Join me on virtual tours of the gardens (Heronswood and Windcliff) in spring as we celebrate the beauty of nature during this time of corona virus confinement.
Boldness Incarnate for PNW Gardens
Can you even imagine? Only a bit over a century ago, all you need do was sail a boat into a harbor in Asia and your legacy would be cemented into the genus of a plant. Sometimes even a good plant at that. This was the case with Admiral John Rodgers who commanded the expedition to Japan in 1850. I am tempted to refer to him as Mr. Rogers, however that would probably only reveal more of my bitterness. He probably didn’t even like plants. These days, after days of flying and driving to remote regions with the express purpose of studying the local flora, the acknowledgement I receive is generally a small bag of pretzels and a disposable toothbrush I have spirited away from the plane lavatory.
For such a small genus of plants (only five recognized species), they are not only associated with some pretty heady plantsmen (but for the aforementioned Mr. Rodgers) but add a brilliant dash of bold foliage and, in some cases, dazzling color to our gardens. Heronswood boasts a rather immense collection, with all of the known species represented. Many are from wild collections of known provenance.
Rodgersia podophylla was the first described from Rodgers’ voyage to Japan. For what it lacks in floral punch- tall clusters of white flowers- it makes up for in foliage, with immense compound leaves often emerging in resting tones of purple or copper.
Pere Armand David (aka Davidia involucrata, Acer davidii) is responsible for introducing both R. aesculifolia (leaves like an Aesculus or horse-chestnut) as well as R. pinnata.(possessing leaves ostensibly pinnate). Their ranges overlap in W. China where natural hybrids between the species occur. Undoubtedly it is from these two species that come the most beguiling in flower, while there are forms with deep purple bruised foliage that can cause minor heart afflictions when encountering them for the first time at just the right moment in spring.
Rodgersia sambucifolia (leaves like a Sambucus or elderberry) is very distinctive and easily recognized, as each leaf extends to 3′ in length. It is present at Heronswood but does not sing as loudly as the others and very few people inquire as to its identity. In some ways, it is similar to R. nepalensis. This too has long pinnate foliage and is represented in the garden by only one plant from seed I collected in Nepal in 2002. It is the only species of Rodgersia that remains geographically segregated from the other species, making it rather certain you are collecting the real McCoy and not a hybrid.
Mr. Rogers plants (sorry, I simply could not help myself again) are at their prime in at Heronswood this week, both in foliage and flower. Come explore the valiant Rodgersias and discover in the process the magic inherent to the collection in our garden.
In June of 1987, our realtor brought us back to the property at 7530 288th St NE for a second look. We had been uninspired by our first viewing on a cold, dreary January day earlier that same year. And besides, the asking prices of $89,000 was appreciably beyond our budget.
On that early summer’s day, however, the skies were crisply blue while from the canopy of Doug firs and cedars came a cacophony of birdsong. I ventured into the thick native undergrowth of the woodland to get a better feel of the property and its potential for garden making.
On a mound of duffy soil surrounding a rotting stump, I encountered a generous colony of Linnaea borealis in full blossom. As I kneeled down to admire the plant that had long been a favorite, a black-capped chickadee arrived to the stump with a fat grub in its beak and entered a hole to a chorus of hungry nestlings inside. We made an offer on what would become Heronswood that evening.
I had the pleasure and luxury this spring to travel to Vietnam with my colleague Scott McMahan and staff from the University of British Columbia Botanic Garden. After so many trips to this country during the autumn months, at last seeing the mountains of this region coming to life was a remarkable and memorable experience. Just a few highlights of the trip….. [Read more…]
February of 2015 will be remembered, among other things, for the whomping rumble of container ship engines as they idled off our bluff waiting in line for the longshoremen’s ‘slow down’ to resolve. Despite the constant noise, we have rather enjoyed the light show provided from the vessels each evening and early morning.
Yet future reflection on our February of this year, as well as our late December and January, will mostly recall one of the most mild winters I have ever experienced in the PNW. [Read more…]
I am home again, reunited with family and garden. The dogs no longer growl when I come into the room. Now, after a full week of recovery, I am of sound enough mind and body to download my images and ponder the wonders of this latest voyage; those things that are undeniably wondrous enough in the moment that it might seem to others assured of mental cementation. But, as often happens in life, when confections exist in such ample supply they often cannot be savored until long after the first taste.
In 2003, Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones and I spent several weeks together in the mountains of northern Vietnam, in the highland French redoubt of Sa Pa. It was late in the season, so we were hardly expecting météo parfaite but the weather was nothing short of comical; it was a gulag of fog and rain. Sa Pa and the surrounding mountains were bathed not so much in gray but the smoky aspirant used to dramatically portray fog in B-Grade Frankenstein movies. We made fires in our rooms to hang our seed collections in order to achieve some degree of dryness. We actually heard wolves howling while walking to local restaurants at night. Cloris Leachman served as our waitress one evening. [Read more…]