Sunday Phlog: Never enough Gentians

Flowering faithfully from spring through summer and late fall, the Gentians are my most beloved flowers. Although I am usually associating them with a mountainous environment, there are plenty of species/varieties growing happily in ordinary garden conditions. This gallery contains Gentiana species and varieties from our travels and from Lost Horizons Nursery (where a few are available to purchase) and it will be updated gradually.


And if you are crazy like me about Gentianaceae please visit The Gentian Research Network.

The Amber Queen and the Bronze Maiden

I got the affirmative answer to my question: To divide or not to divide from the Amber Queen, who reigns over the woodland fairy wings.

Epimedium 'Amber Queen'

Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’

Everyone loves her, as she is the most beautiful, compassionate and righteous of all queens. Because she is always dressed in the outmost elegant, royal colour of amber, a warm mixture of yellow, orange and red, she was named The Amber Queen.

Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’ – foliage in early spring

 From all the maidens she has, the Bronze Maiden, in a purple, pink and green garment it is especially her favourite, for she is delicate, modest and with a very pleasant nature.

Epimedium grandiflorum f. violaceum ‘Bronze Maiden’ cultivated at Lost Horizons

After a while the outfit gets changed for a more ‘green’ look.

Epimedium  grandiflorum f. violaceum ‘Bronze Maiden’

The rest of the story can be written by anyone depending on his/her shady garden.


Sunday Phlog: More cinnamon, please?

Yeah, I have to show off more of the Roscoea ‘Cinnamon Stick’, it’s tooooo beautiful…

Roscoea purpurea ‘Cinnamon Stick’

The first species to flower is also one of the most cultivated – Roscoea cautleoides. Typically it has pale yellow flowers, but there are also forms with pink flowers.

Roscoea cautleoides

Roscoea cautleoides ‘Jeffrey Thomas’ – flowers with an enlarged labellum, primrose yellow and the hood with a deeper yellow

Roscoea auriculata – native of Nepal, Sikkim and Xizang, has large flowers usually deep violet or purple and consistently auriculate (eared) leaves on the pseudostem. It is sometimes confused with R. purpurea, however it flowers earlier and it has white staminodes and a strongly downward-facing labellum.

Roscoea auriculata

Roscoea auriculata – group photo

Grown from a batch of seedlings supposedly of R. cautleoides, it was a very pleasant surprise for us to discover that we have a new species in cultivation: Roscoea scillifolia f. atropurpurea. This one seems to be rare not only in cultivation but in the wild too, so it is fair to say that we just got lucky!

Roscoea scillifolia – f. atropurpurea, with small flowers of almost black colour


Let’s talk Roscoeas

Roscoea purpurea ‘Cinnamon Stick’

Although a few of the Roscoea species were taken into cultivation quite a while ago, on the Canadian land they are just starting to be promoted as hardy gingers for the gardens. Usually they are offered by specialty nurseries like Lost Horizons Nursery, but I am looking forward to see more of them becoming available in the future years. The genus Roscoea was named by James E. Smith in honour of his friend William Roscoe, the founder of the first botanical garden in Liverpool, who had a particular interest in gingers (Fam. Zingiberaceae). “Most Roscoeas species have at one time or another been mixed up with at least one other” to quote the expert opinion given by T.M.E. Branney in his book: Hardy Gingers including Hedychium, Roscoea and Zingiber –RHS.

The genus belongs to Fam. Zingiberaceae, and all the species are characterized by a pseudostem- a stem formed by the tightly wrapped leaves, fleshy roots, and flowers having a particular morphology that resembles somewhat an orchid. For a more detailed description, Wikipedia has a very good stub on it. They are native to eastern Asia and molecular phylogenetic analysis placed species into two distinctive clades: a Himalayan and a Chinese one.

Roscoea purpurea

One of the most widely cultivated species is Roscoea purpurea, which was the first species to be described from specimens collected in Nepal by Francis Buchanan and it represents the type species for the genus. The size and colouration of the flowers, stems and foliage vary widely, according with the wide range of its natural habitats.The most common flower colours are lavender or purple-lilac, but forms with white, pink and red flower have also been discovered. Two showy varieties of Roscoea purpurea are also flowering at this time:

Roscoea purpurea ‘Cinnamon Stick’

R. purpurea ‘Cinnamon Stick’ which grows to 24″ tall with thick, purple pseudostems – as its name suggests, and big flowers with the upper petal white and the lateral ones lavender.

R. purpurea ‘Spice Island’ has the same lavender flowers but with the upper petal purple, the back of the leaves purple and it remains a bit lower at 18-20” tall.

Roscoea purpurea ‘Spice Island’

All Roscoea species are considered hardy to zone 6, but so far they did OK in our almost zone 5 location with winter mulching in various locations from sun to part-shade. Considering their fleshy roots, a moist soil with very good drainage is essential. Although they are usually cultivated and recommended as woodland plants, the use of some of the smaller species in alpine and scree gardens is much closer to the natural environments in which most species are found growing: exposed, steep meadows and alpine grasslands. However, as practice has shown, most species are tolerant of a wide range of garden conditions.

Roscoea purpurea ‘Spice Island’

Resources: Besides T.M. Branney book that I already mentioned, you might enjoy The Genus Roscoea of Jill Cowley – RBG Kew, Flora of China and a  Key of Roscoea species.

A Yellow Giant: Gentiana lutea

Some of you may be surprised to find out that the following image belongs to a gentian, but it’s true. This is Gentiana lutea (Yellow gentian, Bitter Root), native to the mountainous regions of central and southern Europe (Carpathians, Alps, Pyrenees…), where usually grows in alpine and sub-alpine meadows on calcareous soils. It is a tall perennial, reaching 1-2 m, with large leaves arranged in a basal rosette until flowering. The yellow flowers are atypical for a gentian, with corolla deeply divided in 5-7 narrow petals, and disposed in terminal and axillary clusters.

Gentiana lutea

Gentiana lutea flowers

Gentiana lutea has been used for centuries as a medicinal plant, and to flavour alcoholic drinks commonly known as bitters, which are very common and widely used in Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. For this purpose, the roots and rhizomes are collected in late fall and dried, practice that has lead to over-collecting and brought the species to endangered lists in many countries. The principal medicinal use of the yellow gentian is for digestive disorders due to its bitter compounds, among which the gentiopicrin, is one of the most bitter natural compounds known.

Apart for its medicinal virtues, it is an impressive perennial, a focal point for a sunny perennial garden. It is a rare find, so hurry up and spread the word! Flowers in June-July or in July-August at high elevations. Needless to say that it is very hardy. Propagation has to be done by seed.

Gentiana lutea

Gentiana lutea in the Display Garden at Lost Horizons

Of botanical interest: Despite its atypical flowers Gentiana lutea it is the type species of the genus Gentiana! [The generic type is a representative species that is selected when a genus is described].

I’ll have more on Gentiana lutea, as the few seeds I collected from the Carpathians Mts. will germinate (fingers crossed) and also I hope I’ll manage to collect more seeds in the future.

Meanwhile,  you can see the yellow giant in flower by visiting the Lost Horizons Display Garden in July (and sometimes a few plants are available for sale).

Fatal attraction: Arisaema triphyllum ‘Black Jack’

While trying to write a post about Cornus kousa ‘Gold Cup’, halfway through it I had to switch to the Arisaema triphyllum ‘Black Jack’. Truth is I have a fatal attraction toward the Jack-in-the-pulpits, one that’s going to last. This small, purple leaf Jack showed its sassy spathe from beneath a patch of weeds gone wild when I was weeding around the stock beds last week: Yeah, I’m here, where have you been until now? Sorry, I was really busy, it will never happen again… and being a plant of forgiving nature, it allowed me to take its picture.

Arisaema triphyllum ‘Black Jack’

It is the only deep purple leaf Arisaema that I know of in cultivation. I read that it was discovered by the plant hunter Bob McCartney in Florida (!), and although it is given by some as hardy to zone 6. It shows up later than the regular Arisaema triphyllum, usually at the same time with the Chinese A. ciliatum and A. consanguineum. The foliage is deep purple, shiny with a greenish back, and the inflorescence has the same deep purple colour with green veins. Strikingly different!

Arisaema triphyllum ‘Black Jack’ in the stock bed at Lost Horizons

It grows up to 12” and will slowly form a patch. What I love even more is the fact that is a sport of our native Jack-in-the-pulpit, so it proves that it doesn’t have to be Chinese or Japanese to be different. Probably more native natural occurring varieties await to be discovered, and not only of Arisaema. So start hiking – go exploring!


A close encounter – Blue poppies!

Alas not in the Himalayas, but fortunate to see them ‘in the flesh’ at Lost Horizons. Like from another planet, these fabled blue poppies are actually not true poppies. In the Fam. Papaveraceae, they belong to the genus Meconopsis, derived from the Greek mecon (poppy) and opsis (like): poppy-like.

Meconopsis grandis – the Blue Poppy, the national flower of Bhutan, was discovered in 1922 during a British Himalayan expedition to Everest.

Meconopsis grandis

Meconopsis betonicifolia (or Meconopsis bailey) – The Tibetan Blue Poppy, was discovered in 1913 in the gorges of Tsangpo River in Tibet by a British army officer, Major Frederick M. Bailey. Both were introduced in 1926 at the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual show, causing a blue-poppy- philia (corrected – thanks Jo Ann) that lasts through this day.

(click on any image to open the gallery)

My Staircase to Heaven

A while ago I wrote a post about more unusual Polygonatum spp. with the title: Solomon’s Seals are you kidding? in the desire to stop gardeners discriminate against them on the account of the name association with the Great Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum). But now I’ll have to go the other way and praise the big, tall and bold Solomon’s seals for what they truly are – magnificent architectural plants for the woodland garden. Unfortunately, I don’t have one, but even so I found a shady corner and planted one tall Solomon’s Seal: Polygonatum odoratum ‘Spiral Staircase’. It already displays, even at an early stage, its unusual disposition of the leaves.

Polygonatum ‘Spiral Staircase’ emerging in the stock bed

Look at the spectacular leaf arrangement around the stems – this is a plea for a name change! If Tony Avent from PDN can ‘hear’ me: it has to be changed to Polygonatum odoratum ‘Staircase to Heaven’. You can start climbing and stop when reaching it (i.e. the heaven). I bet there are lots of other Polygonatums there, and I don’t know from where they got it if not from Lost Horizons.

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Spiral Staircase’ last year at Lost Horizons

It is true that using the mail-order they could have obtained it from Plant Delight Nursery because Polygonatum odoratum ‘Spiral Staircase’ is given as their collection from Korea. It grows up to 2’, with the leaves disposed very close and the stems twisted, hence the spiral staircase impression; white bell-shaped flowers and blue berries in the fall.

But names don’t matter that much – ‘Spiral Staircase’ or ‘Staircase to Heaven’, this Solomon’s Seal (and not only) is a rare find and a beautiful addition to any woodland garden.

Who’s afraid of the Arisaemas?

In the garden world the common ‘everyday’ can vanish somewhere between real and surreal; for sure Arisaemas are to blame for this. Mysterious and animistic creatures, they are permanently watching us, even from the underground. At Lost Horizons Nursery there are quite a few Arisaema species (Cobra lilies or Jack-in-the-pulpits) around; sometimes benevolent and sometimes mischievous you’ll find them everywhere: in small seedling trays to pots, stock beds or in the display gardens.

Arisaema ringens

Arisaema ringens from the galeate section of cobra lilies is worth growing only for the huge, trifoliolate, glossy, and leathery leaves. The thick spathe with green and purple stripes resembles a cobra head rising up from the shade, ready to attack garden intruders. The spathe-limb is described botanically as galeate (galea – means helmet), and can be green or purple with white stripes and revolute green or purple margins. The spadix is either male or female. Origin: Japan, S. Korea, Taiwan, and E China. The only regret that someone can have about A. ringens is that it rarely produces seeds. Maybe the right pollinators are not around, and we also need to have the two partners together in order to have babies, aka. seeds (at least in most cases).

Arisaema ringens flowering last year in June

Another species with galeate spathe-limb (helmet-like) is A. franchetianum. It has 1 or 2 trifoliolate leaves with bluish green, ovate leaflets and the inflorescence appears below the leaf, like in A. ringens. Arisaema franchetianum ‘Hugo’ has the spathe-limb deep purple with white stripes and its tip is ending in a 20 cm long tail-like apex. The spadix is either male or female, exceptionally bisexual – but let’s not get started on the Arisaemas gender variability now…

Arisaema franchetianum ‘Hugo’ showing up in a pot

Arisaema franchetianum doesn’t require that much shade like other Arisaemas; in its original habitat is actually growing in “ open sunny sites among boulders and scrubs, along roadsides” (SW China, NE India, and N Myanmar). Here you have it, one Arisaema that doesn’t have to be in the woodland garden!

Arisaema franchetianum ‘Hugo’ flowering last year

Do not be afraid of the Arisaemas, take my example – Good and not so good things happening around the garden?

Blame them all on the Arisaemas!

The Lord of the Corydalis

I someone would ask me, I would say that no garden is complete without at least one member of the ephemeral genus of Corydalis. The more common is the delightful Corydalis solida and varieties but wait until you meet the lord of the genus: Corydalis nobilis. If lucky to be able to drive you can see it in flower at Lost Horizons Nursery. It does not look quite like a Corydalis and it is hard to believe that it will  become dormant in early summer.

Corydalis nobilis in early spring

Sometimes called Siberian Corydalis, Corydalis nobilis (Fam. Fumariaceae) was introduced in cultivation in Sweden in 1765 due to a fortunate mistake. The  seeds received by Linnaeus were collected from Siberia (Altai mountain range) and believed to be of Lamprocapnos spectabilis. This wonderful Corydalis still grows happily in Carl Linnaeus’ gardens at Upsalla and at Hammarby. Unfortunately, the prediction of  “a great horticultural future” for this species has not become true yet. Not being very easy to propagate might have something to do with this. It is available only from a few specialty nurseries in Europe and North America, and of course some years at Lost Horizons.

Corydalis nobilis is very hardy and will start growing quite fast in the spring achieving a 30-50 cm tall clump with juicy stems and green-blue ferny leaves. It produces lots of inflorescences, very dense, with 20-35 flowers, golden yellow with the inner petals dark violet at the top. Flowering lasts for about three weeks in April-May, and it has a spicy fragrance.

Corydalis nobilis inflorescence

Origin: NW. Siberia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, N. Xinjiang (China). Propagated by seed (sown immediately when ripe, otherwise the ants will run away with them to feed on the elaiosomes) or by division in the fall. Corydalis nobilis has an irregularly branched, fragile rootstock, not easy to divide; you can see it here (courtesy of Rare Books – Missouri Botanical Garden Library). It can grow in full sun or shade, but will thrive best in a place reasonable dry during the summer. A focal point in the spring garden, the Lord of the genus Corydalis never fails to attract attention and questions from the visitors.

Corydalis nobilis in the Display Garden at Lost Horizons