Gardeners don’t let their snow-covered yards or frigid temperatures stop the dreaming and planning for next year’s raised flower beds, deck containers or backyard vegetable patch. There’s plenty to keep a gardener’s mind happy and busy through these sleepy winter months, from browsing seed catalogues to landscape design to year-round indoor greenery. All activities are to aid those itching green thumbs.
If you’re shopping the garden centres in the off-season, you’ll notice an abundance of grow lights to service the growing trend toward indoor, year-round gardening. The grow lights are the only thing that allows crops, like lemon trees or herb gardens, to flourish in our climate. Jim Hole, co-owner of Hole’s Greenhouse and Gardens in The Enjoy Centre, said specially-designed lights and bulbs are essential to growing many plants indoors.
“Things like microgreens, lemons and citrus trees – they all need hours of direct light each day, more than we can get naturally in our parts,” says Hole. “There are kits or you can put together your own indoor growing zone, a spot anywhere in the house to direct concentrated LED or fluorescent lights at the plant. It makes all the difference.”
Starter kits aimed at kids or adults (seeds, peat pots, etc.) are always popular, according to Hole. This is a testament to the innate urge humans have to connect with nature, to ‘get that magical feeling of pulling a carrot out of the dirt. It just touches something within people’, he said. He points to the huge growth trend of urban agriculture as an offshoot of this.
As St. Albert examines a bylaw that would allow backyard hens and bees, Edmonton has moved forward with such pilot projects. You’ll find bee hives, herb and vegetable gardens atop hotels and restaurants, as well as community urban farm operations in the region. Dustin Bajer, who teaches a beekeeping course for the City of Edmonton, maintains several hives in his own Westmount-area home, and agrees that it’s a human instinct to want to commune with nature.
“You start to develop an environmental stewardship mentality when you connect with nature – the life cycle of the flowers and bees – and you begin to notice more; what’s flowering and when,” Bajer said.
St. Albert schools are keying in to that growing interest among youth to connect with nature. Many schools tend to garden plots of flowers and vegetables, and some are even approaching places like Hole’s to partner on educational/hands-on elements of urban agriculture.
“There’s a huge interest in growing your own food. Teachers want to present it to the children in a way that will excite them and get the parents involved too,” he said. “There’s a real response to today’s world of non-stop screen time, devices that actually keep people isolated and shut inside – to the simple act of planting a seed, watching something grow, and working with others. Some schools even have the neighbouring seniors’ centre tend to the garden when school is out – there’s so many possibilities and benefits of urban agriculture – it engages kids and all people with the real world.”
Hole also sees a continued trend toward container gardening. As people start to ‘live smaller’, the balcony and deck-side containers of tomatoes and herbs become all the more popular, leading consumers to Hole’s regular free workshops on things like pruning and soil. “Interest in soil is huge – people continue to ask about the type of soil we have in central Alberta, and how to amend it to grow healthy trees, shrubs, flowers and vegetables. We’re not as separated – urban from rural – as we used to be. So today you’ll see front yard vegetable gardens and fruit rescue programs (collecting fallen and rotted fruits from city trees). There’s a much greater understanding about composting and food waste.”
And as produce becomes more expensive, consumers are likely to look to growing their own vegetables at an even greater rate. The same goes for the upswing in ‘ugly’ fruits and vegetables at the grocery store – less than perfect-looking apples, lemons, peppers, etc. that are perfectly good, but are sold at a discounted price.
“That kind of produce used to be culled and thrown away, but people are more educated today – they understand the nutrition and environmental aspect of food quality and resources,” added Hole.
Garden design trends 2017
According to the website housebeautiful, consumers should look for plants selected for compact size and less maintenance, hyperlocalism, (using locally-grown and locally-sourced design materials, and using foods that grow locally, in season) and natural materials – just some of the trends garden and landscape designers are using for inspiration this year.
Look for a greater emphasis on the notion of seasons, enjoying the taste of things and taking the time to watch it grow. Even in the city, where the garden can be limited to a terrace or balcony, marjoram, thyme, mint and tomatoes are being joined by miniature vegetable varieties and dwarf fruit trees or columns that take up little space.