Posts Tagged ‘Xeriscape’

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Achillea filipendulina – ‘Cloth of Gold’ Fernleaf Yarrow. Hill Farm, July 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Compositae. Syn. Achillea eupatorium (obsolete). Eupatorium referred to the plant’s native presence around the city of Eupatoria (Yevpatoria) on the Crimean coast. The species is native to Europe’s Caucasus Mountains, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. There are a number of improved cultivars which are widely grown in gardens. ‘Cloth of Gold’ is a well-known older variety, which received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1999.

Poor Fernleaf Yarrow – it seems to be named mainly for its resemblance to other plants! The specific names filipendulina refers to its foliar similarity to Meadowsweet, Filipendula species. The common name “Fernleaf” needs no explanation.

Esteemed horticulturalist William Robinson, in his 1883 masterwork, The English Flower Garden, had this to say:

Achillea eupatorium (sometimes called A. filipendulina) is a tall-growing, vigorous, herbaceous plant, somewhat woody in its lower growth. Its flowering corymbes are flat, bright yellow in colour, and elevated on stout stems to a height of 3 ft. to 4 ft.; they retain their beauty and freshness for at least two months. This is admirably adapted for a shrubbery border, where its brilliant yellow flowers and its erect habit of growth show to wonderful advantage amongst the evergreen foliage. It is native to the shores of the Caspian Sea, and is one of the finest of perennials.

Shining yellow flowers in flattened domes top strong 24-inch or taller stems. In habit, Fernleaf Yarrow is a non-invasive clump-former. Foliage is light sage-green, and warmly aromatic.

This is a superb everlasting and cutflower – heads can reach 5 inches or more across. Some years ago, when I was growing everlastings and making wreaths and arrangements for sale, this was outstanding for its effect and attractive colour.

Close-up of the tightly packed flower head, with 6-legged visitors.

Close-up of the tightly packed flower head, with 6-legged visitors. Completely pest-free, though frequented by insects of all sorts seeking nectar and pollen. Hill Farm, July 2014. Image: HFN

Fernleaf Yarrow is one of those bombproof plants which just keep on looking good (or at the very least decent) even in challenging conditions. It has times of great beauty – new spring foliage is downy-soft, pleasingly aromatic, and elegantly fern-like, while the huge corymbes of tiny, bright yellow flowers remain gloriously untarnished for an astounding length of time – but even when the gold fades to brown and the leaves get a bit dusty-looking round about the beginning of autumn it remains upright and respectable.

This plant is a star of the xeriscape garden, thriving in sunny and dry locations, though it is appreciative of some supplemental moisture at summer’s peak. However, too rich a soil and too much moisture will cause Fernleaf Yarrow to produce lush foliage at the expense of flowers.

This plant is reputed to be very deer resistant, likely because of its downy foliage and high aromatic oil content.

 

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Cushion Spurge - Euphorbia polychroma (syn. E. epithymoides) - Prince George, B.C. - May 18, 2014

Cushion Spurge – Euphorbia polychroma (syn. E. epithymoides) – Prince George, B.C. – May 18, 2014 Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 1. Euphorbiaceae. Native of Europe from southern Germany to the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, where it grows in dry forests, mixed meadows, and on rocky hillsides.

Euphorbia was named by Linnaeus in 1753 for Euphorbus, the Greek physician of King Juba II (circa 12 B.C.E.) of ancient Numidia and Mauretania (approximately present-day Morocco), who reportedly discovered medicinal uses for the local species. While Linnaeus assigned the species name epithymoides for this plant, it was renamed polychroma in the 1850s by yet another classifying botanist, Anton Josef Kerner, and this name soon took precedence and is the more commonly recognized designation today. Polychroma is after the Greek polu – ‘many’ – and xrwma – ‘colour’, a reference to the shaded colours of the bracted stem tops and ornate flower clusters.

Sun to part shade; average conditions. This appears to be a deer resistant plant – something to note for those of you afflicted by these increasingly bold and destructive garden pests.

It’s well into May, and everywhere I go these days I note the unmistakably glow of this unique specimen plant. It flourishes happily in mature, well established gardens as much as in newer, more avant-garde plantings accenting newly built homes in the posher parts of town. When (and where) the lilacs bloom, then (and there) too the cushion spurge.

I first became aware of this rather unusual and eye-catching ornamental during our first spring living in an older neighbourhood in a small Alberta town. Many of the front porches of the modest clapboard-sided 1930s’ and 40s’ era homes were flanked by perfectly globular, neon-yellow-tipped twin bushes. Some kind of exotic shrub? – I wondered to myself, until a visit to the botanical garden at the Calgary Zoo acquainted me with its Latin name, and I was able to track it down in the gardening books. (This was long pre-internet – I smile at the memory of how laborious this sort of rather basic research used to be, before the wonders of the Google image search!)

The natural form of this plant is neatly globular, though it may occasionally "birdsnest" with summer thunderstorms. If this happens, a hard trim to within 6 inches or so of the crown will result in quick regrowth to tidy cushion shape.

The natural form of this plant is neatly globular, though it may occasionally “birdsnest” with summer thunderstorms. If this happens, a hard trim to within 6 inches or so of the crown will result in quick regrowth to tidy cushion shape. Image: HFN

Cushion spurge grows to 18 inches tall and 2 ft. wide where happy – which is most places, as it is an adaptable, good-natured thing. It thrives in sun to part shade, and in modestly moist to dry soils, though it doesn’t care for overly soggy ground. Once established it is very drought tolerant, though it will definitely appreciate the occasional soaking in hot summers.

Clumps of woody-based stems are lined with whorls of soft green, rounded foliage, which are tipped with the modified leaves commonly referred to as bracts, though the correct term in this case is cyathium leaves. These turn a vivid, glowing, chartreuse-yellow, centered with clusters of tiny, even brighter yellow petal-less florets. These clusters include nectar-rich glands – nectaries – which reward foraging pollinators. I have not noticed that bees are particularly attracted to the blooms – though they do visit – but the highest traffic seems to be small flies, and ants and other crawling insects.

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Note the small visitor. Image: HFN

An even closer view showing flower structure, and the downy hairs which give the entire plant its velvety texture.

An even closer view showing flower structure, and the downy hairs which give the entire plant its velvety texture. Image: HFN

After blooming and pollination – peak bloom time is all through May and into June – the yellow colour fades to a uniform green. Seed capsules form which eventually pop open later in the summer, catapulting seeds out into the garden, where they sprout in modest numbers. Seedlings are easily removed or transplanted to more desirable locations, where they quickly settle down to the business of growing and forming yet another perfect little globe.

Cushion spurge remains attractive through summer, and can be left to fend for itself or clipped back to produce fresh foliage. The plant fades to yellow in the autumn, frequently showing a red stage before the leaves finally wither after the last, hardest frosts.

Several “improved” (or perhaps one might say “enhanced”) cultivars of Euphorbia polychroma are popular in the nursery trade, including the burgundy-blushed ‘Bonfire’, a patented selection of the Euphorbia polychroma ‘purpurea’ sport which has been grown as a desirable rarity for many years, sometimes under the cultivar name ‘Candy’, and the white-pink-green ‘First Blush’. Of these two types I much prefer the red-leaved variety, as I’ve noticed that the white-variegated form is much less vigorous, and seems to show a high percentage of deformed and puckered leaves.

Euphorbia polychrome 'purpurea' - red-leafed form - an excellent specimen plant, more restrained and smaller than the green-leaved original.

Euphorbia polychrome ‘purpurea’ – red-leaved form – an excellent specimen plant, slightly more restrained and measurably smaller than the green-leaved original. Hill Farm, May 21, 2014. Image: HFN

E. polychroma 'purpurea' shows its richest dark red shading just before the yellow bracts fully develop; after blooming it fades to a uniform green.

E. polychroma ‘purpurea’ shows its richest dark red shading just before the yellow bracts fully develop; after blooming it fades to a uniform green. Image: HFN

The common form of this handsome plant is a venerable garden old-timer, having been grown for centuries both for ornament and for occasional medicinal use. John Gerard’s masterwork The herball, or Generall historie of plantes, first published in England in 1633, reported of  Spurge that “…the juice or milke is good to stop hollow teeth…”  A modern commentator theorizes that the poisonous latex probably destroyed the nerve endings. The specific species of Euphorbia referred to is unknown, though all share the same milky (and irritating) sap. 

Another medicinal use, and the origin of the common name of this very large genus (over 2000 species, found worldwide), is that of a purgative – a vigorous laxative – though one that was prescribed with some caution, as the violence of its action could be fatal if the decoction was too strong. From the French medical term describing the process, “espurgier”, came  the English “purge”, and hence “spurge”, or so the theorizing goes. Though we no longer find ourselves partaking of the plant in any way except that of enjoying its attractive appearance, it is a good idea to treat the plant with sensible respect.

The sap of some species was used to beautify the complexion, and to remove warts, but the herbalists warned about the dangers of letting it get into the eyes, as it could cause severe damage, even blindness, a caveat which has been brought forward to the present day. Some people experience a skin rash from handling the cut foliage, so it is best to be on the safe side and use gloves while pruning. Avoid contact with the milky sap, and supervise young garden visitors if they are too young to heed “don’t touch” warnings.

Don’t let this last bit about the fearsome qualities of the sap put you off – this is a very widely grown plant and incidents of problems with it are exceedingly rare. It doesn’t need much fussing, and can safely be handled with the same common sense that applies throughout the garden. “Don’t put the monkshood leaves in the salad; don’t poke yourself in the eye with the spurge.” There, see how easy that is?! 🙂

One final note. Euphorbia polychroma/epithymoides was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit in 1993, confirming its excellent ornamental qualities to the world at large. Experienced gardeners will have taken this as a confirmation of what they already knew. This is a quietly grand garden plant.

 

 

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Corydalis aurea – McLeese Lake, B.C. – May 17, 2014.  Image: HFN

Annual/Biennial. Zone 2. Fumariaceae. North America. Widespread throughout North America, in particular in areas disturbed by development, logging and forest fires. Common in the Cariboo-Chilcotin on recently disturbed ground – on graded roadsides, in gravel pits, and in newly logged areas.

This interesting and largely ephemeral early spring bloomer is occasionally abundant and always something of a surprise to see, appearing in the most unexpected places. Once it blooms in earliest spring, it quickly fades away after casting out its seeds, which can remain dormant for decades until germination conditions are again to its liking.

Technically a winter annual, Yellow Corydalis sprouts in the summer, makes an inconspicuous foliage clump which overwinters in semi-evergreen state, and then advances quickly into flowering stage in early spring. By July its life cycle is nearing its end; the beautiful, lacy, grey-green foliage is turning yellow and the plant is fading fast. No sign of it will be left by autumn.

Corydalis aurea - growing in a gravel pit near McLeese Lake, B.C. - May 17, 2014

Corydalis aurea – growing in a gravel pit near McLeese Lake, B.C. – May 17, 2014. Image: HFN

Plants expand quickly from their over-wintered rosettes, reaching 6 to 12 inches in height and spread. Roots are tap-rooted and fleshy, with spreading side roots. Foliage is rather “carrot-like” in appearance, being much divided, slightly succulent, and softly blue-green.

Tubular blooms are bright yellow blushed with green and are produced in great abundance during the few weeks of flowering time. Early-foraging wild bees are attracted to the nectar-rich blooms, and sometimes bore into the tubes to avoid having to negotiate their way past the stamens at the opening of the flowers.

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Corydalis aurea – detail of flower cluster. Image: HFN

Seeds produced by Corydalis aurea are small, black and shiny, and form encased in slender, cylindrical pods. They are very attractive to ants, who aid in their dispersal by caching the seeds in underground storage chambers; it is theorized that when these nests are disrupted the seeds are brought back to the surface where they then germinate in great abundance.

This plant may be introduced into the rock garden as it is very showy in early spring, but as its ongoing garden presence depends upon random germination of the seeds and the plants themselves disappear after blooming, it should be sited with this in mind, and not depended on as a feature plant.

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The tiny, slender, legume-like seed pods may be seen at the base of the central floral cluster. Image: HFN

Corydalis aurea is reportedly very toxic to sheep, and less so to cattle and horses, though I am unaware of any poisoning incidents in our region. Because of the plant’s early emergence, and its palatability – sheep paradoxically find it quite delicious – stock owners might be advised to keep an eye out for this plant when investigating their spring pastures before turnout.

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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!

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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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