Category Archives: Information

Permaculture: Where do I start?

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

So what do gardeners do in the winter? Once we’ve read all our seed magazines and compiled our purchasing lists, or designed new or changes to existing perennial beds, or decided on our vegetable crop rotation for the upcoming season, or read a new gardening book, or watched some gardening videos or TED talks, or found ourselves in the middle of taking a gardening course, what next? Personally, once I’ve exhausted all these possibilities, I tend to reread my favourite gardening books. I have an incredibly bad memory and find it really helps me when I reread the same books over and over; hoping eventually something will sink in. My books to reread this year are both permaculture-related: Toby Hemingway’s “Gaia’s Garden” and Rosemary Morrow’s “Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture”.

When I first became interested in permaculture a number of years ago, I started reading books and watching videos by the two founders, Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The concept, ethics, and principles resonated with me, but I have to admit that I struggled based on the literature available at that time, to understand how to translate this into my own Canadian garden. It was not until a couple of years later that I attended a couple of local permaculture design courses and read the book by Toby Hemingway who focuses on North American gardens, that I felt confident enough to bring some of those concepts and methods into my home garden

As I mentioned in my last blog, permaculture is a design system, a set of guidelines, principles and practices for sustainable living and land use, working with nature in a continuous cycle that benefits both people and wildlife. As with anything new or overwhelming, it is easy to be deterred by the big picture.  Instead, focus on smaller ideas or concepts. If you start implementing smaller more manageable tasks, it will give you confidence to tackle the larger concepts.

The following are a few easy-to-implement permaculture techniques to get you started:

  1. Sheet mulching. This was actually the first group activity I performed in my first design course.  It can also be called lasagna gardening. Permaculture encompasses a no-dig philosophy focusing on building soil life. Sheet mulching allows you to create new beds whilst eliminating weeds and building up the health of the soil. It is also a lot healthier on your back. You simply lay a heavy layer of newspaper or cardboard over the area and top it with 12 inches or so of organic mulch.
  2. Keyhole garden beds. Keyhole beds are often used in permaculture because they maximize use of space, whilst building soil fertility.  They decrease irrigation needs and are easy to plant, harvest and maintain. The bed can be either raised or not, and is often created in a circular pattern which decreases the space required for paths and increases space for plants. This type of bed is most often used for growing herbs & vegetables and because of the circular design, plants with different growing requirements can be planted together often creating different microclimates. For more information: https://permaculturefoodforest.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/keyhole-gardens/
  3. Creating gardening communities or guilds. In permaculture, a guild can be defined as a grouping of plants, trees, animals and insects that work together protecting their health, habitat and productivity. Probably one of the most familiar guilds is the Three Sisters Guild in which squash, corn and beans are grown together; each one supporting and benefiting the others. The beans grow up the corn and provide nitrogen, whilst the squash mulches and covers the soil. In my last garden, I grew apple tree guilds, surrounding each apple tree with daffodils in the spring (deter predators from chewing bark), comfrey and yarrow, and herbs such as dill & fennel along with chives & onions.
  4. Multiple stories or forest gardens. As an avid gardener and someone who has difficulty saying ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to plants–and also the owner of a small city garden–this technique is one I am especially interested in. The idea is that a garden can have multiple stories or layers; from a low herb or ground cover layer up to perennials, shrubs, small trees and finally the canopy trees. The plants in each layer combine and support each other to create and maintain a healthy ecosystem.
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Vegetable garden incorporating annuals and perennials

Permaculture is much more than the simple examples I have given.  It can encompass everything from designing landscapes and buildings, to water and waste management. The benefits for me include enriching the land, feeding and providing habitat, growing food for my family, and giving me somewhere to unwind and feel good about life. However, I am omitting one very important benefit for myself–by incorporating some permaculture practices into my garden, the garden tends to look after itself much more with less interference and work for me!

Gardening Resolutions for A New Year

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

As this decade comes to a close, I like to think that I over the past ten years that have learned some things about gardening. And with that in mind, I’ve set a few New Year’s resolutions to guide me through this next year (and decade).

1. Be Better at Cleaning My Tools

I have some great tools – my Felco #12 secateurs/pruners (several pairs), my delightful drain spade, and my Japanese hori hori knife. But I am neglectful and do not clean these well during the season and especially at the end of the gardening year. My resolution to improve my tool maintenance for next year. Some guidance here and here.

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2. Make a Plan

I was basically back to square one in my garden a few years ago after a major house renovation. Since then we have installed some hardscaping and I have tried to replan my gardens. I’m 15 years older than when I first did my gardens, so my plan needs to take into account my aging and energy level, so I have eliminated those fussy perennials and focused more on a garden built on flowering shrubs that are lower maintenance. But I don’t have a plan, and my engineer husband keeps saying “where’s the plan?”. So my resolution is to spend this January laying out a plan for spring, rather than just going with my gut.

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3. Don’t Order Too Many Seeds

This will be a tough one. After all who hasn’t looked out their window in January at the snowy landscape while reviewing seed catalogues and dreaming of a perfect garden? The diversity available via seed companies is just astonishing these days, and it’s nice to grow something that your friends don’t have and that you can keep seed for the next year! But we all tend to indulge and over purchase, so my resolution is to have a specific place for any seeds that I order (see previous note for a plan), and to test all the existing seeds I have for viability like this.

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4. Share my Knowledge and Start a Blog

While I write a blog for the Peterborough Master Gardeners on a regular basis, I’d like to start a garden blog of my own. The challenge? Just finding the time when I work full time and write for a living. My resolution is to spend January getting a basic blog set up, and then to try and write once a week starting in February. I’ll share a link once it’s up and running, and you can all hold me to task for getting it off the ground. The great part is there is lots of good advice on how to start a blog out there.

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Create a Holistic Garden

I am passionate that my garden should be more than just beautiful flowers – it should be a wonderful habitat for birds and bugs and critters and pollinators, and everything in between. I want to know that I am making a difference that contributes to supporting our local ecology and habitat. My resolution is to continue focusing on this as I re-establish my garden, and share my knowledge with others so that we can all make a difference.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and a wonderful 2020 gardening season, wherever you may be.

GDD

Falling in Love with Lilies

By Mary Jane Parker, Master Gardener

Many years ago, while driving down Water Street in Lakefield, I was stopped in my tracks by a garden full of 7 to 8 foot tall trumpet lilies in every colour shade imaginable. I stopped many times to admire them and talked to the gentleman that owned the garden. He urged me to join the North American Lily Society (NALS). So began my love affair with the genus lilium.

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Lilium Michiganense

I have been a NALS member since at least 2005. I firmly believe that belonging to a specialist group is the best way to learn about a genus. Four times a year a newsletter is sent out with articles about current research, amazing new cultivars and important people.

But best of all, NALS has an amazing seed exchange. I have ordered and received seed annually from countries all over the world.

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Lilium Martagon

This coming year, for the first time that I can remember, the NALS annual meeting is being held at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington from July 8th to 12th. I am so excited because I will get to meet some of the people I’ve only ready about from all over the world and play host to such an amazing group of people. I will be able to participate in 5 days of exciting events: a lily bulb auction, various garden tours and seminars among other events.

For more info click HERE.

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Lilium Regale