Flowers of Achillea ‘Paprika’ and Achillea ‘Moonshine’ show up very well against the contrasting spikes of Salvia ‘Caradonna’ in the unH2O Xeriscape Gardens.

Steele: Yarrows: versatile, long-blooming, water-wise perennials

Kelowna gardening columnist Gwen Steele talks about some great xeriscape options

Over many years of gardening, I have grown numerous varieties of yarrow (Achillea) species.

While all are very hardy, easy to grow, and water-wise, I like some more than others.

Forty years ago, in my first flower gardens in Oyama, I enjoyed Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’ (red) and ‘Summer Pastels’ (various colours).

If I cut off the dead flowers, they re-bloomed. They were great for filling in my large new gardens, spreading by roots, to form large clumps, as well as by seeds.

I soon discovered, if they got much water, they grew very tall and floppy, and spread aggressively. Nowadays I might plant these for erosion control or a wildflower meadow but not in my garden.

Our native white yarrow (Achillea millefolium) blooms in June and again in August even with the seed heads from June still on the plant.

In addition to being great for a wildflower meadow, it can be used as a turf substitute, requiring water only in the first year. Forming a dense evergreen (sage green) mat, it only needs mowing about three times a year. It seeds randomly in my gardens so I’m moving young plants and spreading seeds to start a yarrow lawn.

A tough dependable variety, Achillea filipendula ‘Gold Plate’ (fern-leaf yarrow) has deep gold blooms all summer and is a good dried flower. Left standing, it provides great winter interest and some seedlings.

At three to five feet, it is an excellent companion to Russian Sage in a minimal maintenance spot in my gardens.

Growing at the edge of my dry garden path, Achillea tomentosa (woolly yarrow) forms a flat evergreen carpet with deep yellow, six inch high, early summer blooms.

I grow my three favourite yarrow varieties in my garden as well as in the Butterfly Garden at the unH2O Xeriscape Demonstration Garden (4075 Gordon Drive, in front of the H2O Aquatic Centre).

These well-behaved yarrows don’t self-seeding or spread. They began blooming mid June and will continue well into July. Last year, with the removal of dead flowers in late summer, these great performers re-bloomed until mid-November frost.

Achillea ‘Paprika’, red with a yellow centre, grows 18-24 inches tall. Dark blue Salvia East Friesland is a good companion.

Achillea ‘Terra Cotta’ is 2½ to 3 feet tall. The terra cotta orange flowers, which age to salmon pink then biscuit, look great with Bronze Tufted Hair Grass.

My all time favourite Achillea ‘Moonshine’ has soft yellow blooms and silver fern-like foliage.

It grows 18 to 24 inches high and looks stunning with purple or blue flowers such as Salvia ‘Caradonna’ or Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’.

Stop by the unH2O Garden to see these great performers.

Plants are labelled and a brochure, containing a list of all varieties of plants in the garden, is available beside the main garden sign.

Check the plant database at www.okanaganxeriscape.org for full information and photos of these and over 370 varieties of water-wise plants for the Okanagan.

Gwen Steele is executive-director of the non-profit Okanagan Xeriscape Association.

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