Sunday, April 24, 2011


Last year, when I visited the Morris Island Conservation Area, I was surprised by all the Hepatica plants. Of course the flowers were long finished, but the leathery mottled leaves were everywhere. The leaves of Hepatica americana are evergreen, but a new crop grows every year after the flowers are finished. Needless to say, I made a mental note to come back in the spring to see the flowers, and today was the day. Easter Sunday today, and the sun shone and it was warm, and I totally enjoyed wandering around under the bare maples looking for different forms of Hepaticas. I really had to watch not to step on them!

They were just opening, not at their peak yet, but I still found quite a few forms and colours. Most were pale blue or white, but I found a lot of medium blue or blue-purples, and a few plants with quite dark rose or rose-purple flowers. I made a mental note of one particularly fine rose-purple and will have to go back later and hope for seeds.

As far as I'm concerned, these are Hepatica americana. The botanists can call them Anemone hepatica, or Hepatica nobilis, if they want, but I'm sticking with the old name. The other species native here, H. acutiloba, seems sufficiently different to me to retain its own name as well. Its leaves have much sharper points, with more definite mottling, and, in my experience, the flowers have quite a different 'look' to them. They usually have 8 or more petals, each one narrower than in H. americana, and the flowers are almost sure to be white or a very very pale blue or pink. It also prefers more shade and blooms a bit later.

Neither is difficult to grow in the garden. A good woodsy soil, sun and moisture in the spring followed by dappled shade for the summer, are all that are needed. If you don't have a deciduous tree or shrub to plant it under, a tall peony or rose will do. Put the Hepatica north of either one, and it will do fine. Hepaticas are very long-lived plants, bloom while the early bulbs brighten the bare garden, and like them, they have the market cornered on charm.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Sense of Purpose

A couple of weeks ago, in the grip of a sudden whim, I signed up for a special Meeting of the Field Botanists of Ontario. It was last weekend, and I mostly enjoyed it. The speakers were all terrific and it was a buzz to be in with a group of actual botanists.

The reason I mention this, is that I came away with what I think may be a Useful Insight.  Practically every speaker mentioned making field collections, and they all talked about the importance of herbaria. The point they all made, is that samples of plants are collected and preserved not so much to answer current questions, but to be available to answer possible future questions. Herbarium specimens are regularly consulted decades after they were collected in order to answer questions that weren't thought of until much later. Today's collectors now also save a bit of the green plant material for drying and saving for possible DNA work later. So the point of the herbarium specimens is not to have a snapshot of the plant at the time of collection (although it is that too), it is to have the plant available for possible research many years later. I think this same idea can be applied to the making of a native plant garden.

I'm one of those people who tends to want to have a purpose for things. I understand perfectly doing something just for the sake of doing it - such as lying on the beach in the sun - but you notice I don't do that an awful lot. I enjoy things far more if I think my efforts might actually add up to something.

As a result, I have been more than a little bothered by the simple question of 'Why?' as applied to my garden work. Why make a native plant garden? Why go to lengths to grow, say, Chimaphila umbellata, from seed and then spend time trying to get it established in a suitable area? Why study the plant, document it, protect it, weed around it, start all over again when the slugs eat all the plants, and so on? Why spend hours and days working in the heat and bugs to make a garden at all?

The answer is.... I don't need to answer that question! I'm making my native plant garden, both the actual 'garden' part and the natural area around it, not for today but for tomorrow.

The chance that my garden might be of use sometime in the future is purpose enough.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Suddenly, everything is alive! Sunday night we had a torrential rainstorm, and the next morning there were signs of life everywhere.

One of my favourite little daffodils, Tete-a-tete, with its two blooms on each 4" stalk, went from tiny green nubs showing to full bloom, literally overnight.

Snowdrops appeared all over the Sampler Garden, pushing up through the leaves and grasses. There are two species of them there - the flowers look exactly alike but the leaves of one are greener and wider than the other.

One of these days I'll do some research and figure out which is which species. They were both sold as Galanthus nivalis, but obviously at least one is wrong.

The Elder bushes were suddenly covered with their improbable flower and leaf buds. They look sort of prehistoric, as though they are going to develop into something really scary..... come to think of it, Elderberries are kind of scary. They spread like the dickens and the bushes are super brittle. The birds love the berries, though.

The Hepaticas (both Hepatica americana and H. acutiloba) have fuzzy buds tucked down at the bases of the leaves and I expect the flowers are only a few days away. When Spring is late the plants grow faster to compensate. Too bad the gardener can't move faster as well! So much to be done, and all of it at once. I spent several hours today gently removing leaves from the fern beds and part of the rock garden. They'll become mulch once I know where the plants are and can tuck them in around them. Right now a lot of things aren't visible yet.

And the first crocus! This is Ruby Giant (which is neither ruby-coloured not giant but gorgeous anyway) and it looks a bit forlorn surrounded by the mud the rainstorm washed down around it. The Geranium behind it is almost completely buried. I tried to dig it out but it was still so wet I figured it would be better to wait a bit and not trample the rest of the crocuses.

Finally, Spring is here!