Helen Chesnut: Flowers add beauty and attract beneficial insects to veggie patches

A charming May 1 tradition in past times was to leave little baskets of flowers on the doorsteps of cherished friends. This “May Day” practice was a way to celebrate the return of spring with others.

Celebrating with flowers remains with us. Their presence highlights the meaning of any occasion. Colourful bloom and fragrance certainly enhance the enjoyment of visits with friends in the garden, and they add pleasure to time spent working in it.

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As I’ve added plantings to my four vegetable plots, I’ve chosen spaces for seeding flowers, mainly calendula, alyssum and nasturtiums along edges and, in corner pockets, sunflowers with cosmos.

Flowers in vegetable gardens not only add colour, beauty and fragrance to the plots, they attract and nurture beneficial insects that help to control pests.

Sites to savour. We all probably have our favourite garden spots at particular times in the year. This spring, several have caused me to stop what I’m doing and spend time in sheer enjoyment.

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Corydalis solida grows from small tubers, and blooms in March and April before dying back. HELEN CHESNUT

One is my preferred “sitting-out” spot, a little alcove with room only for a chair and tiny table, next to a small flower bed edged with lavender plants. A small climbing rose rises at the back, and the space in the middle has rose bushes and perennialized clumps of snapdragon.

In March and April, much of the bed is covered in the ferny foliage and fluffy lavender-pink bloom of Corydalis solida. At the same time, clumps of my favourite grape hyacinth, the elegant two-toned Muscari latifolium, are in bloom.

A tall, slender Leycesteria formosa (Himalayan honeysuckle, pheasant berry) grows at the edge beside the chair. In summer, it will bear drooping claret and white flower clusters, followed by showy berries popular with birds.

The far side. Another small, oval bed on the opposite side of the back garden comes alive in early spring as, at one end, a red flowering currant makes a sprightly statement in rosy-red bloom. At the other end, a Therese peony will soon begin a lengthy display of double pink flowers. The rest of the bed is filled with heathers and sedums, shasta daisies, foxgloves, and spring flowerbulbs.

Hammock garden. Two years ago, I sought and found help in rehabilitating overgrown parts of the garden. In one of those areas, as Ken began clearing a section between trees, he uncovered an old string hammock that had been left on the ground to become buried in overgrowth.

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This hammock garden was colourful through the winter with bright green and burgundy heucheras, heathers, pansies and violas. Small, early flower bulbs gave way to a white and coral narcissus in April. HELEN CHESNUT

He found hooks that originally held the hammock, set it up, and suggested I use it to hold a container flower garden. Super, I thought. Just what I need — another planting to care for.

Still, the idea held appeal. Ken found an old board that fitted in the hammock and I found two oval planters that fit on it perfectly.

The project has been fun. The plantings I made early last fall have been especially rewarding, offering colour and flowers through the fall, winter, and spring so far. I filled the oval containers with green and burgundy heucheras, heathers, pansies and violas, small early spring flowering bulbs, and a rock garden narcissus with white petals and coral pink cups that began blooming around mid-April.

Later this month, the plants will be distributed through the garden and the oval planters set up with summer flowers.

Looking ahead. As your vegetable plots fill, and if you want to plant garlic early in the fall, decide on its placement now and use that space during spring and summer for shorter-term plants like bush beans or lettuce, to be certain you’ll have a patch of ground available for planting garlic in late September or early October.

VHS. The Victoria Horticultural Society is hosting a Zoom meeting on Tuesday, May 4, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Pamela Dangelmaier and Elke Wehinger from Botanus, a nursery in Langley, will explore the topic “Create a Summer Bulb Spectacular.” Non-members can register for $5. To register, visit vichortsociety.org.

Spring plant sale. The Compost Education Centre is hosting its 10th annual all-organic spring plant sale on Saturday, May 8, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at 1216 North Park St. in Victoria. The sale features local farmers offering vegetable, flower and herb seedlings. There will be heirloom tomato plants, berry bushes, fruiting shrubs and companion plants like marigolds. COVID protocols will be in place and plants lists will be published in advance to allow gardeners to plan their purchases ahead of time. compost.bc.ca

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