Garden Notes: Blooms and Birds

It’s hard to get excited about the garden in January, but February is really the start of spring here on southern Vancouver Island. Even in a mild winter such as this one, though, cold and snow aren’t out of the question until the end of March. I see a 30% chance of snow flurries predicted for us later this week.

For the past few weeks, I’ve done some pruning projects — apple tree, magnolia and hollies. The most challenging was the hollies, since it involved both ladder-climbing and prickles. Even the clumsy and ill-designed pole pruner was useful for holly branches near the tops of the 20-foot-tall bushes. Then came the painful process of gathering up the prunings and lugging them to the growing brush pile.

March 19th is “compost day” this year — the one day per year the municipality picks up twigs, branches, roots, and other garden by-products. Otherwise, we have to lug that stuff to the municipal yard ourselves. It’s always an adventure because the “yard” is a rather confined space at the top of a steep little hill. It can be a challenge to jockey around all the other vehicles and people who just want to dispose of stuff and get out as quickly as possible. In terms of disposal, right now is the best time for major pruning projects, although plants such as lilacs, Oregon grape, and ceanothus have to wait until blooming is finished in June or so. No doubt I’ll then post a complaint about the Oregon grapes (which are almost as bad as hollies to prune).

Iris unguicularis in bloom
Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis)

There really is a lot blooming now, even in the middle of winter: snowdrops (some are already finished, in fact), yellow crocuses, Algerian iris (a mass of startling lavender-coloured flowers near the front steps), the small purple Iris reticulata, rosemary, hellebores (Corsican and Oriental), winter jasmine, winter honeysuckle, Japanese quince, spurge laurel (its Latin name, Daphne laureola, is much more elegant), and dark purple sweet violets. Indoors, a scarlet amaryllis is at its dramatic best, especially gratifying as it’s a repeat performance.

scarlet amaryllis

I’ve seen some posts recently about counting birds. Here some folks do a Christmas bird count, for which there are guidelines and procedures. I’ve never managed to participate, but since I put up feeders in the back garden a few years ago, I now have a good idea of who visits them. The “regulars” in winter are dark-eyed juncos, house finches, chestnut-backed chickadees, bushtits, several different kinds of sparrows (white-crowned, golden-crowned, fox, and house), rufous-sided towhees, starlings, and northern flickers. Occasionally a red-breasted nuthatch shows up, and I’ve seen both a male and a female downy woodpecker. We haven’t had any Steller’s jays this winter; last year there were a lot of them around here, screeching and going after suet. Their beautiful blue colour makes up for their unmelodious voices.

Anna’s hummingbirds are year-round residents and several visit the hummingbird feeder many times a day. So do chickadees and bushtits at times, much to the dismay of the hummingbirds. American robins don’t care for either seed or suet, but they pretty much cleaned all the berries off the cotoneaster a few weeks ago (and then pooped orange pulp all over the car in the driveway).

Anna’s hummingbird

I’ve heard Bewick’s wrens making their buzzing and bubbling sounds in shrubs, and occasionally I hear one or another practicing his spring song. The male hummingbirds are doing their parabolic dives that produce a sharp whistle through the tail feathers, and chasing each other around while making sizzling sounds. Crows sometimes knock chunks out of the suet (much to the delight of juncos and sparrows on the ground below). Gulls, bald eagles, and ravens cruise by far above. Altogether, there’s a lot of bird activity around here.

And I admit all the photos for this post are from former years. The plants and birds look the same, so why not reuse them?
One of these days I should learn how to take decent photos of birds.


    1. I think I would have to learn how to use a different camera, if I really want to get better at bird photos. I’m glad you enjoy the garden posts. Thanks for your comment, Robbie!


    1. We’re getting some cold weather here too, just now. A low temp of -5C predicted for tomorrow night, and snow flurries. I’ve been racing around covering things up and lugging other things under cover. Bird feeders filled up and being visited. I think the birds are getting ready to weather the cold spell.

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            1. Anna’s hummingbirds seem to tolerate a certain amount of cold weather if they have enough food. That’s why they’re looking for the sugar-water dispenser when I hang it out at 7 a.m. Temp at that time was -6C, pretty close to 20F. Other types of hummingbirds aren’t found here in winter, and most species are tropical.

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  1. I’m amazed at how warm it is there. We (in central Virginia) are so much farther south than you, but we’re still solidly in winter. We’ve had zero blooms, nothing, nada so far. Of course, it was 7F (-14C) this week!

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    1. Our statistical normal temps right now are lows of +2C and highs of 8C, so in the 30s and 40s F. Cold snaps aren’t uncommon in Feb and March though. They do more damage once plants have sprouted out of course, although the spring bulbs do OK even then. We have a low of -5C predicted for tomorrow night and possible snow, so I’ve been racing around covering things up. A fringe of the polar vortex is about to graze us!


  2. We are lucky to have a ‘green wheelie bin’ emptied every fortnight from spring to late autumn. You now have to pay for it, so we don’t bother as with our small garden and three compost bins we dont need it, but it is a very useful service and generates compost you can collect back from the council. I have a few tiny daffodils out and some geraniums still flowering.

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    1. We have a similar service, but it’s intended for food scraps only. You have to use special compostable bags. I used to put almost nothing into the food scrap bin until rats proliferated around here a few years ago. Now I keep anything that might attract them out of my compost piles, so no more fruit or veg scraps. We can buy municipal compost too; it’s much more “cooked” than mine because it must heat up way more. I noticed a few miniature daffodils budding up; I hope they don’t get flattened by snow that’s predicted for us in the next few days.

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  3. Lovely post. I can’t tell if new birds are arriving, but I’ve seen winter jasmine blooming and the tulip poplars are just about to burst. Since the unwelcome polar vortex was here last week, I have no idea how the tulip poplars got so advanced. After last week when the temperatures struggled to reach the 30s, this week’s 60s feel wonderful. Afraid that winter returns next week…

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  4. Well, the prediction of snow flurries earlier this week has come true! It was snowing as I left the rec centre an hour ago; and Toronto did a quick turnaround. It is now warmer there than here in Victoria. Can’t call my kids and gloat!

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    1. My apologies for this late response. Your comment somehow ended up in the spam folder. It’s great that your kids get to experience gardening to learn things about the natural world and nutrition. Nice pictures too!

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