Growing Gracefully

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Penny Esseltine - It's Still Just Dirt

Master Gardener Sean James, speaking at the Stratford Garden Festival, says, “You need to be patient with a garden and think long term. Some of us take a wad of money on the 24th of May weekend and buy what looks good to plant in the garden and that’s it for the season.”

Sean is president of Fern Ridge Landscaping, Eco-Consulting, Design, Installation and Maintenance in Milton, and he says he fell into landscaping and has since spent much of his life doing what he loves. So here, well in advance of the 24th of May, are some of Sean’s guiding principles for planning your garden.

Sean says to do only as much as you can look after in terms of the size and sophistication of your garden. Start with a plan and it will evolve.

“Figure out where things will work best. Modern wisdom is to match plants to soil type whether it is clay or sand.”

There’s a huge list of plants for each type of soil.

If it’s hardscaping (walls, patios, ponds, stairs, gates) you’re thinking, it is important to use proper construction methods for everything.

“Do what you can afford to do,” Sean says, “but do it right. Phase things in.”

Gardeners aren’t good at being ruthless, Sean says. Think about the problems you have in the garden. Perhaps there’s a tree affected by bronze birch borer or a black pine with brown tips. Think about what will work better in that particular space.

“For trees in distress, add six to eight inches of pine mulch from just about the edge of the trunk out to the drip line. This will do more for the health of the tree than any other thing.”

Ten of Sean’s gardening tips:

* For energy efficient landscaping plant in the southeast and southwest sections of your property. These garden spaces will help to keep your house cooler in the summer.

* Columnar trees are good for screening but they can get wider than you think. Be sure to allow space. Pick the right plant for the right place.

* Native trees attract all kinds of little critters that will feed on garden pests.

* Avoid invasive plants like English ivy, goutweed and periwinkle. Search for 'grow me instead' information at

* Planting just one kind of plant in a large area will give it power. Large drifts have visual impact.

* Some of the best plants for shade are solomon’s seal, big root geranium, and flowering raspberry.

* If you are moving a perennial plant be sure to divide it first and plant it in several places.

* Slowly replace sod with more garden by edging your gardens bigger every year.

* Overgrown junipers can be salvaged by pseudo bonsai-ing to downsize them and show their form.

* Using loppers, cut multi-stemmed deciduous shrubs or trees down to ground level in late winter. This is called coppicing. Clear the detritus. Many plants will make new growth from the stump or roots. You can rejuvenate many different shrubs and trees like dogwood, smoke bush, willow and birch using this technique.

Now, back to that big wad of 24th of May cash. Sean recommends dividing it into six parts. Then visit your garden centre each month from May through October and buy the plants that are blooming then. If you plant these in your garden you will have added interest in your gardens all growing season long.

The Tillsonburg Horticultural Society meets on the first Tuesday of each month in the Senior Centre Auditorium at the Tillsonburg Community Centre. For additional information check us out at



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