| Foundational Garden Planning
by Tom Webster
This time of spring, many a gardener will gather their seeds, carefully selecting what is to grow in the beds or pots of soil that have begun to thaw after their winter hibernation. The question at hand, what would I like to grow this year? With the prediction and wonderment as to what perennials will also return. I’ve personally been told many times in the past, planning one’s garden is a key component to receiving a harmonious, bountiful, and beneficial space. Hence, keeping a small notebook within this box of seeds has become an annual ritual. In this small book, notes and maps offer a plethora of insight as to what grew with ease, and alternatively the unruly opposite. Garden planning requires many a virtue, observation, foresight, tenderness, and most of all, patience.
First off, I will address the space itself in all its reverence. Careful observation of light, the warm summer sun, photosynthesis in all its glory. Take note mentally or pen wise, what sections of the space receive the most sunlight and what receives no light at all. This is a great place to start. Become familiar with your space, knowing the path of sun and shadow. Also get in touch with your soil, literally. What spots in the garden are sandier, well drained, hummus, or clay rich? Having this knowledge will make planting a sure success and ensure that what you plant lives to the fullest.
On the note of observation, I also like to highlight our native plant species. Magazines, websites, and gardening books always have an array of stunning garden photos, which sometimes we attempt to emulate in our own yards, but sometimes this does not work in our favour. And just because it works for a friend or neighbour doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. The hardiness zones of plants are very important and can indicate what has the best chance of survival in the garden (Saskatchewan zones are primarily 2–4). This can lead to annual expensive bills and doubt in one’s “green thumb.” With that said, let Mother Nature inspire you. Take a trip to ditches, fields, and conservation parks that display a huge variety of native plant species. There are wonderful sources for learning about these wild plants (www.saskwildflower.ca), where they grow, and their extirpation rank (http://biodiversity.sk.ca). When selecting your seeds and plants from a nursery, always try your hand at these native species; they are sometimes hardy, big bloomers, fast growers, reseeding, and/or medicinal to boot.
Work with the nature of your garden. Maybe the soil area is too dry, moist, or acidic; whatever the case, research can provide solutions to optimal plant candidates. With biodiversity, we are graced with letting our gardens become chameleons in nature. From the variety of vegetation we have access to, there will always be options for the space that we are given. If you have never checked the pH levels of your garden or soil, or you are new to an undeveloped garden lot, I would highly recommend it. Soil testing strips can be found at garden centres and can make a very educational experience for you, friends, or children who may be aiding you in your pursuit of a verdant sanctuary. Have coniferous trees? Some varieties of plants love lower light and acidic pH, such as woodruff, hydrangea, blueberry, lily of the valley, horsetail, lungwort, daffodil, bearberry, and clover just to name a few. If you don’t have an organic compost in your garden or have been putting it off, then maybe this should be the year to start one. Not only does compost greatly increase the microbial life of soil, creating richer hummus, but it can also even be used to lower pH levels if your soil is too alkaline.
Seed what you need. By taking the time to start seeds indoors, this can secure that you will have what you need to fill in those difficult areas and will not be disappointed when visiting your favourite nursery. Also seeding can help one gain focus on any healing herbs that you are utilizing for self, friends, or family. It’s always wise to keep a regular section of the garden if you are planning for this, as some of these herbs aren’t perennials, or zoned to last. Nevertheless, they are grown regardless. This particular practice brings me the biggest joy in gardening. And since we all have different reasons and excitement for gardening, always keep that purpose in the heart of what you are planning—whether it’s a vegetable patch to feed loved ones, a meditation sanctuary to offer solace, or a playground for birds and wildlife.
Sources that inspired this article:
Rayment, Barbara, The Northern Gardener: Perennials that Survive and Thrive, 2012
Penner, Lyndon, Native Plants for the Short Season Yard, 2016
Groves, Maria Noël, Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies: How to Create a Customized Garden to Support Your Health and Wellbeing, 2019
Lee, Glenn, Saskatchewan Wildflowers www.saskwildflower.ca
Saskatchewan Conservation Data Centre http://biodiversity.sk.ca
Tom Webster: herbalist, avid gardener, crafter, and Co-operator of Nocturnus Art & Metaphysical in Saskatoon. For more information see the display ad on page 23 of the 28.1 May/June issue of the WHOLifE Journal.