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Overwintering Hastas, Hardy Olive & New Hardy Berry

Over-wintering Hosta in containers or gardens; ‘Eddy’s Winter Wonder’ hardy olive and a new hardy berry for most of Canada.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

September 12, 2010

Above, two shots of a huge Scarlet Trumpet vine that welcomes arrival passengers onto Protection Island, Author photos. Below, two shots of the hardy honeyberry fruit courtesy of and Sutton Seeds, U.K.

A few questions have materialized over the past two weeks while I was writing about Protection Island. Maureen Fowler who lives near London, Ontario asked: “This cool, windy morning reminds me that soon I'll be putting the garden to sleep for winter. I have two beautiful hostas in containers on my deck. Should I re-plant them in the ground for over winter, then put them back in the containers next spring? Any directions about maintaining them would be appreciated.”

You would be safest, Maureen, by moving them into a garden bed; in fact you could even just dig a large hole in a bed, perhaps in the vegetable garden, and place the entire pots with the plants undisturbed, and then bring the soil up to the edge of the pots. You could also remove the plants from the containers and leave them on your deck, and just transplant the plants into the garden. It seems to me the former may be the simplest and best for the plants, but maybe the latter would be better as far as your effort goes!

When I wrote my book Gardening Off The Ground, I suggested Hosta as one of the perennials that folks in zone 6 might easily grow permanently in containers. You are definitely in zone 6 if you are anywhere near London, so you may want to try overwintering the plants in their pots. Much can depend on the individual winter, and if it should be a snow-less season, and cold as well, then there could be a problem with the plants if left on the deck in containers. Those kinds of winters are not the regular thing in South-Western Ontario, while just the opposite, winters with a whole lot of snow, are not common here. We did have one two years ago, and consequently lost a significant number of plants (in the ground) whereas last year we lost literally nothing.

So, I guess it is up to you. Why don’t you try planting one in your garden, and leaving the other one in its container on the deck. You could put a heavy covering of mulch over the plant left on the deck; and you could even wrap the container in a bat or two of home insulation--a trick that works well for containerized plants.

Just today I received the following from Esther North who lives almost directly across the Strait of Georgia from us here in Parksville. “Greetings from Gibsons, British Columbia where I have just purchased a little self-pollinating olive tree … Eddie’s Winter Wonder with the assurance that I could Google it to find some information about planting, growth habits, etc. etc. So I Googled and searched but am unable to find an article/information on the ICanGarden site. I look forward to your response with the information that will get my little olive into the ground, growing vigorously and happily producing for years to come. Thank you.”

As it happens, I have written about this tree twice here on, first on October 26, 2008 and then a follow-up (containing many corrections!) on November 2 that year. Almost two years ago I wrote that there was very little information available about the tree, except that a local wholesale nursery, Specimen Trees in Abbotsford did carry it. An acquaintance there, Lindsay Davidson, told me they had acquired the tree from a Dutch nursery brokerage house who in turn had obtained it from Switzerland, and from a location high enough that they think it should be hardy in southern Ontario, specifically to zone 5b.

The name is Olea europaea ‘Eddy’s Winter Wonder’--note not ‘Eddie’s Winter Wonder’ as I indicated in the previous article. Apparently it is named after a nursery in Europe, and has no relationship with Eddie’s here in British Columbia.

While Specimen Trees sold a few plants in 2008 they had only a very small inventory, but more plants on the way. Lindsay Davidson thinks the plant could prove to be popular in areas where there are significant Italian populations--particularly including Toronto. That was the reason they showed it at the Landscape Ontario Fall Garden Expo in 2008. Lindsay said there was considerable interest from a number of garden centres in Ontario.

Now, almost two years later, there is still very little more information available (including no photographs) on the Web. I may try to get Lindsay to send me a shot or two of it over the winter. I shall also ask for a list of garden centres, particularly in southern Ontario, who are offering the tree for sale. Specimen Tree is a wholesale company only, so please don’t call them for further information.

Lindsay did tell me by telephone that they are reasonably certain that the tree will bear olives at a fairly early age, but I am not certain if they have actually had one produce a small crop yet.

While writing about new plants, I talked on Friday last week with Kris S. who is the manager of Green Thumb Garden Centre in Nanaimo. I shop there periodically as they often have or can get unusual items. She told me they had just received a small shipment of blue honeysuckles (or haskaps or honeyberries) botanically known as Lonicera caerulea edulis. I’ll quote some of the salient points about this ultra hardy berry, as written for the Calgary Horticultural Society by Arden Delidais, of DNA Gardens near Innisfail, Alberta (about 65 km east). Innisfail is about 40 km south of Red Deer Alberta, the approximate half-way point between Edmonton and Calgary.

“The Russians started breeding and improving honeyberries from the wild about fifty years ago. They collected wild strains from Kamchatcha to the Ural mountains. Presently, the Russians have many varieties that are farmed commercially.

“Recently, these Russian varieties have been brought to North America, in large part due to an Oregon nurseryman, Jim Gilbert. Gilbert routinely travels the world looking for exotic plant material. He shared these varieties with the University of Saskatchewan to trial and test. Of the original four trialed, the University eliminated two and recommended ‘Berry Blue’™ and ‘Blue Belle’™. Royalties are collected and sent to Gilbert who in turn, returns revenues to Russian breeding Institutes.

“Honeyberries thrive on prairie soils that are naturally alkaline (high in pH). We are sometimes asked for blueberry plants on the farm and I say, forget blueberries! We can't grow them in our soils and honeyberries make an excellent replacement. Blueberries require a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. Much of our soils have a pH of 7 to 8. Honeyberries have been likened to blueberries in flavour but without the seeds. Flavour is hard to describe and varies from palette to palette. You can eat them fresh or with cream and sugar. Whatever you do with a blueberry, you can do with a honeyberry.

“This is the first fruit to produce for the season. Fruit is ready in June and what a great way to extend our fresh eating pleasure by season-extenders like this. Once the fruit has coloured up, throw some netting over the plants to keep the birds off. The flavour improves if the fruit is left longer on the bush. I think we are picking them before they are fully ripe. Unfortunately, because there isn't a lot of other fruit to attract or distract the birds, they devour honeyberries.

“Cross pollination is required. This means two-different varieties of compatible honeyberries need to be planted near one another. It does not do any good to have two of the same variety planted together. ‘Berry Blue’™ and ‘Blue Belle’™ will pollinate each other. ‘Cinderella’ is another Russian variety that is performing well for us.

“Instant gratification is not usually associated with gardening. If there is such an animal in the fruit world, it would be honeyberries. These precocious plants start to bloom and set fruit when only one-year old. They are truly amazing. Yields of six and a half kilos have been recorded on ‘Blue Belle’, seven-year old plants growing in Saskatoon. The plentiful fruits can be frozen on cookie sheets, bagged, and then doled out during the long winter season.

“The bushes make attractive ornamentals. They have yellow blooms that attract wild bees and tame bees. Bees like them which helps pollination. They are broad shrubs, with no suckering. Height ranges from 1.2 -1.8 metres (4 - 6 ft.) depending on the variety. We are testing many varieties and there is a huge difference between them; flavour differences being most notable. Grow them in full sun. If not possible, try and find a spot where they will receive four to six hours of full sun a day.

“The bright blue color of the fruit brings tremendous nutriceutical value to our diet. Interestingly, the Russian literature says they are full of Vitamins. Olds (Alberta) College School of Innovation tested berries at our DNA Gardens and were excited to find very high levels of polyphenols and anthocyanins. Dr. Anna Bakowska-Barczak, food scientist is performing research on bioactive substances in dark berries at OCSI. This research is sponsored by the Alberta Ingenuity Fund in conjunction with industry partner DNA Gardens.

“The research data indicates that ‘Blue Belle’™ has a very high content of anthocyanins and polyphenols. Polyphenols are plant phytochemicals with antifungal and anti-bacterial properties that defend the plant from disease invaders. In humans, these compounds protect the body from cancer and enhance cardio-vascular health.

“Honeyberries are good candidates for organic growing because they are easy to grow and do not have any insect or disease pests.

“Honeyberry is a name trademarked by Jim Gilbert. They belong to the honeysuckle family, Lonicera edulis and are native to Canada as well as Russia. Older varieties have been available for years and have been sold as sweet honey-suckle. They have very poor fruit quality compared to the Russian varieties that have over 50-years of intensive improvement. Be aware of what you are buying. Not all honeyberry plants are created equal so make sure to buy known, proven varieties.

“The work continues. It seems nothing stands still. Dr. Bob Bors from the University of Saskatchewan has been collaborating with Maxine Thompson, the only Honeyberry plant breeder in the U.S. Maxine has an extensive collection of Honeyberries, native materials from Japan to Kamchatka.

“Bob has been breeding these Honeyberries to get later varieties, to extend the season of harvest, attain larger and sturdier fruit able to stand the rigors of mechanical cleaning and harvest. Of course, he is selecting for great flavour and hardiness. He has released to DNA Gardens, three of these new varieties. One of these fruits has been specifically selected for large fruit size and taste for home owners. These varieties will be available in the future.”

My thanks to DNA Gardens for this detailed information.

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