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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Assessing the damage, living in hope

Almost every home garden on the Island will be manifesting some effects from that January bout of freezing weather.

It was two weeks ago, on my first day back in the garden after almost three weeks indoors, miserable with the flu.

The sun was shining. A gardening friend and I were taking a water-sipping break from setting up wire fencing for vining vegetables and preparing plots for planting.

I looked across the back garden to the flowering plum tree beside the greenhouse. Why no bloom? The small tree usually forms a solid canopy of fluffy pink flowers for all of March. It wasn’t a late season. Apart from a brief freaky freeze-up in January, the winter had been uncommonly warm.

That could explain why, for the first time ever in its decades-long lifetime in the garden, the tree was not full of early spring flowers. Buds already swelling in the warmth of December and early January were likely blasted to death by the sudden cold temperatures that plummeted to -10 C. Only a few flower buds survived to bloom.

Nothing to be done now, except to keep the tree nicely shaped to show off the usual month-long floral display that will surely return next spring.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the back garden, is a flowering cherry tree that spreads broad curtains of frilly double, tutu-like white flowers every May. Will it bloom? Perhaps, because of its late spring bloom time, the flower buds were not so likely to have begun swelling so early.

We are gardeners. We live in hope.

Assessing damage. I suspect that almost every home garden on the Island will be manifesting some effects from that January bout of freezing weather. Broad-leaved evergreens took the biggest hit in my garden.

The Mexican orange blossom (Choisya ternata), a shrub I value for its shiny, aromatic, broad-fingered foliage and fragrant spring flowers, is badly scorched by frost, while another Choisya called Aztec Pearl, in a fully open, exposed location, was not damaged, perhaps because its much narrower leaflets made it less vulnerable to frost damage.

I feel sure the damaged Choisya will survive. As with all frost-bitten plants, it’s a good idea to leave them for now. Wait until well unto April and keep checking for fresh green shoots. When that happens, simply clean the plant up by clipping away damaged stems and leaves.

Hardy fuchsias are often late to leaf out anyway. Be patient with them. The anxious among you may want to scrape away a small patch of bark on a few stems. Green means life. Brown or tan denotes departure from the land of living things.

Even if all scraped bits show brown, I’d still wait. A few stems may have survived to leaf out. If not, it simply means the shrubs have reverted to herbaceous perennial status and will regrow into brand new plants. There may even be a few fresh green shoots already emerging from the plant crowns.

In that case, to foster a strong new plant, thin the fresh stems as they develop to leave the strongest.


VHS meeting. The Victoria Horticultural Society will meet on Tuesday, April 2, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. in the Garth Homer Centre, 813 Darwin Ave. At 6:30, members of the Vancouver Island Rock and Alpine Garden Society will host a workshop on how to make an alpine pot. At 8:00, Angela Hoy will present “The Complete Guide to Home Composting.” Non-member drop-in fee $5.

Gordon Head meeting. The Gordon Head Garden Club will meet on Wednesday, April 3, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Gordon Head Lawn Bowling Club, 4105 Lambrick Way. Christina Cook from the Organic Gardener’s Pantry will speak about “Nourishing plants through soil improvements and foliar sprays.” Visitors welcome at no charge.

Dinter Nursery, 2205 Phipps Rd. in Duncan, presents the following:

Perennial Exchange. Friday, April 5, 9:30 to 10 a.m. Bring your divisions or cuttings of perennial plants to trade with other gardeners.

• Preparing your Pond for Spring, a seminar with Scott from Van Isle Water. Sunday, April 7, 1 to 2 p.m. Cost is $10 plus GST. Space is limited, register in advance at the nursery or at 250-748-2023.

Ask a question. Victoria Master Gardeners serve the gardening public in many ways. One of their projects, “Ask a Master Gardener,” involves members with expertise in different areas answering questions from the public via email at