Sunday, 2 June 2013

My Gardening History


When I was a kid, I desperately wanted to learn how to garden.  My mom single-handedly landscaped our yard.  When she was done with it, the backyard had a huge deck, a playhouse, a strawberry bed, a raspberry bed, two apple trees, a garden shed (painted to look like cottage), and a big play house.

My one foray into learning how to garden happened when my mom let me have one of the planter boxes on the deck.  It was 18 inches tall, 12 inches deep, and about 4 feet long.  I decided to plant irises and sunflowers.  I was about 10 years old and had no clue about anything.For my efforts, I got one iris flower, and three "Giant" sunflowers.  They were about a foot tall and looked more like daisies.

Then there was that year I help my best friend's family to plant a huge vegetable garden on their acreage.  The rows had to be perfectly straight.  Don't step on the rows!  And don't put in too many seeds!  I was planting carrots, and it was a little too finicky for my childish sensibilities.  I'd have the patience for it now, but I didn't understand the reasons for it at the time and just wanted to go play.

My next attempt came once my husband-of-one-year and I moved into our second apartment.  It was ground floor and had a little patch of dirt beside the patio.  I knew it was hot and dry and sunny, so I naively ventured to the garden centre and bought portulaca, daisies, and a few other things that said "full sun".  I planted them, watered them, and then left them alone.  I didn't realize that although the plants could tolerate dry conditions, they still needed to be watered daily until they were established.

That summer I helped a friend plant some impatiens and daisies, and learned the proper way to do so.  Her mom also told me about watering every day.  My nanny gave me some snow-in-summer, which became my very first gardening success!

The following spring I tried starting seeds...which completely failed.  I still haven't figured out how to do that successfully.  I'm always so tempted by the pretty little seed packets, but inevitably all the seedlings die after about a week of hoping.  Too much water?  Too little water?  Not enough sun?  I don't know.


Then we moved to our townhouse and I learned to love shade gardens.  I fell in love with bleeding hearts, ferns, hostas, etc.  It was at this house that I learned a little about landscaping.  When we moved in, there was a zero-maintenance back yard.  Landscape fabric everywhere, with a pretty purple tree, red lava rocks forming an impractical and uncomfortable patio of sorts, and small shrubs and evergreens dotting a half-moon bed full of bark mulch.  So I ripped out all the landscape fabric and put down a patio.  I loved that little patio, even though it was uneven and I had no clue what I was doing.  I used a circular patio kit, and filled in path areas with zigzag bricks that had been in a 5-foot wide strip along the house.

I also planted bulbs for the first time in that house.  The little front yard under the hawthorn tree became a riot of red, orange, and purple in the springtime.  We had a huge problem with slugs the last summer we were there.  I tried the slug trap using beer, and it only seemed to attract hundreds more slugs.

I was so sad to leave that garden behind.  Back to full sun at this house!  But at least I've learned to appreciate well-placed landscape fabric.

At this house I have learned so much more about gardening.  I started with one bed at the front of the house containing two dogwoods and two diablo ninebark shrubs.  I couldn't wait to rip most of those out!  I moved the diablo ninebark to the side of the house, and they're still recovering from my inexpert haphazard transplant.  One of the dogwoods wasn't doing well anyway, so I didn't replant it.  My friend Deb gave me some free plants: a gorgeous white peony, some orange daylilies, monkshood, and another unknown but pretty plant.  That first spring I bought some bachelor's button and irises at a garage sale.  All are thriving!  In fact, I'm ready to giveaway some plants for the first time ever.

I've also tried my hand at vegetable gardening.  My grandma-in-law Eleanore usually gives me her extra tomato plants that she starts from seed, and my husband usually requests that we grow peas.  We've also tried carrots and popcorn, and last year I had an herb garden.  My chives are thriving, and--surprise!--the oregano actually survived the winter and is slowly coming back.


In the four years we've been here, I've tried various methods of creating new flower beds.

  1. Removing the sod: Effective, few weeds, but hard work.  Lucky for me, my husband did the biggest one while I was pregnant.
  2. Laying down newspaper on the grass, and covering it with soil: Best idea ever!  I needed to use more dirt though.  The only weed I get in that garden, aside from one or two dandelions and thistles, is grass from seeding the lawn.
  3. Digging up the sod and flipping it over the the fall, hoping it will decompose by spring:  Not recommended.  I'm still pulling grass clods out of those gardens, and have yet to make them look pretty.  I think they'll get landscape fabric and mulch this year.
  4. I'd love to know of any methods that have worked for you!
This I still need to learn at this house:
  1. How to care for a lawn.  We've got dandelions everywhere, and I blame it on last year's aeration.  But at least our immediate neighbours take care of their lawns.  A good third of the lawns in our neighbourhood haven't yet been mowed this year, and are now sending dandelion seeds everywhere.
  2. Garden design.  Thanks to Heather, I'm learning.
  3. How to find good deals on plants.  It wasn't 'til today that I thought of looking for plant swaps/sales, and turns out they all happened last week.  Oh well.
The more I do in this yard, the more attached I become.  I think it will be harder to leave this garden than it was to leave the last one (especially since I just planted a lilac under the kitchen window where I've always wanted one).  At least in the next garden I won't make quite so many mistakes, and I'll learn even more.  By the time I'm 80, I should be an expert.  I am so grateful to all those who have shared their knowledge, their plants, and their gardens with me. (Mom, Ashley, Dianne, Debbie, Deb, Nora, Eleanore, Heather, and I'm sure others that I am forgetting).

Crocuses and Snowdrops in Eleanore's garden.


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