The path to a great looking garden begins in your head. Let us guide you into a dreamland that can lead you to a real-life gardening experience that you had previously not dreamt possible.
- Learn from your experience with nature. This past summer, Mark was weeding his 10-acre garden and was just about to yank out a milkweed plant that was growing in the middle of a path when he saw a caterpillar munching on the foliage. Not just any caterpillar, but a Monarch butterfly caterpillar. He stopped, observed for a while and took a video of it to show his grandchildren. That is nature experienced first-hand.
There are countless moments like this every day in the garden, when we slow down to take it all in. We don’t have to go to a mountaintop to experience the miracles of the natural world that surrounds us. Sometimes they are right beneath our feet.
- Start small and enjoy the ride. We have planted countless plants in our collective experience and if we have learned one thing, it is the value of being patient.
Take small starter plants for example. No need to plant a tomato from a one-gallon pot that you paid upwards of $10 for. You can plant a small one that will “catch up” to the ready-made giant in a few weeks, often for about 40 cents or less per plant.
Also true for trees. Rather than lugging home a monster tree, try planting a younger teenaged tree. They are full of vigour and they are anxious to live: to grow and mature in your yard. In time, the youngster will meet and surpass the stature of the more mature tree as it is better equipped to recover from the transplant stress.
- Bring on the pollinators. If there is a massive trend in Canadian gardening that straddles every age group, it is our desire to be good to the environment.
The best way to do that, as a gardener, is to plant pollinator flowers. There are thousands to choose from. If you are in a quandary of where to start, consider the vast selection of native plants, many of which are natural pollinators when shopping for plants this spring. There are over 270 native bee species in Canada, plus moths, butterflies, hummingbirds and even songbirds that help to make the natural world go around.
- Bird Haven. Is there a gardener out there who does not enjoy watching birds, especially this time of year? Thought so. Create a plan that attracts birds year-round. Songbirds enjoy plants that produce lots of seeds, like echinacea and rudbeckia. Fruiting shrubs like Serviceberry and American Cranberry also attract birds. Leave seed heads of perennials standing all winter long to add bird activity this time of year.
Consider putting out a bird feeder now, if you haven’t already. Suet provides lots of carbohydrates for woodpeckers, which they crave in cold temperatures.
- What not to do. Don’t use chemicals in your garden. Not that many are available on the retail market anyway. The point really is to be patient (there’s a theme) and let Mother Nature take care of insects that can otherwise be a problem. Songbirds and hummingbirds love aphids, as do ladybugs. Tent caterpillars are a buffet for foraging robins. Sometimes you just have to wait for the natural predators of so-called pests to discover that you are deferring it to them.
Don’t rush. Take your time. When you slow down, your powers of observation take over and you discover all kinds of life in your garden that you were not aware of before.
Think of this: in every handful of good soil there are over four billion living micro-organisms. Four billion! With that quantity of life in the palm of your hand, just imagine what you can see and enjoy from your garden bench. Dream big and dream on.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at markcullen.com, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.