Pretty in Pink

Everything’s popping up pink along city boulevards, in parks and front yards – the first of the spring-flowering shrubs are strutting their stuff.  These pretty ladies are various species of the Prunus genus, a large genus that includes peaches, plums, cherries, apricots and almonds. In Calgary, the current explosion of pink blossoms comes from 3 different species.

Prunus tomentosa is first on the scene, with pale pink flowers that present before the leaves.  Commonly known as Nanking Cherry, this medium to large shrub is native to China, Korea and the Himalayas. It has been cultivated in North America since early last century, providing a drought tolerant, cold hardy (Zone 2) shrub that grows to a height and spread of 2–3 metres. It produces small tart cherries that are excellent for jams and jellies.

Prunus tomentosa

Pale pink Prunus tomentosa is a common sight on city boulevards. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex, the double-flowering plum, is by far the showiest of the three, its large double pastel-pink blossoms like cotton-balls along the many arching stems. A very vigorous grower, reaching 2–3 metres tall and wide, it will benefit from periodic pruning to remove any crossed or rubbing branches. This variety is sterile and doesn’t produce fruit.

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus triloba multiplex. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tenella (Russian almond) is a smallish shrub with an upright vase shape and narrow green leaves that appear at the same time as the medium pink flowers. It’s compact and tidy, reaching only about 1 metre in height and spread. Very fragrant too, it is much underutilized in the urban landscape.

Prunus tinella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tenella. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Despite their similar appearance when seen from a distance, these three shrubs have very different blossoms. Left – Prunus tomentosa. Middle – Prunus tenella. Right – Prunus triloba multiplex.  Photos: Sue Gaviller

Despite their similar appearance when seen from a distance, these three shrubs have very different blossoms. Left – Prunus tomentosa. Middle – Prunus tenella. Right – Prunus triloba multiplex.
Photos: Sue Gaviller

Design Value

Many designers eschew the use of these shrubs because they’re “old fashioned”. It’s true they are, but they still have design value. They’re right at home in a Naturalistic garden and are especially useful in Asian-inspired or Colonial style gardens – and they’re reliably floriferous too.

A naturalistic planting of grasses, pine and double flowering plum in a local park.  Photo:Sue Gaviller

A naturalistic planting of grasses, pine and double flowering plum in a local park.
Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tomentosa is lovely in front of the Asian inspired fence I designed for a client. Photo: Sue Gaviller

Prunus tomentosa is lovely in front of an Asian-inspired fence I designed for a client. Photo: Sue Gaviller

When finished blooming, their design worth is more as a backdrop than a showpiece. Nanking cherry and flowering plum both have a lovely natural vase shape, as well as dark green, medium-coarse leaves which provide nice contrast to other brighter plants. Russian almond is much finer textured with lighter green leaves – together with its very upright branches, also provides good contrast in the landscape. And as woodies, they all offer much-desired structure to our gardens.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink these old-fashioned beauties – charm and grace come with age you know.

Til next time,

Healing Spring

It seems at this time of year I go from zero to 100 in the space of a few days. While I usually have several designs to work on over the winter, the pace is very relaxed – no pressure, just creative calm. Except I don’t pace myself – I languish throughout the early winter months, then as spring approaches I must hustle to complete my winter projects. Still, spring comes in fits and starts, so even then there’s a little breathing space… until now. Warmer weather is finally here, and while my fellow gardeners are out playing in the dirt, I am playing catch-up so my clients can have their designs, and my landscape contractors can start getting to work – like tomorrow. Zero to 100.

When I first became a designer, I naively thought it would be a rewarding way to make some extra money to spend on my own garden. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do – it is very rewarding, and while I do indeed have extra money to spend on my own garden, I now have very little time.

So today I work in my garden – cleaning up the refuse that remains after last year’s early snowfall, and breathing in the burgeoning spring, late as it is. It was a difficult winter for me – not just because it was unusually long, but because life brought some unwelcome challenges. I’ll spare you the details (despite the very public nature of blogging, I am a very private person) and say only that nursing someone dear to me through a broken heart has been a very painful experience. Sobering it is too, accepting that words – no matter how wise or comforting – cannot heal. Only the passage of time can do this.

Time. Is she enemy or is she friend? She oft dawdles behind us… then gets way ahead, sometimes giving too much of herself and more frequently, not enough.

C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, believed that humans are discomfited by the concept of time because we are actually timeless beings imprisoned in a time-stamped existence, and only in the “great beyond” is there timeless joy. Of course the subject of this blog isn’t theology or philosophy, but I often find that when working in the garden, tending the ground, my thoughts ironically turn to the cosmos, the ethereal.

As gardeners, we tend to think of time as the enemy, or at the very least, a big ol’ thorn in our side – I mean we’re always waiting for something, right? But as I rake the blanket of leaves off awakening perennials, watching the ladybugs scurry off, it occurs to me that it is time that has brought me here, to this simple healing moment.

A Red Admiral butterfly flutters past. A pair of nesting crows coo at each other in a nearby tree. Finch-song and robin-twitter float on the breeze. Overhead a Prairie Merlin squeals, as if sounding the all-clear to trees and shrubs that it’s safe to leaf out. All around life erupts in the symphony that is spring. Yes we must make peace with time, knowing she is both harsh mistress and nurturing healer – the passing of the seasons bears witness to this.

A week or so ago my sister Pat and I took a drive out of the city. Turning a corner onto a gravel road I noticed a flurry of avian activity – as we drew closer, a smallish very bright blue bird alit on a fence post. “Bluebirds,” Pat exclaimed. I caught my breath and whispered “I’ve never seen a bluebird before.” Growing up on an acreage in Southern Ontario, one would think this bird would have been a common sight, but for reasons I can’t remember, the native Eastern bluebird had become quite rare in the area. My mother spoke of them with great reverence, and catching sight of one would be an unlikely, though extraordinary occurrence. And I’m not much of a hiker, so since moving to Alberta more than 3 decades ago, I’ve never seen a Mountain bluebird either. But here they were, a whole bunch of them, apparently arguing over who got to nest in the birdhouse affixed to the fence post.

We drive on, eventually reaching a dead-end where we turn around – we find another fence-box housing a mated pair of bluebirds. The intensely hued male perches on guard a few metres away, not knowing he’s being a most co-operative photo subject. I snap a few shots. Pat snaps many more.  “The Bluebird of Happiness,” she says softly, referencing a phrase oft used in songs and literature to lift spirits and welcome a new day.

Yesterday she sent me one of her bluebird photos in an email with the message “May the bluebird of happiness take your pain away – & all that schlock”


Photo: Pat Gaviller

Time it seems has transformed my “winter of discontent”, at long last, into Healing Spring.

So to my fellow gardeners patiently waiting for prized perennials to rise from the ashes of winter, to all who are sick or in pain patiently waiting for time to heal you, and to my wounded loved one – may the warmth of spring wash over you, bringing new life.

…. and all that schlock.

© Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog 2012.Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sue Gaviller and Not Another Gardening Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.