Okay, we have to calm down after the worst winter since 1974 (as we keep being reminded). We all remember winters of deep snow in our youth, but this was a winter of freeze-thaws devastating to plant life. Then came the Big March Burn.

The sun came out and roasted the tops and south sides of plants unfortunately while their roots were encased in ice. Plants we’ve never even worried about before—evergreens wrapped in burlap—were scorched. Boxwoods everywhere are a mess.

But do not despair: this is the season of recovery. Eventually you’ll be able to trim the dead stuff out of the boxwood and every other tree and plant in your garden. But wait just a bit.


So the Japanese Umbrella Pine isn’t native and it can be vulnerable, but it’s such a heart melting ornamental plant, I cannot resist it. This year, however, any exposed plant got hammered; and any specimen planted near a north-facing fence which provides solid shade was just fine.


The bitter long winter might be the new normal: confused and confusing weather patterns. I keep track of weather every day and on March 18, 2012 it was 22C (a hot streak that went on and on), last year it was -3C. That’s pretty freaky too.

The messages that nature has been sending us are obvious: we have to be looking at plants that are hardy, probably native, if we’re not going to lose them to extreme weather. I once interviewed a botanist who said that these weather changes would mean “the survival of the freakiest.”

Watch your plants with new eyes. Observe where plants are thriving and see if you can figure out why (In a protected spot? Out of the wind? Raised bed?) You might have to change or adjust your style of gardening to make it more sustainable. That’s one of those terms which gets all muddled. It means gardening in such an efficient manner that all the material in your garden is recycled to feed and maintain itself. You are part of the way there by being an organic gardener. Be sure to compost in some way, shape or form; you might consider re-using water (dishwater, laundry) and making sure your eaves empty into the garden and not into the sewer. And never use chemicals on your plants.

Right now put lots of compost around the garden. This is our major job at this time of year. We happen to use duck compost because we can get a ready supply of it. But amend what you have in your own composter with city or commercial stuff (don’t get suckered by expensive versions that say “magic” on the package, it’s probably peat moss) and sheep manure.

Don’t be fancy, toss it around every plant. You may cover up bulbs but they’ll have no trouble pushing up to get to the sun. And leave a thin layer over the lawn. It will feed the grass very nicely and improve the looks immeasurably. And, of course, leave the clippings in place to compost down and feed the grass itself.

In areas where most of the damage ocurred, slow down the opening up of the garden. And try to get your mind around the fact that this is will be the year of recovery. You’ll be looking after plants very carefully:

* Do not remove leaves from the ground unless they are densely matted, and even then lift them gently.
* Restrain the temptation to prune for a week or two. 
* Don’t even think about touching Japanese maples until the end of the month. 
* Cut back perennials now. They are looking pathetic as are grasses. Just cut them all back doesn’t matter if they are cold or warm weather grasses. Most of them are tough enough to take it.


This is Helleborus foetidus and it’s making babies around it which are flourishing into a lovely little community. The mother plant on the right has been cut right back and she will come back gloriously.


The nature of hellebores is fascinating. The leaves look crappy for a bit but removing them seems to perk up the whole plant in an instant. Different species bloom in different seasons, therefore there might be one in bloom in every season.

Take pictures of your bulbs. If you need more, this is the time to figure out what you will need to buy in the autumn. I’ve given up many different kinds of bulbs. Tulips have too short a life span, I get fed up with the detritus left behind by many narcissus. So I stick to the little ones that will naturalize and disappear; I love alliums of all sizes as long as they are deep purple. But that works with the style of my garden. Figure out what you need in yours.


The garden this week is burgeoning. No matter a flood or miserable weather it’s going to be gorgeous.

If you live in Toronto, and are in despair about your garden, we can help you. Go to www.marjorieharrisgardens.ca and give us a buzz. We’re raring to go.

And, of course, the most important thing about gardening is to have some fun. Go out a stare at a few buds opening up each day and it will make you feel glorious.

If you need my services:  email me

Yours Marjorie