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Another Four (Or More) Plants That We Particularly

Like In Our Spring Garden Here On Vancouver Island
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

April 28, 2013

Above: The first shot shows the Primula Belarina series plants just after they were planted a year ago; the next three shots show individual cultivars this year: P. B. Buttercup Yellow; P. B. Pink Ice & P. B. Amethyst Ice; and P. B. Buttermilk; and Wintergreen barberry (Berberis julianae) likely the hardiest of the evergreen barberries. Below: shots of our two increasingly large evergreen barberries, Berberis x gladwynensis 'William Penn' and Berberis x lologensis 'Mystery Fire'; Rhododendron augustinii ‘Jean’s Favourite’; and two shots of Bluebells, both the English (blue) and the Spanish (pink, white and blue).
Author photos.

Just over a year ago I reported on our having planted six new cultivars of primroses (Primula Belarina) that were produced in Cambridge England by David & Priscilla Kerley. There were actually five patented cultivars: Buttercup Yellow, Nectarine, Cobalt Blue, Buttermilk, and Pink Ice, but in addition to these there were two more for which a patent had been applied for but not yet granted (therefore they bear the ‘PPAF’ designation): Valentine Red and Amethyst Ice. We did not get Cobalt Blue, but did get the two PPAF cultivars.

With that article I included a photo of the area near our compost bins (sufficiently well-shaded) where these are planted and I’ve repeated that here again this year. You will note they are fully double-flowered and are said to bloom (here) steadily from late January for at least two months, and sometimes on into the summer. They grow to a maximum height of 20 to 30 cm (8 – 12”) and can generally be spaced at a little more distance apart than that height. These lovely little gems, have a slight Freesia-like fragrance. Likely it is for this reason that they are also being promoted as good indoor houseplants.

The growth of most of these new plants has been excellent, and they did bloom well into the summer last year. We’ll see how long they go this year, but they are certainly starting out well. I have included some shots of the individual cultivars here so you can see how the plants have developed.

Now to two shrubs about which I have written before, but this year they appear to be going to be extra spectacular. Both are evergreen barberries which probably rules them out of most southern Ontario (and certainly colder areas) gardens, but nevertheless, when I worked at Sheridan Nurseries in the 60s we did grow and sell a number of evergreen barberries. In the 1966 catalogue which I put together, there were five listed including Wintergreen barberry (Berberis julianae) probably the hardiest of the evergreen barberries. By the time the 1969 catalogue came out (the last one for which I was responsible) there were only three listed and in the 1970 issue, the only one listed was Berberis julianae. Folks in the Toronto and environs areas (near Lake Ontario), and in those locations close to Lake Erie should have no problem growing Wintergreen barberry, if you can find it to buy, that is!

Berberis x gladwynensis 'William Penn' is the largest and oldest of our evergreen barberries. As you will see from the photo taken just this week it has a spread of about two metres (6 ft.) and a height of slightly less than the width. Our second evergreen barberry has an even worse name: Berberis x lologensis 'Mystery Fire'. The name is worth memorizing as it too is a beautiful shrub at this time in spring. We like it so much that last autumn we decided to plant a couple of new ones out in front of our fence along the road. The main reason was in addition to the flower colour, the plants seem to be unliked by our heavy deer population!

Those readers unfamiliar with evergreen barberries, but knowledgeable of the deciduous types, will know about the thorns which allow these plants to live up to their common name. The evergreen barberries, believe me, are at least as thorny as their deciduous relatives. That means that all barberries make excellent hedges to keep people and animals out. It also means that if you have to do any hand weeding or maintenance in the soil around the hedge, you pretty well should wear gloves. The thorns are vicious! Beware!

Let me turn now to one particular Rhododendron in our garden here. When we first moved here, though the property had some Rhodos—including one large one which we moved the very first spring—we wanted to add some additional ones. Most of them I have shown accompanying articles here on over the years. That also applies to R. augustinii ‘Jean’s Favourite’ a delightful blue cultivar with many selections having been made from the original, hence the ‘Jean’s Favourite’ moniker.

It was not very large when I brought it home in April of 2005 but certainly has grown, and beautifully as well. I have included a photo from just a few days ago this year. Unfortunately, R. augustinii is not reliably hardy at all in Ontario and similar colder (than here) climates.

Right beside the ‘Jean’s Favourite’ is a yellow-flowering Rhodo which unfortunately blooms about two weeks earlier than ‘Jean’s Favourite’. You can see a few yellow flowers left on that plant to the left of ‘Jean’s Favourite’ in the photo shown here.

While writing about blue-flowered shrubs, I thought I should conclude today with a little bit about a not-so-well-known bulb—Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) and (Hyacinthoides nonscripta). I have included shots of both the English Bluebells, as well as the mixed (white, pink and blue) Spanish Bluebells (generally taller and slightly later blooming).

These can be planted either from bulbs in the fall, or from seeds but the seeds may be difficult to locate. They are sold by VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver ( ). The price is about $3 for 20 to 25 seeds. While the plants germinated from seed in early spring will not bloom for several years, once they do you will find, as we do here, they spread rapidly. Every year we have more and more resultant from leaving the flower heads on and the seeds to ripen.

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