by Marjorie Harris
So you’ve bought a new house, your view is the neighbour’s kids running wild and the grass looks an unreal green. Don’t despair, here’s a guide on how to start a garden, provide a little privacy, and get some satisfaction out of it this year.
Make sure you have the following:
SOIL BASICSIf you’ve bought a house in a new development, chances are the topsoil was carted off and you’ve been left with subsoil. The sod won’t last out the season. Have a look at what’s under that carpet of grass. If it’s dry looks like clay, it probably is subsoil and you’ve got trouble. Be prepared to add masses of compost to the surface or, failing that, manure. Looks revolting for a bit, but don’t worry it works in building up organic matter to give the grass a chance for survival. Take out chunks of grass and start making beds by piling on compost, manure, and top soil (you don’t need fancy mixes). This is a slowish process and will take a year to get decent soil. Pile up the bad soil so it won’t erode (make a raised bed) and add compost and manure. In a year you’ll have another bed of good humusy soil. The alternative is to dig down, take away terrible soil and back fill with a commercial triple mix.
Think in layers from your upward gaze down to the ground and buy something for every level. The mix is everything: annuals, perennials and woodies (shrubs and trees-you might as well learn the lingo as you go along).
Artemisia ‘Oriental Limelight’ shrubby with green leaves edged in yellow
Begonia rex ‘Denver Lace’ green edges, purple centres
Another good filler is to plant up containers with annuals and put them in obviously bald spots. Use any of the above plus trailers such as bacopa.PLANTING TECHNIQUES
After soil improvement, get on with planting vines. This will add interest within a year.
I’d go for a whole range of clematis to make life easy: Spring-montana, macropetala and alpina in any color or size. Summer: the hybrids (Nelly Moser is the most popular so avoid it, there are dozens of this ilk); Fall: Sweet Autumn clematis is a must and grows 15 feet the first year. When you plant, dig a big hole, make sure there’s lots of organic matter in the soil and place the plant about two or three inches below the level of the soil. Cut the plant back to about four inches above ground. Sounds miserable but will pay off in the future. Next year, cut the autumn and summer flowering forms in the spring and leave the rest alone except to shape.
When you plant anything, always make a hole twice the size of the container. The loosened soil will give the plant a chance to spread its root system. Top dress with a good compost or compost and manure mix and don’t bother with anything else except mulch.
WHAT’S IN A MULCH
The great dramatic secret of good gardening is simple. Mulch, mulch and mulch again. This is adding organic matter to the surface of the soil around plants to protect them from heat and cold. It will feed the soil as bacteria and other little creatures break it down. This will elminate all other fertilizing. Make a thick blanket and don’t let it touch the plants themselves.
If you can’t handle all the cleaning up, planting and putting away, hire a gardener to come in at least every two weeks. The prices range from $15 an hour up to about $40 for quality maintenance.
Designers will go up to $100 an hour. They will consult, give advice, do drawings. They don’t usually plant or do hardscaping.
Landscape architects will do plans and construction but if you’re on a limited budget make sure you get something that can be done in increments. An articulate plan should have some basic hardscaping (the raised beds, water feature); do the planting yourself and put off as much as you can until next year.
THE WORST GARDENING MISTAKES:
Working against reality. Don’t plant a sunny garden if all you’ve got is shade.
Putting in something of everything you see in the nursery. Make a list and cut in half, then try half this year, half the next.
Putting in too many bits and pieces of hardscaping. Either get a complete design or start small and simple: one big rock is better than a bunch of little ones for instance
Adding decor before you’ve decided what it is this garden must do for you (masses of white plastic furniture come to mind). Keep the tschosckes to a minimum the first year then get out that collection of garden gnomes once you realize what your true style is.
Refusing to take plant size seriously. It may look ditzy but if you crowd plants in too close together they won’t get a chance to perform well. Add annuals to fill in spaces.
Sticking a blue spruce outside the front door (they grow to about 100 feet).
Jamming in a bunch of little sticks of cedar and expecting a hedge to grow in a few years.
THE BEST GARDENING TIPS:
Use a simple colour pattern in each border or area. Blue and white; all pinks and reds; limey green and burgundy. Just don’t make it spotty.
Concentrate on foliage which lasts longer than blooms and will ultimately give more satisfaction.
Invest your money wisely. If a fountain is a must, don’t put it in immediately. Live with what you’ve got for a year then save up for a really good one.
Buy good pieces of furniture one bit at a time, don’t worry about everything matching. It’s like interior decor-mixing styles is chic. Looks good too.
Always plant with birds, butterflies and other insects in mind, they will keep your garden healthy.
Think Biodiversity: get as much of a mix of plants as is humanly possible.
Plant in combinations that will attract good bugs, discourage the bad and be fodder for bees and moths.
Take care of your feet: don’t go around in sandals, you run the risk of mashing up your toes.
Your hands are your most important gardening asset: Use the amazing new Crabtree & Evelyn’s Gardeners Hand Recovery to keep them in first class condition. It really works.
Mulch, mulch, mulch.