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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Selective pruning can help fill out Kerria japonica

Double-flowered form ‘Pleniflora’ is the one most seen in gardens here

My first year of teaching was in a small town between Fernie and Cranbrook, in the beautiful East Kootenays. Since then, I’ve kept in touch with a British couple on the staff. During my travelling years I spent time with them in England’s Lake District.

A surprise visit with them last month was deliciously nostalgic as we looked back on those times. And as almost always happens whenever I meet with friends, Mike had a gardening question. He had been given a plant, now long established in his garden, that he knew only as “Sailor’s Buttons.”

Photos of the plant on his phone left me puzzled. It was a deciduous shrub with just a few slender stems, mainly bare except toward the top, and a little under two metres tall. The flowers, which the photo did not show, are yellow. Mike described the bloom time as highly variable.

Didn’t ring a bell — until two days later as I was puttering in the back garden. A neighbour called me over to the fence. She produced two slender stems full of bright yellow, fully double flowers. Could I identify them?

I immediately recognized the flowers as Kerria japonica. It was then that a light bulb lit up in my little brain. Perhaps this is Mike’s plant. With the name, my description and his own research, Mike agreed this was his plant. He then wondered about pruning it.

My neighbour’s Kerria is a much more full-bodied shrub than Mike’s appeared to be, but still the lower third of the stems are mostly bare. Selective pruning can help to fill out that part of the plant.

Kerria shrubs are pruned after the flowering period, mainly by cutting back stems that have flowered. Most can be cut to the ground. The rest, if cut back to strong side shoots, will help to fill out the lower part of the shrub in the following year. New growth made this year will flower next year.

The usual flowering time for Kerria japonica is mid to late spring, not August, but this year’s cold spring and early summer weather delayed the timing of many plants.

The shrubs grow well in most moderately fertile, well-drained soils in sun to part shade. The double-flowered form ‘Pleniflora’ is the one most seen in gardens here. Its common name is bachelor’s buttons. That’s the closest I came to Mike’s “sailor’s buttons.” Other common names are Japanese rose and marigold bush.


Abkhazi Garden open house and plant sale. Abkhazi Garden, 1964 Fairfield Rd. in Victoria, is holding an Open House on Grandparents Day on Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit the heritage garden with grandchildren. Prizes to be won include afternoon Tea for Two, plush bears, children’s books and more. A Fall Plant Sale from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. will feature interesting plants, most grown at the garden. Proceeds go to the maintenance of the garden.

Peninsula meeting. The Peninsula Garden Club will meet Monday, Sept. 12, in the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney at 7 p.m. Jane Tice, a rose expert and horticultural instructor with the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, will speak about the care and pruning of roses. She will also share her top ten rose picks for this area. The evening will include a parlour show, raffle, refreshments and the expertise of Master Gardeners. Drop-in guest fee $5.00. Covid protocols will be in place.

Qualicum meeting. The Qualicum Beach Garden Club will meet on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the QB Civic Centre, 747 Jones St. Leslie Cox, Comox Valley’s Duchess of Dirt, will speak about The Good, the Bad and the Downright Pesky: How to attract good bugs to our gardens and cope with the troublesome ones. Covid protocols in place.

View Royal show and sale. The View Royal Garden Club will host a Fall Garden Show and Plant Sale on Saturday, Sept. 17, 1 to 3 p.m. in Wheeley Hall, behind Esquimalt United Church, 500 Admirals Rd. Entrance off Lyall St. Exhibits will include perennials, vegetables and fruits, potted plants, herbs and more. Admission $5.00, includes refreshments and door prize tickets.

Plant sale. The Peninsula Garden Club will be holding a Fall Plant Sale on Saturday, September 17, from 9 to 11 a.m. in the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney. Great prices on a wide selection of fall perennials.