Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Family gardens build precious lifelong memories

In a column just before Father’s Day I shared a few childhood memories from my father’s garden, where I recall helping to plant nasturtiums to trail down a retaining wall. In summer, I tended sweet peas growing on the wire walls of a chicken coop.

My father showed me how to adjust a brass hose-end nozzle to create a fine, cooling mist that would help to keep the sweet peas refreshed and productive. That brass nozzle, now mine and still in perfect condition, is one of my most treasured and frequently used gardening aids.

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On the mid-June day that column appeared in the paper, an email arrived from a reader for whom it had “evoked many deeply cherished childhood memories.” As a child, Hanne’s “job” every Saturday morning was “to pick and arrange bouquets of fresh flowers for the house. Sweet peas were my favourite.”

The email expressed exquisitely the deep sense of contentment a garden can bring: “I’ve spent most of the morning in my garden, enjoying the scent of a runaway honeysuckle wafting over me and fussing with my ‘river of thyme’ that runs alongside a little waterfall and rock stream bed. I gratefully attribute the depth of joy my garden gives me to those early experiences in my parents’ garden.”

As young families garden together, tending plots, planting and gathering, precious lifelong memories are being built.

Easy amaryllis. In a recent stream of reader mail came a report from Wayne about an amaryllis he’d not repotted for 12 years. Five years after the bulb was planted, a baby bulb formed at its side. The baby bloomed three years later. The planting is in a clay pot.

Wayne’s story reminded me of sitting in a neighbour’s garden on a June day and noticing a potted amaryllis in bloom nearby. The neighbour’s care of the plant, like Wayne’s, was minimal. She put the pot in a frost-free garage for the winter and brought it out in the spring, bringing it into active growth again with water and a top layer of soil mix replaced with fresh.

Eventually, most amaryllis bulbs kept in the same pot will produce little offshoot bulbs. Theoretically, in pots wider than the usual tight-fitting ones for amaryllis, the planting could become a clump of flowering size amaryllis bulbs.


Bee-witched. A disconcerting note from Gordon in Campbell River expresses an alarming message: “NO bees this year.” He goes on to explain, “We have a compact garden, bursting with plants. Many are for attracting and feeding bees.

“Last year, the azalea was buzzing with up to seven distinctly different bees and other pollinators. This year — virtually nothing. There were no bees in the foxglove flowers. Other bee attractant plants have been left forlornly alone.”

Gordon notes that there has been enough pollinating activity for berry formation on bushes and canes.

I’ve noticed far less bee activity in my garden this year too. Usually, I avoid passing close by the rhododendrons in bloom because of the thick clouds of bees flying in and around the shrubs. There were bees in the plants this spring, but in sparse numbers. The kale in bloom did not attract its usual crowds of the creatures either.

I’ve seen bees, mainly bumble bees, in foxglove flowers and California poppies, and almost the usual populations in the raspberries at bloom time. On the patio I have observed bees in the petunias. But the satisfying hum of bees in the garden has noticeably lessened.

I’m wondering what other home gardeners have observed in bee activity this year.



Picnic in the gardens. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is inviting families and friends to bring their own dinners for a picnic in the gardens on Wednesday evening. Enjoy local musicians, browse through the works of local arts vendors, visit a Master Gardener booth for answers to gardening questions, and check out sales of plants propagated from the gardens. Admission is by donation between 5 and 8 p.m. hcp.ca.


Government House plant sales. Government House, 1401 Rockland Ave. in Victoria, is holding plant sales every Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., through to August 27, at the Plant Nursery opposite the Tea Room. Visitors will find an extensive variety of plants. A sampler: For shade there are hardy fuchsias, astilbe, Choisya ‘Sundance,’ small red Japanese maples, heuchera. For sun: salvias and hebes, threadleaf coreopsis, phlox, sedum, nepeta and more.

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