How to enjoy your home’s garden all year round

Patience grows in the garden: winter tips and resources for planning and appreciating your garden

Enjoying the garden does not have to wait until summer. Practicing patience and slowing down to spend time in the garden during winter can teach us about our native plants and wildlife, and help us grow nicer gardens. For example, red osier dogwood is a popular choice to add a touch of red to your garden in winter. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Ecology Park)
Enjoying the garden does not have to wait until summer. Practicing patience and slowing down to spend time in the garden during winter can teach us about our native plants and wildlife, and help us grow nicer gardens. For example, red osier dogwood is a popular choice to add a touch of red to your garden in winter. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Ecology Park)

Winter can leave us impatient for summer. In a world increasingly full of distractions, patience can seem like a rare quality.

Winter is perhaps the best time to slow down and practise patience by spending time with nature, especially in a garden.

Here are some of the ways that slowing down can bring you more success in your garden.

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Plan now for your spring and summer garden

Leaving some perennials over the winter supports wildlife while also providing visual interest. This photo shows a residential garden in Peterborough with a variety of echinaceas and rudbeckia.  (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)
Leaving some perennials over the winter supports wildlife while also providing visual interest. This photo shows a residential garden in Peterborough with a variety of echinaceas and rudbeckia. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP)

Winter is a great time to curl up with a warm blanket and a hot cup of tea to make plans for spring and summer gardening.

However, it is easy to overlook that ambitious garden ideas require work and time. Beware of taking on more than you can chew. Fast fashion does not apply to flowers. Commit to a manageable garden that allows you to care for it properly. The plants will reward you for this in spades (pun intended).

Some plants take inspiration from the tortoise rather than the hare when it comes to growth speed. The slow and steady members of the garden are often tree species, but some crop plants require patience too. Raspberries, for example, take approximately two years after they are planted before they produce a significant crop of berries. Asparagus from seed takes three years until it produces a harvestable crop.

Hayley Goodchild, GreenUP’s Sustainable Urban Neighbourhood (SUN) Program Coordinator, is a passionate home gardener. She shared with me her experience getting to know her garden and how she is gaining horticultural knowledge as she watches it grow.

“This will be my third full season at my current home,” Hayley says. “My partner and I grow annual vegetables, perennial food crops like asparagus and apples, and maintain non-edible perennial beds too. Each year we tackle another small project based on the knowledge we’ve gained in previous seasons.”

Cedar is a great option if you want to add a touch of green in your winter garden. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Ecology Park)
Cedar is a great option if you want to add a touch of green in your winter garden. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Ecology Park)

“We waited two years before planting asparagus, which we started from seed. Since asparagus plants can live for a decade or longer, it was important that we chose the site wisely,” Hayley adds. “It took us time and observation to determine where they should go”.

When designing new garden spaces, keep the growth rate of plants in mind. It takes three to five years for the average perennial garden to become established.

Anticipate increased watering needs during those first few years. Choose plants based on your water availability to make your life easier and more beautiful.

Tamarack is an eccentric and excellent local species for areas that stay wet in summer but get full sun. In the fall, the needles turn vibrant shades of yellow an orange before dropping.  (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Ecology Park)
Tamarack is an eccentric and excellent local species for areas that stay wet in summer but get full sun. In the fall, the needles turn vibrant shades of yellow an orange before dropping. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Ecology Park)

“Being patient in the garden has lots of rewards,” Hayley says.

“By spending lots of time observing how things grow, I’ve developed a deeper understanding of the ways that plants and soil benefit one another. Patience makes for a more beautiful and productive garden in the long-term.”

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Enhance your winter garden

If you struggle to appreciate your garden when it is sleeping and unseen under a blanket of snow, here are a few ideas.

Coniferous species are evergreen trees and shrubs that hold on to their needles or leaves all year. Having cedar, pine, and spruce in the garden keeps some green in your winter garden, and they look lovely when snow collects on the branches.

Beech and ironwood trees keep their leaves through the winter, adding visual and auditory textures to your garden during what can otherwise be bare and silent time of year. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Ecology Park)
Beech and ironwood trees keep their leaves through the winter, adding visual and auditory textures to your garden during what can otherwise be bare and silent time of year. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Ecology Park)

Grasses are also beautiful in the winter. The dry, sandy-coloured grass blades and seed heads blow in the winter wind, adding movement and structure while also providing food and nesting material for animals.

Keeping a garden journal is a great way to learn from your garden. You can record wildlife sightings, budding trees, and any other activity and look back at this in future years as a reference.

It is a joy to watch and a lovely way to get your daily dose of Vitamin N (Nature) all year round.

Queen Anne's Lace is naturalized to North America and provides beautifully intricate texture and structure during the winter, with the flowers often reaching above 30 to 60cm in height. In growing season, Queen Anne’s Lace can also help boost tomato plant production, and it also helps provide a cooler microclimate for lettuce crops. Be aware that Queen Anne’s Lace can persist in the seed bank for two to five years. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Ecology Park)
Queen Anne’s Lace is naturalized to North America and provides beautifully intricate texture and structure during the winter, with the flowers often reaching above 30 to 60cm in height. In growing season, Queen Anne’s Lace can also help boost tomato plant production, and it also helps provide a cooler microclimate for lettuce crops. Be aware that Queen Anne’s Lace can persist in the seed bank for two to five years. (Photo courtesy of GreenUP Ecology Park)

The true joys of the garden can be appreciated not only through summer blooms, but all year round. If you are spending some time this winter planning your garden, here are a few resources for you:

  • Learn more about reducing your water use while gardening with GreenUP’s Water Wise Recognition Program (www.greenup.on.ca/water-wise/). Starting in spring, recycled olive barrel rain barrels are available for purchase at the GreenUP Store (378 Aylmer St. N., Peterborough).
  • Learn more about pollinator-friendly gardens at the Peterborough Pollinators website at www.peterboroughpollinators.com.
  • Save the date for the Garden Market at GreenUP’s Ecology Park, which re-opens for the 2020 season on Saturday, May 16th on the Victoria Day long weekend. Located at 1899 Ashburnham Drive, Ecology Park is your destination for a wide variety of plants and trees as well as advice from the experts about what is right for your garden. For more information about the Garden Market, including hours and prices, visit www.greenup.on.ca/ecology-park/garden-market/.
  • Ecology Park’s annual Spring Plant and Garden Market Sale is also on opening day (May 16, 2020), so make sure to stop by for some deals.

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