Any garden with a large wooden squid swimming through a field of grass is my kind of place. I’ve always had a fascination for these slippery cephalopods. It began with those stories of the giant squid that lurked in the depths of the oceans. As a kid I imagined huge monsters, as big as my bedroom with large glowing eyes and night black ink. I pictured oversize mollusks with their tentacles wrapped around a sperm whale, tooth versus beak. Later as a young adult I encountered them while snorkeling in Bermuda. It was just me, floating lazily through that bright blue water when in front of me, suspended in the sea, was an eye. Clear and knowing, just floating in the water. Upon closer inspection I noticed more eyes, and then slowly the squid bodies came into focus,they seemed to materialize out of nowhere, their camouflage was perfect with their counter shading and chromatophores matching them exactly to their liquid surroundings. I’ll never forget those eyes in that blue Bermuda water. And then later, after marriage and a couple of kids came along it seemed only natural to call them squids. Especially when they were perhaps getting into deep water I would yell “you squids, get out of the garden, your’re stepping on the beets!” or after a long day with the little ones I would sigh in exasperation “those squids, they’re exhausting!” but sometimes before an adventurous hike I would rally the troops with a call of “okay squids, let’s go!” It only worked when they were little and slippery, as they grew older the squids made a less frequent appearance and their kid camouflage disappeared. Nowadays my encounters with squid are usually in front of a crispy hot plate of calamari, but I’ll always be on the lookout for the legendary giant squid.
Today I had the privilege of visiting the beautiful VanDusen Botanical gardens in Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s only a few hours north of my home in Washington and what a great collection of plants! Here are a few preliminary pictures from this wonderful garden, including our botanical hero, Carl Linneaus, Calamagrostis and flying squid, and something I’ve wanted to see for a long time, the variegated kiwi vine! What’s your favorite botanical garden? So many plants, so little time!
Here is my Ukigumo Japanese Maple as it travels through time. This beautiful Acer palmatum has been with me for five years and it’s grown a lot. This years photo shows it weighted down with raindrops and with partial variegation. I recently read that variegation is influenced by cultural conditions and that the leaves will revert to plain green with too much fertilizer or too much sun. I love all the colors on my Ukigumo, which receives full afternoon sun. Sometimes it gets a little burned on hot summer days, but I like it where it is, welcoming me home.
Walking under the Dove tree in full bloom is my favorite birthday present. On May 16th a trip to the arboretum was in order and I was not disappointed as in days past. We hurried down the trail, glancing over the shrubs, admiring magnolias, lingering on the laburnum for moments, but not until we reached Davidia involucrata did we stop and sigh. It was the middle of May and this incredible tree was in full bloom. Showing off it’s waving white bracts. They covered the ground, they danced around our faces and over our heads. We paused and enjoyed. It felt good to just stop and look around. It seems I’m always rushing somewhere, always going. But this day we stopped. We looked up. We smiled and gazed. Why does staring at trees feel so good? Just being near it made me happy. Everyone should have a tree for their birthday, what’s yours?
I love the leaf of Davidia involucrata. Michael Dirr says it best: ”alternate, simple, broad-ovate, acuminate, cordate, dentate-serrate with acuminate teeth, strongly veined, glabrous above, densely silky-pubescent beneath, vivid green’! If you’re not into botanical babble, just believe me….it’s pretty.
Just the Facts
Davidia involucrata The Dove Tree
Size 20-40 ft. (6-12m) High and Wide
Hardy to zone 6
Slow to medium growth Rate
Deciduous, Blooms white bracts in May
Prefers light shade
Dove Tree in June
Visiting my family this week in St. George, Utah has been a lot of fun. The landscape is one hundred eighty degrees different than the Washington view. Here it’s red and dust, there it’s green and moist. Here it’s sparse and prickly, there it’s lush and mossy. The hot sun blazes too brightly in Southern Utah and in the Pacific Northwest it’s a soft warm glow. Here I turn away from the glare and there I raise my face to the sun, soaking it in. I found a fascinating tree on a short walk through the local desert arboretum. The Screwbean Mesquite Tree or Prosopis pubescens has a unique seed pod. It looks like a fat screw, or a plump insect larvae. The Mesquite is the most common tree in the desert Southwest. Like other members of the Legume Family, it’s a nitrogen fixer. Finally I found out how these plants can survive in this dry, dry climate. The Mesquite has a taproot that can be larger than the trunk. Because it burns slowly and is smokeless, mesquite wood is one of the best in the desert. The seed pods are eaten by wildlife and were used by Native Americans for tea, syrup and a ground meal called Pinole.
To me, the star magnolia doesn’t look like twinkling stars, but rather a sea full of dancing jellyfish, slowly opening their petals to the sun. They appear static, yet they hint at movement. This plant is spring itself, flying into the garden, rushing before the April showers and lightly drifting into May. The sweet blossom has a most delicious scent. It does it’s job well as an attractor, pulling us busy-bees in close for a nose full of pollen. I love the way this deciduous tree blooms before the leaves appear, making the flowers even more striking as they last for 10-20 days. Some varieties of Magnolia stellata are pure white, like Royal Star, while others have shades of pink, such as Waterlily, Centennial Blush and Chysanthemiflora.
Just The Facts
Magnolia stellata or Star Magnolia
Height 15-20 feet (4.5-6m) Width 10-15′ (3-4.5m) Slow growing
Dense oval to rounded, large shrub or small tree
Grows best in full sun to light shade
Flowers in early spring, before Magnolia x soulangeana
Zones 4-8, extremely adaptable to temperature and soil type
Prune lightly or it will continually send up watersprouts
My son is serving a two year mission in Colombia, South America, and I have succeeded in having a few plant pictures sent my way. The first scene is a view of Bogota, maybe that’s a trumpet vine in the foreground? A broadleaf tree with big pendulous red flowers. Any ideas? The next is a view of Bucaramanga, I especially like the leaves framing the scene and that lovely cow waiting patiently beneath…good shot Zander! Finally, the big mystery, and I’m dying to find out, what are these interesting conifers growing in front of the apartment building? They have a distinctive appearance, with somewhat upturned needles near the top. The reddish tree reminds me of a Hebe and the last shot is of leaf cutter ants carrying away those tasty little leaves. Is anyone knowledgeable of the flora of South America? I’m hoping to become better acquainted with this tropical botany, but until then, I need help!
This was an April Fools joke on me. I took this video in the middle of March, saved it, and somehow it published itself on April 1st!
Here is a secret, unknown to most. A tiny flower, almost unseen. I’ve never noticed it. As usual in nature, the male is the show-off. Appearing in spring, waving in the breeze, cascading from all the branches like a fountain. The male catkins are conspicuous, like liquid drops as they shimmer to life in the wind, as seen in the Garrya video below. But this isn’t about the boys, it’s about the girls. The female half of this monoecious plant. Twinkling, bright and tiny. Somehow, at this time, this year, this day I saw something new on Corylus avellana. I slowed down and that startling magenta flower became a star. It’s appearance took the male catkins out of the limelight and put them back in the chorus. The color is fantastic and the shape reminds me of a sweet, spidery witchhazel flower. If you want a peek, better be quick because they don’t last long, maybe one week, or possibly two. Enough time to do their job and start creating a seed. Now that I’ve discovered this small and secret flower, the contorted filbert has just become even more interesting. Winter was my favorite time for this plant, when I could see the twining, twisted, tangled stems, but now spring has brought a new surprise, a tiny pink star.
Just the Facts
Corylus avellana ‘contorta’ Contorted Filbert or Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick
Height 8-10 ft (2.5-3m) Width 8-10 ft.
Full sun to part shade
Winter interest, those attractive twisty branches
On the Ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing. Just as people can dance and move, certain plants possess rhythm and music in their movements. When a breeze sweeps by they may swing and sway. Some have a pattern and repetition just like the steps in a dance. Other plants seem to be decked out in costume, lighting up the stage with their tulle and taffeta. I watched the Nutcracker Ballet this season and during the Waltz of the Flowers the costumes were so beautiful, light and shimmering in pastel colors that I was lost in field of flowers during the dance. They transformed the dancers into petals floating on the breeze. Twirling and whirling on a soft summer day. I think that plants enjoy this dance as well. The delicate petals falling on moss surprise me with their random design. The pattern of bark exposed on a bare winter tree reminds me of a belly dance. The Japanese Maples with their delicate and artistic structure, yet possessing great strength, could be the ballet dancers. Why not let the horsetail perform the riverdance? Growing in moist places, straight and true. The spirals of the wisteria vine and the topiary are doing the Twist. Curling their way upward. The witchhazel plants are reaching out to each other, like two partners in a waltz. Taking turns leading. One day yellow leads out with its sparkly flowers, the next red takes over. The blueberries are in the midst of a folkdance. Moving through the patterns of ripeness, from green to perfect blue. The beautiful trees, in fresh flower and leaf are definitely doing the swing, as they wave to me in the breeze. The tree with its roots exposed is a hip-hop dancer, showing off its flexibility and power. Just look around, you’ll see that plants are not frozen in place. They cavort, they jump and leap, they twist and twirl, they whirl, spin and prance. Yes, plants can dance! Do you have any dancing plants?