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Thyme & Kaffir lilies

What has happened to the Thyme plants between this reader’s paving stones; and taking a look at Kaffir lilies (Schizostylis coccinea) for British Columbia.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

November 9, 2008

Above, three shots showing the then newly planted (2005) Brassbuttons (including the ‘Platt’s Black’) between our pathway stones. Below, Kaffir lilies (Schizostylis coccinea), both the red and pink ones growing near our large pond; photo-graphed in October this year; and a gorgeous yellow Clivia miniata which we grew in Toronto. Author photos.

Ursula McNeice of White Rock B.C. apparently wrote twice in September with a question about Thyme; however, I cannot find any trace of either message arriving on my system. She wrote again this past Friday, and I did receive it, although that message did go initially into my Junk Mail box, where I rescued it. That may be what happened to her original two September messages!

“Hello Art. I wonder if you can help me? I planted thyme in-between the flat walking stones in my backyard. Within the last few months the thyme has gone brown and has died off. I have kept it watered throughout the summer. Also, we never walk on it either. Any idea what could be causing this? It looked so beautiful in between these rocks and now appears to have died off. Would really appreciate your help with this as is disappointing to see this after it looked so beautiful before. Many, many thanks, Art!”

Unfortunately I am not certain just what the problem with Ursula’s Thyme plants is, it could be a reaction between a chemical used in the stones’ manufacturing process, or that they are not receiving sufficient moisture even though she thinks she was watered sufficiently. It could also be several other things! My ‘answer’ to the problem would be to plant something else, at least try a few plants of something else. What we used here is Common brassbuttons (Cotula coronapifolia) which is now generally available at most B.C. nurseries. We decided to use a few of each of the three types available, but now that we have had four years of growth, I would suggest staying away from the Black brassbuttons (Cotula ‘Platt’s Black’), which has not stood up nearly as well as the green-leaved varieties here.

We planted these between all of our pathway stones, where the area for planting was just about 6-7 cm (2+”) wide and they have spread wildly. They are somewhat invasive, and do take considerable foot traffic. Their foliage is fern like, and as mentioned, there are at least three types, light green, dark green, and “black”, which is basically green leaves with a purple tinge. They all have tiny yellow flowers during the summer. They somewhat disappear during the winter but come back in spring.

There are a number of other similar plants that can be used in this situation; for example, Glechoma hederacea ‘Variegata’ or Antirrhinum braun-blanquetti. However, the Cotula seem to take walking-on about as well as anything.

While writing about our garden here, I have been meaning to write briefly about a perennial bulb that is not well known even here where it is hardy. The plant Shizostylis coccinea has the unfortunate common name of Kaffir lily but should not be con-fused with the Bush lily or Clivia miniata with its famous strap-like leaves and gorgeous large orange or yellow blooms--an indoor plant in Canada.

I wrote “unfortunate” because that word has its origination as an ethnic slur for all black people in the country of South Africa. It is also a term in Islam for “unbeliever.” A superior common name is ‘Crimson flag’; and to make it even more confusing, there is also an alternate botanical name, Hesperantha coccinea, which is likely to replace the Schizostylis tag.

I first saw this beautiful perennial in various gardens here on Vancouver Island, including at the University of Victoria and the Lieutenant Governor’s residence, also in Victoria. Their singular beauty is made all the more interesting by the fact that they come into bloom usually in mid-September, and if the winter is mild, go on blooming well on into that season. It is also said that if they come into bloom earlier than usual, that itself is a forecast of a cold or heavy winter!

Gardening friends David and Crenagh Elliot in Victoria told me they had some of each the pink and red ones growing in their garden last year about this time, and suggested that if I was in Victoria somewhere in the early spring, that I let them know and they would divide some of their clumps. In February that is exactly what they did and that was the beginning of my little collection of this wonderful plant. The City of Parksville also has a number of nice clumps growing in the rock garden on the exit road from the Community Park. They too are in full bloom now as well.

These are not plants for areas with colder climates than we have here on Vancouver Island--certainly not Ontario. However, it would be interesting to hear from anyone who has tried some, and done considerable protection of them for the winter!

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