There’s a new kind of gardening happening in St. Albert and despite sub-zero temperatures, it’s happening now.
If it were May, the practice might be labelled as container gardening. But it’s November, and surprising as it sounds, the trend to plant evergreens and put them out on the front step, is an idea that’s taking root.
“I was at a lecture last week in B.C., where the American speaker thanked Canada for this new idea. He said that, for once, it was a gardening idea Canada gave to the U.S.,” said Lesleah Horvat, Hole’s Greenhouses and Gardens buyer, adding that while it may be new to the Americans, Canadians have been greening up their winter with evergreen boughs forever.
What’s new is the idea to expand the Canadian growing season with formally designed containers that make the garden not just beautiful, but also more liveable year round.
“About eight years ago I saw big pots on the street in Toronto, that were filled with branches of things like cedars, yew, holly and red dogwood branches. Anyone can still do that, but it’s also possible to plant evergreens now if you treat them as an annual and realize they will die,” Horvat said.
Planting anything at this time of year is a cold, messy business, but it can be done. The soil in last summer’s planters is likely frozen solid, so you’ll need fresh, thawed dirt. Choose a variety of live evergreens, and then soak the ground well and allow it to freeze.
“The nice thing is, unlike summer containers, you won’t have to water them again, unless we get a warm chinook in February with a week-long thaw,” Horvat said.
Last winter’s excessive amount of snow taught Horvat a lesson about what to plant.
“We planted low cedars and junipers to cover the soil, but they got lost in the snow. If the pot is on a covered porch that doesn’t get snow that would still work. But if the pot is going to be in the snow, I wouldn’t waste money on low junipers,” she said.
It’s unlikely that any potted material will survive the winter; no matter how much water they have, because the roots will freeze.
“It’s just like petunias. After letting them bloom for five months, you let them die back in the fall and if you think about it, this is just the reverse, ” she said.
Sheryl Beuerlein has also noticed increased demand for winter planters.
“I’m busier now than in the spring,” said Beuerlein, who is the owner of In Bloom Custom Container Planting.
Beuerlein doesn’t bother with living material, but instead uses fresh evergreen boughs to create pots that are overflowing with greenery.
Most people want pots as Christmas decorations, she said, but by simply adding or taking away a few red items, such as berries, you can quickly change the mood.
“Large sugar pine cones add a Christmas flavour. You can also use sinamay ribbon, or glass balls to make it Christmassy,” she said.
Beuerlein uses a variety of differently textured and coloured fresh greens in her containers. She likes to use sharp-needled pines, wispy cedars, broad magnolia leaves that add a coppery colour to her designs and blue/green eucalyptus leaves. Curly willow, dogwood and alder add vertical height.
“Birch is stunning and is becoming very popular. It is a bit on the pricey side but it can be saved and used again next year,” Beuerlein said.
Despite the warmth that a planter of this type adds to the outdoor décor, homeowners must still consider the cold.
“It is important to make sure the planter you are using won’t crack when the soil freezes and expands. You won’t have a problem with wood or metal, but something like terracotta could crack. To be on the safe side, you can use an inexpensive plastic or fibre liner inside your planter. Once the greens are cascading over the edge, you won’t even see it.”
When Beuerlein reuses summer planters, she removes about 25 centimetres of soil and puts it in a heated garage so it thaws.
“On the day you create your winter planter, replace that saved soil and insert your plant material and twigs, deep into the soil. Once this freezes in place it will remain intact even during the fierce winter winds and it could last six to eight weeks,” she said.
A light snowfall is pretty on planters but shake them off gently if the snow gets too deep, Beuerlein advised.
Chairs and art
Garden designer and artist Cory Christopher from First Choice Tree Nursery and Garden Centre in Morinville took the concept of beautiful pots one step further when he spoke this week to members of the St. Albert Garden Club.
“Why not add winter magic to your yard? The concept of hiding everything away and shutting our pots up in the shed for the winter needs to change. It’s a missed opportunity to make the most of the garden and your yard, even in winter,” he said.
Christopher recommends brightening and enriching the winter landscape with lights, art and plantings that add texture, pattern and shadows across the snow.
“We crave light at this time of year, so add light to the structure of your garden. If you take the lights down January 1, you still have three months of darkness left,” he said.
White snow can provide a canvas. Homeowners can simply shovel the white stuff or they might consider using it as a backdrop that reflects their personality.
Christopher recommends adding art, including paintings to the winter landscape.
“Use vertical paintings and hang them outside from the trees. Or use sculptures and allow them to weather and age,” he said, adding that to put all that art and all those pots of twigs on the step without being outside with them, defeats the purpose.
“Put out some Adirondack chairs and add a blanket so you can cosy up to a fire and enjoy your backyard winter space. The winter garden can be stunning with moonbeams hitting the snow and with that light casting blue shadows. We’re Canadian. Get out and enjoy it.”