Another Yellow Dangly Shrub

My mom is a gardener with a Heronswood Problem(™).  Rare and unusual things frequently appear in pots, crowding the driveway when I arrive to visit.  We always take time for a turn around the garden, sometimes with a cup of coffee, sometimes with secateurs.  When we get to the lower terrace, she speaks in reverent tones as we pass the Stachyurus salicifolia, so I know it’s something cool.

So I was really excited to start researching this unusual shrub.  And I was blown away … by how boring it is.  Sorry, Dan.  Just not doing it for me.

Gosh, I tried.  I searched the Arboretum plant list, and printed out a map, filled in the locations and started off with my camera.

Partial Arboretum Map showing Stachyurus locations
Partial Arboretum Map showing Stachyurus locations

After a short while, I found a few bedraggled specimens of S. himalaicus. Yep, here it is in all its shrubby glory:

Stachyurus himalaicus at the Arboretum
Stachyurus himalaicus at the Arboretum

In The Explorer’s Garden, Shrubs and Vines, Dan Hinkley recounts a rather harrowing tale of finding S. himalaicus in remote Nepal, chased by the Maoist rebels.  He describes,

“The Stachyurus was impressive in the length of the infrutescence, to 7in., and we collected its fruit while waiting for water to be boiled for tea.” [p.300]  He continued,

“Though technically deciduous, in truth it is one of those shrubs that can never really decide to undress in autumn, and thus it stays cloaked and bedraggled in appearance.  For this reason I have had little interest in cultivating it.” [p. 304]

Stachyurus himalaicus
Stachyurus himalaicus

Looking only slightly better, the Taiwanese Stachyurus chinensis and S. praecox round out the commonly available selections.  Even Michael Dirr gives S. praecox a tepid review.

“I have only seen the plant in leaf, and then it has little to recommend it.” [p810, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, 4th Ed. 1975]

While looking for an example of Taxus baccata, I found this large Stachyurus praecox in the Rose Garden at the Woodland Park Zoo.

Stachyurus at the zoo
Stachyurus at the zoo
Stachyurus axils
Stachyurus racemes
Stachyurus racemes
Stachyurus racemes

OK, pretty enough against the right background.  Maybe, I’ll give you a pass if you find S. praecox ‘Rubriflorus’, but Hinkley says that he has purchased pink selections in Japan in full bloom, and only to find that they never bloom pink in his own garden [p. 302].  If you really must have one, seek out S. chinensis ‘Magpie’, which at least would have interest once the flowers are over. S. salicifolia is also to be considered, again for the foliage.

Miller Garden Stachyurus  salicifolia- photo by Lynne Harrison
Miller Garden Stachyurus salicifolia– photo by Lynne Harrison

But in all honesty, especially if you have a small garden, choose one of the Corylopsis, which blooms at the same time, with similar acid-yellow racemes.  It won’t outgrow your space, and you can even fan-train it as they do at the Center for Urban Horticulture.  And, it looks good all year.

Corylopsis pauciflora | #eTilth
Corylopsis pauciflora | #eTilth

Hellebore ‘Pink Frost’

Sometimes I post things to Facebook and Pinterest as a special ‘thank you’ to those who follow me there. I was really surprised to see that this image got over 40 LIKES on the Heavenly Hellebores facebook page. I invite you to LIKE that page too, if you can’t get enough of hellebores.  As a bonus to my readers here, here’s another all-over shot.

Hellebore 'Pink Frost'
Hellebore ‘Pink Frost’

According to the map of the Witt Winter Garden, it’s Helleborus x hybridus, but gosh, it looks like Hellebore ‘Pink Frost’.  What do you think?

Hellebore 'Pink Frost'?
Hellebore ‘Pink Frost’?

Foliage Followup – Daphne ‘Jacqueline Postill’

Even though today’s Foliage Followup has lovely scented flowers, I’m posting it to help you identify Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ by its wavy foliage.  It is a hardy evergreen variety that is fairly tall and narrow, receiving RHS’s Award of Garden Merit.  Interestingly, the bark is used for paper-making in Nepal.  A self-pollinating seedling from D. bholua ‘Gurkha’, it was selected by Alan Postill of Hillier’s Nursery in honor of his wife.  Lucky gal.

My mom has a tall one at the corner of the garage, to see and smell each time she goes out. There’s a smaller one in a pot at the front door which was promised to me, but because I don’t have a hole dug yet, she’s keeping it. As soon as I finish re-flooring my son’s room, then I get to start playing in the garden!

Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postil' | #eTilth
Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’


Crocus Celebration

At the end of yet another dreary Seattle winter, I understand why us hardcore Hort-Heads sally forth without any regard for the pouring rain just to look at tiny, ephemeral flowers.  I was delighted to attend the early-spring invitational Snowdrop Stroll at the 7-acre Dunn Gardens, an Olmsted- designed country-garden located in Northwest Seattle.  By early February, we’re starving for color, and even a small patch of cyclamen and snowdrops makes us exclaim to strangers, ‘Press on, there are more just down the path!’

The earliest planting plans by the Olmsteds in 1916 preserved many large Douglas fir trees and included large drifts of spring bulbs.  When current garden curators and landscape designers Glenn Withey and Charles Price joined the Dunn Garden, they immediately added an additional 5000 crocus bulbs to the sweeping lawns, and add several thousand every year.   I thought they were even more impressive than the snowdrops; maybe next year they can call it the ‘Crocus Constitutional‘.

Don’t tell Glenn and Charles, but this guy snuck under the rope to get a closer look!

Crocus nut taking a closer look
Crocus nut taking a closer look

Crocus Identification

Writer E. A. Bowles, a keen gardener known for his descriptions of crocuses in ‘My Garden in Spring’,  learned his botany well, and it came in good stead when asked the name of some autumn-flowering rosy-lilac flowers.  Peering into them, he noted 6 stamens, and replied, “A Colchicum, but I am not sure which.”  He passed the test, knowing that the Colchicum is in the Lily family, with 6 stamens, while the Crocus is in the Iris family and has only 3.  Those three stamens are the same parts collected from Crocus sativus that we use in cooking as saffron. Peer into a crocus the next time and see if you can identify them.

Crocus vernus 'Pickwick'
Crocus vernus ‘Pickwick’ with 3 yellow stamens and an orange tufted stigma

Early Crocuses

The best choice for lawns is the woodland species crocus, Crocus tomasinianus.  Early flowering, some blooms were already starting to fade by the third week of February.  Bowles named several selections of ‘tommies’ including C. tomasinianus ‘Bobbo’, which he chose “to remind me of the sharp-eyed boy who was the first to spot it”.  It’s a lovely pale lavender tipped with white.  I wish I’ld seen it first, but alas, I’m 100 years too late.  You’re going to meet E.A. Bowles frequently, as many interesting plants are named in his honor, but we’ll save those for another post.  The delicate flowers of C. tomasinianus, like dancing fairies, reach just above the lawn on their long necks, and the deep green leaves almost disappear into the twinkling dew.

Dancing Crocus
Dancing Crocus tomasinianus

Withey and Price chose C. tomasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’, ‘Barr’s Purple’, ‘Whitewell Purple’, and ‘Roseus’ to put in the lower Great Lawn at the Dunn Gardens.  They were fainting by the third week of February, but when I returned this week in early March, they were completely flat.  Other worthy, but rare, selections to consider are Crocus tomasinianus f. albus, with lavender paint-flecks on pure white petals, and C. tomasinianus ‘Eric Smith’, which is easy to identify with its two extra petals.

Another early crocus is Crocus sieberi  ssp. sublimis var. tricolor with its distinctive white band in the middle.  It is known for its long bloom time and soft perfume.  I think it wasn’t warm enough on the day I visited; you can see the flowers are tightly closed. Maybe I didn’t get my nose close enough, as I didn’t notice its scent.

Crocus sieberi ssp. sublimis var tricolor
Crocus sieberi ssp. sublimis var tricolor

When I returned just two weeks later, the warmer afternoon sun had encouraged the flowers to open.

Crocus sieberi ssp. sublimis var tricolor
Crocus sieberi ssp. sublimis var tricolor

Ed’s Lawn

The upper lawn near the big house is affectionately known as Ed’s Lawn, named for the Dunn’s son Edward, an enthusiastic native gardener and rhododendron expert.  Ambitiously, the Withey-Price team peeled back large sections of lawn and planted thousands of deep purple C. vernus ‘Remembrance’, the violet ‘Pickwick’ and the white ‘Jeanne d’Arc’.

“For show from a distance, or for viewing out a window, the vernus hybrids can’t be beat” remarked Price.

Large sweeps of bicolored C. vernus ‘Vanguard’ make an impressive vista. I didn’t know quite their impact until I visited on a warmer afternoon; the blooms almost breathed in and out with every passing cloud.

Crocus vernus 'Vanguard'
Crocus vernus ‘Vanguard’
Crocus vernus 'Vanguard' has a pale lavender petticoat overlaid with a silvery chiffon skirt.
Crocus vernus ‘Vanguard’ has a pale lavender petticoat overlaid with a silvery chiffon skirt.

In addition to those varieties, Withey and Price included in the upper lawn,

  • C. vernus ‘Yalta’ – possibly a hybrid between tommasinianus and x Cultorum, it shows the soft bicolor form of its parentage, but seems to show some pale striping.
  • C. vernus ‘Flower Record’ – a solid medium purple with glossy edging
  • C. vernus ‘King of the Striped’ – greyish-white flowers with dark purple stripes
  • C. vernus ‘Twilight’ – an heirloom from 1910, with a deep indigo color
  • C. vernus ‘Grand Maitre‘ – an heirloom from the 1920s, in pale lavender with a silvery sheen
  • C. ancyrensis ‘Golden Bunch’ – an early blooming 1879 heirloom in a shocking tangerine yellow, several flowers per corm
  • C. flavus ‘Golden Yellow’ – a fragrant golden-yellow crocus that blooms with C. vernus, several flowers per corm
  • C. Chrysanthus ‘Blue Bird’ – a white crocus with dark purple on the outer petals.
  • C. sieberi ‘Tricolor’ – pictured above, a distinctive white band separates the purple petals and the yellow throat.
Crocus in the Lower Lawn
Crocus ‘Golden Bunch’ in the Lower Lawn

And in the lower Great Lawn, the yellows and whites “show up the best in the winter gloom,” remarked Price.  He included:

  • C. chrysanthus ‘Ard Schenk’ – delicate white blooms with a yellow throat
  • C. chrysanthus ‘Cream Beauty’ – a pale buttery yellow with a deep yellow throat.
  • C. chrysanthus ‘Romance’ – a creamy yellow
  • C. chrysanthus ‘Goldilocks’ – a very early bloomer (with galanthus and before vernus).  Dark yellow with a purplish-brown feathering on the outside.
  • C. chrysanthus ‘Advance’ – Distinctly yellow petticoats and dark purple over-dress.
Crocus chrysanthus 'Advance'
Crocus chrysanthus ‘Advance’
Crocus chrysanthus 'Ard Schenk'
Crocus chrysanthus ‘Ard Schenk’

Planting your own lawn

If you want to establish a crocus lawn yourself, first grow some large Douglas firs.  No, seriously, just choose a slightly-shaded, thin-lawned area.  Crocuses do well in lean alpine soils with good drainage, and are fine if they bake a little over the summer, since they are native to Greece and Turkey.

Next, rejuvenate your turf.  It’s the last time you’ll do it.  Dethatch, aerate, and overseed any bare patches.  Water well in summer.  Give the lawn one last good haircut in mid-September and put away your lawn mower. Don’t take it out again until the 1st of May.

Then, buy a hundred bulbs (or a few thousand) and cast them randomly about your lawn.  It’s up to you whether you put on fairy wings when you sprinkle them around; your neighbors aren’t usually up that early in the morning.  Dig them in at least 5-6″ to keep the squirrels from finding them.

At the Dunn Gardens in 2007, the curators peeled back the turf in concentric rings, and planted thousands of Crocus vernus bulbs in the upper garden.  Over the last 7 years, the crocuses have naturalized well.  Crocuses have a curious habit of going walkabout.  They posses a semi-transparent starch-root that pulls the corm down an inch or so each year, but also to one side.  Fortunately, if you’re comfortable letting the lawn get shaggy, you have enough sense not to regiment your plants into ordered rows.

Ed's Lawn, Rolled up | (c) Withey Price | Dunn Gardens
Ed’s Lawn, Rolled up | (c) Withey Price | Dunn Gardens

Do nothing until February, other than plan your own spring bulb viewing party.

Ed's Lawn, planted
Ed’s Lawn, planted.  Same viewpoint.

Withey and Price feed the lawn after flowering, to help the corms grow.  Finally, don’t mow until a minimum of 6 weeks after the last flower fades.  They will seed about and settle into the lawn … mowing with a collection bag will both reduce the vigor of the plant, and remove all of those seeds you want to keep!  I can’t wait to collect my own seed this year to increase my own collection.

Ed's Lawn
Vanguard, Flower Record, and Pickwick in Ed’s Lawn

To do in July

Start drooling over catalogs and figure out your bulb order.


Picture This Photo Contest

It is with great trepidation that I submitted one of the crocus images to Saxon Holt’s resurrected Picture This Photo Contest, which you can find on the excellent blog Gardening Gone Wild with Fran Sorin and Debra Lee Baldwin.  I particularly like their ecological low-water focus, and am grateful to Saxon’s desire to teach us how to see.  See more of his work at Photo Botanic.   I hope this encourages you all to enter the contests too.

Ruscus hypoglossum

This oddity appears to have its flowers borne upon wide leaves.  Instead these are phylloclades, flattened stems that taper to a point at both ends; the veination should help you identify it.  R. aculeatus is said to be edible, similar to asparagus, and R. hypoglossum is thought to be Caesar’s laurel, according to former UW Botanic Garden’s founding director, David Mabberley.  This specimen forms a spreading 18″ high shade-preferring ground-cover in the Witt Winter Garden at the WA Park Arboretum.  I’m looking forward to returning to see the bright red fruits.

Ruscus hypoglossum | #eTilth
Ruscus hypoglossum

Witch-Hazel Frenzy

I’ld like to know why we don’t have Hamamelis Festivals in January; surely their bewitching flowers equal the allure of the Cherry blossoms that appear in March.  When I visited the Witt Winter garden at the WA Park Arboretum this week there were throngs of visitors, including a group of warmly-wrapped preschoolers being towed along by their enthusiastic teachers.  But why wait for warmer weather? After the last month of Seattle gloom, now is the time we need the energetic burst of spring color and fragrance.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold's Promise' | #eTilth
Hamamelis, possibly mollis or x ‘Arnold’s Promise’, in my neighbor’s garden.

Hamamelis, a genus containing only approximately four species, is wide-spread with two (or three) species from North America, and one each from Japan and China.  The Japanese witch-hazel, Hamamelis japonica, was collected in 1822 by von Siebold, and described in the mid-1800s.  Early flowering with large flowers, the Japanese species is only lightly fragrant.

The Chinese native Hamamelis mollis was originally collected from the Lushan Mountains in 1877.  It wasn’t until the turn of the century that George Nicholson, curator of Kew Gardens, recognized that it was different from the Japanese cousin [see Pacific Horticulture].  The Chinese species is distinctly fragrant with long curved yellow petals and a small calyx.

Hamamelis mollis | #eTilth
Hamamelis mollis in the Witt Winter Garden

The intersectionals, crosses between Hamamelis mollis and H. japonica have yielded some exciting cultivars that contain H. japonica’s color range and H. mollis’ fragrance.  My favorites include the acid-yellow H. x intermedia ‘Pallida’, the deep-red tones of ‘Diane’ which also has vivid red leaf color in the fall, and the coppery ‘Winter Beauty’.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Winter Beauty' | #eTilth
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Winter Beauty’
Hamamelis x intermedia 'Orange Beauty' | #eTilth
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Beauty’

I’m partial to oranges and copper tones, so I have to include H. x intermedia ‘Jelena’ in my list of favorites, however I don’t like the look of the leaf marcescence that some cultivars are prone to.  Marcescence, or leaf retention, is not well understood in the genus.  It is thought to be due to cultivar, age of the plant (they eventually ‘outgrow’ this), or possibly even the weather or soil conditions.  I think it’s sheer stubborn-ness.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’

Blooming the latest in the year is H. virginiana, native to the Eastern United States and Canada.  It begins its show in mid-October with fragrant, small yellow flowers and vivid yellow foliage.  A large, multi-stemmed shrub or small tree, it is probably too big for our small gardens, but it looks fabulous at the Arboretum amongst the Japanese maples.  It is from the bark of this species that we get the astringent, witch-hazel, used for abrasion and wound healing.  It was also used by early settlers as a dowsing device and may get its name from the Anglo-Saxon word wice or wych (meaning pliable).  The true hazels, Corylus, with their similarly fuzzy leaves, were not available to early American colonists.

Hamamelis vernalis is similar to H. virginiana, but blooms in the spring.  Like all of the North American species, the flowers tend to be smaller.  Cultivar H. vernalis ‘Purpurea‘ is distinctly purple and H. vernalis ‘Christmas Cheer’ has a lovely crimson calyx with golden petals.  Dan Hinkley extolls the cultivars ‘Sandra’ and ‘Lombarts’ Weeping’ in his second Explorer’s Garden book.

Hamamelis vernalis 'Purpurea'
Hamamelis vernalis ‘Purpurea’
Hamamelis vernalis 'Christmas Cheer' | #eTilth
Hamamelis vernalis ‘Christmas Cheer’

Taxonomists enjoy arguing whether there are two or three species in North America, sometimes lumping or splitting out Hamamelis mexicana whose distribution in northeastern Mexico blends into the southern distribution of H. virginiana.  And as recently as 2004, a new species, H. ovalis, has been identified with larger leaves, shallower roots, and vivid red flowers.  Or maybe it is the ‘lost’ species of 1812, H. macryphylla?  Lumper or splitter, take your pick. We’ll all certainly enjoy new cultivars in our gardens.  If you can’t decide, depend on the trial performed by the Chicago Botanic Garden.

If you’re adventurous, like Dan, collect seed the next time you’re in China or Japan, but be sure to store it in a paper-bag because the capsules are prone to ‘explode’ into little mouse-droppings when it dries.  Make sure you cold-stratify the seeds and wait patiently for up to a year for them to germinate.  Train the young plant into beautiful fans, with careful summer pruning.  Make sure to remove any water-sprouts or anything growing below the graft line (Hamamelis is typically grafted on mollis root-stock.)  Here they are lovingly pruned at the Center for Urban Horticulture.

Hamamelis Jelena and Diane Fan
Hamamelis Jelena and Diane Fan
Hamamelis Jelena Fan
Hamamelis Jelena Fan


Come learn more about the collection from curator Ray Larson, next week on Tuesday, January 21st from 7-8:30pm at the Washington Park Arboretum Graham Visitor’s Center.  [Thank you, Sasha and Jessica, for the tip!]

Amanita muscaria

It’s early dawn and the blue-grey cast of light illuminates the frosty lawn.  Our children are quietly putting together their legos, delivered by Father Christmas and his blue-eyed reindeer.  We’re pretty secular in our household, celebrating both winter solstice with candles and lantern walks and Christmas with an evergreen tree and presents.  The kids hung stockings last night, making sure to set out carrots for the reindeer and a cold beer for Santa.

Brightly colored red and white wrapped presents placed under Christmas trees are thought to mimic the relationship between the Amanita muscaria mushroom and conifer forest.  Even the idea that reindeer ‘fly’ is thought to have its origins in the consumption of the dried mushrooms, regularly practiced by Shamans in the Far East.  As early as 1739 Georg Steller, visiting Siberia, noticed ‘drunk’ reindeer, which were known to seek out mushrooms under the snow.

Because of its vivid coloring, Amanita muscaria is easy to identify.  First appearing in paintings during the Renaissance,  they were depicted more widely during the Victorian era such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Patrick Harding of Sheffield University points out that (Mordecai) Cooke was a friend of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), the author of the fantastic children’s story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). “Almost certainly, this is the source of the episode in Alice where she eats the mushroom, where one side makes her grow very tall and the other very small,” Harding says. “This inability to judge size—macropsia—is one of the effects of fly agaric.”  [Reference]

In 1976, ethnobotanist Jonathan Ott was the first person to connect the myth of Santa and his ‘flying reindeer’ with Amanita consumption.  The BBC has an amusing video clip on this possibility.


Blooming, or more properly fruiting, in the fall the Amanita muscaria is easy to spot, and once you’ve trained your eyes, you might see the native Oregon species (Amanita muscaria var formosa) which is a yellowish-brown with matching spots.  These specimens cropped up last year in my (non-gardening) neighbor’s yard, forming a tongue-twisting ectomycorrhizal (ek-toe-my-cro-rye-zal) relationship with their neglected pine trees.


Described by Linnaeus himself A. muscaria got its epithet from its use as an insecticide (Musca = fly), when crushed and placed in a saucer of milk.  Scientists later identified the active insecticidal ingredient as ibotenic acid, which also causes brain lesions in mice.  Other active ingredients include muscimol, and muscarine (trace amounts), which are the well-known psychoactive alkaloids that cause the sedative and hallucinogenic effects.  These molecules are water soluble and thus the mushrooms can be eaten if correctly parboiled.   Surprisingly, the hallucinogenic effects remain even after being processed by the body; drinking urine of someone who ingested Amanita can make you just as intoxicated, as reported by Lewis Carroll’s friend Mordecai Cooke in his 1862 book, ‘A Plain and easy Account of British Fungi’.  Some related species are fully edible, yet others are deadly toxic.

There’s a credible write-up about eating Amanita on Hunter. Angler. Gardener. Cook., but it’s just not high on my list of things to try.



Edgeworthia chrysantha

It’s too bad you don’t have smell-o-vision, but this Daphne-relative provides fabulous color and fragrance right when you need it when it starts blooming in February.  Its glossy green leaves drop in winter, exposing the architectural vivid red stems and fuzzy flower buds.  Plant it against a dark green hedge or solid wall for the best effect, but leave space, since its rounded habit can reach 6′ or more.  Early anecdotes indicate that the shrub will sulk when transplanted, so site it for long-term growth, in a sunny/part-shade well-irrigated location.  Not far from your front door would be a good spot, so you can remember to water it in the summer, and can enjoy its fragrance all winter.


Crouching Tiger

The Marietta O’Byrne-developed Terra Nova-introduction, Helleborus x hybridus Winter Jewels ‘Jade Tiger’ is known for its double green flowers.  Because it is a seed-strain, you’ll see color variation in the Winter Jewels series from pure green to a dusky pink, yet all are edged with a thin purple line.  The O’Byrnes are known for their fabulous Hellebore introductions, getting stock from Ashwood Nursery, Blackthorn Nursery, and de Hessenhof.  It was a real pleasure to hear the hilariously self-deprecating John Massey, from Ashwood Nursery this year at the Hardy Plant Study Weekend in Vancouver this year.