The first glimpse was a flash of yellow along the trail’s edge. Mid-March can be so grey — but this was bright & happy. 🙂
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
It came into our garden with some ‘free’ soil. I didn’t know its name, for sure. It looked an awful lot like ladybells, Adenophora liliifolia? It was a decorative, bonus plant – score!
Little did I know the work that pretty bellflower would create.
Deer ignored it for one season… at the most. After that, they ate the buds before flowering. The deers’ pruning might’ve spurred the plant into a frenzy of suckering. When digging out the extras, I realized how this bellflower got its common name– Creeping Bellflower spreads from the mother plant by lateral roots running below the soil surface.
One soggy autumn weekend, I dug out the entire bed. Other keeper perennials were set aside to thoroughly wash their root systems before replanting at the end of the project. I discovered creeping bellflower was even more invasive than I first realized. It also has deeper storage roots, enabling survival through brutal winters & long droughts. Those roots can easily sprout a multitude of new plants, even if the original is removed from the base.
Sifting through the soil & removing the invading white roots of the C.rapunculoides, was a tough job but worth it. Many years later, I regularly weed out young plants surfacing from roots that I’d missed, but I’m winning the war.
This summer, I noticed a new patch at the College campus. Can you imagine the tenacity of a plant volunteering in a crack in the pavement? These plants must’ve arrived via seed distribution. Behind some fencing, creeping bellflower is protected from the deer. Fortunately, the grounds staff cut them to the ground in record time.
So, I guess it’s not even safe to keep this bully restrained in a pot because it’ll spread like mad if it ever goes to seed, too.
I’m pretty lenient when it comes to vigorous plants in our garden.. Wild violets grow in our lawn. Cyclamen hederifolium is still welcome in certain beds. I’ve left some patches of bluebell in well-contained spots (but they’re sheered as soon as the blooms begin to fade). Some other tough-as-nails plants are held in check by simply not watering them through our long, summer drought.
It did not take me long to realize that weeding from a standing position was only a short term exercise. Kneeling down to dig out roots is so much more effective…
but not without its challenges.
The search for solutions was a journey of several years.
foam kneeling pad
The first step was a simple, inexpensive one, protecting my knees from wet, mud & rocks. The rectangle piece of foam is lightweight and easy to move around. I just throw it into the weed bucket with the rest of my tools for handy storage at the end of the day.
folding kneeling bench
Then came a birthday gift …. (catalogue listings for $50+)
This is a luxurious option. It has the protective benefits of a simple kneeling pad plus the bonus of handhold assistance while getting up & down from the ground– surprisingly useful & appreciated even after a few hours in the garden.
Inverted, it becomes a stool. I’m hard-pressed to recall using it that way — but I’m sure I did a couple of times at least.
I like that it folds up for storage.
It’s a bit cumbersome to lug around the garden, but this is just whining on my part. I quickly gave up the simple kneeling pad & used this instead.
Eventually, I found the bench was just too awkward for slopes & confined spaces, so I searched out other options.
foam knee pads
About 10 years ago, I got a $30 pair of knee pads from a garden centre.
It’s so convenient to strap them on & not have to reposition a kneeling bench whenever I move about the garden. That said, knee pads are not trouble-free.
The strap highest on the leg is elastic with velcro closure. It’s comfortable as my thigh flexes but stretched out quickly. The velcro clogs up. The non-stretch webbing of the lower strap works well to keep the knee pads from sliding down my calf. The strap adjuster loosens during use, so I need to tighten the belts throughout the day.
When planting from a kneeling position, the gap between the pad & my bended knee collects soil resulting in filthy jeans.
The cloth outer surface of the knee pad wore out long before the usefulness of the other components.
Duct Tape to the rescue. 🙂
Fashion sacrificed. 😦
I recovered the exterior several times before finally giving in to vanity & looking for a better solution.
pants with built-in knee pads
I’d already used C’s logger pants for blackberry bashing. (Purchased long ago for who knows how much?)
Logger pants are designed to be tough-wearing. They protect thighs & knees with extra quilted padding sewn right into the pants. (Here’s an inside-out view of them.) They’re heavy & HOT. I get so dirty that they need to be washed every day. I reckon the washing machine would wear out agitating that kind of bulk longterm. So its a pass.
I found some carpenter pants with knee pockets to hold removable foam knee pads. Sensible idea, but I dismissed them because of cost ($100+). I get my garden jeans at the thrift store inexpensively – this costly new option was too much of a price difference for me to get past.
Confident there’s another way, I set out to create an apron / chaps invention from thrift store materials. Unfortunately, it was beyond my sewing skills / patience.
Then I remembered something I already owned…
Hiking Shell Pants
Living on the Pacific “Wet” Coast teaches a person about enjoying the outdoors, even in the rain. Gortex is my friend. One breathable rain jacket I bought came with a handy pair of hiking pants. (The set cost $200, but I would’ve paid that for the jacket & felt the pants were almost a freebie).
The pants are a rain-resistant version of snow pants. A full-length zipper runs along the outside of each leg. When I’m walking through tall, dewy grass, the wet wicks off the material. I unzip along each leg to allow air circulation & cooling as needed. Snaps at ankles & waist hold the pant legs in position, so they continue to protect.
Lightbulb moment – – I can wear knee pads under these hiking pants.
No soil ingress behind the knee pads.
Cleaner jeans. 🙂
This works a treat during either end of the gardening season. After dividing perennials, I throw my lightweight outer shell into the wash & come inside with relatively clean jeans. 🙂
One problem: Double layers are not the answer for summer gardening. So close…
The search continues…
gel knee pads
My 2nd pair of knee pads came from a lumberyard for $50.
The gel padding is a lovely upgrade from the garden centre knee pads.
The hard outer shell is much tougher than the cloth covering of my 1st pair, too. The accordion-shaped upper ridge reminds me of something from a spacesuit but is much better at blocking soil ingress. My jeans stay cleaner. Moisture collects behind the shell, so the knees of my jeans get wet.
Sweaty knees – who knew? A minor inconvenience.
I first worried that the adjustable rubber straps with their buttonholes would be the weak point of the product. Over a couple of years, the straps stretched a bit, but not beyond their usefulness. That flexible strap makes wearing comfortable, yet it stays firm enough that the pads don’t slide down my calf. It was the button itself rather than the belt or buttonholes that turned out to be the weak point. One day it just sheared off.
C came to the rescue this time with a small drill bit & some zap straps to bind the belt permanently in position.
Crisis averted. 🙂
A few weeks later, a button on the other knee pad sheared off too. That’s when I noticed a crack opening along the edge of the accordion joint. I guess they’re pretty much done for, even though they’re otherwise in good shape.
These tough kneepads have been such steadfast, comfortable workhorses. I’d hoped to be set for life.
Back at the lumberyard, exact replacements are nowhere to be found.
These knee pads were so well suited for my tasks – – what now? The options on the shelves were designed for roofers & floor installers – – all too big & bulky for me. I don’t want to go back to the garden centre knee pads – too problematic… What have I missed? What do you use?
Finally, I searched online & was directed to a local industrial safety outlet. I picked up a new set of the gel knee pads & am back in business – for now…