Spring at last!

By Valerie Burton

Yellow tree peony

Yellow tree peony

The snow has melted and all the areas in front and behind your house are a mass of mud and leaves left over from fall. Don’t despair – this is your garden’s blank canvas, even if it does have a few scraggly bushes and mud-caked flowerbeds!

Perhaps you let the gardening slide last year? Did you find yourself intimidated by a neighbour’s seemingly perfect yard? You, too, can do wonderful things in your garden with just a few timely suggestions. Take some photos of your house and current gardens, front and back. What will you need to make the spaces look planned and complementary to the house? Assemble pictures (don’t forget magazines!) of gardens that attract you, or to you “just look right.” Think about the why’s for each; write yourself some notes. Soon your personal garden vision will begin to be clear.

Foundation plantings

Foundation plantings

The first goal with lawn and garden is to have space everyone enjoys, with minimal upkeep as the garden matures. You’ll always have to cut the lawn, if you have one, but the garden can take care of itself with careful choice of perennials. Overplanting with perennials and covering the soil with mulch every year will help eliminate weeds and provide three-season blooming. You’ll have to do a little work each year, but with a little advance planning, you will have a spectacular result.

Guidelines for garden planning

Flower beds can be made more easily by making a plan and laying out all the plants before you install them in the bed. Consult the information tags on each plant; they give the requirements for location and the description of the mature plant. The best flower gardens are planted only with perennials, but you must be aware of the height and flowering periods of each chosen plant as well as the light and wind conditions of your garden. Until maturity, holes in your perennial beds can be filled with colourful annuals, the replanting of which is gradually eliminated as the years pass.

Most perennials will do well in a sunny location, a south or western exposure, but plants should still be chosen carefully for height and blooming periods. If you make a mistake and plant something in the wrong spot, don’t worry; you can always move it later to help it do well. Every gardener has to do this from time to time. If you’re considering roses, a sunny location is crucial and since this is Ottawa (a growing zone 4), choose from the many varieties of hardy roses to keep them alive over our winters. Tea roses, although they have the most beautiful blooms, can only be grown here in a very sheltered sunny spot, and they will need winterizing with rose collars and mulch every fall.

Starting a shade garden

Starting a shade garden

Shade gardens, which have a northern or eastern light exposure, can do well, but appropriate plants such as Hydrangea, Brunnera (Siberian Bugloss), Hucheria (Coral Bells) must be planted. Trees and evergreens have to be chosen carefully as well; not many decorative specimens will do well in a shady spot.

Consider the final size of flowering deciduous shrubs and create space around them for mature spread and light required. Give trees a lot of room, vertically and horizontally. Tree roots will grow out to the circumference of the mature branches, so if you plant a big tree, stay well clear of the foundation of the house, as roots could cause many problems as the tree grows.

Campenula rock garden

Campenula rock garden

Consider also in your planning some current trends for gardens. Vegetable gardens, if you have room for a bed with lots of sunshine, are a major trend, especially for younger gardeners who have never seen a vegetable outside a supermarket. My advice is start small, with two or three kinds of vegetables you enjoy eating. In my (very large) flower garden, I had potato and tomato plants in sunny spots among the flowers and they did remarkably well. But these two vegetables must be planted fairly far apart, as they are prone to similar fungus infections. Flowers can be planted between them to help alleviate this problem.

Valerie Burton is a gardening consultant and photographer. Her website is www.valburtonphoto.com

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