Five Plants—and People—I Appreciate

We’re now in the middle of 2013’s Native Plant Appreciation Week. I spent last weekend touring some inspiring gardens on the Central Puget Sound Chapter’s Native Plant Garden tour.

When I got back home, I took an appraising look at my own garden. It’s still very much a work in progress—as most gardens are. I poked around, grubbing out weeds and trimming errant branches, and I thought about how my garden is populated with people as well as plants.

Here are five plants, and five people, I found in my garden.

Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis). This denizen of south Puget Sound prairies came into my yard in a salvaged prairie clump I purchased one year at the Central Puget Sound Chapter’s plant sale. This year’s sale is coming up on May 11th on Mercer Island.

Idaho fescue is a graceful bunchgrass, sending up tall flower stalks that last until autumn. In my garden it seeds itself freely but isn’t a pest.

This plant reminds me of Alan Yen, who encouraged me to buy this particular chunk of prairie. Alan, now living in Massachussetts, was a long-time volunteer leader of the Central Puget Sound Chapter plant sale.

Coastal strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis). I purchased this plant from Mareen Kruckeberg at MsK Nursery. One foggy day, Mareen gave my mother and me a lovely extended tour of the Kruckeberg garden in Shoreline. Both Mareen and my mom are gone now, but the coastal strawberry lives on.

One of the most generous and forgiving of groundcovers, coastal strawberry spreads by runners. It’s glossy-green three-parted leaves and bright white flowers make for a cheery greeting in an entrance bed or parking strip.  

This year’s MsK Nursery’s annual Mother’s Day Sale is May 10-12.

Great camas (Camassia leichtlinii). Pamela Harlow brought me this elegant bulb as a gift last year. I’m hoping it will put out a spike of its deep blue flowers this May.

I first met Pamela—a talented plant propagator, nurserywoman, and writer—on a long-ago WNPS High Country Backpack trip to the Buckhorn Wilderness on the Olympic Peninsula. Just about every year, I run into her at one plant sale or another—she’s the proprietor of Botanica Plants.

Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum). I think everyone loves to spot a trillium. My unscientific observations suggest that in a garden setting, western trillium grows in clumps more than it does in the woods.

Mildred Arnot, who volunteered for years at the University of Washington Herbarium, divided the clump at her house to give me a start. Now I have two clumps of my own, one the front garden and one in the back.

Western trillium’s petals are the clearest, cleanest white. Later they turn to pink and then to deep maroon. I’ve been told that indicates that the flowers have been pollinated—can anyone confirm that?

Golden currant (Ribes aureum). While this lovely shrub isn’t native to my part of Washington, I love its spicy-sweet early yellow flowers. The leaves are handsome, and unlike many currants they are smooth—not hairy or sticky. They also provide great fall color.

Eugene Kozloff, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Washington and prolific author, is also an enthusiastic propagator. He’s given me several well-rooted sticks in pots that turned into lovely shrubs.

Golden currant is not especially robust in my garden—I lose a few branches to some kind of wilt every year. Perhaps it’s happiest east of the mountains. But I love its prolific and cheerful early blooms.

I hope you’re enjoying Native Plant Appreciation Week–sharing lore and sharing plants with other people. My garden and my time in the field are richer for the people I have met there.

10 thoughts on “Five Plants—and People—I Appreciate

    1. Sarah Gage Post author

      Thanks Suzanne. There are a lot of plants that remind me of you, of course!

  1. Brooke

    Divided a trillium clump to give you a share – that’s nice! I, too got some F. chiloensis from MsK and have been spreading it around ever since I let it over run it’s initial home. Even with its being barren, we love it’s deep green, glossy cheer.

    1. Sarah Gage Post author

      Brooke, yes I have to say I haven’t ever been as generous as to share my trillium…! Once or twice I have seen tiny berries on coastal strawberry, but not enough for even a taste, let alone a mouthful.

  2. Ellen Kuhlmann

    Sarah–I too often remember the person who gave me a particular plant when I’m wandering the garden, plants seem to act as physical reminders when given by someone we’ve known. Nice mention of Alan, I have several plants he gave me that are still going strong.

  3. Mark Egger

    Hi Sarah! I’ve had the same problematic experience with growing Ribes aureum on the west side. And I’ve come to the same conclusion — there’s probably a good reason it doesn’t grow vigorously on the west side in nature!

    1. Sarah Gage Post author

      Hi Mark! I just took a close look at my Ribes aureum today, and several of the flowering branches are withering at the tips. Others are still healthy. And it’s sending up healthy-looking branches from underground. Talk about mixed messages…

  4. Mary Kiesau

    Hi Sarah,
    Fun post. Yes, many flowers (or some part of them) turn a different color (often pink, orange or red) when they’ve been pollinated. I don’t know if that’s the case with trillium but it could be. The timing sort corresponds when a flower is just “done” and coming to its end of days too, so it’s sorta hard to know if it’s turning from yellow to orange to red, as is the case with Fritillaria pudica, simply because it’s dying or because it’s been pollinated and it’s dying. ?? Maybe somebody else knows more definitively. In another example, the center of a forget-me-not’s flower does turn from yellow to pink/red when it’s been pollinated. Cheers!

    1. Sarah Gage Post author

      Thanks Mary! I didn’t know that about forget-me-not; I’ll have to take a look. It’s volunteering here and there in my garden–and getting quite mildewy. Time for it to go, but I’ll examine the flowers before I compost it.

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