Prairie gardening viewpoint: guest post.

Long-time readers of Flowery Prose may recall a series of posts I did in the summer of 2020, in which I talked to several Alberta gardeners about their inspirations for gardening, the gardening projects they are working on, and about the challenges they face as gardeners in this province and how they are trying to overcome them. I have wanted to continue this series for quite some time, and this year – which the Canadian Garden Council has designated as Canada’s Year of the Garden – seems like a wonderful time to chat with and learn from more Alberta gardeners! Whether you live on the Canadian Prairies or you’re much further afield, I’m sure you’ll find ideas and solutions to consider for your own gardening endeavours.

Please allow me to introduce Kathy Hartman!

Where do you garden in Alberta? What challenges do you think we face as gardeners in this province? How can we overcome those challenges?

My husband and I live on the south side of Edmonton, in north central Alberta.

The challenges that we personally have had to face as gardeners are: soil issues (our north-facing backyard and south-facing front yard have different types of soil and some is more clay-based so we have to work in a lot of new soil and make sure that we plant only those flora that can survive finicky types of soil); a short growing season which means we have to plant in either mid-May depending on the weather, sometimes going into the middle of June to finish off; climate upheavals and how much sun our home and yard get during the day, especially the longer days of summer; pests such as aphids, red lily beetles, and very often birds (not just magpies and crows but much smaller birds like nuthatches, robins); and sometimes where to garden depending on what goes best together and where it grows best. 

We have been adjusting our planters and bins accordingly, as well as using bird netting and fencing where necessary. The bird netting has most definitely helped keep our herbs and lettuce from being snagged.

What inspires you about gardening? (Or perhaps there is someone who has inspired your gardening endeavours)? 

I personally enjoy some of the planning but more so I enjoy when we have lots of color starting to pop up in our yard during the spring and summer. Both my husband and I have been inspired by our parents (his mom and dad and my dad) and our grandparents. I learnt mostly from my German dad (now deceased) and from my maternal Ukrainian Baba and Dido (also deceased) – to begin with – how to plant, water, grow and support plants and flowers. I learnt a lot of my outdoor skills from that of my dad as my mother has never had a “green thumb”.  I then learnt and continue to learn alongside my husband. His parents (now 91 and 79 respectively) started teaching him from the very roots of the foundation of gardening, literally by clearing the land and picking roots and rocks and all so that they could have a good strawberry acreage (they sold strawberries for many years), as well as putting in a sizeable vegetable garden and a lot of their own landscaping.  He learnt most of his gardening education from them and through trial and error throughout his lifetime. We even get inspiration from those of our family and friends, most especially a close family friend.

My husband and I both like to try new types of flowers and bushes/trees but because I am a huge fan of color and not just greenery, we always tend to get those flowers and shrubbery that reflect our style, our color tones, and what “speaks to our personality/soul” at the time. 

What gardening (or gardening-related) projects did you have on the go this year? What were your goals for this growing season and looking ahead to next year?

We changed our front yard flower bed and replanted new bushes. We added a new bush and flower bed area in front yard after we took out a very tall spruce tree that our 23-year-old son planted back in his kindergarten year (he was 5). The tree was getting too big for us to maintain properly and my husband was worried about future growth becoming an issue – for example, how long the roots were and what direction they were growing in in relation to where the gas and electricity lines, let alone water lines, are. We plan to do a similar change-up with our one backyard bush (double flowering cherry blossom tree) as it overtakes everything in the summer and that can become a bigger job than we want now. We are going to put in perennials that will grow tall to block the view into our back alleyway and add in some annuals to fill it out again. We planted cosmos and sunflowers beside our silver mound bush, cultivar of Artemisia schmidtiana.  We have had this bush for several years now and it grows so beautifully in its corner of the garden. I just love the color of it and its silky softness, plus the fact that it is a perennial bush that adds just that bit of class to a garden. Those are the biggest reasons why we bought it many years ago. One of our most beloved plants that we grow each year, whether by choice or by chance/luck are our sunflowers. We have a number of other plants and trees/bushes in our gardens but it would be too lengthy to mention them all here. The one tree I do have to mention though that we love having in our front yard is our Schubert choke cherry tree which we pick cherries from each summer once they are full on the tree and good in color. We get them cleaned up and freeze them until we are ready to make choke cherry jelly. It is delicious! (My Baba used to make it as well so I feel a connection with her when making the tasty jelly with my husband.)  The perennial that we have had in our front yard for the last 10+ years is the gaillardia – such a beautiful recurring flower. 

We also had a garden made from eavestroughs by our garage window but we need to adjust that for 2023 growing season as not much was able to survive this year again – only the arugula and a herb we planted managed to grow well in the troughs.  I love watching our sunflowers, gerbera daisies, and other annuals start to bloom after planting. I talk to them and to the bees that come along, as well as the dragonflies and butterflies – it is just a soothing and heart-warming moment when I see these positive insects pollinating the flowers or eating negative bugs like aphids, etc.

A huge thank you to Kathy for inviting us into your garden – I’ve had the fortune of spending time with you and your family there and I know how much you value the beauty and relaxation it provides. I love your special insight into the idea of “right plant, right place” and how important appropriate plant selections can be to pollinators and other beneficial insects.

Want to read more Prairie gardening viewpoints? Check out guest posts by:

Maxwell Hislop

Lana Gress

Krista Green

Sue Campbell

Tara Muhlbeier

Lisa Christensen

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