Pasque flower

Spring comes to the Botanics

In a break between classes yesterday I took a walk around the Botanics. My goal was to see if one of my favorite spring flowers, Pulsatilla vulgaris, was yet blooming. However, along the way to the rock garden I found so many beautiful plants that I had to share. 

First up is the amazing Corylopis sinensis var. calvescens, a late-winter yellow-flowering shrub that in my book beats Fosythia any day. This Chinese native, as you could probably have guessed from the name, is sweetly scented and its profusion of pendant racemes make quite a vision. It's a good-sized shrub, but if you're lacking in garden space the smaller-statured Corylopis pauciflora is just as pretty on a miniature scale. 

As I entered the rock garden I was thrilled to see that one of my favorite spring bulbs, Narcissus cyclamineus, was out in full force. It's severely reflexed perianth is the key to its species name, as it resembles the reflexed petals of Cyclamen. There was one super-large mutant in this clump, and though I am sure it would sell well if brought into cultivation (if it hasn't been already), I found that at such a size the flower lacked the charm of the smaller version. 

Narcissus cyclamienus will spread by self seeding, as it has done at the Botanics. What I love most about it is the graphic effect it gives to the landscape with its bright hatchmarks of gold looking as though they've been stroked onto the landscape with a fine brush. 

This little Erythronium dens-canis is complex and best observed up close. Plant it in a trough or somewhere closer to eye level to best appreciate its details. 

This strangely lurid purple plant is the romantically named Lathraea clandestina. It's actually a parasitic plant, living off the roots of mostly poplar and willow but sometimes other species. It has no chlophyll and instead survives by attaching haustoria (suckers) on its roots to the roots of its host tree, gaining its nutrition through the host plant. 

Finally I found what I was looking for, my friend the stunning Pulsatilla vulgaris. Its common name, the Pasque flower, refers to is tendency to bloom at Easter. This British native, which grows on calcareous (chalky lime) soil, is now endangered in the wild. Just last night in the bath I was reading Vita Sackville-West's Let Us Now Praise Famous Gardens, a selection of weekly columns she wrote for the Observer newspaper. Of Pulsatilla vulgaris she wrote, "This is a native of our Downs, getting rare in its wild state but still cultivated in gardens. It is a soft and lovely thing, pale lilac in colour with a silvery floss-silk surround." It is interesting to me that even in 1950 the plant was recognized as rare. I have been lucky enough to see it in its native habitat, which I will no doubt write about someday. 

Some of the plants were not yet blooming in the rock garden, but I found this little unlabeled clump on the south side of a large rock, where it was most likely a bit ahead of its relatives by virtue of a slightly warmer microclimate.

I was hoping for some sun, as the fine hairs on the plant make for some stunning photos. But it was just about to bucket down rain, despite starting my short walk under sunny skies.

Regardless, I was pleased that the lit-from-within effect was still present without sun, as seen on this clump of Pulsatilla halleri subsp. rhodopaea (though it's labeled with its synonym, Anemone rhodopaea). I find Pulsatilla absolutely magical, and will return in a few days--hopefully when the sun is out--to photograph them as their blooms continue to open and the spring garden returns to life.