Thursday, 17 April 2014

Big, small, high, low, Japan, Canada, alpine!

In my garden, I grow plants from all continents with temperate climates. These plants are not all technically alpine, but they are certainly plants that look well associating with rock. They also co-exist well in my alpine garden near the sea! Now how does that work?

Oddly enough, I manage an alpine garden that was created at sea level. It is a part of the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden in Vancouver, Canada. This province is coastal, but also mostly mountainous! Years back someone decided that an alpine garden would represent its major geographical feature, and that was that. After I took over its curatorial position, I quickly realized that a strictly alpine plant garden was not in the greatest interest of most visitors.  Instead, by moving a little further down the hypothetical mountain, I could accommodate an enormous wealth of interesting and ornamental plants both woody and perennial.

My position is fun, because not only do I garden with worldwide temperate plants, but those both high and low, in elevation! The Salix nakamurana var. yezoalpina pictured above provides an excellent example. Its name describes an alpine willow native to Yezo (= old name for Hokkaido), Japan.  It grows with suitable attractiveness among small rocks adjacent to a large pond, its elevation here a mere 30 meters! Isn't it warm, fuzzy and fresh green, in its early season flowering stage?

flowers, in detail

Rhododendron keiskei, a variable species

Spring is not really 'on' here in the Pacific northwest until we see rhododendrons in bloom. This is a fine Japanese species, which carries great genetic variability in size. Different forms can grow from nearly groundcover size to over a meter in height. It is classed in Japan as an azalea type, probably according to its flower shape, which is a widely flaring trumpet with exserted stamens. Very handsome! It is widespread in Japan's mountains, as far south as Yakushima (island), a plant mecca south of Kyushu.

Hiking uphill in the garden I reach an alpine plant that I look forward to seeing in bloom each year. This little Erigeron is a tiny, classic aster of the mountains. Its Japanese name, Miyama nogiku, refers to Miyama area in north central Hokkaido. It is literally "chrysanthemum of Miyama". So cute!

Erigeron miyabeanus

After summiting the alpine garden (haha) I return to our "lowland" Asia pond there. I know of three lovely Spring blooming plants. First is Caltha palustris. All calthas love wet feet! They also appreciate cold winters, and there is plenty of it in north Asia. It is widespread in mountains of Russia, China, Korea and north Japan.

Caltha palustris, lover of wet feet!

Here is another image of it at close range. I love the flower's form combining bright colour with its prominent stamens, like a buttercup with macro features!

Nearby and also loving water is Kalmia polifolia, a white flowered selection. It grows in pure sphagnum moss, as it absolutely must have high humidity in our dry summer season.  Two photos, one of part of the plant coming into bloom, another zoomed in.

Kalmia polifolia 'Alba'

It's really unusual to see such a big specimen, even in the wild bogs of Alaska, and south to BC. Its another genus of the large Ericaceae family. To my knowledge it hasn't been able to jump across the Bering Sea to relish the cool coastal climate of northern Hokkaido or Sakhalin Russia. It might be quite comfortable there!
pure white Ericaceous urns

Finally, I'll stay low and wet, apt for this rainy day's writing. Here's a fine
flowering Lysichiton camschatcensis. Note the flowers are emerging before its leaves, meeting the first fly pollinators of the season. This species, like its bright yellow North American cousin, carries a faint whiff of malodor!
Later the big, banana-esque leaves rise, and relax on the wet ground.

The North American species is well known as Skunk Cabbage, the Asian as simply Asian skunk cabbage. The Japanese have none of that though, simply referring to it as 'water plantain'. It is fondly known on that side of the 'pond'.
A lovely cream yellow hybrid of these species is also grown, L. x hortensis.  What an aristocratic addition any would make to a moisture retentive garden!

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