FFWD REW

Green thumbs for lazy bones

Your guide down the easy path to a better garden

Napping has always formed an essential part of your weekend activities but now you’ve bought or rented a space with gardening potential and your dreams are suddenly coloured green. Fecund fantasies abound: slender creamy carrots pulled straight from the ground and gobbled with the tops still on; voluptuous bouquets gracing summer breakfasts; rich swathes of manicured lawn proving finally and unequivocally and publicly that you have joined the ranks of the adult establishment. Martha Stewart and Oprah will be bitch-slapping at the door to get the scoop on this miraculous Edenic transformation you have effected right here in the urban heart of Calgary.

Great. Now for the reality check. Gardening is really hard work gearing up for it properly can cost a ton of money and most conventional practices are appallingly bad for the environment. Urban agriculture is a noble aspiration but you like to nap and that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for bedding planting and long-term maintenance like weeding watering and pest-control (chemical-free of course). Same goes for lush ornamentals: most of the showier varieties of blossom are not native to this region which means they require extra-special care in order to survive. And grass — as we city-dwellers generally understand it — is an abomination in the sight of Man and Nature: it saps vital nutrients from the earth competes with tree roots hungrily devours scarce water supplies and needs regular mowing in order to stop the neighbours giving you the hairy eyebrow come July.

Also it’s May and the real gardeners were on the job in like February.

But don’t despair. It’s not too late to reclaim Eden — and still get your summer couch on — and incidentally impress friends and neighbours with the ecological wonder that is your plot of city greenery.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

A beautiful and successful green space doesn’t have to be a wonder of cultivation. Most urban soil is nutrient-poor and densely compacted so calling on it to push out a glory of blossoms is unrealistic. Look around. What’s already growing? Are there a lot of trees? If so you may not want to plant at all. Trees need a lot of space to grow: roots extend well beyond the canopies and planting too much or too close means introducing unneeded competition for both water and soil nutrients. Tidy up the yard and then do nothing (but water the trees periodically): nature on its own will produce tiny unexpected marvels of greenery and for your summer naps you can shade under the healthier canopy of your urban micro-forest.

DON’T CLEAN UP YOUR YARD

The winter snows have cleared to reveal a messy abundance of autumnal debris: leaves pine cones and old grass clippings. Time to get busy with the rake? Nope. Decaying organic matter re-introduces vital nutrients into starving urban soil and can serve as mulch (protective covering) for existing plants to prevent the evaporation of moisture the freezing of roots and the growth of weeds. Take a day out to clear up dead twigs and branches stray pizza boxes and animal excreta but leave the rest on the ground.

LIVE IN CLOVER

If you’re really jonesing for an even expanse of green — but concede that grass sucks — plant clover as a groundcover. Clover is a nitrogen-fixing legume with a deep root system: it restores nutrients to the soil breaks up compacted earth does well in drought conditions can be sown at any time and requires no mowing. Your initial investment of labour — mixing the seed with fresh soil and spreading the mix in a thin layer around the yard — will be rewarded by a summer of reclining on the backyard couch while your neighbour sweats it over a crispy brown patch of conventional turf.

XERISCAPE

Spring rains have destroyed your weekend bike ride plans lately but this kind of precipitation is fleeting at best: for the most part we live in drought conditions. Xeriscaping — planting for a dry landscape — is all the rage in today’s ecologically minded gardening circles. A well-planned garden should require little to no watering so choose species that are identified as “drought-tolerant” and save yourself the time and effort of maintaining a wasteful resource-intensive greenspace.

GO NATIVE

You’re at your relaxed best in a familiar environment. Plants feel the same way. Cultivating showy tropicals in an arid northern climate is both a recipe for slacker heartbreak and bad ecological practice. Species that have evolved for local conditions — climate soil fauna — will thrive best and cost you the least amount of energy. Plant a wildflower meadow including a selection of native grasses sedges and blossoms and look forward to a summer of relaxing to the buzz of happy butterflies and bees who’ve found Eden in your backyard.

Check out these sites for more information on native plants and good gardening practices:

evergreen.ca (native plant database and growing tips)

thearea.ca (gardening and urban agriculture workshops in Calgary)

nativeplantproducer-esrs.com (commercial site featuring lists of local species and offering native plant garden starter kits)

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