Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Wait until spring to repot seasonal 'dish garden'

Dear Helen: In a recent column you mentioned gift dish gardens on a Christmas theme. At what point do you move the plants into individual pots?


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Keep the plants together as long as possible. Most Yuletide-themed container gardens will have a mix of tropical foliage and flowering plants. Bright indirect light, room temperatures a bit on the cool side, and soil kept just modestly moist are conditions that will suit most of them

Winter is not a good time for repotting. Clip off faded flowers to retain a neat appearance in the little plant collection, and wait until early spring to repot.

Check to see whether the plants have been kept in their own pots when assembled into a container with peat or moss between the pots. If this is the case, you will have the option of removing a plant if it becomes unattractive and replacing it with a fresh one.

In either case, identify each plant as you handle it and provide it with specifically optimal conditions.

A word about cyclamens: These showy plants, usually with red flowers held above green leaves beautifully marbled in silver, often appear in Christmas dish gardens. Warmth triggers dormancy. Flowering will stop and general dieback will occur. Cool, bright conditions short of direct sun can keep the plants flowering for extended periods. Avoid applying water directly on the tuber. Aim around it.

Dear Helen: My Paperwhite narcissus bulbs, planted in the third week of November, are flowering. I thought it took five to six weeks from planting to bloom. Why so fast?


Paperwhites usually begin to arrive at garden centres in September. Bulbs planted soon after and during the early part of October do take five to six weeks to form roots, top growth and flowers. As the season for planting the bulbs progresses into November and December, planted bulbs take less time to bloom.

Dear Helen: The Paperwhites we planted have bloomed well, but with absolutely no fragrance. In the past, they would scent the whole house. The flowers look the same as in the past. What happened to the scent?


Perhaps you inadvertently purchased the unscented variety called Inbal. It is a fairly new Paperwhite, for people who like the flowers but have an aversion to the fragrance.

Inbal looks like Ziva, probably the most commonly grown variety. Both are white, and single-flowered. Erlicheer is a double-flowered white, with a sweet fragrance. Grand Soleil d’Or has yellow flowers with orange centres.

Dear Helen: In the summer I bought a “Ghost” fern, which I planted in an ourdoor pot. It was stunning all summer, but with autumn’s cool night temperatures the leaves have crinkled up and darkened. Do you think the plant is still alive, and will it re-grow in the spring?


“Ghost” is an Athyrium hybrid fern, a cross between Japanese painted fern and lady fern. It grows 60 to 90 cm tall with apple green fronds frosted with silver highlights. It is a cold-hardy perennial that is herbaceous, that is the plant dies down for the winter and re-grows in spring, like hostas.

I usually have concerns for most plants over-wintering in pots, because the roots and crowns are more exposed than they would be if grown in the ground. Ghost fern, however, is hardy to zone 3 (Think Winnipeg).

Still, to be very careful, leave the old fronds on the plant to protect the crowns. Remove them early in the spring and replace a top layer of planting mix. If severe cold threatens, wrap the pot with burlap, old blankets or floating row cover, or whatever you have on hand.

HCP event. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is offering a “Holiday Miniatures and Cards” event with Richard Wong on Monday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Cost is $85. Safely learn how to paint watercolour miniatures on Japanese art paper that will double as greeting cards. All levels welcome, including beginners. Bring your own lunch and wear a mask. Register by calling 250-479-6162 or online at hcp.ca (under Community Education), where you will find details on the course and instructor, and on COVID guidelines.

HCP membership. Garden admission for the rest of the month will be limited to members only, in recognition of their support through 2020. Acquire a membership for yourself or as a gift on the website or by phone.

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