Thursday, January 18, 2018

Mildest Climate in Canada: Vancouver Island

… and the most beautiful gardens can be found in Victoria, capital of British Columbia, Vancouver Island, and other parts of Vancouver Island. It is such a pleasure to walk through residential areas and admire the well-kept and enchanting front and backyards.  

Rhododendron blooming in January

Mahonia - Oregon Grape

Picking raspberries from a shrub during a hike in late December on Vancouver Island, I realized once more the huge climate difference to the rest of Canada.  Hummingbirds and bees in the midst of the winter were my next big surprise.

Climate Chart:,victoria,Canada

A Canadian magazine wrote: “The capital of British Columbia is one of Canada’s “hotspot” for a reason, renowned not only for its mild climate and stunning gardens.  But also for its fine dining, numerous tourist activities, and breathtaking vistas.  When it comes to climate, summers are warm but not oppressive (averaging about 25 degrees Celsius) while winters are mild and usually snow-free.  Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria can also boast five times more sunny days than nearby Seattle, WA, and it has only half of Vancouver’s rainfall. 

Rhododendrons in late December

Blooming Shrubs in Winter
Due to the mild temperatures - the Hardiness zone is 8-9 - a huge variety of ornamental plants, evergreen deciduous trees and perennials are really thriving on the island.  And lawns are certainly green year-round. Even though they are not so dominant as in the rest of North America. Gardens on Vancouver Island are planted with a huge variety of blooming shrubs - which give gardens even in Winter lots of color.

Palm trees in many gardens on Vancouver Island


January in Nurseries and Garden Centers
Auricles and Pansies in all colors invite first purchases for the garden or window sill.  It’s time to plant fruit trees as the soil is certainly not frozen and there are great varieties available.  Gardeners get ready for serious work now in the midst of winter: planting, pruning and mulching the flower beds.

Osteospermum Flower

When visiting Victoria, don’t miss this nursery and garden center:
GardenWorks Victoria North (Great Cafe/Restaurant)
Great Workshops for Gardeners
4290 Blenkinsop Rd, Saanich, B.C.

Skimmia Japonica

Giant Trees on Vancouver Island
Another difference to the rest of Canada are the huge trees you find everywhere. They are often taller than four or five-story houses.  Don’t miss to visit the giant Douglas Fir trees further north, half an hour from Nanaimo. Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, not far from Port Alberni, is one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island.

Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, is one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island. Here visitors can stroll through a network of trails under the shadow of towering ancient Douglas-fir trees, majestic pillars untouched by the modern world – some more than 800 years old.

MacMillan Provincial Park is a provincial park, located 25 km west of Qualicum Beach and 16 km east of Port Alberni, the park straddles Highway 4 in central Vancouver Island on the way from Nanaimo to Ucluelet and Tofino. 
Ancient Trees Are Still Found Here
A massive Sitka spruce was recently discovered near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island, in the territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation people.

Sitka Spruce in the Rain Forest

If you don't mind an occasional rain, it's a rain forest after all. But Vancouver Island is an interesting alternative to your Winter in Florida. So much to discover and to do here: beautiful beaches, sailing, floatplane flying, golfing, hiking, antiquing, kayaking,
snow-shoeing in the mountains...  Oh, and certainly visiting the wonderful nurseries, botanical gardens, and well-stocked garden centers. However, it is not a really cheap area.  Do you know what B.C. means? Bring Cash!


Monday, January 1, 2018

Sue Grafton's Kentucky Garden

The famous bestselling author is gone … to heaven’s garden.  Her family, friends, and readers will miss her terribly, but her legacy of books and her lovely Kentucky Garden will stay forever.
Kinsey Millhone, the spunky protagonist of Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries, wouldn’t be caught dead spading compost onto a perennial bed. “I hate nature. I really do,” the fictional detective proclaims in F Is for Fugitive. 
Grafton, who has called Millhone her “alter ego,” admits she once shared those sentiments. How, then, to account for the garden transformation taking place at Grafton’s 1912 estate, Lincliff?  Perched above the Ohio River eight miles east of downtown Louisville, the grounds were a vine-tangled mess when Grafton and her husband, Steve Humphrey, bought the place in 2000. 

Today, the once-crumbling fountain trickles and shimmers, boxwood parterres have been trimmed in-to shape, and a handful of spectacular new features, including an intricate knot garden, grace the property.
Humphrey, a philosophy of physics professor raised in south-central Los Angeles, is an equally unlikely suspect. “We had a tiny yard,” he says. “My father made the kids get up early on Sunday morning and hedge and weed. I never liked yard work, especially when forced to do it at gunpoint.”

The turnaround appears to be the work of professionals, but the couple swears no landscape designers played a part. So whodunit?
Upon further questioning, the truth emerges. “Something clicked when I met Sue,” Humphrey explains. “We rented a house when I was a graduate student at Ohio State, and I planted a vegetable garden. When we bought a house in Santa Barbara, I got into roses. I realized I love creating gardens.”
Grafton has a confession of her own: She’s becoming a garden lover, too. “Steve has taught me a lot about the virtues and benefits of a well-cared-for property,” she says.
Grafton grew up in Louisville but as a young woman, rebellious and burning with ambition, moved to California to become a writer. “When I left the state of Kentucky, it was ‘Thank you, Lord Jesus, I’m out of here!’” Grafton says. Decades later, after penning dozens of best sellers, she felt the pull of home. “I’ve been to a lot of places in the world. Coming back here, I realized Kentucky is quite beautiful. I’m proud to be a resident of this state.”
Read more how Sue Grafton transferred her garden - even up to growing veggies, fruit and berries:


Monday, December 18, 2017

Horticulture Centre of the Pacific in Victoria, BC


Everyone talks about the Butchart Gardens in Victoria. It’s a huge tourist attraction and for sure very profitable at an admission fee of $33.10 + tax. It attracts a massive stream of visitors, buses full of tourists, huge parking lots.
And even as a senior, arriving 45 minutes before they close in the afternoon, full admission is demanded, no half-day pass or senior discount...

The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific (HPC)
However, there is a hidden gem among the West Coast public gardens that is visited mostly by garden professionals and locals. For just $5, you can enter this magical horticultural gem any day except during Christmas time (Dec 18 - Jan 6).

HCP is located in Saanich, a north-west suburb of Victoria, British Columbia - not too far from the Butchart Gardens.  The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific (HCP) is all about plants - period.  It doesn’t boast a luxurious restaurant, gift shop or multi-media visitor center and is void of ten-thousands of visitors per day.

Lose yourself among its 40 hectares, 2.4 of which are divided into 24 demonstration and teaching gardens showing more than 10,000 varieties of plants:

Bees, Birds and Butterflies Garden
Children's Garden
Dahlia Trial Garden
Doris Page Winter Garden
Drought Tolerant Garden
Ground cover Garden
Hardy Fuchsia Garden
Heather Garden
Herb Garden
Lily Garden
Mixed Perennial Beds & Mixed Borders
Native Plant Demonstration Garden
Native Plant Restoration Area
An Orchard
Ornamental Grass Garden
Rhododendron and a Hosta Garden
Rose Garden
Takata Garden
Vegetable Garden
Water Feature Garden
Woodland Garden

A graceful bridge in the cool green refuge, spans the Takata Japanese garden, with ferns, irises and ornamental grasses providing a foliage counterpoint. A 12-by-18-meter Zen Garden will be added soon.

The garden design staff here is small, but an army of students help to maintain the gardens, part of the HCP's 10-month-long accredited diploma course in landscape maintenance.

Horticulture Centre of the Pacific
505 Quayle Rd. Victoria,
British Columbia V8X 3X1

Dogs on leashes are permitted.

Another Hidden Gem for Plant Lovers in Victoria, BC
…and a beautiful oasis on the edge of University of Victoria’s campus:
Discover UVic's Finnerty Woodland Gardens, a space for students, staff, faculty and the community to reflect and be inspired. Get their self-guided walking tour as a pdf from their website and watch a short video.

Discover Also Two Unique Trees: 
A long-lived broadleaf evergreen shrub, growing everywhere on Vancouver Island. Flowers, from bright white to deep red, come in 6 forms: single, semi-double, double rose, anemone, peony and formal double. Here they do best with some protection from cold winds and partial or light shade.

Liquidambar (Sweet Gum):
A late spring foliage tree, it is one of the finest trees for long-lasting and consistently brilliant fall color.  Liquidambar is an attractive, versatile tree - hardiness zones 5 to 9 in full sun - with maple-like foliage.  Liquidambar does require additional moisture during prolonged summer dry spells.  Speaking of Maple tree leaves: On Vancouver Island, they are as large as dinner plates!

Finnerty Gardens is free and open to the public year-round. It is located north of Cedar Hill Cross Road and west of Henderson Road.  Look out for busses to the UVic - or if drive, the Parking lot #6 is closest to Finnerty Gardens. The entrance to the gardens is near the Interfaith Chapel, on the south-west edge of the campus.  A great time to visit is during the Rhododendron bloom.

Whether you're a bird watcher, gardener, botanist or just seeking 
lovely place to walk, these quiet gardens are perfect for enjoying nature. 


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Colourful Winter Flowers in NW Florida

Spanish explorers named the new-found part of North America “Pascua Florida”, which means Flowery Easter" or "Flowering Easter”. But it is not only flowering in Florida on Easter, rather all year-round!  

Wintertime is never bleak in Florida, even in the North-West, around the “Emerald Coast” and the “Forgotten Coast”, between Pensacola and Apalacicola.

Here are just a couple impressions, photos I took between November and the end of February.

More plants can be found in the lovely botanical gardens in Florida, such as the one in Sarasota, New Smyrna, Pensacola or Clearwater.  To visit garden centers is a blast too! They are chockfull of lovely blooms that we can only admire in the North between June and September.

Last but not least it’s interesting to see abundant blooms and shrubs that are growing in the wild, and usually sold for top dollars in Canada and the Northern States.  


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Create Your Own Organic Fertilizer

The Key to a Good Garden is Good Soil. 
Most of the essential nutrients for plants are found in soil.  What flowers, vegetables, and trees need to thrive is Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, and to a lesser extent Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulphur.  To provide these nutrients to your plants you don’t need to spend any money, save your time and gas to head to the garden center.  Organic fertilizers are way more efficient and helpful to your plants than the artificial ones you buy for top dollars!  Go no further than your pantry, backyard (or the beach) for materials to make your own organic fertilizer.  You can prepare your own bloom or fruit fertilizer year-round:

Fermented Fruits are Prolific Garden Helpers. 
Don’t throw away brown bananas, wilted salad leaves, rotten apples or moldy strawberries!  Not only do they contain valuable Phosphorus and Potassium, they also have the fruit growth enzymes and hormones that encourage the plant to utilize the resources it has to produce large blooms and delicious fruits.  
Add approximately 10% sugar or molasses and water to let the mixture ferment to a mash for a week or so.  Cover it well and place it in the garage or garden shed to avoid the smell in the kitchen. In winter let all your kitchen scraps freeze in a big container that is safely secured, such a garbage can with a well-secured lid.  Place a large stone on top and fasten the lid with a jumpy band to avoid critters’ rummaging.

Wellness Cure for Your Garden:

BANANAS or Banana PEELS  –  Use over-ripe Bananas from your kitchen or those that are offered at very low prices in the produce section of your grocery store.  Roses love potassium too.  Simply throw one or two peels in the hole before planting or bury peels under mulch so they can compost naturally. Get bigger and more blooms and a bomber crop of vegetables.

Acid and nitrogen-loving plants such as tomatoes, blueberries, roses and azaleas like coffee grounds mixed into the soil. Visit your next Starbucks and bring two buckets with you to let it fill with used coffee grounds. Sprinkle it on top of the soil and fork it well in before watering. 

Crash the eggshells in very small pieces, and work them well into the soil near tomatoes and peppers. The calcium helps fend off blossom end rot. Eggshells are 93% calcium carbonate, the same ingredient as lime, a tried and true soil amendment! 

SEAWEED – Fresh seaweed needs to be washed before mixing it into the compost/soil to remove salt.  Another benefit of using seaweed fertilizer over time is that it slightly acidifies and adds iron to the soil, which is great news if you are growing acid and iron hungry plants, such as Azaleas, Gardenias, Camellias, and Rhododendrons.  Shred or chop up the seaweed into 1- or 2-inch-long pieces.  While chopped seaweed takes only a few weeks to decompose, seaweed that's left whole can take approximately six months to compost.

Famous Painters and Their View of Gardens

Claude Monet
Monet's ambition was to document the French countryside. From 1883 Monet, the founder of the Impressionism, lived in Giverny, where he purchased a house and property and began a vast landscaping project which included lily ponds that would become the subjects of his best-known works.

In 1899 he began painting the water lilies, first in vertical views with a Japanese bridge as a central feature, and later in the series of large-scale paintings that was to occupy him continuously for the next 20 years of his life. The Metropolitan Museum in New York shows shows the famous Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies.

Charles Courtney Curran
One of his paintings was shown at the The Artist's Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920 - Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
Focused on the period 1887-1920, The Artist's Garden the 2015 exhibition told the story of American Impressionist artists and the growing popularity of gardening as a middle-class leisure pursuit at the turn of the 20th century. The Philadelphia area was the center of the publishing industry in the early 1900s, which led to the creation of magazines aimed at middle class suburban gardeners like House and Garden, founded in 1901 in Philadelphia.

Vincent van Gogh
One of several paintings of Irises by the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, and one of a series of paintings he executed at the Saint Paul-de-Mausole asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France, in the last year before his death in 1890. Van Gogh started painting Irises within a week of entering the asylum, in May 1889, working from nature in the hospital garden.
The original painting can be seen at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California, Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Sedum Autumn Joy - a Great Choice

Sedum Autumn Joy - my favourite plant for the second part of the garden year. It’s a plant as dependable and adaptable as one could wish. They are blooming from August into November; open pink and mature to a copper tone. 

Varieties Galore:

Sedum Kamtschaticum

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil
Size: to 4 inches tall
Zones: 3-9

Sedum 'Purple Emperor'

Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil
Size: to 15 inches tall
Zones: 3-7

Sedum 'Frosty Morn'
This sedum has great foliage and beautiful pink flowers in late summer.
Name: Sedum 'Frosty Morn'
Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil
Size: to 12 inches tall
Zones: 3-9


Growing Conditions: Full sun and well-drained soil
Size: to 15 inches tall
Zones: 3-7

Sedum prefers moderately fertile soil in full sun, but don’t mind less water. They grow up to two feet tall and wide, and show succulent-like stems and leaves. Sedum’s very easy to propagate, just cut stem pieces in early summer, or divide a mature Sedum plant in early spring before it grows to 2 inches high.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Never Water Again

If you are living in the South-West of the US, you know the dilemma: To be a good citizen and water-wise and at the same time having a beautiful garden is not easy.  But there are gorgeous plants that can help you to achieve just that.

Visiting once the San Francisco Bay area (especially the Ruth Bancroft Garden) and Monterey - and everything in between - I fell in love with Ice Plant aka Blue Chalk Fingers aka Senecio Mandraliscae. There are few, if any, plants this silver-blue! 

The Succulents and More blog reports: “This spreading succulent from South Africa produces stems that crawl along the ground and eventually form fairly dense mats. It’s VERY drought-tolerant but grows more quickly with regular irrigation. Senecio Mandraliscae is perfect for larger areas, and like many other succulents, and is extremely easy to propagate. Simply stick a cutting in well-draining (sandy) soil and it will begin to root within a week." 

The Ice Plant / Chalk Finger makes a marvelous ground cover and fits well together with a group of Agave "Blue Glow".

Help to Fight the Drought - Become Water-wise:
Small adjustments can have a big impact. Get nearly 100+ water-saving tips in these articles


Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Greatest Garden Hose Ever

60% OFF - Save $151 on 100ft Expanding Garden Hose

Last month I helped a friend during her month-long trip to Europe to keep the garden in shape - which meant to water it almost daily during this heat wave...  I expected to haul heavy garden hoses through her extensive property.  But no: She had a wonderful lightweight garden hose that looked like crinkled fabric and expanded from one end of the garden, around the house, and all the way to the other side of the property fence. 

She showed me how to use this amazing garden hose: 
  • First you roll the hose completely from the holder
  • Only then you open the faucet
  • Once the water runs through the hose, it expands to its full length

It works like a charm! The hose is so light and so easy to use, it's suddenly a total pleasure to water the garden, and so much faster. No twisting and kinking and forth and back running, like it used to be with the old, heavy garden hoses.
And today I saw this 100 ft Expanding Garden Hose on sale at Amazon!

Price:         $250.00
Sale: $99.00 plus  FREE Shipping
You Save: $151.00 (60%)

Order here:

Check out their whole collection of great watering tools with free shipping!

★LIGHTWEIGHT WILL NOT TWIST TANGLE OR KINK. This hose does everything the other hoses claim only better. Don't waste your hard earned money on products that work for a couple days or weeks then fall apart.
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★12 Month Warranty for Manufacturing

Watering Your Garden. 
Never water your yard in the heat of the day. First you waste a lot of water due to evaporation and second it CAN burn your grass or plant leaves. Best time to water is from 4am till no later than about 7am.

You are doing fine to water two or three times a week, soaking the soil thoroughly. Those people who water every single day and over-water are creating lawns that develop short shallow roots and are susceptible to dying in the winter if there is a bad freeze. In the summer their grass requires MORE water as the roots are not digging down deep looking for a water source either nor are they able to retain the moisture being that close to the surface. The deeper the roots the better your grass will survive a long hot and dry summer and a freezing cold winter. 
In flower beds Mulch is your friend to help retain water/moisture in those areas and keep them from drying out.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

How to Care for Azaleas and Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons are a gardeners delight - and so are Azaleas.  Both thrive in acidic, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter.  But what to do when your is clay or loam?


The American Rhododendron Society gives lots of valuable tips:

"Before planting test the drainage, dig a hole about 10 to 12 inches deep and fill it with water. Then after it drains, fill it with water again and see how long it takes to drain.  If the hole drains within an hour you have good drainage.  If the water has not drained out of the hole within one hour, the soil is poorly drained and you must correct the drainage problem before planting.  Planting in raised beds is the best solution in heavy soils." 


Soil pH Value:

"Rhododendrons and Azaleas will let you know if the pH is not correct.  If the leaves turn yellow between green veins then you most likely have a pH problem.  Materials commonly used to lower soil pH are wettable sulfur or ferrous sulfate.  Do not use aluminum sulfate to acidify the soil; it is toxic to rhododendron and azalea roots.  Avoid planting azaleas near concrete sidewalks, driveways or foundations that may leach out lime which raises the pH."

Soil Mix:  
"About half of the planting medium should be organic material.  Combinations of sphagnum peat moss, pine or fir bark fines, compost, and aged, chopped leaves should be worked into the soil to a depth of about 12".  Oak leaves are excellent."  Read more tips at their website.


The South Shore of Nova Scotia, Canada, is blessed with a mild climate, perfect for Rhododendrons.  No wonder that there is such an abundance of Rhododendron in all colors in every garden and here, the Rhododendrons are not just small shrubs, but huge ones, almost tree-like.  See images of gardens on the South Shore at a former blog post.