It’s spring, but don’t wake the garden!!
Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.Rainer Maria Rilke
After all the grumbling about the interminable and ferocious final weeks of winter that we have endured here in Alberta – and indeed across Canada – we have now been seduced by balmy spring weather that has all but melted the snow banks between our homes. There’s the sound of running water everywhere you go as gutters redirect water away from foundations and the storm water drains channel away the snow-melt from the streets. The chitter-chatter of birds is a sure sign that the season has changed. Spring is here!!
As an eager wannabe-gardener I am sorely tempted to start cleaning up, raking, fertilizing, trimming and monitoring the swelling buds on the trees and shrubs. I’m already looking for signs of life that might be wanting to push its way through the slowly thawing ground. I know it’s still too premature to see anything, but I can’t help myself. I am always in awe of this season, the time when what seems dead literally comes alive before our very eyes and life is breathed back into lifeless limbs. It’s another one of those miracles of life. Not too unlike the delightful arrival of my first great niece, Hailey Rayne, born on March 21st … the first day of (our) spring! All miracles, indeed!
Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.Robert H. Schuller
But getting back to gardening, I have to be reminded that this mild weather will not last. It’s merely a reminder of what’s to come, and a formal notice to the dormant life that it can start living again soon. We will, predictably, encounter a few more near-arctic events in the coming weeks as winter continues to try to linger for a while longer. I need to be patient, leave my roses tented with their winter protection, and hold back from launching into planting mode. It seems grossly unfair, especially since the garden experts tend to advise us not to plant new material outdoors until the May long weekend. Really? How will I be able to hold out for another two months. That seems interminable! But sadly, that’s the wise truth. In the meantime, I should just enjoy watching what I do have in my yard slowly come alive, which is all part of the delayed, yet satisfying, gratification of the Gardener!
But what can I do to curb my eagerness and keep myself from going crazy until then? Here are a few suggestions of what I’ll be doing in the coming weeks.
Start scanning the garden centres for deals on last seasons’ gardening equipment and landscaping materials that they may be trying to move before they bring in the new stuff. You might find some good deals that you missed out on in the fall before the centres closed!
Annuals versus perennials
I’m a perennial planter. I love the allure of the pretty annuals to fill in the gaps, but I can’t bring myself to throw money at the annuals that offer temporary beauty but don’t return again next year. So, I’m going to be looking out for some of my favourite perennials in preparation for buying and planting them where some of my perennials from last year might not have survived the frigid winter.
Find your zone and stay in it!
Be careful of being tempted to buy perennials that aren’t suited to your zone. Here, again, it’s not worth throwing your money away in hopes that the zone 5 or 6 pretty perennials that you have your heart set upon will survive in your zone 3 or 4 climate. You might strike it lucky, depending on where you plant your perennial. If it gets adequate sun and is in a protected corner near your home where the micro-climate is milder than somewhere in the middle of your yard, you might be lucky enough to get a zone 5 plant to survive in your zone 4 garden. But I’d be hesitant. And you’d be lucky, for sure!
You also want to be mindful of whether you have a critter challenge on your hands. Those porcupines, skunks, rabbits and deer that you ooh, aah or curse about will be sauntering through your pretty yard and won’t be friendly to your costly plantings, so consider this when buying and planting new greenery. Ask about wildlife-resistant options.
The birds and the bees
At the same time as trying to deter the critters, you would do well to figure out at this stage whether you want to be attracting the pollinators, the butterflies and bees. There are some fabulous perennial options that you can be looking to incorporate into your yard that will attract welcome insects throughout the season. Intersperse your plantings with some of these so that you get the benefit of cross-pollination and enjoy the attraction of the insect life.
As you know, I am a dedicated Costco fanatic. I can hardly wait for their garden centre to open. I visit the centre religiously every week throughout the spring / summer season when I do my grocery shopping just to see what new planters and stock they’ve shipped in. Four years ago I bought their bulb variety pack on line. It had a selection of eight to ten varieties of deer-resistant perennials and about 60 bulbs in the shipment. I eagerly planted these in my newly landscaped yard and held thumbs that they would emerge a few weeks later. I am astounded to report that every single bulb sprouted, bloomed and still, to this day, continues to multiply and adorn our yard. The selection is drought-tolerant, critter-resistant and handles our zone 3 / zone 4 climate surprisingly well. At an inexpensive CA$50, if you’re looking for a starter-pack of perennial bulbs, I cannot recommend this highly enough! Order it soon and get to planting them so you can ensure they take root and get well-established as the growing season settles in.
Enjoying the fruits of your labour
I’ve loved the challenge and reward of planting a few varieties of fruit bushes in amongst some of our ornamental perennials. Most specifically, our haskap berry bushes have done so well and make for lovely greenery throughout the season while also providing us with more generous fruit delivery every year. We’ve even been able to harvest some of the fruit – if we get to it before the birds do! – and have made a few jars of jam. Here, again, we enjoy the variety of the plants we get to experience throughout the season. If you are going to look out for and plant some of these, be aware that you need to buy both a male and a female plant since the bushes are single-sexed. You will need two varieties with different compatibility genes that bloom at the same time for cross-pollination. You will also need to plant your bushes fairly close to one another to increase the likelihood of pollination. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. Just make sure you have two different types and at least three or four shrubs to increase your chances of having a male and females for pollination purposes.
Six years ago we were given a cherry tree from my parents who were visiting from South Africa. We planted the three-foot high tree in our front yard as a reminder of them. This little gem has begun to serve us up an abundance of cherries with each passing year. Last year Christa made some delicious jams from our harvest. We can’t encourage people enough to find an opportunity to plant a fruit tree in your yard, especially if you can make use of the fruit and not curse the mess they might make when they drop their unwanted fruit!
Overflow from the garage
I’ll also begin to start to move some of the garden ornaments and accessories out into the yard. I know it’s early, but I want to claim back some of the space so I can move more freely again in my congested garage!
I’ll be putting my potting soil into the sun so it can start to thaw in readiness for the annual hanging baskets that we’ll create and the potted plants that may need repotting or transplanting.
A little-known secret
If you live in Calgary I cannot recommend highly enough that you visit the hidden neighbourhood gem that is the Botanical Gardens of Silver Springs in the northwest. Open to the public from dawn till dusk each day throughout the growing season, the volunteers that tend to these 14 individual gardens deserve a medal and serious shout-out! Here you will be able to see which plants do well in our region. You’ll be able to get a good feel for how and where to plant them and what they look like throughout the season. Be sure to make the effort to visit these extensive and varied gardens for some serious inspiration and enjoyment.
But wait, there’s more …
I’ll be sharing more posts in the coming weeks, highlighting the perennials (and annuals) that I have in my yard, and will share more of my insights with you.
Needless to say, I’m very excited for the upcoming growing season.
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