Dabs of colour

Chances are that in every store and home you enter these days in Canada and the United States you’ll see displays of potted Poinsettia – Euphorbia pulcherrima. Statistics say it is the most sold potted plant for Christmas holidays. I have to give them credit – it is impressive seeing potted grown, brightly coloured Poinsettias.

I was most amazed though when I saw it growing in its natural habitat in Mexico – and completely understood the reaction Joel R. Poinsett had a long time ago. Appointed the first American minister to Mexico in 1825, he also had a keen interest in botany and in one of his trips to an area south of Mexico City, he stopped to collect cuttings from a roadside growing Euphorbia pulcherrima. Maybe the plant was looking something like this:

Euphorbia pulcherrima

Euphorbia pulcherrima – flowering during the dry season in Mexico. As probably known, the ornamental red bracts, are transformed leaves, which in conditions of short days turn red having the role of attracting pollinators to the inconspicuous, small, yellow flowers. In Mexico it is called Flor de Buena Noce- Christmas Eve Flower and it is also used in Christmas decorations.

By 1836 the plant was already known in the States under the name Poinsettia. The rest is horticultural history, and although under a different form, today we enjoy about 108 Poinsettia varieties, in red, pink, cream and other (sometimes weird) colour combinations. If not for the present winter storm, we would have bought ours today, but for now these dabs of colour will suffice…

Euphorbia pulcherrima 1

Iced Skullcap

From a tiny plant, this Scutellaria orientalis ssp. pinnatifida transformed itself throughout the season into a mound of deliciously laced, glossy leaves topped with yellow flowers. Now, in late November, with the stems reddened and iced by the first flurries looks even more appealing. One of those sweets that you can never have enough of!

Scutellaria orientalis ssp. pinnatifida

Scutellaria orientalis ssp. pinnatifida

It was bought in the spring from Wrightman Alpines, along with other alpine ‘golden nuggets’. Although the genus Scutellaria (Fam. Lamiaceae), commonly known as Skullcaps, includes quite a few ornamental species, they are rarely seen in the plant nurseries; some species are often used as herbal remedies in various systems of traditional medicine.

Scutellaria orientalis ssp. pinnatifida  (no sugar added)

Ten thousand grasses

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Red Head’

Dogen poetry

Calamagrostis brachytricha

Calamagrostis brachytricha

Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Piglet'

Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Piglet’

Maybe we cannot have ten thousand grasses, but at least one even in a small garden…

Thanksgiving – Hail to the pollinators!

I realized that in almost every set of pictures I take there is an insect collecting pollen or sipping on the nectar of the flowers. Most times I cannot precisely name them (unless a bumble bee). One of my fellow gardeners from ORG&HPS recently wrote a short article on pollinators making the point that although everyone feels bad about the plight of the honey bees, thanks to many other pollinators, our gardens are not affected. Many species of solitary bees, wasps, bumble bees, flies, moths, beetles, butterflies and hummingbirds are doing all the hard work in a well planted garden.

Besides having a variety of flowering plants from spring to late fall, it is also important to provide nesting habitats. The solitary bees are ground-nesting (constructing tunnels under bare ground) or wood-nesting (in soft twigs or standing dead trees). The bumble bees are social bees and cavity nesting, in most cases making use of old mouse nests.

Gentiana asclepiadea 'Alba'

A well deserved afternoon nap on Gentiana asclepiadea ‘Alba’

Hail to all pollinators! I shall start learning to recognize each and one of them  – by the genus- there are way too…o many species. (Click to open the gallery carousel to see full size images)

If you want to have a look at the ORG&HP website click – HERE, the Seedex is coming up! (thanks to the pollinators)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Out of focus

I had plans to do some planting at my place today, but having Aconitum fischeri in a pot as the perfect subject to be swinged around for a good picture, put me out of focus. Can you blame me?

Aconitum fischeri

Aconitum fischeri – a super hardy Aconitum (from Siberia, Korea) with huge, dark blue flowers and a nice, upright habit. In the Display Garden at Lost Horizons it flowers well into October every year.

Aconitum fischeri 1 - Copy

My ‘Perfect Wave’ (Arisaema consanguineum) was watching patiently as always; she knows how it goes. It will get planted somewhere, eventually…

Arisaema consanguineum 'Perfect Wave'

Arisaema consanguineum ‘Perfect Wave’ – grown in a container and underplanted with tuberous Begonia


Blue Lemonade

Having car troubles (again) and staying home I decided to follow the saying of making lemonade from the lemons I got. Being quite crispy outside, making lemonade didn’t feel quite right, but after I got ready a few seed packages for the upcoming Seedex, I realized that a blue one might do me good.

So here’s what I prepared:

Gentiana angustifolia 'Frei'

Gentiana angustifolia ‘Frei’

Once upon a time there was a small nursery in Germany called Frei Nursery, after its owner name Hans Frei. Among many other plants he grew lots of gentians, and one year, he sold some seeds to a large seed company. Afterwards, no one lived happily ever after… These days we enjoy in cultivation, most probably, different selections of his original Gentiana angustifolia ‘Frei’. This is a large blooming selection that floats around in the nursery trade under many different name combinations: G. angustifolia hybrids, Frei hybrids or simply Frei. To add to the blue blur, there is also a named Gentiana acaulis ‘Max Frei’.

Gentiana angustifolia 'Frei'

Gentiana angustifolia ‘Frei’

Both G. acaulis and G. angustifolia are among the most prized big flowered alpine, stemless gentians. They are very similar; the main identifiable difference being in the shape and length of the intracalycine membrane (the thin area between the calyx lobes). In cultivation, G. acaulis enjoys an acidic substrate with very good drainage (in nature is found on silicaceous rocks), while G. angustifolia is a bit more ‘relaxed’ when it comes to the garden growing conditions as it tolerates lime very well. Both of them are making for a very good blue lemonade anyway… Gentiana angustifolia 'Frei'

Alpine gentians available in Ontario, unfortunately, only at Lost Horizons Nursery and Wrightman Alpines.

Climbing Monks…hoods

Yet another subject that I don’t have enough time to dedicate – the climbing Aconitum species. While the old fashioned monkshoods have been in the gardens and are well known for a long time (yes, despite the fact that they are highly poisonous), the climbing ones are still to raise a few eyebrows. Most of them, like A. hemsleyanum, A. volubile, and A. uncinatum with the usual blue flowers are a bit more common than this one that makes me start the conversation: Aconitum alboviolaceumfrom China, Korea, Far East Russia, where it grows in “forest, scrub in valleys, mountains; 300-1400 m” (Flora of China vol.6). Two varieties are recognized: var. alboviolaceum: with twining stems – 100-250 cm and var. erectum – stems up to 30 cm tall.

Aconitum alboviolaceum

Aconitum alboviolaceum var. alboviolaceum

Raised from seed and in its third year now, it twined very gracefully around a snake bark maple in the Display Garden at Lost Horizons, without becoming too cumbersome. In a perfect match with the snake bark, rows of monks with pink&white hoods are now, slowly climbing up….





Aralia hispida in Killarney, Ontario

Short preview: Killarney Provincial Park

In & around Killarney Provincial Park (Ontario) – Inspiring and humbling, the raw, quiet beauty of the Georgian Bay at its very best…

Kill 1

Kill 2

Kill 3

Kill 8

Kill 6

Kill 5

Kill 7

The Blue Herald

What better messenger for the month of August than the ‘Blue Herald’?

Gentiana paradoxa hyb. 'Blue Herald'

Gentiana paradoxa hyb. ‘Blue Herald’ – with contributions from both parents: G. paradoxa and G. septemfida

 One more for the collection…

Shade Duets – Variegated Polygonatums

Variations in D Minor

Hot and humid weather always makes me look for the shady areas in the garden. All variegated Polygonatums are particularly good performers, and when paired with the extraordinary flower: Deinanthe caerulea, soothing shade duets can be heard in all tonalities and textures.

Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Striatum’ – It is a charming mid- size Solomon’s Seal with dark green leaves, a bit crinkled and with a crisp creamy- white, bold variegation; doesn’t increase in size as fast as other Solomon’s Seals (unfortunately).

Polygonatum x hybridum 'Striatum'

Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Striatum’ (aka. P. x hybridum ‘Grace Barker’) – in trial bed at Lost Horizons. 

A variation on the same theme: Polygonatum odoratum ‘Fireworks’Red shoots when emerging in the spring, and then red stems covered in bright creamy yellow variegated leaves, some with a white edge too.  Year long fireworks in the shade garden!

Polygonatum odoratum 'Fireworks'

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Fireworks’ in trial beds at Lost Horizons 

And my favourite variation in D Minor: Polygonatum odoratum ‘Byakko’ (White Tiger Solomon’s Seal) – An old variety that was used a long time ago in Japan for cut foliage, understandable why. Large, wave-edged leaves with white brushed variegation mid-way, are arranged along 18” tall red stems.

Polygonatum odoratum 'Byakko'

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Byakko’ in trial bed at Lost Horizons