Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Relaxing image of summer still blooms

Now that the weather has turned cold, I’ll be missing the occasional visit with keen gardening neighbours, sitting in their small, meticulously designed and maintained front garden and sipping the best coffee in town — one of Tom’s specialties.

Comfortable benches and chairs are set out in the midst of containers planted with small trees, shrubs and flowers by the front entrance to the house. The arrangement is ideal for tranquil repose. A small lawn presents a brief interval of restful green between the flowers and benches and a small pond, whose gently burbling device imparts a sense of immediate calm.

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Looking out across the lawn, my focus is always drawn to an imposing western white pine leaning out from the far edge of the pond. When the tree was young, Tom induced it to grow at a lean rather than upright by weighing the trunk down with a rock in a stocking, which he tied to the tree.

Fruit-tree growers sometimes use the same method to bring branches down from a near-vertical toward a more fruitful direction, closer to the horizontal.

As the tree grew, Tom pruned and shaped the developing branches into irregularly tiered “clouds” of foliage — bonsai style, but on a grand scale.

Struck by the impressive plant and Tom’s artistic handiwork, I began searching through my bonsai references and soon came upon a white pine (Pinus parviflora) entry showing two samples of miniature potted trees.

White pines produce dense tufts of needles that can quickly form heavy foliage masses, leading to congestion and overgrowth in a tree. Pinching out or snapping off emerging shoots where you don’t want them and thinning congested areas constitute the process of creating an interesting, esthetically pleasing specimen. The thinning also enhances air circulation and sunlight penetration in the tree.

Autumn sage. On one of my last visits, relaxing in the serenity of Tom and Marlene’s garden, prominent among the containers of flowers around us was a new one, with two bushy autumn sage plants billowing with purple and red flowers. Marlene is fond of these plants and looks for them every year in late summer at local garden centres. She is particularly charmed by the butterflies and hummingbirds that are frequent visitors to the lovely blooms.

Tom has tried keeping autumn sage plants over the winter in his garage, with no success so far. Hardiness is not uniform among the varieties. Plant labels indicate hardiness. They will give either a plant’s base hardiness zone or a “tender perennial” designation.

Richters Herbs, a Canadian source for a huge selection of seeds and plants, lists four autumn sage varieties, two of them hardy down to Zone 7, which means the plants should winter well here, given protection from wet conditions.

To check out the Richters’ autumn sages, visit Richters.com and type “Salvia greggii” into the plant search box.

An alternative to consider for people who like sages that attract hummingbirds is a form of pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) called Honey Melon sage. Though Richters lists it as hardy only to Zone 9, my planting has been rock hardy for years, giving me bright red flowers all summer and through most of the fall.

The edible flowers are hummingbird magnets and the foliage fragrance is wonderfully, sweetly fruity. For close-up enjoyment of the plant’s perfume and flowers, as well as the visiting wildlife, Honey Melon plants can be grown in hanging baskets and other containers.

Garden events

Rose meeting. The Mid Island Rose Society will meet on Monday, Oct. 15, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the North Nanaimo Library on Hammond Bay Road in Nanaimo. More information at 250-390-2805.

Winter pruning. Russell Nursery, 1370 Wain Rd. in North Saanich, is offering workshops on Winter Pruning of Trees and Shrubs with Noah Alexander, a professional arborist, on the following dates and times: Saturday, Oct. 20, at 10 a.m. or 1 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 27, at 10 a.m. or 1 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 3, at 10 a.m. or 1 p.m. Cost is $20 plus GST. The workshops will cover general pruning theory and practice, with demonstrations. Register by email at russellnursery@telus.net or by phone: 250-656-0384. Please provide your phone number when registering.

Wreath making. Some of the holiday wreath-making classes, beginning in late November at Russell Nursery, are already full. For a list of dates and times of the remaining 14 classes, go to russellnursery.com/classes.

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