The top 6 Myths about Gardening in Calgary.

Gardening is relaxing and enjoyable, at least until the neighbourhood gardening guru comes by and explains all the rules you need to follow.  It usually begins with “Don’t plant anything until the May long weekend” and goes on from there.

Here are a few of my favorite gardening “truths”:

  • Nothing will grow on the north side of your yard. I’m not sure where this came about, and although I suppose it is true if your yard is on the north side of a skyscraper, however, in most cases, it is just a myth.  The sun travels from East to West across the sky, so your North facing garden should still receive some light, especially in the summer, where the sun is high in the sky and directly overhead for part of the day.  There will be shade, especially on the north side of the house or against a north facing fence or hedge.  Fortunately, there are many incredibly beautiful, shade loving plants to choose from.  One of my favorites is Ligularia “The Rocket”.
  • If you want big plants and lots of flowers, you must fertilize them. This myth is popularized by the television ads for fertilizers and garden centers.  (Not naming any names of course).  In fact, all the fertilizer in the world is not going to help your plants unless they are located in the proper location for their needs, and with healthy soil with a thriving ecosystem.  My philosophy is to feed the soil so that it can feed the plants.  Plants need more than just the NPK of chemical fertilizers.  Healthy soil can provide that, as well as micro-nutrients, enzymes and hormones that help the plant grow and resist disease, and friendly bacteria that actually help plant roots take up nutrients.  If I only had $100 to spend on a new garden; I’d likely spend $90 on compost and $10 on plants.  It’s just that important.

    showy red perennial

    Lychnis "Molton Lava" is a less common perennial related to Maltese Cross, but with larger flowers, and a neater form.

  • Shrubs are low maintenance, perennials are high maintenance. Many people are led to believe that a low maintenance garden only contains shrubs and trees.  Although there are definitely low maintenance shrubs, such as the easy care Nanking cherry, there are just as many low maintenance perennials.  Old homestead sites often have a peony on them, a perennial that survived for years and years with no human care whatsoever.  The secret is to choose perennials that are ideally suited for the specific site, and to those that don’t require much care.  My favorite low maintenance perennials include daylilies, peonies, hostas and sedums.  Generally, the only care they will require is a quick spring clean-up to remove last year’s growth, and the occasional watering, especially as they get established.
  • The only plants that will grow here are rated Zone 3. Plant zones are tricky.  Although Calgary is technically rated as Zone 3, I’m starting to feel like it is time to bump it up to Zone 4.  Many Zone 4 plants survive just fine in Calgary, and plants rated even higher can be grown in the right micro-climate.  It’s not just the minimum winter temperatures that affect plant hardiness; snow cover, chinooks and winter wet can also wreak havoc on over-wintering plants.  In my front rock garden, a California fuchsia  has survived and thrived for over 7 years, even though it is generally rated as a zone 5 or higher.  Lastly, many new perennials are rated for a higher zone by growers because they haven’t been tested enough to know how “low” they can go.
  • Only retired people can have a beautiful garden. Although many of the most beautiful gardens I’ve seen do belong to retirees, this does not mean that the rest of us can’t also have a beautiful garden to enjoy without spending all our free time maintaining it.  The secret is to create a garden that you can care for.  Create a garden with clear boundaries and good edging to avoid weeds and grass creeping in from the lawn.  Mulch to make weeds easier to pull.  Choose plants that do not need to be babied, but do not have a master plan to take over the garden.  Enrich the soil before planting.    If you aren’t sure what how to accomplish these goals, seek professional help.  A properly designed and installed garden is much easier to maintain.
  • You can get free plants from your friends. Probably not.  I’ve long had a rule that I did not accept plants from anyone unless I was absolutely sure that I knew what the plant was and that I actually wanted it.  Once, and only once, have I broken this rule and accepted a plant from a neighbour.  She was sure it was a Jacob’s ladder.  It’s a creeping vetch, and I am still struggling to remove it all these years later.  The $5-$10 a Jacob’s ladder would have cost me seems pretty small to me compared to the countess hours I’ve spent digging this weed out.  Keep this tip in mind: If your friend is giving the plant away, it’s probably because they have too much of it.  And if they have too much of it, it’s probably invasive and just looking for a chance to take over your garden too.  This also goes for plants at the garden center: read the tags, and beware of the labels “Easy-care”, “Excellent ground cover” and “Creeping habit”.  There are many lovely plants that have these labels, but they are often used to describe the garden tyrants that no one really wants to deal with.

As always, The Passionate Gardener is more than happy to advise on garden design and identify mystery plants, and categorize them as friend or foe.

Posted Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 under Uncategorized.