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Archive for April, 2011

This is the time of year when many things are being renewed and many thing are being learned. College and university classes are near the end and are graduating, people are moving to new places and jobs and the gardens everywhere are waking up. People new to gardening are digging their gardens maybe for the first time. This might be the first time a child is spending time wandering in a park wondering about the flowers and looking more closely at them. It is hard to find a more child-like plant than that of Primula denticulata (Drumstick Primula) with its over-sized orb of flowers in very appealing flowers.

 The pure white of Primula denticulata 'Alba' has inspired famous gardeners such as William Robinson to view it to be 'one of the finest of all spring perennials'.

The pure white of Primula denticulata 'Alba' has inspired famous gardeners such as William Robinson to view it to be 'one of the finest of all spring perennials'.

 Primula denticulata is something of an enigma to me as I can not find exactly who or when it was first introduced into the garden. It was first scientifically named in literature in 1804 and has been recollected by plant hunters several times since.The plant is found in a fairly wide area of Asia from Afghanistan to Bhutan and into China. It is found to growing at elevations of  1500-4500 m. (5000 – 14750 ft.). There it is seen on grassy slopes, amongst open shrubs and other areas which tend to be evenly moist throughout the year.

Primula denticulata can be quite variable in its height and coloring and this has lead to some confusion for plant collectors looking for new plants in Asia.

Primula denticulata can be quite variable in its height and coloring and this has led to some confusion for plant collectors looking for new plants in Asia.

Primulas are one of the most popular species of plants which are seen in gardens. There are at least 425 species with over 300 of them found in Asia. 33  more are found in Europe and 20 found in North America. There are societies dedicated to single species that are centuries old and many other societies which have their roots in the Victorian era where several species where highly desirable for collections and collectors. Drumstick Primulas have always been one of the most popular and widespread in gardens throughout the world. Primulas should be grown more in gardens and it is a pity that only a few species are seen here in the Pacific Northwest where the cool marine climate is perfect for them.

Colors of Primula denticulata range from pure white, mauves and lavender shades into deep maroon.

Colors of Primula denticulata range from pure white, mauve and lavender shades into deep maroon.

One of the reasons for the success of Drumstick Primulas is its ease in the garden. It really is a beginners plant which would make a good plant for a gift to a new little gardener. It is a fun plant to include in a childs garden for its naturally whimsical form. It is a tough plant which when happy is easy to multiply by division after flowering or by sowing the seed as soon as its ripe right into the garden.

The brightly colored Drumstick Primula here lead you a route off the main path in the Asian Garden at U.B.C. Botanical Garden in Vancouver.

The brightly colored Drumstick Primula here lead you a route off the main path in the Asian Garden at U.B.C. Botanical Garden in Vancouver.

Growing Drumstick Primulas is easy and rewarding for the smiles you will get from your little friends. They like rich moisture retentive soil and enough water that they do not dry out during the warmer times of the year.  They should be grown in areas where they get some protection from hot summer sun, so dappled light is best in most locations. They also need protection for the flower head which is partly developed in the fall and is dormant during the winter months, it does not like drying winds or being frozen in solid ice which will damage the emerging blooms,cover them with some extra leaves. Primula denticulata are quite hardy and are said to easily take -20 c. (-4 f.). Plants are generally are about 30-40 cm. (12-16 in.) tall and slightly less wide.

This Maroon Primula denticulata is an intense shade which is eye-catching in the garden.

This Maroon Primula denticulata is an intense shade which is eye-catching in the garden.

Primula denticulata can be used in a variety of ways in a garden such as an accent or in containers. They also make a stunning mass planting. they work well with other spring flowering plants and Primula leaves are quite attractive with their thick heathy green slightly puckered texture. Primulas are generally free from pests except for vine weevil grubs which can eat the roots of the plant, it is worth close inspection to remove these if found. Aphids sometimes are a short-lived problem but generally do not real damage.

The bright green leaves and shining orbs of purple Drumstick Primula glow even on a cloudy day.

The bright green leaves and shining orbs of purple Drumstick Primula glow even on a cloudy day.

Visions of Drumstick Primulas:

A collection of  pictures showing the variation in the plant: http://www.primulaworld.com/PWweb/photogallery.htm

A good description of how to grow where to use these plants: http://www.perennials.com/seeplant.html?item=1.445.200

A good article with many suggestions for companion planting: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/howtogrow/3335307/How-to-grow-Primula-denticulata.html

…………Hope you hop back this way soon…………..

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There are many plants that just give me the feeling that they have been in gardens for a long time. Plants which are some how familiar when you first see them but you can not think of what it is in that moment. One such plant for me is Kerria japonica (Kerria) which seems sold but was so new to me. Kerria is closely related to the Raspberries (Rubus) on my youth and the stems and flowers are similar.

Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora', the double form is most commonly in gardens.

Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora', the double form is most commonly in gardens.

Kerria japonica was a confused plant when it was introduced by Carl Peter Thunberg in 1776 and was mis-classified as being a member of the Tilaceae (Linden) family. This happened because the sample which was sent back by him not being complete, the specimen was also the double form ‘Pleniflora’ (Yae Yamabuki). On top of the naming problem was the fact that the plant does not come from Japan originally but was brought in from China as an ornamental shrub for gardens in ancient times. In Japan the single flowered Yamabuki (Mountain Spray) has naturalized and become part of the culture as seen in paintings, poetry and other forms of writing. We know that Yamabuki has been in Japan a very long time as the 11th century novel ‘The Tale of Genji’  mentions the plant numerous times.

The more common Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora' on the upper right and on the lower left is the single type.

The more common Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora' on the upper right and on the lower left is the single type.

It was William Kerr who in 1804 sent a living specimen of the single flowered plant back to the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew in England It was there that Kerria japonica  became recognized as being a seperate member of the Rosaceae family. For this reason the plant is now named Kerria to commemorate Kerr.

This unusual double flowered form of Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora' is found at Esquimalt Gorge Park.

This unusual double-flowered form of Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora' is found at Esquimalt Gorge Park.

William Kerr (1779-1814) was a gardener who was born in Hawick on the Scottish Borders and came to garden at Kew. There he was noticed by Sir Joseph Banks who was in charge of sending collectors and explorers throughout the world to bring back plant, animal and geological specimens to be studied and be classified in England. Banks instructed Kerr and then dispatched him to China in 1803 where he was posted at Guangzhou for 8 years. While Kerr was not allowed to travel in China he sent many important plants back from his location which was a port not far from Macao. During the time that he was posted in China it is believed that he became an opium addict and by the time he was re-posted to Colombo, Ceylon(Sri Lanka) in 1812 he was quite ill. In Columbo he was the supervisor of the gardens as Slave Island and at King House.  Kerr is considered to be the first professional of plant hunters which have changed gardening as we know it today.

Kerria japonica 'Variegata' (Picta') has single flowers and  green leaves which are delicately edged in cream. This plant can been seen at Finnerty Gardens.

Kerria japonica 'Variegata' (Picta') has single flowers and green leaves which are delicately edged in cream. This plant can been seen at Finnerty Gardens.

 Kerria japonica is interesting in that the most vigorous form is ‘Pleniflora’ which grows into impressive multi-stemmed clumps. Another thing that stands out for this plant is the beauty of them during the period when they are without leaves, what I am referring to is the bright green stems they have and how they almost glow in the gloomy winter and earliest spring period.

The bright green stems of Kerria japonica put on a show during the drab winter months here.

The bright green stems of Kerria japonica put on a show during the drab winter months here.

Kerria is an easy plant to grow and is easily placed in most gardens. Kerria japonica like filtered sun as its blooms will completely wash out in too much sun. The best locations are under deciduous trees. The like any soil which has average moisture content and will tolerate a drier location when it is established. As you see these plants can become dense clumps, fortunately they are easily pruned after flowers. cut stems by 1/3 to 1/2 or remove them from the base as you would for Rubus(Raspberry) which they are closely related to.

This single flowered Kerria japonica is seen amoungst the mixed perennial and shrub border at Government House.

This single flowered Kerria japonica is seen amongst the mixed perennial and shrub border at Government House.

 Kerria japonica grow from .9 to 1.8 m (3-6 ft.) tall and about as wide, it has strongly ascending branches. It tolerated temperature down to -15 c. (5 f.) and still bloom very well. Give this plant protection from cold winter winds and late frost pockets as this can damage the flower production and makes them smaller and less in quantity.  the plant can be used in many ways, as an informal border, mass planted in mixed deciduous borders and for early spring interest. With the right placement it is a specimen or more usually an accent plant. The Victorian feeling this plant gives off makes this plant an excellent inclusion in heritage and period themed gardens.

Check these links to learn more:

U.B.C. botanical plant of the day: http://www.botanicalgarden.ubc.ca/potd/2011/02/kerria_japonica_pleniflora.php

the ‘In Bloom article from the Japan Times: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fe20080402li.html

William Kerr, an important plant hunter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Kerr_(gardener)

………Hope to see you on this path soon………..

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This is the time of year which is the most exciting in the garden. After a cold winter we wait with bated breath to see what has survived and even will thrive. I note some Rhododendrons seem to have smaller flowers and the Tulips are finally beginning to show their buds. One plant I associate with spring is Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) which is bursting forth with its bright fragrant flowers.

The Oregon Grape(Mahonia aquifolium) here is a welcome addition to this spring garden of mixed bulbs and native plants.

The Oregon Grape(Mahonia aquifolium) here is a welcome addition to this spring garden of mixed bulbs and native plants.

Oregon Grape is a shrub which is from the west coast of British Columbia south into northern California west of the Cascade Mountains where this plant is generally found as an understory plant to trees such as Douglas Fir and here Garry Oaks. Mahonia was named after Bernard McMahon (1775-1816) who is said to have been the first ‘nurseryman’ in North America, he published the first plant catalogue and the book “American Gardeners’ Calender’  He was the curator of the plants of the Lewis and Clark collection of plants.  Thomas Nuttall honored his friend by using his name as “Mahonia’  for naming a plant (Mahonia nervosa) in the collection.

The bright flowers of Mahonia aquifolium contrast nicely with wine tinted evergreen foliage.

The bright flowers of Mahonia aquifolium contrast nicely with wine tinted evergreen foliage.


The leaves( and leaflets) of the Oregon Grape look similar to that of common Holly (Ilex aquifolium) but are larger, thinner and take on maroon and red tints in winter cold. This past winter was colder than normal here and the red tints are very evident on many plant here. Oregon Grape are well-known to the native people here and have in the past been used for medicinal and food uses.  The roots were used to make a tonic which was used to counteract weariness, loss of appetite  and other similar maladies. the roots contain the alkaloid berberine which is found in  ‘Goldenseal’ and has anti-inflamitory and anti bacterial properties. The fruit was as mild laxative. As a food the berries were sometimes mixed with other sweeter berries to make them more palatable. The fruit is very bitter until touched by frost and then can be used for making  jelly. Another way this plant has been used is for dying items, the roots have distinctive yellow sap and the berries provide purple coloring.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) produced copius crops of blue fruit which are eaten by birds after it has been touched by frost to sweeten it.

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) produced copius crops of blue fruit which are eaten by birds after it has been touched by frost to sweeten it.


Mahonia aquifolium is much used in landscapes today and is often seen as a barrier plant in parking lots where it often is neglected and abused, there are better plants for that purpose. I like to see it used in more creative ways. One of the more interesting uses I have seen is as a background planting to Hydrangeas at Finnerty Gardens in Victoria. The garden has a collection of Hydrangeas which are dormant when our lovely Oregon Grape blooms. Oregon Grape works as winter and early spring interest and then the Hydrangea will take over for the late spring into autumn with a consistent evergreen background to show it off.
Here at Finnerty Gardens the Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) will bloom while the Hydrangea shrubs are leafing out in front.

Here at Finnerty Gardens the Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) will bloom while the Hydrangea shrubs are 'leafing' out in front.


Oregon Grape is an easy plant to grow if it is given the right conditions to grow in. Mahonia aquifolium likes part sun to full shade with the only exceptions in more northern areas where light is not as strong as in the south. For better flower and fruit production give it better light.  It grows best in moist, rich, well-drained soil which is more acidic than alkaline. It does poorly on thin, compacted and clay soils which stay wet and are poorly drained. Here it grows under the light shade of deciduous trees and mixed with other shrubs. It is best to place these plants where they will avoid the drying winds of winter which can do much damage to broad-leaved evergreens here. Most of the Oregon Grape I have seen here overwintered well with little damage, the added bonus was richer maroon tints to the foliage from the winter cold.
The maroon tints of the foliage of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) were quite spectacular this spring.

The maroon tints of the foliage of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) were quite spectacular this spring.


Mahonia aquifolium is a slow-growing multi-stemmed shrub which over time can grow to be well over 2 m. (6 ft.) tall. With the branches generally being very ascending , this shrub tends to have a narrow profile. The plant can easily be managed by removing branches from the base. Use this shrub in your native garden or in wilder places which might be a little out of the way. The leaves are prickly so keep it away from narrow paths or tight areas where you might brush up against it. Mahonia aquifolium is well used in mass planting or a specimen. It attracts bees by providing an early source of honey when there might be little available (the flowers are honey scented as well).  It is known to hybridise with other Mahonia species and these crosses can give varied results in height and sprawling habit.
I find the variation in the flower panicles  of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) interesting, some are stumpy like this one while others are loose and open like the 2nd picture in this article.

I find the variation in the flower panicles of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) interesting, some are stumpy like this one while others are loose and open like the 2nd picture in this article.

Mahonia is a much loved plant and has been adopted as the state plant of Oregon which is found between California and Washington. It has many appealing atributes to make a good garden plant which should be seen more ofte. There are 12 Mahonia species in North America and some of these have been listed as noxious weeds, I think that there might be some confusion in listing this species there.

 

Links a’plenty for you:

Washington State Native Plant Society page on the plant: http://www.wnps.org/landscaping/herbarium/pages/mahonia-aquifolium.html

The ‘Wiki’ page is interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon-grape

Bernard McMahon and his contribution to gardening in early America: http://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/bernard-mcmahon

……….Hope to see you here again very soon………

 

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At this time of the year the seasons are changing from winter to spring and with it comes unstable weather. One minute it is bright and sunny and the next it is almost dark and poring with rain, it is a challenge to get out into the garden to work. At this time I go for a quick walk in the park between rain showers and in a spot of light near the evergreen trees is a bright Rhododendron lutescens shining in the distance. Its pale buttery yellow flowers are almost unreal and beckon me to come closer.

Rhododendron lutescens is a delicate plant with the bright sunny flowers.

Rhododendron lutescens is a delicate plant with the bright sunny flowers.


Like many of our favorite plants Rhododendron lutescens comes from the treasure trove of China. The plant is found in north-east Yunnan, Sichuan, Hubei and Guizhou where is grows on the hillsides, thickets, mixed forest and limestone slopes.  It grows at elevations of 1700 to 2000 m (5600- 6600 ft.) . In China it is called Huang hua du juan.
 The brilliantly colored flowers of Rhododendron lutescens are a beacon of light in the garden at this time of the year.

The brilliantly colored flowers of Rhododendron lutescens are a beacon of light in the garden at this time of the year.


Rhododendron lutescens was discovered by Pere Jean Marie Delavay(1834-1895) in 1886 who was stationed in Kunming, Yunnan at that time. He was one of the important French Jesuit missionary collectors who explored China and other parts of the world and sent botanical samples(herbarium collections in this case) back to be identified and named by scholars at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. When these collections were received in Paris Botanist Adrien Franchet would study them and classify the new plant material.  E.H. Wilson recollected the plant when he was working James Veitch  & Sons Nursery and  it was re-introduced in 1904.
There are 2 Rhododendron lutescens found at Finnerty Gardens as well as 2 at Playfair Park.

There are 2 Rhododendron lutescens found at Finnerty Gardens as well as 2 at Playfair Park.


There are 2 leaf forms(one being narrower than the other) known of  Rhododendron lutescens although they do not seem to be recognized by specific names. Rhododendron lutescens ‘Bagshot Sands’ is a form of the species which is said to have stronger primrose yellow colored flowers. A notable feature of the species is the exquisite coloring of new foliage which can take on an amazingly deep wine red coloring, this appears to happen after the flowering has occurred.  With the yellow flower color, fine delicate leaves and early bloom time, Rhododendron lutescens has been used for crossing with other species to create new hybrids. Several are quite well-known such as ‘Bo Peep’ with its creamy flowers and “Goosander’ which has larger buttery yellow flowers slightly flushed with coral on their backsides. Both of these named hybrids are small in stature and are worth having in any garden.
Rhododendron 'Goosander' shows a similar yellow coloring of parent Rhododendron lutescens.

Rhododendron 'Goosander' shows a similar yellow coloring of parent Rhododendron lutescens.


Rhododendron lutescens is a graceful plant which deserves to be better known than it is. It grows best in a location with dappled light or spots of sun as the flowering will be better and leaf color more deep.It likes loamy to slightly sandy soil which is slightly acidic but is tolerant to more neutral qualities as long as it is not too clay rich.  These plants like good drainage and are somewhat drought tolerant. Like all Rhododendrons it has shallow root fine fibrous roots which do not like to compete with other plants, therefore mulch or a groundcover may be the best thing for under the plant. It should be sheltered from drying winter winds.
The flowers of Rhododendron lutescens vary in the yellow coloring from very pale to deeper shades and sometimes appear almost greenish.

The flowers of Rhododendron lutescens vary in the yellow coloring from very pale to deeper shades and sometimes appear almost greenish.


Rhododendron lutescens might be hard to find, check at a specialist nursery or society sales. It is fairly hardy and tolerates temperatures down to at least -10 c. (4 f.). It can grow to a reported 5.5 m. (18 ft.) tall and a narrower width often  a multi-stemmed tree form with age. Best placement is in shrub borders, winter gardens, for early spring interest or specimen plantings. it can be mass planted and even is used as an informal hedge in some places.

Some beacons of information about this plant:

The most informative page about this plant: http://www.aussiegardening.com.au/findplants/plant/Rhododendron_lutescens

UBC has an interesting picture and info about the plant: http://www.ubcbotanicalgarden.org/potd/2008/04/rhododendron_lutescens_1.php

My page which tells the story of Pere Jean Marie Delavay and another of his wonderful dicoveries: https://namethatplant.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/delavays-maroon/

……..Until we meet here along the garden path, soon I hope………

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