Category Archives: Garden Design

The Evolution of Gardening

By Amy Woodward, Peterborough Master Gardener

Last year I went to the Master Gardener Technical Update at Toronto Botanical Gardens.  One of the keynote speakers was Mark Cullen and he was discussing how Canadian Gardening has evolved.  The way we garden is constantly changing by utilizing small spaces, composting and appreciating insects and the natural environment.

Gardening Spaces

Many in urban areas are limited to the space they can garden in.  There are numerous examples of minimal space gardens such as in apartments, community allotments, rental properties and new homes with smaller yards.  A change in my gardening pattern has been from the old fashion long vegetable rows to square foot gardening.   Mel Bartholomew, creator of square foot gardening, was disenchanted with long rows that took up too much space and involved too much weeding.  He came up with the square foot method of gardening that takes up much less space, less weeding and minimal maintenance.  This method is very popular amongst our Master Gardener Organization and for those short on space.  Other approaches to limited space are container gardening, rooftop gardening and lasagna layering.

Composting

trees-1789120_640
Leaves 1789120 by pixel2013, 2016, used under CC0 1.0

 

Although composting has been around for many years, we have seen changes in the way people compost.  For instance, in the past, leaves were known as a nuisance and people would rake them, bag them and wait for the municipality to pick them up.  Now it is recognized that leaves are a great addition to the compost pile.  Leaves are rich in carbon and balance out nitrogen rich green material.  You can also use leaves as mulch.  Simply rake leaves onto the garden and the leaves will keep the moisture in and weeds out.  Leafs are also used to improve soil texture and encourage earth worms to reside there.

Pollinators

 

nature-3076891_640
Nature 3076891 by hettyvanderzanden, 2015, used under CC0 1.0 

The public is now more educated and interested in how to save native pollinators such as flies, wasps, beetles, birds, butterflies and most importantly bees. Unfortunately, pollinator populations are decreasing.  A number of steps have been adopted to protect pollinators including choosing native plants, planting milkweed, decreasing pesticides and installing insect hotels.  The critical role that pollinators play is why the public is so concerned and methods of gardening are changing.

 

 

Overall, gardening continues to change and evolve.  It will be interesting to see what our future has in store for us.

Got the Winter Road Salt Blues? Some Advice on What to Plant

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener (Twitter @Hey_MzEmma)

It’s an unfortunate reality. We live in Canada and we get snow, lots of snow. And then there’s the ice. So our industrious public works folks are out there putting down road salt (sodium chloride) and sand to keep us moving. We also apply salt or sand on paths and walkways on our property. Unfortunately it seeps into the soil and kills plant roots. Road salt mixed with melted snow creates a mist that blows on to our properties, especially when cars splash through melted snow. Having lost a few very nice plants to a combination of huge snowbanks and road salt, I was curious about what plants can survive (and maybe flourish) in a front garden that inevitably gets doused in road salt.

What Does Road Salt Do?

The negative effects of road salt on humans and the natural environment have been well documented. The Smithsonian magazine has two great articles on the subject.
The Hidden Dangers of Road Salt  What Happens to All the Salt We Dump on the Roads? 

Road salt doesn’t just dissolve into thin air. It splits into sodium and chloride ions and gets absorbed into roadside plants, licked up by wildlife or accumulates in aquatic ecosystems—sometimes with devastating consequences. All that saltiness can help invasive or even toxic species spread, not to mention increase traffic danger due to deer and moose drawn to salt-covered roads. (From a gardening perspective, if you want to deep dive into the nasty things that happen to soil structure from salts, this article by the Soil Science Society of America provides some great insight.)

salting truck

What Perennials Can Handle Road Salt?

Our Savvy Gardening friend Tara Nolan (@ThatTaraNolan) (who you may remember as a speaker from our 2017 Peterborough Garden Show) recently posted a great blog post on how we can combat the road salt challenge in our gardens.

Salt-tolerant Plants that will Survive in Road Salt-laced Soil

So what are some of Tara’s favourites salt-resistant plants?

Autumn Joy Stonecrop (Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)
Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Columbine (Aquilegia)
‘Karl Foerster’ reed grass (Calmagrostis acutifolia ‘Karl Foerster’)
Silver mound Artemisia (Artemisia schmidtiana Silver Mound)

IMG_4946
Gaillardia
100-0046_IMG
Autumn Joy Stonecrop

Some other ones I found doing an Internet search:

Rugosa roses (Rosa rugosa)
Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris)
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)
Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
Daylilies (Hemerocallis)
Catmint (Nepeta)

So, if your garden is looking less than wonderful due to winter salt damage, try some of these options!

IMG_0841
Daylilies

Building Natural Ponds by Robert Pavlis

Book Review by Cheryl Harrison

8dd21-building2bnatural2bponds2bbook

What does the dedicated gardener do on cold Canadian winter days? Read gardening books and day dream, of course!
Santa brought me “Building Natural Ponds”(ISBN 978-0-86571-845-6) by Robert Pavlis. Mr. Pavlis is an experienced Master Gardener. He owns and developed an extensive botanical garden. He is a speaker, teacher, writer and blogger.
We have two ponds on our large rural property. Both are natural ponds. The previous books that I have read about creating and maintaining gardening ponds usually talk about pumps, filters and chemicals. They talk about the need to clean your pond regularly, what to plant and how to care for your fish. All of this requires lots of effort….seems like not much time to enjoy your pond when coupled with all of the other usual garden chores.
“Building Natural Ponds”, although a small book, takes the reader from the pond ecosystem and environmental benefits, through planning, pond design and building to fish, plants and maintenance. There is even a short chapter on “pools, bogs and rain gardens”. I was able to easily follow the pond building process and with the diagrams and photos included in the book, I could picture each step. I could also imagine how the information can be applied to our current ponds. For example, Mr. Pavlis talks about algae. He eloquently explains the science around the balance needed to ensure that algae growth is controlled. The book is also indexed and includes a list of helpful references.
My only very small criticism would be that not all the pictures are in colour. The colour pictures that are included, are lovely and do contribute to successful day dreaming!
I would recommend “Building Natural Ponds” by Robert Pavlis to anyone considering a future pond build, to anyone who would like to learn more about their current pond or just to anyone who likes to learn and dream gardening!

After Bloom Care Of Spring Bulbs

by Deb Gordon

Nothing signals the rebirth of a garden more to a gardener than the first splash of colour from spring bulbs. The fresh green colour of their leaves and their colourful palette of blooms are a welcomed sign of the departure of winter and the awakening of life in the garden with all the hope and expectations that they may bring. Be it tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, grape hyacinths or alliums these early bloomers all have one thing in common. They are all true bulbs and being so means their continued lives depend on letting them become dormant through the cold winter, allowing them to bloom in the spring and die back naturally in order to complete their life cycle. This ensures the bulb’s good health so it has the ability to endure freezing temperatures throughout the winter, produce optimum blooms for the gardener to enjoy the following spring and continue to do so for years to come.

The only drawback for growing these bulbs is waiting for the leaves to die back. Unfortunately it takes weeks for their leaves to wither and die. Especially with larger leaved bulbs like tulips and daffodils, the appearance of their dying foliage, long after the blooms drop or fade, can detract from the beauty of an early summer garden. Premature removal of the foliage is tempting in order to keep the garden neat and tidy however there are consequences to doing so. Take tulips for example. They grow and bloom using the food that they have stored in their bulbs from the previous year. Once this food is spent, the bloom drops and the foliage starts to die. During this post-bloom phase, the leaves, through photosynthesis, produce the food that is stored in the bulb to enable it to survive the winter and grow and bloom in the spring. Photosynthesis is a process where the energy in sunlight is harnessed and used to convert carbon, oxygen and water into sugars. Because leaves of all plants are the primary location for photosynthesis to occur, cutting off the leaves prematurely deprives the plant of the ability to restore the energy in the bulb for its future healthy growth and its production of those beautiful blooms.
So what are some of the options for a gardener to choose in order to keep a  more pristine-looking garden?
When blooms start to fade and petals drop, tidying up the garden at this time is easily accomplished by cutting off the stems of the flower. This will still allow the leaves to continue to absorb the sun’s rays. The time is right to remove the leaves once they have withered, turned brown and can be tugged gently away from the bulb. Wait another week or two if they are not separating from the bulb easily.
The following suggestions may help to avoid the distraction of the dying foliage.
  • Dig up the bulbs and replant new ones in the fall. This can be costly in time and money. This is done routinely in publicly sponsored gardens.
  • Transplant the tulips post-bloom to another bed to live out the foliages’ dying days then replant the bulbs in the fall. This requires an extra bed just for this purpose.
  • Choose a variety that have narrower leaves which might be less distracting.
  • Conceal the withering leaves.
Strategic planting of the right combination of perennials around your bulbs may be the answer to successfully camouflaging the unsightly foliage while still allowing them to complete the restoration of energy in the bulb undisturbed for next year’s growth. Annuals and summer blooming bulbs are also other options. When choosing perennials to use, consider the rate at which the plant matures. You want the bulb to be centre stage while it’s in full bloom, the perennial just starting to appear above ground and then mature as the tulip leaves start to yellow and wither.
Although the rate of maturity is important, also consider foliage type, colour, and bloom times when choosing these perennial plants.
Hostas, tall drooping grasses, and taller ground covers are examples of perennials that are idea lfor concealing a tulip’s dying foliage. Remember that placement is key. If you are planting bulbs in the fall around hostas, make sure you plant the bulb just inside the dripline of the hosta just under the leaves. Bulbs go in front of the drooping grasses.
There are combinations of perennials listed at Cornell University’s website.
Researchers at Cornell University actually tested and listed plant combinations to see which were successful at looking good and growing well together. They have great photos of these plants and bulbs at different stages of their growth.
Just remember to check the hardiness zone and growing conditions of some of the suggested plants (if choosing) to ensure they will grow in your zone and growing conditions. The research took place in Ithaca, New York with a USA hardiness zone of 5.
If you’ve been discouraged from growing or adding more spring blooming bulbs to your garden due to the lingering foliage that never seems to go away, these suggestions will hopefully encourage you to do so. The early visual impact is rewarding and will trigger feelings of hope and excitement of the wonderful things to come.

Making a New Flower Bed – the Easier Way

 

by Dianne Westlake, Master Gardener


Perhaps the easiest way to make a new flowerbed involves no digging or turf removal. In addition to using less physical effort, this method provides a healthy environment for growing beautiful plants. The soil is fertile with the added bonus of improved drainage.

Lay out the perimeter of the new bed using a garden hose. Water the area well or wait until Mother Nature provides the necessary moisture. The next step provides a biodegradable barrier for weeds and grass using a layer of newspaper (6 to 10 sheets thick.) Do not use the shiny coloured advertising flyers for this purpose. (This is a good way to use some of those newspapers that you are setting out in the recycling bin each week.) To keep the paper from blowing around while you work, sprayed with water or anchored with soil. Uncoated corrugated cardboard can be used instead. This material works as well and does not blow around as easily.

Next add a layer of topsoil or triple mix to a depth of four to six inches followed by a layer of compost (three to four inches). The compost layer suppresses the weed seeds that can be present in the soil layer. While compost does a good job, other organic mulches should work as well. What is needed is a weed-free source of organic material. Cost and availability are important concerns. Compost in the quantity required for this type of project, is available through the City of Peterborough, Waste Management Department. Delivery can be arranged within the city or the county. Smaller quantities are available at the Ecology Park.

Water well and allow the layers to settle for a few weeks if possible. However, if need be, the beds can be planted immediately. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball, back fill, firm the soil, water and replace the compost layer. Monitor the amount of settling regularly to ensure that the root ball does not become exposed. Add a top dressing of compost if necessary. Water the new plantings regularly until the planting is established. The layer of newspaper or cardboard and the grass or weeds will rot within a few months, adding to the friability and fertility of the soil.

If you have the luxury of time, leaves (or manure) can be layered with soil on the newspaper or cardboard in the fall and allowed to decompose over the winter. Keep in mind that excess amounts of decomposing fresh organic material may deplete the nitrogen in the garden. In the spring, plant the bed and spread mulch over the surface.

Following this method will result is a raised bed that will warm earlier in spring and provide excellent drainage. An annual top dressing with compost feeds the soil and prevents germination of seeds of both self-seeding flowers and weeds. Earthworms will take the organic plant material down in the bed where the roots can make use of the nutrients.

Previously published in the Peterborough Examiner.