Tag Archives: Garden


Video: Ornamental grasses in the fall garden

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Video: Ornamental grasses in the fall garden

What not to do in the fall garden. Don’t cut down your ornamental grasses.


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In The Garden: National Tree Day

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In The Garden: National Tree Day

Plant a tree on September 26th

After much debate, a bill was passed in the House of Commons in 2011 to create a National Tree Day each year, which falls on the last Wednesday in the month of September. This year, that day is September 26th. Tree advocates everywhere can now breathe a breath of fresh air.

The Right Time

September is the best time of year to plant. You may choose to do so on National Tree Day, or any other day in the near future. However, I urge you to plant – more than one tree – and soon. The cool evening temperatures slow the growth on the top of the trees, while the warmth of summer still radiates in the soil and encourages young feeding roots to develop. The development of autumn-planted trees usually outgrow those that are planted in the spring. Come spring, your results will be nothing short of spectacular.

In addition, most retailers are clearing out their inventory at this time of year, so there’s an extra incentive to select the trees that you really want at a fraction of the cost – fruit trees, shade trees, ornamental flowering trees, native trees and shrubs.

Plant Native

Whenever, and wherever, you can plant native trees – it just makes sense. For the most part, native trees adapt well to our urban environment, they self propagate, and are disease and insect resistant. In addition, they attract nesting song birds. LEAF (Local Enhancement & Appreciation of Forests) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection, and enhancement, of the urban forest. Visit yourleaf.org for programs and advice on making the right choice for your environment.

I recommend starting with a nursery-grown native plant. They are properly cared for while developing – after all, they are called nurseries. A field-grown tree will be root pruned before being lifted out of the ground. A container-grown tree will have all of its roots intact at the time of planting. As a result, you’ll be pleased with your investment, because it should be a seamless transition between the nursery and its new home.

Deciduous Dedications

A country-wide tree day could not exist without official tree plantings. Visit treecanada.ca for listings and events going on in your area. Or, better yet, create your own event and register it on the site.

On September 26th do something for yourself, for your grandchildren, for your community and for the environment. Plant a tree on National Tree Day, and celebrate the great work that they do – without complaints or many demands. And, celebrate the fact that we live in a country where we can.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book
The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Facebook and on
Twitter @MarkCullen4. MarkCullen.com


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In The Garden: Head For Cover

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In The Garden: Head For Cover

While we were worshiping to the sun gods back in February, some of us may now be getting fed up with the heat. With high temperatures come increased UV rays, so it makes sense to seek out shady spots that provide some reprieve.

It’s under the shade of a leafy tree where we’ll experience temperatures that are five to 12 degrees cooler. The moisture it evaporates provides a cooling effect, so it’s no wonder we naturally migrate to these prime locations to have a picnic, read a book or take a nap.

A Shady Deal | It’s a good time to consider options for a shade garden, especially for under those trees on the north side of your house. I have a short list of favourites that are ideal for dappled shade – plants that prefer a sun/shade mix, but don’t like the hot/dry sun of mid afternoon.


Astilbe | Also known as False Spirea and Feather Flower, this plant injects a burst of colour for a prolonged stretch of time – from late spring and throughout the summer. The brightly coloured blossoms are electrifying in intensity, and grow from 30 to 80 centimetres high. They prefer an open, peaty soil, but once they dry out, it’s difficult to rehydrate them. To prevent them from doing so, be sure to mulch with five centimetres of shredded cedar bark.


Rhododendrons | ‘Rhodies’, as they are affectionately known in the business, hold a special place in the shade garden – but there are some secrets. For one, they love an acid soil, which is opposite to the alkaline stuff most of us put up with in the GTA. Always plant your rhododendrons in an open, sandy soil, mixed with finely ground pine bark – about 30 per cent by volume. Add about four tablespoons of garden sulphur (to help to acidify the soil) about every six weeks throughout the summer and into the early fall. Keep in mind that you’re not fertilizing them, per se, you’re changing the pH of the soil. For a foolproof garden performance, I recommend the winter tough ‘PJM’ varieties – purple flowers, with early spring blooms that are hardy to zone 4 (Ottawa).

Boxwood | Buxus is a broad-leafed evergreen that performs very well in all areas, up to zone 4. Boxwood is an evergreen, so treat it with a humusbased soil of peat or compost, and fertilize every few weeks with an evergreen food, like 30-10-10, until the middle of the summer. There have been many amazing boxwood hybrids that have been introduced over the years, which provide a deeper colour and a more finely textured foliage, versus the original version of Korean Boxwood.

Oregon Grape Mahonia Aquifolium

Oregon Grape | Native to British Columbia, the Mahonia Aquifolium grows quite well in zone 5 and 6 gardens (including Barrie). This plant features holly-like leaves that remain on the plant throughout the winter, and are then replaced as new growth occurs each spring. They have a delightful yellow flower in the spring, and a dense, shrubby growth habit. Oregon Grape matures to about one metre high, and equally as wide. I like it best when planted on the fringe of a hardwood bush, or under the shade of shrubs or a tall deciduous tree.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @MarkCullen4. MarkCullen.com


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Grow What You Love

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Grow What You Love

Plan Now For Your Summer Garden

By Emily Murphy

Planning a garden can be difficult – if not daunting. Knowing where to begin is often at the crux of any overwhelming task. I tend to dig out my short list of plants that I love to grow, and suggest that you do the same. Focus on a small space so that your garden is manageable and easy to maintain. When you start with the plants that bring you the most joy, or that provide the most flavor with the least amount of effort, you’ll quickly transform that designated area of dirt into magnificent magic.


Consider raised beds, containers, or pots that edge a stairway. Look for planters that are small enough to move around, but provide plenty of rooting depth for growing plants. Raised beds elevate the planting surface, which make them easier to tend to. You’ll still have plenty of room to grow a variety of plants like pole beans, sunflowers, tomatoes, leafy greens and herbs – all in one container.


For a flourishing garden, start with an organic planting mix, which has plenty of compost to create a soil ecosystem that feeds beneficial soil microbes and fungi to support optimal plant growth. Avoid using pesticides. Instead, add edible flowers and companion plants to the mix. These will help to fend off pests, and give pollinators a place to call home.


There’s nothing like witnessing the various growth stages, so position your garden as close as you can to see it. If the sunniest spot is out of sight, create a space around it where you’ll enjoy spending time.

With lengthening days and warming temperatures, the thought of gardening sows the wild oats of many. Now is the perfect time to start your garden – so get outside and grow.

Author of Grow What You Love, expert gardener, Emily Murphy, focuses on seasonal ingredients. @passthepistil, and her blog; passthepistil.com.


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In The Garden: Ground-Hugging Plants

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In The Garden: Ground-Hugging Plants

If I could come back to earth as a plant, I would be a ground cover – a useful one, of course. I love rich, organic soil, so by being a ground-hugging plant I could feel the rhythms of the earth, as well as the movement of the life giving earthworms beneath my roots.

Ever since I had my first garden, I’ve been experimenting with ground covers, and have learned a great deal about their benefits, as well as their limitations.


One of the most often-asked questions is how to grow grass under the shade of a mature maple. Without trying to be sarcastic, I usually respond by asking why they would want to. It’s a sincere question by an interested gardener, because there are few things that are more challenging than trying to produce a great looking lawn under a well developed tree. Grass loves the sun, so it’s not just the shade that limits it’s growing potential, but the grass is also in competition for moisture and soil-borne nutrients. The best answer; don’t try. Instead, grow a great looking substitute for a lawn. At the top of my list for zone 5 (GTA) is pachysandra. I’d recommend this fabulous perennial without hesitation, and have enjoyed personal successes with this ground cover. At our last home, we enjoyed the shade of 17 mature hardwood trees, but our growing choices were very limited. Pachysandra not only thrives under dense shade, but it also manages to grow nicely despite the dry soil. It’s an evergreen, so it also looks great in the middle of the winter when everything else is brown. Plant one rooted transplant every 15 centimetres square, and within two years they will have filled in quite nicely.


Don’t think of ground covers just as a substitute for a lawn. There are many areas that lend themselves to a little cooling down. Paths and walkways, as well as the frost crack in the pavement around your pool, are all viable options. It doesn’t take much soil to sustain the life of some types of moss or creeping thyme.

Wooly Thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus)

Wooly Thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) provides the added benefit of producing a pleasant scent when you walk on it. When you step on the Wooly Thyme, the essential oils in its leaves are released, filling the air around you.

Green Irish moss (Chondrus crispus)

Green Irish moss (Chondrus crispus) and lime-green Scotch moss (Sagina subulata) look amazing in areas where they receive some morning sun. Direct afternoon, and mid-day, sun will burn them. When planting, keep in mind that moss likes consistent moisture and an acidic soil. To help acidify the soil, dust with a garden sulphur every couple of months.


A steep slope in a sunny location can prove to be a challenge. Named for its bright, deep burgundy flowers that bloom in the late spring, a mass planting of Dragon’s Blood Stonecrop (Sedum spurium) is the perfect solution. As it matures, this beauty knits so closely together that weeds have a tough time pushing through. Because the leaves are tough and fleshy, they don’t require much water once they are established – another bonus for the slope-grower.

Check out other potential earthhugger options in the perennial department of your local garden retailer. Depending upon your application, there are those that are suitable for green roofs, containers, perennial borders and rock gardens.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @MarkCullen4. MarkCullen.com


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In The Garden: Garden Tourism

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In The Garden: Garden Tourism

It’s been said that there are two types of people in the world – those who love to garden and those who love to look at gardens. If this is the case, then introducing Garden Tourism into our lexicon, is long overdue.

Apparently, more than 27 million people who visited Canada last year, visited a public garden. We don’t have to travel far to see great gardens, as there are many in our own neighbourhoods – so get out and explore.

Close to home

A couple of years ago, Michael Gauthier came up with the Canadian Garden Route concept, and it was a big hit with train travellers. Along the Via Rail Garden Route, participants can choose to visit from a list of gardens, as they would choose their preferences from a menu in a restaurant.

In recent years, I’ve visited 11 of these gardens, and can vouch for all of them. These public attractions offer a broad appeal for casual gardeners who are only browsing, as well as those who like to get their knees dirty. I’ve listed a few of my favourites.

Butchart Gardens, B.C.

This garden is nothing short of magnificent. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why Walt Disney World used Butchart Garden as its model for the entrance into the Canada pavilion at Epcot Theme Park in Florida. When touring this treasure, keep in mind that it was once an open pit gravel mine, and that it was Mrs. Butchart who had the inspiration to convert it into a garden.

Halifax Public Garden

I haven’t visited every public garden in North America, but this destination is the best example of a Victorian-style public garden on the continent – so I’m told. This public space is located in the busy city centre of Halifax, and is, entirely, livable from all points of view.

Plan to visit in the spring, summer or early fall, as the gates are locked during the winter. The original gazebo has been replaced with a new one, in keeping with the style and period of the gardens. There’s no charge for entrance, but the quiet time that you’ll spend in this garden is, as they say, priceless.

Niagara Parks School of Horticulture

I’ve visited this garden almost every year since I joined my father in the nursery business in 1978. Not only is it a teaching facility, but it’s a public show garden. To experience something of the same calibre, you’d have to travel to Wisley or Kew gardens in England. This garden showcases the latest in garden design, the unveiling of new annuals, as well as the enthusiastic use of perennials and roses.

Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens

If you’re a Canadian history buff, add this to your must-see list. The British saw fit to settle in North America for close to a century, and the French settled here and made it their permanent home. The garden demonstrates how life was lived by the original settlers in the 1600s. Seasonal crafts and food are also featured on guided tours.


Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @MarkCullen4. MarkCullen.com


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Garden Expert: Come One, Come All

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Garden Expert: Come One, Come All

Create biodiversity in your yard to ensure a growing population of pollinators

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” ~LAO TZU

I made several insect hotels in my wood working shop for some of my gardening friends. They were received graciously but, at the same time, with a common query: “What IS it? What does an insect hotel do? What kind of insects will it attract? Are they all good for my garden?”

An insect hotel encourages insects to visit and reside in your yard. It can be as simple or as complex as you choose. There are many designs for insect hotels, and if you are a creative type, you can create your own.

Clearly, this discussion has a long way to go. It started with concern about the decline in the honeybee population, and has extended to the general concern shared by naturalists everywhere about the problems with our native population of pollinators.

We are no longer concerned exclusively with the decline of honeybees. Truth is, there are over 700 species of native bees (honeybees are not native) that serve as primary pollinators ‘out there’ in the natural environment, many of which you can attract to your yard with an insect hotel. In addition, there are thousands of other invertebrates that either pollinate over 30 per cent of the plants that we rely on for food, or are essential members of the web of insects that make up the whole show.

Take a winter moment to digest the following and you will be on your way to understanding the whole, big picture.

1. UNDERSTAND THE MEANING OF BIODIVERSITY. The word comes from ‘biological diversity.’ WWF defines it as, “The term given to the variety of life on Earth. It is the variety within and between all species of plants, animals and micro-organisms and the ecosystems within which they live and interact.” Biodiversity in your yard is represented by the range of naturally occurring plant, animal and insect life that exists in it. There is much that you can do to increase biodiversity, or the range of life in your yard.

2. PLANTS–PACK THEM IN. Do not underestimate the impact that you can have on the beneficial insect life in your neighbourhood by planting flowering plants. The longer each plant produces a flower, and the more of them, the better. If you have a minimum of six hours of sunshine in your garden, you are in luck. The varieties of plants available to you are nearly limitless. If you are dealing with shade, you also have opportunities to plant flowering plants galore, but you will need to be more thoughtful about your plan. In either case, place your plants densely to attract the maximum number of pollinators.

3. GO NATIVE…OR NOT. A recent study in England indicated that it is not important to a bug that a plant is native, if it produces a blossom that attracts them in the first place. According to the results of “The Plants for Bugs Pollinator” research, it is the diversity of plant material that attracts the maximum range of bug species, not whether they are native. To quote the study, “The value of a site can be maximized for pollinators by choosing plants from different regions of the world.”

4. ADD WATER AND DON’T STIR. Adding a still-water element is the single most impactful feature that you can add to your garden or balcony for attracting pollinators. A pond in the yard or a half-barrel on the balcony works just fine. When you add a water feature, I can guarantee that you will discover wildlife in your yard that you have never seen before. As dragonflies, salamanders, frogs, toads, water beetles, amphibians, mammals and bugs discover your new drinking hole, they will grow, thrive and breed.

We are only beginning this discussion about the importance of creating biodiversity in our yards and gardens. As I look in to the crystal ball, I see the interest in attracting pollinators and creating biodiversity in Canadian gardens as growing steadily.

DIY INSECT HOTEL: Use natural materials and arrange them in such a manner that insects find attractive and move in. NB. They don’t like a sanitized environment. Instead insects like messy and thrive on clods of rotting leaves, rough-cut lumber, or better still, a stack of rotting, split firewood.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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In The Garden: Last Minute Gardening Must-Dos

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In The Garden: Last Minute Gardening Must-Dos

For those of you who thought you were done with your lawn and garden responsibilities for the year – think again. Here’s a last-minute check list.

Fertilize the lawn

This is the best time of year to apply the most important application of lawn food. Before it goes to sleep for the winter, your lawn will absorb the nutritional benefits of a fall feed. Nutrients and sugars are stored in its roots in anticipation of the long, cold winter ahead. Choose a fertilizer with a slow release nitrogen (which is the first number), and high potassium (the third number), like 12-0-18.

Wrap the cedars

Cedar trees that are close to the road, especially those that are located on the east side where they are susceptible to the salt spray carried in the westerly winds, are the most vulnerable. To prevent permanent damage from the salt, wrap them in a layer of burlap, and then wrap them a second time. The two layers protect them from drying out – especially those that feel the brunt of the winds from the west, and from the north.

Organic composting

Ideally, all the leaves have now fallen from your trees, and you’ve raked them off your lawn and on to your gardens. If you have a compost pile or bin, now is an excellent time to empty the contents of it on to your garden. Spread it with a rake and let it sit there over the winter. Come early spring, earthworms will pull the raw compost under the surface of the soil and convert it into nitrogen rich castings.

Protect fruit trees

Mice and bunnies can do quite a bit of damage by nibbling away at the bark of fruit trees that are less than six years old, especially if we get an average dump of snow this winter. Wrap each tree with a plastic spiral that extends about one metre up the trunk, from the ground. After the tree has aged for more than six years, the trunks of most trees become too tough for rodents to enjoy.

Refresh and renew

Protect rhododendrons and other wind sensitive evergreens, like taxus (yews) and boxwood, with one application of Wilt-Pruf – it helps to prevent the drying effects of the wind, as well as the low humidity that we experience during our Canadian winters. Hang on to the leftovers and apply Wilt- Pruf to your freshly cut Christmas Tree. It works better than any other preservative that I’m aware of.

Clean the bird feeders

While I don’t anticipate seeing any hummingbirds until mid spring, there still may be wasps around at this time of year. Therefore, make sure to bring in the hummingbird feeders, and clean them in warm, soapy water. All bird feeders should be cleaned to help reduce the risk of disease.

Now that you’ve battened down the gardening hatches for another year, you can sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at MarkCullen.com


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Garden Expert: In The Food Garden

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Garden Expert: In The Food Garden

Cooler temperatures still yield garden goodness.

I have been thinking about food a lot lately. Every time I go out into my 10-acre garden, I am reminded that the food I grew with such pride through the summer is melting away into pockets of rot. But I am here to tell you there is an encore happening in your garden, and the celebration is not quite finished. It won’t be, in fact, for another few weeks.


Leeks are running my life these days. I grew more than I expected on account of when I sowed four packets of their seeds, I had 110 per cent germination (an impossibility, I know, but this is how it feels to be successful in the garden). Every gardener has had this experience. Leeks enjoy the cold, especially temperatures below freezing. They get bigger and better by the day.


Carrots are much the same. “Bring on the cold weather,” they say to one another as they huddle shoulder to shoulder in the cold, sandy soil. I suggest that you dig them soon and put them in bushel baskets of dry sand to hold them over the next couple of months in your garage or cold cellar. They can carry on their discussion there while waiting for you to bring them to the table.


You will no doubt be picking up a pumpkin at your local food retailer or farmers’ market soon. I suggest that you keep it on your porch or in your garage until Halloween just to prevent it from being hit by frost and going gooey and rotten before the big day.

I remind you that pumpkins are 90 per cent water. Therefore, throwing them out or disposing of them at the end of your driveway makes no sense. Think about all the garbage trucks in early November that are driving around with large, orange vegetables: neat packages full of water. It makes more sense to place it on the surface of the soil in your garden and let Mother Nature rot it down into something useful. In time it will assist in building microbes and organic matter there.


The whole routine of planting and harvesting garlic is counterintuitive. You plant the cloves now in open, welldrained soil. Come July, they will sprout a long stem with a pigtail and flower on the end of it: this is called a scape. Three or four of these sell for big bucks at the farmers’ market in July, so cut and use them. Every part of the garlic plant is edible, so be creative and use the flowers in salads or whatever you are cooking on the barbecue that time of year. Harvest the garlic in August and leave the bulbs in the sun for a few days. Then tie the stems together and hang them in a cool, well-ventilated place until you are ready to use them in the kitchen.


If you had a great crop of raspberries this season, now is the time to cut them down by removing the canes that fruited this summer. Cut the woody stems to the ground. Leave the young growth that occurred in August to mature and produce fruit next season. If you have fall-bearing raspberries, then finish picking and cut down the fruiting canes next spring.


If you have a large rhubarb plant in the garden, now is an appropriate time to dig it up, divide it into smaller root portions and replant it or give away some of the divisions. This is also true for hostas, daylilies, monarda, and many other perennial flowering plants.


Strawberries that have been in the same soil for three years or more are ready to be dug up, separated, and moved to new ground. Make sure that their new home is completely weed-free at the time of planting or you will regret it. Weeding strawberries is not my favourite job.


Spring is when the new plants are available for sale and therefore planting. However, if you have an established clump, now is an appropriate time to make sure that it is weed-free. Let the leaves and stems stand over winter. They will help to accumulate snow as a natural insulator and they add some interest to the winter garden.

It may be late in the gardening season, but don’t forget that the garden still needs some of your attention.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, member of the Order of Canada, author and broadcaster. Get his free monthly newsletter at markcullen.com. Look for his new best seller, The New Canadian Garden, published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and Facebook. markcullen.com


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In The Garden: Raided in a Bed

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In The Garden: Raided in a Bed

Tuck plants in for an extended season.

If you’re thinking of building a raised bed in your yard, urban gardener Tara Nolan has the answers to all of your questions. Nolan is an authority on this subject, and with all the changes in the business of gardening over the recent years, it’s great to have a comprehensive, go-to book on this very popular topic.

Early autumn is the perfect time of year to get handy and build a raised bed to plant in for this season, or in preparation for spring.

There are caveats to the raised bed phenomena. The roots of winterhardy plants are exposed to excess cold in the depth of winter. With this in mind, choose plants that are hardy in a planting zone one above your own. For example, plant winterhardy plants that are rated for Zone Five in a Zone Six Toronto garden.

Raised beds also tend to dry out more quickly than ground level beds. On the positive side, this can decrease the likelihood of over watering, which is at the root of 90 per cent of all plant problems. However, you do have to be vigilant about watering especially during hot, dry weather.

Tara Nolan is a Canadian writer. Her book is a comprehensive treatise on the subject, with a third of the book dedicated to DIY raised bed projects.

Raised Bed Revolution – Build It, Fill It, Plant ItGarden Anywhere is published by Cool Spring Press.

Why build a raised bed?

In her book, Raised Bed Revolution – Build It, Fill It, Plant It…Garden Anywhere, Nolan dedicates 12 pages of reasons as to why you might want might to build a raised bed for your veggies and ornamentals. Here are some of my favourites.

  • Season extension
  • Start earlier, harvest later. The soil in a raised bed warms up quicker come spring. If you have a glassedin structure around a raised bed, or use white Reemay cloth, you can extend the season for several weeks.
  • Control soil quality
  • People frequently ask me what they should do with clay soil. They’re never happy when I advise them to dig out 30 to 40 centimetres of the clay soil and replace it with 50 to 60 centimetres of new triple mix. When you build a raised bed in your yard, you don’t have to dig down and remove the soil. Fill the raised bed with the best quality, weed-free soil that you can get your hands on.
  • Accessibility
  • At Wind Reach Farm (a centre designed to meet the needs of individuals with a variety of disabilities in Ashburn, Ontario), I saw some of the most practical, and handsome, raised bed gardens for wheelchair gardeners. If this is a consideration, be sure to design a wheelchair garden with a wraparound feature for the plants on the left, and a shelf for shallow rooted plants on the right, so that the gardener can belly up to the garden with their legs safely nested underneath.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author and broadcaster. Check out his new book The New Canadian Garden published by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCullen4 and on Facebook. Sign up for his free monthly newsletter at MarkCullen.com


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