Tuesday 15 September 2015

What Will I Find, Where the Sun Don't Shine?

The valley cut by Hayes Creek, where my mountain garden is located, runs almost due North/South, so virtually every surface and aspect in the valley is exposed to hours of sunlight. In the summer, temperatures can soar to the mid-30's celsius in the afternoon, although they almost always dip to the single digits at night.

There is a nice mix of conifers in the valley, including (in order of frequency): Pinus contorta, Picea glauca x engelmannii, Pseudotsuga menziesii, Pinus ponderosa, Juniperus scopulorum and Abies lasiocarpa. That last one is special. Abies lasiocarpa (Subalpine Fir) dominates (surprise) subalpine habitats in Western North America, up to treeline. This tree requires a cold winter, and won't appear in locales where summer temperatures are too high for its liking. It also has higher moisture requirements than any of the other native conifers. So it is associated with a lot of interesting plants that have similar requirements. I would suspect that in my valley, which can be very hot and dry in the Summer, it is an indicator of conditions that would more likely support other members of its assocated subalpine community.

About 2 kilometers North of me, at the same elevation, there is a bend in the road where the valley runs East/West for a few hundred metres. On the South side of the valley bottom, it is very shady and sheltered from the hot Summer sun. At that location, Abies lasiocarpa is one of the dominant species. The area where this tree is most dominant is private property. I need to secure permission to go and look at the spot more closely. Working on that.

Further Eastward about 200 metres from that spot, it is a little more exposed and not as shaded because the hillside to the South is not as steep. Abies lasiocarpa is still quite common, but not as dominant as in that one magical, shady spot. It occurred to me I have never really explored this area. If I can gain access to the private property, what will I find there? Are there shady cliffs above the creek where I will find Saxifraga tolmei, like I did at that shady cliff-face 200 meters from the house? Or will I find the rumoured, but never seen Erythronium grandiflorum (my favourite, remember?) that was reported less than 2 kilometers from here by researchers working on the BC biogeoclimatic zone project?

The bend in the valley where it briefly runs East/West. The forest of Abies lasiocarpa is at the foot of the hill, next to the pasture. This is the most dense concentration of these trees in the valley. Of course, further up the hill to the left, they become more and more common until they are almost exclusive with Picea engelmannii.

Through binoculars, one can clearly see the trees. They have a very distinctive, narrow and conical shape that is iconic to subalpine forests from the Rockies Westward.

200 meters further East, there is Crown property and I am able to access the A. lasiocarpa habitat. However, it is not as dominant here.

Abies lasiocarpa 200 meters East of the pasture site.

The classic, upturned and soft/round-tipped needles of Abies lasiocarpa. It has distinct cones too - upright and purple.

Will I find Erythronium grandiflorum, such as this one photographed by Mary Mastriel of Princeton, at the China Ridge Trails, just outside of Princeton?

How about Dodecatheon pulchellum, like this one I photographed with Kenton Seth near the juncture of Highway 3 and Friday Creek?

Sunday 13 September 2015

E.C. Manning Provincial Park, British Columbia in Summer 2015

I have the opportunity to stop at the Park, Southeast of Princeton, BC, on my way to and from my homes in the Lower Mainland and the Southern Interior of the province. This year, Summer came so early that I made my first stop at the Cascade Lookout and various spots on the road to the Park's Subalpine Meadows on June 5. Here I found plants in bloom weeks earlier than usual.

Phacelia sericea at Cascade Lookout, June 5.

Phlox diffusa in a natural crevice garden at Cascade Lookout, June 5.

Viola glabbela? Near the Dry Ridge Trail, June 5.

My favourite, Erythronium grandiflorum, near the Dry Ridge Trail, June 5. Normally around this date, I see this plant blooming at elevations 1500-2000 feet lower.

Arenaria capilaris near the Dry Ridge Trail, June 5.

Penstemon fruticosus near the Dry Ridge Trail, June 5.

Castilleja hispida with Lupinus arcticus near the Dry Ridge Trail, June 5.

Eriogonum umbellatum v. subalpinum, July 15.

Penstemon serrulatus, July 15.

Chamerion latifolium on a dry, rocky bank, July 15. Usually this is seen on riverbanks or streambanks.

Slopes at the Subalpine Meadows, July 15.

Seemingly giant Anemone occidentalis with Castilleja rhexifolia or C. miniata at the Subalpine Meadows, July 15.

Castilleja parviflora v. albida at the Subalpine Meadows, July 15.

Castilleja rhexifolia or C. miniata - I need to key this. July 15.

Lupinus arcticus overlooking a forest of Abies lasiocarpa near Blackwall Peak, July 15.

Chamerion latifolium on the banks of the Similkameen River beside Highway 3, August 16.

Saturday 12 September 2015

A Quick and Dirty Crevice Garden

By June 6, 2015 Spring was already Summer, with virtually all native plants 3 weeks to a month ahead of usual! My folks had already done a huge job (with family friend Blake Glover) finishing a beautiful patio underneath the deck - an idea that had been thrown around for a couple years.

Alongside the patio were two steep banks. On the morning of June 6, I got to thinking that the patio presented two opportunities to make some small garden beds. On the North side, which only gets morning sun, I'd do a small rock garden for plants that suit such an exposure. On the South side, I would do a combination crevice garden / rock garden with a central wash or stream bed to align with the dripline from the roof overhead.

Crevice Garden Inspirations
  • Mike Kintgen, Curator of Alpines at the Denver Botanic Garden. Mike's crevice gardens at the DBG were the first real examples I ever saw, and I had the fortune of seeing them once in full Spring glory
  • Paul Spriggs came and spoke to the Alpine Garden Club of British Columbia, and showed slides of his work in Victoria. Paul himself was inspired by (and worked with) the great Czech master "ZZ".
  • Kenton Seth, who over the course of a ten hour drive through Southwestern BC, convinced me 'it isn't hard to do' and not to overthink soils etc.
  • Brent Hine, as our favourite topic of conversation seems to be 'what I ought to be doing'. :D

The new patio facing North.

The new patio facing South.

For the crevices, I abandoned the time-honoured traditions that I am aware of in favour of simply getting the job done quickly. We had some narrow granite flagstone-type rocks left over from the construction of the fireplaces in the house and cabin.

The new crevice garden with stream bed / wash. My mom forgot to remind me to get a 'before' photo. :D

Downslope view.

The first plants are installed.

The new bed on the North side of the patio.

September 7, 2015: Still looking for more plants for the crevice garden. I installed a few small seedling perennials in June - plants I grew from my own seed collections and seeds I obtained from the Alpine Garden Club of BC and North American Alpine and Rock Garden Society seed exchanges. All of the seedlings really suffered through this unprecedented hot summer, but most survived. With cooler weather and some Fall moisture, they are really taking off.

This Aquilegia jonesii x saximontana has done really well!

Looking forward to posting more updates on these new beds in the future!

Wednesday 9 September 2015

Inspired by the Greats! And Kinda Had Limited Options...

Per my last post, I discovered a fairly steep Southwest-facing bank that soaks in a lot of heat during the day. This site becomes snow-free and dry very early in the Spring, owing to its aspect, steep incline and very rocky, almost soil-free nature.

Exploring the site further, and discovering that it is basically a hill of boulders with gritty sand that is virtually devoid of organics, I was reminded of Peter Korn's book "Peter Korn's Garden - Giving Plants What They Want" and his recent presentation to the Alpine Garden Club of BC in Vancouver. Peter used a steep, rocky slope like this for hardy cacti in his garden, near Gothenburg, Sweden. I got to thinking - cacti are probably the ONLY plant I could successfully grow on this incredibly well drained spot, which would be very hot in Summer. It is not surprising to note that the native Opuntia fragilis hybrids, which live in the valleys at lower elevations, tend to colonize similar rocky hillsides.

I chatted with hardy cactus expert and friend Jeff Thompson, and he agreed this site might be my best chance to maximize the number of hardy cacti I can grow. Early in the summer, I did a bit of hardscape work and began planting a large number of Opuntia (prickly pear). Some of them are collections I have made. Others are plants I have obtained in trade. Still others are I have bred and propagated myself over the years, having had some success with Opuntia in the dryland garden I established in 2004.

I also threw in a couple of additional cacti - Escobaria vivipara, and one Echinocereus triglochidiatus from NE Utah.

All in all, this project involved very little work. Instead of trying to engineer a microclimate, I used this site almost as-is, without ammendment. I look forward to revisiting this hillside next Spring...

March 8, 2015 - the site in question (on the far left, below the fenced-in garden that contains raised beds my mom grows strawberries and raspberries on) is snow-free and dry WEEKS ahead of other parts of the property.

June 8, 2015 - early days. Started clearing the site. I planted a few Opuntia just to see how it would look. I decided to keep the volunteer Aster conspicuus that appears at the very bottom. It will provide good colour later on.

July 13, 2015 - the act of planting. This took a few days.

July 16, 2015 - starting to look good now.

July 16, 2015 - view to the West, towards Hayes Creek and impending thunderstorms.

July 16, 2015 - one more view.

July 16, 2015 - new home for one of my favourites: Opuntia fragilis collected in Idaho.