Spring Garden Insights
By Rick Los, Director of Horticulture
As I write this blog post, I’m looking over a cold, snow covered landscape and am doing my best to visualize the beauty that (I do promise) comes with spring. In case you aren’t from our area, we have endured the coldest, snowiest February/early March that anyone of us – including the gardener who has been here for 58 years – can remember! The question we are all asking ourselves at the Gardens is “When will spring arrive?”
The word ‘yearning’ comes to mind as we wait patiently for the spring season to arrive, but after this winter that just doesn’t seem adequate. At this point in time I believe that our gardeners are collectively craving and almost even aching for the change to come!
It’s really no surprise that most gardeners and for that matter, most human beings in this part of the world, look forward to spring! As the garden comes to life, many of our visitors naturally focus their attention on our incredible bulb display, but not to be overlooked is our outstanding collection of spring flowering Cherry, Plum and Crabapple trees which are visually stunning at this time of year. These trees, as well as our magnificent shrub and perennial borders combine with our mass plantings of biennials and bulbs to produce one of the most outstanding spring garden displays in the world.
Spring in a previous year
There never seems to be a clearly defined sequence to any natural process in the garden and that in itself is one of the most fascinating aspects of what we do. Our best laid plans get derailed during the spring season more than at any other time of the year as so many factors impact the garden as it comes into bloom. However, it really doesn’t seem to matter what our plans may have been, as the garden unveils itself in wave after wave of fresh new growth and dazzling colour that will inspire you in a way that no other season can compare to.
Early in the springtime, gardening activities begin to ramp up as quickly as the weather warms up. In the garden you can sense what seems to be a tangible energy as the earth brings forth new life, and each day we experience revival throughout the gardens. These changes demand our attention and one of the first early season tasks in the garden is the cultivation of the soil in all of our borders to allow our plants to breathe freely and accept the water and nutrients that the earth provides. This time consuming, but very beneficial task not only breaks up the hard, compacted soil surface, but also provides the garden with a fresh, clean and well-tended look.
Compacted soil is also an issue for our lawns and spring is a great time to revitalize any lawn by thatching and aerating, over seeding the bare patches, topdressing and fertilizing. The importance of air to the root systems of lawns, or for that matter, any plant can’t be overemphasized. Research has proven how oxygen improves the growth and stimulation of healthy roots and now many greenhouses and golf courses are actually injecting oxygen into their irrigation water to improve overall plant vigour and health. We’re not quite at that level yet, but maybe someday…
Speaking of greenhouses…perhaps the busiest area for us at this time of year is our 2 acres of greenhouse production facilities. These facilities are a beehive of activity as more than 16 staff members work tirelessly to produce the thousands of plants that have been meticulously planned for our spectacular summer garden display. Summer planting doesn’t begin until the later part of May so we have a couple of intense months ensuring that our plants are as healthy, vigorous and as colourful as they can possibly be when it comes time to plant them out in the garden.
26 greenhouses are on property, each focusing on growing plants in a unique controlled environment
We typically begin to prune our Roses and Hydrangeas in mid-March when the threat of a hard frost has passed for us. Around the greater Victoria region this can usually be done a little bit earlier, but ironically our microclimate is a little bit colder – something that is especially evident this year. I sometimes mention that even though we have been blessed with a fabulous setting for our garden, Jennie Butchart probably didn’t realize the challenges of our microclimate. Nonetheless, this apparent disadvantage does work in our favour at times as generally our spring display can last a full two weeks longer than what you would find in Victoria proper.
In any garden, success begins with the health and vitality of the soil. To this end, each year we test soils throughout The Gardens to determine current nutrient and organic matter content so that we can specifically amend the soil to provide optimum conditions for plant health and vigor. Once the test results come back, we analyze the results and do whatever we can to replenish the soils with compost and the most suitable (preferably organic) fertilizer for the situation. Of course, we are somewhat limited in that we can’t possibly test every square meter of garden area, but we do our best to cover as much ground as possible. Although our situation is different than most, I would highly recommend regular soil testing for any garden as you do get out of your garden what you put into it.
In case you didn’t already know, we produce almost all of the compost that we require for our garden by recycling garden waste and green waste from our three restaurant facilities. We have never done an accurate assessment of how much compost we produce annually, but it is in the hundreds of cubic meters. Another benefit of our composting program is that we also use the sterilized, finished product in many of our greenhouse soil mixes.
I’m sure that you recognize the fact that there is a great deal of preparation and planning that goes on behind the scenes to care for and maintain this magnificent garden. My hope, if nothing else, is that this blog post provides you with a bit of inspiration, but more importantly, a deeper understanding and appreciation of the multitude of tasks that our gardeners tirelessly perform.
In closing, I have to admit that it is absolutely impossible to capture the essence of our spring garden in words, so I’ll leave it up to you to come out for yourself and experience what we have all been so desperately yearning for – the spectacular beauty of spring!