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Friday, December 9, 2011

Plant Lover

One of the joys of growing plants is that I get to fall in love every year.  Usually several times. 

The object of my affection this time of year is the lovely Cyclamen.  It all starts in late summer when the summer dormant Cyclamen hederifolium tuber sends out flowers in shades of pink or white.

Just when many garden plants have finished their show, bright splashes of color appear in the dark corners of the garden as this fall flowering Cyclamen spring to life.

It can be fascinating just to compare plants of this highly variable species.  Along with or soon after it begins to flower, Cyclamen hederifolium foliage unfurls.  Leaf shape can vary from broad and heart-shaped to narrow and spear-shaped and just about anything in between.  Leaves can be glossy or dull, bright green to silver, heavily patterned or plain.

With the onset of warm weather the following spring, the foliage of Cyclamen hederifolium dies back for a summer rest.  But the fun is not over.  If you look closely, you will see that the seed capsules have ripened and spilled seeds on the ground around the tuber.  These seeds will emerge as seedlings in fall and provide new plants to enjoy in future years.

Cyclamen hederifolium is a reliably cold hardy (reported hardy to Zone 4) and adaptable species.  It can be grown in sun to shade and does particularly well when grown in dry to moderately moist, humus rich soils under deciduous trees where it will seed itself to form large drifts over time.

Cyclamen hederifolium is native to a large geographical region in the Mediterranean from SE France through Italy and eastward to Southern Turkey.  It grows in a variety of habitats from woodlands to rocky hillsides and from sea level to elevations of over 4,000 feet.

Being a Mediterranean plant, Cyclamen hederifolium is adapted to dry summer conditions and can be grown in the dry shade in Western woodland gardens.  Just another reason to fall in love all over again!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Best of 2011 - WGF on Facebook

Wild Ginger Farm is now on Facebook.  We have selected a plant photo for each month of 2011 and posted them on our new Facebook page.  Check them out and let us know your thoughts!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

‘Ling Ling’ Panda Face Ginger

Are you familiar with Asarum maximum ‘Ling Ling’, the Panda Face Ginger?  This very attractive evergreen wild ginger forms a clump of large dark green leaves that can be up to 8” long in mature plants.  The leaves are often nicely patterned with light green on the sides of a central green strip.

In spring and sometimes again in fall, ‘Ling Ling’ produces some of the most striking flowers in the genus.  The flaring, two inch wide black and white flowers are reminiscent of a panda and give it its common name.  The flowers of many wild gingers are obscured by foliage but, in the case of the Panda Face Ginger, the sheer size and bright contrasting colors make them quite noticeable.

‘Ling Ling’ is at its best when grown in a container where the charming flower and evergreen foliage can be easily admired.  For those of us in cool climates such as in the Pacific Northwest, a container has the secondary benefit of warming up more quickly during the growing season and this encourages better growth.

Asarum maximum can also be grown in the open garden in part to full shade in moist, humus rich, well-drained soil. The Panda Face Ginger is attractive to slugs as well as humans and slug control is a must.  It is native to low elevation forests in Hubei and Sichuan, China and is hardy to 5 to 10 degrees F.  It is a good candidate for a cool greenhouse in colder climates.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pacific Coast Irises in Fall

Iris douglasiana
Fall is the time to move or divide Pacific Coast Irises.  PCI’s are very particular about the timing of root disturbance.  As many gardeners have learned, trying to divide them after spring flowering or during the summer months results in dismal failure.  Trust me on this, I’ve tried it and have been spectacularly unsuccessful.  What begins as a beautiful green fan quickly becomes a disintegrating black clump.

Iris douglasiana in the garden
Like many western native plants, Pacific Coast Irises are adapted to dry summers and moist winters.  They flower in spring at the end of the rainy season, rest during the summer months and resume active growth with the arrival of fall rains.

Lift the clump
The onset of fall moisture causes Pacific Coast Irises to form new roots that will carry them through the coming year.  PCI’s can be successfully moved and older plants can be divided and refreshed during this period.

Check for new roots
Check the readiness of your PCI’s by carefully exposing the base of the fan.  Look carefully for just emerging plump, white roots.  Plants can be divided to a single fan or moved as a larger clump.  In the weeks following transplant, these new roots will quickly penetrate the soil and you will begin to see new foliage growth at the center of the fan. 

Evergreen species like Iris douglasiana will continue to grow through the cool months that follow and reward you with a colorful display next spring.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fall Update

The Fall season always brings a flurry of activity around the nursery.  In addition to an array of plant propagation tasks, we will continue to have regular open hours through October until cold weather and rain close us down for the season.   You can always check our website for our current open hours.

The late season flower of Crinum 'Ellen Bosanquet'
We will also continue mail order shipping into early November.  We rely on our mail order customers to determine their best local planting season and instruct us when to ship.  Some plants such as Meconopsis and Arisaema can only be safely shipped in Spring and Fall when they are nearly dormant.   We put the “Add To Cart” button on the plant detail page in our online mail order catalog when those plants are ready to ship.

Primula allionii 'Airmist' growing in tufa
 Fall is an ideal time to add new plants to the garden for those of us who live on the West Coast and we have several garden projects underway.  We built a tufa rock garden this summer and will be adding many more plants to it in the coming weeks.

This beautiful Pacific Coast Iris will be available
at the nursery next spring
 We are also increasing our growing area for garden testing our newly propagated Pacific Coast Hybrid Irises.  PCI’s are typical of many Western native plants and prefer to be kept drier during the summer months, so fall is a great time to plant them.  Winter rains will help them become established and they will need much less care next season.

When we take a few minutes to look around, we see that we have many late season garden companions.   We still have hummingbirds at the Penstemon and Agastache plants.  Honeybees and other pollinators congregate around any available flower.  And recently, while adding water to the pond, I noticed an enterprising frog perched in the pitcher of a carnivorous plant, Sarracenia sp.

Notice that its patience appears to be paying off as the frog spies a fly attracted by the pitcher plant’s nectar.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Autumn Gentian

Autumn Gentian

One of our favorite fall flowering perennials is the Autumn Gentian, Gentiana sino-ornata.  It forms a low mat of rooting stems with grassy foliage from which upward facing, trumpet shaped flowers open in late summer to early fall.

Autumn Gentian flowers most commonly occur in alluring shades of blue from sky blue to a deep marine blue.  They are generally palest at the base and often have streaks and spots.  Color variations occasionally occur in seed grown plants and we offer two additional selections as Wild Ginger Farm introductions.

Gentiana sino-ornata 'Moonlight'

Gentiana sino-ornata ‘Moonlight’ has vigorous bright green foliage and creamy white flowers.  It brightens up the garden in the fading light of fall.

Gentiana sino-ornata 'Stardust'
 Gentiana sino-ornata ‘Stardust’ is a striking Autumn Gentian dusted with tiny blue spots on a white background, creating the impression of a blue and white striped flower.

The solitary flowers often form showy clusters
 The Autumn Gentian is native to grassy slopes, meadows and forests in the mountains of SW China.  It requires well-drained, moderately fertile, acidic soil and regular water. As with many mountain plants, it is not a heat lover so it needs good light but some protection from the strongest sun.   It is reported to be quite cold hardy to -30 degrees F or lower. 

The Autumn Gentian growing in a propagation flat
 The Autumn Gentian makes a delightful addition to the open woodland garden, rock garden, trough or other well drained-container where it brightens the late season with its charming and beautiful flowers.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Saturday Class "Plant a Succulent Container

Lewisia longipetala hybrid

Summer is the perfect time to enjoy drought tolerant and easy to grow succulent plants and we invite you to join us this Saturday, August 13th for a class entitled “Plant a Succulent Container”.  You can bring your own pot or buy one here.  We will provide potting soil, 4 plants and accent rocks.  The fee for this class is $15.  Sign up by phone or email.

Hens and Chicks make great container plants

Sedum makinoi 'Variegatum'

Extremely drought tolerant Sedum ellacombianum

Small scale sedum species grouped in a container

Lewisia cotyledon is an easy to grow potted plant

Lewisia pymaea in full flower

Bergeranthus jamesii, a South African succulent
A mixed succulent trough

We hope you can make it to the class.  
Our summer open hours are Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 4.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tufa - The ultimate crevice rock

Tufa is a porous limestone rock useful in growing many alpine and lime loving plants.  Not to be confused with hypertufa, a cement-based imitation used to create troughs and other lightweight containers, authentic tufa is a calcium carbonate mineral precipitate that occurs around lime rich bodies of water.  We recently obtained a supply of tufa from the headwaters of the Columbia River.  The mineral composition and general quality of tufa deposits varies and this particular deposit is quite attractive with high porosity and a golden color.

One of the most important features of tufa is its ability to absorb and hold water like a sponge. This is an advantage when plants are planted near or even in the rock where water is released slowly over time.  Plants remain evenly moist and are cooled by slow, steady evaporation.  Even on a warm day, the surface of the tufa is noticeably cool to the touch.  This prevents heat stress at the root zone of alpine plants and keeps them healthy and growing during warm weather.

The possibilities for using tufa are limited only your imagination.  Tufa can be used in troughs, in specially designed crevice gardens and also in the open rock garden. We recently created a crevice garden exclusively with tufa.  We maximized the tufa surface area by placing the rocks upright and packing them tightly together.  We then planted in the crevices and also in holes drilled directly into the rock.

Tufa can also be planted as specimen rocks.  Using a 3/8” to 1” masonry bit, holes can be drilled into the tufa and small plants can be tucked into the voids.  Over time the roots penetrate into the rock and become firmly established.  The low nutrient environment ensures the plants maintain their characteristic compact forms.

Plants suitable for use with tufa include those from limestone habitats and many others that originate in low fertility, mineral rich soils.  Acid loving plants including Ericaceous and woodland plants will not grow well and should be avoided.

Plants that thrive in tufa include many encrusted and cushion saxifrages, Auriculastrum primulas such as Primula marginata, P. allionii, P. auricula and hybrids, certain Campanula and Draba species as well as Ramonda and Mediterranean plants such Aethionema schistosum and Alyssum stribyrni.  We are experimenting with Western alpine plants including Telesonix, Astragalus,  Antennaria, Arenaria, Eriophyllum and Heuchera to determine their suitability for growing in and around tufa. 

We invite you to explore the possibilities for using tufa in alpine gardening.  Tufa of various sizes is now available for sale at the nursery and smaller sizes will be available soon in our mail order catalog.

For more information about working with tufa, we have posted two how-to pages on our website

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Crevice Plants

Dwarf forms of many rock garden plants make wonderful crevice plants.  Crevices are those intriguing gaps between rocks where plants can grow while seeming to defy all odds.  In rock gardens, we often intentionally create small spaces between rocks in which to tuck our plant treasures.  Alpines and other rock garden plants are ideally suited to grow in these spaces as they often do in nature.


Creeping thyme and other mat forming perennials were tucked in the crevices between the rocks of this water feature where they could spill over the rocks and enhance the naturalistic feel of the garden.

This small crevice garden was built with mounded well-drained soil in which we placed rows of thin, flat rocks pitched almost vertically to create planting crevices and niches. It is planted with alpines and other small plants including Sempervivum 'Spumanti', Draba sp., Alpine Toadflax (Linaria alpina), Greek Yarrow (Achillea ageratifolia), Lewisia pygmaea, Sedum hispanicum and Jovibarba hirta.

The red succulent rosettes of these Jovibarba heuffelli have grown to fill the narrow space between two rocks.  


The small Androsace brigantiaca which might be easily overrun by larger plants and is instead featured when planted in this narrow crevice .

Mat forming plants such as Azorella trifurcata 'Nana' creep down vertical spaces between rocks, stabilizing the soil on the steep slopes.

The green cushion forming Scleranthus uniflorus was intentionally planted in the crevice while the white flowering Androsace septentrionalis is a volunteer, creating an attractive combination.  Seeds naturally lodge in crevices and young plants are nurtured where rocks and soil meet.


This Sandia Mountain Heuchera (Heuchera pulchella) is striking in the crevice between two rocks.  When creating a rock garden, rocks are sometimes intentionally split to create a planting crevice. 


Hens and Chicks (Sempervivum sp) adapt well to crevice plantings and are sometimes planted alongside more delicate plants to provide shelter and help prevent soil erosion until the smaller plant is fully established.

Greek native Pterocephalus perennis grows happily among the rocks, creeping into the narrow crevice at front.

Pyrenean Saxifrage hybrid (Saxifraga x longifolia) grows in a narrow fissure between rocks.  The name Saxifraga means "rock breaker" in Latin and Saxifrages often grow in crevices in their native alpine habitats. 

Keep in mind that it is important to take into account the scale of the garden when selecting plants.  Large plants will quickly overwhelm a large space while small plants can easily get lost.

The following is a list of examples of plants that will work well in crevice plantings.  Plants that tolerate drought and a more sunny, exposed location are marked with an asterisk.

Achillea ageratifolia* - Greek Yarrow
Aethionema schistosum* - Persian Rockcress
Alyssum saxatilis*
Androsace sarmentosa
Antennaria media* - Pussytoes
Aquilegia jonesii – Columbine
Arenaria alfacarens* - Sandwort
Armeria sp* - Thrift
Asplenium scolopendrium ‘Laceratum Kaye’
Azorella trifurcata
Campanula sp - Alpine bellflowers
Cerastium alpinum ssp lanatum* - Alpine Mouse Ears
Chiastophyllum oppostifolium
Delosperma sp – Hardy Iceplant
Dianthus sp * - Rock garden pinks
Draba sp
Dudleya calcicola *
Erinus alpinus – Fairy Foxglove
Eriogonum sp (smaller) * - Buckwheat
Gypsophila aretoides *
Heuchera pulchella
Heuchera abramsii
Heuchera rubescens
Jovibarba sp *
Lewisia sp *
Linaria alpina,
Penstemon (smaller mat formers) *
Petrophytum caespitosum – Rock Spirea
Petropyhtum cinarescens
Primula saxatilis – Rock Primula
Raoulia australis
Saponaria – Soapwort
Silver and cushion Saxifrages
Scleranthus uniflorus
Sedum sp (smaller)*
Sempervivum sp* - Hens and Chicks
Silene acaulis – Moss Campion
Silene petersonii* - Peterson’s Catchfly
Telesonix jamesii
Thymus neiceffi and other creeping thymes*
Veronica oltensis – Thymeleaf Speedwell

* Drought Tolerant