Green File: Garden planning primer


Published on March 17, 2017

Think about a water feature when planning this year’s garden.

©submitted

For the last two weeks, I have encouraged readers to visit Canada Blooms and contemplate the garden of your dreams.

The idea is to take the few weeks off that Mother Nature affords Canadian gardeners to reflect on how things could be different in your yard and garden this coming gardening season. Let’s assume that you did your dreaming – now is the time to get serious about your garden plan.

I know, it seems weird to be thinking about a garden plan now. Truth is most of us will only think of this when the temperatures hover near heat wave and the weeds are growing to beat the band. That’s not planning, that’s reacting.

First, let’s agree that we don’t plan a garden as we used to, with broad sweeps of impatiens lining the front of the house, framing a large expanse of lawn. If that is your idea of a great looking garden you don’t need my help.  Just go for it.

#1. What do you want to achieve?

Are you planning on growing food (you will need minimum of six hours of sunshine), produce an abundance of colour (to attract bees and other pollinators?), create shade (to cool your yard down) or just a wide open area for the kids to enjoy kicking a ball around (you can’t beat a well maintained lawn for this)?

Food plants are great, but all of them, including fruit trees, require consistent (note that I did not say ‘constant’) care. Weed control in the veggie garden is paramount, herbs have their own distinct requirements (most of them don’t like to be over watered) and fruit trees and berry bushes, while permanent, require pruning and some pest control. Even organic gardeners pay attention to bugs and diseases in their fruit.

Does maintenance of your food garden fit with your lifestyle and available time?

A colourful garden that attracts bees, hummingbirds and song birds is a great idea for people who are environmentally connected. The concept works best in a sunny garden. A minimum of five hours of sun will provide lots of plant choices.

#2 Water

While planning your garden for this season, think about a water feature. It could be as simple as a large pot filled with water, water plants and a few snails (to help keep the algae under control) and a gold fish or two to control mosquito larvae.

There are endless possibilities where water gardens are concerned. Waterfalls and fountains range from small table-top models to large installations made of stone and concrete. Consider talking to a professional landscape contractor if you are thinking on a large scale. Get the job done right the first time, I say.

#3.  Trees.

If you live in an urban environment, you live among a declining number of trees. The fact is, we are not planting trees as fast as they are being removed and/or dying. The addition of a tree or two to your property will enhance the entire neighbourhood by helping to cool the atmosphere, provide habitat and security for nesting birds and fresh air, as all the oxygen that we breathe comes from the green living world around us. And nothing produces oxygen more efficiently than trees do.  

If you have yard space, consider an oak tree. They grow old gracefully, last for generations and grow at a reasonable rate. In a recent book, Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy, he states that the oak hosts more butterflies and other insect life than any other tree species.

If space is limited, consider one of the many trees that mature within tight parameters. Japanese Lilac Ivory Silk is an amazing performer in the urban environment. If you want a native tree, look for Canadian Serviceberry: early season blossoms, fruit that attract cedar waxwings early in summer and very winter hardy.

#4 Colour

There is a rule in garden design that I think deserves to be broken: use a colour scheme when planting. My response to this idea is, “What is Mother Nature’s colour scheme?” In a field of wildflowers does she only plant shades of pink and red? Or combine the ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ colours from the colour wheel? I don’t think she references the colour wheel at all. It is a human construct.

This brings me to my last and strongest point: when you are looking for garden design tips and ideas, look no further than the natural surroundings of your yard. Consider whether you live amongst rocks, mature trees, an undulating, hilly landscape or a flat plain. What has Mother Nature given you to work with?

It is like grooming yourself in the morning. Take what you have and work with it. Do the best that you can to look great. And guess what, you will! As with the garden.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, ‘The New Canadian Garden' published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook.