Pregardening

This week is a crucial time in every garden?s life. The itch to get out there and whack away at everything, to make the garden sparkle, is overwhelming. But, first, indulge in a little pregardening. The more you plan, the more successful the results will be later on.

Start figuring out what you want the garden to look like this year. Because if you don?t figure out what your garden should be doing for you, it will simply look like a place to park plants. And that is definitely not going to make anyone with an aesthetic eye very happy.

The complaint I hear most often is ?I work in my garden, but it just doesn?t look great.? And that usually means there is no vision of what the garden is supposed to be (a tangled jungle, zen purity, home entertainment centre, play area strictly for dogs and kids).? If you have an intimate knowledge of what your land is like, of what kind of soil you have (get a little soil testing kit they are cheap and easy to use) and what kind of light you?ve got in various parts of the garden, you will be able to figure out what kind of a design your space will allow.

The next thing is to indulge in serious creative staring. In many parts of the country the leaves are barely unfurling but you can spot where sun will pour in and where you?ll have shade once everything around is in full bloom.

Next thing is to figure out where you want to put any new beds, or to expand existing beds (the more beds, the less lawn the better I say).

  • Use sun spots for vegetables, herbs and roses;
  • shady spots for hostas, hellebores, lungworts and heucheras (coral bells).

Save up newspapers and do the following:

  • Saturate a 10-cm thick pile of newspaper and settle it on top of the area you want to redevelop. This will kill off weeds and start to break down quickly if you cover it with a weed barrier cloth held down by bricks. Once you are convinced the new area is weed free (you can peek), plant it up. This will take about six weeks in full sun, a week longer in shade.

Above all don?t over-tidy. I know the temptation is to scrub the place down and that?s just fine for the bathroom. Just get out all the big branches that have fallen, junk that?s blown in over the winter.

Contact an arbourist to check out the health of your trees and shrubs and to eventually do some articulate and sculptural pruning. An arbourist is a great investment in your pregardening: they can limb up trees allowing in more light, take out dead stuff and allow sun into the interior of shrubs and trees. An initial visit won?t take long and you will get an estimate of what the job will cost and work around that in your garden budget. It?s expensive, but you only have to have it done every few years. A superb investment.

And remember every plant needs its own spring treatment. In many plants, the old growth will protect the new:

  • Don?t chop back woody plants (lavender, caryopteris, Russian sage) until they have new growth showing nearing the base.
  • Whack ornamental grasses back to within 10 cm of the ground but let the soil really warm up before touching anything else.
  • Do not under any circumstances, rake off leaves and small bits of detritus.? The worms will take care of this and you?re likely to damage bulbs.

Pregardening will save time and money and you can start making lists of all those wonderful plants that are coming into the nurseries. And, even better, you?ll have a sense of its true nature of your garden.