I’ve written before that December sometimes feels like it’s the longest of all the months. In Vancouver, it is a time of scarves, sensible shoes and umbrellas, and shock at just how early the dark descends at the end of the day. December can be a somber time, but gardens often provide welcome surprises that help illuminate the gloom.
Nothing brightens a December day quite like berries. The usual standouts—Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ (golden yellow), S. glabriuscula (white) and S. macrantha (pink) and S. vilmorinii (pink)—are doing their usual yeoman service in the David C. Lam Asian Garden this year. Less common in nature are those plants with berries that colour blue or purple. The extraordinary Easter-egg-purple of Profusion beauty berry (Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’), near the bee hives, is always startling (in a good way), but it’s the truly rare true-blues that seem like a gift in the garden. This year like last, our hardy dichroa (Dichroa febrifuga) is putting on a drop-dead-gorgeous display of sapphire and indigo blue berries. These plants, located at the corner of Siebold Trail and Rock Trail, are usually still in leaf at least until Christmas, the softly yellowing leaves providing a perfect foil for the exquisite berries.
Winter-flowering shrubs and climbers usually have small flowers, but powerful scents that can attract pollinators (and people) over long distances. The stalwart Bodnant viburnum (Viburnum ´ bodnantense) and winter honeysuckle (Lonicera ´ purpusii ‘Winter Gem’) are good examples. Both started early this year. These plants are well represented in the Winter Garden as well as the Entrance Plaza. Even the usually aptly named winter sweet (Chimonanthus praecox), which is not normally out until January, is opening a few flowers—in the Winter Garden and Asian Garden—as I write. The oleasters are among my favourite winter-flowering climbers, and our largest, the smooth oleaster (Elaeagnus glabra) is exceptionally well-budded this year. In fact, the plant, located on Beer Trail in the Asian Garden, has been flowering since October. These aromas—lemon blossom for the honeysuckle, baby powder in the viburnum, and gardenia-and-jasmine in the oleaster—fade in and out and mix in varying combinations, depending on wind currents and weather conditions.
There are plenty of other floral gems elsewhere in the Garden. In the Asian Garden, Berberis duclouxii (Siamese mahonia) regularly produces its crown of bright yellow flowers at this time. Our plant is located at the edge of the pond visible from the boardwalk. The even showier, but considerably spinier B. ´ media ‘Charity’ is in full bloom both in the entrance courtyard and in the Contemporary Garden. In the E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden, look for the exquisitely crinkled flowers of the diminutive Nerine undulata ‘Alba’ and its soft pink-flowered, taller cousin, N. bowdenii, amaryllis relatives from southern Africa. Another early opener in the Alpine—in the Asian Woodland—is Camellia lutchuensis, with its pretty, 2-cm white flowers from perfect candy-striped buds. And in South America, the lilac-fruited pernettyas (Gaultheria mucronata) are vying for best fruit-set ever. There’s nothing like a walk in the garden to lift the mood on a dreary day (or any day, for that matter), so why not come discover some of our treasures this December?
Submitted by Douglas Justice, Associate Director, Horticulture & Collections, November 28, 2016