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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 08 January 2012 by John Richards

More from California and Oregon. Entry 202.


Things are moving fast outside. I can't remember an earlier start to spring, and doubtless theres still a lot of winter to go  this year. Already, snowdrops, crocuses, scillas and irises are starting to show colour. However, there should be a lot more to see next week if the weather holds, and having scanned in a lot of slides from ten years ago, I thought nevertheless that I would indulge in another set of nostalgic pictures from the enjoyable trip to the USA west coast that I introduced last week.

First up, some trilliums. Going northwards from San Francisco, the first species I encountered was growing on the wooded banks of the Rogue River near Medford on the edge of the Siskiyou, southern Oregon. This was T. albidum, a species that we grow at the Newcastle Botanic Garden where Sheila and I volunteer. As seems to be usual for the genus, when it does occur, it does so by the thousand, in great sheets.



Our next move northwards was to Eugene, a city which boasts some wonderful parks which include unspoilt forest. Here, in the third week of April, two trilliums flourished. By far the more numerous was what I recognised as a form of T. chloropetalum. I was told that this had been distinguished as a variety, parviflorum, 'small flowered', and although this may be true, it is still a handsome plant en masse.

Here also grew the handsome T. ovatum. I believe that this western relative of the familiar T. grandiflorum has a repoutation for being a good deal more tricky to grow, although I have never attempted it. Like some forms of its eastern ally, T. ovatum has the pleasing attribute of colouring red as the flowers age, possibly a mechanism which renders the later flowers invisible to insects, so that the receptive flowers are pollinated more efficiently.

By the way, the little yellow viola in the last photo is probably V. nuttallii.

While we were in the Medford area, we paid a visit to the 8-Dollar reserve area, and I was led to the spot from where Boyd Kline of the Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery (which is still trading) introduced the famous form of Trillium rivale 'Purple Heart'. Boyd was with us that day (he still is, aged 87), so I know it was the right spot! In truth, many of the countless little plants that grew amongst the deciduous tree roots could have been taken for 'Purple Heart', as they were abundantly pink-spotted. I seem to have lost most of the photos I took that day, so this rather poor photo is not of a particularly spotted form.

Other plants tend to creep into these photos! The little blue flower is an anemone, A. oregonum, shown better below.

Allium is a great genus, with many horrible plants, which tend to detract from their often superb relatives. West coast alliums have something of a niche appeal, so I thought that the cognoscent might enjoy pictures of three examples. I think my favourite grew on the flat rocky top of Table Rock, Medford, between the vernal pools which characterise this area after the spring melt and rains. Here is a distant vew of the rock, followed by one of the vernal pools, and then of the delightful Allium parvum.

Close by California-Oregon border at Yreka, near the main highway, lies a serpentinite area known as Phlox Hill, because of the abundance of Phlox hirsuta. This lovely area boasts superb views of Mt Shasta, and other snowy peaks. Here is a genera view, a shot of P. hirsuta, and then of an allium we also found there, possibly A. monophyllum (although it has several leaves!).

The final allium is more familiar, or at least a species I grew and flowered regularly until it failed to survive being frozen solid for many weeks in each of the last two winters (it seems it would have not suffered this fate during the present very mild season, but I am told that the 1947 freeze did not start until February!). This is another serpentine speciality, A. falcifolium which I was shown near Clear Lake by the late great Wayne Roderick as part of a day-tour to the north of San Francisco.

Allium falcifolium grew with several distinguished neighbours, not least Lewisia rediviva v. minor, which was just at its best. This popular, summer-dormant lewisia is not always a serpentine plant, although I believe that the variety more often is.

On that same, wonderful, day, we visited another area of seasonal lakes, vernal pools, at Bull Lake and here I was struck by a charming local endemic, Brodiaea purdyi.

A final monocot, but this time from much further north, on the Columbia river, where a route called Losier Loop runs through some delightful scenic countryside. Here there were many splendid plants, not least Olsynium douglasii, a very successful subject in my own garden where it has flourished for many years. My form is a darker purple than this delightful pink.

Here are two more excellent plants from Losier Loop, Balsamorhiza sagittata, and Dodecatheon poeticum.

I am finishing with three of the many lovely violas which grace the western spring. First is V. beckwithii which grew on Phlox Hill, Yreka, already discussed.

Next, V. cuneata, from open woodland at 8-Dollar, Siskiyou.

Finally, V. trinervata. I was shown this at another wonderful area we visited, this time from Seattle, from where we travelled east for 100 miles to the Cascades, where a lovely flower reserve called Haywood Hill lies close to the highway. There were many lovely things here in April, Claytonia lanceolata in abundance, Hydrophyllum capitatum, Lupinus leucophyllus, Dodecatheon conjungens and Hesperochiron pumilus. Here is the viola, with a white form, followed by the hespirochiron.

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