Canada’s favourite gardeners share their plans for summer

After a harsh Canadian winter, the return of spring is always a gift – and this year the gift feels especially precious. The determined blooms of the Siberian squill and the sunny faces of the daffodils remind us that time flies and beauty endures. It seems that both seasoned green thumbs who may be considering converting their entire front yard into a garden and those who are just learning the inherent joy of sowing are inspired by horticulture – perhaps because gardening gives us a minimum of control offers that we are so desperately looking for right now.

I’ve dreamed of what I would like to do my garden to make it even more welcoming this summer, and that made me wonder what Canada’s gardening experts are up to. They told me that.

Mark Cullen, gardening expert / columnist

MC: I’m moving from a 10 acre garden to a one acre garden this year. With many cherished perennials in my current garden, I am digging and dividing much of the spring to get the most of it. Hostas, Bee Balm (Monarda), Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) to name just three are poached in the most beautiful way. Not only are these plants mature and of excellent quality, but I also save a fortune by not having to buy them new.

I’m also working on building a new flower shed, installing insect hotels, bird nesting boxes and arbors – not to mention creating a plan for vegetables, fruits, ornamental trees, a natural play garden for children and a water feature.

Left to right: Hostas, Black-Eyed Susan, Bee Balm (Credit: iStock / Getty Images)

Ben Cullen, gardening expert / columnist (and Mark’s son!)

BC: We live in a rented house in Guelph, Ontario, and last year the landlord gave me permission to grow two oak trees – a red oak and a bur oak. The trees I planted were bare-root, two-year-old trees, about the size of your big toe – but I’m excited to see how they establish themselves this summer. Seeing them spread out will be a great pleasure. I chose native oak trees because we learned how they support hundreds of species of insects and caterpillars, which in turn support the birds. My wife and I are now starting our seeds too – this year we’re going to be using more paste tomatoes for canning as we’ve found we just can’t eat them fast enough when they are in season. Also, a friend recently gave us seeds for the Palestinian Molokhia (Corchorus olitorius), a fertile leafy green similar to spinach and related to okra. Most of my floral additions will be from friends – our master gardener friends are generous in sharing their perennials with us tenants (and I’ll see what I can steal during the downsizing of Dad’s apartment too).

Red Oak and Bur Oak (Credit: iStock / Getty Images)

Frank Ferragine AKA “Frankie Flowers”, gardening expert / author

FF: This summer I’m looking forward to motivating even more people to garden through my personal garden project called “Elevated Eats”. Elevated Eats is an urban test farm that aims to improve people’s knowledge of growing food while improving food choices for Canada’s hungry people by donating the groceries that are grown. Located in the Yorkdale shopping center, people of all ages can volunteer and learn more about our “milk box farm system”, which successfully grows over 30 types of vegetables, including cucumber, chard, kale, eggplant and lettuce B. Herbs such as basil, chives, Mint, rosemary and thyme. And the best part is that we were able to donate this fresh bounty to food banks for three seasons in a row! We’ve also created a free, full training plan so new gardeners can find all the information they need to get inspired. Like many gardeners, I’m really looking forward to getting my hands dirty this year.

(Source: Frankie Flowers)

Carson Arthur, Landscaper / Television Personality

CA: With all that extra time, I’ve made a list of the projects I want to get done – including tackling the “ugly spot” in my yard. Now I can absolutely admit that I have that one stain that I’m not proud of and this is spring to mend it! If you have one of these spots on your property, possibly in the back yard between you and the neighbor, or near the storage shed, it may be time to do something about it. Here are my simple solutions for those neglected spaces.

Add something special. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Give a focal point to a space that has no visual appeal. The challenge is that the visual interest can’t be too big. Now let me explain; For most of us, there is a valid reason these spots in our yard aren’t where we often spend time, so adding a “wow factor” to them may not be the best solution.

Plants in these rooms must be low-maintenance. Unfortunately, I have a bad habit of putting plants that don’t have a home in these places in my garden. If you are uninspired by a piece in your yard, there is a simple trick. Go to a garden center and get a flowering perennial with medium to large leaves that is in bloom. Add perennial grass and a dark-leaved shrub to the shopping cart. This combination is my first choice when I need to add pop to a room.

Every room in the courtyard has the potential to be something special. You just have to get inspired!

(Source: Carson Arthur) (Source: Carson Arthur)

Marjorie Harris, Plant and Garden Consultant

MH: Gardeners think long term and with that spirit I look forward to seeing one of my favorite recent projects mature this summer. No matter how old you are, if you love getting your hands dirty, raised beds will benefit you. For the aging gardener who may find it more difficult to stoop and stoop, it is the ideal place to gather all of the special plants you may have scattered around the garden.

So that I can age well in the garden, I decided on a large raised bed (3 meters by 1.2 meters by 1 meter high) to hold my collection of dwarf plants. The choice of location was easy. I chose a spot with as much sun as possible and near a bench where I could sit and admire the plants.

“Dwarf” is a mysterious term that can refer to a plant that is a few inches to five meters high. So be careful what you choose and only buy from a reliable nursery or you could plant something that will grow a lot bigger than you expected. Mine came from Vineland Nurseries and I got ironclad guarantees that if these plants survived they would be small. I also put them in the main garden for a couple of years so I could watch them and gauge what to expect.

Back: Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’ (must be kept bonsaed so that it does not overwhelm the plants in front); Left: Acer palmatum ‘Beni Komachi’; Right: Acer palmatum ‘Veridis’; Foreground: Acer palmatum ‘Mikawa Yatsubusa’; Chamaecyparis ‘Bridget’ (under the Japanese maple); Pinus Mugo ‘Mitsch Mini’; Tsuga ‘Popaleuski’. (Source: Marjorie Harris)

You need good soil with excellent drainage for every raised bed – a mixture of black topsoil, compost and sand has proven itself for me (75 percent soil plus 12.5 percent for the other two). I fill up compost and add some Epsom salt for phosphorus and nitrogen about once a year (4 liters of water mixed with 2 tablespoons of Epsom salt applied immediately). Compost keeps this soil healthy. I was mulching with rocks when the squirrels figured out how fun this bed was, and added sharp, thorny pieces of rose cuttings to keep other attempted looters at bay.

My raised bed is quite large, but almost any size will work – just never pinch a lot of plants. Overcrowding means you cannot appreciate the quality of the plants, and that is what this project is about – an intense relationship with each plant.

Jon L. Peter, Plant Record Curator and Manager, Royal Botanical Gardens

As the tree buds swell and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) peak under the canopy of my morning sequoia (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), I begin to ponder the joys of my home garden to come.

One neglected blemish on my property is the gutter that runs between my neighbor’s fence and my sidewalk. For five years this area between our houses has developed into a planting bed with some of my shade-loving favorites – bishop’s hat (Epimedium lishihchenii), large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) and false anemone (Anemonella macrophylla), on a sidewalk under construction with metal edges, a new one Gate and an adjacent fence. Aside from the incline for the sidewalk being raised slightly, this drainage trough has remained turf grass and is difficult to maintain. It’s an awkward corner that my lawnmower doesn’t quite live up to and it’s time for a change.

(Source: Jon L. Peter)

My plan is to get rid of the turf grass in this hollow and replace the lawn with crops that will thrive in this “rain garden” situation where conditions fluctuate between wet and dry.

I wanted to approach this project herbicide free so my first step was to shave the lawn with a string trimmer to deplete as much energy as possible. Next, I raked some leaves that had gathered in the corners of my garden beds and stacked those leaves over the scalped lawn area. The leaves form a mat that does not let light on the soil surface and stifles any growth.

(Source: Jon L. Peter)

Next, I used branches that had recently been pruned from my Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) and the conifer branches that were in my winter container displays to rest on the leaves. This will ensure that everything is held in place. I will repeat this process the entire length of this area until there is all of usable garden space.

After a month or two, the turf grass suffocates and I can remove most of the debris, cultivate the soil lightly and incorporate some of the organic matter, and then plant the species I want. I’m particularly pleased to have grown Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus) from seed, so I have some annual seedlings to transplant in this location. I’m also excited to plant Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum) and one of my favorite novelties, Letterman’s Ironweed (Vernonia lettermanii or ‘Iron Butterfly’). Both perennial species along with many other natives, near-natives and nativars will thrive in this renovated drainage basin and the planting will help reduce surface runoff, increase groundwater storage and require much less maintenance than the previous arrangement.

These interviews were edited and condensed.

Portia Corman is the executive producer on CBC Life.

Comments are closed.