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Some plants I see and fall in love with instantly and want to get one…when reality sets I know this is impossible as I have no spot to put it. I will forget about the plant and later stumble on it in other places and remember all over again how beautiful it is. Such is the case with Styrax japonius(a) (Japanese Snowbell tree), its a tree which I keep stumbling on and see how wonderful it is.

The dainty scented white bells of Styrax japonicus coat the undersides of this small tree.

The dainty scented white bells of Styrax japonicus coat the undersides of this small tree.

Styrax  is a genus of 130 species of which only a few come areas other than the tropics and several are used in garden. Styrax japonicus is the most well-known of the ornamental plants. Some tropical Styrax species are also known for giving us benzoin resin which is exuded from piercing the bark and collecting the dried substance. The resin has been used since antiquity in perfumes, incense and medicines(tincture of Benzoin).

The Japanese Snowbell is a small layered tree with elegant leaves and flowers

The Japanese Snowbell is a small layered tree with elegant leaves and flowers.

Styrax japonicus come from a fairly wide area of Asia from Korea into China and Japan. Japanese Snowbell was first described by Seibold and then re-introduced by Richard Oldham(1834-1862) in 1862 from Japan. He was employed by the Royal Botanical Gardens(Kew) and was sent to collect plants in Asia in 1861. He first collected around Nagasaki and Yokohama  (1862-3) and later in China where he died at the age of 27. He introduced no new species but his extensive herbarium collections were studied at Kew and in Leiden Germany.

Styrax japonicus 'Rosea' has the lightest pink tinge at the base of the flowers.

Styrax japonicus 'Rosea' has the lightest pink tinge at the base of the flowers.

When Japanese Snowbell was introduced the public in the 1860s it must have made an impact on gardeners and other esteemed people as it was quickly awarded a First Class Certificate (FCC) in 1885 by The Royal Horticultural Society. In  1984 it was given another award by the same group  an AGM (Award of Merit).  These awards are made from recommendation  by a committee to the RHS council and are similar to judgements made at exhibits (based on samples, branches or plants which are viewed on one day).

Styrax japonicus are very late to color up in autumn and when they do we are rewarded with buttery yellows which fade to light browns.ngyro

Styrax japonicus are very late to color up in autumn and when they do we are rewarded with buttery yellows which fade to light reds.

Japanese Snowbell are small trees which have layered branch structures. They are often nearly as wide as they are tall. When they are in bloom the flowers coat the undersides of the tree with small drooping white bells which have a pleasing light perfume. It is best to locate these trees where they are on a slight incline so it is easy to view the flowers in bloom. The fruit produces are small drupes which look like tiny nuts and are dainty.

Tiny egg-shaped drupes are the fruit produced by Styrax  japonicus.

Tiny egg-shaped drupes are the fruit produced by Styrax japonicus.

Japanese Snowbell trees grow 6-9 m 20-30 ft.) tall and nearly as wide. They grow in full sun to dappled locations and even fairly dark areas. Like many small trees in its native habitat it is often found as an understory plant growing amoungst larger trees. It likes well-drained rich soil which is slightly acidic.These trees are surprisingly hardy and are rated as zone 5 -29 c. (-20 f.).

Styrax japonicus (Japanese Snowbell) are perfect small specimen trees for urban gardens.

Styrax japonicus (Japanese Snowbell) are perfect small specimen trees for urban gardens.

Styrax japonicus can be used in a variety of ways, they are ideal for as small specimen trees, for small urban lots, patio plantings and in small groups. They are also well-known as bonsai subjects.  There are several named forms worth looking into. ‘Emerald Pagoda is a selection which is more robust with bigger flowers and leaves. ‘Pink Chimes’ has better, more pronounced color which does not fade out in heat. ‘Carillon’ is a weeping form which is said to be the same as ‘Pendula’. ‘Angryo Dwarf’ is as the name say an even shorter form. It is up to you what one you feel is the best for your situation…I have always been a sucker for pure white flowers!

A Flury  of links:

The many Styrax species:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Styrax

Other peoples experience with this tree:http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/59761/#b

Virginia Tech has a concise page on the tree:http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=322

Richard Oldham:http://www.kew.org/news/kew-blogs/library-art-archives/richard-oldham-last-botanical-collector.htm

………..Follow me on an adventure around the plant world…………

 

 

 

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At this time of the year I really become aware to the color of foliage in various plant in the landscape. Plants are still fairly fresh and their foliage is alive and vibrant with color. Colors other than greens stand out in ways that often fade as the season goes on. It is unusual to find a group of plants with more color than those of the Cotinus (Smoke Bush) family which gives a show from spring until late autumn.Their color ranges from black purples, wine reds, bluish green, green and into chartreuse yellow – and this does not include autumn tones which are just as show stopping!

The color tones in one branch of Cotinus coggygria 'Velvet Cloak' is remarkable

The color tones in one branch of Cotinus coggygria 'Velvet Cloak' is remarkable.

The genus Cotinus is a member of the family Anancardiaceae which also contains the  Mango, Cashew, Poison Ivy (Sumac) species and was at first classified as Sumac(Rhus) species until it was separated from the other members. It does not irritate the skin or have sap which can burn.

Smoke Bush(Cotinus) generally have brilliant autumn colors ranging from scarlet into to peach and golds.

Smoke Bush(Cotinus) generally have brilliant autumn colors ranging from scarlet into to peach and golds.

Cotinus is a small genus of 2 or possibly 4 species of which coggygria and obovatus are the best known.  Cotinus coggygria is the species which is best known in the landscape and originates in Europe from France into Eurasia and possibly all the way into China. The far eastern representative coggygria sometimes listed as another species C. szechuanensis (var.  szechuanensis). The other well known species is C. obovatus and comes from North America particularly in Tennessee, north Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas and isolated pockets in central Texas. All Cotinus species have been used extensively for a source of dye wood as it gives colors of orange-yellow and yellow coloring. The use of C. obovatus as a yellow dye source before the civil war in U.S.A. almost brought the species to extinction in its native habitats.

Cotinus 'Grace' is a cross between Cotinus coggygria 'Velvet Cloak' and C. obovatus.

Cotinus 'Grace' is a cross between Cotinus coggygria 'Velvet Cloak' and C. obovatus.

 Cotinus  is from ‘Greek’ kotinos meaning wild olive but why it is named this is unknown. Coggygria also comes from ‘Greek’ kokkugia- the name of ‘Smoke Tree’. C.Coggygria has been cultivated  in gardens for an unknown period but is first mentioned in the mid 17th century. The species form is not commonly seen in gardens as there are more exciting color forms.

The less commonly seen species form of Cotinus coggygria is seen here with its lovely green foliage.

The less commonly seen species form of Cotinus coggygria is seen here with its lovely green foliage.

Smoke Bush are well known for their colorful foliage and there are an increasing number of cultivars to choose from.  The oldest color form is probably C.c. ‘Foliis Purpureis'(Rubrifolius) which has rich purple -plum leaves which fade into to greenish tones as the summer progresses. C.c. f. purpureus(‘Atropurpureus’) refers to the coloring of the large panicles of purplish flowers. C.c. ‘Royal Purple’ (Notcutt’s Variety’) has leaves which start maroon red and then matures to black-purple(darkest of all forms) it holds its color well throughout the year and changes into scarlet autumn shades. C.c. ‘Velvet Cloak’ has red violet foliage which is dramatic, its floral display is longer than most. It holds is color well.  Cotinus ‘Grace’ leaves emerge in wine-red and has clouds of pink-tinged flowers. A new color yellow range has come out from a chance seedling found at a dutch nursery in 1990, it is C.c. ‘Golden Spirit'(Ancot’) – it does not fade out unless it is under-watered.

The 'smoke in Smoke Bush or tree(Cotinus species) is from the panicles of tiny flowers and then the whispy seedheads later on.

The 'smoke in Smoke Bush or tree(Cotinus species) is from the panicles of tiny flowers and then the whispy seedheads later on.

All Cotinus species drier areas often with rocky soil on slopes and hillsides. They have proven to be vary adaptable to many other situations and soils from heavy clay to sandy. They need full sun pr produce the best coloring and floral display. They need adequate watering while becoming established but later are much more drought resistant. They are pest and disease free but sometimes coloring tends to fade out in hotter southern areas, this is where coppicing helps rejuvenate the color. The best coloring is obtained by regularly pruning them hard, use a method such as coppicing to produce wanted effect.

Cotinus 'Royal Purple'(the darkest color) is coppiced to keep its best color and form.

Cotinus 'Royal Purple'(the darkest color) is coppiced to keep its best color and form.

All Smoke Bush are rated at zones 5to 9 and take cold temperatures down to -28 c. (-20 f.) In colder climates they generally are cut to the ground which is like the mentioned coppicing.  Cotinus can be used as specimens, in shrub borders,  as accents, masses, in less watered areas and can pruned into tree forms which are very effective. Cotinus have a lot of appeal in the shape of the leaves and wispy flowers to add to a garden along with strong color.

Cotinus 'Golden Spirit'('Ancot') was found as a chance seedling at a Dutch nursery in 1990 and holds its color well in the September garden.

Cotinus 'Golden Spirit'('Ancot') was found as a chance seedling at a Dutch nursery in 1990 and holds its color well in the September garden.

Cotinus in all its Glory:

Cotinus species : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotinus

Cotinus obovatus, a web site devoted to it: http://cotinus.net/

Google image page of Cotinus coggygria cultivars, choose your color:

http://www.google.com/search?q=cotinus+coggygria+cultivars&hl=en&authuser=0&rls=com.microsoft:*:IE-SearchBox&rlz=1I7GGIE&biw=1920&bih=955&prmd=ivns&source=lnms&tbm=isch&ei=L5AHTuXmNYnViAKMl8zSDQ&sa=X&oi=mode_link&ct=mode&cd=2&ved=0CAsQ_AUoAQ

Why Coppice? http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?pid=121

Venetian

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2 days of bright sun light and everyone is out mowing their lawns, the garden centers a full of shoppers buying plants, then back into the grey. It has been grey and dreary almost everyday this year! It is not surprising at all that we rush out into the rare spots of sun and then slump around the rest of the time in a mental fog. Is it no wonder that brightly colored flowers appeal to us so much, at this point any garish and screaming color at all is welcome. One of the brightest groups of plants that bloom at this time are the deciduous Azaleas which come in the purest oranges,tangerines, golds and yellows. Rhododendron luteum (Pontic Azalea) says it all in its name –  I have brilliant yellow flowers and I am here to seduce you out of your fog with my fragrance.

 Rhododendron luteum has brilliant flowers which have a wonderfully sweet fragrance

Rhododendron luteum has brilliant flowers which have a wonderfully sweet fragrance

Here most people associate Rhododendrons with the evergreen types and do not realize that the Azaleas are actually Rhododendrons as well. The ‘so-called’ Azaleas often are seen to be a poor plants you see in mass plantings used to landscape large shopping centers, townhouse complexes and other institutions and are often poorly maintained.  Rhododendron luteum represents the deciduous Azaleas most often found in parks and often have the reputation of ‘smelling skunky’. Pontic Azalea does not have the ‘skunkiness’, people often wonder were the wonderful scent is coming from and find out it’s from that yellow Azalea!

The elusive fragrance of the Rhododendron lutuem flowers entrance the bees and our noses, but be wary as the pollen and honey is poisonous.

The elusive fragrance of the Rhododendron lutuem flowers entrance the bees and our noses, but be wary as the pollen and honey is poisonous.

Pontic Azalea is a fairly wide-spread plant and is found in Poland, Austria through the Balkans, Southern Russia running into the Caucasus into the southern tip of the Black Sea, an area once called Pontus. The first reference to Rhododendron luteum comes from Pliny and Doiscorides ( circa 40-90 AD) who refered to the works of Xenophon(430-354 BC). Xenophon participated and chronicled the conflict between Cyrus the younger(and gardener) and his older brother who would become Artaxerxes II. They went to war and Cyrus died and his army retreated to the Pontus Hills near the Black Sea. The plan was to collect supplies there and escape by sea back to Greece. While the troops where there the ate the locally collected honey which came from the Azaleas which grew there. The army became ill and seemed drugged. This mystery of what happened was blamed by Dioscorides on the Pontic Azlaeas and the honey which was consumed there.

As Rhododendron luteum is often grown from seed there is some variation in the flowers such as the vibrancy of coloring and width of the petals.

As Rhododendron luteum is often grown from seed there is some variation in the flowers such as the vibrancy of coloring and width of the petals.

Many centuries later French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort(1656-1708) travelled to examine the geography of the area as he was studying Dioscorides. There he wrote a description of and did a drawing the Pontic Azalea which he named Chamaebodobendron Pontica Maxima flore lutea, this was just the first of the names this plant has been given.

The bright yellow color of the Pontic Azalea is pleasing and blends well in many plant combinations.

The bright yellow color of the Pontic Azalea is pleasing and blends well in many plant combinations.

Rhododendron luteum went through several name changes until in the 1830s it was decided to give it the name it is known by now. Most recently the claim to fame by the Pontic Azalea is that it is an important contributor to hybridization of Azaleas in creating a wide range of pleasing colors for the softest pastels into most vibrant colors. Pontic Azaleas are particularly associated with the Ghent group of hybrids which were developed in Belgium over 150 years ago. More than 100 were named and at least 25 are still available to buy now. The other use for Pontic Azaleas is for a understock to graft weaker growing forms onto.

This small Pontic Azalea is part of the extensive Rhododendron collection at Glendale Gardens.

This small Pontic Azalea is part of the extensive Rhododendron collection at Glendale Gardens.

Rhododendron luteum is an easy and adaptable plant to grow. It likes dappled light and rich, slightly acidic moisture retentive soil which does not dry out completely in droughts. This helps promote a larger number of blooms the following year. Good air circulation is important to help ward off any chance of mildews or fungus which can develop later in the season. Established plants do not need fertilizer but appreciate a light mulch of pine needles or other acidic material applied every year. Do major pruning as soon as the plant has finished blooming to avoid cutting of next years blossoms.

Playfair Park has several areas with Pontic Azaleas included in the gardens.

Playfair Park has several areas with Pontic Azaleas included in the gardens.

Rhododendron luteum  grows 3-4 m(9-12 ft.) tall and is narrower in width. It is not densely branches and is light and airy in the garden. In autumn it give another show of red and yellow foliage colors. It can be used as a specimen or accent and as a mass planting. It is a good plant for a woodland or wilder setting or can be used in more formal locations. It is said to take -15 c. (5 f.) which makes it one of the more hardy deciduous Azaleas available.

Some Azalea Madness for you:

A good technical description of the plant: http://www.rosebay.org/chapterweb/speclut.htm

Toxicity of Rhododendrons: http://rhodyman.net/rarhodytox.html

A Pdf file from Arnold Arboretum on Ghent Azaleas http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/1355.pdf

Xenophon, Greek historian,  soldier and mercenary:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenophon

How this Rhododendron almost stopped an army   http://www.atlanticrhodo.org/kiosk/features/misc/luteum.html

…..Will you follow my trails through the plant world?……

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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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When I first started horticulture school many years ago it was autumn and the leaves where changing color.  The trees and shrubs we were leaning were all new to me and often did not impress me too much in ragged end of year state. As the season progressed into winter I learned to appreciate the form and shape of the simple things like tree structure, bark and buds and the often subtle differences between closely related species. The spring brought new hope of reawakening in the city which was my new classroom, those buds expanded and soon the earliest flowers were blooming. All around was color, especially yellow and the most vibrant of all were the Golden Bells or Common Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia).

 Forsythis x intermedia is one of the brightest shrubsto bloom at any time of the year.

Forsythis x intermedia is one of the brightest shrubsto bloom at any time of the year.


Forsythias like so many plants comes from the vast area of eastern Asia. There are 11 known species with only 1 which originates from Europe.The most important species in horticulture are Forsythia suspensa, viridissima, ovata and japonica. From this group the suspensa x  viridissima which is known as F. x intermedia is the most important and has contributed a number of well known garden plants.
 Although the flowers of Forsythia x intermedia are small, there are thoousands which coat the branches.

Although the flowers of Forsythia x intermedia are small, there are thoousands which coat the branches.


Forsythia x intermedia is a cross of 2 species(suspensa x viridissima) which originate in China. The first species seen and written about was F. suspensa (Weeping Forsythia) which was seen by Carl Peter Thunberg in Japan where he was posted in 1784. At that time he thought it was a form of Lilac (Syringa) and called it Syringa suspensa. An interesting factoid is that Lilacs and Forsythia are in the same family as Olives (Oleaceae).  This species brings a drooping habit to its branches and has rambling/suckering growth.

The 'greenstem' influence of Forsythia viridissima is seen here along with the slightly angular surface. The lenticels (bumps on barks) are typical for the species.

The 'greenstem' influence of Forsythia viridissima is seen here along with the slightly angular surface. The lenticels (bumps on bark) are typical for the species.


The other species in the cross is viridissima which is also from China and was discovered by Robert Fortune  in about 1850. Greenstem Forsythia blooms later than any of the other Forsythia species and has noticeably green, square stems. It is thought the species met in Holland and naturally crossed there but it also just as likely that there are natural crosses found in the wild where the plant species grow in the same areas close together.
The hardy Forsythia x intermedia buds are set in the fall and over-winter tightly before they burst forth into bloom usually in late February around here.

The hardy Forsythia x intermedia buds are set in the fall and over-winter tightly before they burst forth into bloom usually in late February around here.


Forsythia x intermedia are considered to be somewhat out of fashion these days because they are not really a controlled plant. I found it interesting that when I moved here to Victoria that it is hard to find these plants as they are much more common in the Vancouver area where I had been living at. Victoria is an older city  than Vancouver and Forsythia are a very ‘Victorian era’ type of plant and I just assumed in the spring they would show up in the older yards around here.
 A very old Forsythia x intermedia near Commercial Drive in Vancouver.

A very old Forsythia x intermedia near Commercial Drive in Vancouver.


Forsythia x intermedia are easy to grow and will live for many decades in the right place. They take all most any soil as long as it drains well and is not totally clay. They produce the best flowering in full sun but take light shade and give a good flower display. They often grow into dense multi-stemmed shrubs which sucker to expand that gives them a messy appearance. They typically grow up to 3.5 m. (10 ft.) by a similar width. The branches can be seen growing upright or drooping on the same plant. Branches that touch the soil and remain there often will root and produce new growth.  These plants can be severely pruned into shrubs but most of the flowers will be lost, often only seen deep in the plant or on the top.  Free form, informal hedges (less clipped) are beautiful and bright if you have the space.
 Here Forsythia x intermedia is seen with another brightly flowering shrub Pieris 'Valley Valentine'.

Here Forsythia x intermedia is seen with another brightly flowering shrub Pieris 'Valley Valentine'.


Often Forsythia x intermedia is not noticed until it bursts into color in the spring just when we need the bright colors to help us wake up from our winter slumber. It an excellent shrub for early spring color and autumn color as it often shows tinges of madder and plum in its golden foliage. Use Forsythia in mixed borders for early spring color, winter gardens, low maintainance areas, as informal or formal hedges or in heritage gardens. Another favorite use is for forcing the flowers by bringing in branches and letting them open inside.  The best thing might be that it is quite hardy and tolerates -20 c. (-4 f.) and I have seen it growing in much colder places than that with sheltering from harsh north winds. As a side note if you live in a very cold climate look out for Forsythia ‘Northern Gold’ which takes zone 3 (-40 c. or f.).

Following Forsythia:

What People are saying about their plants: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/74859/

One of the best places to look up shrubs and tree and their description: http://www.hort.uconn.edu/plants/f/forint/forint1.html

The Genus Forsythia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forsythia

For you gardeners in the north here is Forsythia ‘North Gold’ http://www.northscaping.com/InfoZone/FS-0038/FS-0038.shtml

…….Hope you follow along with me here……

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