Top gardening tips from Whistler's 'flower house' lady

Hanna Steiner shares the secret behind her White Gold garden

Strolling through the White Gold neighbourhood of Whistler on a glorious summer’s day you can’t help but notice “the flower house,” as the locals call it.

Every summer Hanna Steiner transforms her Austrian chalet style home front into a cascading garden of spectacular blooms — and has done so since her Austrian husband built the house back in 1980. On any given summer, people flock to Fitzsimmons Road South, to gaze at the fantastic floral display.

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“You should see the amount of people that come by here in the summertime,” Steiner said. “You can ask anybody about the flower house, it’s unbelievable. Even locals come by with their relatives and show them. We even used to have the (tourist) trolleybuses come by when they operated here.”

In the early ‘80s, Steiner grew all wildflowers, resembling the alpine meadows of her native Europe, but people wanted to take pictures of just one wild flower, and trampled through the whole garden, Steiner remembered. “They would trample through the whole thing, so I switched to a smaller garden.”

Originally from Germany, Steiner came to Canada temporarily and like many Sea to Sky folk, never left. “I just wanted to come for six months to learn the language and now it’s 57 years!” she laughed.

Having a green thumb runs in the family — Steiner’s parents owned a small garden centre when she was growing up. She has worked at the Whistler Garden Centre for the last 10 years, which is owned by Pemberton’s Fraser family, where all the centre’s plants and flowers are locally grown, Steiner said. Having helped Whistlerites with many a gardening query for so long, what’s the most common gardening question she hears? Steiner smiled. “It’s got to be: “What should I grow?’”

This lady should know; she won first place in the Whistler municipality’s Communities in Bloom Gardens Contest each year it ran from 1998 – 2000. Steiner grows all her flowers in boxes and pots, which are perfect for Whistlerites with limited space on small patios or decks. She said petunias, trailing geraniums and bittens (a daisy variety) grow the best. “Bittens are THE flower to grow in boxes if you want a beautiful display the whole summer,” she said. “They can trail down about four feet, from a box only four or five inches deep.”

The best time to plant outside is usually after the May long weekend, she said, but she expects this year’s warm temperatures to allow for early planting. “Plant miniature plants; the ones you find in garden centres,” Steiner said. “Seeds must be started (indoors) after Christmas.”

Other important factors are buying good potting soil and ensuring there is good drainage. “Use stones at the bottom,” Steiner said. “Also, don’t water your flowers from the top — always lift them up and water the soil, because the water kills your blooms. Watering should be done once a day: twice when it’s very hot and preferably when the flowers are in the shade, before or after the sun hits them.”

Flowers that grow well in shade are begonias, plus the aforementioned petunias and bittens, Steiner said. Perennials can also be planted anytime now this year; Steiner’s list of recommended blooms includes campanulas, delphiniums, bleeding hearts and more. “Clematis and hops are beautiful,” she said. “Hops have beautiful white flowers but it’s funny, no-one recognizes it’s hops.”

Vegetables that grow well in Whistler are kale, tomatoes, spinach, radishes, celery, green and red peppers and horseradish. “I tell all the young people ‘grow horseradish!’ It’s so expensive in the stores and it’s so easy to grow here.”

All herbs grow well outside, she added. Small plants can be put in now, and require only about four inches of depth to grow well, so they’re also also good for boxes and containers.

So what is Steiner’s secret weapon for achieving such bountiful blooms? “Fertilize!” she smiled. “That’s it! I use one called The Real McCoy; it’s unbelievable stuff. Come and see me at the centre; I can help you with any questions you have.”

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