Febrile February?

This month just might prove to be the warmest February on record for the Seattle area. And wetter too!  By February tenth we had already exceeded the average precipitation for the month (3.75″ vs 3.50″ average).  It’s 3 PM as I write and about 60° F. in my yard (time to mow the lawn); the temps in the city of Seattle are above 65° F., which to my mind is downright feverish.

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Primula allionii x pubescens hybrid ‘Wharfdale Ling’

I haven’t really paid close attention to the weather statistics until today, but some my plants have definitely been showing evidence they are ahead of schedule.  This little alpine primula cross was outside all winter under a bench, but still able to get a bit of moisture.  Two years ago it didn’t bloom heavily until mid-March.

A rosemary plant in a clay pot had the benefit of my greenhouse and is very happily blooming at the same time as the Hellebores.

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The dwarf red twig dogwood (below) is showing some nice red stems, which I believe is what it’s expected to do over the winter; perhaps it will leaf out earlier this year.

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Mexican feather grass, red twig dogwood, Hinoki cypress

The Mexican feather grass in the foreground doesn’t look bad, but probably should be trimmed back to get ready for the real spring.

I’m not sure if the Camellia japonica in my garden is that early, since these two blooms are just out while the rest of the plant is still in buds.

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This mature plant, about seven feet high is usually quite early, but right now it’s blooming at the same time as C. sasanqua, the winter blooming Camellia.

What’s blooming in your February garden?

Alpines in Bloom

For the last few weeks Alpines lit up troughs and pots that are scattered around the garden. Campanulas, Lewisias and Dianthus are featured. Click each photo for a closer look.

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Campanula bellidifolia (Native to the Caucasus Mountains)

Dianthus -Campanula Trough

Left to Right: Campanula ‘Birch Hybrid’ and Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘SternKissen’

Lewisia cotyledon hybrid

Lewisia cotyledon hybrid

Dianthus alpinus

Dianthus alpinus ‘select form’

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Lewisia cotyledon hybrid

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Unidentified Campanula cultivar

Lewisias in Cultivation

Lewisia cotyledon

Lewisia cotyledon

The Genus Lewisia, endemic to Western North America and numbering about 20 species belongs to the small family Portulacaceae, which is characterized by, among other characteristics, fleshy leaves.  Most of the 20 Lewisia species, especially the evergreens, have leaves that are downright succulent looking.

But it is the flowers that have captivated generations of alpine and rock garden enthusiasts since Meriwether Lewis, in July of 1806, first saw the plant in flower at about 3,400 feet near his campsite on the Bitterroot River near the village of Lolo in Missoula County, Montana.

For me pot culture, clay preferably, affords many advantages, especially the ability to have the blooms displayed at eye level.

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Lewisia Tweedyi cultivars

Certainly many folks incorporate L. cotyledon hybrids into the landscape in rock gardens and other beds with excellent drainage. But for me, the simplicity of moving a clay pot into view, and also having the ability in our northwest wet winters to move the Lewisia pots to a drier covered area, heavily favors pot culture.

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Cotyledon Hybrid Bloom

Lewisia cotyledon is considered by most gardeners the easiest to cultivate and is the species growers have hybridized the most, making its cultivars and hybrids the most visible in general nurseries and  occasionally available for purchase at the big retail garden centers. Nonetheless, even this plant disappoints many novice gardeners when grown in the landscape. While tough as nails with respect to temperatures, cotyledon and cotyledon hybrids prefer some protection from winter wet.

British alpine enthusiasts have been growing and hybridizing Lewisias for decades.  Crosses between L. cotyledon and L. rediviva from Ashwood Nurseries have produced some stunning yellow shades.

An Ashwood Hybrid grown from seed sown in 2010

An Ashwood hybrid I grew from seed sown in 2010


Rediviva may just be the most stunning species in the wild, with bloom that rivals any Lewisia. It’s distributed widely throughout the West, is very drought tolerant, since it dies back (estivates) in summer, presumably in response to dry conditions.

Rediviva

L. rediviva, Mount Sentinel near Missoula Montana (photo courtesy of Univ of Montana)

In cultivation during its active growing period in early spring rediviva tolerates saturated soils, though I recommend clay pots with excellent drainage or plunging pots into a sand bed. Watering the sand bed sparingly, especially during dormancy, is helpful in keeping rediviva happy.

I’m hoping to successfully grow most, if not all, 20 lewisia species. My goal is to be able to display the entire genus and also experiment with various crosses.  Right now I have the following species in cultivation:

  • L. cotyledon and many cotyledon hybrids
  • L. glandulosa
  • L. rediviva
  • L. columbiana
  • L. tweedyi (considered by botanists to be in its own genus, Lewisiopsis)
  • L. brachycalyx