Friday’s seed – Iris ruthenica

Back to the Friday’s seed with an ad-hoc seeds photo session up in the mountains.
I. ruthenica has a relatively wide distribution from Eastern Europe to Asia, growing usually at subalpine and alpine elevations.
I particularly like it for the fragrant, deep blue/violet, flowers and the narrow leaves which form tufts of grassy ledges on the mountain slopes.

Iris ruthenica falls in the category of arillate irises and since the arils are drying fast, I wanted to capture them as fresh as possible, so not a very good image but it serve its purpose

Spending time on the mountain slope gazing at the blue sky and the rock walls would have been satisfying enough; weaving my hands through the grassy tufts to find the iris capsules made the moment unforgettable. The flowers pictures was taken during another trip, in a different location.

Back with more seeds

I’m back and guess what? – I brought more seeds :)
We cannot remove/transport plants but, no worry they are contained within the seeds: tiny capsules of time and memories, of new places, mountains and blue skies…
A gallery with few images for now, there will be plenty of time for stories when days are getting shorter.

All available seeds, including more local collections will be added to the Shop over the next couple of weeks. Please stay tuned…

Aquilegia flabellata var. pumila – celebrate diversity

This little fan-shaped columbine is one of my ‘rock-pile’ jewels and it had a good flowering followed by a good seed setting. Considering that I don’t have many species from Eastern Asia, I think it is a good representative of that side of the world to join the Canada 150 Celebration Sale category!

The plant you see in the picture was grown from seeds; true that with all Aquilegia spp. you can obtain some seedlings not entirely true to name, but it’s not always a rule.

Aquilegia flabellata var. pumila – Dwarf fan-shaped columbine

I think I have to hurry up – not much time is left…


On the mend – Rhododendron caucasicum

I spent the last week coughing out my lungs while entranced in computer/website related problems – an awful combination ;(
Today, I found the first tiny seedlings of Rhododendron caucasicum waiting for me under the lights – it was a very cheering image!!!
It feels like things are on the mend…

Rhododendron caucasicum first seedlings

Germination: at warm/room temperature (sowing in Jan.18th – first germinated seeds spotted Feb.4th); superficial sowing.

Rhododendron caucasicum (Georgian snow rose) is a most beautiful, evergreen rhododendron, with white or pinkish large flowers; it is found in alpine habitats, of the Caucasus of course. Besides being a beautiful plant, it also has, allegedly, medicinal properties (like other Rhoddendron spp.).

Rhododendron caucasicum in wild habitat (Dombay, Karachay-Cherkessia)

Google link to see flowers images and more – Rhododendron caucasicum.



The Last Adventure

Not so long ago I was wishing Harvey Wrightman and his family all the best in their new adventure of relocating the Wrightman Alpine Nursery from Ontario to St. Andrews. With great sadness I found out yesterday that Harvey passed away.

His passion and skill to growing alpine plants from all over the world were absolutely unique, at least for the Canadian plant world. I will always remember the visits to their open-house nursery day, which were akin to the alpine gardens of renown Botanical Gardens.

We wish him farewell in this, alas, last adventure, and we offer our deepest condolences to his family which continues the alpine plants tradition. He will be greatly missed.

Images from the nursery and rock garden at the Ontario location and also plants grown by Harvey are shown below in few previous posts.

Alpine Golden Nuggets from Wrightman Nursery

And then there were the Saxifrages…

Wrightman Alpines Nursery – Hello to a New Adventure!


My petit inventory

Fall has officially arrived and I thought it would be wise to start doing what I call my ‘petit inventory’ :) Lots of seeds have been sown this year and many have germinated. As usual, some seedlings have perished, while others have grown well; a few have been planted in the ground, and some are even flowering! (see Iris dichotoma and Scabiosa caucasica).

An inventory always helps me remember what I’ve grown during the year and it adds to the experience. In most cases, the inventory entails only 2-3 plants, or worse, 1 – truly ‘petit’! I will show a few from the alpine section for now.

Few Caucasian species are my joy and pride: Potentilla divina, Astragalus levieri and Eremogone lichnidea.


Potentilla divina a bit difficult to grow, I hope to get it through the winter


Astragalus levieri – a high altitude species, easy to germinate but usually hard to establish; the young seedling was planted in the ground in May


Eremogone lichnidea – another new species, I left them as they were in the seeding pot (some alpines react well to this treatment)

As well other species, like Silene jailensis and Paronychia cephalotes, have exceeded my expectations. I also have good hope to finally see the alpine thistle – Carlina acaulis, established in the rockery (seen in the Silene background).


Silene jailensis (a Crimean collection) – seedling planted early outside


Paronychia cephalotes – another new one, the seedlings were looking so nice that I was afraid to prick them out and planted the whole seedlings pot in the ground.

As you notice, I have continued my experiment of planting asap very young seedlings in the ground, and it has proven again to be the better way to go, at least for me. They can have the roots going deep down fast and establish well throughout the season, while the ones left in pots are more difficult to manage water-wise, plus that the pots are not deep enough for their liking.

In the feature image: Artemisia umbelliformis (Alpine wormwood), another little alpine gem I’m happy to see doing well.

Next to come – the Chinese Podophyllum babies from the shady section!

One more for the collection!

Gentiana cachemirica

As it happens, species that flower successively over a long period of time will often have the first seeds ‘ready’ while still in bloom. Last evening, ahead of another front of thundershowers, I had a look around the garden and, you don’t say, I found the first seed capsules of Gentiana cachemirica!

Not often cultivated and often misnamed in the trade, this is an alpine gentian endemic from Pakistan and Kashmir (hence the proclaimed common name of Kashmir gentian).  Let’s see it again:

Gentiana cachemirica - flower open

Gentiana cachemirica

It flowers in late summer, starting in late July-August (don’t believe the ones saying it’s a spring flowering gentian), it has a decumbent habit (best to have it flowing over a wall or on the rockery slope, if possible) and enjoys a part shaded position. It grows from thickened rhizomes and it is long lived after established.

There are other plants flowering in the garden, of course, most notably Clematis heracleifolia ‘China Purple’, a gentle reminder of the slide towards late August //:-o

Clematis heracleifolia 'China Purple'

Clematis heracleifolia ‘China Purple’



Centaurs – Greek mythological figures with a man’s upper body and a horse’s lower half. Supposedly, they were using the (Centaurea) flowers for healing (Centaurea scabiosa as header image)

Continuing the year of the thistle with Centaurea spp., which are not true thistles of course, but included in the big family. Actually, there are a few species with a true thistle-like look! Again, leaving the weedy ones apart, there are many worth cultivating besides the common C. nigra, C. montana and variants. ALL Centaurea species are most valuable to bees and attract countless species of butterfly, moths and other insects AND they are easy to grow from seeds!

In many cases, the involucral bracts (phyllaries) are very ornamental, a detail sometimes overlooked but which serves in species identification. Below, a few Centaurea sp. from the Carpathian Mts. (some endemic, some with a wider distribution). Bright pictures for a cloudy day!

Centaurea kotschyana

Centaurea kotschyana

Centaurea kotschyana

Centaurea pseudophrygia

Centaurea pseudophrygia

Centaurea pseudophrygia

Centaurea triumfettii ssp. stricta

Centaurea triumfettii ssp. stricta

Centaurea triumfettii ssp. stricta

And how about the yellow-flowered Centaurea? Here is the rare yellow form of C. kotschyana:

Centaurea kotschyana yellow form

Centaurea kotschyana yellow form

Two species in the Newly arrived Seeds category: C. salonitana and C. orientalis also have yellow flowers, but there are many other species. And I think the dwarf Centaurea drabifolia (endemic of Turkey!), seen here in the Rock garden at the Montreal Botanic Garden, can very well conclude this short post on Centaurea.

Centaurea drabifolia

Centaurea drabifolia

I hope I convinced at least a few to pay more attention to Centaureas. I look forward to combine in our garden, the yellow Centaurea salonitana together with Salvia pratensis in a flower bed, while the smaller Centaurea triumfettii ssp. stricta will be attracting butterflies in the rockery area ;)

You can also see the Carpathian Mts. endemic Centaurea pinnatifida here.

The year of the Thistle

The beginning of the New Year has been busy with new seeds arrivals. Having a new garden space means also having new plants interests. Therefore, I declare 2016 as The Year of the Thistle!

According to wiki, “Thistle is the common name of a group of flowering plants characterized by leaves with sharp prickles on the margins, mostly in the family Asteraceae”. But besides the ‘true thistles’: Cirsium, Carduus and Onopordum, other genera that don’t have spiny leaves are also included and called thistles: Jurinea, Centaurea, Carthamus, Carlina, Rhaponticum, Echinops, Silybum, Berkheya and so on.

Few plants are more beneficial to bees, bumblebees and butterflies than thistles; also, many birds are consuming their seeds. Quite a few are cultivated as economical/medicinal plants. The oldest cultivated ‘thistle’ in the world was Carthamus tinctorius (safflower).

Unfortunately the name ‘thistle’ brings to mind mostly awful weeds. However, there are many species that are non-invasive and highly ornamental; some are even endangered in their wild habitat! To name only 2 North American Cirsium species that are not weedy and have become endangered: the endemic Cirsium hillii (C. pumilum var. hillii) – seen in the image, and C. pitcheri. Cultivated in the gardens but not too often is Cirsium canum (Queen Anne’s Thistle).

Cirsium hillii

Cirsium hillii growing under a Jack pine (P. banksiana)

A most interesting genus is Jurinea. These are species familiar mostly to plant collectors; the genus includes alpine/sub-alpine species growing in mountain meadows, a few rare and/or endemics. In the image is shown Jurinea mollis growing in a sub-alpine meadow in the Carpathian Mts.

Jurinea mollis in Carpathian Mts.

Jurinea mollis in the Carpathian Mts.

Other great species practically unknown in cultivation are Jurinea iljinii – with a restricted distribution range in the western part of the Greater Caucasus, and Jurinea sordida endemic in Crimea. They all have in common, non-spiny, finely lobed leaves and purple (in various shades) flower heads, which take on a beautiful silky appearance when the seeds are ripened.

Jurinea mollis seedhead

Jurinea mollis seedhead

There are also nice, low-growing Jurinea ssp. for the rock garden (if you can find seeds) like J. depressa and J. macrocephala, to name just a couple. From the low-growing thistles category, I will have to contend for now with the alpine thistle: Carlina acaulis. You can read more about it here.

Carlina acaulis

Carlina acaulis

To be continued…

Thistles gallery

New territory – Pedicularis

More seed adventures as I enter a new territory – that of the hemi-parasitic plants. Many beautiful and garden desirable species belong to this category, some not impossible to grow from seeds, most notably Castilleja spp. and Pedicularis spp. (Orobanchaceae, formerly Scrophulariaceae).
By coincidence, just after I collected a few Castilleja coccinea seeds, someone asked me if I would be interested in hemi-parasitic plants. And so, I got the chance to exchange it for Pedicularis oederi seeds ;)

Pedicularis oederi, Oeder’s lousewort, is an alpine species found in China, Japan, Russia, C and N. Europe (very rare in the Carpathian Mts.), and North America. Like many other Pedicularis spp., it has beautiful ferny looking foliage and it flowers for a very long time, producing yellow/crimson tipped flowers.

Pedicularis oederi

Pedicularis oederi – growing in the Carpathian Mts. at aprox. 2000 m alt.

Another Pedicularis that I am dreaming to grow one day is Pedicularis verticillata – whorled lousewort or Bumblebee flower, with whorled inflorescences of rich, purple-pink flowers. It grows in alpine tundra turf and rocky slopes from Japan, Russia, arctic C, N, and S Europe to NW America.

Pedicularis verticillata

Pedicularis verticillata with Bistorta vivipara in the Carpathian Mts.

An alpine meadow with Pedicularis verticillata in flower it is a sight to behold.

Pedicularis verticillata2

The good news is that most hemi-parasitic plants have a wide range of hosts and have been shown to germinate even without their presence. Various Pedicularis are parasitic on species of Poaceae, Ericaceae, Salix, Aster; but many others species have been also cited as hosts. Most notably, a study done on Bartsia alpina and Pedicularis lapponica found that both would form haustorial connections with Pinguicula vulgaris (Lentibulariaceae).

One method that is working somehow for these plants, involves the direct sowing outdoors – if you have something looking like a natural meadow, which I don’t. For my experiment, I split the P. oederi seeds in 4 portions. Even if I am not successful, I am sure I will learn something from it.

– Seeds sown by a gardening friend outdoors in the vicinity of an Erica plant.
– Seeds sown at our place, outdoors in the vicinity of Polygonum affine and Deschampsia caespitosa.
– Seeds sown together with Pinguicula vulgaris in a pot that will undergo cold/stratification outside over the winter.
– Few remaining seeds will be sown together with Carex grayi (a nice NA native sedge that can grow in full sun).

But there are many other wonderful Pedicularis out there! The excitement of a new territory…

Update 2016: I wasn’t succesful with any of the above,yet. Sometimes it takes 2 years for seeds to germinate so the ones in pots are not a lost cause. The ones sown in situ probably have been disturbed by the squirrels. More sowings have been done, this time only in pots in pieces of turf. One has to persevere :)