Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Blooming pink viburnum, witch hazel delight visitor

Since all my socializing for months has been outdoors, much of it occurs in the garden. One friend in particular has been generous in coming to garden with me once every week through most of the mild fall and winter, at least until last week, when a surprise period of freezing weather arrived, crusting over the soil and causing a large front garden patch of blue borage and orange calendula to collapse in a sad heap.

Viewing the garden through the eyes of visitors can be a revelation. Several times in January, my friend marvelled at the large trusses of bright yellow flowers on a tall Mahonia in a corner of the front garden.

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The Mahonia is one in a line of shrubs from a house corner to the front fence. A Pink Dawn viburnum and a witch hazel are fronted by Choisya (Mexican orange blossom) and Viburnum davidii. Large rhododendrons, Irish yews, the Mahonia and a forsythia are underplanted with Epimedium.

In the first week of this month, Caron and I raked the corner area clean of the massed debris shed by neighbouring giant cedar and fir trees. I cut down the old Epimedium foliage, as new flower stems were just beginning to nudge their way to the soil surface.

As I continued clearing along the front fence, Caron brought compost to spread over the area that had been raked free of debris. As she passed by the line of shrubs, she commented on the beautiful display of pink and yellow flowers on the Pink Dawn Viburnum and the witch hazel. It was only then that I took time to take in what a lovely showing they were making this winter.

I planted those shrubs in the early days of the garden for a view of winter colour from the big living room window at that front corner of the house. I’d grown so accustomed to their presence that I no longer bestowed upon the shrubs the appreciation they merited. It often takes visitors to stimulate again the pleasure in plants grown so familiar.

Best laid plans. As the saying goes: Form a plan; make God laugh. I’d just taken my broad bean seeds out of storage to make an early sowing because the weather had been so steadily mild when I was deterred by an unexpected period of freezing temperatures. That’s February for you — an untrustworthy, cranky month.

Still, planning is what gardeners do. While the garden thawed and the weather returned to a reasonably usable condition, I scuttled back to scanning catalogues for ideas on enhancing the horticultural pleasures of the coming growing season.

I found a few choice items among the 2021 Plant World Seeds listings. I was delighted to see they’d brought back a Cistus (rock rose) called Pink Silk. They’d listed it a few years ago. I acquired and grew plants from the seeds, and purchased a few other Cistus plants for comparison. The Pink Silk plants have been the best — dense, neatly compact, free-flowering. It will be interesting to see whether the returned “Pink Silk” will be exactly like my excellent plants.

Lady Di is the most tender, delicious runner bean I’ve ever grown, and because I’m fond of the striped “zebra” type tomatoes, I’ll be trying Black Zebra, a natural cross between Green Zebra and a black tomato. It’s described as “one of the stars of the new tomato range.”

VHS turns 100! The Victoria Horticultural Society, 100 years old this year, is planning creative ways to mark the centenary. A first initiative is called “100 Trees to Celebrate 100 Years! VHS members are challenged to plant 100 trees in 2021. Other initiatives will follow during the year, including a major “legacy” project as a lasting memorial of this milestone.

Since the fall, the society has been holding its monthly meetings using Zoom. The meetings have been successful, especially since there is no need to bring people to Victoria to speak to the members. For information on the meetings, speakers and workshops, sub-groups (hardy plant, fruit and vegetables), and centenary celebrations, visit vichortsociety.org.

Floral design program. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is currently taking an interest list for a three-level course in industry-level floral design. For details and to click on the Floral Design Interest List, visit hcp.ca and find the course under Community Education. Or, email communityed@hcp.ca.

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