April 2017 in the Garden

At the time of this writing, plants in UBC Botanical Garden are, by many estimates, about two weeks behind their normal schedules. And it looks like the cool weather is going to continue far into April. In fact, I’ve heard that the weather prognosticators are betting on a cooler than normal summer this year. While this bodes poorly for most vegetables, hybrid tea roses and bedding plants, cool weather is a significant benefit to the longevity of many of the spring flowers you can see at the Botanical Garden. In particular, rhododendrons and deciduous magnolias appear to be set for an outstanding display in April. However, there’s another whole set of things that will be springing up in the Garden in April: our new interpretive signage.

One of the most recently celebrated magnolias is Magnolia zenii, a plant of considerable beauty, but also of important conservation value. It is so important that we felt it appropriate to highlight it in our interpretive signage program. The text from this particular interpretive sign highlights the fact that the species has been reduced to a single wild population on the northern slopes of Baohua Mountain in Jiangsu Province, China, which is why M. zenii is considered a critically endangered species. Zen magnolia was first brought into cultivation in 1980 at the Jiangsu Institute of Botany and Botanical Garden Memorial Sun Yat-sen, in Nanjing, China. Nine seeds from the Baohua Mountain population were presented to staff from two American botanical gardens. While only five seedlings were successfully germinated, by 1986 the cuttings from these trees were distributed to botanical gardens around the world, including three to UBC Botanical Garden. Flowers are small, by magnolia standards, but they are borne in incredible profusion. It is a sight not to be missed.

Magnolia zenii on the new interpretive signage

As to rhododendrons, there are too many in flower in April to mention here. However, a series of Rhododendron species is outlined on another interpretive sign. Three of the four species mentioned on sign are April bloomers, but perhaps the most impressive of these is R. thomsonii. This species typically displays large, crimson, bell-shaped flowers that hang jauntily against a background of neat, rounded, blue-green leaves. These are beautifully captured by Daniel Mosquin’s superb photograph on the interpretive sign. Older specimens of R. thomsonii, such as those in the David C. Lam Asian Garden opposite the Moon Gate, exhibit tall, sculptural stems with peeling papery bark. Rhododendron thomsonii is not an endangered species—it is a common constituent of rhododendron scrub and fir forests between 2,400 and 4,300 m elevation throughout the Himalayas. Nevertheless, our numerous accessions of this species (representing seed collections from separate expeditions) represent a different, but no less important aspect of Botanical Garden collections, which is to display as wide a range of variation in wild species as is possible. This and numerous other botanical garden related themes, as well as themes specific to UBC Botanical Garden, are detailed in signage around the Garden. We’d like to think that the new interpretive signage will give the visitor a better, or at least a different understanding of the role of the Garden and the value of its plant collections.

Rhododendron thomsonii

Rhododendron thomsonii

The interpretive signage project was undertaken by UBC Botanical Garden staff in collaboration with the Cygnus Group, a Canadian interpretive and way-finding signage company, and was made possible by a donation from the estate of Dennis Lloyd.

More photos can be found in our Forums.

Submitted by Douglas Justice, Associate Director, Horticulture & Collections, March 29, 2017.

5 responses to “April 2017 in the Garden”

  1. sai2012

    We think there are plenty of plants to be excited about in Zones 6! And yes, please make your way back to Vancouver; we would love to have you in the Garden. We’re having a lovely (albeit late) spring!

  2. Robert Roggeveen

    Oh to be in zone 7b rather than in zone rather than on the border of 6a and 6b, though 7b has crept into southern Connecticut. R. thomsonii is a a lovely shrub. I will just have to get back to Vancouver! My older daughter for her PhD at UBC and did do enjoy visiting the Garden.

  3. Celeste

    The Rhododendron thompsonii here at Darts’ Hill was the third species I noticed blooming this year, the first and second being R. rerei and R. strigillosum. These first two species have mauve purple and alabaster pink flowers, respectively. Now there are uncountable species and varieties in bloom! Yay spring!

  4. Garden Marketing

    Hi Barb – Thank you for your kind words! We are happy to know you are enjoying the blog. We don’t have any plants for sale online, but we do carry Rhododendron seeds for sale in our Shop in the Garden. Also, if you are in the Vancouver area, we are having an event on May 13 you might be interested in: Down to Earth: Tips & Tricks for Spring Gardening. The focus will be on education and workshops, especially for planting in small containers. Hope you can make it!

  5. Barb Hardy

    Beautifu! Are these plants available for purchase – or would you have to purchase them on line?
    I’m new to your site and want to thank you for it. I have always been an avid gardener – but now at 74 have had to downsize to small – a balcony which I am looking forward to developing full of herbs and flowers.
    Your lovely photos and new information bring me great joy.
    Barb Hardy.

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