Monthly Archives: July 2006

Snow in the Tundra Garden

The Tundra Garden spends a good deal of the year covered with snow. One might imagine that in summer, short as it is, it would remain snow free. That would be wrong. One of the beauties of living in Barrow is that the weather is a bit, shall I say, variable. However, we do get snow in July most years. This was no exception. July 6th I came out to go to the field to find the garden with a good dusting of snow.

The garden was well-sprinkled with white. The willow leaves held the snow, so that most of the garden was frosted with white crystals. It was really quite lovely, although the fact that I was going to be spending a rather cold day in the field, with students (some of whom were probably under-dressed and would therefore require watching for hypothermia) got in the way of true appreciation of the aesthetics of the situation.


Ironically, the garden was just really getting going on blooming at that point. The Arctic Cinquefoil (Potentilla hypartica) was in full bloom,


and the Heart-leaved or Chordate-Leaved Saxifrage (Saxifraga punctata L.) was in fine shape. This is the Nelsoniana subspecies, one of 5 rather differing subspecies which occur in Alaska, according to Hulten. It is, however, the only one of them seen near Barrow.


Even the Lousewort (Pedicularis sp.–I’m still trying to verify species, Langsdorffi, Kanei or sudetica) was starting to bloom.

Of course, by that evening, when I got in at quarter to seven, the sun was out, the snow was gone, and the garden was blooming. You can see a hot cap in the left mid-ground. It is on the River Beauties, as I decided that I would get them to bloom in Barrow if it could be done. More on them later.

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A Rather Sorry Showing by the Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot (Petasites frigidus) usually does well here where it decides to grow. It likes disturbed soil, so it is found along roads, around buidlings, and also as part of the succsessional sequence on well-drained frost boils on the tundra. It seems to be fairly rampant, so Iwas a little dubious about having it in the tundra garden. However, it showed up, it is a tundra plant, and it does smell lovely (a bit like sweet alyssum), so I let it stay. What I have has nearly pure white flowers, while most plants have a distinct purpleish cast to the flowers. I do pinch all leaves which show up where I don’t want it, however. It appears to spread by roots, with leaves showing up first, and then flowerstalks the next year. The “pinch the leaves” strategy keeps it where it belongs.

This year the coltsfoot just hasn’t been very impressive. The flower stalks have been lying rather flat, and the flowers are only about half open. I’m not sure why. I took a trip south along the coast which involved a couple of miles of road through tundra, and the coltsfoot was really spectacular there. It was also incredibly fragrant, with clouds of aroma several hundred feet away (despite the fact that it was windy as always).

The big event of the next to last week in June was the arrival of a lemming to set up residence in the tundra garden. It is a fairly high lemming year, which means there are lots of snowy owls (and snowy owl researchers) in evidence here in Barrow. It also means that there are lots of lemmings on the move trying to find a place to set up housekeeping. A young one found the tundra garden and moved in. S(h)e nibbled a bunch of grasses, but seems pretty oblivious to the flowering plants. I haven’t gotten a picture, but am still trying. I’m not sure how the lemming will stay unless a mate shows up, and I don’t think they will survive if they try to overwinter, since lemmings seem to range much further than the confines of the tundra garden, and it is in the middle of a gravel pad.

Buttercups in Mid-June

By mid-June, the buttercups were blooming. The first to bloom are always the Snow Buttercups, Ranunculus nivalis, which actually start growing and setting buds before the snow is gone. They are quite showy, with quite large flowers for a tundra plant. The color is an intense yellow that is possitively incandescent when the sun hits it.


Since they track the sun (when it is out), they can be truly spectacular.

The Pygmy Buttercups (Ranunculus pygmaeus) were a bit behind the bigger ones.


The other plants were only starting to reawaken after the winter.

The Tufted Saxifrage (Saxifraga caespitosa) had swelling flower buds,

the Sea Lungworts or Oysterleaf (Mertensia maritima) were growing new foliage,


and a couple of willows were blooming. I’m not sure of the exact species of Salix, but since just the key for Salix in Hulten’s Flora of Alaska is 3 pages long, I don’t feel too bad.

The longer-leaved of the willows really likes the micro-climate provided by the rock.

In Which the Saga Resumes

There has been rather a lag between posts here. The garden was just sitting there for months under snow, and I got busy with life. But it’s really starting to take off now, so here’s an update.

The snow started to melt back in May.


May 10


May 20th

The garden really got exposed around the end of May. It didn’t look all that beautiful, pretty much brown and tan, with just a few specks of green struggling through the dead plants from last year.


This is May 28th, and a rather foggy day it was, too. The front of the willow tundra area and the little bowl for ranunculus were exposed, as was the bathtub which is gradually (oh so gradually) being turned into a water feature for some rather nice tundra pond plants I want. The earliest of the plants were just starting to put forth green shoots at this point.



At this point I took a trip to upstate NY to take my daughter to spend part of the summer at my Mom’s place. I was within a couple miles of Sign of the Shovel‘s town garden (maybe less–I did spend some time in Saratoga while I was home), but mostly I did some pruning and weeding, and spent a lot of time talking garden design with one of my brothers who has moved home from Philadelphia. He’s a landscape artist
with an MFA who got into landscaping to pay the rent (landscpae painting being less than trendy these days) and evolved into a landscape designer. He’s really got a good command of plants, and can see what things will look like down the road (and paint it for that matter) and has some pretty neat ideas for reviving and renewing the gardens at my Mom’s.