When people ask me how I spent my winter, and more specifically, did I travel anywhere uniquely exciting, a small part of me wants to ask why on Earth would I desire to travel anywhere, when by simply sitting and observing my garden, I have the rare opportunity to traverse the world over! Seriously, I do, and more than likely, every fellow gardener is afforded the same opportunity.
I have always wanted to travel to China, if only to revel and bask in the beauty and majesty of that which is their flora. If pressed to name the one nationality that best represents my garden repertoire, it would undoubtedly be China! Other countries include Japan, Korea, the Balkan region of Yugoslavia, and yes, even our beloved North America! Shall we, on this first official day of Spring venture forth on a botanical expedition of sorts, all from the comfort of my postage stamp sized property here in Fergus, Ontario!
My signature plant, Corydalis flexuosa, and in this instance, the cultivar 'Blue Panda' is endemic to the mountainous valleys of China, and specifically to the Wenchuan Wolong Nature Reserve of Sichuan Province. Few flowers rival it's icy blue colour, even those within its own ranks as a species! It has a temperamental disposition - despising anything remotely 'humid', and with the proclivity to go dormant at the first sign of unhappiness. A humus rich, consistently moist soil in partial shade is not a mere suggestion, it is a necessity if you wish to be rewarded with photos like the one above!
I am all about the rare and unusual, and with a shadier disposition than some gardeners, I have come to rely on plants whose main attribute is their unique foliage! Few come close to the bizarre shredded appearance of Syneilesis aconitifolia. As it emerges from the ground in early Spring, a clump of it can be best described as a miniature green army of what appears to be shredded umbrellas! Would a plastic version not be the perfect 'little green umbrella' to adorn fancy alcoholic drinks at a hort convention! Seriously! Endemic to the Korean peninsula, and extending to the Japanese archipelago, it remains a much sought after Holy Grail selection. I was over the moon to be able to offer this beguiling plant to my nursery customers this past Summer, where it was quickly snatched up off the benches within hours of its appearance. Lucky for me, I am able to admire and propagate it from within the confines of my own garden!
Is anyone feeling slightly jet lagged? All ready we have visited China, Korea and Japan, and haven't even broken a sweat yet! Methinks I could come to enjoy this form of globe trotting!
One of the earliest plants to emerge here at Teza's Garden, are my two species of Kirengeshoma - both K. palmata and K. koreana. Commonly referred to as 'yellow wax bells' - they form a formidable clump of gloriously palmate foliage with tall stems that are adorned with waxy yellow shuttlecock shaped flowers from July through to September depending on the species that you cultivate. I of course grow both, and am always pleasantly surprised to see K. koreana in flower up to a month sooner than its cousin. It's flowers are more pronounced and have a more upright facing habit. Koreana palmata is endemic on Shikoku and Kyushu Islands of Japan, while its cousin is, as its name suggests is found in Korea. Aside of my many Aconitum species, Kirengeshoma is the first of my Asian children to break dormancy each Spring!
I thought it best to return to more familiar locales, and the next two plants are what we North Americans would refer to as 'natives' - in the most politically minded sense of the word of course! There isn't a summer goes by when some visitor or other doesn't squeal with delight when they stumble upon Spigelia marilandica, and rightfully so! It does have a decidedly wildflower like appearance to it, but it is the unique bright yellow star that sits atop its scarlet red tubular flower base that causes such a stir! Endemic to the mid west and eastern parts of North America, it was once used heavily as a medicinal by Native Americans who referred to it as Indian Pinks. A fabulous, shrubby presentation of bluish green foliage, it can form delightful clumps consisting of literally hundreds of tubular red flowers with their charming floating yellow stars within a few years of happy placement. If you want hummingbirds in your garden, you MUST grow Spigelia!
Trillium grandiflorum is the official flower of Ontario, and is readily on display throughout our woodlands. It is also the flower of Ohio which in part regales its Eastern North American habitat. It is like a trinity of sorts, with three leaves and three pristine white petals. Of course there are many other Trillium species, in colours ranging from pink, red, and even yellow - all of which bloom happily during the early Spring days here at Teza's Garden.
The most regal, and most commented upon 'native' is without a doubt Cypripedium reginae, another North American native that is found in damp, swampy, boggy regions from Manitoba through to Newfoundland, and southwards through Missouri, Tennessee and Georgia. It is another of the Spring ephemerals with a sublimely gorgeous pink pouch beneath pristine white sepals, not to mention the deeply pleated, slightly tomentose foliage - all combining for one of my favourite photo compositions in the garden! When she is in bloom, like the regal Queen that she is, she is capable of bringing everyone to their knees in supplicating adoration! All hale Queen Reginae.
Because of the shape of its leaf, the large palmately pointed surface area, and the dip in it's centre, every time it rains, I am rewarded with the image below. I daydream that this is where the fey come to bathe while the rest of the world is still enshrouded in slumber. Diphylleia cymosa is yet another of my North American genera. It forms formidable clumps when happy, requiring annual composting [a heavy feeder] and consistent moisture throughout the hot, humid summers. It makes the perfect foil for the beguiling shredded appearance of Syneilesis and the results always stop visitors in their tracks!
Now boarding at Gate 3 for Japan! While I do not have a lot of space on my property, I would not be without Corylopsis spicata, native to Central Japan. Its pendulous buttery yellow and rush coloured flowers appear for weeks on end in early May, followed by handsome bright green ovate foliage. It does tend to have a somewhat ungainly growth habit, but it is easily overlooked and remedied with prudent pruning to maintain a somewhat open, but contained habit. I much prefer it to its cousin Hamamelis, the ubiquitous 'witch hazel.'
I am about to embark upon my latest botanical obsession - that of the genus Erythronium. I vividly remember innocently stumbling upon great seemingly magical swathes of them in the woodlands of southern Ontario while a child in the care of my Grandparents. Those of course were the bright yellow flowering Erythronium americanum. A new monograph on the genus espouses that there are now well over one hundred different varieties available, of which I currently grow a mere three. The pink flowering species E. dens canis and E, revolutum, and the stunning whipped buttery yellow E. japonicum which was sold to me as a pink flowering form, which bloomed the colour of morning sunshine. Apparently it is a rarity, which places it perfectly in my loving care! The lance like Spring foliage is heavily mottled with brown and purple, making it's appearance something to look forward to every Spring!
At one time, Metasequoia was thought to have been extinct, but then it was re-discovered in China, and now we are once again able to enjoy its staggering beauty. Soft needle like foliage appears in early Spring and pending on the species that you grow, ranges in colour from green, variegated, bronze and as is the case with mine, you can also own a golden one. I remember reading The Golden Spruce, in which a rare, one of a kind sitka spruce was maliciously cut down in British Columbia. Shortly thereafter I witnessed my first golden Metasequoia and I knew without a doubt that I had to own one. Four years later, it acts as a directional beacon for visitors..... 'look for the golden dawn redwood in the front yard!'
If we traverse to Nepal and Tibet, we stumble upon that which remains one of the most hallowedly revered horticultural prizes: the legendary, oh so temperamental blue Himalayan poppy. There is no other plant that inspires such mixed emotions within the heart and soul of gardeners world wide. Everyone covets it - willing to sell child and soul to own one, but in the blink of an eye they curse it, beating their chest, confounded as to why it bloomed for one season and then disappeared from the garden virtually overnight. Welcome to the entity of the monocarpic: it will bloom, and perhaps set seed and then wither and die. I have spent close to a decade trying to keep one or three happy in my garden, and it was only two years ago was I able to revel in the reality of having mastered [ever so briefly, we're monocarpic remember!] this beguiling gem. The fact that I purposefully planted it beneath my golden Metasequoia was for the precise reason that I was able to snap the photo below. Vanity thy name is Teza!
So many Epimedium, so little time! At last count I cultivate twenty three different varieties, and thanks to the work of plantsmen like Darrell Probst for discovering them, and Larry Davidson for supplying them to me...... I fear I will be retiring in the poor house along with my Epimedium collection! Most are native to Asia, more common in China than Japan, and I have even stumbled across some supposed North American species. Nothing, absolutely nothing comes close to witnessing their tiny, delicately airy flowers ranging in colour from white to near black as they open during the early days of Spring. The foliage display that comes shortly thereafter is as exciting if not even more so! Mottled brownish, reddish, purple leaves in an assortment of shapes ranging from near heart shaped to zig zagged and spiny..... all said it is one of the most exciting genera that I grow and one that continues to expand with each passing garden season!
It is without a doubt one of my most commented upon, most sought after photographs that make up my garden children's portrait collection. It was a total and utter fluke! I was lying on the ground, trying to capture a cluster of three flowers, heard the unmistakable buzzing of a bee, jumped up and had the camera go off in the process. On my Father's and Grandmother's graves, I swear an oath! I could not reproduce it if I tried, but it comes close to being the perfect representation of why I am so enamoured of Deinanthe caerulea. The cluster of silver tipped, purple stamens and the same purple blush to the petals of each flower. Sublime! Originally discovered by Irish plantsman Augustine Henry in China's Hubei Province, it is a distant relative to the ubiquitous garden Hydrangea. Rich green, coriaceous foliage appears in pairs along stems to 1m in height, and are topped with dazzling flowers that when clustered together, do in fact resemble those of the aforementioned Hydrangea. It too benefits from an annual supplementation of compost, and in my garden has quadruped its size as a clump in as many years! There is a Japanese counterpart, Deinanthe bifida which I also cultivate with white to pink blushed flowers, but my heart steadfastly remains enamoured to the aforementioned.
We all have favourite names: I am preferential to Sebastian and Tristan [the names of a pair of Siberian Neva Masquerade kittens I am destined to own at some point in my life!] and when it comes to plants, one of my all time favourite names also belongs to one of my favourite Spring ephemerals: Glaucidium palmatum. Say the name again! I might go so far as to name a pet after this stunningly gorgeous plant. Aside of the Iris and Narcissus, it is the first thing to bloom in the garden - often under the direct threat of frost! Endemic to northern Japan, it possesses what I consider to be the most pristine of all foliage - decidedly palmate, mint green in colour. They can be 15cm in diameter, and grow distinctively smaller and less lobed as they ascend the stem. Slightly nodding, satiny lavender flowers are produced in the early days of May.
Damn! Just discovered that my passport will need to renewed this year, along with the license, but hopefully we can get the last of our globetrotting done before that becomes a necessity! I am always pleasantly surprised, yet saddened at the same time when I read where a plant is endemic to such and such a place, but that it is rarely found in the wilds anymore! It shows the greed that exists, even in such a nature based business that horticulture should be!
Anemonopsis macrophylla has, over the course of the last three years become my most requested and commented upon plant within the garden's repertoire. It is indeed something quite unlike most other plants that grow here. I spend weeks on end agonizing over the tightly sealed buds, waiting ever so patiently for their colour to turn from green to a mauvish white before opening to reveal the most beautiful flowers imaginable. The name itself brings to mind the shape of an Anemone, but this precocious charmer is a thousand times more beautiful. It is native to the mountainous woods of Honshu, Japan, though, sadly it is a rare sight to see it in the wild!
When it comes to the genus Polygonatum, the lines seem to scatter on the world map: China, Japan, Tibet, Nepal and Korea. I have a thing for Polygonatum and have no less than a dozen delightful species on my property, the crowned Prince among them being Polygonatum x hybridum 'Betberg' which originates in a plantsman's garden in Germany. Tall, thick stems are elegantly clothed in deeply pleated thin foliage that emerges a deep dusky wine-brown colour and gradually turns to the more recognized green as the season progresses. As with many within this varied genus, it is very quick to bulk up which is a good thing as I have a list of garden friends who are all hoping for the day when I will be able to share this rare and unique specimen with them. [Joy of my heart is first in line, and I am certain I will be able to spare some this summer!]
Irish plantsman Augustine Henry is also responsible for another of my favourites - in the form of Saruma henryi, a beguiling Chinese perennial with heart shaped, Asarum like foliage that is felt like to the touch and is topped with beguiling sunshine yellow flowers throughout the season. It emerges with a purple tint to its foliage in the Spring, and when happy will reward you with large, healthy, thriving clumps in a few short years!
The Japanese terrestrial ground orchid Bletilla striata is one of my all time favourites where orchids are concerned. It's narrow, lance shaped, slightly veined foliage is reminiscent of that of the Iris, but its flower is one of the most tropically inspired that I grow. That pouting lower lip [pouch] wins gardeners over every time. It needs a few years to settle into the garden, and is also a heavy feeder, but when it is happy, it shows it in the only way it knows how..... bloom after bloom for months on end. There are white, two tone, and from what I can deduce, one that is decidedly bluish purple , known as Penway Dragon, which of course is on my wishlist!
China is the final destination on our journey, as it is here that most of my most beloved Arisaema species originated. I first set eyes upon our North American species, A. triphyllum, in the darkling wood of southern Ontario, and have been enthralled with this seemingly sinister, viper like genus ever since! As more and more Asian beauties made themselves available, I soon found myself with a veritable clutch of them on my property. Two of my all time favourites include Arisaema thunbergii var. Urashima, pictured directly below. Widespread through the woodlands of Japan, it is also known as the 'Dominatrix', perhaps because of the extra long whip like spadix that rises up beyond the spathe, before dipping down towards the ground. I love the colouration of this one: the deep purple, near black spathes eventually lighten with a decidedly reptilian presence.
Not all serpents are menacing! I absolutely adore the pristine white, pink and green striped spathes on what I consider to be the Princess of the genus - Arisaema candidissimum! It is without a doubt one of the most sought after of all available species. Its large trifoliate leaf often obscures the flowers, but when you have a clutch of them, its ever so easy to understand why people are so persistent when they ask for a 'ever so small division: you won't even miss it!' Ummm, no!
And there you have it: the world inside my garden here at Teza's Hortus Magnificum - or, at least, part of it. It truly makes for a fascinating adventure, and one might I add, that you can embark upon from the comforts of home.