“Raising” a Garden takes a Village – Part 1/2

By Catherine Lee, humble Master Gardener in Training

After recently retiring from an enjoyable career educating and counselling, I felt it was time I went back to the classroom to increase my knowledge of my life passion, playing with garden-related stuff outside. Yes… flowers, weeds, bugs, small critters, mud. It sounds suspiciously like going back to my childhood, in an educated way. I was able to find the MMGA easily on the internet, and it directed me to Assiniboine College for courses. I was very enthusiastic and hopeful. As an MGIT, I have finished all the courses but one, and have thoroughly enjoyed each one of them for the differences and knowledge they offer.

When I began the concept of documenting my travels as a new gardener, aside from the learning aspect, I had another goal in mind. I was hoping to pick up tidbits of stimulating information from others – gems I might be able to apply in some form in my garden. The key word here is ‘I’. Little did I know then, I would learn that gardening was much less about me planting and growing little seeds. It was really more about establishing like-minded friendships, sharing of information, research and application, flowers and trees, bug and disease identification, soil and safe pesticides…and the hardest part for me, learning to be ok with things I couldn’t control: weather, rabbits, insects, diseases, weeds, rogue plants that try to take over your garden. You know the list!

HOW TO BEGIN? No idea! I’m a newbie to REAL gardening, the kind that means you actually get your hands dirty and create a garden that wasn’t there before, from tiny seeds in little packages. But I always did possess the determination to learn more about the vast potential of my backyard as a pollinator experiment. So I started with people.

NO PEOPLE IN MY VILLAGE! I needed people who knew more than me! I definitely needed a village, and it turned out they were all around me! They weren’t hard to find through the College courses, MMGA website and newsletter, great zoom speakers and study groups. I also started conversations with my friends who, it turned out, actually LOVED talking about their gardens, and were a wealth of information. I visited nurseries and garden centres in the city and rural areas, anywhere I could find plants with information attached so I could learn. (I also visited websites that had been suggested through MMGA courses, educational zooms endorsed by MMGA and Living Prairie Museum, and The Gardener for the Prairies magazine. COVID did not interfere in any way with my journey. It gave me more time to play in the soil, and connect with people through zoom, social media and by phone.

My Inspiration

AND THEN CAME INFORMATION OVERLOAD!!! I realized suddenly that – as with life – I had much to learn. My brain felt like it couldn’t take in any more information until I applied some of it. I knew nothing about gardening. I was starting from scratch. Just taking grown, healthy plants from Walmart and keeping them alive (mostly) over the summer wasn’t enough. As it was with my children and family pets, it turns out flowers also need water, food, and the proper environment and space to grow; each had their own specific needs, and you had to check on them regularly to protect them from external dangers.

With a little hope that seemed to be fading, I really needed to get started on a garden. I finally consulted someone whose advice I could trust to be honest and factual, my 6 year old grandson. When I told CJ I wasn’t sure I could grow my own real garden from seeds, as it was just too complicated, he gave me the thumbs up and replied – “You got this Grama! Just do a little one.” From the mouth of babes came wisdom. So with some knowledge in hand, I started on my journey of discovery.

SO I JUST DID A LITTLE ONE. First and foremost I put my thoughts on paper as to what I imagined it to look like, transferred the visual ideas to graph paper for sizing, and then enthusiastically told people about my ideas. Friends, family, fellow MGIT classmates, both my neighbours, cashiers at the nurseries, a person I had never met in the Leaf Gardens, and anyone else who would listen! I even told Ed, love of my life, who said “Okaaaaay, where are we going to put it?”

Graph Paper Plan

I could finally start! I decided the garden would include a passion of mine, native Manitoba flowers/herbs. Location was tough. Everywhere I looked, my backyard sidelines had well-established commercial landscaping cloth with a whack of stone on top. I was pretty sure that meant I would have to either dig up our lovely lawn instead, or spend countless, back-breaking hours moving rock, cutting up and pulling out landscaping cloth, then digging to eternity. I chose not to dig up the lawn.

Rock, rock everywhere

Challenging start

As I will be doing a part 2 to this article in the next newsletter, I will provide detail on my plan today, to make a very important point. A well-researched endeavor can save time, extra work and sometimes heartache. I really researched this, and I told EVERYONE. I knew they would be checking on me to follow through, offer ideas, or would want to see how it went. I was feeling the pressure, and CJ was counting on me!

First, I would document what I do and why, as I progress. Then I may not forget important details, and it would be a useful guide for my next garden. I started by naming 4 folders: Planning, Journal of Journey, What Worked/What Didn’t, and Next Year’s Plan. I bought a very flowery binder to put that all in at end of season. Included in the planning was a list of good papers and books to reference along the way. I found the latter very helpful!

Keeping organized

Choose the location and size of the garden, keeping the sun/shade in mind.

Decide on what types of plants to purchase, and buy the seeds. I will give more detail on that in the next article. It was not as simple as I thought.

Informative seed packets

Prepare a budget estimate, which involved lists and searching online for costs.

List of resources I need to be successful, including a wine list in case I’m not.

Note who has offered or I have asked to help me along the way, and in what respect. It’s important to know when they are available, and what they have to offer. Ed is on there, as he brings muscle. CJ for advice.

Estimate time daily and weekly that I will commit to this to keep my little project alive till fall.

Anticipate unexpected challenges. My village and the internet will offer advice!

Plan on using graph paper to draw up an exact plan of what my garden will look like. It will show where I will plant flowers based on what I see on the seed packets; I will check with my village, and surf credible sites on the internet.

And last but definitely not least, determine realistic timelines for all of the above.

IS IT TOO MUCH? After preparing the Planning section above, I asked myself “Can I do this? It looks insurmountable. I’ll never get it all done!” So I went back to the one person I knew had all the answers. You guessed it, my 6 year old grandson CJ. I posed all of my concerns, and with the wisdom and simplicity of a child, he looked at me seriously and said “Grama, don’t be scared, you got this!”

To see the how, what and why of my plantings, check out Part 2 in the next newsletter!

Photos by Catherine Lee

Published:  November 2021