Archive for December, 2009

Living in the tropical zone of Canada, I can grow all kinds of plants which can not survive anywhere else in the country. We still are not happy though and continue to push the boundaries and try things which will barely survive or outright die in a cold winter.  Two members of the exotic (at least to me) Jasmine family grow here and best of those is Winter Blooming Jasmine(Jasmine nudiflorum).

Jasminium nudiflorum is Winter Jasmine

Winter Blooming Jasimine is a unusual and attractive hardy shrub.

Jasmine or Jessamine are a group of 200 species made up of shrubs and climbing vines, they are found mainly in tropical areas with the exception of a few which live in more temperate areas of the world.  Jasmine (Jasminium) is from a form of later medieval Latin and is from the Persian name Yasmin or Yasamin. ‘Nudiflorum’ refers to the flowers blooming before there are any leaves on the plant.  Winter Flowering  Jasmine comes from China and has been cultivated since ancient times there. Here it was introduced in western cultivation in 1844 by Robert Fortune. It is interesting that the only form found in the wild now is Jasminium nudiflorum var. pulvinatum which has been collected by George Forrest in Yunnan.

Winter Hardy Jasmine

An attractive Jasminium nudiflorum growing in the winter garden at Government House.

Jasmine are from the Oleacae family named for the Olive tree(Olea europea). The Oleacae family has  29 genera which includes  the familiar Lilacs(Syringa), Osmanthus, Forsythia, Ash trees(Fraxinus) and Privet(Ligustrum). Most members of the family have hollow stems and this feature can be found in Winter Blooming Jasmine as well.

Jasminium nudiflorum

This Winter Blooming Jasmine is planted on the shady side of a house next to my sisters' place.

Winter Blooming Jasmine is not common here and it should be, it has bright flowers during the darkest months of the year. The flowers are frost tolerant and are not damaged or rot from cold snaps. They also stand up well to the huge amount of rain which we get at this time of year, this may be due to the fact that they are small simple flowers which do not weigh down from excess water.

Winter Blooming Jasmine

This time last year there was about 20cm(8in.) of snow and ice at the base of this Winter Blooming Jasmine.

Jasminium nudiflorum is usually seen  as a vine but it really is a very lax growing shrub. In the winter when the leaves are gone it still is one of the greenest shrubs around. As a shrub is a slender and delicate looking plant which is often propped up against a structure such as a wall or tree trunk. As seen in the above photo, Jasmine are excellent trellis plants.

Jasminium nudiflorum 'Aureum'

The same plant as above shows us that it is the rare Jasminium nudiflorum 'Aureum'

Winter Flowering jasmine are easy to grow and should be seen more in gardens today.  It is a very adaptable shrub which tolerate full sun to dappled shade and will still bloom well. It is not to fussy about it’s soil and can be planted in poor soils as long as they are drained well enough. This is a plant which has the added advantage of being somewhat drought tolerant. It is easy to transplant and takes a trimming very well as long as its done soon after flowering is over.

 Jasminium nudiflorum

This Jasminium nudiflorum is planted so it grows down a steep bank, a very good use for this plant.

I think that sometimes people mistake this shrub for the dreaded ‘Broom’ which is a scourge on the land around here. They both have twiggy green stems and yellow flowers. Fear not, Winter Blooming Jasmine is a well behaved plant which will not seed everywhere or spread to areas and over run native plants.  Jasminum nudiflorum can be used as winter color or winter feature, growing over retaining walls or slopes, a spreading or sprawling shrub, on a trellis or leaning up a tree or other less appealing structure.

Winter Blooming Jasmine

Cool weather often give hints of red on the stems of Winter Blooming Jasmine.

Winter Blooming Jasmine is rated at zones 6 through 9 and tolerated temperature of -15c( 5f). It can grow to 3m(10ft) tall and wide when allowed to sprawl on the ground.

Links to Love about Jasminum nudiflorum:

Floridata always offers good information about plants: http://www.floridata.com/ref/j/jasm_nud.cfm

A good detailed information page on this plant: http://www.perennials.com/seeplant.html?item=7.775.100

About the Olive family and it’s members: http://hcs.osu.edu/hcs300/olea.htm

Until we meet again later on….

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Where I grew up is now deep in snow, winter truly has arrived. My brothers who live in the area that I grew up will be out finding a tree at the lake to be decorated for Christmas.  Often when I was little one of the excitements was getting the big box of gifts from Grandma who lived in Surrey, it would be sent up on the bus.  Along with the gifts, she always sent homemade cookies, fruitcake and some of the wonderful Holly which grew at their place. The Holly(Ilex aquifolium) was for my mother as it did not grow in such a cold place as Prince George.

Ilex aquifolium 'Argentea Marginata'

Many forms of Holly have been collected, one of the most attractive is Ilex aquifolium 'Argentea Marginata'

Holly has been with us a long time. the Romans used to send boughs of Holly with gifts to their friends for the Saturnalia Festival, which was the most popular of all. Holly was the sacred plant of Saturn. Saturnalia Festival was celebrated from  December 17th to the 23rd and commemorated the dedication of the Temple of Saturn to the the God of the same name. The festival popularity was do to it’s good hearted nature where much jesting and pranks were pulled. Another feature of the festival was the role reversal of masters and slaves.

Ilex 'Balearica'

Ilex 'Balearica' is an unusual form of Holly which has no spines.

From the Saturnalia Festival the Christians where thought to have adopted Holly. it is believed the used the Holly to avoid ill treatment and religious prosecution.  Holly being a common Northern European plant already was an important Pagan plant which was used by the Druids to adorn their heads. It was believed the plant had magical qualities and drove away evil spirits. Holly is now used to symbolize  the crown of thorns Jesus wore with the berries representing his blood.

Ilex 'Wilsonii'

Ilex 'Wilsonii' is a female which has very wide leaves of a Holly plant.

It is interesting that ‘Ilex’ it’s Latin name refers to another plant all together; the Holm Oak – Quercus ilex.  Pliny refers to Holly as ‘Aquifolius’ which is it’s classic Latin name and where our newer ‘aquifolium’ comes from. Pliny said that if it was planted near a home it would repel poison(which is strange because the berries are) and protect the  house from lightening and witchcraft. He also said that the flowers would cause water to freeze.

Ilex aquifolium 'Ferox Argentea'

This fierce looking Ilex aquifolium 'Ferox Argentea' is male and has pricles on the tops of it's leaves.

There are many Hollies now which have been collected as sports or crosses with other simalar species which most commonly include latifolia and or perado var. platyphylla. There are other species also which are attractive garden specimens and may be seen in Ilex species collections. A good collection of Hollies near me is located at Dominion Brook Park in North Saanich, at one time this collection was one of the best in North America.

Ilex perneyi

Ilex perneyi is an unusual species with attractive small leaves.

The first Holly was brought to Vancouver Island in 1851 by Joseph Despard Pemberton. At one time this area was an important Holly harvesting area because the plant grows so well here. Over time the industry has died out do to the extremely valuable land it is on and problems such as leaf miners and twig blight damaging the crops.

Ilex altaclerensis 'Golden King'

Ilex altaclerensis 'Golden King' is a bright form which has a habit of reverting to green.

Ilex aquifolium is interesting in that it has(monoecious) male and female plants, this is easily discerned by the presence of  brightly colored berries on the female plants. Holly is native in Western to Southern Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. it has spread by seed and has become a problem in other areas where it is considered invasive. Here we find it in woodlands where it becomes a prickly problem and is removed along with other pest species of plants. One must take this into to consideration when selecting a plant.

Ilex aquifolium 'Aurea Marginata'

A pair of large specimen Ilex aquifolium 'Aurea Marginata'(male) flank the formal staricase at St Ann's Academy in Victoria.

Hollies are easy to grow and are undemanding. It prefers slightly acidic soil which is well drained yet nutrient rich, a yearly mulch is much appreciated. These are plants which can take shade or sun very well. Pruning can be done at anytime and they have traditionally been used for topiary. Holly can be used many ways depending on the type you are growing, the more plain types make excellent hedges and shrubs in a border. The more attractive leaf forms are often used as specimens.  Old leaves dry and become very prickly so this is not a good plant for lawns or areas where people want to kick off their shoes or with small children.

Ilex  'Golden Milkboy'

Ilex 'Golden Milkboy' is another bright male plant.

Holly grows to 50 ft(15.5m) tall by15ft(4.5m) wide. It is rated as zones 6 (-10f or -12c) and above. Place your Holly so it does not get damaging dry North winds during the winter.

More about Holly:

Growing Holly: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/trees-new/ilex_aquifolium.html

Saturnalia Festival:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia

Dominion Brook Park: http://www.northsaanich.ca/Municipal_Hall/Departments/Parks_and_Trails/Parks_Information/Municipal_Parks.htm

Until we meet again later….

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During the winter we always experience  the several weeks of unusually bad weather, I always like to check on how plants had made it through.  This is one way I evaluate if a plant is a good selection to grow int the Victoria area.  Some plants do better than others in cold weather while others clearly are not really hardy here. Hydrangeas all look bedraggled and brown as do many of the semi-deciduous plants. Lots of cutting back will be needed in the spring when it starts to warm up again. One plant that doesn’t suffer one bit is Common Box (Buxus sempervirens)  and it  is used extensively here.

Buxus sempervirens

Buxus sempervirens or Boxwood is used extensively at St Ann's Academy in Victoria.

Common Box or Boxwood has been with us for a very long time, in fact its first recorded use was during the Egyptian era around 4000 BC where they had clipped hedges of it. Ever since that time it has reappeared throughout history. On a side note it was used by the Romans for their gardens, and believe it or not, they had special slaves called Toparius (creators of topia or landscapes) who maintained their specially clipped bushes. Here in Victoria Boxwood is mostly used for edging and to give a more formal feeling to a garden design.

Buxus sempervirens 'Elegantissima'

A wonderfully round Variegated Box is incorporated into the Heather Garden at Glendale Gardens.

Speaking of topiary, the craze really got going in renaissance Italy. In their warmer climate they used Cypress which proved not hardy enough for northern Europe, box became the obvious choice being evergreen and being finely textured which is needed for creating topiary forms. This is how Common Box became so associated with English and particularly French gardens. Levens Hall in Cumbria and Chateau de Villandry are two famous examples. More recently a Boxwood (look-a-like) was on display in the movie ‘Edward Scissorhands’ in which Edward created fantastic forms with his ‘scissorhands’ and became a celebrity.

Tree form of Buxus sempervirens

This remarkable Boxwood specimen is found at St Andrew's Cathedral along View St. in downtown Victoria.

Boxwood is slow growing with finely textured foliage but in its native habit it can grow into a large shrub or small tree of 10ft with a width of 4 to 6ft.  Because of its slow growth, it should be planted for a couple of years before being clipped for the first time. Cutting back will encourage a more bushy, dense growth. Hedges and topiary, when mature, are usually cut twice a year, It is done once around May and then later near the end of August or early September.

Buxus sempervirens is used as a hedge

A more typical use of Buxus sempervirens is as a hedge.

Boxwood is a very versatile shrub that tolerates very low light to full sun and continues to look healthy and bushy. It is very adaptable to most soils and can withstand a fair amount of drought, but prefers rich well drained soil. It is one of the few plants which will tolerate a more alkaline location. Common Box is rated at at zone 6 (-10f to 0 . or to -18c). In cool weather it often takes on an attractive bronzy coloring which disappears when warm weather returns.

Buxus sempervirens in containers.

These Boxwood are used as a decorative feature outside a restaurant in Victoria.

Buxus sempervirens is the most common box and has numerous cultivars such as ‘Elegantissima’ which has leaves edged in cream. Another popular form is ‘Suffruticosa’ that is slower growing and is most suitable used for parterres and small hedges. There is one other species worth mentioning. Buxus microphylla which is exactly the same as Common Box is smaller in all ways and generally needs no clipping. Several forms of it are popular in rock gardens or for very short edging. ‘Compacta’ and ‘Green Pillow’ are the most popular for rock gardens and for very low edging. A variety known as var. koreana is particularly popular with bonsai enthusiasts who choose it for its narrower leaves and loose spreading habit. It is also the most hardy.

Buxus sempervirens 'Elegantissima'

Buxus sempervirens 'Elegantissima' will make a slow growing and attractive edging.

Care must be taken in placement of Common Box near roadways which may be given a salt treatment  during cold periods. Buxus sempervirens is very easily damaged from too much salt and unsightly damage and even death of the plant can occur.

Salt damaged Buxus semperviren plants.

This is an example of extreme salt damage to a Boxwood hedge next to a parking lot in Victoria.

More about Boxing the Buxus:

The Wiki page is always a good place to start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buxus_sempervirens

How to grow and maintain a Box hedge: http://www.boxtrees.com/hedging.html

Historic St Andrew’s Cathedral: http://www.standrewscathedral.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=45&Itemid=65

Until we meet again later….

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When I was in school I often learned one than one genus and from that point there can be many subspecies and hybrids. Often plants from a genus look very similar and other times do not. One genus we learned was Arbutus. Arbutus menziesii  is a tree and Arbutus unedo which is a shrub. Arbutus unedo or the Strawberry tree is a great shrub which is well adapted for use here it the Victoria area.

Arbutus unedo

An attractive Arbutus unedo at a driveway entrance.

Arbutus unedo come from the Mediterranean area and range from Turkey, Lebanon  through to western areas of France and Spain and Portugal. They are also found in south western Ireland and are believed to be pre-glaciation remnants of  the range where these plant originally lived. The area which Strawberry trees or more commonly bushes are found in the wild has drastically shrunk do to harvesting of the wood for manufacturing of charcoal.

A happy Arbutus unedo which is loaded with fruit.

Arbutus unedo or as they are known in Ireleand as Killarney Strawberry Trees are viewed as 4 season plants as they have beautiful evergreen foliage which looks good throughout the year, berries which are take a year to for and ripen and flowers which bloom late in the year when little else is.

Arbutus unedo blossoms

The small waxy blosoms of Arbutus unedo bloom from October through December here.

Right now there are still some flowers on many bushes and crops of fruit are coloring up in a most attractive way for the Christmas season. The shrub in the above picture is covered with fruit which suggests it is in a perfect location.  The fruit are actually aggregate drupes which have a pasty bland flavor. The fruit is now used to make jams, jellies and a strong Brandy type drink (Medronho) which is made in Portugal. Pliny the Elder felt that the fruit was not worth eating, he  wrote in 50 A.D. ‘unum edo’ – ‘I eat one’ which said to be where we get unedo. the name Arbutus is from their original Latin name.

Arbutus unedo fruit

The fruits of Arbutus unedo are brightly colored and unusual looking.

Arbutus are members of the Ericaceae family which tend to need acidic soil to grow their very best. Strawberry trees are and exception to this rule and tolerate limey soil very well and are found in France growing in sandy locations. Generally here Arbutus unedo are grown as shrubs, they can be trained as a tree which is achieved by removing the lower branches as they bud out. The bark is an attractive cinnamon color and is cracked and is said to come off in strips in larger trunks, I have not seen this.

Arbutus unedo bark

The attractive bark on this very large Arbutus unedo branch.

Although we usually see Arbutus unedo as shapely rounded shrubs, they can grow to be quite large. They grow  to 10.5m(33ft) tall by the same spread and can grow very large trunks.  In a perfect setting they have full exposure to sun and very well drained soil. They can also do very well in wetter climates as long as the soil is very well drained, they do not tolerate being in overly damps soil.  They are naturally adapted to dry summers and develop long taproots soon after they are established. The taproot mean you have to be careful about where you are planting this plant as they do not do well if they are moved later on.

These Arbutus unedo have been planted to form a hedge which can be infomal or formal with pruning.

Arbutus unedo are versatile and can be used as formal or informal  hedging, specimens or back ground shrubs. They are great in more neglected locations such as on driveways and areas which are not near water sources. The fruit will attract birds who will eat it.  There are few pests and diseases and these can be avoided with proper care of the plant. These plants are rated at zones 7 through 10 (0-10f or -7 to-12c).The leaves can be damaged by cold dry snaps such as what we had last winter, the plants I see around here where not damaged at all.  A Strawberry tree is seen on the city crest of Madrid Spain.

Arbutus unedo foliage.

The foliage of Arbutus unedo is clean and attractive.

There are several attractive forms which can be found in nurseries; ‘Elfin King’ is often sold as ‘Compacta’ and has white flowers and ‘Rubra’ is pink blooming.

More on Arbutus unedo:

Surprisingly I find Wiki a good source of information relating to plants: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strawberry_Tree

Great Plant Picks for the Northwest: http://www.greatplantpicks.org/display?id=2246

Paghat agrees with me: http://www.paghat.com/strawberrytree.html

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