Garden Story, September 18, 2020 - Blackberry Jam The blackberry, which makes a tasty, if seedy, preserve, deserves a Garden Story of its own. While two local blackberry species are not in the Garden’s Plant Collection Record, you can be assured they are lurking in the background waiting for gardeners to stop weeding for a day or two.
One of these species Rubus ursinus, the trailing blackberry, is native to the Pacific Coast, surprisingly, as far south as Baja. It was eaten fresh and dried by indigenous peoples and is an important food source for many birds and animals, especially bears (who provided the species epithet ‘ursinus’, Latin for ‘bear’). These creatures also assist with seed dispersal. And it is one of the parents of commercial blackberries like boysenberry, loganberry, and marionberry.
However, this native blackberry has been overwhelmed by an Asian relative, R. armeniacus, the Himalayan blackberry. It was introduced in 1885 by US plant breeder Luther Burbank, who developed the russet potato, the Elberta peach, and the Shasta daisy. Burbank also exchanged seeds with horticulturalists around the world and was given seed for a blackberry from India which he called ‘Himalayan’, but he later found that the plant had originated in Armenia. Burbank shared the seeds with growers on the Pacific Coast, and by 1900, the Himalayan blackberry had established itself and never looked back. It has crowded out its trailing cousin and many other native plants. It grows in thickets so massive that a property owner who recently cleared out a big bramble patch found a house trailer hiding underneath.
The leaves and canes of these two species are quite different. R. ursinus has three leaflets that are sharply toothed, and its canes are thin and prickly, while R. armeniacus usually has 5 leaflets with smoother edges and sturdy canes armed with curved, vicious thorns. Most gourmets prefer the taste of our native, but they are harder to find.
If you are brave enough to confront these prickly plants, it’s easy to make blackberry jam. A standard recipe is to mix 1 part sugar, 3 parts berries and some lemon juice, then cook until it reaches the gel stage. Spread on toast and enjoy.
September 11, 2020 -A ‘Jam-Packed’ Garden, Part 1 As our garden moves towards autumn, some plants produce fruit suitable for preserving. The obvious suspects are those in the Rosaceae family, such as quince (Cydonia oblonga) or medlar (Mespilus germanica), a favourite of Elizabethan cooks. Lesser-known jam sources in this family also include rowan or mountain ash berries (Sorbus), which, when combined with apples (also in the rose family), make a lovely jelly that goes well with wild game. And not to mention rose hip jelly which tastes more of hibiscus than rose petals. During World War II when citrus was scarce in England, this was a good source of vitamin C, as three rose hips have the same vitamin C content as one orange. Outside of the rose family, other fruits in the garden are obviously well-known for preserving, like persimmons (Diospyros kaki 'Hachiya')and mulberries (Morus nigra).
However, a few less common fruits should be considered. One is the Cornelian cherry (Cornusmas), whose dark red drupes taste similar to cranberries. The drupes are called cornels or devil’s cherries (legend has it that when the devil saw beautiful yellow flowers on this tree in early spring, he camped beneath it expecting cherries to soon follow, but he didn’t have the patience to wait all summer). In eastern Europe and Asia Minor, cornels are dried, made into sauces, syrups or fruit leather; distilled into vodka; or cooked as jam.
Another unusual source of jelly is beautyberry (Callicarpa), whose gorgeous light purple berries attract birds and make beautiful decorations for the Festival of Lights. Surprisingly, the resulting jelly is amber-coloured, not lavender. The berries also make a brown dye.
In a future story, we will look at making preserves with some of our native plants.
Thanks to Hughie Jones, Sunday guide, for the inspiration.
Any of our gardeners who have donned waders to clear out the lakes will verify this phenomenon. We have three different water lily species at VanDusen. Two are very invasive: the smaller yellow-flowered Nymphoides peltata(floating heart) and the larger Nymphea odorata (fragrant water lily), with its waxy white flowers. You occasionally see pink Nymphaea cultivars in the mix, but they soon get crowded out. The Plant Collection Record lists over 50 different cultivars; curatorial staff say they are difficult to identify and not long-lasting.
Water lilies prefer slow-moving water so the space around the fountain in Livingstone Lake is lily-free, but the still areas further away are packed. Roy Forester Cypress Pond looks like a freeway at rush hour even early in the summer. The lilies form dense mats over the water that block sunlight, reducing the amount of algae and plankton. This in turn reduces the food supply for fish and other life forms. As the lilies die, they are broken down by bacteria and fungi which consume most of the oxygen in the water, further reducing other forms of pond life.
Our new Garden Superintendent, Laura Principe (more about her soon) reports that, unfortunately, reduced help in the Garden has pushed the annual water lily clean-up project down the list of work priorities this year. But let’s all hope that high-priority COVID vaccine development work will soon halt the exponential growth rate of the virus.
Garden Story August 28, 2020: Ceremonial Catalpa Sunday, August 30, marks the 45th anniversary of the Garden’s opening. While there will be no ceremony because of COVID, some of us remember the hordes (more than 10,000!) who came on the 40th anniversary to take advantage of the $2 admission (1975 garden entry fee). Fewer people were at the opening ceremony in 1975, but they included some well-known figures who showed up, spade in hand, to plant the Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’ across from the Formal Rose Garden. Unfortunately, no photo shows the tree itself, but judging from the glimpses of it in the photo of Mr. VanDusen and Premier Dave Barrett, it was fairly good-sized. We do have a photo of it in 1986, where it had settled in nicely. When Roy Forster was asked a few years ago why he picked this tree, he replied, "It picked me!" He had been so busy getting the Garden finished that he had forgotten to put aside a tree for the tree-planting ceremony, and it was the only one he could find at the last minute.
Catalpa bignonioides (Southern Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Cigar Tree) is native to the US, and our cultivar ‘Aurea’ was introduced in the 1870s. There are two native North American species of Catalpa, this one and C. speciosa (Northern Catalpa, found in the Eastern North America Garden). We also have a Chinese species, C. ovata. Surprisingly, these trees are in the Bignoniaceae family, whose members are mostly found in warm or subtropical areas.
Let’s propose a birthday toast to this beautiful tree and to our beautiful garden. Here’s hoping we will be celebrating the 50th in grand style and together once again.
Garden Story, August 21, 2020: Vegetables and Velcro Last week we talked about the cardoon, a Mediterranean vegetable that is grown ornamentally in the Perennial Garden. One of its cousins in the Asteraceae family is found in the Sino-Himalayan Garden down the path from the Waterfall. It is Arctium lappa, better known as burdock. Some say it tastes like an artichoke. Once grown widely here, burdock is now a niche vegetable, but it is a very popular ingredient in Japanese cuisine where it is known as ‘gobo’. Its roots, stems, and new leaves are edible and also have medicinal qualities. For all these reasons, a locavore restaurant on Main is named Burdock & Co. The chef grows burdock in her garden and occasionally offers it on her seasonal menus.
Just like the cardoon, VanDusen grows burdock ornamentally. A. lappa is a weedy biennial and moves around the Sino-Himalayan garden as it reseeds itself. The flowers are purple thistles surrounded by an involucre made of hook-tipped, stiff scales. When the flowers are dry, they turn into ‘burrs’ that attach themselves to animals who disperse the seeds. Burdock is considered regionally noxious in BC (not in the Lower Mainland, however) because it can cause injury to cows as they graze and, attached to the fur or skin of a horse or sheep, the burrs can reduce the animal’s value.
Burdock’s method of seed dispersal inspired a major invention in the 20th century. Upon returning from a hike in the mountains one day, Swiss engineer, George de Mestral, found his wool coat and his dog covered with burdock burrs that were difficult to remove. Looking at them magnified, he saw how the hooks of the burrs attached firmly to small loops in the wool and fur. Thus was invented the ubiquitous product we use every day, Velcro.
Vegetable Garden Stories, August 14, 2020 Park Board’s Sunset Nursery normally grows most of the plants found in Vancouver green spaces, including VanDusen. Staffing shortages after the March lockdown, however, reduced floral production, but the nursery began starting vegetables, some from unsold seeds in the VanDusen gift shop. The starts were transplanted in our Vegetable Garden and in various golf courses; the vegetables are harvested weekly and distributed to families in need. Check out the full story at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/vancouver-sunset-nursery-vegetables-1.5677606
Some of these Sunset starts were tomatoes (botanically speaking fruits but treated as culinary vegetables), which came from the New World to Europe in the 16th century. At first, tomatoes were only used ornamentally because they were considered poisonous – and indeed, they were. When served on the pewter dishware of the time, their acids leached large amounts of lead into the food. It took a century or two for Europeans to figure this out and to begin incorporating them into their diet. It’s hard to imagine Italy without tomatoes, but they are a fairly recent addition to that nation’s culinary line-up.
However, the carrots in our Vegetable Garden were sown from seed, as they are hard to transplant. Ancient carrots were many colours, and an urban legend says that the Dutch bred the orange carrot as a tribute to their House of Orange. But, according to carrotmuseum.com, European farmers had been breeding differently-coloured carrots for centuries, and it was just a coincidence that the first orange carrots in Europe showed up at the same time as the House of Orange’s revolt against Spanish rule.
One unusual vegetable at VanDusen, however, is not found in the Vegetable Garden. It is the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), which towers over the Perennial Garden. It is one of the parents of the modern globe artichoke, but unlike the globe artichoke, the cardoon’s stalk is the edible part, not the thistle. In Italy and France, these stalks are boiled or roasted in the fall. Earlier in the season when the cardoon is in bloom, its flowers are used to make a vegetarian rennet for special sheep-milk cheeses (this rennet can only coagulate sheep milk, not cow milk). An Italian cheese made this way, Fior di Cardo, is popular in Northern Italy.
Garden Story, August 7, 2020: Hydrangea 'Heists' In the horticultural underwood, the summer-flowering hydrangea is closely associated with petty crime. In Europe, gangs of young people have been ‘pruning’ hydrangea shrubs, not for their flowers, but for their leaves, which, when dried and mixed with tobacco, supposedly produce a cheaper high than smoking marijuana. However, this practice has been castigated by health professionals who note that hydrangea leaves contain compounds that could provoke stomach and respiratory problems, speed up the heart, and cause dizziness. In fact, in large quantities, the leaves produce hydrogen cyanide, an ingredient in the poison gas used in Nazi gas chambers.
Hydrangea thefts are not confined to Europe, but in North America they are usually for reasons other than getting high. A search of small-town newspapers brings up articles every summer about gardeners whose hydrangeas have been ransacked. Reasons for theft include selling fresh blooms to florists, taking cuttings, or gathering flowers for personal use. Some US East Coast gardeners blame Martha Stewart who has popularized the hydrangea for making bouquets and dried hydrangea wreaths.
Garden Story, July 31, 2020: Survivor Trees August 6 marks the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. At least 80,000 people were killed instantly, and many more died later from the effects of radiation. The landscape was devasted, but, amazingly, 170 trees survived the blast. Their trunks looked like sticks of charcoal. However, buds soon appeared because their roots were not directly damaged. These trees are called Hibakujumoku, meaning ‘survivor tree’ or ‘A-bombed tree.’ Many people think that only ginkgos survived, but almost 40 other species made it through the bombing as well.
We have some of these species at VanDusen. In fact, our signature tree, the Golden Catalpa planted on opening day in 1975, is a cultivar of one of the survivor species, Catalpa bignonioides, native to the southern US. Another VanDusen species with a survivor relative is the Muku tree (Aphananthe aspera) tucked away in the northwest corner of the Fern Dell and native to East Asia. It came to us from UBC Botanical Garden in 1987, grown from seed collected in a Korean village.
More importantly, we have one tree that has a direct genetic link with the Hiroshima trees. It is a tiny Ginkgo biloba at the east end of the Japanese Bed (85), which had been grown from the seed of a tree that survived the bombing in the Shukkeien Garden near the bomb epicentre. Our ginkgo was presented to the Garden by a coalition of Japanese and American Rotary Clubs (Heiwa/Rotary Hiroshima Survivor Trees) at the Rotary Presidential Conference in Vancouver 2018 and planted by Hiroshima survivor Mr. Jiro Kawatsuma and Rotary President Ian Riseley. The coalition shares survivor tree seedlings with Rotary clubs worldwide. Another group, Green Legacy Hiroshima Initiative, is a global volunteer campaign which also shares seedlings from the survivor trees, and their trees are now growing in more than 30 countries, but none at VanDusen
Garden Story, July 24, 2020: ‘Madame Butterfly’: Botanic Version by P. F. von Siebold The famous 1904 opera Madame Butterfly tells the story of an ill-fated love affair between an American naval officer and a Japanese geisha. However, almost a century earlier, the dashing German physician/botanist Philipp Franz von Siebold actually lived that story. In 1823 he arrived in Japan as part of a Dutch trade mission and opened a medical school on an island near Nagasaki where all foreigners were sequestered. Interested in the flora of newly opened Japan, Siebold asked his students to bring him plants from different parts of the country. He was also given rare permission to travel to other cities where, along the way, he did botanical research. Siebold fell in love with a Japanese courtesan, Kusumoto Otaki, whom he nicknamed Otaksa. They lived together for six years and had a daughter, Kusumoto Ine, who was two when Siebold was expelled from Japan for alleged espionage. Back in Europe, Siebold married a German woman but kept in touch with his Japanese daughter and arranged for her to receive a Western medical education at the school he had founded. She was the first female physician in Japan and became a doctor to the Japanese imperial court.
When Siebold had to leave Japan in 1829, he brought back with him extensive botanical notes, thousands of dried specimens and some living plants (including the first tree peonies introduced into the West). He was not a taxonomist, but his collection was eagerly studied by other scientists, and this eventually led to the publication of an important work, Flora of Japan. Siebold was especially interested in hydrangeas and named a blue mophead, Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Otaksa’, after his lover. We do not have this cultivar at VanDusen, but the Plant Collection Record lists 18 other plants named after Siebold. Two of them are Dryopteris sieboldii (Fern Dell) and Hosta sieboldiana (Hydrangea Collection).
Garden Story, July 17, 2020: Ellen Willmott, Isabella Preston and Lady Gaga Question: What do these three people have in common? Answer: They are among the very small group of women who have had a plant genus or species named after them.
Ellen Willmott (1858-1934) was an English plant collector. She created a magnificent garden at Warley in Essex and funded many plant-finding expeditions, including those of explorer E. H. Wilson, who named Ceratostigma willmottianum (Chinese plumbago, found at the top of the Waterfall) after her. She spent so much money on plants that she died penniless. Isabella Preston (1881-1965) hybridized roses, crabapples, lilacs and lilies at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa back when it was extremely rare for a woman to be employed in such work. She crossed two species lilacs to produce a range of prairie-hardy hybrids, Syringa x prestoniae (three examples of which are supposedly in Bed 117 in the Canadian Heritage Garden, but a quick search did not locate them). A new genus of ferns was recently named Gaga after Lady G (1986- ). Depending on what story you read, the genus was named after her because: a) plants in the genus resembled a costume she wore to the 2010 Grammys; b) members of the new genus bear a distinct DNA sequence spelling GAGA; c) researchers were listening to her music when they made this discovery; d) her fervent defense of equality and individual expression inspired the scientists. (FYI, we do not have any Gaga ferns at VanDusen; they are found from Arizona and Texas south to South America.)
However, lots of women have had cultivars named after them. Think of the beautiful Crocosmia ‘Jenny Bloom’ and C. Emily McKenzie or Rosa ‘Ghislaine de Féligonde’ that we mentioned last week. And then there are common names, like the one for Eryngium giganteum 'Silver Ghost',Miss Willmott’s Ghost, which takes us back full circle to Ellen Willmott. Legend has it that she used to secretly spread its seeds in other people’s gardens. (She perhaps needs to put in an appearance at VanDusen because our E. giganteum seems to have disappeared from its habitual spot in the Formal Rose Garden perennial border this summer.)
Garden Story, July 10, 2020: A Tale of One Trellis and Two Roses…the Formal Rose Garden It’s hard to imagine the Formal Rose Garden without the trellis over the east entrance, but that wrought iron arch was not part of the original design. It was donated in 1999 by the Vancouver Rose Society in honour of their fiftieth anniversary. The structure is now mostly hidden by the climbing Rosa ‘Ghislaine de Féligonde’ and R. ‘Dublin Bay.’ The orange-pink R. ‘Ghislaine de Féligonde’ celebrated its 100th birthday in 1916. It was named after the daughter of a French count. Scarlet-coloured R. ‘Dublin Bay’ is a bit younger. It was hybridized in 1975 in New Zealand by a well-known rose breeder, Sam McGredy, who had emigrated from Northern Ireland during the Troubles. He named some of his roses after the bays of Ireland. Hear Sam talking about this rose. McGredy was the fourth generation of a Northern Irish rose-growing family. Wednesday cart captain, Carole Shaw, grew up near the McGredy nursery and has fond memories of visiting it as a child with her father who was an avid rose grower.
Garden Story, July 2, 2020: No sex please, we’re Canadian…Amelanchier canadensis In honour of Canada Day, we are featuring Amelanchier canadensis, a deciduous understory shrub native to Eastern North America from Newfoundland south to Alabama. It has an unusual way of reproducing in that it can form viable seeds without the need for fertilization. This rare phenomenon is called ‘apomixis’. A. canadensis may also hold the record for the highest number of common names: shadbush/shadblow/shadwood (because it blooms when the shad run), serviceberry, sarvisberry, juneberry. Early pioneers made pies from the small berries later on in the summer. Several of these shrubby trees can be found in the Eastern North American and Canadian Heritage Gardens.
Garden Story, June 26, 2020: A ‘Birthday’ Bollwyller? A few years ago, the guides adopted the Bollwyller pear tree at the eastern point of the rosaceae/grasses bed in honour of long-time guide Erica Dunn. This unusual tree was first discovered in Bollwiller, a small town in Alsace, in the 1600s and is only propagated by cuttings, as the seeds do not come true. It is an intergeneric hybrid, x Sorbopyrus auricularia, which is a cross between Sorbus aria (whitebeam) and Pyrus communis (pear). On Erica’s June birthday, the small fruit is green, but it turns orangey-red in September and is edible (although somewhat bland). It is also called the Shipova pear (possibly after a city in Russia).
Garden Story, June 19, 2020: Ants on Peony Buds - An Enduring Myth The recent rains have put an end to the peony season, but a myth about peonies goes on forever: that herbaceous peonies need ants in order to bloom. False! Sweet-toothed ants are attracted to herbaceous peony buds by the sugary nectar found at their base, but those ants also chase away other, more destructive insects looking for food. Once the flowers are fully open, the nectar dries up, and the ants are on their way to another food source. The ants have nothing to do with the actual flowering process. Ants are also found on the Perennial Garden’s Itoh peonies, which are a cross between herbaceous and tree peonies. You are less likely to find them on tree peonies, maybe because it’s too much of a hike for the ants up those tall shrubs? Here's some video information about this phenomenon and a glimpse of some of the Garden's peonies.
Garden Story, June 12, 2020: Epiderm? EpiPen? No, it’s Epiphylly: Helwingia chinensis Still in bloom along the path next to Bed 127A in the Sino-Himalayan Garden, the shiny evergreen foliage of the shrub Helwingia chinensis catches the eye. A closer look discovers tiny white flowers growing directly out of the middle of the leaf. This is a rare phenomenon called ‘epiphylly’, meaning ‘on the surface of the leaf’. The species is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. If male and female plants are in proximity, small fruits will appear in the fall. In the winter, small bumps on the leaves indicate that next year’s flowers are on the way. The plant is named after Georg Andreas Helwing, a 17th-century Prussian botanist, who never knew about this plant. H. japonicus was introduced into Europe by Phillip von Siebold in 1830, and our H. chinensis only appeared on the Western scene in the 20th century.
Garden Story, June 5, 2020: Rhododendron 'Cynthia' Partway up the Rhodo Walk is a large rosy-pink rhododendron named 'Cynthia'. Who Cynthia was is lost to history, but we do know that the plant was hybridized in the mid-19th century in England when Himalayan rhododendron species first made their way to the West. One of those hybrids came to Ladysmith, B.C. before 1900 and is still a tourist attraction when in bloom. Our R. 'Cynthia' was planted in 1972 as part of the original Rhodo Walk and is quite a bit smaller than its Ladysmith cousin.