NEWS March 24th, 2011

By Mary Fran McQuade

Plan now for garden season

Talking to a landscape designer can be a good first step

Any day now it will really begin to feel like spring. Who cares if winter still has a temper tantrum or two? It’s on the way out. The sun says so, and he’s the boss of the seasons. As of March 20, the days have been longer than the nights, and we’ve turned the corner toward warmer weather.

More proof: The sap is rising in the sugar maples and we’ve seen the traditional maple syrup festivals spring up throughout Ontario.

And then we had Canada Blooms, followed by Success with Gardening, March 31–April 3.

So … hint, hint … this is the perfect time to talk to a landscape designer about your garden. Don’t worry that it’s coated with snow and maybe even ice. I spoke to several designers, and they all told me the same thing: the earlier, the better. If you wait, you’re going to have to get in line. Which means your garden may not get attention until August, and what fun is that?

“It’s a creative process,” says landscape designer Ron Swentiski, “and creativity needs time to be done well.”

Why use a designer?

So why involve a landscape pro? See if anything on this checklist sounds familiar:

• Your garden last summer was a disaster and you don’t know why.

• You want to get more use and pleasure out of your garden.

• You want to be able have both an attractive garden and a place for the kids to play.

• The kids are older now and you no longer need a mini-soccer field in the backyard.

• You want a nice garden, but don’t want to have to work so hard at it.

• You don’t know the first thing about gardening and don’t have time to learn.

• You have problem areas — ugly views, standing water, too much/too little shade — and you don’t know what to do about them.

Experienced landscape designers know how to get in there and fix things like this.

“The whole point of design is to remedy problems,” Ron says.

If you’re starting with a blank slate, a good designer can help you avoid problems in the first place.

Of course, if you enjoy gardening, you can always do it yourself. But dedicated amateur gardeners know that gardening involves hard work, careful research, frustration and occasional heartbreak (a little bit like the Olympics, in fact.) You do get the thrill of victory when the perfect peony blooms, but if that doesn’t turn your crank, then leave gardening to the pros.

Finding a good match

The idea of dealing with a landscape designer can be a little intimidating, but the real thing shouldn’t be. It’s your garden, after all, and a good designer will adapt to your wishes (assuming they’re within reason!). If he or she doesn’t pay attention to what you say at your first meeting, find someone else.

You should be comfortable talking with your design professional and be honest about your expectations.

“We’ll work with your needs, wishes, aspirations,” says Ron.

And don’t feel you have to have a ginormous property with room for waterfalls and gazebos, either. Designers do enjoy that kind of thing, but many are happy to work on smaller family gardens.

Another comforting thing to remember is that you don’t have to do everything at once. Nearly all designers are happy to develop an overall garden design for you that you can build on over time. Flower and veggie beds first, for example, followed by patio, then water feature, and so on.

“An experienced designer will ask questions and help you make a wish list,” Ron says.

He or she should also help you face reality. If you have limited space, you probably shouldn’t set your heart on planting a row of oak trees along the property line. (Those things get big, you know.)

If you want to do some of the grunt work yourself, that should be okay with your designer, too.

“We can provide a starting point and a direction,” says Ron, pointing out that sometimes all a homeowner needs is a new perspective.

The designer develops an overall design, along with a plant list and detailed planting plan showing what goes where. You and your family can take it from there.

Fun homework to do

If you’re thinking of calling in a landscape designer, get a head start by collecting some ideas of your own. It’s not hard, and it’s actually fun to do.

• Look through gardening magazines and make notes/copies of gardens you like.

• Get plant catalogues and picture books and mark the plants that catch your eye.

• Collect brochures, photos, etc., of man-made things like trellises, gates, benches and other garden accessories that appeal to you.