Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gardening: Dreaming of Spring and Gentiana Aucaulis

"How do you know that the sky is falling, Chicken Little?" asked Henny Penny.

Because bits of it are growing in my garden!!

Photo: withrow, Flickr ccl
One of the joys I have had in my many years of gardening was my Gentiana Aucaulis. This insignificant, ground hugging plant—seemingly without warning—begins to sprout long green buds that quickly turn blue. These open up to reveal a little bit of the sky inside, and in doing so double the height of the plant. 

Notice I said "have had". Sadly, this plant decided to vacate my premises. It was entirely my own fault. The place I had planted iced over one winter. That proved too much for this very hardy, miniature beauty.
Photo: jarikir, Flickr ccl

Gentiana acaulis is a native of the mountains of Europe (Alps, Balkans, Carpathians, Jura, Pyrenees). Because of this wide territory it is capable of growing in diverse habitats like pastures, rubble and coniferous woods. It also is happy in both lime and acidic soil.

Acaulis is Latin for "without stem". These beautiful flowers seem to grow directly from their low lying lance-shaped leaves. In fact, they do have a one inch stem, but it's mostly buried in the foliage. Aucaulis plants produce large (about 3 inches long), upturned trumpet-shaped blooms in an amazing blue. 

The flowers are spotted green inside and the flowers have metallic flakes in their petals. Their height without flowers is only about 2-3 inches (5-8 cm). It is an evergreen, mat-forming plant which spreads outward very slowly. Flowering is normally late spring to early summer. These plants are not difficult to please. Consistent moisture, but a well-drained spot is all you really need. 

Don't try these in an area that remains too wet, or is wet over winter. That's how I lost my plant… Full sun is best for optimum flowering. It is very hardy, at least to Zone 3. 

We purchased a Willow Gentian last year and have great hopes for it this gardening season. It has the distinctive Gentian blue trumpets, but is significantly taller at 2-3 feet with arching stems. But I still miss the Aucaulis. I have found it  before at Captain Steele's Bayport Plant Farm, Bayport, Riverport, NS; tel (902) 766-4319. 

Willow Gentian, my most recent attempt.
Captain Steele is recognized as one of the most important Rhododendron breeders in North America. His farm carries an extensive selection of alpines, perennials, evergreens, magnolias, and succulents. We'll be making a pilgrimage this year to reconnect with my stemless wonder, I'm certain.

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