21 Aug 2014

Thursday Garden Review: The Genus Epimedium

It was Reginald John Farrar, in his infamous book, 'The English Rock Garden,' [1919] who wrote an article on the genus Epimedium:

'...Epimedium. The barrenworts are all much of a muchness except in the colour of their flower-flights plants of extreme but underappreciated value for quiet shady corners of the rock garden, where they will form wide masses in time, and send up in Spring and early Summer ten inch showers, most graceful and lovely of flowers that suggest a flight of wee and monstrous Columbines of waxy texture, and in any colour from white, through gold, to rose and violet. Then, beginning later than these, appear the leaves, hardly less an adornment in Summer than the flowers to Spring. For these are a delicious green, much divided into pointed leaflets, and borne on airy, wiry stems.'

Epimedium x 'Windfire'

My obsession with this intoxicating genus can be traced back to my tenure at Lost Horizons, where on a quiet Sunday I had the pleasure of meeting one of Larry's 'regulars' - though looking back, this woman was anything but regular. I can see her now, wizened and walking with the aid of a cane, and dressed from head to foot in black. As I was still 'green' when it came to the vast inventory available, I was thrilled when she said she was, 'heading to the Epimedium house and will call out if I need help. And is Larry on the property by chance?'
I ascertained on a later visit with her that she and Larry likely had the largest selection of Epi's in the province. Time to do some research. 

Epimedium 'Tama No Gepei'

Farrar's description is rather apt: they are most delicate in their beguiling nature, flower in late Spring, and do indeed have foliage that sometimes rivals the flowers themselves. They are quite adaptable to dry shade, but I for the life of me cannot understand why one would plant them beneath trees where their intoxicating fragile beauty might easily be overlooked! 

Epimedium 'Sakura Maru'

While there are a handful of North American natives available, the majority originate in Asia. Darrell Probst's name will forever be synonymous with this genus, as it was he who almost singlehandedly turned in into an overnight garden success. There is an ever increasing number of woodland gardeners who have fallen under their intoxicating spell! As you can see by the photos within this post, I would have to say that I am slightly more than obsessed with them. It should be noted that Epiphiles in general are not weak of heart, as I can attest to spending close to a fifth of a paycheque and coming home with ten plants! The stunning selection that opens this post is to date the most expensive I have ever paid for a beloved Epimedium, but goodness me, he is the one that everyone wants - as in, can you dig me a division of this one Barry?! Ummm, no. Rumour is we Epiphiles are also slightly possessive of our treasures as well.

Epimedium brachyrrhizum 'Elfin Magic'
[The very first Epimedium I ever bought!]

Many within the genus are hardy to Zone 3, and while most are tolerant of dry shade, most benefit from humus enriched, moderately moist soil. Mine have all doubled if not tripled their size within three years. There are select species that are truly evergreen, while most lose their foliage over the winter months. I leave foliage up until early Spring, whereupon I trim the wiry stems back in order to fully appreciate the flowers and juvenile foliage that is often cast with shades or bronze, gold, purple or light lime green.

E. 'Sakura Maru'

 Flowers are decidedly of two main structural forms: there are those who have petals, some of which are cup shaped, and then there are the ones with the elongated spurs, which the majority of mine fall within. E.'Hagoromo' and E.'Sakura Maru' are two of my favourite, both delicate blushed pink with long, spidery looking spurs. Both are smaller, more diminutive plants making it essential that one get down on hand and knee to fully appreciate their beauty. I cannot pontificate highly enough in regards to their necessity in the woodland or partially shaded garden. They are so carefree, free of pestilence, drought tolerant, and capable of spreading to form a simply stunning groundcover if need be! If you haven't stumbled upon this spellbinding genus, let this be your introduction. And for those of you who are familiar with them but still haven't added a dozen or so to your shaded or woodland garden, what are you waiting for? Don't make me kick you in the keester! Scroll down to meet more of my Epi kids!

** Don't forget to visit Joy, the namesake of this weekly feature, for more reviews of all things garden related! **

*** Visit Garden Visions Epimedium for a more concise education regarding this amazing genus as well as a listing of available selections. [US/Mail order/ Open Nursery Dates]

Epimedium pinnatum ssp. 'Colchicum'

Epimedium grandiflorum 'Roseum'

18 Aug 2014

It Seems Like Forever.....

 We all knew it would happen - it would just take its own sweet time, once again insinuating the fact that as gardeners, patience, which is supposed to one of our strongest virtues, is often sidelined by the desire for 'instant gratification,' which in my estimation, is one of the less desirable residual residues that the age of technology has instilled within us. It was my Grandmother after all who used to intone, 'Patience dear Prudence,' upon her middle Grandchild when he wanted his beloved 'Jack' to bloom the day after it broke above the surface of the soil. Patience often results in moments of stunning beauty, such as this, the moment when my beloved Anemonopsis macrophylla  fully unfurled his magnificent beauty! It all began on the Saturday, when, with delicate, loving care, I turned one of his swollen buds over to discover that his sepals were indeed beginning to unfurl themselves. As the date held symbolic meaning for me, it truly was as if my Grandmother was here with me! 

I have pontificated at great length to the fact that for me, he [Anemonopsis] is indeed the fairest of the fair. His demure structure, coloration and whimsical airy presence are a magnet for me and my trusted Nikon. Please share in my most joyous of garden moments!

16 Aug 2014

August 16, 2014: A Decade Later

She, my Father and I were all blessed with the same colour eyes: icy blue that would soften to a bright sky blue when they so desired. When I look in the mirror I can see and feel the genetic link that even death cannot take away from me. This same mesmerizing shade of blue has become my 'signature' colour in the garden, for no other reason than to assuage my grief and fulfil the greedy need to keep them close. Both my Grandmother and Father passed within four months of each other. Together once more. But she is here as well, here in the green sanctuary that I refer to as 'Teza's Garden.'

As a species, we have come to rely on marking the passage of time in ten year intervals or pockets, and we refer to them as decades. We speak at great length about the 'Sixties or the Seventies,' and some of us find themselves stagnated in the 'Eighties' when it comes to music. But the same cannot be said for the measuring of time since a loved one has moved beyond our grasp. Just as the adage, 'time heals all wounds,' brings an undeniable sense of comfort and peace, when I realize that it has been ten years since I looked into those icy blue eyes, heard her voice, smelled her home baking, I am filled with a rekindled sense of longing. It is at times like this that I escape to my garden.

 I garden because of my Grandmother. She introduced me to a magical, shaded green world when I was but a child. Weekends were spent in the 'darkling wood,' of Sombra Township, where I first glanced upon the ethereal, regal beauty of Cypripedium reginae, which takes my breath away and tugs at my heart each and every Spring when she blooms. Where most see an exotic, rare gem, I feel my Grandmother's hand on my shoulder and hear her voice instilling in me the importance of appreciating beauty through conservation. I can see the look of doubt upon her face as I impress upon her the fact that my single specimen came from a reputable, reliable source. 'Once upon a time someone had to have dug one up. Best hope it was only one!'

 She instilled in me an appreciation for the beauty that is Mother Nature, and I like to believe that she is also responsible for the spark that has over the years ignited into a pulsing flame that leads me towards those things rare and unusual - all of which I have spent the past decade collecting in hopes that they will reside happily here under my parental care and my Gran's watchful eye. 

I am not religious. It was never easy trying to explain to her that for me there is no one supreme entity, but rather we are all part of the unexplainable cycle of Nature. I am more at home in my garden than I am with most people. The sheer magnificence of a blue Meconopsis peeking out from the golden boughs of an ancient Metasequoia is enough to bring me to my knees in silent supplication. When my beloved Meconopsis all bloomed during the week that framed mine, my Father's and my Grandmother's birthday, it was like the striking of a gong or cymbal - I needed no further proof that for me my belief system was intact! Walking past this display every morning for close to two weeks was like having the two of them right there, practically within my grasp!

 In the weeks following my Grandmother's death, I found myself visiting her grave on a near daily basis. Family grew concerned. They need not have been. Her grave is located on a rural concession, surrounded within mere minutes by that same magical 'darkling wood' where I first discovered my passion for all things dark, green and shady. I confess here that I might have ignored more than one 'No Trespassing' sign, as I traversed the magical beauty that still held me spellbound, thirty nine years later. 

My garden is an extension and celebration of her life. It is my solace and sanctuary away from the loudness of the everyday world. It is here where I am most often at peace with myself. It is here that I realize the stresses of life are actually rather insignificant when I realize that a single, delicately clawed Epimedium blossom can wipe the stress and agitation from your mind with a single glance. It is the love and nurturing, the confidence and encouragement that best personifies the relationship that was mine and my Grandmother's. Ours. Mine. It is my tapestry of the beauty and majesty that is Mother Nature.

Ten years later, I still miss her - without a doubt. Ten years later my garden has continued to grow: new children are added as others take leave, just as her spirit did ten years earlier. All is well. Life moves forward as it is deemed to do. The cyclical rhythm of Nature blesses us with Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter - each season an essential part of the life cycle of the garden. 

I will spend the morning in the garden. I am confident that her spirit was make itself known, and we will be able to silently pass a day in a manner that will leave me feeling a little less sad, more proud of the enigmatic woman she was and more aware of the impression she made upon my life.