Category Archives: Native Plants

Book Reviews: “Bringing Nature Home”, “Nature’s Best Hope” and “The Living Landscape”

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

Are you concerned about the natural world? Do you want to know what you, one person, one gardener, can do?

Douglas W. Tallamy is Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware, USA. In 2007, Mr. Tallamy’s book, “Bringing Nature Home”, was published. It has been updated and expanded several times since then but his message has remained the same:

Plants are not optional on this planet. With few exceptions, neither we, nor anything else, can live without them.”

Plants, through photosynthesis, take energy from the sun and turn it into food. Only plants can do this, we can’t and we, like all other creatures, depend on plants for our energy in order to survive. Mr. Tallamy explains the reliance that exists between the diversity of animal species and the diversity of plants. He explains the damage we are causing with our large lawns and our ornamental trees, shrubs and garden plants. Mr. Tallamy explains what one person, one gardener, can do and why we must. “Bringing Nature Home” is a beautiful book. Its language is compelling, its photos inspiring, and by the end, you will want to tear out your ornamental garden and plant all native plants! Or, at least look at your garden and re-evaluate and elevate what you are trying to achieve…..a pretty garden just won’t cut it anymore.

“The Living Landscape”, published in 2014, and written by Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy, again explains why, then how, to develop home gardens that are ecologically sound but beautiful and that meet our other land use needs (eg. vegetable garden, kids and dogs play area). They help us to also understand that, by using native plants, we will make a “layered landscape” that supports diverse wildlife and a healthy ecosystem. They provide beautiful photos to show us what can be achieved followed by detailed information to tell us exactly how to achieve it.

In 2019, “Nature’s Best Hope” by Douglas W. Tallamy was released. In this book, Mr. Tallamy tries again to not only inspire us but to also unite us in his vision of “a homegrown national park.” At first, I was disappointed with this book….ho hum, more of the same with fewer, and less dynamic, photos. Mr. Tallamy does explain again why we must start living on the earth in a way that is sustainable. However, with this book, he proves to us that we can do this because we want to and not because we feel we are forced to. We can create biological systems in our own yards that connect to others in your neighbour’s yard…..”a homegrown national park.” We can do this with native plants which will attract native insect species including pollinators, native birds and so on, to spread out across the food web to humans. “Nature’s Best Hope” was a harder read maybe because Mr. Tallamy states just the facts. In Chapter 11, titled “What Each of Us Can Do”, he succinctly lists exactly that. Mr. Tallamy believes that humans have “the intelligence, knowledge and ability” and “wisdom” to successfully restore natural habitat and ecosystems. I do too.

I recommend that you read all three of the books listed.

Resources

Darke, Rick & Tallamy, Doug.( 2014). The Living Landscape. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, USA.

Tallamy, Douglas W. (2016 – 10th printing). Bringing Nature Home. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, USA.

Tallamy, Douglas W. (2019). Nature’s Best Hope. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon, USA.

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Late February: Tree Pruning Time!

By MJ (Mary-Jane) Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Last year at around this time on a beautiful, sunny and mild Saturday, I found myself in an apple orchard south of Norwood learning the intricacies of pruning apple trees. Fruit trees need to be pruned in order to open up the tree canopy to sunlight and air circulation which promotes fruit production and a healthy plant.

Most trees benefit from some pruning, but an important aspect of the task is knowing when to prune. Proper timing helps to insure attractive, healthy, productive trees and shrubs.

February through March is generally regarded as the best time to prune most deciduous trees. The absence of foliage at this time of year gives the individual a clear view of the tree and allows the selection and removal of appropriate branches.

The best time to prune flowering trees or shrubs is right after they’ve finished blooming. Unlike other trees in this article, pruning of these is unlikely to have anything to do with February or March!

Prune evergreen shrubs, such as juniper and yew, in late March or early April before new growth begins. Light pruning may also be done in mid-summer. Avoid pruning evergreen shrubs in the fall as fall pruned evergreens are more susceptible to winter injury. Late winter is the best time to remove unwanted lower branches on evergreen trees.

Back to the apple orchard. Late February to early April is the best time to prune fruit trees in our area. Pruning should be completed before the fruit trees begin to break bud (leaf out) in early spring.

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I learned that the first rule of pruning is to remove any dead, injured or diseased branches. Cut just past the “branch collar”–the wrinkled part where the branch connects to the trunk or another branch.

Then, moving up and around the tree, look for branches that cross each other and eliminate the ones that are not evenly spaced or are not at the best angle. Competing branches will cause problems for the tree. Fruit trees should only have one central leading branch. If two or more exist, choose the healthier one and remove the others.

It was definitely an interesting afternoon. Much thanks to my friend Carl for the lesson!

Three Items of Likely Interest

While we’re on the subject of trees, I thought the following timely items would be of interest to our readers.

Ecology Park Spring Sale, Victoria Day Weekend. Mark your calendar now and plan to support Ecology Park programs with purchases of over 150 species of edible and native plants, shrubs, and trees that thrive in our region of Ontario and provide important habitat for wildlife and pollinators.

ORCA Seedling Program — Otonabee Conservation can assist you in reforesting or planting additional trees on your property through the Tree Seedling Program. Orders for trees can be placed in early March for delivery in late April. Tree whips (3-4yrs old) come bare root. Trees range in price from $1 per tree to $4 per tree, but there is a minimum order of 25 trees of a single variety so you may want to split an order with a friend or two (or three). See the link below for more information. Order deadline this year is March 10, 2020.

Coincidentally, the Peterborough Horticultural Society speaker this coming Wednesday February 26 (2020) is Vern Bastable from Peterborough Green Up. Vern will be speaking about “Choosing the Right Tree”. Guests are always welcome for a nominal $2 charge. The meeting is held at the Peterborough Lions Centre in Ashburnham from 7pm-8:30pm sharp and refreshments are served before the meeting.

Lastly, here are some resources that you may find helpful.

Planning and Dreaming

by Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

Winter is a time for planning and dreaming about our gardens.

Since we decided to move and downsize, I’ve been planning on how I want to create my new garden. Right now, under the snow, is mostly compacted construction zone. Debris from bricks, rocks, and stones ( I’ve collected some of the larger stones for garden beds) and weeds have been partly covered by sand fill. I’m hoping that we will have topsoil and sod fairly early in the spring. In the meantime, I’ve been dreaming and planning.

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Our house is oriented east-west. There are two story houses to the north and south of us. Before planning on what shrubs and plants to put in those areas, I want to see how much shade they provide and for how long during the daytime. I’m keeping a record of where the sun is in the sky relative to those areas. The front and back are wide open, like a blank canvas.

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At the same time, I’m making plans for what trees and shrubs I want to put in those areas. My choices are for mostly native shrubs, trees and and fruit producing plants. Other than the usual garden centres, I’ve been looking for places to purchase native plants and have found some close by Peterborough that grow shrubs and trees. Richardson’s Pineneedle Farms in Pontypool is one. They are a major commercial grower and have a lot of native shrubs and trees for sale. You can buy in bulk there. Another one Eastern Evergreen Inc. grows white cedar for hedges and is located in Warkworth.

With an office in downtown Peterborough, Cedar Ontario has a long track record of providing healthy natural eastern white cedar trees and installing hedges throughout Peterborough and the Kawarthas.

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Photo courtesy of Cedar Ontario

When it opens, Ecology Park in Peterborough is another good place to purchase native plants. Their big annual plant sale is Saturday May 16th at 10 am. Remember to bring your own containers for leaf compost and cedar mulch. The bulk sales are self loading , with a 20 bucket limit per person, per visit. Knowledgeable staff and are there to help you (and often Master Gardeners are there too).

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In the meantime, I’m researching trees and shrubs, drawing plans, and dreaming.

 

 

Facing Climate Change: What Gardeners Need to Know

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

I recently attended a Master Gardener’s Technical Update at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. The subject was Facing Climate Change: What Gardeners Need to Know. The speakers were Dr. Jon Warland, Dr. Steven Hill and Lorraine Johnson. As we sat listening to how our climate is changing and the impacts that this has on current gardening practices, it was not lost to us that we were about to experience an upcoming ice storm at the same time that Australia was dealing with horrific fires. And then on January 17th, Newfoundland is hit with one of the worst winter storms they have ever had!

Some interesting facts I took away with me that day were:

  • Plants that were once borderline hardy are now easily surviving our winters.
  • Severe storm conditions are damaging many of our trees.
  • The Sugar Maple could disappear in this century from the Greenbelt area.
  • Invasive plants are taking hold and pushing out some of our woodland native plants.
  • The average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was about 250 parts per million (ppm) in pre-industrial times. Now it exceeds 400 parts per million (ppm).
  • The peak bloom date for cherry trees in Washington, D.C. has shifted earlier by approximately five days since 1921.
  • The current climate in the Golden Horseshoe area will be in Algonquin Park by the end of the century.

Lorraine Johnson spoke at great length about our perception of what was a ‘nice’ garden. She believes that we need to understand the benefits of growing native plants that will be hardy enough to withstand the unpredictable extremes in climate. She presented several examples of people who had replaced their front lawns with native plants or vegetables and had been instructed by the cities to remove the plants or had received bills when the city moved in and cut it all down only because it was considered ‘messy’ and ‘unappealing’!

What we can do as gardeners:

  • Consider using native plants. You will be rewarded with lots of birds, butterflies and insects to help cultivate a natural ecosystem.
  • Grow as many plants as possible (I won’t have a problem with this one). Gardening is a journey and learning what plants work best in your conditions takes time and patience.
  • Learn to live with some weeds, nibbles in leaves, as well as leaf spots. Focus on cultivating plant health.
  • Stop watering your lawns as it is estimated that nearly one-third of all residential water is lost in the watering of lawns. Your lawns will go dormant in dry periods but will return with the fall rains.
  • Consider a rain garden to minimize surface runoff.
  • Include a diverse mix of plants, shrubs and trees to prepare for the possibility of losing certain plants due to climate change.
  • Leave grass clippings on your lawn to add nutrients
  • Mulch fall leaves and add to your lawn or flower beds to avoid having leaves sent to the landfill where the organic material undergoes anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition that produces the greenhouse gas methane with is worse than CO2.
  • Grow your own vegetables or buy locally from farmers markets to help reduce greenhouse gases when food travels thousands of kilometres from farm to grocery store.
  • MOST IMPORTANT … Get out in your gardens and be thankful for the beauty that surrounds you!

Resources:

The Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation have put out a good report on Gardening in a Changing Climate.

In 2018, Cornell University produced Gardening in a Warmer World.

Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived…

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

“Thank goodness the seed catalogues have arrived… I was about to start cleaning my house!”

It starts with the dream.

There’s no better time than now to  dive into a good seed catalogue and start planning for the upcoming growing season. Seed catalogues can be a great resource for bulbs and unique seeds, and offer a far bigger selection than what you can find in your local garden centre. You’ll find inspiration and will likely discover new plants that you must have in your 2020 garden.

You’ll be the most successful if you pick the seed companies that are closest to where you live, or in the same growing region as you. However, you can still have success ordering from a company farther away, but you’ll have to be careful not to order a plant that isn’t in your growing zone.

Below are some popular seed companies from across Canada, with some that are also in close proximity to the Peterborough, ON, area.

Florabunda Seeds

Whether you are an avid gardener or just beginning to get your hands dirty, Florabunda Seeds in Keene, ON, has a wide variety of heirloom and unusual flower, vegetable and herb seeds. They pride themselves in their untreated, non-GMO, and non-Hybrid offerings. They package generously by measurement and not by seed count.  Download catalogueRequest a catalogue.

OSC Seeds

OSC Seeds from Kitchener, ON, features a selection of high-quality seed packets, perfectly suited for the Canadian climate and ready for planting in your garden. Their full line of products includes 30 herbs, 250 vegetables, 240 annuals and 100 perennials & biennials. Request a free catalogue

William Dam Seeds

William Dam Seeds is a family-run company located just outside of Dundas, Ontario, supplying small farmers and gardeners in Canada with seed for food, flowers and soil building. They are proud to offer a varied catalogue of many different seed varieties that are not chemically treated, and some of the seeds are certified organic as well. You can download their online catalogue, or request a mailed copy via their contact page.

Natural Seed Bank

Natural Seed Bank is an online retailer of garden seeds. They sell various organic and untreated garden seeds. Located in Port Hope, Ontario, Natural Seed Bank is 100 percent Canadian owned and operated. All of their seeds are non-GMO and untreated, and many selections are organic. They’re committed to never selling GMO products.

Richters

Richters is your go-to for everything herbal. Located in Goodwood, Ontario, Richters has been growing and selling herbs since 1969. Check out their online catalogue or request a copy to be mailed out.  Online catalogueRequest a catalogue.

Veseys

Veseys is one of the premier seed, bulb and garden supply sites in North America. Located on Prince Edward Island, Veseys has 75 years of history providing products, services, and advice to gardeners.  Be sure to head over and subscribe for your free catalogue. They put on many fantastic specials, have quality products and outstanding customer service. Request a catalogue.

Resources

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Book Review: 100 Easy-To-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener

100 Easy-to-Grow Natvie Plants_RGB 300This book is, without a doubt, one of my favourite go-to gardening books! The new revised third edition of Lorraine Johnson’s book, 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens, is a testament to Lorraine’s expertise. She writes in the forward that “one of the greatest satisfactions of growing native plants is that you are supporting a complex web of ecological relationships that are the basis of a healthy, resilient ecosystem.” Lorraine Johnson is the former president of the North American Native Plant Society and the author of numerous other books. She lives in Toronto.

Bloodroot (1)The photos by Andrew Layerle, along with detailed descriptions of the plants, make this book most helpful when trying to decide what native plants you would like to incorporate into your garden. I think many of us can relate to her point that “gardeners tend to be voyeuristic creatures and plant lists are our chaste form of porn”! We all crave the perfect plant and often browse through books over the winter months with dreams of starting a new garden and we wait patiently for the spring weather that allows us to once again get our hands dirty.

Wood PoppyThe plants are divided into a number of different categories and Lorraine does a good job at listing the common name (although she warns there are sometimes many), the botanical name, the height, blooming period, exposure, moisture, habitat and range. She gives a good description, the maintenance and requirements, along with suggestions on propagation and good companions. I love that she also mentions the wildlife benefits of each plant.

Pasque (1)Lorraine has also included Quick-Reference Charts at the back of the book that separate the plants by region as well as specific conditions, such as acidic soil, water requirements, etc. She has lists of plants suitable to prairie habitat, drought-tolerant plants, plants for moist areas, and plants that attract butterflies and other pollinators.

I have grown several of her suggested native plants, such as wild ginger, solomon’s seal, pasque flower, foamflower, wood poppy, dutchman’s breeches, cardinal flower, butterfly milkweed, bottle gentian, bloodroot, and big bluestem .. I love them all!

Check out this book over the winter months. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

 

Becoming the Caretaker of your Garden

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

I first heard the term to be ‘caretaker of your garden’ at a permaculture course a few years ago. It has resonated with me ever since and has changed both the way in which I garden and also the way that I perceive my garden. Being the “caretaker of your garden” means that while you own the land that your garden is on, it is only temporary. You are, in fact, simply looking after that piece of land for a relatively short period of time before passing it on.

For me, being the caretaker of my garden makes me consider the longevity of the garden, what takes away from the health of the garden and what gives back to the garden; how to feed not just my family but also the wildlife whilst providing safe habitats; how to make the garden more self-sustainable reducing my time spent pruning, weeding, and imposing my unnatural demands on the garden thus allowing myself more time to simply enjoy the garden. For most of us, we are already doing the groundwork for this change already–it is simply a shift in the way we view ownership of our garden, or more specifically, the plot of land the garden sits on.

The following are some of the practices that I follow:

  • A healthy garden always starts with healthy soil. I amend my soil annually with leaf compost. I have 2 large leaf composters in my back garden which I fill with bags of leaves I collect from neighbours. I also mulch up approximately 20 bags of leaves and spread these liberally over my vegetable and perennial gardens in the fall.

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  • I cut back very little in my garden in the fall mainly just anything that is diseased. In the spring I cut everything up into 1-2 inch pieces and drop them back on the garden. This also acts as a mulch as well as amending the soil.
  • Plants that have multiple uses are important to me. This may be because I have a small garden; multiple functions can include fix nitrogen, use as a fertilizer, be edible or medicinal etc. as well as aesthetically pleasing.
  • Including vegetable plants in the perennial bed. I will often do this if I run out of room in my vegetable beds, however a lot of vegetable plants have amazing foliage and are great to line paths and place in the front of beds.
  • Recently I have made efforts to increase diversity in my small garden, increasing the number of native plants. Native plants are generally hardier, more adapted to our climate and require less maintenance; they also tend to attract more wildlife and pollinators.
  • I try to water as little as possible using rain barrels as much as I can.  I must admit that any plants that do require more water, or in fact more maintenance of any kind, tend to be replaced fairly quickly.ironweed suzanne

For anyone who has not heard of permaculture, it is a set of guidelines, principles and practices for sustainable living and land use. When you narrow down permaculture to your home garden, you are in effect looking at a more sustainable, natural method of gardening mimicking that found in nature to create a cohesive garden, in which all elements benefit, nurture and interconnect with each other. Whilst that does sound like a fairly lofty aspiration, the good news is that just by implementing or adding a couple of permaculture practices can have a significant impact on your garden, but that sounds like a blog for another day.

For me the term ‘being caretaker of your garden’ and the reasoning behind it align with my passion and concern regarding climate change and environmentalism. Whilst the changes I make may only have a small impact these type of changes can add up and often lead to something bigger.

For further information on permaculture:

Scree Gardening

By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener

My casual interest in scree gardens became a burning desire to have one (you know the feeling) when I went on my first Peterborough Master Gardener garden tour in 2017. We visited a nursery that had amazing demonstration scree and rock gardens. I was smitten!

A scree garden is found in nature. Small rocks and gravel travel down the side of a mountain because of the freeze-thaw action on the rockface. This material accumulates in crevices, on rock shelves and at the mountain base. It drains well and is home to plants that survive on only rain. Scree gardens are good for areas that are already rocky, sandy or do not have a lot of soil to begin with. However, they can be replicated pretty much anywhere with a raised bed to ensure good drainage. A raised bed is especially important if you have clay soil. Choose a sunny site that is not overshadowed by trees. You don’t want the constant challenge of leaf litter on your garden. As when creating any new garden, make sure all weeds and grass are removed before you start.

Different sources quote different mixes for the actual garden “soil” to use in your raised bed. I used what I had for mine. This consisted of some larger rocks in the bottom, and then a layer of gravel, then mostly sand, and gravel mixed with some garden soil. The sand, gravel, and garden soil mixture was used to fill the spaces in the rocks up to the top of my raised bed. Remember that you are trying to replicate nature so your scree must have excellent drainage and not be overly rich.

I chose plants that I knew could take dryer soils and thrive in my Southern Ontario garden with it’s summer heat and high humidity. There are lots of lists of potential scree and rock garden plants on the internet. Some local nurseries carry plants that will thrive in well drained conditions. Once that you have found plants that will grow, as with any garden, choose plants that will give you the look that you want ie. colour, texture, height and spread.

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Author’s garden

In her book “Pocket Gardening”, gardening writer Marjorie Harris talks about how to maintain the scree and rock gardens. Ms. Harris recommends topdressing the garden with leaf mold and coarse sharp sand or 3/8 inch gravel when plants are dormant which means very early spring or late fall.

Have fun with it and make your garden into what makes you happy!

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Author’s garden

Resources

Anna’s Perennials –  Ontario Rock Garden & Hardy Plant Society –  Rock Wall Gardens

Adding Diversity to Garden Design

By Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

In June this year, I was sitting with my son on the deck looking at the backyard. He asked me why I had so much grass in the garden. Now, he is definitely not a gardener, so I was a little confused until I realized he was referring to all of the daylily leaves. I felt it my duty to point out the stunning delphiniums, peonies, irises, and lupins which were all in bloom. I also tried to explain that in another month or so the garden will be a riot of colour when all the daylilies and coneflowers started flowering. Daylilies have always been my favourite plants; they are hardy, drought tolerant, low maintenance and beautiful in bloom. See our blog post from July 22 describing how daylilies are the perfect perennial. I probably have at least fifty different varieties, all of which I bought over from my last garden four years ago. But as I sat there looking at the garden I did wonder if maybe I should add more diversity.

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Author’s garden in late spring

Shortly after, I was watching my new favourite garden show on Netflix, ‘Big Dreams, Small Spaces’ with Monty Don. If you have not heard of him, Monty Don is something close to a hero to most British gardeners. In this episode, he was relaying a gardening principle to the couple that were designing their new backyard.  He mentioned that for simplicity and cohesiveness “no garden needs more than seven different plants”.  I was trying to remember where the back button was on the remote as I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly, but he did partially redeem himself when he clarified that statement by saying that you do not have to take this too literally, but that a good garden can be made with just seven different plants. My current garden design is more of an English cottage garden, informal with little space between plants and if I was going to add more diversity this summer, I would definitely have more than seven different plants.

I spent this summer with pen and paper in hand walking around the garden, asking myself if I really needed 20 different variations of pink daylily, some of which even I struggled to tell apart or did I need the same daylily variety in four different places in the garden. I also noticed the daylily blooms had very few insects compared to the spectacular activity around the native plants. I made copious notes in my notebook and labelled many plants I wanted to move or give away. Because of a rising concern for environmentalism and climate change, I also wanted this to be reflected more in my garden. To do this I decided I needed to do the following:

  • Plant more native plants. I have collected seed from most of my native plants including swamp milkweed, culver’s root and liatris and will use these to fill in over the next few years.
  • Add more edibles to the perennial garden. I tend to edge with swiss chard, beets or cardoon. I don’t actually eat the cardoon but I love the foliage on the plant.
  • Choose more plants that have multiple functions, i.e. yarrow which attracts insects, is drought tolerant, is a nutrient accumulator bringing nutrients from deep in the soil and storing them in the leaves, has attractive flowers in many colors, and can be used as a manure tea.
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Author’s garden in summer

I’m excited for next year to see the changes I’ve made. I’m hoping that I have still kept the basic structure of the garden design with the emphasis on the summer color whilst adding more variety, especially pollinator and native plants. I learned this summer that a garden design does not have to be static; it can evolve as your values and beliefs evolve.

The design of your garden can be very personal, ever changing, reflecting who you are. For me it is somewhere where I feel at peace with the world–there is nothing I like more than taking a cup of tea out to the garden in the morning and just sitting and looking around.

The Light in Your Garden

by Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

Growing any plant successfully in your garden depends on many factors and an important one is the amount of light you get throughout the day. Growing Hosta out in the blazing sunshine is fine when they first emerge in springtime, but most Hosta will fry with the hot summer sun all day long. A peony without enough sun will have lovely green leaves, but will probably not give you any flowers.

Take a day or two to notice when your flower beds are in sun and for how long. Full sun means at least 6 hours of sun a day. Full shade means no direct sun. Part sun should only be about 3 hours. Morning sun is the best as it is not harsh and hot like late afternoon sun, so if you have gardens facing east, you have the best light for most plants.

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Knowing which direction your home sits is important too. Get your orientation fixed in your mind. Remember that trees and buildings will shade the gardens as the sun moves throughout the day. As the seasons change, the sun will move slightly in its orientation and where the sunlight comes from will change. Be prepared when you go plant shopping, read plant tags and talk to experts to be sure you are putting the right plant in the right place for the right light requirements.

Like growing just outside your garden growing zones, gardeners can also grow outside sun requirements. Hybridizing has enabled us to have plants that will grow outside their normal light needs. For instance, there are now Hosta that will take a lot of sun. Try to stretch the limits if you want that certain plant in that certain place, but remember to monitor it to be sure it is not being stressed and is performing at its best.

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Lighting may change in your garden. If a big tree is removed, a full shade garden can become a full sun garden. As a tree grows in your or your neighbour’s yard, or if a new building goes up, it will become more shaded. You may find that you will have to relocate plants when this happens.

Spend more time in your garden, just watching. It is good for your education and good for your soul.