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There's nothing quite like the Garry oak ecosystem in the spring; a softly undulating dreamscape of purply-blue Camassia punctuated by low twisted oaks and mossy boulders. The story of its existence is a complex history of humans and plants evolving together. A unique ecosystem, once highly prized but now fighting extinction, a case study in hard won survival.


The Garry oak system contains one of the highest rates of plant diversity in the entire province of British Columbia, Canada. Once reaching further east into the mainland and south into the Pacific Northwest of America, today this specialized ecosystem is now relegated to pockets dotting the southern coast of Vancouver Island as well as a few of the smaller Gulf Islands that populate the Straight of Georgia.


This unique habitat is home to more than 700 plant species, 100+ species of birds, 7 amphibians, 7 reptiles and 33 mammal species. In addition, there are some 800 insect and mite species that are directly associated with Garry oak trees. A great number of these flora and fauna are considered at risk of extinction.



Climate

The coastal climate is considered sub-mediterranean. Here, somewhat warm, low pressure weather systems are coupled with a close proximity to the mild ocean currents of the Salish Sea. Hence, snow and hard frosts are rare in winter months and much of the vegetation remains green year round. Summers also tend to be cool and drier than those of the temperate rainforest typically found in other parts of BC. The high rates of sunshine, cause browning and periods of dormancy for many plants throughout the summer months.


Flora and Soils

Garry oak (Quercus garryana)

The Garry oak system has a high number of specialized flora that occur no where else in Canada, some 70+ rare and endangered species have been identified. So while camas (Camassia quamash and Camassia leichtlinii) are considered key, they are certainly not the only species worth noting. There are in fact several distinct types of sites associated with Garry oak, each containing slightly different flora.


The deepest soils contain the richest and most drought-tolerant plant communities. Here, mature Garry oaks (Quercus garryana) with extensive canopies sit over a dense layer of shrubbery including:

Oemleria cerasiformis (Indian-plum)

Rosa nutkana (Nootka Rose)

Symphoricarpos albus (Common Snowberry)

Holodiscus discolor (Ocean Spray)

Ribes sanguineum Pursh var. sanguineum (Red-flowering Currant)

Oemleria cerasiformis (Indian-plum)


This leaves little space for the more herbaceous layer, although some forbs may occur in sparse groupings.


Median depth soils tend to occur on gentle drier slopes. Where the oaks form a more open canopy with less shrub material. Instead, a better developed herbaceous layer fills the space. Both types of Camassia can be found in abundance along with grasses and forbs including:


Fritillaria affinis (Chocolate Lily)

Melica subulata (Alaska oniongrass)

Elymus glaucus (Blue wildrye)

Carex inops (Long-stoloned sedge)

Sanicula crassicaulis (Pacific sanicle)

Dichanthelium acuminatum (Western Witchgrass)

Achnatherum lemmonii (Lemmon’s needlegrass)

Allium acuminatum (Hooker’s onion)


Eriophyllum lanatum (Woolly Sunflower)

Allium cernuum (Nodding onion)

Delphinium menziesii (Menzies’ Larkspur)

Eriophyllum lanatum (Woolly Sunflower)

Erythronium oregonum (White Fawn Lily)

Fritillaria affinis (Chocolate Lily)

Olsynium douglasii (Satinflower)

Plectritis congesta (Sea Blush)




The shallowest and driest soils are usually found on slopes over and around bedrock outcrops. Shrubs rarely survive here, more typical vegetation includes:


Lonicera hispidula (Pink Honeysuckle)

Lonicera hispidula (Pink Honeysuckle)

Festuca idahoensis (Idaho fescue)

Elymus glaucus (Blue Wildrye)

Bromus carinatus (California brome)

Sanicula crassicaulis (Pacific Sanicle)


Rock crevices sometimes hold deeper soil pockets that can support dwarfed trees but the very shallowest areas are generally populated by ground covers, moss and lichen including:


Dicranum scoparium (Broom Moss)

Racomitrium canescens (Rock Moss)

Polytrichum juniperinum (Juniper Haircap Moss)

Selaginella wallacei (Wallace’s Selaginella)

Sedum spathulifolium (Spoon-leaved Stonecrop)

Claytonia perfoliata (Miner’s Lettuce)

Montia parviflora (Small-leaved Montia)

Cerastium arvense (Field Chickweed)

Lotus micranthus (Small-flowered Bird’s-foot Trefoil)


Indigenous Stewardship: 3000+ years

Coast Salish

It should be noted that what we currently understand about indigenous cultivation and use of camas is pieced together through many sources. There is little direct evidence that has remained intact after countless losses of what was once a vast cultural heritage. What we can be certain of, is that the Garry oak ecosystem is anthropogenic, it requires human intervention in order to thrive. And on the South Island, that comes from countless generations of the Lək̓ʷəŋən (Songhees) Nation.


The larger group of Coast Salish cultures represent a highly sophisticated society deeply connected to the sea and forest in which they are seated. Here there are several keystone species that sustain it: Oncorhynchus sp. (Pacific salmon), Thuja plicata (Western red cedar) and Camassia sp. (Blue camas). These resources plus many adjacent ones were part of a large network of sustainable agroecosystems. These are management systems that fit somewhere in-between natural landscapes and agricultural ones. Their reciprocal methods follow natural processes rather than attempting to control them. Resources are stewarded and encouraged in the places where they thrive with low-scale intervention. The population then moves between the sites seasonally to perform the necessary maintenance and harvesting in a symbiotic relationship. This included Garry oak meadows, hunting grounds, fisheries and clam gardens just to name a few. The reliable influx of resources, along with those that could be gathered or foraged, provided the diverse materials needed to build a florishing society.



Emily Carr depiction of a village site, early 1900's

the camas found in the Garry oak ecosystem was a significant food source and by extension of great cultural importance. It provided a sweet, starchy staple, full of fibre and nutrients that could be preserved and consumed in a number of ways. As a result, the plant provided year-round sustenance, allowing for long-distance travel, trade opportunities and sophisticated cultural traditions. It became a key to large-scale community gatherings (potlatch etc.) where social interaction, government and religious activities, and an exchange of knowledge took place.


Plots


Camas meadows were highly valued spaces. Some were maintained in close proximity to dwellings for immediate use while others were further away, including outlying islands. The fields themselves were divided into plots, each tended by an individual family. These were marked by stakes, lines of cobbles or existing landmarks (rocks, outcrops etc). Highly productive plots were defended by their owners and passed down to family members, while less advantageous areas may have been open to communal use. Salish women took the lead in the majority of the tasks that involved camas, from cultivation through to cooking and storage. Europeans observed that the ownership seemed to cover the camas themselves rather than the land. In a similar way to the ownership of fishing rights, ancestral names and medicinal knowledge.


Cultivation and Harvesting


Camassia just coming into bloom. Early May

Much of the cultivation of Cammassia took place in the warmer months of the year, between March and September.


Low-intensity controlled burns may have been used as the camas was emerging in early spring. Any grass, ferns or other new growth was burnt off, opening space for the desired plants to grow and making the harvest easier. The two main species bloom in spring, Camassia quamash (Common Camas) April-June and Camassia leichtlinii (Great Camas) May-June.


The most intensive cultivation took place while harvesting; just as the blooms faded and while the bulbs were holding the maximum amount of nutrients and flavour. Specialized hardwood sticks (with fire hardened tips) were used to dig pockets of bulbs up, working across a plot little by little. "Digging in small sections, using the stick to turn and uproot the bulbs, harvesting the best tasting mid-sized ones while replanting the rest, including seeds, as they went along". One observer noted, "it is surprising to see the aptitude with whch the root is dug out. A botanist, who has attempted the same feat with his spade, will appreciate their skill". Weeding was likely done at the same time, removing any unwanted plants (especially white-flowering, Toxicoscordion venenosum aka Death camas) and rocks as they worked the soil.



There is a saying that is often repeated with Camassia, "the more you dig the better it grows".


Harvest may have taken days to weeks depending on the location and size of the meadows, as well as the amount of labour available. Several families often travelled together to areas further afield, working to bring in sizeable stockpiles. Over a single season, one family could collect as many as 10,000 bulbs.


Ritual and ceremony likely accompanied the work, possibly before and after harvest, along with traditional songs sung during the task. Settlers observed, "digging is a great season of 'reunion' for the women of the various tribes, and answers with them to our hay-making or harvest homecoming." As one can easily imagine, the seasonal encampments with multiple generations gathered in one space, facilitated the sharing of knowledge and cultural traditions. The largest meetups also included horse racing, gambling and dancing in addition to trading, feasts and more.


Modern day prescribed burn

Post-harvest, low intensity flash burns were lit. Moving fast across fields in mid-summer, they kept shrub material at bay and aided nutrient cycling. The nature of the controlled burns removed encroaching conifers and shrubs but left mature hardwood trees like the Oak intact. This maintained the openness of fields and encouraged deer and elk to feed there. The animals would graze on any remaining seedlings, opening the area even further while making themselves easy prey to hunters.


The burns made good use of nitrogen-fixers like Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and Clover (Trifolium sp.) releasing the nutrition they held into meadow soils. Additionally in some areas seaweed may have been laid over the freshly dug and levelled beds before burning to further increase fertility and encourage new growth.


Cooking and Storage

Coast Salish bentwood box, artist unknown

The high moisture content of camas bulbs makes them difficult to store in a raw state. And as their main carbohydrate (inulin) requires heat in order to be converted into a more digestible sugar, the bulbs were usually steamed shortly after harvest. Said to smell like vanilla cake and taste of brown sugar, the dark sticky bulbs were often consumed directly out of the pit ovens used to roast them. Additionally they could be flattened into small bricks and dried after cooking for later use. It's believed that they were packed in bentwood boxes or baskets made of cedar (a natural insect repellant) ready for winter use, trade, travel and/or feasts and ceremonies.


Dried camas could be boiled or soaked in water for use as needed or ground into a type of flour and mixed with water to form dough. Prolonged boiling would yield a coffee-like, sweet hot beverage, or molasses type syrup used to sweeten and flavour other dishes. In fact, it was the only source of sweetness available in the area at the time, further adding to its value.


Modern pit-cook

Cooking took place in pits that could be constructed almost anywhere for the lengthy process (up to 36hrs) of steaming. Specific methods likely varied from group to group and depending on site conditions available resources etc.. One observer noted, "You dig a hole about two feet deep and about four feet across. In this you lay fine dry wood, then heavy sticks parallel across it, then rocks across the heavy sticks. Now light the fire. When the rocks get red hot this means get ready. When the rocks drop down, take the ashes out and level off the ground with a good hard stick. Then lay on kelp blades (Nereocystis luetkeana), which are easy to gather in quantity, salal (Gaultheria shallon) branches, sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) and the camas. ..You must fix it so that no dirt gets in and yet leave it all full of holes (air spaces). Leave a hole at the top and when it is covered pour in more than a bucket of fresh water. When the water seeps through to the rocks, it steams up. Put grass on top, then about four inches of dirt, then build a fire on top of that. Leave it all night until the next afternoon."


Thirteen Moon Calendar of Indigenous foods by Briony Penn

Camas weren't always cooked on their own, clams, other root vegetables and meats could be added to cook at the same time. With various materials included for flavour (bark, seaweed, lichen etc) and colouring (red alder bark, also used in tattoo pigment, made camas pink). At times several families would contribute to an active pit and then divide the food when done. The camas were eaten as part of a varied diet, with 2-3 bulbs considered an adequate serving in addition to other dishes.


Excess bulbs were taken to trade with groups in areas that couldn't produce enough of their own supplies. This included the BC mainland as well as other coastal sites and islands accessible by canoe. In fact camas (outside of the Garry oak system) could be found as far east as Alberta and south as California.


Colonization: late 1700s-early 1900s

Spanish explorers first entered the coastal waters of BC in the late 1700s, and Captain Cook landed on what became known as Vancouver Island in 1778. But, the real colonization of the area came with the Hudsons Bay Company (HBC) in the mid-1800s.


When settlers first sighted the landscape they were taken by the vast open meadows that greeted them. These beautiful and fertile spots seemed perfect for their needs. A lack of fences, crop rows and other signs of traditional European use lead them to the conclusion that they were totally natural sites, “dropped from the clouds”, as though they had just been waiting for them. As the first wave of HBC employees moved in, the landscape was quickly, dramatically and irrevocably changed. In the end, at least four major company compounds were built in close proximity to camas meadows.


Victoria harbour, 1882

The HBC's main trading station on the island, Fort Victoria, was established in 1843. It joined an already extensive network that followed the mainland river systems, connecting interior fur trading centres with the coast of British Columbia and by extension Europe.


Indigenous peoples were an essential part of the settlers initial survival and success. They were willing to provide much needed labour and trade important food stuffs like salmon and camas. "It has been recorded that early explorers and settlers made resourceful products with camas bulbs, although many of these preparations were already Indigenous innovations... Prolonged boiling, for example, resulted in the conversion of the camas bulbs into a molasses, which could have been used as a sweetener for coffee or for making pies. Father Anthony Ravalli recalled that he, "made two gallons of splendid alcohol from about three bushels of camas by fermenting". Despite all their inventiveness, however, the settlers quickly recognized the digestive side effects of camas over- consumption. Father Nicolas Point explained" ...the digestion is accompanied by very disagreeable effects for those who do not like strong odors or the sound that accompanies them". David Douglas also commented on the flatulence caused by eating too much camas, saying that the "strength of wind" almost blew him out of a Indigenous (Chinook) dwelling."


As the colony expanded, the radius of cultivated land grew to include many fields packed with European crops including oats, peas and wheat. Field potatoes, likely brought over from Fort Langley, began to replace camas in many ways. As the Salish began to lose access to the land, their food sovereignty and security slipped away with it. By the mid-1800s, the HBC were granted title to the entire island on the condition that it be colonized. The city was officially named, Victoria, and a townsite laid out.


Goldrushers buying miner’s licenses at Custom House in 1898, Victoria, B C. Photo By John Wallace Jones.

The frantic energy of the gold rush hit hard as fortune seekers travelled from all over the world to the promising discoveries of the Cariboo and Yukon. Victoria, a small settlement of 230 souls, was suddenly inundated. "the 'Commodore' - ...entered Victoria harbour on Sunday morning, April 25, 1858, just as the townspeople were returning homeward from church. With astonishment, they watched as 450 men disembarked - typical gold-seekers, complete with blankets, miner's pans and spades and firearms; and it is estimated that within a few weeks, over 20,000 had landed". The price of city plots went from $25 one week to $3000 the next. The rapid expansion further strained resources and with it societal relationships.


A series of European diseases had greatly effected the Coast Salish people over the years but when small pox arrived in the 1860s it had a particularly devastating effect. The population balance shifted significantly and for the first time Europeans began to out number Indigenous.


Canneries became important centres of resource extraction all along the BC coast.

Victoria continued to expand rapidly as salmon canning and seal hunting became industrialized. The significance and value of Camassia was lost, it was dubbed a noxious weed that required extermination. It being noted at the time, "If [bracken] fern prevail on the land, it should be ploughed up in the heat of the summer, in order, by exposure of the roots to the rays of the sun, to destroy them. These with all bulbous weeds, such as crocuses, kamass [camas], &c., should be collected and burned. Fern-land, not required for immediate use, may with advantage be left for hogs to burrow in, as they form valuable pioneers."


The 1870s, brought confederation and the introduction of the Indian act, eventually resulting in the establishment of residential schools and the further suppression of indigenous social, political and religious events. By 1911 most of the Islands Indigenous population were either relegated to reserves or forced to integrate. The once expansive Camassia meadows, reduced to areas that couldn't be easily converted into something else.


Urbanization: late 1800s to late 1900s

The innate Englishness of the landscape was not lost on the colonists or their Victorian sensibilities. However it still had an otherness to it, the structure of Garry oaks were not seen as equal to that of the mighty English oak (with their highly valued, lumber-heavy trunks). The disjointed and twisting attitude of the Garrys grew on settlers though and eventually, Victoria, became known as, the city of oaks.


As early as 1898, residents complained when street trees were removed for development. By then the trees had been accepted as being a unique feature of the area; an element of the romantic scenery particular to the city. By the 1920's they were noted as, "pioneering landmarks" that should be conserved.


Extensive soil disturbance led European plant material (much of it willingly seeded by colonists) to become invasive. by 1876, Scotch broom, dandelions and English daisy's were all considered naturalized. Easily outcompeting native species including those found in the remaining bits of the meadow systems.


Modern-day

By the 1990s, conservation of the 1-4% of the ecosystem that was left had become a priority. The role of meadow systems like the Garry oak, were recognized for their importance in holistic environmental planning. Their function as carbon sinks and water filtration systems, as well as habitat for many diverse and rare species accepted as essential. The remaining areas found on the South island included a patchwork of meadows in and around residential neighbourhoods, parklands and Gulf islands. Stewardship programs between governmental agencies, local residents and community groups became focused on restoration and ongoing care.


Garry oak ecosystem - 1800 (green) vs. 1997 (red), Vancouver Island.

By the later part of the 20th century, preservation of the Garry oak system began to get some serious attention. With many projects like the large scale removal of invasive plants, in particular, Scotch broom, taking place. Grassroots environmental groups were formed including the Garry Oak Meadow Preservation Society (gomps), a charity that helps preserve the remnants of the meadow landscape.


The Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team (goert), a large non-profit organization with links to government, academia, First Nations, and the public is of particular note. They're currently working to build a system for stakeholders to share information, techniques, skills and resources for continued stewardship and restoration.


Many Coast Salish communities including the Lək̓ʷəŋən (Songhees) began to reclaim camas as part of the ongoing restoration of their cultural identity. Re-adopting traditional foods as a way to improve indigenous health and re-establish food sovereignty. Working to restore, encourage and protect areas where the Garry oak ecosystem endure through traditional practices. Since the 90s, camas harvests have once again become an important cornerstone for cultural and educational purposes.


In the past decade, the University of Victoria introduced camas to its campus grounds as part of the Kwetlal Restoration project. And, Camosun college's IECC (Centre for Indigenous Education and Community Connections) partners with the Lək̓ʷəŋən (Songhees) Nation to host pit cooking demonstrations. It is all part of the greater effort towards reconciliation and de-colonization. Understanding the longterm effects of historical events on our culture through enthnobotany and horticultural practice.


Visiting


There are lots of great ways to visit and celebrate the Garry oak system. Some of the best public spots can be found within close proximity to Victoria, BC. Including Mill Hill and Beacon Hill parks that both feature examples of Garry oak habitat plus walking trails, shoreline views and more. Friends of Uplands Park Society hosts an annual Camas Day Celebration in Uplands park every May, in gratitude of community stewardship, volunteerism and of course the sheer beauty of the surroundings.


The Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve located just outside of Duncan, is one of the largest restored areas (23 acres) of the deep soil ecosystem. Here, the NCC (Nature Conservancy Canada) and its academic partners research ways not only to preserve existing pieces of the ecosystem but explore the possibilities of converting lands that have been lost to agricultural use throughout the Cowichan valley.


If you're on the mainland, UBC Botanical Garden features a Garry oak planting among its extensive collections.


Garden Use


There are many native plant nurseries where species found in the Garry oak system are available for purchase both in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest.


In particular, Camassia and various cultivars are also widely available and used in a similar way to other spring flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils. Camassia's distinctive colouring, structure and form make them valuable as elements of mixed succession schemes in addition to block and mass plantings. Their unusual timing makes them uniquely suited to fill the space between the wilt of tulip blooms and the emergence of early annuals.They also naturalize easily and are considered deer-resistant. Just checkout #camassia for inspiration from the likes of @margaridasamaia (above) and @jelle_grintjes (below).



Some Available Cultivars - (Zone 4-8)


Camassia 'Pink Stars'

Camassia leichtlinii 'Caerulea' - soft blue

C. leichtlinii 'Blue Danube' - periwinkle blue

C. leichtlinii 'Blue Heaven' - pale blue

C. leichtlinii 'Alba'- bright white

C. leichtlinii 'Pink Stars' - pale pink

C. leichtlinii 'Pink Dream' - pale pink fades to white

C. leichtlinii 'Sacajawea' - creamy white

C. leichtlinii 'Silk River' - white

C. leichtlinii 'Semiplena' - soft white


C. quamash 'Blue Melody' - iridescent purple-blue with variegated leaves

C. quamash 'Orion' - cobalt blue


Camassia cusickii - pale blue

C. cusickii 'Zwanenburg' - periwinkle blue




For more information:

goert (Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team)

gomps(Garry Oak Meadow Preservation Society)

Oak Harbour Garry Oak Society

"The Queen Root of This Clime" (Beckwith,2004)

“Victoria’s own Oak Tree” (Cavers,2008)

"Food Security is what is Indigenous to our People" (K. Turner,2007)

Knowing Home: Braiding Indigenous Science with Western Science, Book 1 (Snively&Williams,

Dr. Nancy J Turner's books, of which there are many


Satinflower Nurseries

NATS Nursery

Plan Bee Native Plants

West Coast Seeds

Chiltern Seeds



-Sara-Jane & Alicia at Simple Leaf Design

Simple Leaf Design are naturalistic planting design specialists in the Vancouver, Canada area that love to celebrate the best in horticulture and write all about it. Don't forget to follow us @simpleleafdesign2 on instagram.





copyright Simple Leaf Design 2022 (all photos are used for demonstration purposes and do not necessarily belong to us.)









  • simpleleafdesign.com

Updated: 5 days ago


The cheerful countenance of a primula is such a welcome sight. They pierce late winter's gloom with their earnest wee faces, announcing the arrival of spring. Their dainty, little beauty speaks to a simpler time, of childhood innocence and bygone days, wistfully recalled. And within these small, brightly coloured packages come the best of things- the warmth of remembrance; the renewal of hope; and the sweetness of life in that very moment.


"Bird's Nest and Primroses" c.1855 Watercolour on paper By William Henry Hunt English artist 1790-1864

Primula denticulata Growing in a mountain valley in Armenia, with Ranunculus and Achillea

IN THE WILD


...primulas are happiest in the damper, shadier places and can be found adorning mountain valleys and rocky ridges; gracing the grasslands and open woodlands; thriving on embankments and under hedgerows. Growing from northern and eastern Europe, across North Africa to the Himalayas and through China to Japan, there are around 500 known species.

Primulas are multi-flowered, rising from a sturdy stem in loose umbrels or tightly-packed spheres or nestled low, atop a rosette of leaves. Left to their own devices, primula species merrily interbreed in nature, constantly creating new hybrids.


Primula japonica Growing along the tree-lined Yanagizawa River in Japan


A happy Bog Garden with Primula Japonica at Butchart Gardens Victoria, British Columbia, Canada Photo by C.J. Ward

IN THE GARDEN


...primulas suit a variety of styles, from the pleasant ramble of a cottage garden to the clean, modern aesthetic of an urban garden. Depending on the species, they grow well in rockeries, beds, borders, bog gardens, containers and in Auricola Theatres. An amiable companion plant, they mix well with a lot of other genii that enjoy similar conditions. These carefree flowers tend to look their best when allowed to naturalise freely. They will form neat clumps that will soon carpet the area with their vernal optimism.


Primula bed in the Bog Garden Butchart Gardens Victoria, British Columbia Canada Photo by C.J. Ward



Primula elatior Munster, Germany

IN FOLKLORE AND MYTHOLOGY


...the primula has meaning in many cultures.

To the Celts, it is associated with the fairies. Used with yellow gorse as a Beltaine decoration, bunches of primroses were left on the doorstep, encouraging the hidden folk to bless the house within. T'was said that if one ate the blossom, one could expect to see a fairy soon after. Patches of delicate yellow primroses were believed to be portals to the fairies' realm, for primroses grew in Tir na nOg.


The gateway to Tir na nOg or a simple patch of Primula vulgaris??? Growing near the railway line in Chipping Sodbury, England

In Norse mythology, primulas are one of Freya's flowers, for they are golden like the goddess of love. Called "Lady's Keys", oxlips could open the gates to milady's hall and were used in Vernal Equinox ceremonies of life and rebirth, dedicated to the Norse Goddess.




In the mythology of the Romans, primulas were a gift to the earth from the gods Flora and Priapus to honour their son Paralisos after he died of a broken heart. The Victorians took this myth as the basis for their custom of planting primula on the graves of children, accounting for their abundance in churchyards across England.


In the Victorian Language of Flowers, however, primulas symbolise young love, the I-cannot-live-without-you kind.


While in Japan, primula indicates the longer lasting variety of love and is often used in spring Ikebana arrangements, given as a token of abiding affection.





Primula elatior carpeting an open woodland in Germany

IN TRADITIONAL MEDICINE


...primulas have been employed for similar uses, wherever they are found, to treat a variety of conditions. In Sino-Himalayan cultures, they have long been cultivated for their medicinal properties, for everything from rheumatitis to gout and from headaches to ulcers.



In England, Ireland and Scotland, fresh leaves were rubbed on toothaches or used in salves and poultices on wounds. In the spring, the flowers were gathered to make Cowslip Wine. Its sedative properties make it a good treatment for insomnia and later, by Tudor herbalists, in a tincture to calm nervous conditions.



IN ART


Skylarks and Primroses, Woodblock print with ink and colour on paper c. 1805-10

Kubo Shunman, Japanese artist 1757-1820


Still Life with Primroses, Pears and Pomegranates, Oil on canvas, c. Late 19th century

By Henri Fantin-Latour, French artist 1836-1904


Tuft of Cowslips, Gouache on vellum 1526, Albrecht Durer, German artist 1471-1528


Pansies and Primroses, Oil on canvas c.1941, Alfred Arthur Brunel-Neuville, French artist 1851-1941


Still Life with a Book and Primroses, Mixed media on canvas 1886, Marga Toppelius-Kiseleff

Finnish artist 1862-1924


Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses, Oil on canvas c.1890, By Paul Cezanne

French artist 1839-1906, Image via The Metropolitan Museum of Art



IN POETRY


Primula vulgaris Blooming in Slovenia

Ring-ting! I wish

I were a primrose,

A bright yellow primrose

Blowing in the spring!

The stooping boughs

Above me,

The wandering bee to

Love me,

The fern and moss to

Creep across

And the elm-tree for

Our king.


-"Wishing"

By William Allingham

Irish poet and diarist

1824-89


Primula rosea growing in The Altai Mountains, Mongolia

Behold, my love, how green the

Groves,

The primrose banks how fair;

The balmy gales awake the flowers,

And wave thy flowing hair.


- " Behold, my love, How Green the Groves"

By Robert Burns

Scottish poet and lyricist

1759-96



Primula vialii Growing in the mountains of China

The primrose opens wide

In spring

Her scent is sweet and good:

It smells of every happy thing

In sunny lane and wood.


-The Primrose Fairy

By Mary Cicely Barker

English author and illustrator

1895-1973















Primula marginata Peeping from its rustic bower In the Italian Alps

Thy smiles I note, sweet early Flower,

That peeping from thy rustic bower

The festive news to earth dost bring,

A fragrant messenger of Spring.


- To a Primrose

By Samuel Taylor Coleridge

English poet

1772-1834




Primula auricola "Romance" Growing sweet and fair in the spring

Give us again the song of birds,

The scent of blossoms on the air,

The rustle of the growing grass,

The dainty primrose, sweet and fair.


"Primrose Time"

By Mary Dow Brine

American author

1816-1913






Primula elatior blooming for the Fairy Queen in Aveyron, France

Over hill, over dale,

Thorough bush, thorough brier,

Over park, over pale,

Thorough flood, thorough fire!

I do wander everywhere,

Swifter than the moon's sphere;

And I serve the Fairy Queen,

To dew her orbs upon the green;

The cowslips tall her pensioners be;

In their gold coats spots you see;

Those be rubies, fairy favours;

In those freckles live their savours;

I must go seek some dewdrops here,

And hang a pearl in every cowslip's ear.


"A Fairy's Song"

From A Midsummer Night's Dream

By William Shakespeare

English poet and playwright

1564-1616




C.J. Ward

A big thank you to our friend, CJ Ward, garden designer extraordinaire, for writing this fantastic celebration of Primulas and spring time!

-Sara-Jane & Alicia at Simple Leaf Design

Simple Leaf Design are Naturalistic planting design specialists in the Vancouver, Canada area that love to celebrate the best in horticulture and chat all about it. Don't forget to follow us @simpleleafdesign2 on instagram.



All images, except where indicated, are via Wiki Commons. Contact for full photo credit list.

Updated: Apr 15

When the world is just too much, gardens are a safe space to breathe and take a break. And some of the best, are places where gardeners really let their imaginations take over. Accessing the odd recesses of their minds to transport us to new leafy green worlds. So, brew a cuppa of whatever you fancy and enjoy some unusual and Eccentric Gardens...


Garden of Cosmic Speculation (Dumfries, Scotland)


A 30 acre spectacle covered with 40+ unique areas that celebrate cosmic energy. Created by landscape architect, Charles Jencks and Maggie Keswick at their Scottish home, 'to satisfy our senses and then to provoke a reflection on our own existence.' It is open to the public for a single day each year, where you can see works steeped in mathematics, representing black holes, fractals, the big bang and twisting DNA helixes.




Torre Guinigi (Lucca, Italy)


Located at the top of a 45m Tuscan tower, this garden dates back to the 1300's. One of the few remaining private defensive towers that were constructed as symbols of wealth and status, this roof top garden houses a grove of tall evergreen Holm oaks (Quercus ilex). It was originally a kitchen garden that serviced the cookery on the floor below. At one time accessed by stairs on the outside of the building, today you can climb them inside.


Dubia Miracle Garden (Dubia, UAE)


A glorious cartoon fantasy covering nearly 18 acres, this garden explodes with colour and imagination. Featuring 50 million flowers and 250 million plants, it is the worlds largest natural flower garden. Here you can see displays featuring everything from airplanes to Disney characters.



Dewston Gardens & Grottoes (Monmouthshire, UK)


Built by Railway Director, Henry Oakley, at the turn of the twentieth century, Dewston showcases a passion for ferns and tropical plants. The ground-level of the estate is features rock outcrops, ponds, rills and glasshouses. As his collection began to take over, Henry carved out subterranean grottoes, tunnels and sunken pits creating a second layer of plant life. At one point in its history the gardens were forgotten, covered over and filled in, they have since been painstakingly excavated and restored.



Sacro Bosco (Bomarzo, Italy)


An enchanted Italian garden filled with monumental Mannerist sculptures. Built in the 16th century by, Pier Francesco Orsini, a Condottiero (military commander in service to a city, lord or pope). This garden was an expression of the grief he felt at the passing of his wife. The seemingly random nature of the sculptures add to the magic of the place as you wind your way around massive representations of mythological figures and monuments that fill the green space.



Alnwick Poison Garden (Northumberland, UK)


Alnwick's unique garden is 'filled exclusively with around 100 toxic, intoxicating, and narcotic plants. The boundaries of the Poison Garden are kept behind black iron gates, only open on guided tours. Visitors are strictly prohibited from smelling, touching, or tasting any plants, although some people still occasionally faint from inhaling toxic fumes while walking in the garden.'

Sound interesting? The Poison Garden is a small slice of the larger 14 acre estate site created by the, Duchess of Northumberland. Taking inspiration from historical gardens that often included plants to both heal and harm, this garden is a way to get people and especially children interested in plants, with all of their oddities and complexities.



Jardin Majorelle (Marrakesh, Morocco)


Truly an artists paradise, this garden was created by, Jacques Majorelle, in the heart of Marrakesh. Starting in 1923, he and his wife began the garden as part of their home. It is a blend of his French-orientalist painting style and the vibrancy of Morocco. The succulent, cactus and bamboo plantings are matched with various water features and a cubist building draped by hot pink Buganvilla. It is swathed in a particular shade of deep cobalt blue (named for the artist) plus brick reds, yellows and pastel aquas all hidden behind high walls that quiet the intensity of the city. Revived by fashion designers, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé after they purchased the property in the 80's, it now houses several museums and welcomes some 700,000 visitors a year.


Las Pozas (Xilitla, Mexico)


A surrealist dream covering 80 acres of Mexican rainforest. The site features various concrete structures (some as high as four stories), sculptures and water features. Built over 40 years by poet, Edward James, and a team of 70+ local artisans. It once housed a collection of orchids, pet birds, snakes and deer in pens around the property.


Cougar Annie's Garden (Hesquiat Harbour, Canada)


A remote homestead located on the shores of, Clayoquot Sound, this garden is only accessible by boat or floatplane. In 1915, Ada Annie Rae-Arthur and her family settled in the desolate area, building a home and an extensive garden on the 5 acres that they had cleared and named, Boat Basin Farm. The family lived on a stipend provided by Annie's Scottish in-laws with the understanding that her husband Willie was kept clear of his opium habit. Rather than leave when Willie passed, Annie persevered. She continued to run her mail order nursery (selling seeds and bulbs) out of the garden (through her very own post office). She even advertised for a new husband. In total Annie was married four times (and had 11 children). After Willie drowned, her second husband shot himself in the leg, number three succumbed to pneumonia and four was run off at gun point when he attempted to push Annie off a cliff. She lived to the age of 96, tending her 100 varieties of perennials, shrubs and trees and is said to have been an expert shooter. Collecting bounties for some 60 cougars and 80 bears, she came to be known as, Cougar Annie. The property was restored after her death in mid 1980s and is open to visitors on a limited basis.



-Sara-Jane & Alicia at Simple Leaf Design

Simple Leaf Design are Naturalistic planting design specialists in the Vancouver, Canada area that love to celebrate the best in horticulture and chat all about it. Don't forget to follow us @simpleleafdesign2 on instagram.





copyright Simple Leaf Design 2022 (all photos are used for demonstration purposes and do not necessarily belong to us.)