Why We Grow - I want my kids to know about the environment and their place in it
Anna was coming home from school, kids in tow, stroller loaded, knapsacks piled on, lots of talking and no one walking in a straight line. I was gardening when she came up to me waiving one of my flyers calling out, This is what I need! In brief sentences we concluded: Organic? Sustainable? Good for the environment? Her gardens? Make a date? Yes!
Anna and her family had moved in the fall before. A subdivision, 2 storey home on a pie-shaped lot: perfect for a young family with 3 small children. Slowly developing their landscape was on the agenda. Each year she and her husband wanted to take a step forward. We worked out an easy plan:
Year 1: clean up the gardens beds - weed, edge and mulch.
Year 2: create native plant gardens in the front yard.
Year 3: develop the backyard... food gardens? pollinator gardens?
Year 1 I was hired to clean things up; a sort of get-the-gardens-ready-to-go for her. She wanted to garden but needed a head start. I cut in edges, weeded and mulched out the beds she wanted to keep. We came up with a front garden design that suited her style and started to collaborate on combining the existing plants with new ones.
Year 2 Anna was ready to add new native plants to her front beds. She took out overgrown shrubs, transplanted others to the backyard and was ready for new plants by late Spring.
Low maintenance + personal style = meadow-like plantings that included 4 different grasses for hot & dry and some shade conditions. 4 season colour and shape came in the form of mounding False Blue Indigo, Liatris' purple spires, lush and moody groupings of Penstemon, sunny bursts of Coreopsis and Sneezeweed, light touches of Phlox, and a collection of globe Cedars. She planted it all with her mom after I laid the pots out earlier that day. They were a diligent pair; one digging and one planting. They had the gardens all done well before dinner time. When I stopped in on my way home the front of the house sat quiet in June's evening glow and the backyard echoed with the staccato of the trampoline's wheezing squeak and children's voices in play. I think the hardest part of gardening for Anna that year was regular watering for all the young transplants... Easy!
Year 3 - We're not there yet but next summer a back deck reno is on the TO DO list; making sure dining alfresco for 5 or 15 will continue to be joyous and a little less awkward. When I stopped to inspect a few plants worthy of transplanting I had a short visit with Anna and her youngest. The backyard compost bin is going to be moved into the sun.
She has a few ideas about a vegetable garden where she can start off with a few plants, adding more each year. We checked out the pollinator houses mounted on the side of the shed. One was a cool birthday gift her son received a year ago and the larger one a family addition. One of the tunnels was used + part of another! Proof that some pollinators were around and that their landscape could host a whole lot more. While carefully placing the 2 houses in the garage for winter's safe keeping we wondered what a new season would bring with so many more supportive plants in the gardens. Like good growers we were excited to see what 'next year' would bring.
I like Anna's approach to her gardens: reasonable and full of joy. She knows her lifestyle and how much work she can invest in the landscape. Her vision for future years involves a place for her children to explore and learn about nature. Swings, climbing ropes and gardens to explore are integral parts of their family's healthy lifestyle. While she points out next year's food garden possible location I found myself smiling at my own recollection of childhood gardens: eating rhubard stalks with my brothers - shivering with every daring, sour bite or sitting in the pea patch at Auntie Sue's enjoying the sweet greens, pods and all, hoping not to be caught too soon.
Children digging in garden beds, finding bugs and searching for gold may not be a part of your vision of outdoor beauty but you have to ask yourself, "Where else?" Whynot? It is important to leave space for childhood exploring, dogs included. It makes for teachable moments on soil science, good soil care (not walking on everything), how to examine plants without breaking them, learning how to be quiet and still enough to watch a hummingbird or to feed a chick-a-dee from the palm of your hand, what bugs sting or stink and where amphibians hide. Living in your space and time gives you freedom to embrace lawns trampled by bikes and games knowing there will be lots of time for crisper garden edges and clean chair cushions.