Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: Sudden blast of sun, warmth a shock for plants

A day or two of sunny weather following weeks of gloom and cool, moist conditions triggered the onset of galloping thirst in garden centre plants

An odd thing happened on one of my forays into a nearby garden centre a little over two weeks ago.

In the context of the mainly cold and gloomy, earlier part of this month, the afternoon was an anomaly. The sun was shining. It had become rather summery in the immense, clear-domed area used to showcase a vast array of bedding plants.

As I cruised up and down the aisles, I suddenly noticed a group of badly wilted strawflowers. After mentioning the drought-stressed plants to one of the staff, I started down the other side of the strawflower aisle to see beautiful gerbera and dahlia plants also flopped over.

A senior staff member came dashing over to view the situation as she exclaimed, “But I just watered these a few hours ago!”

A puzzle? Maybe not. Perhaps a sudden blast of strong sunlight and warmth following weeks of gloom and cool, moist conditions was enough to trigger the onset of galloping thirst in the plants.

The staff was clearly shocked. So, apparently, were the plants.

When gloriously sunny, warmer weather arrived on the holiday long weekend, I remembered that incident and hovered like a helicopter parent, watering can in hand, over the many transplants lingering in the greenhouse, awaiting conditions congenial enough for being planted in garden beds and summer containers.

Bright spots. The news swirling about us is far from cheering — rising costs of everything, a horrifying war, threatened world-wide food supplies and the plight of our local growers, held back in their usual production of food by a cold, wet spring.

I’m wondering about tree fruit pollination this year. Some commonly grown trees, like prune plums, flowered while bees had all but disappeared. Bees and other pollinators cannot manage their usual spring blossom-hopping in the cold, wind, and rain — conditions that can also lower pollen quality.

To help keep spirits elevated, especially during the coldest parts of this month, I took a few simple glee-inducing measures.

Lewisia. As the larger of my two Lewisias began to bloom, I moved the round wood table on the patio directly in front of the glass doors into the family room and set the Lewisia on the table.

The family room is adjacent to my office, en route to the kitchen. During the course of my daily routine I look out at the cheering sight of those massed apricot-pink flowers in a clay pot many times every day. When the Lewisia stops blooming I have a deep red geranium to replace it.

Lewisias are showy rock garden plants that flower in May and June above flat rosettes of evergreen foliage. My plants have remained supremely undemanding and faithful in flowering for many years in their clay pots.

Rhubarb. Thanks to the long, cool, rainy spring, the rhubarb has been wonderfully productive. I’ve been indulging in easy treats made from the harvest, like a sauce/jam flavoured with fresh grated ginger root and lemon zest. Quickly made, too, is a custard pie. To make it, mix these ingredients together:

– 2/3 to 3/4 cups sugar

– 1/4 cup flour

– 1 tsp ground nutmeg

– dash salt

– 3 beaten eggs.

Mix in four cups chopped rhubarb. Pour into a pie shell, sprinkle with slivered almonds and dust with cinnamon. Bake at 375 F for 50 minutes or until the custard has set.

Clay urn. A tall, clay urn set at an edge of a plot in the front garden had begun to look a little silly as the lemon cypress I’d planted in it had grown over-large and under-attractive. A friend and I looked long and hard at the offending sight one day, then went for our hand saws, pruners and trowels. We managed to cut it down and dig it out — a thoroughly happy, triumphal project.

The urn now houses a red geranium with spreading petunias, Calibtachoa and Bacopa that will grow to trail down the sides of the urn.


Dahlia meeting. The Victoria Dahlia Society will meet on Thursday, June 2, at 7:30 p.m. in St. Michael’s Church, 4733 West Saanich Rd. Christina Nikolic, owner of The Organic Gardener’s Pantry, will present a talk on organic gardening. All visitors welcome.

Invitation to exhibit. Non-members are welcome to exhibit at the View Royal Garden Club’s annual Summer Garden Show on Saturday, June 11. Information at viewroyalgardenclub.ca or call 250-858-9568.

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