Category Archives: perrennials

Red-Hot Pokers in Winter

A blooming swath of red-hot pokers (aka torch lily, aka Kniphofia) caught my eye last November.  Seriously – November!

red hot poker kniphofia garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

That seems crazy.  Its broad, strappy foliage looks like the Kniphofia that blooms in our garden in May– six months earlier.  Who knew there were such varieties?  And how can I get some??

In the cool overcast of autumn, these kniphofia flowers stand up much longer than our spring bloomers.

red hot poker kniphofia snow garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

When it started to snow on Christmas Eve, I was concerned.  On Christmas Day the snow sparkled on the garden, stating to the world that winter is here.

In my experience, snow cover is the tipping point when red-hot pokers disintegrate into a slimy mess. (Fortunately, they come back in spring! Some Kniphofia are actually cold hardy to zone 5 – that’s to -25 C  🙂  I can’t you imagine them growing in the Tiffindel ski area of South Africa, but apparently that’s home. )

red hot poker kniphofia snow garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

By Boxing Day the snow was gone.  I was ecstatic.  Don’t get me wrong – there is something magical about a White Christmas – – but followed with a Green Boxing Day is perfection!

red hot poker kniphofia garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Mysteriously all the Kniphofia survived, leaves and all!  Now I’m curious to know precisely which temperature induces their disintegration.

red hot poker kniphofia garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

In Victoria, we have a School-Based Weather Network.  Most schools host tech monitoring the individual climatic pockets around town.  It’s very handy.  There’s a station just a block away. I like to confirm rainfall & temperatures uber-locally, and not count on the information coming out of Victoria Airport 25 km away.

red hot poker kniphofia garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

As it turns out, the temperatures through the storm barely dipped a degree below freezing.   We had plenty of mornings like that through December, just without the snow. Perhaps it’s temperatures like -5 or -10 C that knocks the Kniphofia back? we get those temperatures here, but rarely.   Any idea?

Now, at the end of January, the blooms around the corner from us are just wrapping up.  It’s amazing really:  3 months of color.  I admit they’re looking a bit ratty, but in January, I’m desperate for flowers.  🙂

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Top 5 Deer Resistant, Early Spring Bulbs

The deer in our neighborhood of Victoria (the Mt. Tolmie black-tailed deer) have shown no interest in these blooms.

An added bonus is that all 5 picks have proven themselves drought tolerant through our long dry summers (even 100 days without rain).

1- Snowdrops (Galanthus) bloom as early as December, but are more common in January.

galanthus bus stop snowdrops in January, garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins
  • 6-9 inches high
  • naturalizing
  • Full Sun – Part Shade
  • zone 3

special notes
– Divide snowdrops during their bloom instead of after the leaves die back.
– see also
Snowdrops – January Gems
Embarrassment of Riches
Snowdrop Meadow

2- Cyclamen coum present foliage in September, and often bloom from December through March.

hardy cyclamen coum, C. coum garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins
  • 4 inches high
  • naturalizing
  • Part Shade
  • zone 5

special notes
– The autumn-blooming Cyclamen hederifolium is a bully that will out-compete C.coum (and most other hardy cyclamen).  I avoid planting the two in the same bed.
Ants are purported to spread the seeds.  In our natural park areas, cyclamen are unwelcome.  I can think of several other foreigners that would make my list long before Cyclamen.
– see also
Joy In The New Year
Winter Magic
Cyclamen Coum – February Romance

3- Reticulated Iris (Iris reticulata) is another exotic looking surprise in the February garden.

iris reticulata, reticulated iris, dwarf iris garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins
  • 4-6 inches high
  • naturalizing … or at least catalogs claim this.  Our old neighbor Don Smart said his spread like crazy, but mine hasn’t taken off
  • Full Sun – Part Shade
  • zone  5

special notes
– catalogs also claim these are fragrant.  Perhaps this is the reason the deer ignore them even when there is so little else growing
– see also
Flower Count – Day 4 – Iris
10 February Faves

4- Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) the blooms appear in January & February, just before leafs join the show.

winter aconite, eranthis in early February garden Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins
  •  4-6 inches high
  • naturalizing
  • Full Sun – Part Shade
  • zone: 3

special notes
–  The only way to divide these beauties is during their growing season.  The corms look like tiny clumps of dirt, so they’re impossible to find during dormancy. Sometimes I’ve shifted them unknowingly while moving something else.
– see also
Flower Count – Day 1 – Eranthis
Deer Proof

5- Crocus & Snow Crocus appear in lawns and borders during moments of February sunshine.

crocus cluster gardem Victoria BC Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins
  •  4-6 inches high (depending on cultivar)
  • naturalizing
  • Full Sun
  • zone:4 (a few are zone 3)

special notes
–  Snow Crocus top out at 4 inches high, so are great for naturalizing in lawns. Regular crocus are just a touch taller – – they don’t survive when the first mower cuts the grass, so they’re safer in beds.
– All of the Crocus in our yard are proven drought tolerant.
– see also
Flower Count – Day 5 – Crocus
Dandelion Dilemma
Meadow Blooms – Crocus

And yeah, I know, all of these super-early gems are called spring flowers even though, in this mild climate, they bloom before the spring equinox. Don’tcha just LOVE the promise of spring?

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Geum macrophyllum – Large-Leaved Avens

garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

I first really noticed Large-Leaved Avens as a specific wildflower when I found it blooming beside the waterfall at Goldstream Park one May.  Before that, it was just one of the many yellow blooms we see in spring.

garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

Recently I was pleased to see it blooming in a parking lot, not far from the ocean, near Tofino.  That was at Thanksgiving!

October is really very late for a spring wildflower to be blooming – but I’m not complaining.   🙂

garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

The flower is a simple yellow daisy style; a smiling happy bloom that I find charming.
Unassuming.
Easy.

But Geum macrophyllum is not as plain as it first appears.

large-leaved avens, Geum macrophyllum, largeleaf avens, big leaf avens, garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

The seedhead is funky – certainly something that I’d let stand in my garden rather than tidy up.

The achenes (fruits) kinda remind me of googly eyes floating above the alien body.    Apparently, the pom-poms are happy to catch rides on passing pant legs or animals: free spirits looking for adventures far afield.  Groovy.

garden Victoria, Vancouver Island, BC, Pacific Northwest
photo by SVSeekins

But really, the magic is in the foliage.  What other plant has 2 kinds of leaves?  Right at the base, near the ground, the leaves are round.  Further up the stem, near the flowers, they’ve morphed into 3 lobes with deep serrations.  Crazy.

The guidebooks say Avens are common to wetlands across most of North America.  I’m hoping they’ll become common in my garden, too.  Last month I won 3 in the plant raffle at the Native Plant Study Group.  They’re now growing in one of our courtyard beds (where they’re more likely to get the extra summer moisture they need).  Cross your fingers for me.

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