Approaching the garden

Approaching the Garden

These initial notes re. garden design and care are intended for zone 2. 3 and 4 gardeners who are keen to accept and offer experiences, approaches and observations. Please send us a note at and I’ll update the information periodically.

I’m suggesting a few categories.

  • Approach
  • Four Season Gardening
  • Personality
  • Soil Building
  • Extreme Weather
  • Compost and Compost Tea
  • Resources
  • Northern Greenhouses


We grew up with Pioneer Garden knowledge – mostly imported from Europe. (The Victory Garden was a powerful child of this approach – proving that in a time of stress a society can be motivated to grow a lot of food both for themselves and their neighbours.) We lived for a time in Africa and learned about Dry-land Gardening. Then we became Certified Organic growers and learned about soil building and observation. When that became too corporate and institutional for us we learned about Permaculture and then about Biodynamic Gardening. Although we’re not yet masters in any of the above, I’m keen to add another challenge, that of learning more about Aboriginal perspectives and practices of growing, gathering and harvesting. As climate change takes us for a ride, I’m highly motivated to learn to adapt, protect and diversify – to apply the best of all of the above approaches. We’ve fashioned our garden and greenhouse to be a place of beauty as well as production. We are the eager apprentices – Mother Nature the mentor.


Our gardens create us, the tenders. But our personalities give our gardens form and substance. If I gardened just as my mother did, we would have long (very long) rows of potatoes. Our first garden was a series of long rows. Somewhere I got the motivation to experiment with a circle garden, with lots of mulch (grass and straw between the plants) and placing most of the perennials in the centre with the field crops (corn, potatoes and squash) to the outside. We’re much happier in this garden. It doesn’t seem as daunting to tend. It feels like we’re always surrounded by bees, butterflies and leafy friends. This suits our understanding of the world – and of the world we want to nurture. The creative possibilities are many – even in a smaller urban garden. Think of a wild, naturalized corner, a butterfly space, a place for kids to play, statuary, whatever suits your life.

Four Season Gardening

This could as well be Three Season Gardening if we’re talking only about the growing and harvesting of food. With the greenhouse-garden combination we’re growing from March to November. But winter is also an important time – for tasting, seed selection/ordering, researching, planning and teaching. It’s all one circle – or spiral actually, as we’re never again at the same place – so let’s go with the Four Seasons. Even without a greenhouse, our northern summer can be extended into April and up to October – with the use of hot boxes, row cover and variety selection. Increasingly we see Kale being appreciated – certainly for the nutrients it offers, but also because we can grow it best when it’s cold – even taking -5 frosts. Arugula, parsley, peas, chives are other ‘shoulder’ season plants. More on this later.