Wild and winsome

In the past it has been commented that the plants I like best are those with inconspicuous or fleeting flowers. Despite the fact that some of my favourite plants are peonies and bearded iris, which are hardly demure, there is some truth in the accusation and I find it a charming pleasure to investigate the beauty of tiny flowers. To this end I am excited about my leptosiphon seedlings which will be featured with characteristic overblown enthusiasm when they bloom.

So it is entirely in keeping that I mention a plant with insignificant flowers, and even before it is in bloom. It is Streptanthus farnsworthianus – worth growing for the name alone. It is an annual brassica, that grows in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California where it, and its relatives, are known as jewelflowers. There are about 35 species, most native to California and 17 are classified as rare. They are recognised by the difference between the basal leaves, usually dissected, and the stem leaves which are simpler and showy. The small flowers have enlarged, colourful sepals and small, recurved and often dull, petals.

This species was (according to Wikipedia) discovered by the wonderfully-named Evalyn Lucille Klein Farnsworth, a cattle rancher, who found the plant on her land. I would love to know more.

Streptanthus is just one of the several strange brassica genera of California that push the boundaries of the family and are intriguing and beautiful for their morphology, bracts and stems rather than flowers.

When I got seeds I had little idea of how to grow them and sowed them at ambient temperature in the polytunnel in February. They germinated well and seemed tolerant of cold nights. I transplanted them into cell trays where they made sturdy, low rosettes of very finely divided leaves. I was sure they would tolerate a little frost and wanted to plant them out but April was bitter and May was uniformly wet so I delayed planting till about three weeks ago, on a slope where they will get as much drainage as I can manage. I popped them between some young, bronze carex which I thought would provide a little wind shelter and would not overshadow their subtle colour.

Now they are sending up central stems and the leaves are changing to large ‘bracts’. Buds are appearing too and, as the plant can reach 45cm high and these look as though they will be much shorter, I fear I had them in the cell trays too long and they are slightly stunted. But, they are alive and they are healthy. And that is good for a start. If all goes well I can at least collect seeds for another attempt next year.

I will post again soon when the plants are in their full glory!

For those in the UK, I got seeds from ‘Special Plants’ – no longer an option for us in Ireland or the rest of Europe.

And now for something completely different. As wild and untamed as the streptanthus, this conifer is as domesticated as a battery hen.

I am not a huge fan of conifers and this is largely because I can’t get my head around their classification. It is a stupid thing to write but many are too similar for my limited brain to cope with. But I have never dismissed them all as itinerant relatives of ‘Leylandii’ as may do. As I get older and winters seem longer and gloomier, evergreens of any kind are welcome and I am embracing conifers more – I have already planted a dozen or so. A whole post – or book – can be written about the dangers of ‘dwarf’ conifers which are not dwarf at all but just slow-growing. If you can buy a dwarf conifer for less than 5 (pounds/dollars/euro) then it is not dwarf – it is just not possible to grow and sell a real dwarf for that price!

But back to Picea glauca var. albertiana ‘Daisy’s White’. This really is not the sort of plant I like but I am glad I added it to the garden. It is a slow grower, reaching about 60cm high in ten years and the compact, conical habit makes it dumpy and not at all graceful. Most notably the young foliage emerges almost white and stays that way for several months until it finally greens up. It is not so much a plant as a pet. It arose as a sport on Picea glauca var. albertiana ‘Conica’ in the Belgian nursery of L. Jeurissen-Wijnen and named after his grand daughter. As is so often the case, how plants are used is the key and I am sure I would not like this at all if it was surrounded with heather or Technicolor heucheras. So I will have to be careful how I proceed. It is as unnatural as a blue raspberry slushy but it is fun and it is hardy, and has done what it is supposed to and I am grateful for that.


5 Comments on “Wild and winsome”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    June 7, 2021 at 7:16 am #

    There’s a great excitement in growing something completely new from seed. It’s one of the great joys of gardening.

  2. tonytomeo
    June 7, 2021 at 3:45 pm #

    Streptanthus are a weird bunch. I do not consider any of them to be rare, but since the respective ranges are so very limited, some or many of them obviously are. Only Streptanthus glandulosa is native here. Now that you mention it, I have not seen it in a long time. I know where some of it lives, but because it is outside of the landscaped areas, I have no need to go there. I would not notice it unless I was looking for it anyway. Streptanthus callistus would be more interesting to find, since I believe that it is quite scarce. I believe that it lives only in Santa Clara County to the north. It may live at the bases of two separate mountain ranges on opposite sides of the Santa Clara Valley.

    • thebikinggardener
      June 7, 2021 at 5:25 pm #

      They are weird for sure. I had to look up those two and S. callistus looks a gem! I like my little plants but I need to think how best to use them in the future so they are shown off to advantage. Pic of the open flowers tomorrow.

      • tonytomeo
        June 10, 2021 at 5:17 am #

        I was not impressed by the visual appeal of Streptanthus callistus, but just happen to like it because it is native to my hometown. It is the sort of thing that I might take to my own garden if I could, even though I am not impressed. Well, you know how that goes.

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