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Helen Chesnut: Stokesia sports flowers of exceptional beauty

The Stokesia that I planted last year has come into its own this summer, forming a nice five of strap-shaped leaves and producing cornflower-like, purple-blue flowers beginning in July.
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A trio of three perennials -- Geranium 'Rozanne' with pink baby's breath and Calamintha 'Marvelette Blue' -- has created a light and airy floral combination that is constantly visited by bees.

The Stokesia that I planted last year has come into its own this summer, forming a nice five of strap-shaped leaves and producing cornflower-like, purple-blue flowers beginning in July. It is blooming in front of a variegated Heliopsis (false sunflower) called Loraine Sunshine. In front of the 60-centimetre tall Stokesia is a frothy, 30-centimetre clump of seed-grown Calamintha Marvelette Blue — a 2016 Fleuroselect Gold Medal award winner.

A North American wildflower, Stokesia thrives in full sun with a well-drained soil. Heritage Perennials (, a major supplier of plants to local garden centres, notes that Stokesia is widely used by designers in the southern United States, because of the plants’ drought tolerance. The named variety I came across and bought last summer is the lavender blue ‘Wyoming.’

Reknowned British horticulturist Graham Stuart Thomas regarded Stokesia as a plant with flowers of exceptional beauty.


Canada 150. As well as white and red trailing impatiens in a long planter across the north-facing front of my home, I tried another Canada 150 floral combination, of petunias, in two tubs on the south-facing patio.

A lament I hear often from readers and friends about petunias is their tendency to develop long, leggy stems that hold only a few flowers at the tips. That habit eventually led me to stop growing Grandiflora (large-flowered) petunias like the Prism Sunshine and Supercascade Lilac that I loved so well and grew for years. Too often, in the midst of the busy summer season, I never did get around to clipping back the stems as they began to take on wayward ways.

In recent years I’ve been turning to the more compact, smaller-flowered Multiflora and Milliflora petunias. In one of the patio tubs I planted a Milliflora White in the Picobella Sereies. It has formed a close-knit, compact round of flowers that come close to hiding the foliage.

For red flowers in the other tub I chose the red in the Trilogy Series of Multiflora petunias. That planting also has stayed neat and compact, though it’s not as tightly filled with flowers as the Picobella planting.


Modest charm. The little scene began years ago, with a spreading, double-flowered pink baby’s breath plant that I brought with me from my Kelowna garden and planted at a dryish, sunny edge of a bed alongside the driveway.

Last year, I looked for a suitable companion plant that would spread out enough to cover the base of the baby’s breath. I chose a hardy geranium called Rozanne, which has formed a mounding, 40-cm clump with soft violet-blue flowers beginning in late spring. Then, I placed another of the Calamintha plants I’d grown from seed in a space beside the geranium.

This year, the pink baby’s breath, soft violet blue geranium, and the masses of tiny lilac blue Calamintha flowers have created a light and airy intermingling that has a sweet, quiet charm. Nothing flashy. No big, brash blooms. Just a soft loveliness, accompanied by the mesmerizing drone of bees as they work over the flowers on all three of the plants.

I never pass by that trio of perennials without pausing to bask in the light, calming atmosphere around them and to watch and listen to the buzzing of useful creatures in action.


There be dragons. While my son was visiting at Christmas, we discussed the fate of a piece of sculpture he had made in a middle school art class. No, he didn’t want it back. Why not find a place for it in the garden?

Finally, just a few weeks ago, I began to consider as a possible location a small corner of the garden beside the main side gate into the back yard. Salal and Oregon grape grow there, around a low stump that could serve as a pedestal.

It’s not easy to describe my new piece of garden art. Set on a broad clay platform is a slightly dazed looking, portly dragon whose expression reflects somewhat the rascally, quirky young glee that its creator has not entirely abandoned in adulthood.



Comox Valley meeting. The Comox Valley Horticultural Society will meet on Monday, August 21, at 7:30 p.m. in the Florence Filberg Centre, 411 Anderton Ave. in downtown Courtenay. Metis elder Dianne MacLean will share her knowledge about traditional uses for common plants and weeds for medicine, food, and crafts.