In the Garden – February 2018

By Rhiannon Allen

Long ago, at the garden owners reception for a Point Roberts Garden Tour, I received a “Great Gardens of British Columbia” wall calendar donated by the Vancouver Sun’s garden columnist. This wasn’t long after I returned to the area after decades of east coast gardening, and I didn’t realize how useful this calendar would be as I readjusted to west coast gardening and the development of a new garden.

First of all, the glossy photographs of premier gardens that topped each month were inspirational. Each month featured a private ornamental garden in Metro Vancouver. Not only was it lovely to gaze on these serene gardens, but the garden descriptions gave a little history of each garden and a list of plants featured in each photograph. This provided a listing of plants that would thrive in our area but also encouragement and design ideas.

The most useful part of this calendar, however, was an extensive monthly list of garden tips for the metro Vancouver climate, printed alongside each month’s calendar grid. What a find this was for me! It had been some time since I had to remember the first and last frost dates of this area, when best to start seeds, fertilize various plants, prune my wisteria, and so on.

Even though I easily readjusted to gardening here, I have kept this calendar for all these years. It sits right by my garden door, where I can consult it each time I go to the garden – just in case I have forgotten anything. Over the years, I have added personalized notes such as January’s “Shrubby dogwoods, potentillas & spirea – remove one-third of branches or cut down all branches to 3 inches” and March’s “Manure rhubarb.” I’m not a particularly forgetful or neglectful gardener, but I can no longer imagine gardening without this cheerful and friendly prodding as I head out the door.

Now what does my calendar remind me to do in February? (I’m including tasks that the calendar reminded me of in January, but I never finished.) Well, I notice that Hellebore care features in January and February. Hellebores are hardy winter-flowering evergreen perennials, meaning that they will survive our winters, bear flowers any time from December through late spring, maintain their (usually glossy dark green) leaves year-round, and live for decades.

Most Hellebores prefer shade, so they are great additions to tree-shaded gardens.How can you go wrong with that? They are pretty low care as well, despite my calendar’s notes of a number of January and February tasks. First, the old fashioned Hellebores like Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) whose flowers and glossy leaves alike emerge directly from a basal root ball at ground level should be checked for dead and damaged leaves.

Damaged leaves should be removed and disposed of in household garbage in case they are infected with any of a number of nasty diseases.

I generally remove all the leaves from some varieties of Hellebore as soon as the flowers begin to open so that the flowers will show up better. After the removal of undesired leaves, the area around the plants should be top-dressed with compost and then the plants treated with fish fertilizer to jump start their bloom.

In February, my calendar reminds me to give them a light application of lime because they prefer soil more alkaline than Point Roberts soil. Finally, in April, they will be fertilized again to boost growth of new foliage.

If you want to learn more about Hellebores, I suggest that you check out Phoenix Perennials on No. 6 Road in Richmond at The proprietor, Gary Lewis, is famous for his dedication to Hellebores. Interested in acquiring these distinguished harbingers of spring? Each February, Gary organizes a spectacular “Hellebore Hurrah!” with educational workshops and an extensive sale. This year it is held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on February 23 through 25.

As a matter of fact, my February garden calendar reminds me to check the dates of the Hellebore Hurrah! each year. Show a garden club membership card, and you will even get a discount on your purchases. Moreover, the staff can arrange for a phyto-sanitary inspection (at extra cost) and contact you once your purchases have been cleared for import.

Now, back to my favorite calendar, if you like the idea of a region-specific gardening calendar, I am sorry to tell you that I have been unable to locate one in print. It would be easy, however, to create your own customized calendar – possibly a good project to start before the spring warmth lures you out into the garden. Or I wonder if the Point Roberts Garden Club would consider making a “Great Gardens of Point Roberts” calendar? The only problem might be narrowing down the list to only 12 gardens!

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