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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Winter-flowering honeysuckle fills garden with sweet scent

North Saanich nursery owner says she rarely sees Lonicera fragrantissima on plant lists from her growers

Dear Helen: Is winter-flowering honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) rare? I’ve never seen it in any of the gardens I’ve been in. We’ve enjoyed our shrub for 20 years. It begins flowering in late December and continues until March or April with a steady stream of very fragrant blossoms that are a source of winter food for hummingbirds. The sweet scent travels far, and is so enjoyable on a winter gardening day. Though it can grow larger, we keep our shrub to around 120 cm high and wide.

M.G.

Laurel, at Russell Nursery in North Saanich, tells me that she rarely sees Lonicera fragrantissima on plant lists from her growers. “I think it is considered a little unfashionable these days, though I personally love it.”

Laurel hasn’t seen the plant on any of her availability lists for the past two years, and I can’t find it listed with the Loniceras on the website of Monrovia, a major supplier of plants to our local nurseries.

I did find L. fragrantissima listed on the Fraser’s Thimble Farm (Salt Spring Island) site, where the shrub is described as “A must for the fragrant garden.” They do note, however, that their plant inventory lists are kept only partially updated. Best to phone or email for current availability. Contacts are on the website at thimblefarms.com.

Dear Helen: Is there a seed company that lists Cyclamen coum? When we sold our property, we neglected to take any of the plants or seedlings with us.

H.R.

Twining Vine Garden in Fanny Bay lists Cyclamen coum seed. Fraser’s Thimble Farm sells young, seed-grown plants with small tubers. The four forms they list are the species (C. coum with pink flowers), C. coum album with white and violet flowers, a variation with deep crimson rose flowers, and another with silver-marked foliage. These hardy cyclamens flower in winter and early spring.

Dear Helen: Is it true that some flowers can be sown in the fall, for the earliest possible spring germination and, hopefully, early bloom? In what part of the fall would the sowing be done, and what flowers are recommended for fall seeding?

L.F.

I’m familiar with the practice of aiming for the earliest possible annual flowers by planting some of the seeds in the fall, just before the first autumn rains are predicted to begin. Prime candidates are the flowers that self-sow naturally, like annual poppies, larkspur, calendula and cosmos.

I’d never managed to organize a fall flower sowing, until last year, when I planted Mammoth sweet peas at the base of wire fencing in a few locations. It was more than gratifying to see some of the little plants emerging around mid-January.

Dear Helen: A few limbs of a very old, large apple tree in an orchard next to me grow over into my garden — enough for me to gather apples to make sauce. Everyone who tastes the sauce wants to grow one of those trees. How can I easily propagate it? Cuttings haven’t worked.

S.A.

The successful rooting rate of cuttings from apple trees is low. They root slowly, and the resulting tree may not yield the same apples.

Probably the swiftest path to growing the apples you and your friends want is to have them identified and then find a source for the desired trees. There are orchards that specialize in keeping older varieties of fruit trees in circulation. Some are on Salt Spring Island.

Two sources of useful information come to mind. One is the B.C. Fruit Testers Association. Local contact information can be found at bcfta.ca. Another trove of knowledge on fruit trees is Fruit Trees and More in North Saanich. Type the name into a search engine for contact information.

Orchid show and sale. The Central Vancouver Island Orchid Society’s Spring Treasures Orchid Show and Sale continues today through Sunday, March 6, at Nanaimo North Town Centre, 4750 Rutherford Rd. in Nanaimo. Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event features 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 in place. Further details at cvios.org or at 250-937-7143.