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Value For Your Money
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

May 6, 2001

Finally, we're finished with the long wait for true spring and we can do some real gardening; but, the reality checks have been coming fast and furiously. The first was the apparent high cost of plants and their supporting products such as fertilisers and hard goods. If you can come to terms with the truism that cash money is only a form of green fertiliser you'll enjoy the season better.
You'll often read here that you get what you pay for so compare the cash outlay to the hours of pleasure and contentment your garden gives you to some of its alternative uses. One person, one movie ticket, one minuscule bit of popcorn and one cardboard cup of flavoured ice compared to the years of fragrant beauty provided by one floribunda rose. One person, one two hour car ride through the Don Valley parking lot, one ticket to finally park your overheated car, one ticket to the Jays/ Raptors/ Leafs, one hotdog and one cardboard cup of flavoured ice to one flowing carpet of a chameleon border that enticingly changes as the summer months slowly pass by. I will concede that an evening music concert, whether it is folk, classical or contemporary, is viable competition but consider this: when you are recalling those glorious arpeggios or, Gordon Lightfoot forgive me, some riffs a la Todd Rundgren, where would you like to be? On your front porch looking at a fallen down fence festering with Manitoba Maples or at a soothing vista of flowers and hedges that enhance your reminisces?
The second reality check is the veracity of those vibrantly coloured  catalogues we've been dreaming over these past bleak months. We are all jaded just enough to realise that there are very few instances where our blossoms and foliage are as brightly hued or verdant as the glossy photos want us to believe. However, the true surprise comes when we get to the garden centre and discover that the variety we have made the centre piece of our design is either not available or not hardy for this area. Don't despair, a good nursery will be able to suggest alternatives that will satisfy your original purpose of including that cultivar.  
Allow me to vent a wee bit of spleen here Gentle Reader. It is disheartening to those of us who work in a nursery to have to tell our customers that we don't carry a particular plant because it won't grow in our area. You are immediately disappointed at our selection even though John or Jane Doe who wrote the article extolling the virtues of this amazing plant hails from Utah and once sojourned to Toronto of the Great White North. So please, check the origin of the magazine or article wherein you found your Elysian plant. The Bay of Quinte is not Victoria, B.C. nor is it Martha Stewart's backyard. That said, there is an astonishing array of perennials, shrubs and trees available to you.
A third reality check, and this is a good one, is the discovery of  microclimates in your gardening area. Many bulbous plants, but daffodils in particular, can be your first indicator. (The surprisingly under-used Pasque flower is another telltale.) The assumption, naturally, is that you planted them at the proper depths for each cultivar. Did your daffs pop up long ahead of your neighbours'? Likely it is a nice south to south west exposure with little overhead shading. This is good but don't get too excited yet. Is it susceptible to the colder north westerly winds of autumn and winter? No? Then you probably have a useable microclimate that lets you look at some zone 6 plants such as various Japanese maples and quite a few cypresses (cyprus?). Yes? Don't give up hope, a few cedars can give you the needed wind protection. 
Remember to ask your favourite gardening professional for direction and your gardening reality can be every bit as beautiful as you imagined. 

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