Rhododendrons radiant but others have own charm

Fritillaria thunbergii. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
Fritillaria thunbergii. Photo: Gerard O'Brien
The Rhododendron Dell at the Dunedin Botanic Garden is bursting with spring colour as the rhododendron season gets into full stride and spring bulbs continue to delight. However, it's also worth stopping to appreciate some of the more understated plants on display.

In the peat garden at the south end of the Cherry Walk are different groups of Fritillaria showing that subtle colouring and refined form have their own appeal while contrasting with the low mounds of dark green dwarf rhododendrons around them.

Fritillaria thunbergii (pictured) is from Asia. Slender grey-green stems can reach up to 60cm tall. At the top they change to a purplish colour where new foliage emerges as delicate, curling tendrils, particular to the species, before extending to form whorls of narrow pointed leaves.

Greenish-yellow bell-shaped flowers, with purplish brown ladder-like markings on the inside, nod among the emerging tendrils.

Nearby, Fritillaria acmopetala, from Cyprus, Syria and Lebanon, has shorter stems and green-brown striped bell flowers. In front of those, F. meleagris "Charon" growing to about 30cm at the edge of the peat garden is shorter still. This is a dark form of the distinctive snake's head fritillary with deep purple chequered flowers.

All enjoy the peat gardens well-drained, sheltered site in the sun. Their graceful charm asks for a more considered appreciation than their vibrant neighbours, contributing to the full spectrum of allure in the spring woodland garden.

Garden Life is produced by the Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information contact Doug Thomson.


 

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