What I learned in my garden this year

No one knows it all. If someone says they do, they’re delusional or untruthful. That’s one of the things we learn from our gardens. We think we know what a plant is going to do, then – BOOM! – it turns around and does something completely different.

I’ve been gardening a couple of decades or so, but every year I learn something new from my own garden, and from other gardeners. As the year winds down to a close, I thought I’d pass on some of this hard-won wisdom to Beach Metro readers. I promise it’s all backed up by other experts or my own in-the-dirt experience.


Squirrels love to dig in planted containers. I don’t know any wildlife-friendly way to deter them, only slingshots and water guns.

Putting small mats of dog hair just under the top layer of soil where you’ve planted tulip bulbs may be a way to keep squirrels from digging them up. The wet dog hair is nasty when you come across it during your spring clean-up.

Garden plants

garden-IMG_1636 ny whistling gdns
Cloudy days are best for photographing gardens – the colours will appear much more vivid, and lighting will be more even.
PHOTO: Mary Fran McQuade

Native plants are all very well and good. They do well in large gardens and dry gardens. In small city gardens, however, you have to control them to keep your place from looking, well, weedy.

People are going to have to find something other than impatiens to add colour to shady gardens. An evil strain of downy mildew is spreading throughout the US and Canada, causing leaf drop and plant death. Botanists expect the disease to hang around for years to come.

Garlic should be planted in the fall. Plant individual cloves (not heads) and give them lots of room to grow. It’s not really a container plant, unless you want to grow just one in a big pot, for fun.

To prune roses, you need long gloves, preferably made of canvas. Really old, tightly woven clothes are a good idea, too. Make sure you have tweezers and bandages on hand.

Rain and water

Carry a pencil on garden tours in the rain. Common ballpoint pens don’t write on wet paper.

Rain gardens are probably useless in our neighbourhood; water drains away too quickly in our sandy soil to keep water-loving plants happy.

Keep cedars damp. A dry cedar is a dead cedar.

Grey days are good days for photographing flowers and gardens. The light is diffused, there are no shadows, and the sun doesn’t reflect annoyingly off petals. If you don’t have a grey day, get a friend to hold something up to shield your subject from direct sun.


A layer of dry oak leaves over the hole in the bottom of a container lets water drain through and keeps soil in. They’re also free, lightweight and biodegradable.

Ornamental gourds and squash look beautiful in containers, but they don’t last long. Squirrels view them as their own personal buffet items.

Mulching planted containers with chopped or shredded leaves helps hold moisture in and cuts down hand-watering.


Manitoba maples are good for something. They have an inner beauty that woodcarvers love.

Ash trees were planted in Toronto to replace elms killed off by Dutch elm disease. Now the ash trees are being devastated by the emerald ash borer. We have 860,000 ash trees in the East End of the city and will likely lose 80 per cent of them.

I’ll have more to say about some of these things in the new year. Until then, have a wonderful, green-filled holiday season.

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