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The Butchart Chronicles : August 28, 2013

Garden Notebook for Autumn

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Another busy (and very sunny) summer period has come and gone and so have the biggest crowds of the year. Although the abundance of sunshine was marvelous the flipside was contending with what was one of the driest June/July/August periods recorded for our region. After surviving such dry conditions we can’t even begin to express the value of our water supply as well as our extensive irrigation system. Thanks to the foresight of those who came before us, we are completely self-sufficient with a system of reservoirs, wells and recaptured water providing us with all of our irrigation needs. We managed to keep the gardens alive and healthy and we hope our water system doesn’t get as severely tested next year. The equation for us is fairly simple: no water = no garden.

As we move into our cooler season it is critical for us to make sure we keep the soil moisture levels up to prevent plants from going into autumn under any kind of unnecessary stress. You wouldn’t think we would worry about moisture on the west coast of Canada, but here on the southern tip of Vancouver Island we regularly experience sustained periods without any rainfall during the summer months which can be problematic in any garden that isn’t completely designed to be drought resistant.    

At this time of year the garden transitions from colourful summer bedding displays to the fall colours of thousands of chrysanthemums (mums). The mums fill the colour gap for just over a month to help us get to the time of the year when every single display border is overhauled and planted up with biennials and spring flowering bulbs. Of course, probably the most outstanding flowering plants in the garden at this time of year are the dahlias which provide us with the wildest assortment of colours, shapes and sizes. Each year we select new varieties to include in our amazing Dahlia border along our Concert lawn. This border contains over 600 plants which are staged with a selection of many dwarf, mid-size and large hybrid varieties that rise up to form a colourful curving wall that is almost 250 feet (75m) long! Hurry in to see this border because it usually disappears by the middle of October.    

Many deciduous trees and shrubs also provide spectacular colour in the fall once they have stopped actively growing, and just prior to dropping their leaves for the winter. In general terms, fall colouring is caused by the pigment that remains in the leaf once photosynthesis slows down and the green chlorophyll is depleted. This colour can be intensified by periods of sunny, warm days and crisp, cool nights. Because of our weather, the level or brilliance of fall colour is somewhat unpredictable, but we do have many plants which consistently provide great fall colour for us.

Other features in the garden at this time of the year are the container plantings, hanging baskets and even the garbage can lids. Yes, you did read that correctly! Many of our garbage cans have been fitted with planters with the most intriguing miniature plantings that change throughout the year. On a much larger scale, our show greenhouse always attracts a lot of attention with dazzling seasonal displays that never disappoint.

If you do come for an autumn visit you will be impressed by all of the colourful changes taking place in the garden. Additionally, if you arrive at the right time of the day (hint: early morning) you may also be able to witness the gardeners hard at work changing over the floral displays as we transition from summer to autumn.

Rick Los, Director of Horticulture