Victoria Flower Count: Spring has sprung

Mild winter means blooms are nearly a month early.

  • Mar. 5, 2015 5:00 p.m.

Kathy McKay checks the early blooms on this Rhododendron degronianum

Is there any better way to spend an afternoon than immersed in the smells and sounds of the garden?

The scent of freshly turned earth, the songs of enthusiastic robins and sparrows, the feel of dirt beneath your fingernails. For North Saanich resident Kathy McKay, the answer is a resounding ‘no.’

“I love being outside. I enjoy seeing the plants flourish and bloom, watching the hummingbirds fly by. It’s just very peaceful, and it’s encouraging when you see things doing well,” she says.

A longtime avid gardener, McKay has been a member of the Peninsula Garden Club for nearly a decade, and says this burgeoning springtime is her favourite season.

“Right now when everything is coming back to life. All the trees are budding back.”

It’s an usually early season this year she adds, thanks to an incredibly mild winter, and the proof is in the myriad of little green shoots popping up all over the Island.

“We’re about three weeks ahead,” she says. “The bulbs are all up, and the hellebores are in full bloom right now.”

The blossoms capturing the bulk of her attention right now however, are the two dozen rhododendrons on her property.

With 375 rhododendrons total, McKay has a bit more garden than most. It’s a restoration project that has been ongoing since she and her husband purchased the lot 10 years ago from an avid, but aging, rhododendron hybridizer and historian.

She’ll be keeping a close eye on the blooms as the annual Victoria Flower Count kicks off this week, hoping to help the Peninsula take the title of “Bloomingest Community” this year.

“If they don’t pull in record numbers this year, then people just aren’t calling in,” she laughs.

“It’s fun, but it also gives us bragging rights for the rest of the country. Victoria has an amazing climate for gardening.”

She hopes there isn’t too much bragging this year though, she adds, “with those poor people suffering with all that snow.”

And indeed, the snow-covered plight of the East coast is tragic, but a little hard to imagine when our sidewalks are sprinkled with our own cherry blossom “flakes.”

For those who’ve yet to really ‘dig in’ to the gardening scene, McKay says there’s no wrong way to start.

“Jump in with both feet. There’s lot of resources in the community, whether it’s gardening clubs or local gardening centres. They’re always willing to help.”

And for those who just want to enjoy the blooms, there are places all over the Saanich Peninsula to flower-gaze. Dominion Brook park in particular, she says, has a varied collection of plants and trees, including some rhododendrons that are 50 to 60 years old.

The park is slowly coming back to its original glory, thanks to the Friends of Dominion Brook Park Society who have been restoring the area since 2001.

For more information and tips on where to find blooms, visit

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