coloured leaves

Cerinthe Pride of Gibraltar

The Magical Colours of Cerinthe

A few years ago, while riding my bicycle, I saw a plant with an exciting combination of blue, green, and purple. Those are my three favourite colours. Blue and purple especially — the colours of magic!

Some investigation revealed the name, or rather names, of this plant. In scientific Latin, it’s Cerinthe major, variety atropurpurea. Common names include honeywort and “blue shrimp,” which certainly describes it when in bloom. But I prefer “Pride of Gibraltar,” which has a certain grandeur and mystery, quite in keeping with this plant’s magical qualities.

Cerinthe Pride of GibraltarWhy magical, you ask? Because of the colour changes it undergoes. I grew a number of plants from seed this summer, in pots. That allowed me to keep a close eye on them and observe their development. Last summer, I grew them in the chaotic mess of the “Ex-Veg Patch,” where they soon disappeared among the jumble of herbs and arugula. I managed to harvest seven seeds and resolved to make good use of them.

When young, the simple, entire leaves of cerinthe are a pale green with faint white blotches. I worried about those blotches, but I think they’re normal. Once the plants branch out and prepare to bloom, the foliage colour deepens to a unique blue-tinged green. Flower buds form, and the ends of the stalks droop as the flowers open.

The flowers themselves aren’t all that spectacular. They’re narrow purple tubes less than an inch long, peeking out from the small terminal leaves. The magical thing is the colour of those leaves. They’re dark blue, sometimes with purple and bronze flushes. The combination of blue-green, pure blue, purple-blue, and purple is a delight to the eye. And chances are a bumblebee will show up. As it burrows into a flower, the bumblebee’s buzz grows more intense, probably because of the tubular shape.

Cerinthe Pride of Gibraltar close-up, blue leaves

Cerinthe Pride of Gibraltar close-upPride of Gibraltar cerinthe is an easy-to-grow annual. The seeds are about the size of peas, so are easy to handle. I can imagine all kinds of clever colour combinations in beds, borders and containers. Definitely allow seeds to form and ripen so you can experience the magic again next year.

More information on the genus Cerinthe here; on “Pride of Gibraltar” and obtaining seeds here.

We’re experiencing that weird, smoke-induced orange light here again. Some say it’s going to be the “new normal” for our summers. Air quality the past few days has been too poor for garden activities more strenuous than admiring the flowers of summer’s end, such as cerinthe “Pride of Gibraltar.”

Weird light at sunset. Orange light due to wildfire smoke.

 

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maple leaves, orange leaves, yellow leaves

More Autumn Glories

I couldn’t resist posting a few more photos from the autumn garden…

autumn crocus, fall crocus

Autumn crocuses among fallen maple leaves and hellebore foliage.

 

smoke bush, cotinus, fall foliage, senecio foliage

Smoke bush and Senecio foliage.

 

Pennisetum alopecuroides "Little Bunny" ornamental grass in autumn

Pennisetum alopecuroides “Little Bunny” and old stalks of Digitalis lutea.

That’s it for now — we’ve had some cold winds and even a taste of snow (!). All those coloured leaves are on the ground, and the season is shifting toward winter.

 

campion, fireweed and mixed fall foliage closeup

Fall Fever

I love fall. The season of active gardening is winding down, for better or worse. The triumphs and tragedies are in the past, to be fondly remembered or recovered from. It’s too soon to think about next spring. This is a time to savour.

Which is what I’ve been doing, camera in hand, taking snaps of anything that looks even fleetingly beautiful. Actually, most garden beauties are fleeting. A few seconds later, the light has changed. A day later, those leaves have faded or fallen. Now is the time.

We’re moving from early to mid-fall —  60 mm (more than 2 inches) of rain and lots of wind. The garden is changing even as I write this.

So here are the best of my recent photos, carefully “curated” (my first chance to use that word in a sentence):

bergenia

Bergenia foliage turning colour.

 

bergenia, purple asters, front garden, fall

Front garden: bergenias and asters.

 

IMG_2530

Nerines, bergenias, curry plant and senecio ‘Sunshine.’

 

santolina foliage and plumbago flowers

Santolina foliage and plumbago flowers and foliage.

 

pond water dark fallen leaves and duckweed

Reflections, fallen leaves and duckweed on the pond.

 

black mondo grass (ophiopogon) and other foliage

Black mondo grass, lamb’s ears and various leaves.

 

Chines witch hazel foliage

Chinese witch hazel turning colour.

 

pond area, fall

Pond area (the pond is behind the big fern).

 

Western Screech Owl on trellis

This Barred Owl paid a visit one afternoon.

 

maple leaves turning colour

One of the maples coming into fall colours.

 

 

The Bush of Smoke and Fire

Most of the random garden photos I’ve taken lately feature the incredible colours of and patterns on the about-to-depart leaves of the smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria.

Smoke bush, November 2016

Smoke bush is a variable and versatile shrub. There is a form whose summer foliage is green, but most of the ones I see hereabouts are one of the purple-leaved forms. Mine is called “Royal Purple,” but there is a plant I’m acquainted with that’s an interesting red-green with purple undertones, and whose fall colour borders on lurid.

I took this picture with my phone; the colours came out a bit weird.

I took this picture with my phone; the colours came out a bit weird.

Smoke bushes may be handled in different ways in the garden. Left to themselves, they can become small trees — “small” meaning up to 20 feet tall, but they tend to be almost as wide, so you need a lot of room for an unrestrained plant. They take pruning well — anything from trimming last season’s growth by one-third in spring to cutting the whole bush down to stubs. Unpruned, they bloom in summer, putting out clusters of tiny flowers surrounded by pink fluff (the “smoke”). Pruned plants, obviously, don’t bloom, but some gardeners prefer the foliage to the flowers. Severe pruning — which is what I did to my plant last spring — results in really vigorous, whippy shoots. I found it necessary to do some mid-season trimming to keep the plant within bounds. I think I’ll stick to a more moderate treatment for the next few years.

This plant was cut down to 2 feet in spring, and trimmed in summer, and still topped out at more than 6 feet, and 4 feet wide.

This plant was cut down to 2 feet in spring, and trimmed in summer, and still topped out at more than 6 feet, and 4 feet wide.

For me, the whole point of growing a smoke bush comes in the autumn, when it starts to change colour — everything from yellow through shades of orange, into reds and purples, and even some green emerging. Many leaves develop little brownish-grey marks on either side of the centre rib that turn them into little works of art.

Looks as though carefully painted.

Looks as though carefully painted.

 

Smoke bush, November 2016

 

More good features — smoke bush is drought tolerant and does well in light shade, although full sun brings out the fall colours best. It seems to be pest-free, although I think I read that verticillium wilt is a potential problem.

Smoke bush is a trouble-free, versatile shrub with much to recommend it. It looks good with other plants too.

 

Smoke bush and Senecio "Sunshine"

Smoke bush and Senecio “Sunshine”

 

Smoke bush and fern

Smoke bush and fern

Another Fall in the Garden– and a “Change Agent”

I love autumn for its colours — some subtle, others spectacular, always fleeting.

Two kinds of purple asters (names unknown to me) in the front garden

Two kinds of purple asters (names unknown to me) in the front garden

 

A favourite scene in the back garden

A favourite scene in the back garden

 

Cotinus "Royal Purple" in fall colours -- much better than its summer purple!

Cotinus “Royal Purple” in fall colours — much better than its summer purple!

Cotinus leaves often develop these artistic-looking patterns as they change colour

Cotinus leaves often develop these artistic-looking patterns as they change colour

 

A lone bloom on Gentian acaulis -- rare blue colour in the autumn garden

A lone bloom on Gentian acaulis — rare blue colour in the autumn garden

A windstorm last week blew most of the leaves off the maples. Raking awaits!

And the Change Agent?

Nelly by the pond

Nelly by the pond

Nelly the Newfoundland puppy (4 months old)

Nelly the Newfoundland puppy (4 months old)

The garden won’t be the same…