Wild plants, roses and Mother's Day

Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2000

This has been a glorious week: bright sunny weather, all the daffodils in bloom, tulips just opening and primroses filling front yards with their explosive ``Pom Pom Poms.'' Our yard has two very old Weeping European Larches with craggy arching shapes. They are just putting out their new needles, looking like fledgling swans all twisty necked and soft. The Devil's Club shapes are swelling into Olympic torches and our most impressive wild plant is unrolling its giant spathe. Smelling of vanilla rather than skunks makes it seem misnamed.

Margaret's One Percent for Art installation at the new Juneau Police Station was well-received. The salvaged pieces of uplifted meadow with their Labrador Tea, Creeping Blueberry and tiny Bog Cranberry seem to have transplanted successfully. The impressionistic recreation of a high altitude scene is alive with lupines, columbines and irises. The skirting of lignonberry, wintergreen and dogwood indicate that this tapestry of native creepers will knit the big pieces into a coherent carpet within a couple of seasons.

Mother's Day and its attendant memorializations were accompanied by clouds of feathery Hopa Crabapple blooms. We were lucky to get some big exciting specimens this year, and their strong upright arms are filled with the enjoyable burden of thousands of tiny deep pink petals. The nursery was filled with smiling visitors enjoying the weather and bringing their mothers out for a stroll.

Scenes of familial delight were repeated in many permutations as children chose pansies, sisters picked out lilacs, and dads and sons selected trees for inclusion in the home landscape. The swelling buds and just-opening flowers beckoned fingers to feel soft tissues and caress smooth shapes, exploring and getting aquatinted with new family members. Mutual delight is the goal, settings and personalities must mesh, suitable sites and personal resonance with the plants help make the selection process fun.

There is a sense of excitement as spring opens the gates to outdoor activities. Lawns are green again, soil is drained and thawed, and our seasonal companions are emerging from their underground stays with new shiny leaves reaching for the sun. Peonies red fingers and Irises slender gray-green tongues sample the air, carpets of Forget-Me-Nots fill edges and cracks, and the big architectural treasure that Seely Hall calls ``Siberia'' is swelling into leaf.

Canadian Rose breeders have contributed a whole new category of hardy roses; they are still going to have fragrant, beautiful roses, even if they do live where temperatures plunge far below zero. The experiment station at Morden, Ontario, has been releasing a series of smooth-leafed, big-flowered types called the Explorer Series. They are all named after the first European visitors to the northern lands, William Baffin, John Cabot, George Vancouver and Samuel Holland. They are deep reds and bright pinks, and one is a light yellow. They are shrub types or climbers, and are all grown on their own roots so that they can successfully grow back if they are damaged.

Roses are sought after by gardeners of every persuasion, delighting in their color, fragrance and form. They link us worldwide into a society of aficionados, and we enjoy the fruits of thousands of individuals whose efforts have developed the wide variety of rose types available today. These modern contributors have opened the doors to rose growing in these regions of cold winters and I am sure that we will see an explosion of their use.

Fruit trees and flowering trees enjoy a sentimental link to other gardens we have known. Our apples may never feed the world, but the sensation of picking and biting into a tree-fresh fruit is one to be savored and introduced to our children. Cherries, saskatoons, currants, gooseberries and raspberries all taste best when picked and eaten in one movement, and the flavor of rhubarb from the home garden is like no other. Joe Poor's ``Douglas Island Plum Research Institute'' has even led us to a good producer in the Mt. Royal Plum, a deep purple sweet fruited type suitable for fresh use or cooking, if enough can be kept from the kids.

The signals are all flying for a glorious summer: we're making plans for fun in the sun in our Juneau yard; fresh herbs by the barbeque, reseeding the lawn for heavy use by the soccer and baseball crowd, and flowerboxes overflowing with color. Fruit, roses, perennials in their own self-regulated sequences and great expectations from the kids own garden plots. Let's all have a great time. David Lendrum is a master gardener and, along with Margaret Tharp, owns Landscape Alaska. Any responses or questions can be sent to www.landscapealaska.com.

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