A Blue Ghost In Our New GardenSaturday, December 26, 2015
Marion McDonnell, Vancouver’s Blue Poppy Lady, was singly responsible in bringing to our city the elusive, rare and hard to grow Meconopsis betonicifolia and Meconopsis grandis. She died quite a few years ago but she is remembered because anywhere in some dappled shade garden where you might spot this brilliant blue flowered plant you know it originally was grown in her green house on the West Side of Vancouver. Because she had bad knees she manned the visitor’s cart at VanDusen and took people on tours of the garden. She was a fixture at VanDusen plant sales always protected by a rain bonnet.
McDonnell made the best coffee and cookies. I often visited her on Saturday mornings. In her throaty Lauren Bacall voice she greeted me with a, “How are you my friend.” Being her friend was a privilege I will never forget. Alas, her Meconopsis is impossibly difficult to grow but I remember her through another plant.
The plant in question is the only Rhododendron that gets close (but not quite) to having blue flowers. It is Rhododendron augustinii.
One day shortly after McDonnell died my friend, New Zealand-born plantsman Alleyne Cook (responsible for personally planting many of the rhodos in Stanley Park when he worked for the Park Board) appeared in my garden with a little black pot containing a small sapling. “Alex this my selection of Rhododendron augustinii. It is called ‘Marion McDonnell. It is bluer.”
Today my eldest daughter Alexandra (Ale) helped me man-handle the now very big rhododendron and we carefully drove through side streets (so cops would not see us with the rhodo hallway out of her passenger side window.) Our prized rhodo is not planted at the end of our deck and unlike the iffy Magnolia grandiflora (will she bloom this year?) it will surely celebrate a spring in blue.