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Garden Gifts
by Des Kennedy
December 17, 2000

1pt.gif (86 bytes)Gardeners hardly need the rituals of Christmas to stimulate the gift-giving impulse -- they’re at it constantly, bestowing seeds, seedlings, slips and divisions with an endearing largesse that suggests, in the matter of plants, it’s more blessed to give than to receive.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Ranging from the brilliant to the bizarre, garden gifts have one thing in common: they come with strings attached -- the requirements of judicious placing and skillful cultivation for welcome new additions, perhaps the need to tactfully jettison less appealing gifts.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)On the whole, the year just ending has been a lucrative one for our little patch. During my summer sojourn on Cortes Island to the north of us, Nori F. dug from her charming island garden a small clump of perennial white-flowering verbascum. Like any accomplished transplanter, during the operation Nori tenderly explained to the plants what she was doing and why, assuring them of a fine new home after the trauma of transplanting. Thus reassured, they’ve settled in handsomely alongside a clump of yellow-flowering mulleins, the flowering spikes of these two green-leafed varieties promising a bonny composition for years to come.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Shortly after, Valerie M., an accomplished character whose Victoria garden is a place of exceptional beauty, dropped in with friends for a visit. She brought with her a potted California fuchsia, Zauschneria ‘catalina’, also called hummingbird’s trumpet.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)The Zauschnerias are a small group of California native perennials and subshrubs. Members of the evening primrose family, they produce greyish foliage and brilliant small trumpet flowers that author Ann Lovejoy calls “sparks of scarlet, coral and flame.” Highly attractive to hummingbirds, the flowers appear in July-- just as our hummingbirds are normally deserting us for the wildflower meadows on nearby mountains. A bit rangy and invasive in ideal conditions, the Zauschnerias will thrive on hot, dry slopes and in poor soil. But they’re hardy just to zone 8, which only a hopeless optimist would place our little frost pocket in, so I can see an extended episode of “pushing the hardiness limits” ahead.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Even more challenging, a potted Australian acacia arrived at our door in late summer, like some derelict second cousin just returned from the tropics. A gift from George R. down on balmy Pender Island to the south of us, the little tree has beautiful ferny blue-grey foliage. I suspect it’s the silver wattle, Acacia decurrens dealbata, well known in both the States and England and one of the hardiest of the 1200 acacia species. To see and smell the mimosas blooming in California in spring is to die and go to heaven, though I fear it may be hell keeping our little specimen alive.
1pt.gif (86 bytes)No such challenge accompanies two packets of lupine seeds that came in the mail with a jaunty letter from Debbie P. on Denny Island, up the B.C. coast. “This is a tough strain,” Debbie wrote, “able to grow out here, on the island of no dirt and lotsa rocks. One is what I call the ‘Mother of All Lupines.’ HUGE plant, every summer producing bicolor salmon pink and purple flowers. The other seed is what I call the ‘Sister of the Mother of all Lupines.’ Beautiful deep purple flowers, nearly black. I’ve collected seeds from these two plants for the last couple of years and am slowly covering ‘the back 40’ with them. I have found the color stays true to the parent plant about 95 per cent of the time.”
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Equally welcome and equally promising, I found in the mailbox an oddly bulging envelope from Bill T. over on the Sunshine Coast. Inside was a single very large bean pod and a note explaining how Bill had acquired some magic beans from the Royal Horticultural Society vegetable garden. (The methodology, not to mention ethics, of plant material acquisition and the sneaking of it past customs officials is a topic we shall leave for another day.) Planted this past spring, Bill continued, the beans produced an outstanding crop -- “I’m sure they would have scrambled to 15 feet if given the chance!”
1pt.gif (86 bytes)Thus we end the year royally endowed with garden gifts, as functional as hyperthyroid beans and frivolous as Califorinia fuchsias, so that we’re fairly bursting with optimism over fresh triumphs awaiting us in the year to come. Thanks to the generous givers of gifts and warm Seasons Greetings to all!



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