Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Gardeners jumping for joy on first day of spring

Gleeful notes continue to arrive in the daily rounds of emails. The latest, from Jan: “Isn’t this the most joyous time of year for us garden elves — especially this particular spring?”

Questions coming with these cheerful notes reflect an eagerness to launch the season that begins officially today — questions about selecting supplies, finding particular seeds, when to plant and so on.

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Seeds have been an issue. A few of the catalogues I’ve ordered from every year for decades failed to arrive in the mail. Others are managing only very late seed deliveries.

The lesson I’m taking from this is to acquire seeds early. I’m examining local seed racks closely and starting to purchase extra packets of the seeds I grow regularly, to be sure of having what I need for the next year. Uniformly cool, dry and dark storage conditions keep seeds in the best possible viable condition for their type.

Some of my usual sources have remained gratifyingly stable. My January order to T&T Seeds in Winnipeg arrived quickly. My first ever online order, to Salt Spring Seeds, arrived in less than a week.

Treasure seeking. As people are spending more time outdoors and thinking about gardens, they seem to be taking special note of unfamiliar plants. Several requests have come in for the names of unknown and intriguing plants. Sometimes I can identify plants from photos in an email. Sometimes I can’t.

I was able to identify a daphne from one photo, but when a friend brought me a small sprig from a little shrub she had noticed in town I was stumped. Internet search engines given a detailed description were no help. In times like this I turn to my ultimate plant identification resource: Russell Nursery in Saanich.

I went into town, found the plant, took a photo and sent it in. Seven minutes later, Laurel replied from the nursery: “It is Polygala chamaebuxus, possibly the variety ‘Kamninski.’ Cute, eh?”

Polygala chamaebuxus? Perhaps you’re all quite familiar with this little cutie. I’d never heard of it. Thank goodness for nursery and garden centre owners and workers

The plant is fascinating — evergreen, low to the ground, the small leaves adorned with clusters of tiny pea-like, pinkish-purple flowers with protruding, bright yellow lips. The plant blooms March to May. It grows up to 25 cm high and will spread in time to 60 cm across. It is considered low-maintenance, and a good ground cover that naturalizes well in sun to part shade. Common names are shrubby milkwort and box-leaved milkwort.

Here is where I apologize. Laurel tells me they have had the plant in from time to time, “but not every year and not this year.”

I usually refrain from mentioning plants difficult to access. It irritates people. Still, this little plant can be taken to represent the many unusual and charming plant treasures that we can come across (and pounce on) during random visits to our local garden centres and plant nurseries.

I clearly remember the happy day last summer when I spotted a shasta daisy with creamy yellow flowers in a nearby garden centre. There are several yellow shastas. I’d been wanting one for years. Mine is Leucanthemum ‘Real Sunbeam.’

Then there was the day that I stumbled upon an Eternal Fragrance daphne. It has turned out to be a wonderful evergreen shrub, nicely shaped and often full of scented flowers.

I’m dotty for daphnes, and was thrilled to see, all alone on a shelf at a nursery, a Lawrence Crocker daphne, a dwarf variety with lavender-pink spring flowers. Random treasure-hunting expeditions can pay off.

Magazines. I’ve been contacted by a gardener in the Victoria area who has Gardens West magazines from 1997 to 2014 to give away. Please use the email address with this column to contact me if you would like the magazines. I’ll send the donor the contact information of the first person to make the request.

Abkhazi news. Abkhazi Garden, 1964 Fairfield Rd. in Victoria, is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Starting today, volunteers will be back at the gate and in the garden, with sales at the gate of mulch and plants. Sales will be ongoing through the season. Starting April 1, the garden and teahouse will be open seven days a week from 11am to 5pm. Admission is by donation.

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