Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Brave heart

Since this is my 200th Blog posting, not to mention the first of a new year, the selection of which plant to feature borders on the fatidic. Should I pick a flamboyant petaloid monocot (an Onocyclus iris perhaps?)....or some flashy steppe denizen? A Penstemon or Acantholimon (my avatar after all). I fret and decide to scroll through my albums. Not far into the "A's" Adlumia floats by...for that's this image that is so similar to our beloved bleeding hearts (Dicentra). If Botanists can lump Belamcanda or Pardanthopsis into Iris, one wonders how long it will take them to make Dicentra swallow up Adlumia: to the casual eye of the gardener they certainly seem every bit as close...let's see if a botanists rises to this bait.

So why Adlumia? This monocarpic vine of the Eastern hardwood forests forms a lacy rosette year one that is charming in its own right. The second year it starts to climb, and if there is a post or plant nearby it can clamber over, soon it will reach amazing heights (I have had them grow over 15' tall!). If the soil is rich, if there is enough water and they are happy, these will produce hundreds, nay thousands of flowers over the course of the growing season. This is a plant of woods and hedgerows in nature, and seems to do best on the fringe of woodlands. Mine are mostly concentrated around my nursery which has fences to lean on and lots of water. I always seem to have plenty of seedlings each year, and I find that young first year rosettes pot up easily and can be moved. And shared.

My picture really does not do justice to the lacy charm of foliage, nor the sprightly bleeding hearts. But I hope my prose pricks your curiosity (if you are not already growing this) to seek this gentle treasure out.

I confess, I love it for more than its intrinstic charm. I first saw this twenty or more years ago in the remarkable garden of Vera Peck, one of the pillars of the Alpine Garden Club of British Columbia. Vera was an incredibly energetic and passionate gardener. She contributed countless hours to her rock garden group in all manner of service, primarily managing their ambitious seed exchange (I suspect she did a lot of the work herself). She had a large garden full of all manner of gems, which is where I first saw Adlumia and fell in love with it. Vera pressed a packet of fresh seed upon me, and I have grown it ever since.

I may have met Vera a mere dozen times over the decades, exchanging occasional pleasantries and asking questions back and forth here an there at a study weekend, or visiting a garden together or at a meeting. She would put up a sort of blustery facade of pseudo-gruffness to stangers that fooled no one: I knew that behind that crusty exterior lay a heart as sweet and mellow as the vast vistas of her native central European homeland, rich and evocative as a Dvorak symphony. She passed away six years ago, but like my myriad gardening friends over the decades (so many, like her, now gone) they persist, they endure and propagate their memory and essence through the seeds they share. And their hearts grace my gardens quite literally, just like this Adlumia. Long may they self sow around my garden, and the gardens of those I share them with. And they continue to blossom in our hearts as well.

New Year's resolution #1: gather, grow and share more seed!

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