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My father grew up mainly in the interior where the winters are long and cold and the warm summer months are short and much longed for. I am sure that and his father who loved gardening and nature influenced the way he experienced the world. My father always loved the scent of flowers and would check every new type he came into contact. I often wanted to show him new plant for him to experience and comment on. One plant I was especially happy for him to meet and smell its wonderful scent is Japanese Skimmia(Skimmia japonica).

Here in this group of Japanese Skimmia you can see the berried female plants in the front and the males in the back covered with flower buds waiting for the spring.

Here in this group of Japanese Skimmia you can see the berried female plants in the front and the males in the back covered with flower buds waiting for the spring.

There are 4 species of Skimmia and all are found in Asia; all of the species having attractive berries, aromatic foliage and fragrant flowers.  Skimmia japonica was first originally described by Carl Thunberg in ‘Flora Japonica'( published 1784), his record of plants which he collected in Japan in 1775-1776.  At that time it was thought the plant was a type of Holly(Ilex).  Holly like this Skimmia species has separate male and female plants.  Robert Fortune introduce a plant from China which was is a hermaphrodite(male and female parts on the same plant), this plant was later determined to be an important subspecies now known as Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana. What is now known is that Skimmia japonica is quite variable and is found in a wide range of areas ranging from Taiwan through the Japanese islands into Korea and Sakhalin. With the variability of the species, many new forms have been introduced.

 This appears to be a female Skimmia japonica plant as there does not appear to be any stamens with pollen present.

This appears to be a female Skimmia japonica plant as there does not appear to be any stamens with pollen present.

When Robert Fortune’s plant was introduced to the public by Sunniingdale Nursery in 1849 it was an instant hit and from that time Japanese Skimmia has been valued as a first-rate plant with many desirable qualities. In Japan it has long been used in gardens. The Japanese name for Skimmia japonica is ‘Miyama shikimi’ and Shikimi refers to a completely different species (Illicium anisatum) which is also a highly aromatic plant. The name Skimmia refers to the  latinized Japanese ‘Shikimi’. All of this has also confused people in the past as Illicum or Star Anise is well known spice and is a more tender plant.

This male Skimmia japonica clone has distinctly pink tinged blooms.

This male Skimmia japonica clone has distinctly pink tinged blooms.

The Skimmia species is a member of the Rutaceae family which we know better for giving us citrus fruit such as oranges, lemons, limes and Grapefruit.  Other members are as diverse as the bitter herb Rue(Ruta) and Zanthozylum which gives us Sichuan Pepper and Prickly Ash.  Many members of the family are edible and provide us with important fruit, spices and medicinal components.   Skimmia is probably is the most important  of the strictly ornamental plants.

 The berries of Skimia japonica are a bright shiny red and are very festive looking at this time of the year.

The berries of Skimia japonica are a bright shiny red and are very festive looking at this time of the year.

Japanese Skimmias are all around us and we often are not aware of them because their broadleaved evergreen foliage blend in so well with other plants. Skimmia japonica is very popular with better landscape designers and gardeners because the plant is versatile. One often sees them used in shady locations tucked under deciduous trees which will attract our attention most of the year. I see this in Beacon Hill Park  under the magnificent Japanese Maples between Goodacre and Fountain Lakes. When the Skimmia blooms the scent flows in the breeze along the path and across the near bridge to delight the many people strolling in the area.

 

 Skimmia japonica located under the Japanese Maples near Goodacre Lake.

Skimmia japonica located under the Japanese Maples near Goodacre Lake.

 

Skimmia japonica and all its forms are easy plants to grow. They like fertile rich soil which is slightly acidic but tolerate clay soils quite well. They like a site which is well-drained but is well watered during the hot summers as they do not like drought conditions. They prefer a site which is dappled or is more on the shady side or their leaves will yellow even in a strong winter sun. As they are evergreen they will do best being in a location which is protected from drying winds especially in the winter season.

 

 This recently planted Japanese Skimmia has a good mulch of leaves to help it survive the freezing weather and snow.

This recently planted Japanese Skimmia has a good mulch of leaves to help it survive the freezing weather and snow.

 

Japanese Skimmias are very slow-growing and dense but over a long time get to be quite large. I have seen plants which are 1.2m(4ft) tall and wide  in gardens and it is said that they can grow an astonishing(to me at least) 7m(22 ft) tall. Often now we seen many of the smaller forms such as sbsp. reevesiana which is small enough to fit well into any garden. Skimmias are rated as hardy to zone 7 or -12 to-18c (0-10f). Skimmias are easily propagated by seed or softwood cuttings although they are slow to root.

 

 The smaller forms of Japanese Skimmia make excellent container plants which can be moved easily.

The smaller forms of Japanese Skimmia make excellent container plants which can be moved easily.

Use Skimmia japonica as an accent, in a winter garden, for fragrance in the spring, along paths where you brush the aromatic foliage. Their colorful berries are bright winter interest and the foliage is not popular with deer or slugs which may visit you. They work well as foundation plants especially when placed near entrances or windows. Skimmias are also popular in a woodland setting or in borders as they are very low maintainance and will need little care over their long life.

 

Stirring up the Skimmia:

Rainyside’s page on Skimmia japonica: http://www.rainyside.com/features/plant_gallery/shrubs/SkimmiaJaponica.html

Kwantlen University webpage on sbsp. reevsiana: https://appserver1.kwantlen.ca/apps/plantid/plantid.nsf/lookup/78AAF594F71CCF2988256F0200610584?OpenDocument

The mystery of the name:

http://books.google.ca/books?id=SvcWAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA520&dq=skimmia+japonica&hl=en&ei=UaHyTMDyLZC-sQOBoaTSCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CFoQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=skimmia%20japonica&f=false

…Until we meet again soon…I hope….

 

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It was a dark and stormy night and the wind was blowing through the trees in the cemetery as I trudged past. I shivered and pulled my coat collar up to protect me from the chill. As I walked along, the shadows moved and I shuddered as I passed the dark eerie Common Yew (Taxus baccata) trees because I knew that these trees were always sacred to the Druids. It was one of the five great trees that stood in their sacred sites.

 A Taxus baccata as you might find it in the wild which is found at St Ann's Academy.

A Taxus baccata as you might find it in the wild which is found at St Ann's Academy.

Taxus baccata is native to Ireland, England , through Europe down into the northern tip of Africa and over to West Asia. It is in northern Europe where Common Yew has been a significant tree associated with various early religions and cults. In Norse mythology we meet the Yggdrasil ‘the world tree’. Yggdrasill means Yew (support)pillar leading some theorists to believe this tree is a Yew instead of the traditional Ash(Fraxinus species) Yew are also connected with the ‘Fairy races’ of Ireland and Wales. Many tales connect these trees to fairy rings, mysterious appearances and disappearances.

 Yew trees in ancient times were placed in sacred sites which later often became cemetaries and church yards.

Yew trees in ancient times were placed in sacred sites which later often became cemeteries and church yards.

 

We are most familiar with Common Yews being associated with Druid culture found in Ireland and Wales, during the Iron Age Celtic period. During that time the wood was turned into many symbolic and spiritual articles such as wands, and staffs. The wood was also used for divination purposes and at festivals. In the 19th century a cup made of Yew wood was found near a village in North Wales, this item was likely used in Druidic ceremonies.

The wood of Taxus baccata is very flexible and was traditionally used for making the deadly longbow of Medieval  times.

The wood of Taxus baccata is very flexible and was traditionally used for making the deadly longbow of Medieval times.

 

Other places were the Druidic religion likely touches the Common Yew is in their prominent placement in some of the oldest churchyards in Great Britain, Often churches were placed in known sacred places of Druid and other non Cristian groups to help suppress them and usurp the site and ideas related to it. One of the oldest known Taxus baccata is found in a churchyard in North Wales, it is over 4000 years old.

Taxus baccata with it's dark color and fine needles is often clipped when seen in a garden setting.

Taxus baccata with its dark color and fine needles is often clipped when seen in a garden setting.

 

Throughout history the wood of Common Yew has been associated with deadly things. The needles and the flesh of the seeds(arils) is highly poisonous and many people and livestock have died from it. The wood was much used before the use of iron became widespread. It is very hard and resists the effects of water very well. Yew is a tree of death, used for making longbows, coffins, weapon handles and arrow shafts and disturbingly bleeds red sap. The worlds oldest implement, a spearhead is thought to be 50,000 years old and made out of Taxus baccata wood,The famous longbows of the Welsh were made out of Yew and were first recorded in use in 633. More recently it is used for furniture, tool handles and veneer. The wood is golden smooth with a wavy grain.

All Taxus species contain deadly alkaloids in all their parts except in the brightly colored arils which cover the seeds.

All Taxus species contain deadly alkaloids in all their parts except in the brightly colored arils which cover the seeds.

 

Taxus baccata has a long association with gardens, official and unofficial because they are easily grown and adaptable to many situations. At many large government buildings this tree is used in one of the most traditional ways, as a clipped hedge in the form of Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ or Irish Yew. Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’  is the form which we come across most often in Victoria as it is narrower in form.

 Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata' is used at the corners of the Hardy Fuchsia Garden at Glendale Gardens.

Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata' is used at the corners of the Hardy Fuchsia Garden at Glendale Gardens.

If you want to grow some Common Yew trees, there are somethings to keep in mind. Plants are male or female, with the females having the red berries. Yews can grow in almost complete shade to full sun but seem to be best with more light than less. They are slower growing than most shrubs and are more expensive because of this. Over many years they can attain heights in excess of 20m(65ft) and can live several thousand years. They like a good soil which nutrient rich, stay away from clay if possible.

 A golden Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata Aueromarginata' is seen above a common Yew here at one of the entrances to Hampton Park.

A golden Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata Aueromarginata' is seen above a common Yew here at one of the entrances to Hampton Park.

 

Taxus baccata are fairly drought tolerant and withstand air pollution making them an ideal city plant. They are rated as zone 6 meaning they can withstand -20c(-10f) although they might get some wind burn damage on their foliage.If making a hedge space them 40-45cm apart and pinch them back at the time of planting to make them bushy. Remember that this will be a slow-growing hedge. You may want to use one of the narrower forms.

 The Yew hedge seen here is carefully clipped to maintain its shape and condition.

The Yew hedge seen here is carefully clipped to maintain its shape and condition.

There are several hundred named varieties which have to propagated by cuttings. Most forms are female and may produce seeds. Look for especially narrow forms such as the dark green ‘Fastigiata’ or golden ‘Fastigiata Aueromarginata’ or the female golden form ‘Standishii’ .Taxus baccata ‘Repandens’ has low spreading branches and ‘Cavendishii’ has wide-spreading branches that droop at the tips.

 This Taxus baccata tree grows in almost complete shade during most of the year yet is very healthy.

This Taxus baccata tree grows in almost complete shade during most of the year yet is very healthy.

Yearning for Yews:

Wiki page on the Common Yew: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxus_baccata

The Ancient Yew site:  http://www.ancient-yew.org/home.shtml

Google timeline of Taxus baccata: http://www.google.ca/search?q=taxus+baccata+history&hl=en&rls=com.microsoft:*:IE-SearchBox&rlz=1I7GGIE&tbs=tl:1&tbo=u&ei=PL_NTO2zEJS8sAOi9_1w&sa=X&oi=timeline_result&ct=title&resnum=11&ved=0CEgQ5wIwCg

….Hoping to see you here soon…..



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Back to school, those are dreaded words for some, a relief for others and the beginning of a new chapter in life for many more. I must admit I did not like grade school. It was not until later when I had a break from the grind of it, had more perspective and experience in life that I enjoyed it more. Now I think about i more fondly look back at my time in school especially the time I was in Hort. school learning so many new things which I use all the time now. Learning the plants back then was more of a challenge, now it is adverture which takes me across the world and back in time. I first saw Nandina domestica (Heavenly Bamboo or Sacred Bamboo) at Van Duesen Gardens and over the years have always loved it’s simple elegant beauty.

Heavenly Bamboo is a triple treat with wonderful foliage, flowers and bright red berries which appear in the fall.

Heavenly Bamboo is a triple treat with wonderful foliage, flowers and bright red berries which appear in the fall.

Nandina domestica is a plant which comes to us from Asia, there it is found in central Northern India, China and Japan. In Japan it is known as Nantzen (meaning southern sky) is derived from the chinese name(southern heaven)and our latin name is from it.  Nandina is strongly connected with the new year in both China and Japan, in China it is associated with the kitchen god Zhao Jun(Zhen) who is the most important domestic god and protects the hearth and family.

The light delicate foliage and compact=

The light delicate foliage and compact habit makes Heavenly Bamboo very popular here.

In Japan it is especially popular and is often seen at the entrances of houses and is  also used during the holiday season of late December and January. Here it seen in traditional Kadumatsu decorations which are placed in pairs at the front door of  the home. It is also in Japan where Carl Peter Thunberg(1743-1828) first documented Nandina domestica while he was there in 1775-76. His name is one of the most important associated with botanical plants in Japan and he named many of the best known ones of today.

A good crop of berries is seen with this planting of Nandina domestica at U.B.C. Botanical Gardens in Vancouver.

A good crop of berries is seen with this planting of Nandina domestica at U.B.C. Botanical Gardens in Vancouver.

Heavenly Bamboo was introduced to the gardening public in 1804. Also back in Japan at that time there were new forms being discovered and it was becoming popular there as a bonsai subject.Some of the new forms had narrower leaves and lent themselves to Bonsai. By the late 1800s’ nearly 200 cultivars had been named and catalogued there. Sadly many of these forms have been lost although recently many new color forms have been selected by growers in Europe and North America.

Nandina domestica is often mass planted or used as informal hedgeing here.

Nandina domestica is often mass planted or used as informal hedging here.

Here we have come to love Heavenly Bamboo for its versatility, beauty and color throughout the year. It tolerates any type of soil as long as it is well-drained. It is not fussy about light and can take the full sun to full shade although it is best with some protection from harsh midday sun in the summer especially in drier and more southern areas that here. Nandina domestica is tolerant of fairly dry areas as long as it is sheltered from drying winds like most other evergreens. This plant grows by producing suckers from the base, this over time will produce a dense clump. Pruning can be done to remove damaged parts and to thin it out if it gets overgrown.

The leaves are very large and tri-pinnate which gives 'Heavenly Bamboo' its common name.

The leaves are very large and tri-pinnate which gives 'Heavenly Bamboo' its common name.

There are many new forms of Nandina domestica which have recently appeared on the market. They range from the dwarfs  such as Nandina domestica ‘Nana Purpurea’ which grows 60cm(2 ft) which I think are best in containers as they do not have the elegant form as the full-sized ones. Nandina domestica ‘Plum Passion’ has great plum tinted blue-green foliage and grows 2m(6.5ft) by 90cm(3 ft) wide which is the normal size for Nandinas. There are also exciting golden-leaved  and yellow and white-fruited varieties which can be found so be on the lookout for more interesting varieties.

This dwarf Nandina would be best suited in a nice container.

This dwarf Nandina would be best suited in a nice container.

Nandinas are fairly hardy growing in zones 6 though 10 or-10c.(14f.) with little damage as long as they are in a spot shelter from drying winds. If they do lose their leaves in a hard winter they often come back quickly with new stems coming up from the base, the old ones can be removed. In areas where these plants have become a pest it is important to remove the spent flowers so they do not set seed. Speaking of seed, this is a common way to increase your crop of plants, germination is best if sown fresh with all pulp removed from the berries. The other method of propagation is by semi-ripe cuttings in mid spring.

This Nandina domestica is well palced in a sheltered location with some sun.

This Nandina domestica is well palced in a sheltered location with some sun.

Nandina domestica can be used in a variety of ways, as an informal hedge, mass planted, as an accent or for seasonal color. You will see it used in many public gardens as well as better institutional setting as it is a much more manageable substitute for true Bamboos.It fit well in asian, Japanese, understory or dappled and modern gardens very well. The graceful feeling of the plant is much appreciated by gardeners everywhere.

Searching for Heavenly Bamboo on earth:

The interesting forms grown in Japan: http://homepage3.nifty.com/plantsandjapan/page105.html

Carl Peter Thunberg: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Peter_Thunberg

Kadumatsu: http://www.humanflowerproject.com/index.php/weblog/comments/kadomatsu_welcoming_japans_new_year/

Propagation by seed: http://www.ubcbotanicalgarden.org/forums/showthread.php?t=16900

Paghat on Nandina: http://www.paghat.com/nandina2.html

Hope to see you soon…..here again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To learn more about Firethorns:

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

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

Until we meet again….

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