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Garden Notes: Reader’s white flowers identified

Dear Helen: Are the large white flowers in the enclosed photo a Lactiflora called Jan van Leeuwen? I call them “Kleenex” flowers. L.M. Lactiflora is not the name (genus) of a plant but a descriptive term meaning “with milk-white flowers.
Matilija poppy (Romneya coulteri) is a tall, shrubby perennial that bears outsized white flowers with petals that are crinkled like cr

Dear Helen: Are the large white flowers in the enclosed photo a Lactiflora called Jan van Leeuwen? I call them “Kleenex” flowers.


Lactiflora is not the name (genus) of a plant but a descriptive term meaning “with milk-white flowers.” Examples are milky bellflower (Campanula lactiflora) and garden peony (Paeonia lactiflora). Jan van Leewen is a named (cultivated) variety of Paeonia lactiflora. This peony bears satiny white petals around yellow stamens.

The large white flowers in your photo have petals that are crinkly, like crêpe paper, around a cluster of golden stamens. They are Matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri). The plant is a tall shrubby perennial with deeply cut, blue-green leaves. The plant in my garden has blossomed more prolifically than ever this summer.


Dear Helen: The beans I seeded in the spring grew large, healthy leaves. Flowers developed, but they almost all fell off. The same thing happened to the strawberries, which also grew huge leaves, but all the flowers disappeared.


The symptoms you describe indicate an overabundance of nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen fosters green leafy growth. The nitrogen (N) content of garden soils needs to be balanced by phosphorus (P), which aids root development and the formation of flowers, fruit, pods and seeds, and potassium (K), which also promotes good root growth as well as fruit quality and disease resistance in plants. Potassium hardens plant cells and is a counterbalance to nitrogen.

Fertilizer labels list the values of these three major nutrients as three numbers, in the N-P-K order.

An over-generous supply of nitrogen-rich compost or/and manures in the soil is a common cause of too much nitrogen. I once planted strawberries on the site of a previous compost heap, and produced the strangest strawberry bed. It looked like a mini-forest of lush, deep green leaves. It was lovely, though bereft of berries.

An immediate remedy, when a planting begins showing signs of too much nitrogen, is to water with a no-nitrogen product such as MorBloom (0-10-10). Over the longer term, bone meal and rock phosphate are sources of phosphorus. Kelp meal and greensand supply potassium, as do wood ashes, but the ashes are highly alkaline and need to be used sparingly and not at all around acid-loving plants and blue hydrangeas (the flowers will turn muddy pink).

Overwatering can also contribute to over-lush foliage at the expense of flowering and fruiting.


Dear Helen: The large patio of my townhouse gives me the opportunity to garden in pots. Already, I have a few shrubs, some annuals, dahlias and a zucchini. Next year, I want to expand into trellised pole beans and some tomato plants. Could you give me the titles of books that would be helpful guides to growing flowers and vegetables in pots?


The best book I know of on container gardening is The Container Expert by Dr. D. G. Hessayon. Unfortunately, it is out of print. My local book store kindly checked his suppliers, to find the title listed as out of stock indefinitely. The book is available online though. Just put the title in a search engine and you’ll find sources.

I’d also check out your local book stores. You may find a guide there that suits you perfectly. I believe Alan Titchmarch, a British author and television presenter, has a book out on container gardening. You’ll come across his book in your search for The Container Expert.



Government House plant sales. The Plant Nursery at Government House will be open to the public every Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., in August. The nursery is next to the tea room. Parking is free. Choice perennials not easily found elsewhere will be sold to fund development of the gardens. Payment by cash or charge card.


Flower arranging. Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is offering a workshop on creating large arrangements on Sun. Aug. 14, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Eiddwen Thomas, local floral designer and flower farmer, will guide participants in making an imposing floral arrangement using mainly locally grown flowers, foliage, grasses and ornamentals. All materials are included in the cost of $110 for HCP members, others $125. To register, call 250-479-6162.