All Flowers Great and Small

Credit: Richie Steffen

There’s no getting around the fact that we all love flowers. In fact, for many gardeners, the word is a stand-in for the plant that produces them (as in, “I planted some flowers in my window boxes”). Be they grand and blowsy, petite and coy or sweetly fragrant, blossoms capture our fancy. Here are a handful of Great Plant Picks – those tried-and-true garden plants for our region – that have appealing blooms.

Magnolia 'Galaxy'Magnolia ‘Galaxy’

Magnolia flowers are the perfect starting point, for they evolved 135 million years ago, not to please humans but to attract beetles for pollination. Beetles are clumsy pollinators, so the magnolia blossoms are often large and sturdy, with thick petals that close at night, temporarily trapping the beetle while it flounders around and accomplishes pollination.

Magnolia ‘Galaxy’ has fragrant, goblet-shaped, deep reddish-pink blooms that can be 20 to 25 cm (8 to 10 inches) tall. This deciduous tree has a narrow, upright habit when young, making it perfect for small gardens. (It will eventually reach 7.5 m /25 feet wide.)

camellia x williamsii 'Donation'Camellia x willliamsii ‘Donation’

With elegant flowers set among glossy, deep-green leaves, camellias are sheer glamour for the spring garden. Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’ is one of the best cultivated camellias ever developed. It has semi-double flowers of soft pink in March, and its spent flowers drop neatly. Because it’s evergreen, it can be trained against a trellis for screening in a shady location. Other good selections of this cross are ‘J.C. Williams’ and ‘Brigadoon’, also Great Plant Picks.

If you’re looking for a tree with spectacular flowers, look no further than the dove tree,
Davidia involucrata and its younger-blooming selection ‘Sonoma’. Truthfully, the handkerchief-like canopy over the flower is a modified leaf rather than a petal. In May, this wide-spreading deciduous tree is festooned with these small sails. In winter, its cinnamon-coloured bark adds visual warmth to the garden.

<em>Davidia involucrata</em>Davidia involucrata

Roses are the queen of flowers, and the 2007 GPP list includes a collection of repeat-blooming shrub roses. Among them is ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’, a hybrid of Rosa rugosa that has been popular since 1914. “Rugose” means “wrinkled” – a descriptor for this rose’s foliage, which is thick, deep green and deeply veined. Rosa
rugosa hybrids seem impervious to the foliar leaf diseases that plague many roses, and the textured foliage is handsome in its own right. Add to that hundreds of single, clear-pink flowers; large, crimson fruits in autumn (hips); and a compact habit, and you realize that this flowering shrub is an outstanding garden plant.

Curtains of bloom can be created by carefully training wisteria. At the Miller Garden in Seattle, Richie Steffen nurtures Wisteria floribunda ‘Multijuga’ in a huge terra-cotta pot. Its long inflorescences of pale-purple flowers hang below the pot’s rim and catch the passing breezes. Many years ago, I trained a wisteria along the eaves of my home by attaching green-plastic-coated clothesline wire to large, L-shaped brackets. The process entailed clambering up and down a ladder two or three times each year, but the result was spectacular.

Daphne odora ' Aureomarginata'Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

Twining stems made their way into my son Morgan’s bedroom, and we knew winter had finally arrived when Morgan had to close the window and evict the greenery!
Last March I was walking down a street in Portland and smelled what I guessed was daphne – but there wasn’t a garden in sight. I finally located a courtyard with only a narrow passageway to the street and there grew Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’. Impressed with the carrying capacity of its fragrance, I headed to my local garden centre as soon as I got home and bought one. This low-growing evergreen shrub does well in shade or part shade and has a subtle gold border on its thick leaves. Its pale-pink flowers are small but certainly make their presence known.

Astrantia majorAstrantia major

It’s hard to talk about flowers and not mention those that are good for cutting. Among the 2007 Great Plant Picks are a collection of the best Astrantia for our region. Selected after a three-year trial at Closed Loop Park (near Olympia, WA) are A. major and its cultivars ‘Claret’, ‘Roma’, ‘Rubra’ and ‘Ruby Wedding’, as well as A. maxima and the hybrid ‘Buckland’. The flowers on these perennials don’t jump out at you, but they warrant a close look as their construction is delightful. All make excellent cut flowers, perfect for filling in the gaps in an arrangement with roses and other perennials.

Astrantia maximaAstriantia maxima

Another outstanding flower for cutting or drying, Allium cristophii bursts into bloom in July like purple fireworks. The trick to keeping this bulb coming back year after year is to give it perfect drainage – sandy soil is ideal – and if you live in a rainy part of the province, try to keep it dry after the leaves have withered and the bulb is completely dormant. This can be done by planting it under the south overhang of a building or by growing it in a pot and placing it somewhere dry. Even though the bloom time for this plant is not long, the inflorescences dry beautifully atop their sturdy stalks – I have them in a huge pot on the covered porch by my front door.

Allium cristophii
Allium cristophii

For more information on growing these and hundreds of other outstanding plants for coastal British Columbia (plus many that will grow in colder parts of the province), check out

The following plants are hardy to the zone number indicated (turn to page 10 for our zone chart): Allium cristophii – zone 4 • Astrantia major and cultivars – zone 5 • Astrantia maxima and cultivars – zone 4 • Camellia x williamsii cultivars – zone 7 • Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ – zone 7 • Davidia involucrata and ‘Sonoma’ – zone 6 • Magnolia ‘Galaxy’ – zone 5 • Rosa ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’ – zone 3

With more than 30 years experience in horticulture in B.C. – in wholesale, retail and at VanDusen Botanical Garden for a decade – Carolyn Jones brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to GardenWise and as staff horticulturist.

PHOTOS courtesy Great Plant Picks/Carolyn Jones: Allium cristophii, Davidia
involucrata; courtesy Great Plant Picks/Richie Steffen: Astrantia major/maxima, Rosa ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’; courtesy Great Plant Picks/Michael Le Geyt: Camellia x williamsii ‘Donation’ ; courtesy Great Plant Picks/Alan Dodson: Daphne odora; Briggs Nursery: Magnolia ‘Galaxy’