WELCOME THE SEASON OF RENEWAL WITH A REFRESH OF YOUR OUTDOOR AND INDOOR SPACES
BY ERIN McINTOSH
As the sun begins to shine, life returns to our gardens and it’s time to get our hands dirty. Whether you have a small patio space or a big backyard, sprucing up your outdoor living area is a rewarding spring activity.
“We all have this innate connection to nature,” says Bianca Bodley, owner and principal designer at Biophilia Design Collective. “Nature makes us feel better; it heals us, it brings us joy.”
Bodley believes an outdoor space shouldn’t be cookie-cutter — an extraordinary outdoor space means going beyond the ordinary.
Questions to ask yourself: do I want a low-maintenance garden? Do I want my garden to provide food? How much shade do I want? What elements do I like in a garden?
While material selection, plant variety, zoning and climate change can be tricky, planning your outdoor space is certainly worthwhile.
Before you start adding plants to your garden, take a look at your soil. Soil is like the foundation of a house: healthy, happy soil is crucial to a healthy, happy garden.
“As soon as you start to see the warmer days, get the mulch down in your garden beds,” says Bodley. “If you leave it too late, your weeds start popping up and you’re always playing catch up.”
She recommends adding two to four inches of a 50/50 mix of compost and mulch to the top layer of your garden beds to ensure your soil is nutrient-rich and weed resistant.
Mulch provides your garden with insulation and prevents erosion as well as compaction. It will also clean up the esthetic.
“Deep-edge your beds so there’s a clean visual between the turf or patio and the bed, and put that black mulch in,” says Diana Benschop, owner and operator at New Roots Landscaping.
Define your Space
You wouldn’t jump into a home renovation without a plan, and the experts advise treating your garden the same way.
“First, think about the function of the space: Are you somebody who sits in the garden after work and has a glass of wine? Where does the sun fall?” says Benschop. “It’s a permaculture premise that, before you make changes, you should live in the space to assess the landscape.”
To get inspired, find images that appeal to you. Look online, look in magazines, talk to your friends about how they use their outdoor space. Make your plans according to how you want to use the space.
“Look at your garden, see where the spots are that you want to hang out, that you currently can’t — every garden tells you a nice spot to be,” says Bodley.
By “listening” to your garden, Bodley says you can also pick up on the areas that need the most help.
“See if there are areas that are struggling with too much sun, especially with our long, hot summers, and then plan to put in a shade canopy tree,” she says.
Shade canopy trees are an excellent addition to any outdoor space, provided you have the room, as they offer an area for guests, kids or animals to cool off — a designated chill zone.
If your space allows it, map out the path you want your garden to create.
“The foot traffic should be aligned with the functions of the inside and the outside. They should communicate with each other,” says Benschop. “When people walk into the garden, it should be clear which direction they should go — but you still want a little bit of mystery.”
Try creating a space that leads you through a visual, sensory experience, and let the garden direct you.
If you have less room to work with, think maximalist. Use long containers and tall plants. Use art or colourful pots and containers to make the space personal. When buying containers, Benschop says to consider the surrounding location.
“Think about the colour of your house,” she says. “You want to complement it and accent it. If the containers are the accent, don’t make the flowers the accent.”
Planting for the Future
Once your soil is revitalized and you’ve honed in on your garden designs, you can start planting.
“Spring would be a good time to plant your hardy perennials, herbs, structural plants and your food production,” Bodley says.
With rising temperatures, it’s important to think wisely about plant choice — for example, xeriscaping. Xeriscaping is a style of landscaping that focuses on drought-resistant, low-maintenance plants. General guidance from the Victoria Master Gardener Association (VMGA) suggests succulents, sempervivums and sedums are great choices for drought resistance, especially for containers. Lavender, rosemary, sage, grasses, yucca and wild indigo are also good drought-tolerant options.
You may also want to consider an edible garden.
“Incorporating edibles into any landscape is always an eco-conscious thing to do, because even if it’s just herbs, you’ll never have to buy herbs again,” says Benschop, recommending that flowers and herbs be planted close to food-producing shrubs or trees to promote cross-pollination.
The varieties of edible herbs, trees and shrubs that do well in British Columbia are endless. The VMGA recommends thimbleberry, Saskatoon or serviceberry, red and black currant and salal, as well as fruit trees such as pear, apple and fig. Nut trees like walnut and chestnut work well in this climate and double as fantastic shade providers.
One thing to keep in mind with edible landscapes, however, is that in the winter, fruit-bearing plants often drop their leaves and rest. Benschop advises including some evergreen options in your landscape for pleasing esthetics.
“Then, in the winter, you don’t have this barren, dried-up orchard in your backyard,” she says.
Do consider including native plants in your gardens. The VGMA advises that not only are native plants well adapted to our climate, and therefore lower maintenance, but also many of our native pollinators and beneficial insects depend on them.
Examples of native plants suitable for both containers and garden beds include Lupins, gaillardia (blanket flower), Camassia (camas/ Indian hyacinth), Aquilegia formosa (columbine) and Dicentra formosa (Pacific bleeding heart).
Keep it Simple
“Simplicity sometimes is the secret to just snapping the landscape together,” says Benschop.
Simplicity can help homeowners have a gorgeous garden with less work. But keeping it simple doesn’t mean skimping on vegetation.
“Having a good quantity of evergreens, grasses, ground cover and perennials to your taste is very important for covering up the soil so weeds can’t take hold,” says Bodley. “The less space you have between plants, the less room there is for weeds. A low-maintenance garden is a very well-planted garden.”
Most importantly, enjoy the process. An outdoor space has the ability to bring joy, tranquility and vibrancy to your life. Make your spring transformation a fun activity.
“Go to the garden centre, put a few things in your cart and just browse,” says Benschop. “Sip your coffee and take your time.”