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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Fall sparks compulsion to reorganize, simplify and streamline

Outdoors, autumn weather brings with it a desire to clean up and renovate enough to send the garden in good condition into winter.

Cooling temperatures and shrinking daylight hours always trigger in me a sense of a new year beginning. Perhaps it’s a remembering of my own school and university years, the years of teaching, and those of sending my own children off to start a new school year.

There’s the same feeling of a fresh beginning. It comes with a compulsion to clean, re-organize, simplify and streamline — in the house, and in the garden.

Outdoors, autumn weather brings with it a desire to clean up and renovate enough to send the garden in good condition into winter.

This is also a perfect time to assess the season that is winding down. Careful consideration of failures and successes paves the way to renewal and improvement. What vegetable and flower varieties did noticeably well? Make a note to repeat them. Disappointing varieties need not be planted again.

I’ll soon be taking my sketch of this year’s food garden plots out into the garden, along with a rough sketch for 2023, to begin pencilling in changed placements for my major planting blocks: shelling peas; carrots and beets; onions and leeks; tomatoes; kale; summer squash; winter squash.

Renewal. Personally, I have no problem “editing” out plants that have become tediously irksome to maintain, and those whose appearance has become irredeemably unpleasant. Sometimes, extreme measures are required.

I recently dug up a very straggly bunch of old, woody sage plants and replenished the soil with a rich compost. I’ll cover the emptied area with small leaves or chopped straw for the winter, and set out young replacements in the spring.

The strawberry patch has been halved in size and thinned to reduce the work involved in maintaining the patch and to make space for a new prune plum tree in that sunny corner beside the compost enclosures.

Early in the summer I dealt with a few plants that I am inordinately fond of but that were in dire need of renewal. For the first time ever, most of the structural top growth on the hardy fuchsias remained bare through early summer.

One of them, beside the back lawn, had grown huge and woody, with several thick trunks. I sawed the trunks down, with help, and retained a few of the strongest new, green stems, which now have already hardened nicely. Some have borne flowers. The cutting down has given me a chance to create a new, uncluttered shrub. A fresh start.

For decades, two Clematis montana vines have clothed a simple gazebo-like structure in the centre of the back garden, covering it with pink flowers in May. As with the fuchsias, the vines failed to green up properly in the spring.

When I cut the old, woody clematis vines down, there were already plenty of fresh green stems beginning to grow. They have made rapid advances up and over the structure. Another drastic, successful renewal.

The deterioration of hardy fuchsias and clematis can probably be attributed to the plants’ age together with last year’s severe heat and drought followed by harsh December weather.

GARDEN EVENTS

Peninsula meeting. The Peninsula Garden Club will meet Monday at 7 p.m. in the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney. Michael Cowan from Edibella Organic Landscapes will speak about Growing Shade Plants in your Garden. The evening will include a parlour show, raffle, refreshments and access to the expertise of our Master Gardeners. Drop-in guest fee $5. Covid protocols will be in place.

VHS meeting. The Victoria Horticultural Society will meet on Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Garth Homer Centre, 813 Darwin Ave. David Fraser will speak about growing Brugmansia. David founded Fraser Thimble Nursery on Salt Spring Island and worked as unit head for Species Conservation Science in the BC Ministry of the Environment. 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. vichortsociety.org.

Gordon Head meeting. The Gordon Head Garden Club will meet on Wednesday, Oct. 5, from 7 to 9 p.m. at a new location, in the Gordon Head Lawn Bowling Club, 4105 Lambrick Way. Joshua Clae Wagler, lead designer at Edible Landscapes Design, will speak about Home-Scale Edible Ecosystems. Visitors are welcome at no charge. The evening will include a parlour show and raffle.

hchesnut@bcsupernet.com

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