2014

Convallaria majalis – Lily-of-the-Valley – Williams Lake, B.C. – May 23, 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 1. Asparagaceae, formerly Liliaceae. Woodland flower of Northern Europe, from England east and south to the Caucasus, into northern Turkey. Also found in Japan, and the North American Appalachians, though there is some speculation that the American population originated from introduced plants.

Lily-of-the-Valley has been grown in gardens since at least 1000 B.C. It is well documented in many herbals and plant lists, and was an important medicinal herb as well as a highly-regarded ornamental. Today most of its uses are decorative, though the species’ chemical constituents are being studied for various medicinal applications, and it is used in homeopathy as a remedy for various heart conditions.

By mid to late April in Cariboo-Chilcotin garden, the tightly furled spikes of Lily-of-the-Valley start to emerge, soon unfolding into dark green, mule-ear shaped leaves, with the bloom clusters visible at the base of each foliage cluster.

A thriving colony of Convallaria majalis in early May - Hill Farm, 2014. If you look closely you will see the emerging flower buds at the base of the leaf clusters.

A thriving colony of Convallaria majalis in early May – Hill Farm, 2014. If you look closely you will see the emerging flower buds at the bases of the leaf clusters. Image: HFN

As May progresses the leaves expand to form a solid carpet of green, and the bloom stems lengthen, until one long-anticipated day one becomes aware, by catching a waft of the unmistakable fragrance, that the first flowers have opened.

Early June, Hill Farm, 2010.

Early June, Hill Farm, 2010. Image: HFN

The blooms are pristinely perfect: tiny pure white bells with pale yellow stamens, arranged in gently arching sprays. Thickly textured and long lasting, these are marvelous cut flowers, being free of their fragrance even after several days in a vase. Lilies-of-the-Valley are classic wedding bouquet flowers, and are commercially grown for the specialty florist market, though brides in months other than when the plants naturally flower should be prepared to pay a premium price for the artificially-forced greenhouse-grown blooms, which will also not be as fragrant as their garden-grown counterparts.

In the Victorian “Language of Flowers”, Lily-of-the-Valley signified “return to happiness” and “expectation of love”, which, along with the delicate virginal beauty of the blooms, no doubt accounts for its many bridal associations.

The fragrance of the flowers is outstanding, and perfumers have tried for centuries to mimic it in their concoctions, for though it is freely produced, it is not able to be captured in any sort of usable way. Reasonable imitations have been produced chemically, but there is truly nothing like the real thing, from a cluster of the dew-wet blooms picked on a fresh May morning.

To grow your own plot of Convallaria, you should first prepare a patch of shady ground by removing all surface tree and shrub roots and potentially competing grasses and other plants, and then digging in some well-rotted compost or manure. Plant the shallow-rooted pips just as they come out of their pots, with the rhizomes extending at right angles from the leaf clusters. Keep well watered and weeded the first season, and after that the plants should settle in to form an ever-expanding, maintenance-free colony. 

Lily-of-the-Valley does very well under trees and high-pruned shrubs, thriving on the filtered sunlight coming through leaves. Though very shade tolerant, plants do need some natural light if they are to bloom, so avoid dense shade such as that on the north side of buildings. Also avoid planting these in the mixed border, as they are happier where they can form a single-species colony. Very vigorous larger plants will crowd them out, and they in turn will gobble up more delicate things; the ongoing struggle will not be a happy thing, so it’s best to dedicate an area to your plantation right from the start.

Many people inquire as to the poisonous aspects of this plant, as it does appear on many “toxic garden flower” lists. Though all parts of the plant contain cardiac-affecting glycosides and digestive system-affecting saponins, though there are very few confirmed cases of actual poisonings, and no confirmed fatalities. It is theorized that, though potentially dangerous, the chemical constituents in the fresh plant matter are poorly absorbed by the digestive tract, so though accidental consumption might make you feel quite sick, it probably won’t kill you. (And I can’t imagine why one would accidentally consume this plant, as it is quite distinctive and not likely to be mistaken for anything else during any stages of its growth.)  The plants frequently produce red berries in the summer and autumn and this may be of some concern to those with very young children; be aware and garden with this in mind.

Convallaria majalis ‘striata’ – Hill Farm – May 26, 2014. Image: HFN

There are a number of interesting variations of this venerable garden plant occasionally available at specialty nurseries. We are in the process of propagating our own small colony of the striped-leaved variety, Convallaria majalis ‘striata’, and hope to be able to share these in a few more years. There is also a rosy-pink variation, Convallaria majalis ‘rosea’, and a double type, Convallaria majalis ‘prolificans’, though these last two are much less vigorous than their ancestors.



Read Full Post »