Saturday, April 12, 2008

Crazy About Corydalis

Like most gardeners, my first introduction to the genus corydalis was the siren song of the beautiful electric blue Corydalis flexuosa, distributed by certain Pacific Northwest growers who shall remain nameless... distributed all over the country, where they died by the thousands in summer's heat. Of course, just to show that was no fluke, the growers came back with Heuchera 'Amber Fields', which died by the tens of thousands. I guess that's known as setting up good repeat nursery business.
I do actually still have one tiny, sickly little blue flexuosa plant which just hangs on by its fingernails; never really doing anything, but also somehow never completely dying. I also have one small plant of the slightly hardier Corydalis 'Blackberry Wine', which did rather well for a few years, then died back in a freak late spring freeze, and has never really recovered, but I was quite surprised to see a small clump of it return this spring... these finicky flexuosa types of corydalis seem to just hang on enough to make you feel guilty you ever planted them in the midwest in the first place.
Anyway, my next foray into this genus was as far to the opposite extreme of growability as you could get: Corydalis lutea, a rather attractive ferny-leaved, chrome yellow-flowered plant from the foothills of the southern Alps. Introducing this species to my garden was like dropping a match in a barrel of gasoline; seedlings everywhere you looked, uphill and downhill. I've slowly beaten this plant into some sort of truce, trying to more or less confine it to a couple of hosta beds (and the bark pathways around the beds, which Corydalis lutea dearly loves).
Well, to that point my experience with the genus corydalis was patchy at best... but my next acquisition was Corydalis ochroleuca, a much more refined plant with a very long bloom cycle, and a much more demure reseeder; a nice addition to the shady garden. I then began reading about some other promising types of corydalis becoming available, and took the plunge by adding about ten new species as well as an equal number of named clones of Corydalis solida. Many of these plants were just added last year, and much to my excitement are one by one coming up into their first spring in Iowa, and all I've got to say is WOW! I'll make the not-so-bold prediction that corydalis is the next big thing in shady garden perennials. These plants are flat out gorgeous in their foliage, and the flowers are just ravishingly interesting.
Pictured is Corydalis angustifolia 'Thalysh Dawn'; about six to eight inches tall, with lovely ferny foliage and dusty pale lavender flowers with blackberry purple noses. It will go summer dormant, is said to reseed modestly, and will tolerate a bit of sun and dryness, befitting a plant native from the Caucasus down into Iran. I am smitten.

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I love C. solida and ochroleuca in my garden. Have you grown C. elata? It's a European blue flowered species that is winter dormant, rather then summer dormant, like flexuosa. It died for me and I haven't tried again, but I'm tempted.

Ted... I've got elata. So far it doesn't seem to do much better than flexuosa, which is a great disappointment... if it did well, there are some beautiful elata x flexuosa hybrids. We'll see how it does this year; I'm perhaps moving it to a moister spot. Solida is just hands down the most under-grown shade plant in this whole country; most people just do not realize how cool it is.
A gorgeous little plant with wonderful blooms.
Don, I have a request. I love the close-ups of the blooms, but could you also show us the *whole* plant? I need to see the whole thing to identify it. Blooms are nice, but they're not the only reason I choose a plant. Thanks!
Sally... Ha! Well, that's what happens when you get a new close-up lens for your camera. I'll try to show the big picture a bit more.
Hi Don, thank you for your version of the flexuosa odyssey! Your experience parallels exactly what ours has been as well ... deep disappointment. We also have 'Blackberry Wine' and it, well, let's just say it struggles, and after that extended cold snap last year, it just disappeared, apparently for good. If it shows up again this year I'll be amazed... even more so if flexuosa does!

One of our neighbors has lots of lutea and we've considered lifting a bit of it, but reconsidered. We'll enjoy it from across the street instead! Thanks for the tip on solida I'll keep my eye out for that one and would love to give it a try.
I have my first corydalis on order. I'm going to try "Berry Exciting." I look forward to giving it a go. ;-)
Very beautiful. Love the color of the blooms.
It is unfortunate that the ones you really want are the most difficult to grow. Have you ever started some from seed? I just bought some Corydalis sempervirens seeds from J.L. Hudson to see if I can grow them.
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