Time in the garden: saving it, savouring
Over the last century Calgary gardeners have learned of problems with, for example, Manitoba maples and caragana (prolific seeds), variegated goutweed (roots difficult to remove), and ribbon grass (rhizomes too successful). An awareness of problems like these can reduce maintenance time if we are ruthless and plan ahead. Four hours per week on a hobby is great, but if three hours are needed to pick dandelions and/or chick weed, that is simply a pain. Mulch, including fall leaves, will make weeding easier: natural forests don’t have anyone to rake up their leaves, and they’re successful!
The following resolutions should make our lives easier.
1. Work with nature, don’t fight it: use locally grown and preferably native plants - and exchange healthy, well-behaved plants with friends. Plants need to be tolerant of hale, wind, drought, frost, disease and pests. Use Zone 3 hardy plants to improve your success rate. Our growing season is short: buy mature plants in the spring if you can. Fall acquisitions can be worthwhile, but the plants can be root-bound from nurseries and will have little time for root establishment if we get an early penetrating frost. Make sure there is time for germination and development of any seeds you buy.
2. Thick hedges, walls and fences protect plants: walled gardens in Europe have been shown to produce better crops at least partly because of heat retention.
3. Avoid plants that need staking and beware of vigorous self-seeders and highly invasive plants.
4. Avoid trees and shrubs that sucker too much. Be ruthless when pruning: avoid taking twigs off piecemeal … be courageous, and use sharp tools. There have been huge advances in the Prairie-hardy roses, so try them: they require little pruning. Ever tried identical shrubs in the same place two years running that did not survive? Use a “One strike and you’re out” rule!
5. Be ruthless with aphids and intolerant of annual and perennial weeds (exercise your thumb and fore-finger where feasible).
6. Avoid acid loving plants: improve your soil where necessary, and use a slow-release fertilizer.
7. Reduce the number of varieties of plants to give more impact and permit easier maintenance. Use annuals as fillers where and when required.
8. Limit the number of edges to your lawn: look at your lawn area to edge ratio: a simple medium size lawns require about 50% less edging effort than does two lawns of similar area with three or four isolated trees and borders with peninsular appendages. Don’t fight shady areas too difficult for grass, and leave clover in your lawn as it’s a self-fertilising ground cover. Leave worms alone, they aerate the soil, eliminating the need for costly, unsightly and messy cored plugs of soil. Use bricks, pavers, stone, or cement in areas that take a lot of foot traffic.
9. When you’re reasonably satisfied with your garden design, install an irrigation system, this saves time, and ultimately cost and wasted, fluoridated, water: place water butts, composters and hanging baskets in optimum locations.
10. Wake up, smell the coffee, add the grounds to the soil … and then smell the roses!
Glynn Wright (who has spent too much time weeding on two continents!)
May 7, 2008.
Suggested reading: Hayward, G. and Hayward, M., Tending your garden. 2007.