Ever-Blooming Garden

How to ensure that you have flowers (almost) every month of the year.

Ever-Blooming Garden - YAM Mar/Apr 2024

By Wendy McLellan

Victoria is, famously, a gardener’s paradise where flowers bloom at least 10 months of the year. But it takes work to make sure your garden is blooming consistently. You may have crocuses and cherry blossoms right now, but what about next month or the month after that? The answer is to plant strategically, layering shrubs, trees, perennials, bulbs and annuals so as one flower fades another bursts into blossom. Here’s how.

First, Take Stock

Before you dash to the nursery and grab every pretty blossom in sight, take stock of what’s already growing in your garden. Just be aware that this is something you need to do over a full year to get a true picture of what you have and what you don’t.

“Keep a garden diary,” advises Jane Tice, an instructor at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific and a long-time private gardener. In her clients’ gardens, she marks empty spaces with chopsticks and photographs those spots so she remembers where she can add plants. She also suggests, perhaps a little ambitiously: “Take a photo every week for a year — we forget how much room things take up.” 

In your own garden, map out where the perennials are located and note when they bloom. Note where and when you have gaps — for instance, in early June the spring bulbs are done and the summer heat seekers have yet to bloom, so your garden may be looking a little sad. Take special note of what you can see from your favourite seating areas, and note what needs a little attention.

“It can be really difficult for people to look hard at their garden,” says Theresa Balak, owner of Victoria-based Tutti Flora landscape design. “Some plants have been there too long, and it’s time to plant something new. Be a bit ruthless; if a plant isn’t performing well, or it’s looking sad, maybe it’s outgrown its use. Or maybe it needs a severe cut back in early spring.”

She adds: “Take stock of what you have, what to keep and what to let go of.”

Layers of Blossoms

It is easier to add layers of plants with different blooming times to a large garden, but for smaller gardens Tice suggests looking for plants that don’t mind sharing space, such as columbine and primula. 

Pruning the lower limbs off shrubs to turn them into small trees will also open up planting space underneath, she says, and offer more room for new colour.

Containers are another good way to add bright spots to the garden. Place them in an area that seems dull and fill them with plants that have colourful foliage, or stuff them with annuals in spring. “Make the pots look full right from the start,” Tice says. “After a couple of years, if the pot is looking crowded, you can pull out the plants. Put them in the garden or let them go. They don’t owe you anything.”

Annuals can also act as place holders for the areas you intend to plant later in the season. “If you’re short on space, you can’t beat annuals,” Tice says. 

Just resist the temptation to plant annuals as soon as they arrive in the stores — wait until the threat of a late cold spell has passed, and spread your shopping over the spring and summer months. “I find that most people go into garden centres and they see all the plants in bloom. They don’t think about what that plant will be doing in a few months,” Balak says. “I suggest visiting garden centres every one or two months, see what’s in flower and buy at that time. You see plants at their peak.”

Ever-Blooming Garden - YAM Mar/Apr 2024
Echinacea “White Swan”

Lazy Colour

Another good way to add colour — and maintain it with relatively little effort — is to plant long-flowering shrubs, such as hydrangeas, roses, hardy fuchsias and lavatera. Some will do well in containers as well as in the garden — and they will bloom for weeks and weeks.

Look for perennials with longer-lasting flowers. Instead of Shasta daisies that don’t have a long blooming time, Tice suggests planting echinacea “White Swan,” which flowers right into fall. She adds that plants that have flowers along their stems, such as pollinator-attracting gaura, tend to last longer than those with single flowers.

Two other plants she recommends are dahlias, whose dramatic, colourful and long-lasting flowers make them worth the maintenance they require, and the violet-blue geranium “Rozanne,” which will fill spaces and bloom late into fall. Cut it back in summer, and it will flower again. “There is a reason it was named perennial of the century by the Royal Horticultural Society,” Tice says.

Ever-Blooming Garden - YAM Mar/Apr 2024
“Rozanne” geranium

Of course, flowers aren’t the only way to add more zest to the garden. Adding texture and colour with foliage can make a big impact. A grouping of bronze grasses, such as pheasant’s tail grass or the chartreuse Carex “Everillo” can instantly brighten sections that don’t look lively. In a shady area, the autumn fern “Brilliance” adds coppery red to a space that needs something other than green.

It is more challenging to find long-flowering plants for shade gardens, so look for colourful foliage to add to the display. Heuchera (coral bells), for example, is available in so many colours that it doesn’t need flowers to lighten a garden. From almost black to lime green, these plants can grow in light shade and full sun. 

“Heuchera is my No. 1 choice for colourful foliage,” Tice said. “And grasses. And purple fountain grass — it’s an annual, but looks great forever. Even when it’s dead in the winter, it looks good.”

Ever-Blooming Garden - YAM Mar/Apr 2024
Heuchera
Ever-Blooming Garden - YAM Mar/Apr 2024
Pheasant’s tail grass

Tip!

A fast and easy way to add colour to your garden (especially if you forgot to plant bulbs last fall) is to pick up pots of already planted and blooming bulbs. Pop a whole pot into a decorative container or tuck it in the garden for a burst of bright colour. When the bulbs are finished blooming, let them go dormant, then pull them out of the soil and store until fall when they can be planted properly. 

Also: Add a reminder to your calendar to get bulbs this fall.

What Blooms When … and how to plan your garden around it.

If you plan your garden well, you can have blossoms almost every month of the year. Here are just a few blooms to add to the bunch.

January and February

In bloom: hellebores, snowdrops; in February, the first plum and cherry trees 

Plant: fruit, flowering and other trees; evergreens

Of note: Hellebores are evergreen, able to handle sun and shade, and flower from late winter right into spring. They are also available in many colours, from white to green to pink to deep purple. Every garden should have a place for them. 

March

In bloom: crocuses, hyacinths, daffodils, narcissi, mini irises, primula (primrose); plum and cherry trees

Plant: flower seeds indoors 

Of note: This is when you can thank past you for thinking ahead and planting bulbs last fall. The first to bloom are the crocuses, followed swiftly by the rest.

April and May

In bloom: tulips, grape hyacinths, ranunculus (Persian buttercups), primula (primrose), azaleas, rhododendrons; by late May, iris, columbine, hydrangea, lilies; cherry trees

Plant: perennials

Of note: Spring is in full bloom, so enjoy every fragrant floral moment. If you’re worried about frost, Victoria Day is the day traditionally considered safe for delicate plants.

June 

In bloom: irises, hydrangea; later in June, roses, phlox, geraniums, fuchsias, lilies 

Plant: annuals, frost-sensitive perennials

Of note: June can be a tricky month for flowers in Victoria. The bulbs and tree blossoms are done, except perhaps for some irises, and the heat seekers are yet to bloom. This is a good month to pop a few annuals around the garden to fill in any transitional gaps. 

July and August

In bloom: lilies, alliums, roses, geraniums, fuchsias, phlox, echinacea, dahlias, lavatera

Plant: maybe some annuals

Of note: The sultry peak of summer is rarely the best time to plant anything, so relax and enjoy your garden, but stay on top of the weeding and watering.

September and October

In bloom: the last of the long-flowering summer blossoms — roses, geraniums, fuchsias, phlox (into September) plus echinacea, dahlias, lavatera (through October); as well as rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) and salvia (sage)

Plant: bulbs for spring, some perennials

Of note: As the last of the flowers goes out in a blaze of colourful glory, start putting your garden to bed for the winter. Weed, mulch, trim, tidy.

November and December

In bloom: not much, if anything

Plant: Nothing, but add plenty of mulch

Of note: By November, few plants flower around Victoria, but this is a good time to put out your autumnal displays (gourds, hay bales, baskets) followed soon after by holiday decorations (containers, wreaths, light displays, ornaments). Aside from that, make sure your garden is prepared for winter and has a variety of evergreens in hues that range from bright chartreuse to dark teal or purple. Also consider adding a few plants with bright berries, like holly.