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Embracing tradition in our gardens

It’s May, and there’s no getting around it.  My garden is beckoning.

Let me start by saying I am often relieved to live in a place where the snow buries my garden for nearly half the year.  As much as I like my routines in spring of visiting garden centres and finding ways to add green to our yard, often by September I’ve quite had enough of it all.

Admit it, you have too.  Spring is heavily romantic, all full of promise and green buds but oh, the heartbreak of a bedraggled, dry garden at the end of fall.  Somehow the watering gets away from us, or the weeds overtake that one far off bed, or the tomatoes get spots…the end of every growing season finds me secretly pleased to clean out beds, toss what didn’t grow and get ready to ignore things for a few months.

The snow is nature’s way of ensuring I never grow tired of the garden.

But the warmer weather lures me outside. The first green buds, the brave bursts of perennials – how could I resist?  And then begins the shopping.  It only takes one or two trips to the garden centre to realize how deep you can fall into garden spending, and how quickly.

One replacement tool, some soil and peat moss, baby plants, pots – just a few – and suddenly your cart is full and the cashier would like your two hundred dollars, please.  And that’s before you get sucked into buying the half dozen hanging baskets you buy every spring.  Once you get home, you look at all the space you have yet to plant and realize, once again, your garden will be an expensive hobby.

But does it have to be?  When did we decide that we had to buy everything new, every year?  Is this how our grandmothers gardened?  I’m willing to bet that it’s not.  I think of the giant columbines that grew in my grandmother’s garden every year and remember how the constancy of some things is a comfort.

So now I look for ways to garden more simply.  I look for perennials that I can divide and move to new homes around the garden.  I try to distinguish volunteer plants from the weeds so I don’t pull them prematurely.  And I think before I dig or plant.

What do I want to grow?  I want trees, shrubs, hardy flowers, herbs, and edibles.  When I can, I buy a perennial, knowing it will return year after year, saving me time, energy, and money.

If we consider gardening like the generations before did, everything becomes simpler.  We plant hardy plants in places where they are likely to flourish.  We collect seeds, share plants and accept plants from others gratefully.  We fix our tools that need repairing, or we borrow a rarely used one from a neighbour.

We accept the work done by trees and vines, and other vertical plantings and stop trying to grow delicate, wilting specimens.  We grow ferns in the shade, and nod at tiny bells on nearby lily of the valley and save our petunias for the sun.

There are always ways to enjoy a garden, no matter your budget.  If you want to keep costs down or simplify your projects, watch for people getting rid of things you can use in your own garden.  It is common to find people selling or giving away gardening supplies like landscaping bricks, decorative rock, flower pots, mulch, and even plants.  Search your local site, watch for garden sales in your neighbourhood and ask anyone you know who has been gardening a couple of decades to keep you in mind as they divide and clear their yard each spring and fall.  With a little luck and some neighbourly help, you can be well on your way to a green retreat that won’t have you reaching for your wallet over and over.

What came up all on its own in your garden this spring?  What have you added to your yard that cost you nothing or very little?  Do you have any ideas of ways you can bring a little tradition back into your garden?



Writer, editor, recovering chocoholic. Most often found writing, drinking coffee, and chasing kids. Find her on Twitter @littlemissmocha.

4 Responses to “Embracing tradition in our gardens”

Jen Banks

We moved into a house this winter, and it came with mature gardens already. Though those who have lived here previously have taken with them some of their very favorites, it left me with a few spots to fill with my own most loved plants. Then my neighbours moved home and announced they would be tearing out their garden! It was full of roses and lillies, hostas and tulips, grape hyacinths and a few unknown. My mother, my mother in law and myself, went and dug up all that we could use to fill our empty spaces. The best way to fill a garden is for free, from friends.


    Jen Taylor

    Thanks for your comment, Jen. I totally agree. ; )

Natalie @Nat_Rea

I get swept up every spring, just like you say! And it’s expensive. I wish I knew HOW to garden. I don’t have grandmothers or others to turn to but I have Google 🙂

Another beautiful post Jen.


Deborah / Mom2Michael

I love sharing plants! I am a perennial gardener and just pop in a select few annuals in containers each year for some colour on the deck and front walk. My garden back home mostly came from my grandparents’ divisions, and from garden club sales. Now I have two neighbours that hold sales each year, and I’ve done well by them.

If anyone in Toronto area needs some bearded Iris, orange lilies, or bleeding heart, let me know 🙂 (My extra rhubarb is spoken for)


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