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

By Catherine Lee, Master Gardener Intern

Hi! Welcome back! After a wonderfully busy summer creating new life in my backyard, I now actually have time to show the fruits of my labor. What an incredible experience, full of learning, smiles, emotions, and ah-ha moments.

Remember THE PLAN section in Part 1? Being my first-time planting from seed, I stuck to the plan as much as possible. That was very helpful. Documenting my effort along the way was also very useful for learning and problem-solving. It also kept me on track and improved my confidence when I needed it most.

FIRST THINGS FIRST! I estimated the daily and weekly time I thought I might need – in relation to the time I had – in order to commit myself from spring planting to fall clean-up. I then touched base with a few ‘People in my village’ who had previously offered to be my mentors: two knowledgeable classmates; one with experience starting a garden, and one with some background in native Manitoba plants. Some aspects of the physical side of gardening are outside my limitations. That’s where my two long-term friends came in as planters and weeders. I clarified the days and time commitment they could give if asked. I made a follow-up note to thank all of them for their help along the way, and use my strengths to assist them in their life as well: watering, pruning, insect and pest ID, moral support, wine, etc. I shared my plans with Ed, my awesome other half and chief digger, and my little cutie grandson CJ, who enthusiastically stated: ‘Grama, I just turned seven and know a lot about gardens now!’

MUD, SWEAT AND FEARS I noted there was only one area of the yard with full sun and enough space for a new garden. I had three types of flowers and one herb in mind that prefer full sun: swamp and butterfly milkweed, black-eyed Susan and the herb bergamot/bee balm. I planned the spacing out on graph paper for accuracy, considering the width and height each plant required to be happy in it’s own space.

This was becoming real very quickly, and my fear of the unknown was seeping in. I pondered on my village of support and a solid written plan, and pressed on! Late spring we began the removal of rock and commercial landscaping cloth, then digging and preparation of the 4 X 6 foot garden area with new, good quality soil. I say “we”, but I mean Ed, the muscle. I brought him water and offered encouragement. It was very physically demanding and tiring, and for Ed as well 😊

SUPPLY LIST AND BUDGET ESTIMATE: I consulted my valued mentors from class for supply list ideas. I estimated to spend between $60-$80 for my project, start to finish. I ended up spending over $120, as I hadn’t considered fencing and poles, protection from cute bunnies and toddlers. Also important, Orange Juice for CJ and small gifts and cards for my mentors and two friends that assisted tirelessly whenever asked.

I LOVE SHOPPING! April 22nd/2021 I confidently shopped at the local nursery for:
-1 Seed Starting Mix 9 L
-2 Coir Pot Windows Growing Kits-with 16 areas for seedlings
-Seed packets for wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
-7 bags of soil to fill the 4 ft X 6 ft garden hole we dug
-Plus 8 free live swamp milkweed plants (Asclepias incarnata) from the Living Prairie Museum

I was surprized to find out recently that butterfly milkweed is not native to Manitoba. They are native to Ontario and Quebec. A very kind Master Gardener gently advised me of this. Going forward, I will research seeds and plants well before going shopping. The back of the seed packet had the words ‘Hardy Native Milkweed’ on it. I stopped there. Now I see, further down it is a product of the USA! It was native to somewhere, but not Manitoba. I vowed to give it the same love and care as the others!

PLANTING AND NEW LIFE! There is nothing more precious than new life. Years ago, I waited patiently for the birth of my 2 children, but watching an indoor seedling break the soil was very painful! April 28th I planted the seeds in their little growing sections, placed them in a warm, sunny window, and begged them to grow. What I lacked in patience I made up for in faith! A few times a day I checked for any sign of life. Good news! They finally started to sprout. By May 10th they were all up and competing for height.

They broke the surface in this order: Black-eyed Susan in 3 days, then Bergamot, and last but not least, Milkweed at Day 9. It was very exciting! I had CJ over to help me water them one day, and as he observed my plants, he quietly mentioned – ‘Grama, are they happy being all squished in there?’ Definitely time to thin them out a bit. I’m so lucky to have my little helper! I thought to keep my home-made plant ID tags in their corresponding areas, as they all looked similar. I was glad I did, as I would have had no idea what each one was when planting outside. Soon they grew very tall. The time came to transfer them outside. Yikes! My babies are growing up!

TIMING IS EVERYTHING It was June 1st, and my seedlings still seemed small, but I knew I should take things to the next level. I made a note that I should have started the seeds a month sooner indoors. The forecast for the next few days varied between 0 to +12. That gave me a few days to do some testing on the new soil we put in the garden area. I sound like I know what I’m doing now! I first heard of the soil test in Gardening Fundamentals, using an old pickle jar and adding some soil and water together. It was useful to get a sense of the percentage of clay, silt and sand in the soil. Mine even had organic material in it! I made a follow-up for next year to buy a soil testing kit, which would provide more detail, and to learn more about fertilizing. The soil being suitable, I then climatized my young plants by placing their containers in the garden daily, then moving them into the bush area at night.

I had a friend help with planting on June 5th, as the long-term forecast was good. We had a lovely serenade by a chickadee, encountered many earthworms and insects, and even had time for tea. We then put up 3 feet high protective fencing, as my seedlings looked very vulnerable. Total time to plant and fence the area was 2.5 hours.

Important note I received recently about using plastic bird netting to protect your garden: Although it states “Safe for animals, etc., it can trap small birds such as chickadees, warblers and finches in the netting itself. They cannot free themselves and may die or become easy prey to a predator. Protective wire caging works very well, and there are various sizes of holes and heights.

For fun, I threw a whole package of Morning Glory seeds (not native to Manitoba) in the garden against the fence. More is better, right? I had heard they grow fast, and I wanted some actual flowers very soon! Again, no patience. What harm could it do? I began watering that day to ensure the ground was soaked well, and sat down that evening to set-up times for daily checks, note-taking, scheduling of my wonderful village of people, watering and weeding. Let the fun begin!

READY, SET, GROW! Thinking the most labour-intensive part of the work was behind us, I looked forward to a summer of watching my flowers bloom, occasional watering and sitting outside drinking Kool-Aid with CJ. All was right with the world! Being a hot, dry summer, watering was a part-time job. By the end of June, the small plants had doubled their size.

By the end of July I had a real garden going, complete with the black-eyed Susans flowering enough for pollinators to visit.

My dream of a native Manitoba garden was coming true. The other plants hadn’t flowered at all yet, but the August sun produced a gift. A small, dainty little bundle of flowers from the butterfly milkweed.

I performed a happy dance and almost wept with joy!

INSECTS, BUNNIES AND TODDLERS, OH MY! When I went through my notes of late to see what my journey in the garden looked like over time, it was full of unpredictable twists and turns! Not in a bad way, just unexpected situations I hadn’t predicted. I’d like to start with the most interesting event. One day in mid-August CJ and I were standing near the garden watching a bee travel from flower-to-flower. He looked up, pointed to the sky, and said: ‘Grama, a beanstalk!’. I looked to the back of my little garden, and against the fence was the enthusiastic morning glory plant, which had climbed our 6-foot fence and attached itself (obviously overnight) to the neighbors 12-foot maple tree.

It was twisted in there really good, but I was able to cut it down to 5 feet. I looked below and realized the ‘rogue’ had also grown into the garden (again, overnight) and was invading the garden from underneath. CJ and I untangled the mess and, luckily, very little damage was done. That night, as I slept, the entire morning glory plant fell off the fence and landed on the garden. The next morning, I promptly removed it from the garden. Yes, colourful language was used. I was relieved that all my plants were unharmed, and definitely a learning moment.

3 lessons: 1. Planting more seeds than you need may not be a good thing
2. Monitor the growth of ALL of the plants in the garden
3. Stick to the plan as best you can, or think new ideas through well

Due to the very effective fencing system, there were no cute little toddlers or bunnies venturing into the garden. Although a wayward frisbee landed in there, and me as well! Yes! I did a 3-point landing (2 hands and my head) when I reached too far over to retrieve the frisbee. Thanks for not smiling…Yes, had to repair the fence, and thankfully no picture for that one, but the story will last forever in my family’s minds. It was apparently quite comical for spectators, and only my pride and a few flowers suffered.

I was fortunate to only have a few dandelions to pull over the summer, and one big tobacco plant that suddenly appeared overnight among the black-eyed Susans.

Also, no obvious plant diseases. As for insects, I was very excited to find a bug I had never identified before. When I got closer, I was surprised and amused to find two spined soldier bugs mating in the milkweed. I wasn’t sure if I should feel honoured or embarrassed. After researching them fully, I decided to relocate them to a big field, as all insects serve a purpose in the food chain.

They are predators, eating caterpillars and useful garden insects, feed on leaf juices and lay up to 120 eggs. Wow! Lucky, I interrupted them before that happened. I also found a seven-spotted ladybug, not native to Manitoba. It is a predator of aphids, small soft insects and mites. I strongly suggest you take an interest in the creepy crawlies in your garden, as some are beneficial and should not be disturbed, and some are damaging. To be a more successful gardener, and show kindness and respect to the insect world, it’s important to research the difference.

THE END, OR THE BEGINNING? Definitely the beginning! A picture of the garden in September.

     

I still tear up when I look at it! I ventured widely outside of my comfort zone when I decided to begin this journey. There is so much to learn from this new endeavor. I am a strong believer in life-long learning, and am very happy to have added gardening to my list of fun activities that will always offer new stimulation, surprises and friendships. My initial concern over physical challenges and lack of confidence were replaced over time by a village of people, mentors, MMGA members, friends and helpers like CJ, all contributing to the success of my first Native Manitoba Garden. Thank you to all, and a toast to all of our gardens this summer!

Questions or thoughts welcome! Contact – catherine-lee@live.ca

Resources that inspired and assisted me with my Native Manitoba Garden:
-Growing Prairie Wildflowers by Living Prairie Museum
-2 courses in the Leisure Guide-Prairie Flower Planting
-MMGA zoom-Kiss the Ground-Rod Kueueman & Gord Bone
-Start Planning Your Plantings-Living Prairie Museum Newsletter-Spring 2021
– Conserving Our Native Insect Pollinators-Living Prairie Museum pamphlet-2021
– BeeBetter Manitoba http://beebettermb.ca – Website providing practical info to create pollinator habitat
– Selecting Plants for Pollinators https://pollinatorpartnership.ca/en/pollinator-steward-webinar-series – A webinar by Pollinator Partnership Canada
– USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Section: Plant Database https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/home – To research habitat range of native plants, or if native in an area in Canada.