Liverlilies, Lewisia & how spring arrived on the prairies

Yesterday, I spent a lazy afternoon in my back garden enjoying the warm sunshine and reflecting on the speed at which spring arrives here. There is no gentle awakening here. Spring can arrive in the blink of an eye.

From Sunday, when I talked of Hepaticas (Liverlilies) and wondered if my garden would waken anytime soon, to Monday afternoon, when I spied a patch of blue and ran outside to investigate, the difference was startling. (If I wore my glasses more faithfully, I would have realised that the blur of blue was a Liverlily in bloom.)

And yesterday, while raking leaves, I noticed that a Lewisia cotyledon (aka Bitterroot) had survived the winter and that the flower buds were starting to form.


I have a soft spot for my Lewisia (Bitterroot) which has returned faithfully
for several years now. It delights me because it is such a temperamental plant. Given the proper environment which is no small feat here, it flourishes and blooms with abandon.

Lewisia, native to Oregon and northern California, needs good drainage and should be planted at a slight angle with rocks or gravel surrounding it. The plant will rot if water sits on the crown. I am constantly sticking little stones around it so that none of the fleshy leaves touch the ground.


I have often wondered how this plant with such beautiful flowers could be named Bitterroot. According to Paghat’s website, Lewisia received its name for Captain Meriweather Lewis of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Lewis carried back roots from California to Philadelphia where he deposited the roots with a botanist. Lewis had been impressed by the plant after tasting Lewisia’s boiled roots. According to Lewis:

This the Indians with me informed me were always boiled for use. I made the experiment, & found that they became perfectly soft by boiling, but had a very bitter taste, which was naucious to my pallate, & I transfered them to the Indians who ate them heartily.

The first Lewisia, Paghat documents, was collected by Lewis in1806, “at the mouth of the Lolo River of the Bitterroot Valley. French trappers called the plant racime amere or Bitter Root, & the very mountain range was named for the plant.” First Nations’ people used the roots for medicinal purposes in addition to eating them.

So many plants are starting to appear in the garden now that the weather has warmed. It is a delight to move old leaves and find new shoots of plants. As I was checking the Lewisia today, I had a wonderful memory of Hazel, who died one year ago.

Last spring, my son and I wanted to create a place in the garden in honour of Hazel’s memory. So, we took the metal yellow cat which she loved to knock over and we stood it in the garden. (see pic at right) The Lewisia was in full bloom (pink blooms at right) as were the botanical tulips and some taller tulips.

One of Hazel’s favourite activities was to fall asleep on the bare ground beside the Alchemilla Mollis (Lady’s Mantle). When the plant was in bloom, she would lie on the flowers, flattening them most effectively. From early spring till the first snowfall, Hazel had a slightly grey tinge to her usually white coat. She was a cat destined for the outdoors. How we miss her!

15 thoughts on “Liverlilies, Lewisia & how spring arrived on the prairies

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hey Sissie – Hazelnut pumpkin was certainly one in a million – definitely the sweetest little kitty ever – just to let you know, we’re completely covered in snow – tomorrow it’s supposed to turn to rain so it’ll be a while before us Calgary gardeners can get workin’!!!

  2. Alyssa says:

    Hi Kate, Sounds like you had a wonderful time at the concert. Celtic music is one of my favorites and I have many CDs. There are alot of really talented female fiddlers out there. How lucky you are being taught by one. I’ll bet you play very well. Yes, the gardens are finally starting to come into their own. Makes the past crummy weather seem like a bad memory. I like your memorial sculpture of Hazel – it is in a very fitting place since the garden sounds like it was her second home. When our little dog died, we put lovely stones on her grave and a small, chubby statue of a dog at the head of it. I can see her resting place when I stand in front of the sink and do dishes. It is a comforting sight. I’m sure you feel the same way when you see the “Hazel” statue in your garden. Oh yes, the Lewisia is quite a unique plant. Such big flowers. When yours blooms please include some pictures for us. Have a good week, Alyssa

  3. Marie says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I love your garden pictures. Sadly Spring is still a far-off dream heres and my pansies are being very brave, waiting until their time comes.

  4. Megan Pickwell says:

    What a fantastic way to spend an evening. I love the thought of a real change of season. They simply move from one to another here. Maybe I will take more note of whats happening in our neglected garden this year just for you Kate!Meganx

  5. Ragged Roses says:

    It’s great to have a memorial for Hazel. We have a lewisia in a pot and at the moment I’m checking it daily for signs of those beautiful pink flowers …Kim x

  6. Abby Creek Art says:

    I’m sure Hazel loves the yellow cat in your beautiful garden. I think she still comes to visit and lays on the flowers…watching you with delight while you work the soil.xoxo

  7. A wildlife gardener says:

    I really miss our wonderful cat – called Amber, because of the colour of his eyes. I planted forgetmenots on his grave as he was such an unforgettable character. I like what you did to remember Hazel.

  8. Annie in Austin says:

    The Lady’s Mantle seems just the right plant for this sweet memorial to your cat. I doubt that I’ll ever see such NW plants as Lewisia and those blue, blue, Liverlilies growing anywhere here, so thank you, Kate, for sharing their photos here. I love that ‘world tour’ aspect of garden blogging! Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  9. Sandy says:

    Lovely little flowers, I don’t think we have either of them. Glad you are able to be out and about in your garden now. We are getting some unexpected sun today, too. I have been out to see what is through the ground, and am delighted to see quite a few plants breaking the surface.I love celtic music, but am not musical at all. Good for your for learning the fiddle!

  10. Yolanda Elizabet says:

    At last, spring has come for you too. My cat Sam loves lady’s mantle too, just like your Hazel did but fortunately he doesn’t lie on top of it. It’s good to make a memorial for our loved ones when they are no longer there. The one you made for Hazel is wonderful. I’m glad your garden contains so many happy memories of Hazel, she must have been an adorable little kittycat.

  11. Simon says:

    I just loved the little bit about Lewis. A hard drinker for certain, but what an interesting person in that type of ‘Go forth and explore’ way.tcS

  12. Weeping Sore says:

    Thanks for the Spring pictures and history lesson. Reading your post makes me realize how invigorating Spring is after this long, strange winter.

  13. Rowan says:

    I found the information about Lewisias really interesting, I hadn’t realised they originated in the US, if asked I’d have guessed that they might be South African. I’ve grown them in the past and they are very pretty, my garden is really too wet and clayey for them though.

  14. Gotta Garden says:

    Why look at these different and interesting (and hard!) plants you grow! What a treat for all of us! I see they are benefiting from your tender care. I think that must be the sign of a life well lived to have fond memories and sweet thoughts.I enjoyed Simon’s comment on Lewis…made me laugh! Then, I was thinking about Lewis placing the bitterroot on the Indians’ plate (or whatever they used)…and that made me laugh, too! Good info!

  15. Ki says:

    Your Hepatica is a wonderful shade of blue. I planted several sharp lobed Hepaticas (H. acutiloba) last year and I think I see stalks of the plants emerging from the ground but I think the flowers will be white rather than the fetching blue of yours. I also ordered a Lewisia from Bluestone Perennials which is scheduled to arrive this week so I’d be interested to see photos of the flowers when yours bloom.

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