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The number of truly summery days reduces to a trickle in September. If we’re lucky, the sun shines and the wind blows from somewhere in BC’s Interior, casting warm, dry air our way. If we’re unlucky, like last year, smoke from forest fires in the Interior follow the same pattern. Typically, though, such weather breaks down in September and the misty air above the Pacific Ocean begins its annual march to shore. Still, there is plenty of heat in the sun’s rays and September days can be more than pleasant. In the Botanical Garden, September is often overlooked as a good time to visit, but there is plenty to see and enjoy at this time of the year.
As I’ve written before, high on the list of spectacular late-summer flowers are the salvias. Many have been blooming for more than a month already and they are generally favourites of the hummingbirds. Every year, the patch of the indigo-flowered Salvia guaranitica (anise-scented sage) outside of the Reception Centre gets larger. Every year, the patch of the indigo-flowered Salvia guaranitica anise-scented sage) outside of the Reception Centre gets larger. This is a species native to the highlands of South America. It has exceptionally dark, purple-black calyces from which the sizeable indigo-blue flowers emerge in succession, the flower spikes growing ever taller as the season progresses. Another herbaceous perennial, Strobilanthes attenuata, with its glossy purple, salvia-like flowers, blooms in the David C. Lam Asian Garden (at the corner of Upper Asian Way and Stearn Trail) for at least another few weeks. This species, which is native to the eastern Himalayas, resembles Salvia (and other mints) but belongs in a different family. With close inspection, you can see that the flowers are funnel-shaped and asymmetrically hooded, rather than tubular and two-lipped like all salvias. Both plants have square stems and are both hairy and glandular. The salvia’s leaves and stems are particularly aromatic (though not particularly smelling of anise), while the strobilanthes is more or less scentless. The leaves of a number of Strobilanthes species have historically been used for wound dressings, as they have noted anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. While in the area, look up to see the excellent fruit-set in the female kiwifruit (Actinidia deliciosa) above.
Hydrangeas are, of course, displaying prominently at this time of year, many of them in varying shades of blue—note the very pretty blue Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Homigo’ near the gatehouse. The spectacularly large H. macrophylla ‘Mariesii Perfecta’ (commonly known as ‘Blue Wave’) is a knock-out below the Arbour in the Contemporary Garden. It is flanked by a number of other Hydrangea species and cultivars, and the whole scene, complemented with a wide variety of herbaceous perennials and roses, is definitely worth a look. Many of the Asian Garden’s hydrangeas are still in bloom. Particularly toward the western end of the Asian Garden, all kinds of Asian climbing hydrangeas are visible from the main paths, some growing upwards of 20 meters into the tallest conifers. The showiest of these are Hydrangea hydrangeoides, the so-called Japanese hydrangea vine (previously known as Schizophragma hydrangeoides). Most of our specimens were started from seed originating in Korea and Japan. Depending on the amount of water available to these climbers, the large flag flowers that surround the plate-sized flower clusters may still be creamy white.
The greatest selection of summer bloomers is of course in the E. H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden. Notable September flowers here include the fuchsias, California fuchsias (Epilobium canum selections) in the North American section, vervains (Verbena spp.), eryngos (Eryngium species) and devil’s tobacco (Lobelia tupa) in the South American section, and torch lilies (Kniphofia spp.), butterfly lavender (Lavandula peduncularis) gladiolus (Gladiolus species), watsonias (Watsonia species), montbretias (Crocosmia and Tritonia species), thistle daisies (Berkheya species) and pineapple lilies (Eucomis spp.) in the African section. Finally, I need not mention the impressive display of giant sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) in the circle at the front entrance.
Submitted by: Douglas Justice, Associate Director, Horticulture and Collections