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Posts Tagged ‘David Douglas’

When I moved to the Victoria area I had heard about the wonderful climate, the slower pace and the stunning Garry Oaks. Naturally I was curious about everything, but it being the end of October when I arrived I had to wait to see what the spring would bring. I saw the Garry Oaks and waited in anticipation for the drier weather. I explored and read about the native plant and saw the Erythroniums (last weeks post) and then started to notice the bluest of blue Common Camas (Camassia quamash) blooming from what seemed to be the grass at the side of the road.

The Bluest of Blue Common Camassia quamash.

The Bluest of Blue Common Camassia quamash.

Common or Early Camas have probably been one of the most important plants in establishing a permanent aboriginal population in the Victoria area long before the area was visited by the Spanish and later by Captain Vancouver who visited in May of 1792 and saw the blue Common Camas fields in bloom. They were first discribed by David Douglas in 1827

The Camassia Field Seen From Dallas Road at the Bottom of Beacon Hill Park.

The Camassia Field Seen From Dallas Road at the Bottom of Beacon Hill Park.

West coast native groups were lucky to live in an area of abundant  natural food resources and were able to set up permanent settlements.  Camassia quamash bulbs were the main starch source for the people here. In fact families used to farm designated areas such as the Beacon Hill Park fields which were full of Commoon Camas. Like we do today they weeded, enriched the soil and harvested the Camassia quamash for a food crop in sustainable way. The bulbs were harvested in the fall and then processed.  One favorite method was to pit roast them for 24-36 hours, this produced a it becomes a product similar to a sweet potato except sweeter. These pit roasted Camas bulbs were eaten as soon as cooked.  They are a rich source of inulin and fructose a natural type of sweetener. Another method was to dry the bulbs and then pound them into a powder like material to add to thickens stews and other liquids. The other importance was as trade material, in this case the bulbs were dried and flattened into ‘Camas cakes’ for easier travel.

My Nephew Owen in the Camas Harvest Fields at Beacon Hill Park.

My Nephew Owen in the Camas Harvest Fields at Beacon Hill Park.

Who would not be dazzled when seeing the brilliant blue Camas fields in bloom for the first time. This is one of the prime tourist spots to go and have your picture taken. Many tour buses every day stop along Dallas Road at the bottom of Beacon Hill Park. Some other well known areas for Camas viewing are Uplands Park, Playfair Park, the Government House Woodlands area below Terrace Garden. Common Camas can be seen along  most sunny rural roadsides.

Garry Oak Restoration project of Camas Fields at Playfair Park in Saanich.

Garry Oak Restoration project of Camas Fields at Playfair Park in Saanich.

Common Camas species are part of one of the rarest ecosystems in Canada, the Garry Oak meadows which are endangered by development in southwestern British Columbia. Much of southeastern Vancouver Island was dominated by this ecosystem at one time. When settlers came they found vast open Camassia quamash fields already cultivated by the local population. These fields were perfect to introduce European crops to. Over time most of the meadows where turned over to crops and then to housing and commercial development. We are now learning to appreciate the importance of these areas and are trying to protect and reclaim areas from invasive and non-native plant materials.

The Camassia quamash Fields in the Woodlands at Govenment House.

The Camassia quamash Fields in the Woodlands at Government House.

If you are lucky you will see rare plants such as Shooting Stars(Dodecatheon), Trailing Yellow Violets(Viola), Spring Gold(Lomatium) and the rare Chocolate Lilies(Fritillaria) blooming in more undisturbed sites.

The Delicate and Beautiful Shooting Star(Dodecatheon hendersonii) amoungst the Common Camas.

The Delicate Shooting Star(Dodecatheon hendersonii) amongst the Common Camas.

Fortunately for us Common Camas are an easy plant to incorporate into the garden. They require deep well cultivated soil with plenty of water during their growing season in the spring and early summer. Add well composted material when planting them. Full sun is a must to produce good crops of flowers. If happy Camassia quamash will produce masses of seed which will  germinate and form colonies for you. When grown from seed Common Camas will take 2-3 years before you will see the first blooms. In the wild there is some variation in the blue shades, but all are spectacular. Bulbs are now mass produced and named hybrids have been developed. Common Camas bulbs and plants readily available from reputable nurseries therfore they should be seen more in gardens.

 Camassia quamash in the Terrace Garden at Government House.

Camassia quamash in the Terrace Garden at Government House.

So Much More to learn About Camas and the Garry oak Ecosystem:

Garry oak ecosytems and restoration: http://www.goert.ca/index.php

Paghat’s notes about Common Camas: http://www.paghat.com/camas.html

Cooking with Camas bulbs: http://mrcamas.com/Cooking-with-Camas.htm

Until We Meet Again Later This Week….

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I was fortunate to have spent much of my childhood out at the lake near the town we lived in. We spent weeks at the lake exploring it in the summer. I got to know every single native plant which grew there and we (my brothers and I) had our own imaginary gardens which had wild flowers… and what flowers we had!  When I came from the cold(zone3) to the Vancouver area(zone8) I had to learn a new group of native plants which grew on the coast. One of the most striking is Ribes sanguineum or Red Flowering Currant.

Red Flowerin Currant is Well Named.

Red Flowering Currant is Well Named.

The Red Flowering Currant is one of our showiest native plants and was introduced into cultivation by David Douglas (1799-1834) who had a short life but a huge impact in the world of horticulture. After starting work as a gardener at 11, he went on to apprentice at the gardens of Sir Robert Preston who had an incredible plant collection. after training at the botanical gardens at Glasgow University and the with the Royal Horticultural Society in London, he was sent to collect plant material in North America. He was quickly sponsored to go to the west coast by the Hudson’s Bay company who had a settlement at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River.

A Paler Form of Red Flowering Currant, Possibly 'Tydman's White'.

A Paler Form of Red Flowering Currant, Possibly 'Tydman's White'.

Archibald Menzies had first discovered  Ribes sanguineum in1793 but it was introduced by David Douglas in 1826.  As you can imagine Red Flowering Currant was a great hit and is extensively used in gardens and parks in many areas now.  Since the original plant material has been introduce many fine forms have been selected ranging from the darkest red “King Edward IIV’  through pinks to the purest white ‘Icicle’.  there is even a golden leaved form ‘Brocklebankii’.

The Darkest Form Seen Here, 'King Edward IIV'

The Darkest Form Seen Here, 'King Edward IIV'

Ribes sanguineum is a small to medium size shrub which tends to have an upright form making it an easy plant to place in the garden.  it also lacks the thorns that many of the species have, which is why there is one placed in the children’s garden at Glendale Garden. I am sure the bright flowers and interesting maple-like foliage are interesting to kids who see it in the corner. Later it will produce a small crop of small dark fruit which is not very tasty unlike other Currants.

The Red Flowering Currant in the Childerns' Garden.

The Red Flowering Currant in the Childerns' Garden.

Growing Ribes sanguineum is easy.  One of the best plantings I see nearly every day is at the corner of Swartz Bay Rd and Wain Rd where the overpass is. If you are stopped waiting to turn onto Wain Rd from the overpass there, look across the road and see the Red Flowering Currants blooming right now.  This spot has no maintenance during the year except maybe some trimming of the shrubs. They can take full sun to fairly shaded locations, the only effect will be a more loose open plant in the shade.

The Largest Red Flowering Currant on the Corner of Wain Rd.

The Largest Red Flowering Currant on the Corner of Wain Rd.

Ribes sangiuneum will take any soil  which has some extra humus added to retain moisture during the dry months of summer and autumn here. Any park will have one or two planted. Pioneer Square (the Quadra Street cemetery) has a planting of pale pink and white ones along the back in deep shade which bloom very well.

Several of the Flowering Currants at Pioneer Square in Victoria.

Several of the Flowering Currants at Pioneer Square in Victoria.

Red Flowering Currants can be used in many situations such as in a shrub or perennial border, mass plantings, woodland settings of course and as  specimen in a early spring garden as the foliage is attractive the rest of the seasons.  Since there is a good range of  flower colors to choose from placing one of these will go with most color schemes. Their natural range is quite wide, from Southern California up into Alaska and east through Montana.  They are quite hardy(zone 6- 9) and tolerate -20c(-5f)  making it possible for these plants to be featured in most areas of the world.

Fruit and Foliage of Ribes sanguineum.

Fruit and Foliage of Ribes sanguineum.

Links For This Weeks Subject:

A little more on Red Flowering Currants http://www.habitas.org.uk/gardenflora/ribes_sanguineum.htm

On David Douglas who introduced Red Flowering Currants in 1827: http://www.plantsystematics.org/reveal/PBIO/LnC/douglas.html

Archibald Menzies who first found the plant and named it in 1793. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archibald_Menzies

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(Coast)Silk Tassel Bushes or Garrya elliptica are a very unusual plant to come across. The first time I saw one I was thrilled, I had never paid attention to the rather boring ungainly shrub located at the top of the long perennial border at Playfair Park in Saanich. It was early in the year and I knew  that this garden had a wonderful collection of Rhododendrons which I wanted to check on, they were not in bloom yet,  instead I found a Garrya.

Winter Damaged Garrya at Playfair Park.

Winter Damaged Garrya at Playfair Park.

The first thing I realized on seeing this plant for the first time is that at other times without its catkins I might have thought it was an Elaegnus which has similar leaves but not flowers. Garryas are dioecious meaning they are male or female plants(Holly is another plant like this). They both have long catkins but the males clones are the most prized.  Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ is the most commonly grown male clone which can have catkins which are up to 12in (30 cm) long.

Garrya Male Catkins

Garrya Male Catkins

Garrya ellipticas are true west coasters and don’t like living far from the ocean, this is because there are smaller temperature swings when closer to a large body of water (marine effect).  Their range extends all along the coast from southern Oregon through California. There are a total of 18 Garrya species found along the West coast  from Washington state through to Panama and east to Texas

A Happy Garrya at Glendale Gardens

A Happy Garrya at Glendale Gardens

Here in Victoria We live in a rain shadow which keeps us drier and warmer than the  the British Columbia mainland. We have a very moderate climate which is similar to their native habitat of Chaparral, mixed evergreen forest or coastal Sage scrub. Garryas’ where first found by David Douglas in 1828 and named for Nicolas Garry who was the Secretary of the Hudson’s Bay Company.  He assisted Douglas in his explorations in the Pacific Northwest.

A well placed Silk Tassel Bush

A well placed Silk Tassel Bush

Placement of Silk Tassel Bushes here here is a very tricky thing. They like full sun to part shade preferably in mixed deciduous trees and shrubs to show off their winter blooms. The most important thing is to make sure this plant is kept out of the drying burning winds that can occur during a cold snap such as the ones we have during the November to March period.  Best placement is bottoms of slopes or beside walls or fences. Another use is as a transitional plant from a  naturalised setting into the more structured garden.

Winter damage to the evergreen foliage.

Winter damage to the evergreen foliage.

Garryas are easy to please,  for luxuriant growth they ask for no less than 25 in.(25cm) of rain. They are not very particular to soil and tolerate clays if they are well drained and nutrient rich. They will grow into a substantial 12ft(4m) by 12ft(4m) multi-stemmed shrub which is deer and rabbit resistant. They can be lightly pruned after blooming primarily for shape, do not too far down into the bush.  Although these plants can take temperatures as low as 4f(-10c) they prefer a warmer climate.  Zones 7 through 10 is recommended.

Lnks to this weeks Subject:

A very informative site about Garryas

http://groups.ucanr.org/sonomamg/Plant_of_the_Month/Garrya_Elliptica.htm

Playfair Park in Saanich is one of my favorite parks for great plant specimens. I will be regularly writing about the plants here.

http://www.saanich.ca/resident/parks/playfairpark.html

David Douglas, an important plant explorer who introduced many species into cultivation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Douglas

Which plant will I write about next week? It’s still a mystery to me, check back on Wednesday for a clue.

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