Category Archives: evergreens

Lithodora Drought Tolerance

Lithodora diffusa, lithospermum diffusum, glandora diffusa, purple groundwell, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

I planted Lithodora diffusa underneath the apple tree years ago. It flourished.

A few years later, a Garden Club Speaker told us Lithodora is far more drought tolerant than most people think. He said that, after getting its root system established, it pretty much took care of itself. I love hearing this kind of news from experienced local gardeners. He would know about the months of drought we get on Southern Vancouver Island. He would know what ‘drought tolerant’ really means to us.

Lithodora diffusa, lithospermum diffusum, glandora diffusa, purple groundwell, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Lithodora originates in Turkey & Greece – another area of the globe with long, dry summers. And temperatures there get a lot hotter than ours. (More clues that Lithodora can survive without me hauling the water hose out every other day. )
Sweet.

Lithodora diffusa, lithospermum diffusum, glandora diffusa, purple groundwell, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

So, I shifted our 3 Lithodora plants to the shallow bed near the top of our rocky outcrop in the fall. They were all large enough to have decent-sized root systems, but I watered them occasionally through the following summer just to be sure they established thoroughly in the new bed.
They survived. 🙂
The next year, with hardly any summer moisture, they did just as well. 🙂 🙂

Then I discovered some small Lithodora volunteers under the apple tree. I decided to risk them. So I planted them on a bit of stacked rock along the path leading up the slope.
They survived. 🙂
They established themselves during our rainy winter…
grew more…
and even bloomed.

Lithodora diffusa, lithospermum diffusum, glandora diffusa, purple groundwell, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

I’m so stoked.

Lithodora makes it onto my list of High-Value Plants.

  • The low-growing evergreen covers the ground like I want.
  • It looks even better draping down rock walls.
  • Each May, blue flowers brighten the spring garden.
  • It’s winter tolerant to -15 C — and that’s plenty cold for here.
  • AND the deer leave it alone.

Happiness blooms in our low-maintenance garden.

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Winter Iris

In the first week of February, I cycled past this lovely front yard. Basking in the winter sunshine are some very early flowers. I know about snowdrops blooming in January & snow crocus flowering by Valentine’s Day… but iris? These aren’t the dwarf iris reticulata we have in our garden. These are different.

iris unguicularis, winter blooming allgerian iris, winter iris, Iris stylosa, Joniris stylosa, Neubeckia stylosa, Siphonostylis unguicularis, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

These are Iris unguicularis… aka Algerian iris or winter iris. This evergreen is native to dry Mediterranean regions. We have a very similar climate in the Pacific Northwest, so it can grow here, too. It might be set back by the occasional snowstorm, but it pulls through.

Blossoms start opening as early as November & continue until spring. An unusual feature is that the flowers nestle, protected, near the base of the leaves. Look closely: in this yard, the gardener trims the leaves to the same height the flowers bloom at. Better to see the blooms.

iris unguicularis, winter blooming allgerian iris, winter iris, Iris stylosa, Joniris stylosa, Neubeckia stylosa, Siphonostylis unguicularis, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Back in January (2016), at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific, I saw Iris unguicularis with full leaf. The flowers bloom inside the clump, almost hidden. To my mind, the clump looks a little messy.

It’s a tough call – trim back the leaves or not? Letting them grow natural is not as showy but probably better for overwintering insects. I reckon I can put up with messy if it means the beneficials are snug & warm, and I’m still seeing flowers in January.

iris unguicularis, winter blooming allgerian iris, winter iris, Iris stylosa, Joniris stylosa, Neubeckia stylosa, Siphonostylis unguicularis, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Here’s the same clump 5 weeks later. The winter aconites are almost done. The Hellebores are blooming like mad. The narcissi are opening. And the winter iris is still blooming. 🙂

That’s enough to prove to me Algerian iris is a keeper. But there are even more reasons why I’m a fan:

iris unguicularis, winter blooming allgerian iris, winter iris, Iris stylosa, Joniris stylosa, Neubeckia stylosa, Siphonostylis unguicularis, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins
  • The flowers are fragrant.
  • It’s deer & rabbit resistant (probably because it’s poisonous).
  • It’s happy in part shade under deciduous trees – or the sunny base of evergreens.
  • It survives our summer drought.

Wouldn’t it make sense that every garden in Victoria would have some Algerian iris? I suppose most nurseries don’t carry it because most shoppers don’t show up in winter to purchase plants. By the time we show up in April & May, this iris looks inconspicuous amongst the jewels of spring.
My bad.
I want to find some anyway. It’s my new mission.

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Other January gems in the Pacific Northwest:

Winter’s Fragrant Sweetbox (Sarcococca)

sweetbox blooming in January, Scented Sarcococca, sweetbox, sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia, Sarcococca confusa, Sarcococca hookeriana, Sarcococca humilis, Christmas box, winter vanilla plant, January bloom, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Climbing the stairs to a friend’s front door & ringing the bell, I wait. DP takes time answering. & I’m happy with that. There’s a sweet smell in the air. It is just delightful.

There aren’t any blooms to be seen. Most of DP’s garden has died to the ground for the winter. All, except an unassuming evergreen shrub & a couple of sword ferns.

It turns out this plain shrub is strategically planted beside the porch. There’s a clue in its name: sweetbox. The scent is lovely…
and once established, the shrub thrives in the dry shade of the house foundations. It’s happy here & it makes visitors happy, too.

sweetbox blooming in January, Scented Sarcococca, sweetbox, sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia, Sarcococca confusa, Sarcococca hookeriana, Sarcococca humilis, Christmas box, winter vanilla plant, January bloom, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Sarcococca
(easier read than said)
… has tiny winter blossoms that hide, protected, under arching branches. The flowers that dangle below the leaves are pretty but far less astonishing than their perfume. The fragrance lingers in the mild winter air.

This clever plant has both male & female flowers. Any wayward insect seeking shelter under the canopy has lucked out. There’s a feast included! No need to wander further to feed. They party in place & the flowers get pollinated. Later on, birds enjoy the cover and feast on the berries. Sweet box is not only clever– it’s also considerate of others.

sweetbox blooming in January, Scented Sarcococca, sweetbox, sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia, Sarcococca confusa, Sarcococca hookeriana, Sarcococca humilis, Christmas box, winter vanilla plant, January bloom, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Usually, fragrant plants are left alone by deer. Sarcococca is an unusual case. This specimen flourishes because deer steer clear of high traffic areas. In a quiet woodland setting, deer take time to enjoy a regular browse. The Sarcococca in my yard was nibbled until I caged it for protection.

sweetbox blooming in January, Scented Sarcococca, sweetbox, sweet box, Sarcococca ruscifolia, Sarcococca confusa, Sarcococca hookeriana, Sarcococca humilis, Christmas box, winter vanilla plant, January bloom, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

CH, from garden club, says she’s planted a sweetbox at each entrance to her home. She also grows a small variety in a pot in her shaded courtyard. When it begins to bloom in January, she brings the pot into the house to enjoy the heavenly perfume.
Smart gardener!

It’s not much to look at, but I understand why Sarcococca is honoured with the valuable garden real estate beside the front door. Right now, in the dreariest time of year, such a fragrant surprise is a gift.

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Other January gems in the Pacific Northwest: