Thursday, 3 April 2014

A Spring moment in my alpine and rock garden

Spring is definitely not just Spring.  It's different things to different people, at different times, in different places.  No single Spring is the same, either.  Earlier, later, colder, warmer, drier, depending where you live, across the road or around this globe.  It may even be different down the street, but that's not my Spring!  So I want to show you my Spring's plants, right now, just as they're unfolding in this moment.

Furthermore, my Spring garden contains roughly 2000 plants.  By a long shot not all or even many of them are near blog worthy at this particular moment.    But blink and things change again. Point is, time really does fly, especially so in the Spring garden.  Like a young child the garden awakes, rub its eyes, stands and is at once in powerful motion.   There is no in between with Spring.  It may last longer for some gardens, encounter setbacks on the road toward its summer zenith, its only guarantee being that it will pass like the ephemeron that it is.  Take for example this wonderful primrose.  Here it is in full glory today and a precious few more.  Soon it'll be all but forgotten along with myriad other floral wonders we stop and wonder at today.
Primula marginata 'Herb Dickson'

This alpen plant is cherished by rock gardeners private and professional worldwide.  Many selections have been made from it but 'Herb Dickson' is one of the best for this wet winter garden.  P. marginata's leaves develop a farina, or a kind of flour dusting on their upper side.  It becomes pronounced in dry spells.  You can just see it on a couple of leaves.  These features, the wonderful leaf serration and the deep purplish blue flower colour makes it a standout plant.

Let's wander uphill to another part of the garden, this one a sub-garden, or section, of Asia plants.     First, a view:

Forsythia viridissima 'Bronxensis'

I planted three in a small bed, because these beauties are a dwarf selection of a Chinese species.   The largest one in the foreground stands about 40cm tall.  They'll never become any taller, or loose and gangly like so many of their cousins planted on city lots in town.  What's more is they never need pruning - not that many home owners have much idea of what is right on that score.  I laugh to see round-headed pruning efforts.  Isn't this natural style much better?

Rh. ciliatum, with delicate stubble

There are a LOT of Asian rhododendrons (over 700 at last count), so let's view a wee sample.  I'll start with a very young - and somewhat tender - Rhododendron ciliatum.  The species epithet means hairy, or ciliate.  Look at  those leaves!  The flowers may last for only a few days but the plant should have a bright Springs to come with its curious and beautiful attributes.

Rh. tsariense 'Yum Yum'

This fine fellow with the fanciful name also  offers superb Spring viewing.  While covering itself with flowers may be a few more seasons away, just look at those dots of deep rose pink inside the throat of the flower.  Combined with handsome, shiny leaves dusted with bronze indumentum (fine hairs) above and below, and this one is a winner.  There are several great photos of this species at the Danish group of the American Rhododendron Society.

Moving on, I must point out this lovely cherry tree.  Botanically it's Prunus incisa, known commonly in North America as Fuji cherry.  I could die happy to see it in full glorious bloom on the slopes of Fuji-san, as it grows in central and northern Honshu island, Japan.  It also attains upwards of 5 meters height, which must make for an impressive sight.  But how about this rock garden specimen?  It is perhaps twenty five years old and because its roots are wedged between two large rocks it remains compact and produces multiple trunks.  Small though inedible dark cherry fruits are produced, but not in the way that most of us know cherries!

Prunus incisa, Fuji cherry

Swinging downhill but staying for now in the Asia section, you can't help but by drawn toward this charming specimen of Mukdenia rossii.  This jumbo Saxifrage family member is bone hardy, and once its flower show ends, glossy serrated leaves take over to last the whole season.  I liked its old name, Aceriphyllum (maple-leafed) better for its apt description, but of course, Mukdenia refers to where the original specimen, was collected, in Shenyang (formerly Mukden) China.

Mukdenia rossii, with its charming sprays of flowers

Spring in most northern temperate climates involves at least a nod at Trillium.  So it is here, too, although Asian species aren't very well known or widely grown.  Take this T. smallii, please.
It's tempting to assume the species name refers to the tiny brownish red flowers, but that's coincidence.  It lives in cool forests throughout Japan, especially in the north, so it's happy with our cool winters.

T. smallii, its flowers nodding as they finish - already!

This plant epitomises the ephemeral way of Spring - 
here today, tomorrow moving on...
like children, growing up too fast.

Another icon of temperate Spring gardens worldwide is Daphne.
However, this isn't your typical Daphne we know, those small to rather large dark evergreen shrubs, often perfuming the air with pinkish flower clusters round about now.  This plant is Daphne blagayana.  It happily sprawls on the ground, and throws out ascending branch tips of sweet smelling white flowers.  It's truly a botanical curiosity and a lovely plant, to bloom so profusely all at once.  It isn't found in many gardens or collections, unless they're serious, like the one I manage!   Daphnes are notoriously fussy about being moved about, so it has remained right where it was planted, about 35 years ago.

Another beauty is this soft and fuzzy Pulsatilla.  They are Ranunculids, in the same family as clematis and buttercups.  This is the white selection of Pulsatills vulgaris.  Common it may be named, but it looks aristocratic to me!

Then, a touch of blue.  Blue for the half shade of deciduous trees not yet leafed out.  An early bloomer, here today in the brisk air, gone with a whiff of the warmth of tomorrow.  Here's Synthyris missurica, or kittentails.  If latin be so blunt, then kittentails in blue it is.  Not often seen in gardens, yet found in westerly North American mixed forests.


 Ribes sanguineum 'White Icicle'

This native of B.C. coastal and more southerly forests is typically red flowered.  It makes good early nectar for our overwintering hummingbirds.  This white flowered selection was once upon a time (time has flown) a native plant introduction of our botanical garden at UBC.  It remains briefly lovely, at a time when we can look back laughingly at winter, yet wish away Spring in favour of summer to come.   Now go find your Spring!

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