Noisy Merry-bells

Uvularia grandiflora – Large-flowered bellwort, Merry-bells

Spring is a busy time when it comes to wildflowers – lots of species start flowering almost at the same time, especially when the springtime gets condensed in a couple of months. While I try no to discriminate, some will be overlooked for now and I will highlight just a few; for example would be hard to ignore the Merry-bells! They start to flower at the same time, or a bit after Trillium grandiflorum, depending how shady the location is.

Uvularia grandiflora - just starting to flower

Uvularia grandiflora

Unlike some other wildflowers, Uvularia grandiflora is not a stranger for the cultivated woodland garden. Although not that popular as it should be, it is appreciated for its elegant habit and clusters of pendulous yellow flowers with twisted tepals, always ringing loudly for attention.

Uvularia grandiflora flower close up

Uvularia grandiflora flower close up

More than this, it is an important food source in the spring, providing nectar and pollen for bumblebees, mason bees and other bee species. It will grow to form a nice, tight clump in a few years, so it can be used solitary although it looks fantastic in large groups.

Note: Another native bellwort – Uvularia sessilifolia has smaller flowers and non-clasping leaves.

Out in the woods – thrilled about Trillium

Trilix (Latin) = having a triple thread

If nothing else about wildflowers, one image can still thrill anyone  – the white carpeting of the woodland floor when Trillium grandiflorum is flowering; in southern Ontario sometime from late April to May.  Unfortunately, our car committed suicide, so I took this picture close to home in a remnant neighbourhood forest. You’ll just have to imagine this small patch of Trillium multiplied by hundreds, as it happens in the wild wooded areas.

Trillium grandiflorum

Trillium grandiflorum – Large-flowered trillium

Not that the provincial flower of Ontario needs a description; it is all about the number 3: 3-petaled white flowers (rarely pink) with 3 green sepals above a whorl of three leaves. Usually as they age the white flowers turn light pink. Unfortunately, it goes dormant by mid-summer but after the spring display we can forgive this little shortcoming.  Sometimes, individuals with green bands on the petals can be spotted – they look interesting but it’s said to be a result of a phytoplasma infection.

Mixed in with T. grandiflorum is often Trillium erectum – Wake-robin trillium, Stinking Benjamin. It displays stunning dark-red flowers above the foliage – three pointed petals framed by 3 green or reddish green sepals. The scent of the flowers is the source for the common name Stinking Benjamin – they emit odours to attract carrion flies, which are their main pollinators.


Wrightman Alpines Nursery – Hello to a New Adventure!

The not so recent news from our small Canadian horticultural world is that Wrightman Alpines, a premiere alpine plants source from Ontario, is relocating to St. Andrews, New Brunswick. Fortunately, there is nothing to worry about as the mail-order will go on as usual, therefore, rather than saying goodbye, this is more a Hello to a new adventure!

Native alpine plants, little known plants, impossible plants…

Clematis columbiana var. tenuiloba, Matthiola trojana and Eritrichium howardii

But for the few of us lucky to be able to drive for their open days last weekend, it was the moment to say goodbye and to wish them all the best in this new adventure of relocating their family and nursery in a new place. After operating for more that 25 years from this location, this is without doubt a courageous endeavour and needless to say heartbreaking because parts of the rock gardens, including plants will have to be left behind.

 One more look to the gardens and Hello to a New Adventure!

 As soon as I’ll sort out the pictures we’ll have a last walk throughout the hoop-houses – the list of plants for my future rockery keeps growing longer…

And in the gardens last year


A Primula-rina

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon this Primula that was showing promise to be a great Primula-rina!
Primula frondosa foliage

The Ballerina – Primula frondosa (a bit elongated in a container in early spring)

Last time when I had visions of dancing plants it was two years ago because of a twirling Arisaema – it is not that often to discover a first class ballerina!.

Primula frondosa is a dwarf, farinose primula endemic from Bulgaria where it grows on cliffs at 900-2000 m altitude, in partly shaded, moist crevices. It is very hardy and will show up from under the snow, with a tight silvery rosette (you may wish that it remains like that), but then the leaves expand and remain powdery only beneath (but the flowering stem and flower pedicels still covered in silvery hairs). A very floriferous primula: umbels with up to 30 pink, delicate flowers with a yellow eye in early spring.

Primula frondosa flowering

Primula frondosa in full bloom right now ( 2-3 seedlings were planted together in the fall)

Sometimes mistaken for P. farinosa (and vice-versa, but P. farinosa has white-farina on both side of the leaves, and it flowers much later). Both are commonly called Bird’s eye Primulas.

Propagation: very easy to grow from seeds (like other Primula spp.), and it will start flowering in the second year – soooo gratifying!


Out in the woods – the Blue Cohosh

A short hike revealed quite a change of the woodland floor with a few ‘faces’ familiar to everyone, like the trout lily (Erythronium americanum), spring beauties (Claytonia spp.), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) and Trillium ready to flower but also forgotten woodland treasures such as the Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides).

Spring woodland flowers


 Caulophyllum thalictroides – Blue Cohosh, papoose root, squawroot

Blue cohosh is an impressive plant, easy to recognize in early spring by the strikingly beautiful purple, almost back shoots. The foliage will change later to green and resemble the meadow rue (Thalictrum), hence the epithet ‘thalictroides’.

‘Cohosh’ is believed to derive from an Algonquian word meaning ‘rough’, referring to the texture of the plant’s rhizome, while ‘blue’ comes from the unusually blue seeds. Also the stem and leaves are covered with a bluish film early in the summer.

Caulophyllum thalictroides shoot in early spring

Caulophyllum thalictroides shoot in early spring

The small purplish or yellowish green flowers would not qualify for a beauty contest but not the same goes for the blue seeds adorning the stems in the fall. For combinations in the garden, only imagination is the limit: a mix palette with early spring flowering native species (Claytonia, Erytronium, Sanguinaria) or for an European decor combined with: Corydalis solida, early primroses, Anemone nemorosa, Ranunculus, so on…For part-shade to shade locations, in rich humus soil.

 Other uses:

Blue cohosh was used medicinally (powder rhizomes) by various native American tribes, mainly to promote childbirth (‘squawroot’) but also for: anxiety, rheumatism, stomach cramps and genito-urinary dysfunctions. It contains a number of active compounds among which caulosaponin is a powerful stimulator of uterine contractions (under medical attention it is still used in modern herbal medicine as a natural labour-inducing stimulant).


from the Germinatrix

I certainly try to grow too many plant species – maybe because I can’t decide what’s more exhilarating: seeing a freshly germinated pot of seedlings or seeing the plants in their wild habitat?

I hope to clarify my feelings but until then this is a busy time to organize the Germinatrix. A few seedlings become too big to stay inside while the small ones still need the warm light. They’ll reunite later under the summer sun (if have one this year). It is time to leave the Germinatrix for a few Aquilegia spp., Thalictrums, Delphinium, Draba spp., Dierama and so on…

Together in the Germinatrix

Together in the Germinatrix

It is time to stay for the baby gingers and all other species that got a natural chill-out time under the snow and were brought inside only in early April, including the newly germinated Gentiana.

I am trying a few annual Gentians this year: G. nivalis (from wild collected seeds) and G. vernayi (a small alpine gentian from Bhutan, Nepal). It would be exciting to have Gentiana flowers to quench my thirst and not worry about what’s happening afterwards.

Gentiana nivalis – alpine or snow gentian, is a dwarf annual gentian from alpine regions of Europe (also isolated in N. America), growing in open grassland, screes and rocky meadows on limestone soils – with ultramarine blue flowers in July-August (ID after the characteristic calyx with a narrow, angled tube).

Gentiana nivalis

Gentiana nivalis in an alpine meadow (Carpathian Mountains)

Ambivalence has its sweet side after all :)

 Note: featured image – Carlina acaulis, alpine thistle.







Great expectations

After a horrific cold and rainy week the sun is back…

Hepatica nobilis

Hepatica nobilis

Hepatica americana

Hepatica americana

 More will follow on Hepatica…

In sync – Corydalis solida

Corydalis from the Greek ‘Korydalís’ meaning ‘crested lark’

Someone lucky enough to go hiking in the Carpathian Mountains in late April-early May would be surrounded by multicoloured masses of Corydalis solida – Fumewort (or ‘brebenei’ in my native tongue). There is a great variation in flower colour from white to pink and purple and actually the best forms of C. solida on the market today trace back their origins to Transsilvania (Romania) and Penza regions (western Russia).

This year, in sync, the ones from our garden are blooming at the same time:

Corydalis solida 'George Baker'

The renown Corydalis solida ‘George Baker’ (from Gardenimports – I am not really sure if it is the real thing but still a good red form)

Corydalis solida 'George Baker'3 An ephemeral at superlative – it appears fast, as soon as the temperature raises in the spring, and then disappears quietly after a few weeks. But for the brief time when it flowers, it will fill your heart with unconditional love for the years to come. The deeply divided ferny foliage and long spurred, tube-shaped flowers are equally adorable providing fast and easy the much needed burst of colours after our long winters.

C. solida purple

Corydalis solida – in its usual purple form (from Lost Horizons)

Corydalis solida

They also make for very good photo-subjects after rain

C. solida ‘Beth Evans’- is a large-flowered form, with pink flowers; slow to increase.  They are very delicate when in active growth; to be moved, mark their place and lift up the small tubers (bulb-like) as soon as they go dormant or in the fall.

Corydalis solida 'Beth Evans'

Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’ (from Fraser Thimble Farm)

Due to its ephemeral nature it is oferred mostly by specialized nurseries/mail-order operations. For part shade and moist conditions when in growth, then it prefers to remain on the dry side for the rest of the season. I particularly like them planted close to ferns or  japanese grasses where they fill in the space just perfectly in early spring. They interbreed easily and will seed around if happy forming multicoloured colonies.

Best not to be a purist when it comes to Corydalis solida!

This is just a small glimpse of the Corydalis solida world – there are many other named varieties. I already wrote about other wonderful Corydalis species – do not be afraid to become a corydaphill!

Note: If someone doesn’t know it, the absolut Corydalis guru and bulb expert is Janis Ruksans from Latvia – on-line catalogue here: Rare Bulbs