Gardeners in the middle of 'dreaming' season - take advantage

There are several seasons on the gardener’s calendar and one of the longest is the “dreaming” season. We are currently in the middle of it. If you are a gardener, now is the time to dream of the gorgeous and productive garden that can be.

Everything that we know in the real world starts with a dream or, at the very least, an idea. So, it is with your garden.

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Which raises the question, “How do I ensure success in creating the garden of my dreams?”

Here are the answers:

  1. Start with what Mother Nature gave you. Whether you live with a condo/apartment with a balcony or acreage, the secret to finding the path to the fulfillment of your garden dreams is to watch nature. Take note of where the sun comes up (in the east), where it goes down on your property and how it illuminates your property mid day. Though the longest day of the year is 5 months away, mid-day in June is not much different than mid-day in January, except the sun is higher and stronger.

Also, note how the wind moves across your property or balcony. West and north-west exposure will limit your plant selection somewhat. Be informed about your natural environment as this will help you make intelligent plant buying decisions later.

  1. Design around Nature. Once you have taken note of what Mother Nature has given you, consider how you can use it. For instance, frame a great view using plants. And avoid obliterating a good view by planting a tree that will grow through it.

If you have a naturally rocky terrain, incorporate some large rocks into your landscape.

Do you have elevations to deal with? Use them to your advantage to create natural beauty at the bottom of a decline, or at the top of an incline. Either way, you will improve the view that you currently live with by drawing the eye to nature, rather than letting a benign or unnatural feature dominate the landscape.

  1. Where do you want to go? The most important decision you will make, regarding the design of your garden, will be the path system. As you step out of your door, where do you want your paths to take you? Deep into the yard, or straight to the barbecue? On a piece of paper, draw an outline of your yard and then create lines of the path or paths that will lead you to key destinations – and think of the elements you can dot along the way, such as unique plants or water features. Remember not to have any dead-end paths as visitors will hesitate to go down them.
  2. Honour your past. We all have childhood memories of plants and gardens somewhere in the back of our minds. Our sense of smell is located high up the nasal passage, it is called the olfactoryepithelium — a patch of tissue about the size of a postage stamp. It creates distinct memories in the frontal lobe of your brain where it stores them for quite some time. That is why the smell of a lilac blossom might trigger an image of your grandmother’s garden. The point is to embrace those memories, whether they are visual or merely scents that take you back in time.  Let your garden lead you on a journey to your childhood.
  3. Plan for an extended season.Mark calls this “a sequence of high garden performance”. It involves planning to have something significant in bloom from the beginning to the end of the season. Keep in mind that the season never ends as early as you think it will. Other annuals that just keep on going into the early frost of late fall include dusty miller, pansies and hardy ivies.

Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at, @markcullengardening, on Facebook and bi-weekly on Global TV’s National Morning Show.


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