Yesterday, I spent a lazy afternoon in my back garden enjoying the warm sunshine and reflecting on the speed at which spring arrives here. There is no gentle awakening here. Spring can arrive in the blink of an eye.
From Sunday, when I talked of Hepaticas (Liverlilies) and wondered if my garden would waken anytime soon, to Monday afternoon, when I spied a patch of blue and ran outside to investigate, the difference was startling. (If I wore my glasses more faithfully, I would have realised that the blur of blue was a Liverlily in bloom.)
And yesterday, while raking leaves, I noticed that a Lewisia cotyledon (aka Bitterroot) had survived the winter and that the flower buds were starting to form.
I have a soft spot for my Lewisia (Bitterroot) which has returned faithfully for several years now. It delights me because it is such a temperamental plant. Given the proper environment which is no small feat here, it flourishes and blooms with abandon.
Lewisia, native to Oregon and northern California, needs good drainage and should be planted at a slight angle with rocks or gravel surrounding it. The plant will rot if water sits on the crown. I am constantly sticking little stones around it so that none of the fleshy leaves touch the ground.
I have often wondered how this plant with such beautiful flowers could be named Bitterroot. According to Paghat’s website, Lewisia received its name for Captain Meriweather Lewis of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Lewis carried back roots from California to Philadelphia where he deposited the roots with a botanist. Lewis had been impressed by the plant after tasting Lewisia’s boiled roots. According to Lewis:
This the Indians with me informed me were always boiled for use. I made the experiment, & found that they became perfectly soft by boiling, but had a very bitter taste, which was naucious to my pallate, & I transfered them to the Indians who ate them heartily.
The first Lewisia, Paghat documents, was collected by Lewis in1806, “at the mouth of the Lolo River of the Bitterroot Valley. French trappers called the plant racime amere or Bitter Root, & the very mountain range was named for the plant.” First Nations’ people used the roots for medicinal purposes in addition to eating them.
So many plants are starting to appear in the garden now that the weather has warmed. It is a delight to move old leaves and find new shoots of plants. As I was checking the Lewisia today, I had a wonderful memory of Hazel, who died one year ago.
Last spring, my son and I wanted to create a place in the garden in honour of Hazel’s memory. So, we took the metal yellow cat which she loved to knock over and we stood it in the garden. (see pic at right) The Lewisia was in full bloom (pink blooms at right) as were the botanical tulips and some taller tulips.
One of Hazel’s favourite activities was to fall asleep on the bare ground beside the Alchemilla Mollis (Lady’s Mantle). When the plant was in bloom, she would lie on the flowers, flattening them most effectively. From early spring till the first snowfall, Hazel had a slightly grey tinge to her usually white coat. She was a cat destined for the outdoors. How we miss her!