How does your garden grow?
When spring comes, garden centres are packed with
weekend horticulturalists. Gardening is the No. 1 hobby in Canada
and is second only to golf in the amount of money spent on a per
Greening your thumbs isn't just a relaxing pastime
-- real estate experts agree that investing in your garden can increase
the resale value of your home. Think about it -- if potential buyers
don't like what's on the outside, they'll be less inclined to see
what's on the inside.
With all of the new varieties of plants, shrubs
and trees on the market, it's easy to end up with a garden full
of ill-suited or mismatched plants. So before your start digging,
learn what you can do to get your gardening blooming at its best.
Get the dirt
Whether you've just moved into a new home and your garden consists
of a postage-stamp-sized plot of dirt or you've inherited someone
else's 30-year horticultural experiment, it's important to understand
your garden's personality.
First, find out what hardiness zone you live in so
you can choose plants that suit your local climate. Canada's Hardiness
Zone Map divides the country into nine zones, from zero in the
far north (the harshest) to eight in the southwest (the mildest).
The higher the zone, the more variety you have in choosing perennials,
shrubs and trees.
Next, you need to know what light conditions you're
working with -- full sun (six or more hours of direct sun), partial
shade (filtered sun, usually in the morning or late in the day)
or full shade (no direct sunlight).
Then, to learn what kind of soil is in your garden,
just grab a handful and squeeze. Soil that's heavy in clay (which
has lots of nutrients but drains poorly) will form a sticky lump,
while soil that's high in sand (which dries out quickly and tends
to be infertile) won't clump at all. Loamy soil (the best kind --
a balanced mix of sand, silt and clay) is somewhere in the middle.
Once you know what you've got, you can improve it with peat moss,
manure and compost or pick plants that are tolerant of thin soil
such as garden phlox or lavender.
"Starting out with poor soil is the biggest mistake,"
says master gardener Donna Dawson, the green thumb behind ICanGarden.com,
Canada's largest online gardening resource. "Your soil is the
building block of your garden. With good soil, you don't need fertilizers,
and when the plants are healthy, they will withstand any pests that
might come to visit."
Make a plan
Whatever style of garden you choose, it's a good idea to draft an
outline (preferably to scale) of your planned plot. "Completing
a plan before you do any purchasing means you will only be buying
plants that are right for your garden," says Karl Stensson,
senior vice-president of Sheridan Nurseries, with 10 garden centres
Keep your plan conservative for the first year. It's
easy to draft a grandiose flower bed when you're sitting in the
comfort of your living room, but how much time are you willing to
put into maintenance? Fertilizing, weeding, deadheading (removing
spent flowers) and pruning all take time, and allowing your plants,
especially vigorous growers such as chrysanthemums, to run rampant
can change your well-intentioned garden refuge into what one of
my well-thumbed gardening books calls a horticultural slum.
A simple first-year plan also helps keep costs in
check. Starting a garden can get expensive but Stensson warns against
going on the cheap. "[People make the mistake] of thinking
they should spend $2,000 on drapes for the inside of their house
and $200 for the garden," he says. "If cost is an issue,
stage the development of your garden instead of cutting corners."
You can find ready-made garden plans online for all
sorts of designs including shade borders, butterfly gardens and
sunny front-yard islands. Or if you'd prefer to start from scratch,
Sheridan Nurseries suggests these tips to help you create a cohesive
and beautiful garden:
1. Pick a colour scheme. Choose
colours you like that also look good with your house. Red may be
your favourite colour, but it will clash against a rust-coloured
brick. Popular schemes include hot or cool colour borders (reds,
oranges and yellows or blues, violets and greens) or an all-white
garden (sometimes called moon gardens because the flowers seem to
glow in the moonlight).
2. Think about the form or shape
of the plants you're considering. Try combining pyramidal
forms such as Blue Colorado Spruce with round, bushy Goldflame Spirea
and spiky ornamental grasses -- one of this season's hot new trends.
Or, contrast large leaves (Hosta) against small (Alstilbe) or velvety
leaves (Lamb's Ears) against shiny (Mahonia).
3. Find balance. Keep
vertical elements (such as tall shrubs or flowers) in check with
horizontal ones (groundcover or low, clumping shrubs). Create a
sense of continuity in the garden by repeating similar groupings
of plants, colours or flower shapes in different plots.
4. Keep it in proportion. When
buying young plants, be sure to check their mature height and spread.
Graduate the heights of your plants so there isn't a huge gap between
the tallest (usually planted at the back) and the shortest.
Now you're ready to walk around your neighbourhood to get ideas
of the plants, colours and textures you like. While perennials grow
year after year, but may only bloom for a limited time, annuals
bloom profusely during the growing season and then die with the
first frost. Perennials are a good choice for their staying power
while annuals allow you to change the look of your garden each year.
With careful planning, your garden can be in bloom from early May
well through the first frost.
It's also a good idea to think about getting a return
on your investment. Vegetables such as flowering cabbage have attractive
foliage and help take a bite out of your grocery bill. Plant trees
that offer shade or fruit. "In this day and age with watering
at a premium," says Dawson, "it pays to think about making
your garden give back to you more than just a pretty face."
Fiona Wagner lives and gardens
in Georgetown, Ont.