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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Showy sedums make long-lasting, easy-care container plantings

Dear Helen: Can you recommend a hanging basket plant that will be showy for many months and require minimal maintenance? A plant with low water needs would be good. I never manage to keep up with the hand watering. T.G.

Dear Helen: Can you recommend a hanging basket plant that will be showy for many months and require minimal maintenance? A plant with low water needs would be good. I never manage to keep up with the hand watering.

T.G.

I agree that hand watering of container plantings can be time consuming in a busy life. The easiest hanging basket and other container plantings I know of are to be found among the sedums. Many are quite showy, and most drape nicely over pot and basket edges.

The most beautiful one I have is Sedum sieboldii, in a hanging basket. It’s been in the same basket for years. The plant is hanging from an arbour leading from the back lawn to the greenhouse. Early in the spring I clean the soil surface and top-dress with a nourishing planting mix, before fresh foliage emerges.

The foliage of this sedum is beautiful. The blue-green leaves are rounded, each with a narrow pink edging. The plant forms a neat mound of horizontal branches, always showy as the leaf colouring changes from spring through the fall. With hot weather, the pink edging becomes more vivid. In late summer and early autumn, small clusters of pink, star-shaped flowers appear at the stem ends.

The plant is lovely all summer long. Late last month, as I walked with a friend by the greenhouse, she stopped to admire the sedum and was quite enchanted with it. But the plant is at its most brilliant in the fall, when the foliage turns beautiful shades of pink, red, yellow, and orange. Often, at the same time, the plant is still flowering.

This amazing little plant is most fully appreciated in a hanging basket hung at eye level, though it makes a lovely plot edging or rock garden specimen. It is supremely undemanding, apart from modest watering in dry, warm weather.

Dear Helen: I noticed your answer to a question about blossom end rot on tomatoes. Have you heard of using pieces of blackboard chalk as a calcium source for tomatoes? I used to have blossom end rot on my tomatoes every year, until I began placing half a stick of blackboard chalk in each planting hole. The chalk supplies all the calcium a plant will need through the summer. Buy it at a dollar store. A box will last most gardeners many seasons.

M.L.

Blackboard chalk used to be calcium carbonate, a useful form of horticultural lime. It’s also used as “marking line” on grassy sports fields.

Now, blackboard chalk is most commonly gypsum (calcium sulphate), a component of drywall. It combines an alkaline element (calcium) and an acidic element (sulphate). That blend results in a pH neutral product that supplies calcium while not reducing acidity in the soil. Most of our coastal soils become acidic as our usually plentiful rainfall leaches soluble, alkaline elements from the soil

Calcium sulphate (gypsum) is also readily soluble, adding calcium rapidly to a soil. This can result in chemical imbalances.

Still, if your tomato plants have routinely thrived with the chalk, it must work in your soil conditions. It’s just good to know exactly what’s in the products we use, and whether there are any cautions to note.

GARDEN EVENTS

HCP plant sale. The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Rd. In Saanich, is hosting a Fall Plant Sale for HCP members and volunteers on Friday. The sale is open to the public on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Select from a large selection of plants propagated over the spring and now ready to be placed in gardens. All plants will be reduced by 25 per cent with further discounts in the bargain bin. Garden admission is free during plant sales. Staff, volunteers and the Victoria Master Gardener Association will be on hand with advice on plant choices. All proceeds from the sale support the development of the HCP non-profit teaching gardens.

Fall is a good time for planting. The combination of warm soil, cooling temperatures and rainfall nurture speedy rooting and settling in before winter.

Cactus and succulent show and sale. The Victoria Cactus and Succulent Society will hold a Show and Sale on Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 24, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Church of the Advent, 510 Mt. View Ave. in Colwood.