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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: A bit of early growth in the open garden

Garden Notes

On the first weekend of this month, as the rain began and snow started receding from the garden, I was finally able to make my way to the vegetable plots to dig into deep holes an accumulation of kitchen fruit and vegetable trimmings. For this “on site” composting I choose plot corners and edges that dry out first in hot weather.

The trimmings break down speedily once buried in the soil, creating a nutrient-rich, moisture-retentive mass that is also a worm magnet.

On the slow stroll back toward the house, I noticed something odd poking up along an edge of a recently snow-covered shrub and perennial bed. A closer look revealed a fat, dark ruby red shoot emerging from a small peony root I had planted last fall.

The peony was one I’d grown from seed and kept growing in a pot for longer than I’ll ever admit. It just kept emerging from the pot every spring, awaiting a proper, permanent home.

One of several peony species I’ve grown from seed, Paeonia veitchii var. woodwardii is a Chinese peony that forms a small mound of dissected foliage and produces single flowers like anemones.

The woodwardii variation is more compact than the species, at around 30 or 40 cm high, though some sources list its height as taller. The plants flower earlier, and the period of bloom is longer, than most peonies. Each stem bears several single, cerise-pink flowers. Plant World Seeds lists this peony.

The sight of that plump, shiny shoot was more than satisfying. I am looking forward to the plant developing and flowering to yield lovely blooms to cut for the house. That bit of early growth in the open garden also represents the promise of a whole new season of flowers, fruits and vegetables and all the many pleasures they bring.

Looking at the emerging peony brought to mind a recent radio interview of an artist describing her painting process as “planting seeds of beauty and happiness.” Surely, that’s what we do.

Calima. Among the pleasures I’m anticipating most is growing, harvesting, consuming and sharing again a delectable French filet bean called Calima.

What a huge success it was last year. Thanks to a long, warm autumn, a late planting, in August, yielded fresh beans from late September through the third week of October.

At mid-October I made a big picking to share with a friend who had dropped by to help in the garden one morning. By that time I’d begun to watch weather forecasts with care, thinking that the warm weather could not last much longer. That led me to a last, hefty harvest from the short row of bean plants on Oct. 20, just before the usual fall rains began a few days later — the first significant rain since mid-July last year.

Calima, from William Dam Seeds, gives impressive yields of long, slim, dark green beans on sturdy, compact, pristine little bushes. The juicy beans are sweet and richly flavourful. I’m sharing seeds this year with a friend who grows a food garden on her condo deck.

Sheep revisited. Several emails have come in with news of more sources for fertilizer wool pellets made from sheep’s wool. The latest was from Claire, a “fifth generation farmer” in the Comox Valley.

The current low price to be earned from wool, together with memories of her grandmother talking about the benefits of using wool in the garden, then hearing about wool pellets, “tiny bits of pelletized fleece that build your soil, fertilize your plants and reduce water use” came together to set this farmer’s sights on creating Vancouver Island Wool Pellets (

These pellets are sold online and at the farm.


Rose meeting. The Mid Island Rose Society will meet on Monday, March 20, from 1 to 3 p.m. in the North Island Library on Hammond Bay Rd. in Nanaimo.

View Royal meeting. The View Royal Garden Club will meet on Wednesday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Wheeley Hall, behind Esquimalt United Church, 500 Admirals Rd. Entrance is off Lyall St. Botanist Val Roberts will speak about “Keeping Your Soil Enriched.” A judged mini-show will feature exhibits from members’ gardens. Everyone welcome. Drop-in fee for non-members $5.

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