Every spring, we patiently wait as the snow slowly melts, revealing the garden hidden below. As soon as we see small traces of green, we are eager to jump right in and let our green thumb try again for another year. Before you dig out your gloves and pruners, consider taking some time to really check out your garden and what it might be missing.
The first thing that is always on my top of my list when I approach a new garden is how it feels. This is not how it feels in my hand, but more how it interacts with the space it is in, the people in that space, and the environment surrounding it. Gardens are often planned according to where would be best for the people to have their plants, not where would be best for the plants to live. It is important to double check that the plant selection you have is placed in an area that will allow it to survive and thrive. Plants forced into habitats that do not suit them will have a hard time become established. This will mean fewer flowers and poorer foliage for the whole season.
If all your plants are in their happy place, the next thing on your list will be soil. Having a well-balanced soil for the type of plant you are growing is the difference between success and failure. A good guideline for soil preference is to follow where the plants would live if they grew in nature. A good example of this is Black-eyed Susans: These beautiful yellow flowers grow in open meadows and enjoy full sun. In these habitats, the soil will drain well and quickly. They will have a lot of organic material surrounding them from last year’s meadow plants.
To test what your soil is made of you will have to take off your gloves and get messy. Grab a handful of your garden’s soil and squeeze it tight in your hand. When you let go, did the soil stick together or crumble apart? Good, fertile soil for garden beds should clump together, but not go as far as becoming mud. Smell your soil and make sure it is earthy but does not have scents of mold or rot.
The second part of the test will involve filling a Mason jar half way with your garden’s soil. After that, fill the jar with water, screw on the lid and give it a good shake. Leave your mason jar overnight and check back in the morning to view your soil composition. The soil in the jar will have separated into layers displaying the percentage of clay, silt and sand in your garden.
The perfect garden soil should have a 20:40:40 ratio of clay, silt and sand. This perfection is called loam. If your gardens ratios are not quite spot-on, consider amending your soil early in the year. The easiest way to amend soil is to add organic material into it. Composted organic material including old yard waste, compost, or leaves will help to develop proper soil structure and allow the micro environment to prosper.
The last thing to consider before diving in is where you want your garden to grow to – what is your ultimate goal? If you are content with how big your gardens are, maybe explore any empty spaces you may have. If your gardens seem a bit underwhelming, consider changing the borders or style of garden you have chosen. If you are lacking in that summertime colour, expand the types and numbers of annuals you are planting. Each garden goal will have many options as to how it can be achieved.
My final suggestion for every garden I see is to grow something edible. In our current environmental state, it is on us all to make changes to how we live our lives so our future can be as beautiful as our past. Even the smallest gardens have rooms for herbs or edible flowers. Possibly your patio planter this year could feature a tomato plant or trellis of sugar snap peas. Even the slightest changes can make a difference in the long term outcome, and don’t forget the bonus of the freshest food possible.
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. To follow Jenn Facebook at Pick, Plant and Prune and on Instagram @pickplantandprune.