By Kathryn Pankowski
Let’s suppose that you’ve been toying idly with the idea of adding a few more native plants to your garden, perhaps with the laudable aim of helping out local pollinators.
It’s easy to find native plants that look glorious in the spring: go stare at any Garry Oak meadow for ideas. But as soon as summer arrives – just when we contrary humans want to spend the most time outside admiring the flowers – the choice drops off.
Many of our native perennials have very sensibly evolved to deal with Victoria’s droughty summers by disappearing altogether once the rains stop and re-emerging only when things dampen up again. [This is called estivation – it’s the opposite of hibernation, and involves sleeping through the summer rather than the winter.] And some of the native plants that do remain up for the summer tend to look decidedly tatty by September.
We’ve been grappling with this challenge in planning the pollinator garden on the Michigan Street boulevard by Discovery Coffee. Much research was done, books consulted and websites browsed, before we settled on some plants which we hope will be attractive to both bees and people from late spring through fall.
This month, I’m going to talk about the plants we chose for the ‘tall layer’: the splashier plants that, once established, are supposed send bloom stalks up above the middle and lower layers. (At least that’s the theory.)
So, without further ado:
Big-leaved lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) – This native lupine was one of the plants used to breed the common garden lupines that you can buy at nurseries and garden centres. It has the same great water-droplet catching leaves and tall spikes of peppery-scented blooms in late spring/early summer. But the native lupine only comes in blue/purple shades and the flowers are more widely spaced on the stalks. The garden lupine can be cut back hard after blooming and then will often rebloom in fall, so we’ll try some science experiments with the native ones once they get established, to see if they’ll rebloom too. A tough plant that should do well in almost any soil, but needs lots of sun.
Henderson’s checker-mallow (Sidalcea hendersonii) – This is a less common native plant, a relative of the garden-variety sidalceas and mallows. It has a long season of bloom, through June and July, with pink cup-shaped flowers along tall stalks that rise above a lower clump of leaves. Our challenge is going to be keeping it damp enough, because its natural habitat is estuaries and marshes, and so, while it likes sun, it also likes having its feet kept moist. We’re trying to make a micro-habitat for it, planting each one in a saucer-shaped depression mulched with stones. You might try it in a pot or garden grouped with other plants which like damper soil.
Douglas’s Aster (Symphyotrichum subspicatum) – This aster is quite common in James Bay– you can spot its lavender-coloured, daisy-like blooms along the Dallas Road bluffs in August and September. I’ve been warned that, when grown in a garden, it can spread into large clumps if not divided regularly. It can also develop ‘bare ankles’ and tatty leaves lower down, so it’s a good idea to give it a ‘skirt’ of shorter plants to hide behind. Another toughie that likes full sun.
So, if you’re looking for native plants that will provide a sequence of flowers through the summer, consider these. You can check them out in person on the boulevard and, if they do well, I imagine we’ll propagate them and offer them at future James Bay plant swaps.
Neighbourhood Gardening News
It seems like we just had the spring plant swap and sale, but the fall version will be coming up in September, so it’s time to start getting ready. If you are dividing any perennials, why not pot up what you don’t need and pass them on to your neighbours? It’s also a great place to trade extra starts of fall and winter veg. And for all of you house plant fans, we’re hoping to make them a feature of the September swap.
Kathryn Pankowski is the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Neighbourhood Gardening Advocate: she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The JBNA would like to acknowledge the financial support of the City of Victoria for this initiative.