This is the year for garden visiting, if there has ever been a better season for our yards and landscapes I can’t remember it.
Neighborhoods are overflowing with flowers and fruit, vegetable gardens are bursting forth and the flowering trees have been incredible.
Japanese maples spot the landscape with their rich red color, bleeding hearts jaunty flags of flower wave gaily and the peonies — what a luxurious sensation it is to sink into a fat, fluffy peony blossom and take in the aroma.
Every style and tradition of ornamental gardening can be seen in our local gardens — the restrained lawn and trimmed evergreens, the whimsical winding path among tall trees, ferny flower beds which invite pauses, fruitful and carefully tended collections of carrots and lettuces in raised beds and the exuberant and abundant flowering of the fully developed perennial gardens.
This summer has been the best so far.
This beauty encourages one of the oldest and most basic of gardening traditions — sharing your floral treasures with friends. Digging up and separating some of the roots of your most productive rhubarb or raspberries, or dividing the Pom Pom primroses that have grown as large as romaine lettuces is all part of helping a new gardener get started in their first landscape project or garden is all part of the gardening community. Trading seedlings of the treasured blue poppy, for instance, for ones of the delicately-shaded and silver-dusted nodding primroses (since you can’t buy them anywhere) or digging up and passing on seedlings of the delicious Telephone Hill cherries can communicate delight and comradeship in a way as old as Babylon.
Rare or common, exotic or indigenous, sharing treasures and seeing them flourish in another setting is a huge portion of the delight of horticulture. Plants respond to our care by reproducing abundantly and in so doing we make our gardens even more widely appreciated.
Plants carry with them the history of where they were grown, and from whom they came. Like musicians who introduce their sets by telling where they first heard the melody that became the song they sing, we gardeners remember the first time we glimpsed a group of rich orange tiger lilies, or felt the smooth supple surface of a furry rose campion, and from whom we got our first starts of those treasures.
Some are family heirlooms, first seen in grandmother’s back yard, then cultivated in mom and dad’s garden. Passing those treasures along is paramount so they can grow on to be shared with the next generation. Some are even the original plant, or a division of the original now grown into a specimen itself. We visited Margaret’s parent’s childhood home and found her great grandmother’s peony in the old home; it now resides with us, blooming annually in great abundance.
There are chance encounters, like the beginnings of a romance, a sudden meeting of interested eyes that leads to a lifelong partnership. A visit to a flower show or a tour of a botanical garden can introduce a lucky gardener to some species that may become a lifelong companion.
Here in Juneau, we have more than a few who have been engulfed by the primrose family. Enthusiasts like John O’Brien, Carolyn Jensen and Clay McDole introduced the rest of us to the whole realm of these sturdy and colorful plants. There are dozens of species of primula that love our cool, moist climate so much that visitors marvel at the range of types grown and shared in our community.
Right now is the time of year for dividing the spring-blooming primroses and there is a small flurry of activity devoted to the lifting, separating and replanting of these easy-to-grow species. A friend told me last week she has to tear them out by the handfuls just to keep them in bounds and she gives away wheelbarrows to her friends.
There are also acquisitions carefully sought out to compliment some other feature or to enlarge a collection. People come to the nursery describing a flower they saw, or showing a smart phone photo of a desired tree or rhododendron blossom. Perhaps they saw it in a friend’s yard and they want one too; it becomes a treasure hunt trying to identify, locate and obtain the desired specimen. The first one may lead to another and soon a theme garden develops and a world wide community of enthusiasts is found.
Sharing the passion is part of the pleasure, and finding other gardeners who feel the same is like going to a family reunion and settling down for a wonderful chat with a rarely seen favorite. Introducing the younger generations to the ages old traditions is the only way they continue, it is our duty as well as our delight to pass it on.
• David Lendrum is a Juneau resident and longtime local gardener who, with his wife Margaret Tharp, has been in business for 30 years as Landscape Alaska. They can be contacted at email@example.com.