Originally, this article was supposed to come out to all of you a few weeks ago. I was going to write about starting seeds for your spring vegetable and flower gardens. It is amazing how on-point that article would have been. I never wrote that article and have not had time to sit down and write until now.
The world has been turned upside down for all of us. Being creative while feeling stress, anxiety and insecurity in life can be so difficult. I own a small business, and I have two young children and parents over 70. My reality has turned into something that I never knew was going to be an option.
Through all the strife we have experienced so far, one beautiful piece of humanity has reached in and saved me over and over again: Shared joy – the moment of exchange from one person to another for the sole purpose of making their day better. Thousands of videos have popped up of balcony singers, there are endless stories of neighbours reaching out to each other, and countless classes are being taught so we all come out a bit better than we were before.
Today, I am feeling so happy and want to share that with everyone. I do not have a singing voice that needs to be broadcast nationally, so instead, in tribute to everyone out there who is having a hard time right now, I give you a bit of sarcastic sass to make you smile.
My Biggest Garden Pet Peeves
The Spring Chicken
Every year, on the first slightly warm day of spring, the spring chicken emerges from their home ready to show off their landscape maintenance skills. Before I was a professional gardener, I was always a bit jealous of these ultra-organized maintenance kings and queens. Their lawns are tidier than my kitchen and their gardens always perfectly mulched by Easter.
Do not be upset if this description might fit you perfectly. You are awesome and I give respect to your dedication. With experience comes wisdom, and I have learned in my years that this may not be the way to maintain your garden to get the best results possible. Nature has already done the hard work and designed all of its pieces to work together for the maximum output.
By changing your perspective while in your outdoor space, you may see how the ultra-tidy mentality can make life difficult for your mini ecosystem. Fall leaves provide shelter to bees, butterflies and many other beneficial insects. This fallen material gives them layers of cover during the winter so they only freeze a little bit, not that minus-forty worth of freezing.
Another amazing part of living in a frozen winter wasteland is how your soil reacts to freezing and thawing every year. As our temperatures increase and the April rain arrives, your soil begins a transformation from a solid into the loose mixture of components. If you walk and wander all over the soil in your garden before it has had time to thaw and dry out, you could be doing more damage than good. So maybe next year wait until the end of April, as hard as it may be, and give your garden a natural boost by doing nothing. Yes, Mum, I am talking to you!
The Set It and Forgetter
Your garden is up and running, and you did your spring due diligence so the neighbours know you’re not lazy. It’s looking good but then BBQ, softball and cottage season comes, and you are nowhere to be found. These gardens drive me crazy. All it would take is about 30 minutes of work a week to make them shine.
So, for all you outdoor sports junkies and cottage bums, here is your weekly homework for the summer months when the sun is calling your name. First: weed. This is so obvious but always need repeating. Just take a stroll around your digs once a week to see if you have any new weeds coming along. Second: cut the dead flowers off your perennials and, please, for sake of my sanity, tidy up the yellow and brown leaves clogging up your day lilies, since 98 per cent of all Canadians have day lilies in their gardens.
Again, I will say: Do not be upset by my description, as summer would not be nearly as much fun without your sun-based excitement, so I will not hate on that. Your third task on your check list only has to be done once a month, so it is really easy: Fluff your mulch. It is not supposed to look like a dried-up rice cake that you dyed and threw on your garden. Take a rake or scuffle hoe and fluff all those beautiful wood chips up. This will improve the look of your garden and make it easier to weed it every week.
The Pruning Perfectionist
Every neighbourhood has at least one of these gardens. They display their perfectly-shaped cedars of all varieties and curiously-triangular spruce tree. This garden is often the garden that other neighbours will envy and try desperately to emulate.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a nice garden and often belongs to a serious horticulturist. It takes a lot of work to develop and maintain a garden at that level. My biggest problem with these gardens is that what might be great for one plant is often horrible for another. It is challenging to let your babies grow up and be individuals, I get it. Unfortunately, the overall health of your garden will start to decline once your plants get too mature for the extra attention.
This year in the garden, I will give you two pieces of homework. First: Go and buy a weird plant. One that might be something you would normally overlook due to its unique look or awkward colouring. Gardening should be fun, after all, so maybe take your kids or grandkids with you – they are great at seeing beauty in the unique.
The second piece of homework is to observe if there may be a few plants in your garden that have parts that need to removed. This may mess up the symmetrical perfection you have developed, but you have to let it go. All too often I will find branches that are showing signs of disease or aging. My customers are often very hesitant to remove them as they will change the look of the plant. You must look at the overall health of the plants in your garden, not just the shape they have or the space they fill.
Year after year, I slowly watch as some gardens transform into one of two types of forgotten gardens. The first variety is an amazing mixture of every weed that has the ability to grow in Ontario’s environment. I am often amazed at the human-size thistles and baby trees that take over in just a few short months of nice weather. The owners of this garden type must proceed with caution if their neighbours are of the perfection garden variety.
The second type of garden that falls into forgotten garden group is the mowed garden. Frequently I will see homeowners who, out of sheer frustration, take the whipper snipper into their gardens and tame as much as possible. The weeds during this torture are laughing, as they know this ‘solution’ often just makes them stronger. Days later, they come back in full force to haunt the gardener all summer long. It ends in October with the homeowner paying a tractor to come and rip everything out while they smile and sip their beer.
Even though the title assigned to this type of gardener sounds extra-harsh, they are the group of gardeners that get the most forgiveness from me. Most of the time, these are new homeowners who have never had so much space to take care of before. They have no garden knowledge, as it was not a part of the application needed to get their first job.
To this group I say: Reach out! If you are interested in learning more, then find the teachers. In every area, there are plenty of amateur gardeners that love to talk anything gardening and will willing answer all of your odd questions. These are often local horticulture groups, but even if you just walk down your street on a sunny Saturday morning, the gardeners will be out there, I promise you. Alternatively if you are not interested in learning, as raising plants as your own is not for everyone, maybe offer your gardens to someone you know who lives in an apartment or on a small property. You would be surprised at how many people will jump at the chance to get their hands dirty.
A final word for everyone even the non-gardeners out there: Take it one day at a time and find joy in everything you can — Even a little light-hearted ribbing by a bored gardener. This advice applies to today and 10 years from now. Never forget the joy you found in the small things when the big things were no longer an option.
If you are still interested in learning about how to plant seeds, feel free to check out a video I made since typing takes longer than talking.
Take care, everyone, and be generous.
Jennifer Glenn was born and raised in Kingston. Her passion for all things green and leafy lead her to starting her own business in Embrun, where she lives with her husband and two children. She opened Pick, Plant and Prune in 2014 and provides gardening services of all varieties to those in the Ottawa region. When she isn’t tending to gardens, she can often be found at her cottage in South Frontenac during the summer. Follow Jenn Facebook at Pick, Plant and Prune and on Instagram @pickplantandprune.