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Garden Notes: Leycesteria not a picky plant

Flowering shrub will die back to the ground in a harsh frost, but generally thrives in less-than-optimum conditions, Helen Chesnut says

Dear Helen: I saw a most unusual shrub (or perennial?) last summer, with tall stems resembling bamboo and drooping clusters of white and claret blossoms. If you are familiar with this plant, I’d like to know more about it and whether it is a difficult to find. I was quite taken with it.


Dear V.P.: You have described Leycesteria (lay-ses-TEE-ria) formosa (Himalayan honeysuckle, pheasant berry). A local nursery’s website (brentwoodbaynurseries. com) lists the plant in these terms: “A fast-growing, deciduous, multi-stemmed shrub with bamboo-like, dark green arching stems, tapered oval leaves and terminal clusters of white flowers, surrounded by maroon bracts, in summer into autumn. Tolerant of a wide variety of conditions including wind, drought and shade. Indispensable.”

The flowers are followed by shiny maroon berries in leafy, purple sheaths. The common name pheasant berry refers to birds’ love for the berries.

This shrub can grow to around 2.4 metres tall and, like hardy fuchsias, sometimes dies down to the ground in a very cold winter. In recent winters, the stems on my Leycesteria plants have died back hardly at all. Ideal growing conditions include a well-drained, fairly rich soil and a site in full sun to part shade, though my plants have thrived in far less perfect conditions.

Leycesteria is easily grown from seed. Chiltern Seeds lists L. formosa as well as one with gold leaves and another bearing crimson-edged, green-gold foliage. L. formosa has a Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit.


Dear Helen: I prefer sowing pelleted carrot seeds, because the pellet size allows for precise placement of each seed, with no subsequent need for thinning. Stokes Seeds lists Sugarsnax, a very sweet, long carrot that I like, in both regular seed and pelleted form, but they sell the pelleted seeds in minimum orders of 10,000 pellets. Do you know of a source for smaller, home-garden pellet orders?


Dear G.G.: The catalogue from Johnny’s Selected Seeds ( lists Sugarsnax (and other carrots) in pelleted form, at $3.95 US for a packet of 250 pellets. They recommend keeping pelleted seeds cool and dry prior to planting, and using it within one year of purchase.


Dear Helen: For the past few years, the foliage on my grape vine has developed spots on the leaf undersides. Is this a fungus? I haven’t sprayed the vine because I’ve not been sure what the right product would be and I don’t want to use toxic sprays.


Dear R.C.: The source of the damage you describe could be the grape blister mite, whose feeding on the leaf undersides produces unsightly galls. The mites themselves are so tiny that a microscope is needed to see them.

The damage is cosmetic. It is not considered a significant problem in fruit production. Where the damage is sporadic, hand-pick and destroy affected leaves. Applications of sulphur early in the season will protect new growth from blister mite damage.



Esquimalt meeting. The Esquimalt Garden Club will meet on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Esquimalt United Church on the corner of Lyle and Admirals. Guest speaker Valerie Murray will present an illustrated talk on the Government House gardens.

Dahlia meeting. The Victoria Dahlia Society will meet on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Wellesley retirement home, 2800 Blanshard St. (entrance on Market Street). The meeting will feature a demonstration on managing seedlings, potting, and unbagging tubers. Everyone is welcome.


Spring show. The View Royal Garden Club will host a spring show on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. at Shoreline Community School, 2750 Shoreline Dr. Admission of $5 includes door prize tickets and refreshments served from 1 to 2:45. There will be garden items and baked goods for sale.


Harvest basket. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is offering a workshop on making a harvest basket on April 13 and 14, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This is a splint woven basket with plaiting design, perfect for harvesting garden produce, general storage or keeping hand tools. It is rectangular, with a sturdy wood handle and adjustable wood compartments for keeping items of one type separate. Cost, including all materials, is $115 for HCP members; $160 for others. To register call 250-479-6162.