Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Spring is Yellow

 Of course, there are other colours in spring gardens, particularly the bright greens of emerging foliage, but it always strikes me how many April flowers are rich or pale reflections of the sunshine we also welcome to our gardens at this time of year.

Daffodils are a spring staple and I've already enthused over 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation', which has almost gone before the end of March.

Just as it fades, 'Jack Snipe' opens.

I like this narcissus for its airy presence, as if it's on the point of taking flight. Being less bold in both size and colour than Rijnveld's creation, it blends better with other delicate spring hues. Another attribute is how quickly it forms large clumps, allowing me to spread it around the garden, as well as give some away to other gardeners.

This is also prime time for Corylopsis pauciflora, which is anchoring a corner by the house. I celebrate its flowering every year, and this year it seems better than ever.

I tuck my birdbath under the overhanging branches so that only small birds like the house finches can get access to it.  When I had it in a more exposed location, local crows were inclined to use it to wash various disgusting bits of food they'd salvaged from neighbouring green bins.
"Pauciflora" means "few flowers", which used to surprise me until I saw a specimen of Corylopsis multiflora, which has double flowers hanging in pairs.

Under the Corylopsis, among blue-flowered Anemones, the slender stems of Tulipa turkestanica display their starry flowers with golden centres.

They never spread as vigorously as I'd like, but they'd probably prefer conditions more like the stony hillsides of Central Asia that are their natural habitat.

In the same bed are some snow crocus in complementary colours.

I think the yellow one is 'Cream Beauty', but as these came to me in an unmarked package, I'm only guessing.

My last spring yellow is the aptly named Ranunculus 'Brazen Hussy'.

It's a small plant, but the combination of those waxy, golden flowers with the dark, metallic leaves creates a contrast that is hard to miss. Like a lot of its family it spreads, but so far only a little and only in its immediate vicinity. For now I've been happy to let it do that, and since it's easy to dig up, I'll have even more plants to share with friends if it gets too enthusiastic.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Hellebores Galore

 One of the great pleasures of March is the blooming of the hellebores. I've posted photos of my small collection in previous years, but to see a whole drift of them, nothing beats a visit to VanDusen Botanical Garden here in Vancouver.

A slight drawback with many hellebores, especially the doubles, is that so many hang their heads, making it difficult to see the beauty of the inner petals. James, the gardener for this area, overcomes this by floating a selection of the flowers in wide shallow bowls.

This year I decided to follow his example, and although I had a limited supply of flowers in my little garden to choose from and had to settle for a smaller container, I'm still happy with my more modest display.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

February Snow

In my last post I was celebrating the earliest flowers of the new year. Then yesterday it began to snow. The big goosefeather flakes melted almost as soon as they hit the ground, but this morning we woke to a heavier fall that had smothered most of the smaller plants.

The large box in the upper right corner is covering Euphorbia 'Glacier Blue' in the hope that it will survive these below-zero temperatures. Like most variegated plants it's on the tender side and I've had to replace it a couple of times after weather this cold. I'm afraid too, that Hellebore 'Cherry Blossom' that I featured in my previous post will have collapsed and won't recover - at least not this year, though its roots will probably survive.

What always amazes me is the hardiness of Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation', also featured in my last post. Although flattened by the snow, it has already shoved its way through the white blanket and is carrying on flowering as though nothing has happened.

On the left of this photo a double snowdrop is also emerging. Its triumph is likely to be brief however: if the snowfall continues it will be submerged again pretty quickly.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

February Flowers

Perhaps it's the restricted life we are all experiencing in these days of pandemic, but the garden seems to be waking up more slowly this year. Maybe it's only that we've had more overcast skies than normal and, according to January statistics, more rain.

Still, now that we're a week into February a few reliably early bulbs are already creating some small patches of colour. First to open as usual are the winter aconites, which aren't aconites at all, but a member of the buttercup family called Eranthis hyemalis. Once you know the connection, the resemblance is obvious.

The earliest ones shoulder their way through the soil in spite of pouring rain and marauding slugs,

... and are quickly joined by the rest.

Given time, they make a cheerful carpet, like these at VanDusen Botanical Garden. 

Snowdrops follow soon afterwards. They are the best known of the early bulbs and collectors can choose from  around 20 different species and well over 2,000 cultivated varieties.
Mine are nearly all the very common Galanthus nivalis, but I do have one with
 distinctive green stripes on the outside petals. 

It's called 'Rosemary Burnham' and the reason I grow it is because it was discovered in the garden of a well-known Vancouver gardener whose name it bears.

Even before the snowdrops, Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Sensation' opened its first flowers in January. Apparently it has sometimes been sold under the name 'January' and it certainly lived up to that this year. I like the way that the backs of the petals keep some green shadings from when they were just buds.

Not many of the hellebores are in bloom yet, but 'Cherry Blossom' is ahead of the rest. One of the strongest, it reliably produces a generous cluster of striking and colourful flowers.

As the flowers open, they straighten their shoulders and look up, a desirable characteristic that is lacking in some of its family members, especially the double forms. 

Last but by no means least come the snow crocus, earlier and, to my mind, much more elegant than the later, larger Dutch crocus. They come in various colours and I've planted several different kinds. Even on cloudy days when they refuse to open, their small bright spears are a welcome sight.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Ringing In The New Year

 The lowest point in the year is also the lowest moment in my garden. Yet to my eyes it's still beautiful, never more so than when an overnight frost dusts the ground and the few remaining plants with white.

Colour comes only from Mahonia 'Winter Sun' just outside the back fence. One of the few evergreens I grow, its size (large) and colour (bright gold) would make it a dominant feature at this time of year even if it had more competition.

While I enjoy these winter treats, I wait eagerly for the first signs of new life, and usually by mid-month I get my reward. This year a rare sunny day on January 16 brought the first winter aconites and snow crocus into bloom. The aconites are always a surprise as their stems almost unnoticeably shoulder their way through the soil, and lever themselves upright before suddenly revealing the tiny buttercup-like flowers with their frill of green.

By contrast, the crocus leaves have been visible for some time, and it's just a question of waiting impatiently for the flowers to accompany them. First to open was a lone yellow one by the back steps where the sun is strongest.

Once I saw it, I went looking for others and found several 'Firefly' also in bloom, but still in too much shade to open.

If we can just expect a few more sunny days, more of these little harbingers of spring will be popping up all over the garden.

Thursday, 3 December 2020


 It's been a while since my last post. No excuses, just the general lethargy brought on by the pandemic swirling around us.

The garden doesn't care about human pandemics, however, and has been a source of pleasure as always. I can't remember being so excited by red flowers in other years, but this summer and fall they've provided some of my most cheering moments.

My self-seeding poppies always surprise me with their variety of colours. Although they all started out as doubles, they now come in single, double and semi-double forms. Not the reds however, which are determined to remain double. This year they were as brilliant as ever, but one that was slightly less double than the rest stood out with a subtle touch of black in its heart.

An Echinacea that I recently acquired was another bright exclamation point. I can't remember its name but I'll annotate this post when I find it again

I've had Lobelia cardinalis 'Victoria' for years, loving its value as a late summer bloomer and its combination of scarlet flowers with purple foliage,

...but this year I acquired the species parent, which has grass-green leaves and is perhaps even more attractive.

A surprise this summer was the reappearance of a plant I thought I'd lost, Alstroemeria psittacina.

It only produced one flower stalk, but I'm hopeful that it will give an improved performance now it has turned up again.  When the stem broke, I brought it inside where it continued to delight us for almost two weeks before fading. Psittacina means "parrot-like", which suits it very well.

I have several clematis on the east fence, including what I believe is the only red variety, Clematis texensis 'Gravetye Beauty', 

All the texensis varieties flower from midsummer on and produce fluffy white seedheads after the flowers die. You can cut the whole plant down to about knee-high once the leaves turn brown, so there's no risk of broken stems from wind or snow and no tangle of dead leaves hanging around over the winter months. It will spring again in spring and reach a height of about 10 feet by the time it blooms.

Finally, the wonderful transformation of Hydrangea serrata 'Beni' has made it my favourite plant for this year.

'Beni' means "red" in Japanese and when this little shrub began to bloom, I thought I'd got a mislabelled specimen. Here it is in early June:

In early August:

And in late August:

By this time, there's just one last white flower and the leaves are becoming suffused with purple.

By September, the whole plant is truly living up to its name:

Two late entries in this post, both added at the end of December:

First, the fallen leaves of Rosa pimpinellifolia, whose praises I've sung for its year-round contribution to the garden. Even at the end of the year, its fallen leaves create a carpet of colour on the ground.

In the same bed, a sturdy red chard is as as ornamental in the garden as it is useful in the kitchen.


Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Early Summer Treats

The best part of summer for me is the blooming of the big rambling roses. When we lived on acreage in the Fraser Valley, I had many of these lovely plants, but now on a Vancouver city lot I have room for just two.

Why these particular ones? Well, 'Ghislaine de FĂ©ligonde' has the distinction of being just about the only rambler that produces a second flush of bloom. It's not as spectacular as the first flush, but it does give something extra to look forward to later in the summer. Flowers start out as apricot buds, open in shades of buff-yellow and peach, then fade to cream. All colours are present over its bloom period. 
If this rose has a drawback it has to be the fleeting scent, not really noticeable unless you put your face close against a flower.

'Lykkefund', on the other hand, has a perfume that drifts across the whole garden, especially in the evening. 
Like most ramblers, produces all its flowers in one great cascade: the photo below shows only half of its full length along the fence.

It begins with peach-coloured buds, which open to loose-petalled white flowers.

What makes it rare among among ramblers is its lack of thorns, a really useful quality in a tight space like a city lot.

A view across the garden from the house shows 'Ghislaine de FĂ©ligonde' at the centre top with just one truss of 'Lykkefund' visible on the right behind the old pear tree.

Over to the left a trio of perennials are in bloom.

In the foreground is blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii) with pale blue flowers on willowy stems. At the back the haze of little white buttons belongs to Ranunculus aconitifolius 'Flore Pleno', which will bloom generously for at least two months. Although it's a buttercup relative it stays in a well-behaved, tidy clump.

Between them are the sturdy stems of Astrantia 'Roma'. Unlike many of its family, 'Roma' is sterile so it doesn't necessitate ongoing weeding out of its many children at other times of the year.

Elsewhere in the garden a Roscoea has slowly progressed from one flowering stem per summer to several.

I think it's Roscoea cautleyoides, although it looks paler than other images I've seen. Whatever it is, it lights up a shady spot under the pear tree with its curious blooms.