All the Garden Stages

All the Garden Stages

By Chris Hamilton

Stage One: Develop a Long-Term Plan

Designing and planning a landscape for your yard can be a daunting task. So much space to fill, but with what? Choosing from over 600 varieties of shrubs alone could take an entire summer! But don’t despair—the truth is, designing a great yardscape can be done within one day.

Growing the landscape, however, will take years. There are many aspects to consider: maintenance time, budgets, the presence of pets and children... for a yard that will last a lifetime, you need a long-term garden plan. Think of your yard as a changing, dynamic entity that evolves over time, rather than as a static creation that endures for years without change. As you age and the composition of your family changes, so too should your yard change.

Stage Two: Provide a Framework

I’ve done a lot of landscape designs for newlyweds and new homeowners, and whether they were moving into a new home or an older one, they always seemed to have some common desires: low maintenance, lots of colour, not a lot of lawn, no weeding, no pruning... demands that would make a seasoned gardener chuckle. In response to these suggestions I always want to say “Condos are nice...”

But seriously, the first thing to do is provide a framework for the yard. The first step in building that framework is get the big stuff in! A landscaper and his client have to decide on the best spot for the deck, the patio, a fire pit, pathways, large trees, swingsets, evergreens, and shrubs. Not all of these features will go in at the same time, but you should know where and when you will install them. Keep an eye out for powerlines and other potential obstructions. Map out shade patterns in the yard; that will give you an idea of where to put a shaded bench or the sun-loving annuals. One more tip: don’t pinch pennies when choosing building materials. You’re in this for the long haul, and remember that your return on investment for a well-landscaped yard is large—anywhere from 100-200%! Once you’ve decided where all of this stuff goes and when it’s going in, it’s on to the next stage.

Stage Three: Maintain a Great Lawn and Simple Yard

Some of the homes I visit are “owned” by kids. The parents are there too, of course, but the kids run the show! Keep their habits and needs in mind when growing your yard. Most yards aren’t too complicated at this point—a lot of lawn space is essential to provide ample room for horseplay. For the petunias’ sake, don’t plant between the goal posts! Your main jobs during this period will be mowing, fertilizing, watering, weeding, and pest control—routine tasks. Any plants you put in should be able to withstand a little damage from wayward kites, frisbees, etc.

Stage Four: Time to be Ambitious and Experimental

Once the kids are older (and able to do the mowing), there is generally more time for gardening. That’s a good thing, because this is also the stage where the yard requires more work to really look good—this is where true gardening often begins. The pleasure of weeding your prize rose garden, the amazement at the incredible size of your Atlantic Giant pumpkin, the heartbreak of fire blight on your apple tree...the garden is full of drama! Some grass can be removed to make room for perennial borders and beds, and perhaps a small vegetable garden. It might be a good time to add a gazebo or pond, since the kids are on hand to provide a little extra help. This is the best time for planting annuals—you still have lots of energy and there are plenty of hands around to help water and weed. (All joking aside, I’d always recommend encouraging, not forcing, kids to help in the garden—they’ll be far more enthusiastic if gardening is something they do by choice.)

Stage Five: Reduce the Workload

Soon enough, your babies are off to college, and the annuals have never looked better! It sure helps not having the soccer ball crushing the blossoms. As you struggle to pay the university bills, you might find that you have less time for gardening; annuals may become scarce in the yard, to be found only in pots; perennials continue to grow faithfully in established beds. Your children might be married by now, and they may have figured out that perennials can be divided. When they come knocking for your plants, make a deal—if they do some weeding, you’ll hand over your cuttings.

Stage Six: Relax and Enjoy Gardening

Finally, blissful retirement arrives. Nothing to do but putter around all day in the garden. Most of the “senior gardens” I lay out focus on low maintenance. That means fewer annuals, and perhaps a rock garden (or even a parking stall for the r.v.) in place of the vegetable garden. That deck you built back at stage one sure comes in handy now as you sit back, sipping on mint juleps while admiring your simple, but attractive, garden.

Pond Article

Pond Article

By Christina McDonald

I love water and I adore gardens, so when my family moved from our urban home to our dream acreage in the country, one of our most exciting plans was to build a large water feature that would be the centerpiece of the landscape. (Let me rephrase that – one of my most exciting plans was a large water feature.) My husband, Pierre, who generally is quite tolerant of my gardening schemes (and, believe me, there have been many over the years), was sorely tested by this particular family project.

I eagerly began by purchasing a huge PVC pond liner. Pierre, good sport that he is, agreed to dig the hole for the pond and I gave him my usual clear and concise gardening directions.

“I need a hole, over there, about so-deep, in this shape,” I directed, handing him a not-exactly-to-scale drawing and leaving him to it. When I returned, hours later, a list of pond plants in hand, I realized that something was wrong – very wrong. “Honey, it’s not even close to being deep or wide enough!” I exclaimed, helpfully handing him a cold beer for inspiration, silently asking myself why he chose to dig on a day when the temperatures reached 30º C.

This scenario repeated itself a few times that afternoon, until Pierre, looking the worse for wear, climbed out of the hole, brushed off the clay and stomped over to measure the liner. “This is very large,” he said quietly. “In fact,” his voice growing louder, “ had I known how large, I would have hired a backhoe!”

He persevered; however, returning nightly with the rest of the family to what lovingly came to be known as “the pit”. While Pierre struggled to dig up the seemingly endless sticky clay gumbo, I hauled away heavy wheelbarrows of the stuff and the kids, as they tend to do, got in the way. As the days passed the pit became something of a spectacle, drawing curious onlookers. My parents even arrived, offering words of encouragement. “Aren’t you clever,” my mum admired. “You’re a better man than me,” my dad winced. Pierre, nevertheless, gritted his teeth and forged on. Finally the hole was the right size, the sides sculpted perfectly and shape beautifully defined.

Time passed and something, or more accurately nothing, happened. Did we run out of time, energy or patience? While it is hard to say exactly why, the pit sat untouched for not only the rest of that season, but also for the entire next year.

During this hiatus, the pit took on some unexpected functions. Our two war-mongering boys delighted in using it as a trench, causing the sides to collapse with each grenade launch (you would never know their mother is a pacifist). Our slightly superior teenage daughter used it as a fine example of how adults also start projects they don’t finish. Giant weeds found a happy home and the Northern pocket gophers established an extensive paradise resort.

Eventually, our pit attracted too many uninvited guests and pests, and a little too much scrutiny from family and friends, who had come to expect a certain level of accomplishment from us. Pierre and I, therefore, regrouped, planned and committed ourselves (and our children) to finding the necessary energy to, in Pierre’s words, “finish the damn thing.”

Thinking that the hardest part had already been accomplished, we optimistically gave ourselves a week to gather the necessary rocks and finally fill the pond. After all, we asked ourselves, how hard could it possibly be to gather rocks? I mean, we live in the country and certainly every farmer had a pile of rocks, conveniently hanging about, just asking be adopted by a kindly pond builders. Right?

Not a chance. Instead, we spent countless hours scouring the sun- drenched landscape without finding a single stone larger than a potato. Edging on desperate and our patience at the limit, we finally received a hot tip – rocks were to be had in ditches along a stretch of road about 50 kms from our home. Like vultures we descended, and some 20 trips later we were exhausted, our poor old truck’s axles bowed, and our finances lighter from the $5 a load we bribed paid our sons to help. We had, however, enough rock to get to finally get down to work.

If you’ve used up all your money on cheap child labour and gas, you have to find fun where you can. Moving the rock from our driveway down the steep hill to the pit was, therefore, a satisfying challenge. You see, it is my considered opinion that with the men in my life, as long as you can make a competition out of task, it will be heartedly pursued. To that end, we fashioned a barricade at the bottom of the hill and, like a crew of mighty Olympians, launched the rocks. Some were hurled shot-put style, others were bowled downward, crashing and occasionally bouncing over the barricade to shouts of glee from adults and children alike (including earlier mentioned surly teenage girl).

It was now my turn to place each stone with artistic care around the pond’s ledges. Reason was beginning to stray at this point, and for some reason I got it into my head that I should fill the pond with water as each ledge was finished. This created slippery conditions and of course, I took several less-than- graceful falls, arms flailing and feet skyward, which amused my family, gleefully seated gallery-style in lawn chairs.

When the entire project was finally finished with cattails planted and a pump installed, Pierre and I realized that we hadn’t removed our wedding rings during the rough work and that they were now terribly scratched and slightly misshapen. A year later, our rings are buffed and smoothed by everyday life, and our pond is the centerpiece of the garden, drawing family and guests to watch fish, dragonflies and water striders enjoy the environment our family created together. One morning, as Pierre counted 16 types of birds bathing and splashing about, I asked him if he’d ever build another pond. “Sure!” he replied, “As long as you dig the hole.”