Month: March 2012

Spring Bounces In

Spring Bounces In

Spring sprang into Chester last week, bringing with it unprecedented hot weather. For two days the mercury soared to record-breaking highs of 24° and 27°C, before backing off to 14° C and then , just as quickly,  dropping to more normal readings of 4° to 7° C.   Another case of Arctic oscillation?

Whatever the cause,  gardeners found themselves digging out their shorts and tee-shirts and tackling the business of digging out the weeds that seemed to have sprouted overnight.  A more welcome sight were the clumps of heaths (Erica carnea Springwood pink, above and below) that suddenly put forth a wealth of blossoms.

The spring-cleaning of local gardens included removing winter’s debris from lawns and beds, such as those hosting the crocus blooms in the next photo. Behind the crocuses are the emerging stalks of budding daffodils that have also been given a boost from the unusually warm weather.

Echoing the traditional Easter colours of purple and white, the crocus blooms herald the approach of Spring, seemingly unaware that it has already arrived. Chester gardeners are hoping that, this year, after its early but brief appearance Spring will soon return.

In case it has escaped the notice of readers familiar with the usual layout of this blog, a new item has been added to the menu running across the top of the screen.  Information about the Chester Garden Club’s annual Flower Show and Tea , a popular summer event, can be found by clicking on the link. The information will be updated regularly as details are confirmed.

Cultivating Japanese Irises

Cultivating Japanese Irises

Members of the Chester Garden Club were introduced to a relatively new plant at their March meeting this week. Allan Banks, of Harbour Breezes Daylilies nursery, opted to switch his presentation from his signature speciality – daylilies – to a less-known speciality – Japanese Irises. Illustrating his talk with photos from his large collection of plants, Allan talked about the various hybrids that he grows on his three-acre property on a sheltered coastal property on Nova Scotia’s eastern shore.

 He mentioned that although the Japanese iris was popular in the 1800s, it fell from favour over the years and has only recently been making a come-back with gardeners.  He pointed out that, although the plant is similar to the Siberian iris, it differs in that its foliage is wider and taller. The cultivars come in single, double or multi-petal forms and their large blooms appear in July.  The colours tend to be in shades of white or blue, which serve as an excellent foil for the yellows so often associated with daylilies.  Unlike the old relaible daylilies, these irises will suffer if neglected.  Although they do well by the sea, they prefer acidic soil and therefore should not be subjected to seaweed fertilizer because it tends to act like lime. The plants should be set  in the soil about 10 cm (4 inches) deep and provided with lots of moisture. They can even be planted in a pond as long as they are lifted for the winter.  Because their roots tend to move up toward the surface of the ground, they should be divided every three to four years and should be moved to a different area of the garden.

Along with tending to his gardens, which is open to the public daily from early May to Labour Day, Allan produces products such as those shown above – jellies, mugs, coasters and trivets, all imprinted with images of his daylilies.   For more information or to view his plant catalogue online, you can contact Allan at

And now, for something completely different… the photo of the colourful Hamamelis above was taken by Sandy on March 17, St Patrick’s Day. The native variety, Hamamelis virginiana (commonly known as witch hazel) blooms in the fall but hybrids from China and Japan bloom in the spring. The plant above is a hybrid (possibly Diane). The white background is the result of a thin layer of snow that was deposited the night before and gone by the evening of the 17th. Such is Nova Scotia’s weather this year.

The photo below shows a Hamamelis Jelena,  with its coppery-reddish blooms lighting up  a woodland corner and snowy background. These shrubs do well in acidic soil and in shady areas. 

From Orchids to Daylilies

From Orchids to Daylilies

Having left the sub-tropical climate of southern Florida, with its large colourful bromeliads  and crotons, as well as the huge variety of delicate orchids, we’re back in Chester to face a different reality.  Despite the welcome warmth of a sunny day (13° C ),  a quick tour of a Chester garden reveals that Spring is a fickle friend and won’t be rushed. The tender green shoots of poppies and the red knobs of rhubard that were evident in late February have since disappeared, withdrawn perhaps to await a more reliable period of warmer days and nights.  

While memories of orchids linger in a tourist’s mind …

… the difficulties of  growing exotic plants in a temperate zone (5b) means that, for practical purposes, we tend toward hardier specimens. But we do like colour and extended blooming seasons.

Thus, local gardeners, impatient to begin another season, will be interested in the Chester Garden Club’s meeting on March 19th, which will feature guest speaker Allan Banks, of Harbour Breezes  Daylilies. The enormous variety of cultivars now on the market, and the success achieved in growing both daylilies and Japanese irises in our area, means that this meeting has sparked keen interest.  Some members have already taken advantage of the opportunity to view the Harbour Breezes catalogue (over 750 varieties of daylilies and over 60 varieties of Japanese iris) and have placed advance orders for particular cultivars to add to their gardens.  Photos of most of the cultivars are on Allan’s Facebook page, and members will be able to order plants at the meeting. See you there!

Florida: Chester’s Winter Annex

Florida: Chester’s Winter Annex

Mid-way through winter,  members of the Chester Garden Club occasionally seek refuge in the warmer climes of countries to the south of us.  Holiday locations range from the Caribbean to Patagonia but, by percentage, the favourite destination is Florida.

A garden in the sub-tropical climate of Naples lifts the spirits of northerners who have been longing for a touch of warmth.

A Flame of the Forest tree makes a stunning display with its coral-coloured blossoms bursting from black pods against a blue sky.  

Walking under a banana tree makes a nice change from driving on icy roads.

A visit to Naples Botanical Garden – gardens with latitude – had a bonus feature on this trip, when we had the opportunity to view a large number of original sculptures from Zimbabwe that had been placed in strategic settings around the grounds.

The beautifully sculpted bust above was found in the midst of a Floridian meadow garden. An added feature was the coincidental appearance of an anole (a genus of lizards) surveying its surroundings from the top of the sculpted head.  Below, we show two anoles in a stand-off on the bark of a cabbage palm. The green one is a native Florida lizard and the brown is a Cuban anole.

Like all the sculptures on display, the mermaid resting at the top of a reflecting pool was done using only hand tools.  Most of the pieces were carved and chiselled from varieties of Serpentine stone (in the case of the “mermaid”, it was Springstone). The  finishing process involves sanding the piece in water for hours. To get a high polish, the artist then heats the stone, which expands the pores of the object, and applies a coating of floor wax.  Once the stone is cool it is buffed to give the artwork a high gleam.

The yellow blooms on a Buttercup Tree were just beginning to open in early March.  Bird-watching, concert-going, and morning walks on the ‘crowded’ beach  were all part of  the agenda. 

Sometimes, it was difficult to remember to relax, but an un-named member of Chester Garden Club found time to do just that after a swim in the warm ocean waters, when she found a hammock beckoning to her.