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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Where to look for local gardening advice

For gardening tips, check out Linda GIlkeson’s books, the West Coast Seeds catalogue and the Victoria Horticultural Society’s website

Dear Helen: Our new home in Sidney has a small garden space in full sun. I’d like to have several raised beds and, next year, a small greenhouse. Would you please recommend books and/or websites geared to our climate to get me started as I plan for this garden?


An excellent local source for detailed information on growing food plants and the most appropriate and beneficial flowers for food gardens is Linda Gilkeson, a gardening educator and author living on Salt Spring Island. Her books include Backyard Bounty, a guide to year-round organic gardening in our climate. A new, expanded, third edition of her Natural Insect, Weed & Disease Control has just become available.

Linda’s website is full of articles and tips, including excellent photos of common pests and diseases in all their stages.

The West Coast Seeds Gardening Guide catalogue is as good general guide to planting, tending and harvesting vegetables, herbs and flowers. In-depth information is given for each major listing.

Articles abound in the catalogue, on topics such as drying herbs, storing seeds and xeriscaping. At-a-Glance charts on the timing for seeding and transplanting vegetables, herbs and flowers are helpful.

At the bottom of the Home page of the Victoria Horticultural Society ( you’ll find a list of links of interest that includes local gardening groups, garden centres and other resources.

Dear Helen: My husband and I usually cut our Garry oak leaves down to a fine mulch using an electric shredder. Last fall, we did not manage this task. Instead, we just raked the whole leaves onto our bed of perennials. Is it all right to simply cover the leaves with compost in the spring or do we need to rake the leaves off the bed? The daffodils began emerging last month. Other plantings include hardy cyclamen and creeping thyme.


It is good that the leaves were still on the bed during last week’s cold weather. Temperatures are warming this week. With the cold period having ended, and especially if the leaves lie fairly thick on the bed, rake most of them up lest they smother some of the plantings. Compost them, or shred them for use around plants.

According to the records I’ve kept over recent years, hard freezing temperatures are rare in March, but we’re all aware how unpredictable the weather has become. At least for the first half of the month, monitor forecasts and be ready to place some sort of insulating cover over vulnerable plants if unseasonably cold temperatures seem imminent.

Dear Helen: In February, I made a careful search in my area’s plant shops for cape violet plants, with no luck. Do you know where I might find one?


Not finding a plant last month could just have been a matter of unfortunate timing. Streptocarpus (Cape primrose, Cape violet, False African violet) is more likely to be available in spring and summer.

When I received your email, I phoned my closest garden centre and was told they were expecting Streptocarpus plants shortly. I expect that a few phone calls to your area’s outlets that usually carry an extensive selection of house plants will unearth a source.

It’s been a long time since I grew Streptocarpus plants. I think I grew them from seed. An African violet relative, Cape primrose thrives and blooms best in similar conditions of bright indirect light, average room temperature warmth, high levels of humidity, and a potting mix kept modestly moist and that drains well of excess moisture,

The brightly coloured, attractively veined, trumpet-shaped flowers arise from a rosette of primrose-like leaves.


Seedy in Courtenay. The Comox Valley Growers & Seed Savers are presenting a Seedy Saturday event on March 4, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay — the go-to place that day for picking up seeds and gardening supplies. Visit and click on About Our Vendors for a colour profile of participating vendors.

Seedy Sunday. Nanaimo Foodshare, in collaboration with Nanaimo Community Gardens, is hosting a Seedy Sunday event in Beban Centennial Building, 2300 Bowen Rd. in Nanaimo on March 5, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This community event promotes seed saving, local seed providers, eco-friendly makers, gardening and environmental organizations. Free educational workshops will focus on growing local food.

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