Vicki's amaryllis shown here with eight blossoms, eventually sprouted 10. How many blossms has your amaryllis sprouted? Photo submitted

DUCHESS OF DIRT: An unassuming plant worth talking about and one to crow about

One of the nice things about winter is the ‘catch-up-on-your-reading-list’ and not feel guilty about the garden chores. Heck. You just know the chores will be there next week and hopefully, it will not be raining or blowing a gale.

So while I was waiting for the current inclement weather to settle down a little, I picked up an old Gardens West magazine that was in John’s reading pile. On the cover was a lovely photo of Astrantia major flowers framed by a white and green striped Phalaris arundinacea ‘Picta’. (Don’t you think the Latin names sound so much more romantic than masterwort flowers surrounded by ribbon grass? Would you really have read any further into the article past “masterwort”?)

At any rate, I happen to be a fan of astrantia, and we have a few different species and cultivars scattered about the garden. Admittedly, in John’s garden, but after reading the GW article, I realized I need one or two clumps in my garden as well.

One of the real perks of this plant species is its long blooming period – from June through to September or later. Another asset is its easy care; tolerates sun, partial shade or full shade, and is drought-tolerant once established, although some water in sunnier locations is recommended. And finally, it has good pest and disease resistance, with the exception of the odd slug or snail that may slither near.

Altogether, astrantias are a little unassuming for their lack of needing almost constant care and attention in order to look good in the garden. And perhaps for that very reason, we tend to pass by them without a glance on our way to stick our noses in the fragrant lily just down the path.

But take a moment to contemplate the other attributes this plant species adds to your garden design. The flowers, for instance. A mass of compact, domed umbels of minute greenish-white, or pinkish-white, or ruby-red flowers arranged like a plush pin cushion atop a collar of papery, petal-like, colour-co-ordinated bracts. And they look even more impressive when a gentle breeze brushes past, making them sway gently on their wiry stems.

Another feature that stands out is astrantia’s unerring ability to meld several plant species into a pleasing vista. For example, one of our favourite garden spots for our morning coffee and tea is under the grape arbour. The bed nearby has ligularia (leopard plant), astilbe (false goat’s beard), a calla lily, lemon balm, a medium-sized miscanthus grass and a Carex elata ‘Bowles Gold.’

All of these plants look pleasurable together but the clump of Astrantia major just off-centre pulls the whole scene together with extra sparkle, carrying that bed through the summer and into fall as the other plants flower and fade.

And if that isn’t enough, astrantias are purported to do well amongst tree roots. Stay tuned. I will update you on how they stand up to my three big trees.


I received a phone call from Vicky recently. She was excited about her amaryllis and wanted me to see it. After a wee hunt, I found her place and I must say her plant with its eight soft red-coloured blossoms really looked impressive. So top-heavy it was propped against a large tender pelargonium nearby. A few days later, Vicky phoned to say there were now 10 big blossoms. So now we want to know what the record number of amaryllis flowers might be. Let me know:


I am offering five of my workshops via Zoom including my newest: Combatting Climate Change in Today’s Garden. Registration is online: Look under “Presentations”.

Comox Valleygardening

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