The flowers of Darmera peltata (Indian rhubarb) before the leaves emerge. Photo by Leslie Cox

The flowers of Darmera peltata (Indian rhubarb) before the leaves emerge. Photo by Leslie Cox

DUCHESS OF DIRT: Plenty of ‘wow’ factor in the garden in spring

Leslie Cox

Special to The Record

I can’t help it. I like to be impressed. Don’t you?

It is a good thing it is spring in the garden then. There is no end to the splendour unfolding these last few weeks.

At the time I am writing this, there are no fewer than four rhododendrons in our garden that are broadcasting fantastic floral displays. Masses of white flowers light up one small-sized shrub even though it is no more than waist-high. I would highly recommend this one for your garden, if only I knew the name.

The next to mention is an even smaller rhodo, no more than a foot and a half high. It is covered in white flowers lightly tinged with apricot. Brilliant, but sadly, no name for this one either, although I continue to search for it.

However, I do have the name for another showy rhododendron. It’s ‘Ginny Gee’ and it is so densely covered in white flowers flushed with pink I swear there are only about a handful of leaves showing. Given this floral display in its first year in my garden, it promises to be even more stellar when it matures to its full two-foot by three-foot size.

Then there is one of my favourites, a deciduous azalea called ‘Mandarin Lights.’ You can just imagine the blaze of colour in that part of the garden when the sun falls on its masses of mandarin orange-coloured flowers. Perhaps almost too brilliant but who does not love bright colours in spring?

The proper genus name for this colourful shrub, which has grown over my head now, is rhododendron, in which all azaleas are classified. There are a number of cultivars in the rhododendron Northern Lights series, some of which are not quite so eye-popping bright.

The sad thing about our ‘Mandarin Lights’ and our other deciduous azalea, the delightfully scented ‘Irene Koster,’ is the damage every spring by the azalea sawfly. This pest, more properly named nematus lipovskyi, can denude the foliage down to the midrib in its ravenous larval stage. A little heartbreaking as the medium green foliage is a great backdrop for the orange flowers.

I have done literal hand-to-hand battle with this pest for a number of years now, spending a fair amount of time squishing them. Last year I tried both white and yellow sticky traps. No luck. So, I changed tactics.

Knowing there is only one generation a year (yay) and the larvae drop to the ground to pupate in the soil over the winter, I periodically threw buckets of soapy water on the ground under both shrubs. I did this randomly from November through April.

Here in our garden, the adult azalea sawflies have historically emerged around the third week of April. So far, so good. No sign of the sawflies and no chewed leaves to date from hatched larvae. If the pest is around, there should definitely be visible damage by now, based on my notes from other years.

But back to plants that wow. The Mexican mock orange, Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl,’ is in full flower and what a bee magnet! Same with the rock daphne, Daphne cneorum. One of the few times I do not mind the wind because it carries the scent from both these plants around the garden.

Space is short but I have to mention the flowers of Darmera peltate, (umbrella plant; Indian rhubarb). Truthfully, it is nice the flowers have centre stage ahead of the leaves. Even at an impressive height of up to 30 inches, you would not see much of the flowers otherwise, given the leaves can grow five feet tall. Definitely not a plant for a small garden.

Hope you are enjoying spring in your garden too.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at

Comox Valleygardening


Another photo of what the Darmera plant looks like once the leaves emerge. Photo by Leslie Cox

Another photo of what the Darmera plant looks like once the leaves emerge. Photo by Leslie Cox

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