Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: A gleeful return to work in the garden

It was with considerable glee that I launched myself back into the garden this month, as the incessant rainfall and gloom of January and early February began to lift. That long period of unuseable outdoor time turned re-entry into celebration.

Where to start? Every part of the garden needed attention. I decided to portion gardening time about equally between the practical and the esthetic. Prepare the broad bean plot for planting, then tidy an ornamental bed. Haul compost to a vegetable plot, then cut back and reshape overgrown summer-flowering shrubs.

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As many gardeners do at the start of the season, I rather overdid it that first weekend. I swear even my earlobes were aching afterward. Still, a day of physical rest at office work and I was set to plunge again into tending the garden.

I knew at the time I probably should not have spent so long hauling huge boulders from place to place as I re-shaped and re-edged an elongated oval area I think of as an “island” of growth because it is bordered by two curving pathways into the back garden — a path directly into the garden’s centre and another that leads also to the greenhouse.

At the bottom end, where the area touches the back lawn, a large native red cedar tree is underplanted with ferns, salal and creeping Oregon grape. Farther along there are patches of ground covers, mainly carpeting campanula and the grow-anywhere, hardy Geranium macrorrhizum (bigroot geranium).

At the far tip of the island is a seed-grown Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus), a deciduous shrub that produces unusual, many-petalled, reddish brown flowers early in the summer. Close by is a variegated hardy fuchsia, a swamp honeysuckle (Rhododendron viscosum, a fragrant deciduous azalea) and a rock rose (Cistus) that needed considerable reshaping to render it comely again.

This process of gradually tidying, pruning and weeding has been immensely satisfying — even, or maybe especially, the hard labour of shifting large boulders used for edging slightly into the island area in order to widen the centre path.

It’s easy to become entirely absorbed in work like this. The rest of the world, and its many troubles, disappear as a gardener becomes immersed in a project.

A book I came across lately, as I’ve been sorting through and thinning out my wall of garden books, captured the feeling precisely. A Garden at my Door is a long-ago gift from my Aunt Frances, who acquired it while working as a nurse in New Zealand.

The chapters cover a year in a garden, from the New Zealand spring to their late winter — September through August. The September chapter is titled The Good Earth. It begins with this:

“Gardening is one of the joys of life. To many of us it offers a refuge, remote from much that is ugly in the world today. It is a retreat that is truly our own. Here we become one with the changing seasons, the good earth and green things growing.

“A garden of our own offers compensation for growing older, for as long as we have strength to pull a weed or sow a seed there is no need for boredom or loneliness. We are forever learning.”


View Royal meeting. The View Royal Garden Club meets on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Wheeley Hall, behind the Esquimalt United Church, 500 Admirals Rd. Entrance is off Lyall St. Paige Erickson-McGee of the Habitat Acquisition Trust will speak about Conquering Invasive Plants in Your Garden. The evening will include a sales table with plants and garden items and a mini show with exhibits from members’ gardens. Non-member drop-in fee is $5. viewroyalgardenclub.wordpress.com.

AGGV lecture series. On four Sundays in March, The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria will host a lecture series with the theme Gardens as Art: Aesthetic Journeys around the World. The series will feature the approach of professors of art history to famous gardens located in France, Italy, Egypt and Japan. The illustrated lecture series, a perennial sellout, will take place on March 1, 8, 22 and 29, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the gallery. The March 1 lecture is titled Japan in Giverny: Monet’s Impressionist Garden. Tickets for the entire series cost $100 for AGGV members and students, others $120. Each individual lecture costs $30 members, others $35. Tickets are available online at aggv.ca, under Events, or at AGGV, 1040 Moss St.

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