I was fortunate to have spent much of my childhood out at the lake near the town we lived in. We spent weeks at the lake exploring it in the summer. I got to know every single native plant which grew there and we (my brothers and I) had our own imaginary gardens which had wild flowers… and what flowers we had! When I came from the cold(zone3) to the Vancouver area(zone8) I had to learn a new group of native plants which grew on the coast. One of the most striking is Ribes sanguineum or Red Flowering Currant.
The Red Flowering Currant is one of our showiest native plants and was introduced into cultivation by David Douglas (1799-1834) who had a short life but a huge impact in the world of horticulture. After starting work as a gardener at 11, he went on to apprentice at the gardens of Sir Robert Preston who had an incredible plant collection. after training at the botanical gardens at Glasgow University and the with the Royal Horticultural Society in London, he was sent to collect plant material in North America. He was quickly sponsored to go to the west coast by the Hudson’s Bay company who had a settlement at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River.
Archibald Menzies had first discovered Ribes sanguineum in1793 but it was introduced by David Douglas in 1826. As you can imagine Red Flowering Currant was a great hit and is extensively used in gardens and parks in many areas now. Since the original plant material has been introduce many fine forms have been selected ranging from the darkest red “King Edward IIV’ through pinks to the purest white ‘Icicle’. there is even a golden leaved form ‘Brocklebankii’.
Ribes sanguineum is a small to medium size shrub which tends to have an upright form making it an easy plant to place in the garden. it also lacks the thorns that many of the species have, which is why there is one placed in the children’s garden at Glendale Garden. I am sure the bright flowers and interesting maple-like foliage are interesting to kids who see it in the corner. Later it will produce a small crop of small dark fruit which is not very tasty unlike other Currants.
Growing Ribes sanguineum is easy. One of the best plantings I see nearly every day is at the corner of Swartz Bay Rd and Wain Rd where the overpass is. If you are stopped waiting to turn onto Wain Rd from the overpass there, look across the road and see the Red Flowering Currants blooming right now. This spot has no maintenance during the year except maybe some trimming of the shrubs. They can take full sun to fairly shaded locations, the only effect will be a more loose open plant in the shade.
Ribes sangiuneum will take any soil which has some extra humus added to retain moisture during the dry months of summer and autumn here. Any park will have one or two planted. Pioneer Square (the Quadra Street cemetery) has a planting of pale pink and white ones along the back in deep shade which bloom very well.
Red Flowering Currants can be used in many situations such as in a shrub or perennial border, mass plantings, woodland settings of course and as specimen in a early spring garden as the foliage is attractive the rest of the seasons. Since there is a good range of flower colors to choose from placing one of these will go with most color schemes. Their natural range is quite wide, from Southern California up into Alaska and east through Montana. They are quite hardy(zone 6- 9) and tolerate -20c(-5f) making it possible for these plants to be featured in most areas of the world.
Links For This Weeks Subject:
A little more on Red Flowering Currants http://www.habitas.org.uk/gardenflora/ribes_sanguineum.htm
On David Douglas who introduced Red Flowering Currants in 1827: http://www.plantsystematics.org/reveal/PBIO/LnC/douglas.html
Archibald Menzies who first found the plant and named it in 1793. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archibald_Menzies