Rhododendrons, which feature beautiful spring blooms, can be spotted all over Vancouver Island. Photo by Leslie Cox

Rhododendrons, which feature beautiful spring blooms, can be spotted all over Vancouver Island. Photo by Leslie Cox

DUCHESS OF DIRT: Springtime planting an annual chess game of ‘what goes where’

Leslie Cox

Special to The Record

I should never walk into a plant nursery or garden centre after a long winter.

Even more so this year what with the isolation due to COVID restrictions, which John and I have followed to the letter. We want to be around for grad ceremonies for the last three grandkids… and longer. We made the first two grads but sadly, we are missing the third grandchild’s grad this year because of travel restrictions. So, can you really blame me for loading up my cart with plants?

“Hello! My name is Leslie and I am a plant-aholic.” I must be since I have memberships in no fewer than four garden clubs and an impressive library of books on all things garden-related.

Oh, I know you can find all kinds of information on the internet these days but there is something about sitting at the end of the day with a book in your lap. I love flipping the pages of my New Encyclopedia of Hostas by Diana Grenfell and Michael Shadrack (2009 Timber Press), looking at the colour plates and reading up on one of my latest acquisitions, ‘Rainbow’s End’. And who could possibly resist a Hosta ‘Raspberry Sundae?’ It looks as delicious as it sounds so it is a good thing it is lower in calories than the real thing.

But also on the shopping cart were a couple of rhododendrons and an azalea (technically also a rhodo). Now where to put those?

Adding more fuel to the placement dilemma for my newly acquired plants, I have been digging up quite a few of my established plants in order to address some serious design issues. (I had kids. Chaos became my middle name.)

Darn good thing I have Nicola Ferguson’s book Right Plant, Right Place (1986 Pan Book Ltd). However, nowhere in her book have I seen mention of companion planting with a chestnut tree and a silver maple. But for all of that, Nicola does have some excellent ideas.

Another godsend is Roy Lancaster’s What Perennial Where (First Canadian Edition, 1997 Cavendish Books Inc).

And that is the whole crux, isn’t it? How big will the plant grow and how fast? Does it need more sun or more shade? Does it need its own water fountain or will it survive on a thimbleful? Will the flower colour blend or clash with those around it? If you get it wrong, you can always pray its hot pink brilliance will fade substantially before the deep yellow appears. (I have been a little colour sensitive since my daughter came out of her bedroom one morning dressed in her turquoise and purple striped top and Royal Stewart tartan pants. Bless that child.)

Garden rehab design aside, there is the eternal dilemma of when to transplant the tomato seedlings into the greenhouse. If the weather holds, all should be good in the unheated greenhouse. But there is always the chance of a stray cold hiccup overnight, even in May. Last year we hit -0.5 C on May 5 and had a 50-year record low of 1.5 C on May 17, 2011.

Another worry is the azalea sawflies. Expecting them to emerge from the soil as adults any day now. It is amazing how fast the hungry green larvae can denude the leaves on a mature azalea shrub.

So far, I have found squishing the larvae is the most effective control method. And encouraging predator wasps and spiders to set up house in your shrub.

Unfortunately, our garden will be closed for tours due to the current restrictions but we will be offering plants for sale with curbside pickup. The list will be up on my website (duchessofdirt.ca) by April 30.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca

gardening

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