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Archive for October, 2009

We are now on the edge of what I call ‘change over season’ which is when we move from the summer season of warm dry weather to the cool wet winter. This time of the late year is when big storms start to roll in dumping vast amounts of rain along with heavy winds. Now until the start of December is when we have power outages and roads blocked by tree limbs falling across them. The trees which were glorious in their fall coat of colorful leaves are suddenly bear from the repeated gusting of wind and punishing rains. The sounds of creaking tree limbs, rumblings of the tides and sometimes distant thunder make us want to bundle up warmly.  This is the time of the year where our gardens start to become skeletons of their former vibrant selves, only the backbones are left. One of the best bones left in the garden here is Miscanthus as it does stand up well with the new heavy fall season. The best of these grasses for staying power is Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’).

A wonderful Maiden Grass in bloom growing in Sidney B.C.

A wonderful 'Maiden Grass' in bloom growing in Sidney B.C.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ is a fairly old hybrid which was has been in use since its introduction into cultivation in 1888. It is an improvement on the original beuatiful Miscanthus sinensis in that it has much finer, narrower leaves giving it an overall dainty and graceful look.  The leaves and fine and narrow and stand up well over a long period of growth.  The  foliage delicacy makes it a useful and attractive addition to gardens which are too small for  the larger Miscanthus sinensis forms.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' in flower at Glendale Gardens.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' in flower at Glendale Gardens in mid October.

Miscanthus sinensis orginally comes from Japan, China, Taiwan and into Korea. I have not been able to find out exactly where the form I am writing about today originates from although several very similar forms clearly are from Japan. I suspect that is the case with Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' blooming at Finerty Gardens in late October.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' blooming at Finerty Gardens in late October.

It is said that Maiden Grass is a shy bloomer in cooler climates, here in Victoria we often have hot dry summers which verge on droughts. It blooms here regularly whereas you might have problems in Vancouver or other areas near to here. Location in the brightest, warmest place you have will facilitate more blooms. This is one grass I would want to have even if it does not bloom, it’s vertical accent in the garden early in the year adds so much to a design. It is rated hardy to zone 4 or -30c (-20f) and up.

Here Maiden Grass is used in a mass planting, can you imagine the effect when it is blooming later in the year?

Here Maiden Grass is used in a mass planting, can you imagine the effect when it is blooming later in the year?

Even though Maiden Grass is delicate, it still is a formidable plant to put in a garden. the best plantings I have seen are using them in mass plantings, in long deep sunny borders and in grass gardens as specimens. They also make an attractive informal hedge and also make very good container subjects. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ grows to be a tall 1.5m(6ft) when in bloom. Its arching form also adds weight and substance coming in at a 1.5-2m(6to 8ft) space. It is a slow grower, but once established is very steady and  predictable in its habit year after year.

The delicate plumes of Maiden Grass hold up well in wet weather.

The delicate plumes of Maiden Grass hold up well in wet weather.

The emerging bronzy plumes of Maiden Grass will fade to a papery cream with age. The grass gradually turns golden shades from the base up the fades out to the familiar dried grassy color which it will hold over the winter. When we emerge into the other side of winter and plants are starting to emerge from slumber, now is the time to cut the Maiden skeletons down. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ is one of the first grasses to stir and needs to be unencumbered to resume its growth.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' seedheads have started to fade into the variegated foliage here.

Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus' seedheads have started to fade into the variegated foliage here.

It is best to buy Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ in a container as growing it from seed is exceedingly slow. Even dividing these plants is a hard job, when i worked in a nursery dividing grass required a machete to cut them up. Fortunately for us most nurseries carry Maiden Grass year round as they are popular plants. Also lucky for us these are easy plant to grow and do not require any special treatment.  Plant them a sunny site with  fertile well drained soil which can be sandy. You have to be a bit patient as they are slow to establish.

If you walk around the Sidney waterfront you will see many uses of Maiden Grass.

If you walk around the Sidney waterfront you will see many uses of Maiden Grass.

More about this charming Maiden Grass:

A great website all about grasses for all climates: http://www.bluestem.ca/miscanthus-gracillimus.htm

Wiki page on Miscanthus sinensis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miscanthus_sinensis

Until we meet again soon…..

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I have been fortunate to have worked at some very good nurseries which have had great plants which they sold. Trees and shrubs and perennials which cover a vast swath of species, varieties and hybrids. Most of them have traveled from other continents to grow here.  One area that has been especially good to us is Asia and these plants usually grow very well. Many Asian plants we know for being splashy and showy, but I am often drawn to the more delicate and intricate in design. One species of plants are Tricyrtis (Toad Lilies)which are a quite most of the year; and then Whizzz-bang…. they go off like fireworks!

The small intricate flower of Tricyrtis formosana hybrids are commonly seen here.

The small intricate flower of Tricyrtis formosana hybrids are commonly seen here.

There are said to be 18 species of Tricyrtis which have crossed to create a group of  hybrid plants which are usually mislabeled in the trade. I know that in Japan these plants have been crossed for centuries  and then were ‘found’ and brought into the garden world in the 19th century by plant explorers who were sending plants back from Asia. Each species has lent something to the mix. Some Toad Lilies species have arching stems and have their blossoms along the axils of its leaves and others are more traditional in that the flowers are on the tops of leafy stems.

An attractive swath of Toad Lilies cutting through a shady boarder.

An attractive swath of Toad Lilies cutting through a shady boarder.

Tricyrtis grow from tropical  Philippine Island through into Nepal and then east across China and Korea into Japan. Here we generally only see the hardier varieties  such as formosana, hirta, affinis and latifolia and their many hybrids.  This means that the Toad Lilies are highly variable in their spotting and where on the plant the flowers are located.

This Trycrytis hybrid has it's flowers on the top of it's stems.

This Trycrytis hybrid has it's flowers on the top of it's stems.

Tricrytis have been so successful at hybridizing because they set  easily handled  fertile seed. Germinating it is relatively easy: sow the seeds warm under a thin coating of  moisture retentive soil and keep it there 5 to 6 weeks. Alternate the seed mixture into cold for up to 8 weeks, and then back to warm conditions until there is germination. This germination cycle is very common and basically follows nature, so it is possible to do the whole process outside as long as it does not freeze which will kill seeds. Once the plants are big enough to handle set them in seperate containers or where you want them to grow.

Toad Lily foliage is noticibly hairy along the margins and sometimes mottled.

Toad Lily foliage is noticibly hairy along the margins and sometimes mottled.

Now we know Toad Lilies are easy to germinate, it is good to know they are extremely easy to grow in the garden. Being woodland plants means Tricyrtis like  a shady position with dappled light. they require leafy nutrient rich soil which is moisture retentive which drains well.  They like their site be be well watered throughout the growing season.  These plants are stoloniferous and can easily be divided and moved around at any time as long as they are well watered after the transplanting is done.

Tricyris produce vigorous clumps which can easily be divided.

Tricyris produce vigorous clumps which can easily be divided.

Tricyris species can be used in several ways, as a specimen, in shady borders, naturalized and mass planted. Be sure to place them somewhere where the flowers are easily observed as they are small and delicately spotted and colored.   In colder areas it is advisable to plant them where they will get more sun and bloom earlier. They take -15c(-0 f) or zone 5 through 9.

It is easy to see why people are facinated by the spotted Toad Lily flowers.

It is easy to see why people are facinated by the spotted Toad Lily flowers.

More about Tricyrtis plants:

Tricyrtis formosana: http://www.mobot.org/gardinghelp/plantfinder/Plant.asp?code=A780

National Collection of Tricyrtis: http://www.nccpg.com/gloucestershire/tricyrtis.html

Until we meet again later…..

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When I was in Horticulture school we learned many plants ranging from small ground covers, larger shrubs and finally to the majestic trees. Some of these plants are very overused while others are not seen enough, it all depends on how well known and in fashion they are.  One tree I learned is much more common in Vancouver than it is in Victoria and that truly is a pity. What I am referring to is the ‘Katsura’ tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) which has many features that it should be on most peoples lists of ‘must have’ trees.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum or 'Katsura Trees' on a rainy spring day in Vancouver.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum or 'Katsura Trees' on a rainy spring day in Vancouver.

At one time, long ago, Cercidiphyllum japonicum grew wild in a much larger area. Fossil records show Katsura trees lived in Europe and western North America during the Miocene Epoch 5 to 23 million years ago. Now They are found only in Japan and China. They are found in south central China,  particularly in north west Szechwan province where E.H. Wilson found forests of them in 1907. The trees found in China were considered to be a variety Cercidiphyllum japonicum var. sinense at one time and were said to be more tree-like.  In Japan they are found at valley bottoms where the soil is richer and there is more rainfall which these trees need.

The attractively shaped leaves is one of the most appealing aspects of 'Katsura' trees

The attractively shaped leaves is one of the most appealing aspects of 'Katsura' trees

Cercidiphyllum japonicum was introduced into cultivation in a most unusual way. Thomas Hogg  Jr(1819-1892) who owned a plant nursery with his brother James. He was appointed a U.S. Marshal by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 and was then assigned to a diplomatic mission to Japan. While he was there, Thomas sent seeds of Cercidiphyllum japonicum to his brother  in 1865. His brther germinated them. Thomas was in Japan 10 years and also introduced several other well known plants;  Hosta ‘Thomas Hogg’  now called H. undulata var. albomarginata is probably the most famous.

Typical fall color of Cericidiphyllum japonicum found in the perennial border at Playfair park in Saanich.

Typical fall color of Cericidiphyllum japonicum found in the perennial border at Playfair park in Saanich.

Katsura trees tend to be multi trunked specimens which have strongly ascending branches. The leaves are relatively small and delicate compared to what the trunk and branches can become when these trees become more massive with age. It is intersting to note that these trees are also somewhat unusual in that they are dioecious meaning they are male or female plants.

A massive trunk of a Cercidiphyllum japonicum found in Beaconhill Park in Victoria.

A massive trunk of a Cercidiphyllum japonicum found in Beaconhill Park in Victoria.

In an ideal world Katsura trees grow to be enormous, Wilson found forests of trees with trunks of 2(6cm) and 3ft(90cm) widths and had regrown from their original stumps after the original trees had been harvest.  The largest one he noted was a remnant of a 17.5ft(5.33m) wide stump base. In the wild these trees can attain a height of 100ft(30m), but about half this in garden settings.  These trees are the most important source of wood  in Japan, and is used extensively for cabinetry and paneling there.

The color range of Cercidiphyllum japonicum ranges from crystal clear yellows through oranges and crimsons into plums as seen here.

The color range of Cercidiphyllum japonicum ranges from crystal clear yellows through oranges and crimsons into plums as seen here.

As autumn approaches Katsura trees put on a display for the senses, visually they are stunning with a color range few trees can achieve. On any day you will feast your eyes on shades of clear yellow, butter, many shades of peach and apricot, and into more striking crimsons and plums. You will notice they give of a pleasant odor as the leaves turn color, some describe it as ‘honey like’ and others say it has more of a’caramel’ or ‘brown sugar’ quality. How ever you explain it, it is a pleasant surprise which many people look forward to every year.

The striking golden tones of a happy Katsura tree changing color in the fall.

The striking golden tones of a happy Katsura tree changing color in the fall.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum is almost a perfect tree. It is very pest free and adaptive to most locations. In a garden setting it will grow to about 50ft(15m) tall which will fit in nicely to many landscapes. It makes an excellent multi stemmed residential, commercial, golf course or park tree. One thing you must keep in mind when placing it is having an adequate supply of water during the dry months.  Plant them in deep, rich, well drained soil. They need full sun to look their best.  This tree tolerates temperature down to 20f(29c). Newly emerging leaves can be damaged by late frosts.  there are several forms now on the market worth looking into if you are interested. the weeping forms are very attractive in the right location.

The same Cercidiphyllum japonicum in summer and fall. The corner planting along Quadra and Fairfield in Victoria.

The same Cercidiphyllum japonicum tree in summer and fall. The corner planting along Quadra and Fairfield in Victoria.

More on Cercidiphyllum japonicum:

Excellent summation of  Katsura trees: http://www.arhomeandgarden.org/plantoftheweek/articles/katsura_tree_11-2-07.htm

A very complete listing of important plant people, scroll down to Hogg: http://www.plantsgalore.com/people/plant-people-H.htm

Wiki’s listing of the famous Katsura tree and relatives: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cercidiphyllum

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When I finished Horticulture school in North Vancouver I was lucky to be picked to work a practicum position over the summer months while school was not in session(the rest of the year students did the work). It was like another 4 months of school which I was paid to attend. We did all the jobs needed at Park & Tilford Gardens ranging from pruning in the rose garden to maintaining the baskets in the huge parking lot. Along with Park & Tilford there was another much smaller shopping center we occasionally did work at, this is where I learned first hand why Firethorn(Pyracantha species)  it’s well deserved  name.

The bright berries of  this Firethorn show up well against this enterance.

The bright berries of this Firethorn show up well against this entrance.

The tip of every branch is ended with a stout thorn which is often completely hidden by the dense evergreen foliage. The first time I pruned one of these shrubs, my leather gloves where punctured and slashed. I also was punctured and it did burn a bit, I was told this was caused by the chemicals the thorn exuded. The name Pyracantha(Pyrakantha) literally means ‘fire-thorn’ in Greek – pyr meaning fire and akantha for thorn.

A wonderfully creative use of Pyracantha espaliered along the enclosure of the Japanese Gardens found at Glendale Gardens in Saanich

A wonderfully creative use of Pyracantha espaliered along the enclosure of the Japanese Gardens found at Glendale Gardens in Saanich.

There are several species of Pyracantha which have been crossed to give us a range of colorful berries and slight variations in leaves. Firethorns come from an area starting in Southern Europe and traveling across Asia to Taiwan. Several species are found in China. Pyracantha coccinea which is found in Italy into Asia Minor was the first to be used horticulturally. It was more formally introduced and named in 1629.

The leaves of this specimen are distinctly different then most commonly seen forms of Firethorn.

The leaves of this specimen are distinctly different then most commonly seen forms of Firethorn. This is Pyracantha 'Navaho'.

Firethorn is one of the most versatile of all shrubs and is used in challenging and varied sites. Often we first come across this shrub used as a barrier in parking lots or  as hedges. In those cases it often is severely pruned and most of its colorful berries are lost. It makes an interesting free form shrub if given the space it needs, as it grows quite large. Better use will be where the berries are highlighted as a wonderful fall feature.  the berries are also edible and one can make a tasty jelly with them.

A colorful espaliered Pyracanatha at the back of a grocery store in Sidney B.C.

A colorful espaliered Pyracanatha at the back of a grocery store in Sidney B.C.

Pyracantha can be worked into most situations. To get the best display of berries and flowers grow them in full sun, they are not particular about soil and will take any situation as long as it is not water-logged. They need adequate water during their May-June blooming period to produce a good berry crop. Firethorn adapts well to poor soil and drought conditions, here we have droughts every year from June through October with no damage to these tough shrubs.  they also survive well in areas with air pollution.  Pryacantha are surprisingly hardy as well, regularly tolerated -15c(-5f) which might cause them to loss some of their leaves.

A stunning yellow form which is rarely seen here. It might be Pyracantha 'Shawnee' but I am not sure.

A stunning yellow form which is rarely seen here. It might be Pyracantha 'Shawnee' but I am not sure.

As you can see, Firethorns can grow to be very tall and wide. It is possible to have a shrub which grows to a space of 4.5m x 4.5m(15ft x 15ft).I have seen them pruned very thin and grown to hide an ugly chain-link fence.   Fortunately Pyracantha can easily be pruned hard into attractive shapes as well. One of the most interesting examples I have seen was when I was in Japan visiting my sister. Christmas trees were created by twisting 2 color forms together into a traditional tree shape, with the berries as bright ribbons of gold and red. they were very festive and all that was missing where the presents. It was very impressive and probably expensive to create.

A very long driveway with a double Pyracantha hedge. This is the famous Woodwyn Farm  in Central Saanich.

A very long driveway with a double Pyracantha hedge. This is the famous Woodwyn Farms in Central Saanich.

When selecting a Firethorn consider the space it will take up first. Many of the newer varieties are smaller and there are even some very compact forms which are used for Bonsai. Choose a berry color which will stands out best for where it is planted. Here the most commonly seen form is Pyracantha ‘Mohave‘ which has a bright orange berry, it is hard to find any other colors which is a pity.

Pyracantha 'Mohave' growing on an arbor, a popular choice in townhouses and condominiums.

Pyracantha 'Mohave' growing on an arbor, a popular choice in townhouses and condominiums.

To learn more about Firethorns:

How to grow this thorny customer: http://www.floridata.com/ref/P/pyra_coc.cfm

A little about the different species of Pyracantha: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyracantha

Until we meet again….

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