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Roots of Good Gardens in Research #1
by Dan Clost
by Dan Clost


First serious garden earned 25 cents from the Kemptville Horticultural Society when I was 12. Have been poor in horticulture ever since but rich in spirit.

Went to work writing the Good Earth column (over 500 articles published in newspaper, magazine, website and journal.) and learned that what was printed wasn't what I wanted to say and certainly not what Gentle Reader understood me to say. Subsequently have developed a certain clarity and economy of words.

Day job- nursery and production manager for a large nursery/garden centre
Side job- Garden restoration and renovations, design consultations, remedial pruning.
Night job- garden writer and communicator (overnight success in another 20 years)

Dan gardens in Canadian Zone 5b

November 26, 2000

Though we are in the midst of enjoying this year's garden, it is not too early to talk about starting a garden from scratch, next year's garden that is. There are four components to creating a garden: research, planning, preparation, and planting. Research is very important and can be fun. If this is all new then I can tell you that you need to do a lot; if you are an old hand, you already know that research is a must. So what to research? Well, what sort of plants do you like? Where are you going to put them? What tools do you need? How much time do you want to spend taking care of them?
Are the plants available in our area? Are there certain varieties, colours, or themes that appeal to you? Do you want to make dramatic statements, enhance your property or grow pretty flowers and tasty veggies? If you have never gardened before how do you know where to start? Try taking a walk around the neighbourhood. What do you like? What do you not like? Include the hard landscaping elements of structures and statuary in your evaluations. Are there some common plants? For example does everyone have Lily-of-the-valley in a shady area? When you see commonalities in an area there is usually a reason. It could be a soil type, a community preference or it could be that the dang plant is so invasive it is everywhere, like our aromatic friend.
Make notes, including your as yet unanswered questions and use sketches as invaluable reminders. Plan to spend time with books and catalogues either at home or in the library this winter. If you happen to see something particularly intriguing don't walk on by; talk to the stewards of these plots Chances are they have already done the trial and error thing and know what works, or rather, what grows in your neighbourhood. Chat with them using lots of nice words: wonderful, natural, green, and knowledgeable are good ones. They will share everything they know about gardening just to hear those compliments. You may notice some unusual plants doing nicely- ask about microclimates. Has there been some landscaping done to produce a specialised climate?
One good example is the Japanese Maple. An absolutely stunning specimen in any garden but it is marginally hardy in this area. You can create a more friendly environment with strategic location and the placement of windscreens. A good rule of thumb is to ask the nursery staff if they will guarantee the plant. Most shrubs and perennials come with a three to five-year guarantee depending on the plant and nursery. There is a reason for this. The plants have been grown here for a number of years and the nurserymen are quite confident about their ability to survive our climate. Should the plant die, they can be fairly sure that either an unusual circumstance happened or the homeowner, through well-intentioned ignorance, caused it to become premature compost. You will find that the glorious Japanese maple, although available, is not guaranteed.
That doesn't mean you can't be successful in establishing it, there are several excellent specimens in Trenton. It's just that it takes a bit of specialised care and knowledge to get it going. So here's a question to ask yourself, "How much of your budget does this $225.00 plant eat up?"
Good research will allow you to form a coherent plan for your new venture. Detailed research will save you money and time next year. Focussed research will give you the best opportunity for success. Good research includes asking the professionals at your favourite nursery.
My over-the-back-fence friend, Jack, passed on a book called A Starter Garden by Cheryl Merser published by Harper Perennial, 1994. For the beginner it is terrific, for the almost seasoned planter it is humorous and helpful. For the professional, it is a wonderful example of how to explain gardening to the rest of us.

Diploma in Agriculture, University of Guelph, 1979 and Diploma in Horticulture, University of Guelph, Kemptville Campus, 1999. In between, and a little bit on the other, been a soldier, an orchardist [10 yrs manager of a large commercial orchard] and a social worker [ten years as interpreter, advocate and linguistic analyst focussing on deafness]. Currently employed at a large garden centre/ nursery as the wholesaler.

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