Steele: Many old-time garden perennials thrive with little water

Have you ever come upon an abandoned homestead in the dry interior at this time of year and been surprised to see a bearded iris (Iris germanica) in bloom?

They, and many other well-loved, old garden perennials, are very drought-tolerant.

bearded iris

There are many colours and bi-colours of bearded iris. They range from miniature, dwarf and standard to tall.

All need full sun to be at their best. Different varieties bloom at different times, generally for two to three weeks.

They are deer-resistant and attract hummingbirds. Some of the fancier hybridized ones may be less tough than older varieties.

Another spectacular old species, Oriental poppy, has a deep taproot allowing it to thrive in very dry sun, but making it hard to move.

The traditional colour is orange. There are many beautiful shades of white, pink, red and bi-colours. Blood-red ‘Beauty of Livermore’ is my favourite.

These deer-resistant plants go semi-dormant and look scruffy after bloom. They can be trimmed back.

It’s best to plant them at the back of a deep bed so something large and later-blooming can be placed in front.

Catnip (Nepeta), with blue flowers from May to July, and again at the end of summer, is a wonderful, water-wise plant.

Nepeta ‘Walkers Low’ is striking at two feet by two feet. The smaller Nepeta ’Dropmore Hybrid’ is twelve inches.

Catnip attracts butterflies and pollinators and is deer resistant.

Coreopsis grandiflora, or tickseed, reliably provides yellow daisies for cut flowers from June to September, if dead-headed. It attracts butterflies and is deer-resistant.

There are many varieties of blanket flower, in shades of yellow, orange, red and burgundy, that will bloom from June through September if dead-headed.

This includes our native brown-eyed Susan (Gaillardia aristata).

They attract butterflies, are deer-resistant and the seeds feed birds. Although a short-lived perennial, they reliably self-seed.

Another heirloom species, gloriosa daisy, has the same attributes as blanket flower but is usually taller. Flowers may include golden/rust shades.

These, and other yellow flowers, are nice paired with blue catnip.

A century ago, hollyhocks were common. Their tall, stately forms were usually at the back of a flower garden but sometimes in big clusters beside a house or building.

Years ago I planted them in front of my bedroom window. Several times I was startled at night by tall shadows moving across the curtains, before remembering it was only my hollyhocks bending in the wind.

They come in many colours, single and double, and bloom all summer, providing food for birds, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Older plants are prone to rust so it’s best to seed new ones every two to three years.


The 17th annual Kelowna Garden Tour takes place Saturday, June 14, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.. Tickets are available at local nurseries.  Check for more information.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

You might like ...