Category Archives: perrennials

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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Swamp Lantern, Lysichiton americanus

The first glimpse was a flash of yellow along the trail’s edge. Mid-March can be so grey — but this was bright & happy. 🙂

Lysichiton americanus, Western Skunk Cabbage, swamp lantern, yellow skunk cabbage, American skunk cabbage, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Anything blooming at this time of year makes me smile. Western Skunk Cabbage is no exception. With a name like that, perhaps you’ll think yourself fortunate to see it in a photo rather than in person… but I’ve never noticed a foul odour around this plant. Some say the smell comes when leaves are bruised. Others contend it’s the flowers trying to attract pollinating flies & beetles.

Lysichiton americanus, Western Skunk Cabbage, swamp lantern, yellow skunk cabbage, American skunk cabbage, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Lysichiton americanus is also called the Swamp Lantern. To my mind, this name is more suited. The flower spike is like the candle flame & it’s cupped by a protective spathe that glows & reflects the light– just like a lantern.
A more fitting name, right?
Even still, I often revert to the first name I learned & struggle to remember this one. Perhaps I just need to concentrate more.

In early spring, the flowers emerge in wet areas all along the Pacific Northwest. This spring is no exception. The low laying wetlands bordering Esquimalt Lagoon are prime habitat for this west coast native.

Lysichiton americanus, Western Skunk Cabbage, swamp lantern, yellow skunk cabbage, American skunk cabbage, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

I’ve seen lots of Swamp Lantern before, but just around the corner the patch swells into the largest. The southern trails at Royal Roads University are a prime pick-me up for my March blues.

The leaves follow the bloom, unfurling in a rosette around the flower. At first they’re small, but they grow quickly in the rich, moist soil.

Lysichiton americanus, Western Skunk Cabbage, swamp lantern, yellow skunk cabbage, American skunk cabbage, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

By May, the plants are large & lush. Here’s a patch just off McKenzie Beach near Tofino.

Through the summer they grow even bigger. At peak, a single leaf can be 2 feet wide & twice as long!
Dramatic, eh?

It’s no wonder folks in the UK were impressed when it was introduced as an ornamental in the early 1900’s. It became very popular. It received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Lysichiton americanus, Western Skunk Cabbage, swamp lantern, yellow skunk cabbage, American skunk cabbage, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

The conditions in England are so similar to Vancouver Island it thrived. Within 50 years Lysichiton americanus escaped the British garden & was gradually naturalizing along streams & wetlands.
That’s a little too much drama.
Now, the RHS advises against its cultivation.

I’m glad to see Swamp Lantern here, where it grows naturally. It warms my heart. I’m relieved it hasn’t been threatened by more competitive introduced species like many of our wildflowers have been. Its a reminder of how delicate an ecosystem can be.

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Lorraine says:
Hi SV,
I hope you are well and still landscaping.
I remember one of the naturalist talking about bears eating them. So had to look it up.
http://www.mossomcreek.org/swamp-lanterns-skunk-cabbage/
Stay safe,
LS
https://www.yyjproductions.ca/

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: