In the garden: A pre-planting pep talk
The calendar said it was spring over a month ago… finally it’s starting to feel like it! After such a dark, snowy, and drawn-out winter we in Vancouver get so excited about those first couple days of sun we often forget about seasonal tasks and changes. One hallmark of the changing seasons is the sudden appearance of lush gardens around the city. As the weather becomes warmer and drier we revisit the outdoors and they become a part of our everyday living space. So why not give our garden, big or small, the same care and attention (and discerning design eye) as we do the indoors?
This is the first of three posts focused on gardening and planting– in this post we’ll give you a pep talk and some resources to get you started on your green oasis. We hope it inspires you to get a little dirty and grow something good!
First, let’s get a few things out of the way:
1. Gardening is (good!) for everyone. Basil doesn’t care if you’re a retired teacher or a cross-fit fanatic. Carrots don’t mind if you drink beaujoulais in velvet slippers or sip a brewski barefoot on the beach. Whoever you are and whatever your style, the benefits of gardening are numerous. From mental health to going ultra-local with your food source and increasing green space, a little garden goes a long way.
2. You can plant pretty much anywhere. If humankind is able to grow food in space, I think you can handle a small herb pot on a windowsill. You absolutely do not need a sprawling yard to have a “garden” and hey, maybe a few herbs are all you need! …Or maybe 17 types of veggies and a full rose garden is more your speed? The only thing to be mindful of is the amount of sun your plant(s) requires and regular watering.
3. You can grow whatever you like! Your own needs and wants will dictate what kind of plants you commit to. If you want direct benefits from your gardening efforts, the most productive plants (re: serving some function other than being in the ground) are herbs, vegetables/fruits, and flowers. Other plants like grasses and succulents can be used to add interesting textures, height contrasts, or colour. I personally started with herbs and added a few flower varieties to attract pollinators, then incorporated veggies when space allowed (but more on that later!).
4. You can brag, it’s okay. There is a certain amount of satisfaction when you make something yourself. Growing plants, especially starting from seeds, provides that great sense of accomplishment and ta-da! Best of all, when you have friends or family over for dinner you can use “oh this? I grew it myself!” and prepare to be showered with accolades all night.
Alright, everyone on board?
Before getting your hands dirty, it’s a good idea to plan out your garden. Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time planting, going in with a game plan will save you time and stress– especially when you’re surrounded by hundreds of options at the garden store (see the above photos…). To determine what form your garden should take, ask yourself the following questions:
→ What kind of space do I have available?
Windowsill? Small Patio? Deck? Full Yard? Think about what space you have and how much of that space you are willing to dedicate to a garden. Naturally, the more space you have the more plants you can grow and in smaller spaces you will have to really edit your plant choices. One or two pots will be great for first-timers to get a hang of things.
→ What kinds of plants will I use?
Are you growing herbs for cooking? Do you want fresh lettuce for salads? Are you a fan of fresh cut flowers? After you know how much space you have, decide what you will benefit from. If you’re gardening to beautify an outdoor space maybe a combination of flowers, grasses, and a couple herbs will do the trick. On the other hand if you want more of a food-based garden, think about the items you would utilise the most.
→ What kind of environment do I have?
How much sun do the plants need? How much water? Typically, the Pacific Northwest is very, very shady and you should be wary of plants that thrive in full sun unless you have access to a nice sunny spot (south-facing balcony perhaps?) Some plants will also thrive in containers and others do best planted in the ground, consider you space and make sure the ideal environment for the plant (described on the seed packet or plant tag) matches what you have available.
→ Realistically, how much effort do I want to put into this?
More plants = more effort. If you have a few minutes here and there, look for low-maintenance or drought-tolerant varieties so if you forget or don’t have time to water you won’t kill your new garden. At the beginning, consider if you want to start plants from seed (requires more time and a bit more care) or if you want to source starter plants from a garden store (ready to go and usually a guaranteed success). Do you need tools or storage space? Honestly, if you’re a first-timer an old spoon can make a handy shovel for small containers…
If you’re revved up and ready to dive in to the dirt, here are some great resources for you to research plants and some local garden centers to visit when you’re ready to pick up the trowel!
West Coast Seeds Planting Charts: If you want to start from seeds, these planting charts are great and easy to follow. Currently they are grouped by regional zones in Canada, so make sure you look at the right one! Good news: End-of-April and beginning-of-May are perfect times to plant nearly everything….
Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia: Easy to get distracted with the sheer volume of information here… This is a great tool to narrow down your options via filters (plant types, size requirements, environmental needs, etc..). Also provides lots of handy info about care and harvesting.
Hunters Garden Center: With locations in Surrey and Kitsilano, Hunters provides great quality seeds and plants. Look out for their special order options throughout the season!
Prickly Pear Garden Center: Based in historic Steveston this means you can reward yourself with ice cream or fish n’ chips when you pick up your plants! They have a wonderful selection of plants, seeds, and garden decor. Inside, there are also all sorts of fun finds for inside your home.
GardenWorks: 7 locations are spread between Greater Vancouver, Vancouver Island, and Penticton. They have nearly everything you could need (including a Florist at some locations!)
Now go forth and garden!
Our next post in this series will cover the aesthetic side of gardening and how to maintain your outdoor space…