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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Lifelong gardener still learning new tricks

Large, used water bottles with the bottoms removed used to great effect in 'winter sowing' project

I’ve been spending most of the long winter evenings thinning out the overcrowded drawers of my two filing cabinets. I’ve accumulated files on a multitude of gardening topics and added to them as I come across new and useful information. I’ve enjoyed re-visiting correspondence with readers and articles with information of ongoing value.

In the “Amaryllis” file I’d kept a letter and a photo from a woman in Duncan who wrote about a potful of amaryllis bulbs that she kept growing year round. She estimated that the original bulb, a gift from her mother-in-law, was at least 30 years old.

The photo showed a pot, and the small table it was on, almost hidden by a gracefully arching cascade of vibrantly healthy, strap-like leaves. Rising above the lush, deep green foliage, a flower stalk held a cluster of flowers. It was an impressive display.

The planting was watered regularly and given a little house plant fertilizer every few months. The pot’s bright location in a sun room with a western exposure suited the planting well and screening effectively filtered the strong summer sun.

In the same file folder I found another note on the same theme, from a man who described seeing a “spectacular” clump of eight potted amaryllis bulbs, all in full bloom. Its owner grew the clump as a green plant year-round. Offset bulbs that appeared were left in place and the entire clump was moved to wider pots as needed.

I often think that there are probably as many ways to garden as there are gardeners. We enjoy the delicious freedom to try out all sorts of different methods as we address gardening projects.

And here’s another …

Winter sowing. Around two weeks ago, an email from Margaret K. arrived: “Early last November someone mentioned ‘winter sowing’ to me. I’d never heard of it, even though I’ve been gardening for more than 55 years.

“I checked it out online and immediately assembled some seeds, which I planted in upside-down grocery store cake covers with drainage holes cut in the bases. I covered the seeded containers with large, used water bottles with the bottoms removed.

“I was amazed at how well this worked. In spite of frost and snow the seeds came up are doing well. The radicchio, kale and Swiss chare were slow to germinate but are coming along. The lettuce plants are beautiful. I’ve been able to transplant them into flats to put into my small greenhouse.

“It’s been so much fun to see that this worked. I’m hoping for very early lettuce this year.”

I had questions, about where the seeded containers were located from the Nov. 20 sowing onward, and about ventilation. Except for one of the plantings, which had holes punched in its cover (an overturned water bottle with the top cut off), Margaret did nothing to ventilate. She just seeded in only minimally moist soil mix and then covered each seeding with bottomless water bottle “cloches.”

“I checked a few times and noticed that the soil remained evenly moist, even during the pouring rain. All were left in the open.

“I love the way the seedlings never went leggy, and they had a really good root system when I transplanted them.”

I’ll be lining up a few hardy vegetable seeds for trying similar seedings in November this year.

VHS meeting. The Victoria Horticultural Society is hosting a Zoom meeting on Tuesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The featured speaker will be Dr. Patrick von Aderkas, a professor in the Centre for Forest Biology at the University of Victoria. He will take participants on a virtual walk pointing out the wonderful assortment of trees in Victoria. Drop-in fee for non-members is $5. To register, visit

Orchid show and sale. The Central Vancouver Island Orchid Society (CVIOS) invites the public to their “Spring Treasures” Orchid Show and Sale Friday to Sunday at Nanaimo North Town Centre, 4750 Rutherford Rd. in Nanaimo. Friday hours are 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. On Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event will feature American Orchid Society judging, a silent auction, B.C. vendors, and potting workshops on Saturday and Sunday by donation. Admission is free. COVID mask protocol will be in place. Further details at or at 250-937-7143.