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Setting Garden Goals
by Donna Balzer
by Donna Balzer


If you somehow missed her on the award winning garden show Bugs & Blooms (now in re-runs on HGTV and around the world), you can catch her in the summer answering listener questions on CBC. Failing that, open the Calgary Herald and you’ll find her on-going gardening column. There’s also a good chance you’ll see her work in either “Garden Life Magazine” or “Canadian Gardening”

Donna’s work has also been recognized through several awards. Her first book “Gardening for Goofs is a Canadian best seller and her second book “The Prairie Rock Garden” received the Carlton R. Worth award for writing. In 2003 Donna received “The Distinguished Agrologist Award” from her peers in Agrology. HGTV’s hit internationally broadcast gardening show “Bugs & Blooms” won Donna and her Co-Host Todd Reichardt the Garden Globe Award for best talent in electronic media in 2002.

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February 13, 2005

It is never too early in the new year for a gardener to dream about gardening. This thought came to me as I was running errands in late December and thinking about some of my favourite things in gardens.

Simple things can be changed to improve any green space - including my own backyard - and I have already began setting garden goals for the new year.

First, I need to spend more time in my own garden this year. This has not been a goal before. It seems a natural assumption that I should spend more time but I realised - quite suddenly actually - that I want to spend more time - not just on planning and scheming but on the basic tasks of weeding and watching things grow.

This year I will dedicate a full day a week to my garden. This is marginal compared to the 40 hours plus some of my friends and clients spend every week during gardening season but it is a huge increase for me. Instead of weeding while I walk the five paces to my car on my way out the door I'll dedicate eight hours a week to gardening chores. And it¹s not just the weeding and clipping I'll pay closer attention to. Because I'll be in the garden more I'll see when the soil becomes compacted or when the first lady beetle of the season appears.

I've always been present for the first seasonal blooms but this is because I have planted the early bloomers right at the front door where they stand up and present themselves every time I pop in and out of the house. I'll spread this effect around the garden this year by moving the seasonally interesting plants into new pockets and corners.

My second goal in the garden this year is to refocus my energy and efforts towards creating a three dimensional space for texture and form inthe garden. The emphasis when buying new plants this year will be dedicated to plants with interesting texture and form. If a plant will not contribute a striking or distinctive texture to the overall scheme I'll take a hard look at its other attributes and consider replacing it or not buying it . Plants with excellent textures include the many fine leaved perennial and annual grass cultivars and the delicate flowered fall asters or annual bacopa. A plant may have fine textured leaves or fine textured flowers or- due to its nature - the plant itself may be described as "fine". Maidenhair ferns and meadow rue are both described as fine textured perennials while the pygmy and fernleaf caraganas are definitely fine textured shrubs. The cut-leaf weeping birch is a fine textured tree - its delicate green leaves opening in spring and hanging gracefully all summer followed by the wispy thin pendulous branches trembling in the winter landscape.

If a plant texture is defined as coarse, the plant either has a wide, heavy look - as seen in mugo pines - or its individual leaves are broad such as the perennial bergenia, hosta or rhubarb. The flowers of the Annabelle hydrangea are so striking because of their large texture and the leaves of hops make the plant a valuable coarse textured perennial vine. A combination of plants in the landscape with various textures creates interest. This is why dramatic use of Hostas (broad leaved) in combination with a delicate fine textured fern creates such an impact in a shade garden. In full sun the simple combination of weeping birch or multi stemmed paper birch with a large mass of mugo pine behind it makes an instant statement.

Plants with interesting form - as well as variable texture- are important in the year-round landscape. Plants have a range of forms from the tall narrow pyramidal Swedish columnar aspens to the horizontal groundcover effect of blue sedums and the distinctive triangular form of the blue spruce. The spilling effect of a weeping caragana or the perfectly round shape of a globe cedar contribute specific forms to the garden. Non-plant objects also contribute form to the landscape. Interesting architectural features repeated from the house to the garden , a series of coordinating pots repeated again and again within a view of the garden, or a low brick edge outlining the flower beds are all strong elements of form in the yard. The addition of several new dwarf evergreens to my garden last year definitely gave me a year round addition of plant form in the new beds created. This spring a major redevelopment in the back yard will continue this approach.

For gardeners with new or old spaces the bleakest month of the year may be January. If this is true in your garden you need to examine - as I am doing- the contributions made by the individual elements within the garden. If - in the past- you have become a "collector" of all new things green and every new gadget or decorative item associated with gardening it is time to take a fresh approach. If you are the owner of a new camera it may be a great season to capture this month¹s look on film, moving around the yard for a complete look at the impact you have created through the changing seasons.

If you haven't achieved the look you like in your yard consider sharing the goals I am proposing for the new gardening year. Spend more time on actual labour and pay more attention to new plants and features added.


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