Victoria in late winter: Finnerty Gardens

We’re spending a week in Victoria, British Columbia with our daughter. Late winter wouldn’t necessarily have been my season of choice for a visit, but I had airline credit that was about to expire so here we are.

As a mild-winter gardener who’s used to seeing stuff in bloom even in the dead of winter, I find it to be quite a shock to the system to see so much brown in gardens around here. While we do have seasons in the Sacramento Valley, they’re less well defined than they are here. Here, gardens (and gardening) seem to come to a full stop in the winter. I suppose there’s not much to do beyond a bit of general cleanup outside and looking at plant catalogs and websites inside.

But maybe there is. People in these latitudes are generally of hardier stock than I am. They’re far less wimpy (and whiny) than I am and don’t mind braving the elements. They may actually enjoy seeing their garden at rest. And even though I dislike the cold, I, too, would probably find things to appreciate about the winter if I lived here. At least there are no mosquitoes at this time of year, like there are at home (no kidding!).

The other day, we spent some time at Finnerty Gardens on the campus of the University of Victoria. In 2016, we visited Finnerty Gardens in April – a magical time when the rhododendrons, cherries, plums, and all kinds of other things are in bloom. Things look quite different in early March, but there are signs of life.

Variegated Skimmia japonica and black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’)

Helleborus were everywhere

Hellebores are best appreciated at ground level

Giant snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum)

This is what I call winter interest – no flowers or anything else needed

Spreading compost seems to be a winter chore. We saw lots of it all over Finnerty Gardens (and smelled it, too).

Fallen leaves are pretty, I must admit

A lone western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanum) sticking its neck out, as if unsure whether to stay or to pull itself back into the ground

Giant timber bamboo (Phyllostachys bambusoides) looks great even in subfreezing temperatures

In the foreground is another bamboo, Sasa veitchii. Its leaf margins turn brown in the winter, creating a variegated effect.

A stumpery in the making

Seeing a vignette like this always gives me fern envy

I’m my own garden, I’m so focused on rocks, but clearly, stumps can be just as interesting

More signs of spring

Hazelnut catkins

Variegated Rhododendron ponticum (this plant was labeled)

This was my favorite find at Finnerty Gardens. I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s a lacecap hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) with what’s left of last year’s flowers.

Emerging rhododendron flower buds

To my delight, we found several early-blooming rhododendrons as well as a few camellias in full flower:

NOID rhododendron

I love tapestries like this one and the one below

NOID camellia

A flowering forsythia, too

Camellia flowers don’t get more perfect...

...than this

And another NOID rhododendron

A note on rhododendrons vs. azaleas: Botanically speaking, they’re both in the genus Rhododendron. “All azaleas are rhododendrons,” a wise-ass saying goes, “but not all rhododendrons are azaleas.” Generally, rhododendrons are larger and evergreen while azaleas are smaller and deciduous. Rhododendron flowers are bell-shaped and grow in round clusters at the ends of branches while azalea flowers are trumpet-shaped, with one flower per stem. If you want to learn more, read this article.

Much of Victoria, British Columbia, is in plant hardiness zone 8b – hardly an Artic wasteland – so take my comments above with a big grain of salt. It’s not really THAT cold. It just seems that way to thin-skinned me.

© Gerhard Bock, 2024. All rights reserved. To receive all new posts by email, please subscribe here.


  1. Based on your introduction, I didn't expect to see as many interesting photos, much less flowers! I love that nascent stumpery and the rhododendrons (as opposed to azaleas), which I've long coveted. I finally found a "tropical" (Vireya) Rhododendron but, while it has had 2 buds since early January, it seems frozen at that stage.

    Enjoy your visit with your daughter! I hope you get a bit of blue sky while your're there.

    1. I fell in love with vireyas a few years ago and bought a few, but they didn't make it through out hot summer.

  2. Plenty of botanical beauties even in early March. You manage to find them no matter the season!

  3. I never heard of Helleborus until I started following Loree's blog! They sure like it cool like the rhododendrons do. Such a pretty camellia flower color!

    1. I planted a few hellebores in the backyard about 5 years ago. Guess what, they're still there!

    2. You are so lucky, Gerhard! Do they bloom well? I am sure the 90º nights would be killers here in Phoenix! At least your nights aren't that bad!

  4. A visit to your daughter AND some lovely sights, even if it was cold. I appreciate rhododendrons after moving away from Oregon- I admit I really took them for granted when I lived there. The stumps are fantastic.

    1. As much as I dislike the cold, I'm sure I'd ultimately be happy gardening in a climate like this. I could grow a lot of Himalayan natives that would never grow in Davis. And hostas! So many hostas!

  5. A well done winter garden is very satisfying. It allows a visitor to notice vignettes they could overlook during the throes of spring: such as the variegated Skimmia japonica with black mondo grass against a rock, or a mossy felled tree.

    1. Gardening is as much a state of mind as it's cultivating plants, isn't it?

  6. For those of us in snowier parts of the country Victoria is almost a tropical destination in March. Finnerty is a beautiful garden at any time of year. Lots to see. Glad you got out to visit your daughter. I was supposed to be there the last few days visiting my mother but caught a nasty cold so had to cancel. Thanks for the virtual tour.

    1. I did see quite a few Trachycarpus palms on Pender Island :-)

      I hope you're feeling better now.

  7. It is all relative, isn't it. I consider the PNW a tropical paradise compared to my years in SE NM (too brown and dry in winter) and upstate NY and central WI (too dang cold). Here, I like seeing signs of spring for months on end.

    1. There were definitely signs of spring - I suppose there might even be signs of spring in the dead of winter.


Post a Comment