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Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Dry soil means gardeners keen for lots of rain

A mulch of soil and leaves, and the snow in February, protected the garden’s remaining carrots and beets in wonderfully crisp and juicy condition. All through March, I dug the over-wintered roots to enjoy and share with others.
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These two double rows of peas were sown and are flowering at the same time, but seeding them around two weeks apart yields an extended harvest of fresh peas.

A mulch of soil and leaves, and the snow in February, protected the garden’s remaining carrots and beets in wonderfully crisp and juicy condition. All through March, I dug the over-wintered roots to enjoy and share with others.

Some were harvested to make room for the first of two four-metre double rows of peas, which I seeded two weeks ago. I’ll soon seed its parallel pea row. Staggering the timing of the two plantings allows for observing the comparative outcomes of each one as it also makes the pea picking less intense and more pleasurable.

As I have worked around the garden in these past weeks, I have been alarmed at the dryness of the soil. I have spoken with some gardeners who, also observing dry conditions, began watering some plantings last month.

The records I keep indicate that the last significant rains occurred in the early part of January. Since then, there has been practically no precipitation except for some February snow, which did not deliver the moisture our gardens needed.

Sunshine is nice, but I’m hoping for abundant, life-giving rains this month to replenish our soils and the Island’s water supplies. Meanwhile, check out dry corners of the garden and the soil around plantings such as rhododendrons that have shallow root systems. Plunge a slim-bladed trowel or border shovel into the soil, lever it forward and feel for the moisture level of the exposed soil.

Salad heaven and more

At my local farmers’ market on March 23, I was delighted to see bags of mixed salad greens on Elsa’s tables. Her mixed greens are exceptional. She seeds greens for spring in her greenhouse in September. Small plants form, stay put over the winter, and produce waves of fresh growth in late winter and early spring.

The blend Elsa seeded last year is the Five Star Greenhouse Lettuce Mix of red and green romaine and leaf lettuces from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (JSS). Elsa says:“I’ve grown all their blends. They’re all really good.”

The JSS catalogue is a deliriously alluring draw for salad lovers. It has page upon page of specialty lettuces of all kinds, and enticing blends. My favourite so far is their Home Garden Salanova Mix, a gorgeous and flavourful blend of red and green butter and oakleaf lettuces, pretty enough for a flower garden.

Elsa’s cut flower bouquets are a big summer attraction at the market. Most of her stunning flowers are grown from Johnny’s seeds. Cut flowers is another of their specialties. I’ve found their Costa snapdragons to be unfailingly easy-growing, robust and beautiful.

Send your gardening questions to Helen Chesnut at and she will try to incorporate them into a column whenever possible.

Garden events

Peninsula meeting. The Peninsula Garden club will meet on Monday, April 8, at 7 p.m. in the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney. Fran Benton will speak about her favourite deer-resistant plants and ways to outsmart deer. The meeting will include a parlour show and plant stall.

Floral art. The Victoria Floral Artists Guild will meet on Tuesday, April 9, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Garth Homer Centre, 813 Darwin Ave. A “Pillow Talk” presentation and workshop will demonstrate use of the new Holly Chapple Pillow instead of the usual floral foam. Guest fee $5, applicable to membership.

Qualicum meeting. The Qualicum Beach Garden Club will meet on Tuesday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. in the QB Civic Centre, 747 Jones St. Donna Balzer will present “Growing Great Tomatoes and Pest-Free Vegetables.” Guest fee $3.

Nanaimo meeting. The Nanaimo Horticultural Society will meet on Wednesday, April 10, at 7 p.m. in the First Unitarian Fellowship Hall, 595 Townsite Rd. Jamie Wallace will present “Soil and Regenerative Landscaping.” Information at 250-758-6783.

HCP workshops. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. in Saanich, is offering the following workshops. To register, call 250-479-6162.

• Plant Identification and Culture. The next session in this ongoing, monthly course (can be joined at any time), is on Saturday, April 13, from 1 to 4 p.m. In each session, Diane Pierce introduces 25 new plants, with descriptions, preferred growing conditions, landscape uses and maintenance. Cost to HCP members per session is $35, others $45. Cost for 12 sessions: members $350, others $450.

• Getting Started with Backyard Beekeeping, Sunday, April 14, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Learn about starting a colony, caring for it, and favourite honeybee plants. Members $25, others $35.

Abkhazi Garden volunteering. Abkhazi Garden, 1964 Fairfield Rd. in Victoria, is seeking volunteers for gardening and greeting visitors for three hours a week. Plant knowledge is not essential, but enthusiasm for beautiful gardens is an asset. Contact or 250-479-8053.

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