Saturday, April 20, 2013

Caltha polypetala

New Gunnera leaf unfolding in front of large area of Caltha polypetala

Large swath of Caltha polypetala growing in my wetland area
     When we purchased our property some 20 years ago, one of the things that most attracted me to it was the range of conditions it provided for a garden, one of these being that it contained a very marshy area. At the time I was very much taken by Beth Chatto's book The Green Tapestry which outlined her planting style which can be characterized as planting the right plant for the garden conditions rather than trying to shoehorn plants into places which are not appropriate for them. The Green Tapestry contains sumptuous pictures, particularly of plants growing in wet conditions, and I wanted to emulate that look.
     One major characteristic of our lot is that it is long and narrow and a drainage ditch runs along side the lower part of it next to the road. This ditch is essentially a seasonal stream and the area around it is marshy almost year round.  Furthermore, when we first bought the property there was no vegetation in or around the ditch and there was no visual screen protecting the garden from the road.  So when I first planted that area, it was an open sunny marshy spot and I went to town in trying to locate and plant all the plants referenced in Beth Chatto's book.  It was during that phase in my gardening career that I became enamored of large leafed plants because so many of the wetland plants had large leaves.
     Gradually, over time, most of those plants I first planted have gone--either I decided I didn't want them any more for one reason or another or because they got shaded out by the trees and shrubs which I planted to provide height and privacy to the garden.  I also decided that I didn't want to be doing extensive maintenance in a wetland area because it was a sisyphean task battling wetland weeds such as ranunculus,  and I didn't want to be disturbing the creatures that inhabited that area including the many frogs we have or the newts and salamanders. Therefore, I have basically let the wetland area of my garden go wild.  Just about the only plants which have survived and thrived under this regime, besides the accursed ranunculus (both the weed version and ranunculus ficaria) are the native skunk cabbages and the plant that this blog entry is about--Caltha polypetala, sometimes called the giant marsh marigold.  As you can see from the pictures above, this plant has large handsome leaves and it has the capability of colonizing large areas. I wouldn't call it an aggressive spreader like petasites (which I would warn all gardeners away from), but over time it does enlarge its territory. The large swath in the picture is what it has accomplished in 18 or 19 years. 
     The flowers of this plant are like any marsh marigold--not particularly showy as you can see from the pictures, but the leaves are very handsome.  According to Christopher Lloyd's book, Garden Flowers, the correct name of this plant is actually Caltha palustris var. palustris but I have always known it as Caltha polypetala and old habits are hard to break.
     Also in the first picture above is the emerging leaf of a gunnera.  In a future post I will tell you about all my experiences growing the many types of gunneras which I have purchased over the years, and to just give you a hint--only one kind of gunnera is now growing in my garden.

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