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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Cool spring could be what Nature needed

The first peony-flowered poppy bloom opened to reveal its lovely face on the official opening day of summer

My garden season tends to run a bit late in the best of times, since forest trees along the eastern fence line of the property have grown skyscraper high, blotting out most of the morning sun.

That is why it was not until Monday, June 20, that I plucked and ate my first, enormous, juicy ripe strawberries. There are large clusters of berries on the plants, and many outsized berries. I see a series of shortcakes and other strawberry delights ahead.

More treats: The first peony-flowered poppy bloom opened to reveal its lovely face on the official opening day of summer. These tall, large-leaved annual poppies self-sow in many gardens, their blooms taking on many charming variations in colour combinations and flower form. Some are fully double, frilly confections, others single. The seed pods, left to dry on the plants, yield seeds to use in baking projects.

This first-of-the-season bloom displayed large, crinkly crepe-paper type petals in pink, with four purple blotches toward the flower’s centre. It The plant bears more buds yet to open.

A corner of the back garden is more colourful and lush than usual. The space is filled with a wide-spreading Climbing Cecile Brunner rose, with a vigorous patch of red valerian growing in front and blooming impossibly out of a waist-high pile of rocks. A Therese peony flowers nearby, bearing fragrant, fully double blooms in pale pink. The peony flowers combine with the red valerian for gorgeous cut flower bouquets.

A healing spring? It was heartening to hear a climate scientist speaking in a radio interview last month about a positive side to the cold, damp spring. He described a facet of that weather pattern, considered dreadful by most people, that I had not thought of. His point: Following last year’s oppressive heat, drought, and fires, the long, cold, rainy spring weather may have served a useful healing purpose in keeping cool and replenishing thirsty forests, streams and ground water resources.

As a home gardener with a large area to manage, I welcomed the watering service delivered by the spring weather. Keeping a large, rambling garden even close to adequately watered is challenging.

With Nature’s own ample irrigation, the garden has been jungle-like lush and fresh looking. Cold temperatures and wet conditions did, however, present issues. As I waited — and waited — for even minimally congenial conditions for transplanting, dozens of flats filled with plants ready to be set out in the garden piled up in the house and greenhouse.

When weather and soil conditions at last became moderately reasonable for planting, I was faced with the nearly impossible task of moving all of them to garden beds and containers. It may be a delayed season for many vegetable and flower plantings, but if fair weather prevails late into the growing season, we may enjoy a superbly productive and flower-filled autumn.

If predictions are correct, summer will be settling in nicely now. My hopes are for a “Goldilocks” summer. Not too hot. Not cold. Just right — and blessedly “normal.” By now, most of us have had it with extremes.


VHS meeting. The Victoria Horticultural Society will meet on Tuesday, July 5, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Garth Homer Centre, 813 Darwin Ave. Dave Fraser, founder of Fraser’s Thimble Farms on Salt Spring Island, will speak about growing Brugmansias. Fraser’s Thimble Farms specializes in rare, unusual, and native plants. Masks are required in the Garth Homer Centre. Doors open at 6:30 for those who would like some social time before the meeting. Non-member drop-in fee $5.

Dahlia meeting. The Victoria Dahlia Society will met on Thursday, July 7, at 7:30 p.m. in St. Michael’s church, 4733 West Saanich Rd. The program will be on maintaining healthy dahlias: disbudding, tying and so on, with questions and answers included. Visitors are welcome.

Lily show and sale. The Victoria Lily Society is hosting a “Summer Scentsations” Flower Show, Plant Sale and Tea on Saturday, July 9, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Broadview United Church, 2625 Arbutus Rd. Admission is by donation. Judged exhibits will include lilies, roses, perennials, succulents, grasses, fruits, vegetables and more. An English style tea with home-made scones and other treats will be available for $5. For sale will be a wide variety of lilies in one-gallon pots.