Lifestyle

Steele: Water-wise plants ideal for early spring bloom

With the warm weather, there are more and more delightful new flowers to enjoy. Many of these are also water-wise.

Forsythia, one of the first shrubs to bloom, is a large vase-shaped shrub. Unfortunately it’s often pruned into a ball, reducing bloom and causing this low-maintenance shrub to need constant re-pruning to avoid the ‘porcupine’ look.

Native Saskatoons will soon cover the hillsides in white. Juicy, edible varieties are available at Bylands.

Native Oregon grape blooms yellow at the same time and also produces edible berries.

The buds on my apricot tree just opened. Its beautiful snow-white blooms will grace the garden for the next two weeks.

Italian plum trees are another water-wise, pest-free fruit tree for the home garden.

In shadier gardens, Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) began blooming last month and will continue into May.

Barrenwort (Epimedium sp.), has a mass of dainty blooms in white, yellow or red in late March through April followed by attractive leaves to create a pleasant shade ground-cover.

Bergenia is in bud. Soon, last year’s leathery leaves will be hidden by shiny new growth.

Giant Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum commutatum) rapidly grows three feet tall this month and will produce dainty white bell flowers. The rest of the year it provides stately height, and contrast in texture, to the shade garden.

Another plant that has striking foliage is the old-fashioned variety of lungwort (Pulmonaria saccarata ‘Mrs. Moon’).

Sometimes called boy-girl plant, when its pink and blue flowers are done, cut it back to encourage a flush of large silver-speckled leaves.

All of the above, except hellebores, can be grown in full sun but will need more water and not look their best.

The following are early bloomers for full sun or part shade:

• Prairie crocus (Pulsatilla vulgaris) comes in red or white varieties and the common blue form. When the flowers finish in May, attractive, large, fluffy white seed heads appear atop new feathery leaves.

• Moss phlox (Phlox douglasii), an evergreen ground cover, comes in vivid shades of pink.

• Rock cress is the common name for two plants. Both are ever-gray ground covers, blooming in blue or mauve shades. Aubretia is a smaller, more compact plant and includes a deep purple variety. Arabis has paler shades including white. Both should be cut back after blooming to grow into a compact mound. Variegated leaf forms are available.

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My two night Introduction to the Seven Principles of Xeriscape class is on Monday, April 8 and 15; Monday, April 22 and 29; or Tuesday, April 30, and May 7. Classes are from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Mark April 27 (9 a.m. to noon) on your calendars for the Xeriscape Plant Sale at the unH2O Gardens.

The Okanagan Xeriscape Association’s 2013 memberships are available.

Benefits include 10 per cent off all OXA’s classes, a ten per cent discount off plants from eight Okanagan Valley nurseries.

Information for classes, membership and the plant sale is on the website at www.okanaganxeriscape.org.

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