Primula Friends & Relations, 2016

One more post and then we’ll move on to 2017’s pictures.

These are other plants in Primulaceae.  And following them, some other good plants that grow well here.

Douglasia montana (Androsace montana) may be the most photographed plant in the garden. Raised from seed and now several years old.


More Androsaces: a couple of A. carnea; a plant I am calling A. halleri because that’s what the seed was called, blooming for the first time; a little A. villosa seedling, also with its first flowers; and A. sarmentosa ‘Chumbyi.’ The latter sends out runners like a strawberry and over time can form a large mat or, as mine does, cover a mound and then move into adjacent areas.



Dodecatheon meadia. Dodecatheons are Primulas, but I still call mine Dodecatheons. The pink ones behind are self-sown and also D. meadia or hybrids. The near-white one doesn’t set much seed compared to the pink ones.

Dodecatheon meadia


Cyclamen purpurascens, the one Cyclamen that is definitely hardy here. Cyclamen hederifolium can survive, but its growing season doesn’t line up with ours. There are reports of Cyclamen coum growing in Alberta gardens, but not yet in mine. I left some more out this winter and I’ll be surprised if they aren’t all dead.  It’s amazing to have one hardy Cyclamen, and purpurascens is a great plant: evergreen leaves and long-lasting flowers that are also sweetly fragrant.

Cyclamen purpurascens


One more from Primulaceae, Soldanella alpina. I bought this in 2010 and it flowered for the first time — just one flower — in 2016. Very exciting. The next year, its container flooded (ice blocking the drain). All the plants had to be lifted and replanted, and none of them flowered the way they might have. I have two more Soldanella, as old or almost. They always grow a lot of leaves but have never bloomed. This one bloomed after I moved it out of one of the alpine gardens and into a container of mainly peat. Might do the same with the other two and see what happens.


Moving now out of Primulaceae and into the realm of lesser plants. These are a few I’ve had for years that take a good picture.

Veronica whitleyi is a mat-forming speedwell that will grow in any half-sunny spot. It can be evergreen (under good snow cover), and where the foliage is winter-killed it greens up quickly in spring. The blue flowers and green foliage together remind me strongly of marbles in a Chinese checkers set we had when I was a child. The other marbles were black, white, yellow, and red. Deep, heavy, rich colours. Toys were beautiful then.

The Gentiana verna is a much slower spreader. A shy-flowering white form beside the blue one is even slower. I’m happy they come back in the spring. If they survive but don’t thrive, the fault is mine for not taking better care of them.

The tag that came with the Gentiana acaulis is long gone. Was it a named cultivar? It’s a very easy plant and has produced many seedlings and cuttings.

The viola is a great self-sower. It was originally V. labradorica, with dark leaves. But the seedlings don’t have red in the leaves, so maybe they are a cross with a wild violet. Anyway, it’s a great little plant, spreading itself around.

The Saxifraga is from seed labelled S. canis-dalmatica, and it has spots like a Dalmatian canine, so maybe that’s what it is. I don’t know Saxifragas. I know there are a lot of them and they hybridize.  Whatever this might be, it’s a really nice, hardy plant. Evergreen foliage is valuable in a garden where the snow might not melt until mid-April. After the snow is finally gone, you don’t want to wait another month for some green to appear.


The first wildflower in the garden is Ribes triste. The sad red currant? Perhaps it appears to be weeping. It is better known as the swamp red currant, but will grow all right in ordinary garden conditions. It makes a nice, low shrub.

I grew a single Clematis integrifolia from seed and now have several additional plants, self-sown, each a little different. The flowers are blue to purple, and the petals (actually sepals) may twist when the flowers open. The length of the sepals and the degree of twist vary from plant to plant. The stems are upright until bloom time, and then they fall over unless supported.

One fall I planted a bag of mixed species tulips. The next spring, four or five different species came up, red, pink, white, and yellow. Only one has persisted and increased, and even self-sown. I think it must be Tulipa tarda.

I have several Fritillaria meleagris, some from bulbs and some from seed. There is a white one, along with several dark reds. Not many Fritillarias can grow here, at least not out in the open garden, and it’s lucky the one that can is spectacular.

The daffodill is Narcisuss ‘Jetfire.’ I have tried several cultivars and ‘Jetfire’ is one of the few that has become permanent. ‘Tête-à-Tête’ is another. Most impressive is the beautful white-flowered ‘Thalia,’ which has grown into large clumps (an ugly word for a beautiful thing.)

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New Fancy Streps

Propagated over the winter (in a fish tank set next to a heat vent) from leaf cuttings acquired last summer.

Harlequin Damsel and Harlequin Lace. Click to enlarge.



DS Nezhnyi Angel and Blue Leyla.



The large ruffled flowers do not produce seeds — or none of the few I have do. The pistils are deformed: they have no stigma and appear to be made up, in part, of leaf or calyx tissue. But they do produce pollen, and this can be placed on flowers that have a stigma. I have been using Cherry Roulette and Hope as seed parents, and have just pollinated Blue Leyla and Full Moon, which also appear to be potential seed producers.



Pictured above, Blue Leyla is still in its propagation cup. At the bottom is 2-3 cm of peat or potting mix. The leaf cutting is set into a layer of long-strand sphagnum. Water is added to moisten the materials. The cup is then covered with a baggie to keep in moisture.

Roots grow from the cut edges of the leaf down into the peat. And then little leaves come up out of the sphagnum.  Warmth hastens the process, and in a house that has to be heated 6-7 months of the year, propagation boxes and trays are placed near heat vents. The extra warmth isn’t necessary, and the plantlets in the picture below were grown over winter near a window in a cool room (cool because a propagation tray was sitting on top of the heat vent).



The plantlets can be lifted and potted when they have their own roots and are large enough to separate from the mother leaf and the other babies without damage, i.e. without breaking off the leaf and leaving the roots behind.


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Other Primulas, 2016, Part 2


In Part 1, I mentioned a mislabelled plant that might be a Primula carniolica hybrid and showed a few of its various and strange offspring. I’ve now found a picture of the plant and another three raised from its seed. The green and red buds never opened. I think I gave the plant another year and then dug it up and tossed it.


A few more small European alpine hybrids: Clarence Elliot, a Primula allionii hybrid (with Primula marginata); a little blue with ‘Wharfedale Village’ parentage; and a bright pink from seed out of Primula x forsteri.


A blue acaulis type primrose. Flowers with a white edge are usually called silver-edged, but these may be called salt-rimmed blues, as the seeds came, via the American Primrose Society seed exchange, from a donor named Salt.


A Primula veris hybrid, yellow with fine red spots.


A magenta juliana primrose from Barnhaven.


Primula munroi. I’ve had the purple one for a few years in an alpine trough in fairly heavy soil. It has stayed small. In 2015, I planted some seedlings in a lighter mix (mainly peat), and they grew quickly into much larger plants.


Primula cortusoides grows biggest in beds prepared for other Primulas.


These Primula polyneura had a good year. Primula polyneura is known to find its way into gardens under the more glamorous names of other plants, such as Primula geraniifolia, Primula kisoana, and Primula heucherifolia.


Primula rusbyi, from mountains in Mexico and southwestern USA, is a good garden plant much farther north. Keep it neither too wet nor too dry. Yeah, easy. In the open garden it will sometimes take a year off from flowering. In the more controlled conditions of a container, such as an alpine trough, it will bloom year after year, maybe.


Another North American, Primula laurentiana.


Just a few Primula sieboldii. There will be more in 2017’s entry.


Primula alpicola.


And the last Primulas of the year, Primula capitata.



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Gone Tufa?

In the last entry, I let on I might know the answer to the mystery of the vanished tufa bed at the University of Alberta Botanic Garden.

However, from what I have been able to find out, that wonderful little garden’s future location seems to be a closely guarded secret. Inside the gift shop, the cashiers who sell admission tickets and hand out guide maps acted like they didn’t know what I was talking about. “Out in front here, the rock garden — it has been moved. Do you know where?” They had no idea.  Or weren’t permitted to say?

Were the movers able to get under the bed somehow and lift it whole, more or less intact? How? No. Maybe? Or did they take it apart piece by carefully labelled piece? A photo essay would be fascinating , or a documentary film.

I do know why the tufa garden was removed: to make way for a parking lot expansion — plans are to triple the number of spaces — and a new main entrance — a “plaza” has been teased, as part of “a state of the art ecological learning centre entry way.” Of course, the tufa bed already was a state-of-the-art ecological learning centre. Perhaps it will be reassembled within the new plaza?

If not there, then where? One end of the central garden has been turned into a massive construction site. 12 prime hectares are to be occupied by the Aga Khan Garden, expected to open this summer (2018).

Much of the official talk around the new garden — $25 million worth of Mughal hardscaping — concerns its role in fostering cultural pluralism, peace, love and understanding, the human spirit, etc. And it will be another lovely spot to have your wedding photos taken, or some new selfies for your dating site profiles.

When you need to lift some  large objects and set them down in a different place, what animal do you think of first?

Not a lot is being said about plants, though. Orchards will border the refilled pond. Plantings of central Alberta natives will ornament the geometric masonry. No mention of plants in tufa.


The UABG’s garden of alpine treasures has had to be re-located. Hmm. Which spot would make the best new home for it?


Somewhere, then, in the tufa bed’s natural home, the Patrick Seymour Alpine Garden?

There may be an obscure patch of nearly bare gravel where it could fit nicely, but the tufa bed deserves a position of splendid prominence.


If Tom Cruise gave 25 million for a Scientology garden, what would that look like, I wonder? Or if the Pope –?


A seriously good spot might be the lawn in front of the show houses. The old orchid house, if that’s what it was (emptied by disease a few years ago, I think I recall), could be made into a small alpine house — pots (of Primula allionii, for example, mainly) plunged in sand. And visible through the windows would be an outdoor alpine garden. Some of the derelict alpine troughs could be brought up, planted properly, and set against the wall.

So there is one idea. It will be very interesting to see what is actually done and to watch both gardens grow into themselves over the next several years.


I’m just going to casually stand here, and maybe the Aga Khan’s buddy Justin Trudeau will show up. That would be amazing.




Posted in alpines, Devonian Botanic Garden, in and around Edmonton, public and outdoor art, rock gardening, University of Alberta Botanic Garden | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Like Hanging the Mona Lisa outside the Louvre

I used to post pictures here from the University of Alberta Botanic Garden (the Uof A Devonian Botanic Garden as it was formerly called), and I have some saved up from the past three years to post eventually.

The tufa mound sits in a grass lawn in front of the gift shop. The shop is also the entryway to the garden proper. You pay admission and get your hand stamped inside. Outside, you can wander around and expore the tufa garden for free.


Which is risky, I think.  What if Disneyland were to set up its best ride in the parking lot? Families would be all, “Why are we spending three hundred dollars to go through the park gates when we can ride the Alice in Wonderland Teacups for free?”

I may have groused one spring, unfairly, about the tufa bed being “underplanted.” It needed some Primula marginata, is all I meant. It really isn’t underplanted and could never have been. The rocks are nearly as beautiful and interesting as the plants, which in spring include Daphne, Saxifraga, Veronica and Dodecatheon. As a whole, the tufa mound is one of the most successful, and arguably the most exciting — botanically, aesthetically, horticulturally — of all the many gardens within the UABG’s 240 acres. And there is nothing like it anywhere else in this part of the province. Edmonton is not a rock-gardening town. We believe plants grow in soil — tilled black earth. We don’t trust spring; we garden for summer — lilies, roses, peonies, delphiniums; big, sturdy plants. Tubs of petunias. Sitting near the entrance to the UABG’s vast collection of gardens, the tufa mound says to the Edmonton gardener, “Prepare to be amazed.”

Spring 2015 was a dry one. Three weeks into May (photos above), the grass was still more brown than green. In 2016, we visited in July.  Now the Sempervivums were in bloom, along with Dianthus, Lewisia and more Saxifraga. Most of the plants, being spring-bloomers, were now setting seed. Below is a gallery of pictures taken that day in July. And below the gallery is a photo, taken during our most recent visit, that will shock you.





23 June 2017

Holy shhh — hufa. What happened to the tufa?

The answer, or part of it, next time.

In memoriam.

Posted in alpines, Devonian Botanic Garden, in and around Edmonton, rock gardening, University of Alberta Botanic Garden | Tagged , | Leave a comment