Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Plant a May-flowering tree or shrub for Mother's Day

Who would ever have thought we’d be in the middle of a second spring, and spending a second Mother’s Day weekend, amid significant restrictions made necessary by a pandemic?

What to do? How to mitigate the sadness of isolation and lift the spirits of the mother, other nurturing people and everyone in the household?

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Food. Delectable food comes immediately to mind as a surefire perk-up. Plan a family favourite meal, made at home or ordered as takeout, and add a salad of early greens and radishes from the garden. Gardening families may also have frozen or preserved fruit that could be fashioned into a celebratory dessert.

Cosy time. Another project to consider, one with potential to delight everyone, would be to create a cosy sitting-out place with a comfortable chair or lounge, a small table and pots of flowers containing some fragrant plants like heliotrope. Perhaps add the gift of a book by Mother’s favourite author to complete the picture.

Pandemic memorial. Because these are historically memorable times, it might be appropriate to mark them with a gift of a tree or shrub (or one promised in a card) that will bloom every May as a sort of pandemic memorial.

Many beautiful, and enduring, plants flower in May. There are many enticing choices among rhododendrons.

I have a flowering cherry tree that lights up an edge of the back garden every May, its widespread branches loaded with pinkish-white double flowers like dancing tutus. The tree has been in the garden for several decades now, never failing to help in the celebration of this lovely month.

I think the secret to the tree’s longevity is its location at a garden edge, where it is watered minimally. Flowering plum and cherry trees sometimes develop problems when watering systems in their location provide more soil moisture than is good for the trees. Over-watered dogwood trees are also prone to issues such as root rot.

Lilacs are a May favourite. The sweet fragrance of the showy flower clusters is a hallmark of the month.

If there is a support available to grow it on, a May-flowering vine is another possible choice. One of the most popular is Clematis montana (mountain clematis, Himalayan clematis, anemone clematis), a deciduous vine that produces masses of (usually) pink flowers. There are white-flowered types among the many varieties available.

However you decide to create a Mother’s Day celebration, may its limitations concentrate its sweetness. And if you cannot be with your mother or the mothering figure in your life, visit with that person on the phone or by using an electronic device at your disposal.

Clematis quest. My search for a pleasing evergreen clematis (Clematis armandii) has been a long story.

It began with my friend Beth, who used to live on the far side of my subdivision, in a house with a pink-flowering C. armandii trained around her front door. Whenever the vine was in bloom and I was visiting, she sent me home with a gorgeous little bouquet of the flowers, so that I could enjoy their delicate sweetness in my home.

Inspired by Beth’s vine, I acquired a C. armandii that turned out to have pure white flowers and an aggressive habit that sent it on an invasive mission into a nearby flowering cherry tree.

I decided to try again for a pink C. armandii, but the timing was difficult. A harsh winter had wiped out many of the plants and I was told the available pink ones were often disappointing.

Even more determined, I hunted down and acquired a C. armandii called Apple Blossom. Now, a few years later, I finally have an evergreen clematis covered with the beautifully pink-blushed, lightly fragrant flowers like the ones Beth gave me. The vine began blooming in April and has continued into May. I’ve been able to give small bouquets of the blooms to friends. And the circle is complete.

Government House plant sales. The Friends of Government House Gardens Society are holding sales of perennial plants at a nursery across from the tea room at Government house, 1401 Rockland Ave. in Victoria. Through to Aug. 19, the nursery will be open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Proceeds are used to further enhance the gardens.


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