Monika’s Grove: The Indifferent Gardener Evolves

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by Monika Smith 

Going back a few years, I had quite the indifferent yard. In the mid-1980s, my property was mature, and I didn’t do much with it. It was a pie shaped and sloping lot and I just didn’t have the ingenuity to deal with it. It had big spruces (Picea ssp.), a lawn, some flower beds, but being busy, a special front yard was never really an interest. It was quite sheltered, with a few trees, from inquisitive eyes. Good enough.

However, even mature yards need tending, and trees were cut down, as there were mature spruces right against the house, a dead weeping birch (Betula pendula ‘Laciniata’) and a weedy lawn. Oh, and the wind blew down a six metre Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens), crashing just centimetres from the front door. Two huge spruces (Picea glauca) were starting to look like Charlie Brown Christmas trees complete with bare branches and poofs of needles and lots of cones at the top.

However, I loved hiking and riding on horseback in our amazing provincial parks. I loved what grew there. It took quite a while to think: would that grow in my yard? I really had no idea what grew where or how or why. My native plant vocabulary was pathetic. My go to phrase was: Rocky Mountain blue flower, or white, or yellow—you get the picture.

I had been taking copious numbers of floral photographs on my smart phone. Native plants have lovely flowers! Translating that to my yard was the big question. As much as I could figure out, google, or ask, I always felt like I just didn’t know enough to put things together or ask the right questions.

By 2020, those tired, sick spruces (Picea glauca) were cut down and native plants were coming in! I had been taking courses through our local horticulture society and was getting a better understanding about what was needed to create a native garden. Some of the plants, a huge lilac (Syringa vulgaris), had survived decades, looked good and were left. Besides, I love the smell of lilac. Ditto a gorgeous, scented peony (Paeonia lactiflora) that is still around and hitting 50 years.

I got professional help, of course, and over the years have found that some plants just thrived, others barely clung to life or didn’t seem to change, at all, and others just went roots up.

I’ve also changed my aesthetic. As a ceramic artist who dabbles in multimedia, I have a pallet of colours I prefer, style, and media I really enjoy, and yes, control what I do. I’m not a person who enjoys drips of paint on a canvas or just creating for the sake of making. As a ceramic artist, clay has to be handled just so and there is a lot of science in creating successful work.

How I’ve changed. As I watched the formal planting in my yard of Plant A here, B there, etc., and then seeing it ‘fill in’ over the years, I thought: This isn’t how nature actually grows. I’m going to let nature colour outside my lines. I’m letting the plants do what they normally do.

So, I have a wild, messy, let-it-go front yard. I have no failures, just learnings. And love what’s happening and changing.

I’m now taking the Master Gardener course; an international program where you learn about plants. Note the Latin names for accuracy! All aspects. In the best sort of way, I’m learning to talk a bit more intelligently about plants, especially native plants, to pass on some hard learned lesson, reveal some great accomplishments and show that I just breathe deeply when I’m surrounded by my native plants.