Remember those cookies mom used to make? Mouth-watering chocolate chip cookies you could never get enough of! Well, West Coast Gardeners, we can learn a few things about our dream garden from those delicious cookies, believe it or not.
When we head into the kitchen to bake a batch we have to be sure to gather all the correct ingredients, right? Grab a few of the wrong boxes off the shelf and suddenly our chocolate chip cookies become carrot cake. Delicious…but not what we were dreaming about.
We can find ourselves in a similar situation in our gardens if we’re not careful. Perhaps we dream of beautiful pink roses but we don’t realize our ingredients include a yard full of shade and a boggy lawn. Don’t worry! With a bit of analyzing, some extra special ingredients and a foolproof recipe, we can create the garden we’ve always wanted.
Whipping up the perfect soil!
Can you ever have too many chocolate chips in the cookie dough? Probably not. However when it comes to soil you may have to be more careful. Luckily we have an easy way to test your yard.
Take a handful of moist soil from the area you’re inspecting and roll it into a ball in the palm of your hand. (Just like making cookies. Don’t worry - no taste testing is required!) Make sure to do this in the front and back yard, as the results may be different.
What happens? If the soil ball falls apart right away, you have very sandy loose soil (too much flour in that dough!) and need to increase the amount of organic matter. You can do this using compost, manure, peat or other natural materials. If your soil ball stays together and reminds you of pottery class in school, then it has quite a bit of clay and adding sand could be beneficial.
Again, don’t worry if it’s not exactly what you were hoping for. You may not be able to turn carob chips into real chocolate for those cookies, but when you’re working with a garden recipe you’ll find changes can be made.
Raising your garden beds to increase drainage will help if your soil has a lot of clay. As well, you can add fertilizer, Sea Soil, peat or sand to change the composition of your flower beds depending on what you’d like to plant.
Don’t burn the Begonias!
Tender leaves can get burned as quickly as those golden cookies in the oven, if we’re not careful about placing them in the correct light. It’s important to take a close look at your yard and find out all about the brightly lit spaces and deep dark corners.
Grab a piece of paper (or use the napkin from that cookie you just finished…) and draw a quick top-view of your yard. Take a walk around your space in the morning, afternoon and evening to make some quick notes about the light in each area.
I suggest paying particular attention to flower beds right next to your house, as well as spaces under trees or tall shrubs. The following terms can be found on plant information tags, and will give you an idea of what to look for:
Bright light for most of the day, enough to cast a shadow.
Half the day in sun, half the day in shade (Plants aren’t picky about which half).
This usually refers to an area under a canopy, where streaks of light come through, but never direct sunlight.
An area where sky can be seen, but is always in shade.
The darkest areas of your yard, under dense tree branches you can’t see the sky through.
Since this is a garden and not a baked good, we have the option of altering the ingredients to create our dream space. Shady areas can quickly become more sunny with a bit of tree chopping, hedge clipping and shrub removal. Too much sun? Mix in a handful of taller bushy plants and a new tree or a shrub.
Getting the perfect batch of blooms
Baking your cookies for half the time at twice the temperature is sure to create an inedible concoction, and in your garden the hot and cold balance is just as important to your plants.
Each area of North America has it’s own temperature zone. South Surrey is in Zone 8, which means warm summers (below 30’C) and mild, rainy winters (above -10’C). North Coquitlam is a bit colder, in Zone 7 with potential winters dipping down to -12’C.
Take a look at the information tags on your plants when shopping, to make sure they will thrive in your area. Adding an outdoor thermostat to your yard can help you understand the temperatures you need to think about when planting.
Often yards have areas called “sun traps” where the temperature gets hotter than in the rest of the garden. As well, look out for “frost pockets” which stay colder longer and take forever to dry out after it rains. Make sure to add plants that enjoy hotter or cooler temperatures in these areas to ensure your whole garden looks amazing.
Your very own secret ingredients. Shhhh.
Just as your cookie recipe may not be exactly the same as your mom’s, or your neighbour’s, your garden is a unique creation as well. The more you learn about your yard and environment, the better those plants will bloom!