Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Sweet peas, nasturtiums bring back childhood memories

I wonder whether it’s still there — the heart-shaped rose garden at the Tattersall Drive home of my childhood and early teen years. The front lawn around the rose garden was a favourite place for playing. In one corner of the lawn was a perfect tree for climbing.

Where the lawn met the front of the house was a long, narrow, elevated bed where I remember planting flowers with my father. That’s probably where I developed my love for nasturtiums, the flowers we almost always grew there.

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Even now, I look every year in the catalogues for something different and unusual in the nasturtium listings.

My most recent discoveries are Orchid Flame, in fiery red and yellow with touches of burgundy, and Orchid Cream, a variety with fiery splashes of deep red on each soft cream petal. Both were from Veseys Seeds.

Nasturtiums are ideal flowers for small children to plant. The large seeds handle easily and are simple to poke into the soil. The petals and leaves can be added to salads for colour and a peppery taste.

The plants are sometimes infested by black aphids, though small patches of nasturtiums here and there in a garden are less likely to attract the pests than one large planting.

Readers of this column have shared with me their methods for keeping nasturtiums free of black aphids. One says the answer is to grow the plants in full sun. Another places used coffee grounds at intervals in the plantings to mask the attractant scent of the nasturtiums.

Sweet peas and family memories

After one of my younger brothers died four months ago, I went through an old family album and found photos of me as a young girl playing with my little sister and the two younger boys.

The pictures were taken in the back yard of the Tattersall Drive house, where my father grew sweet peas on an old chicken coop’s wire walls. My mother cut the fragrant flowers for the house, always placing them in a lovely smoked-glass vase that I now possess and use often for the garden’s flowers.

I shall be forever grateful to my father for the love of books and reading that came to me via the constant stream of titles he brought home from Victoria’s second-hand book stores.

I’m still pleasantly haunted by memories of A Girl of the Limberlost. The love of reading that flowed from those books has been a lifelong advantage in my working life as well as an ongoing personal joy.

Approaching pansy time

Every September and every March, I select a few pansies and violas at local garden centres for lengthy floral displays in patio containers.

In most years, I also seed violas and pansies indoors, in January and again in mid-July. I grow some of my own transplants because the catalogues give me access to the newest releases and varieties that are unique.

Stokes Seeds lists hundreds of pansy and viola varieties. This year, the most striking among the ones I chose from the Stokes catalogue has been a viola called ‘Pink Wing’ in the Sorbet Series. The flowers are charming little confections in pink and white. It’s a viola I’ll be growing again.

Garden Events

Rose meeting. The Mid Island Rose Society will meet on Monday, June 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the North Nanaimo Library, 6250 Hammond Bay Rd. More information at 250-390-2805.

Comox Valley meeting. The Comox Valley Horticultural Society will meet on Monday, June 17, at 7:15 p.m. in the Conference Hall of the Florence Filberg Centre, 411 Anderton Ave. in Courtenay. Bob Duncan, from Fruit Trees and More Nursery in North Saanich, will present a talk on growing citrus and sub-tropical fruit trees in south coastal B.C. Doors open at 6:30. Drop-in fee $5.

Picnic in the gardens. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is extending its hours again on Wednesday, June 19, and inviting families and friends to bring their own dinners for a picnic in the gardens while enjoying 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.

Abkhazi Garden volunteering. Abkhazi Garden, 1964 Fairfield Rd. in Victoria, is seeking volunteers for gardening and greeting visitors for three hours a week, on Monday and Tuesday mornings.

Plant knowledge is not essential.

Contact admin@conservancy.bc.ca or 250-479-8053.

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