February 13, 2012

Spring Garden Projects

Consider a collection of inventive ideas that is sure to give your garden an inspired boost this spring

Here’s a list of 10 creative projects, some easy, some more challenging, but all worthwhile and guaranteed to deliver impressive rewards.


  • 1 cook up a pot of herbs

An ideal project for balcony gardeners, this takes very little time and is not expensive. I prefer to use a large strawberry pot because it comes with little side-pockets into which you can stuff a variety of herbs. Rosemary, curly parsley or sage are good choices for the top. Cilantro is a possibility, with multiple uses. Parsley, thyme and specialty mints make excellent side additions. There is no right or wrong way. Experiment with combinations and create something that is attractive and useful.


  • 2 primula theatre

This is a charming Victorian idea that is still popular today. The “theatre” usually comprises a series of shelves, framed to provide protection from rain. Auricula primulas (ones with a pretty collar around the perimeter of each flower petal) are put on show, elegantly displayed in identical sized terracotta pots on the shelves, which are often painted black to create a more dramatic presentation. The theatre can be used to display succulents, lewisia, cactus and other diminutive specialties.


  • 3 Take dahlias to dinner

Dinner-plate dahlias are back in fashion. They are giant, super-sized cultivars that make a bold, dramatic statement with spectacular flowers that can measure 30 cm (10 inches) across. They can be grown in containers, which may come as a surprise but it’s true, they are mostly grown in the garden as stop-you-in-your-tracks conversation pieces. Names to look for include ‘Illusion’ (white with purple centre), ‘Inland Dynasty’ (yellow), ‘Belle of Barmera’ (pink) and ‘Inca Dambuster’ (white). You can see a wider selection at www.ferncliffgardens.com

A tapestry of succulents.

  • 4 Succulent coffee table

First, you need a sturdy oval or rectangular container that stands about 45 cm (18 inches) high, smaller at the bottom than the top, with a large surface area. Next, you plan a tapestry of succulents – echeveria, sedums, sempervivums, senecio – just below the rim of the container. For the finishing touch, place coffee-table glass (round, oval or rectangular) on the top, slightly raised a fraction to allow air circulation. The succulents are visible through the glass. They are protected from rain and need little watering, being drought tolerant. Great look.


Turn a flat wall into a lush, vertical garden.

  • 5 turn your wall green

It’s not that hard to turn an ugly, flat wall into a lush, vertical garden. You can plant an assortment of climbers (clematis, roses, hydrangea, golden hops, jasmine, actinidia, akebia, passion vine) and let them loosely intermingle, or you can attach potholders to the wall (or trellising) and grow an assortment of trailing plants. This idea of making walls green is quickly growing in city centres all over the world and is now finding its expression in home gardens.


  • 6 clematis pyramid

Take a large planter box or container and insert a tripod made from bamboo or 1-by-1-inch wooden stakes. Next, plant a few of the special dwarf patio clematis, ones developed by Raymond Evison, Britain’s clematis guru. These grow only three or four feet high and quickly expand to complete the elegant pyramidal shape. Grow one of the top performers from Evison’s patio collection against narrow trellises and obelisks in containers on your deck, balcony or patio. Names to look for include ‘Avant Garde’, ‘Josephin’, ‘Bourbon’, ‘Shimmer’ and ‘Rebecca.’

  • 7 Go lawn-less

It’s a funny thing with gardeners – the more they garden, the less lawn they usually have. Avid gardeners are always replacing lawns with flower or shrub borders. But it is now a trend, as more and more people get rid of grass and install low-maintenance plants, paving, ponds or gravel. This is a job to do in spring. Ornamental grasses and easy-maintenance perennials and evergreen plants are the most popular choices. Bluestone, tumbled cobblers and flagstones are ideal paving options. Do it in spring, enjoy it all summer.


  • 8 Plant a fruit salad

Not everyone has room for an orchard, but no problem, how about growing a fruit-salad tree in a container? This is a tree with three kinds of fruit grafted together – apricots, plums and peaches. It is on dwarf rooting stock so it won’t get big. Or, you could grow a 3-in-1 blueberry bush (three very productive varieties on one plant) in a container. Or how about making a little fence from espaliered fruit trees; perhaps espaliered apple trees that have as many as eight varieties grafted on to one plant. You can find all these at Cedar Rim Nursery in Langley.


  • 9 Go lavish with lilies

Fill your garden with the fabulous colour and fragrance of lilies, ones that will bloom from early summer through to fall. To guarantee a continuous sequence, buy a few bulbs from each of the five key groups: Asiatic, trumpet, tiger, OT lilies (oriental-trumpets) and oriental lilies. ‘Casa Blanca’ and ‘Stargazer’ are two must-haves. All you have to do is dig a hole four times as deep as the bulb, drop the bulb in the hole, replace the soil, and walk away. Simple.

  • 10 Create a fun folly

    Lilies provide colour and fragrance.

In the past, garden follies were usually major undertakings: towers, ruins, castle-like structures. Today, the grandeur has gone, but not the idea – to add a fanciful, quirky, imaginative and frivolous something to the garden, just to make it more fun. Think whimsical and, at best, something that engages you in action. Ideas? In France, I saw a great folly made out of dozens of red, white and blue streamers with bells attached. You (or a breeze) push through the ribbons, making the bells ring. Charming.


Steve Whysall will be giving four talks during the BC Home and Garden Show at BC Place Stadium. The talks, Gardens That Touch the Heart, will be on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m., Feb. 24 at 4 p.m., Feb. 25 at 12:30 p.m. and Feb. 26 at 3 p.m. He will also give a Live Story presentation, The New Generation of Gardeners, on Feb. 23 at 3 p.m.

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