Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Evergreen perennials retain foliage year round

One example, Epimedium (barrenwort, bishop’s hat), forms dense carpets of heart-shaped leaves and delicate flowers like miniature columbines appear in spring.

Dear Helen: I heard someone speaking recently about “evergreen” perennials. What is that? I understood that plants referred to as perennial died down to the ground for the winter. I’m a novice gardener who likes the idea of added interest in the winter garden.


A perennial plant is one that lasts longer than two years in a garden.

Most perennials are “herbaceous” — a term that indicates a plant lacking persistent above-ground parts.

Gardeners are familiar with herbaceous perennials dying back over the winter, to re-grow in spring. Common examples are hostas, most hardy geraniums, daylilies, astilbe, shasta daisies.

There are other perennials that retain their foliage year round. Heucheras (coral bells) are an example. They are available in many showy colour combinations. I’ve used them in winter hanging baskets for display across the front of the house.

Another lovely evergreen perennial is Epimedium (barrenwort, bishop’s hat). It forms dense carpets of heart-shaped leaves, some varieties with beautifully coloured markings or edgings. Slender stems bearing delicate flowers like miniature columbines appear in spring.

Epimedium, for all its delicate loveliness, is tough. It grows well in shade and is one of the few showy plants that competes well with tree roots. In my garden, carpets of them have grown and flowered perfectly for many years, next to a fence that is crowded on the other (neighbour’s) side with the dense growth of fir and cedar trees.

Bergenia is a popular evergreen perennial with rounded spoon-shaped foliage. Sempervivums (hen and chicks) display attractive year-round rosettes of spiky foliage, some forms in interesting colours.

Among the ornamental grasses, the sedges (Carex) add graceful notes to winter gardens.

Dear Helen: What rosemary would you recommend for a substantial, sturdy and long-lasting, divider hedge?


Your best choice is probably ‘Arp.’ It’s a tough, imposing rosemary that I chose to plant for a line of aromatic evergreen, minimal-maintenance plants in a sunny, hot and dryish location. The planting has been very successful.

It has a long flowering season and, in bloom, is almost always full of bees.

Dear Helen: I planted a crabapple tree two years ago. It produced leaves this spring, but no flowers.

Don’t these trees bloom before leaves appear?


Crabapple trees usually flower amidst young leaves. You can find a photo on the Canadian Royal Botanical Gardens website: Click on “Don’t be Crabby.”

Crabapple trees most commonly bloom three or four years following planting. Maybe next year?

Your tree will be well established now. Take care not to over-water. A deep watering once a week during dry weather is sufficient.


View Royal meeting. The View Royal Garden Club will meet this evening (Wednesday, April 24) at 7:30 p.m. in Wheeley Hall behind Esquimalt United Church, 500 Admirals Rd. Dr. Richard Hebda, president of the Iris Society of B.C., will speak about climate change gardens and the connection with irises. Drop-in non-member fee $5.

HPC plant sale. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd., is hosting a Spring Plant Sale on Saturday, April 27, and Sunday, April 28, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the gardens is free during plant sales. Master Gardeners and others will be on hand to answer questions. Proceeds support the maintenance and development of the HCP not-for-profit teaching gardens. Close to sale dates visit for a list of plants available.

Abkhazi plant sale. Abkhazi Garden, 1964 Fairfield Rd. in Victoria, is hosting a Spring Plant Sale on Saturday, April 27, and Sunday, April 28, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit the garden at peak bloom. Head gardener Jacqui Paulson will be available to answer questions about plants for sale. Most are grown at the garden. The garden and teahouse are open seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reservations recommended for the teahouse. Call 250-896-0864.

Cowichan plant sale. The Cowichan Valley Garden Club is holding a plant sale on Saturday, April 27, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. John’s Anglican Church, 486 Jubilee St. in Duncan.

Glad and Dahlia sale. The Nanaimo Gladiolus and Dahlia Society is holding a sale of gladiolus corms and dahlia tubers on Saturday, April 27, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Country Club Mall, 3200 North island Highway in Nanaimo. Cash, debit or credit.

[email protected]