Getting geared up

Beckie Fox

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flowers and tomatoes

There will be no countdown to the first day of spring here. That not-too-far-in-the-future date may look promising on the calendar, but gardeners know there is no “first” day of spring. Spring is reluctant to commit, offering warm days in February to lure a few snowdrops to bloom, while the first official day, March 20, may bring several inches of snow. Such is the lot of a gardener in Canada. We’re just glad spring arrives — eventually.

But that’s not to say I haven’t been busy gardening — of a sort — this past month. Now is the perfect time to make plans, order seeds and plants, read and research, and review last year’s hits and misses. Here’s the “gardening” I’ve accomplished so far.

flowers and tomatoes
I’m hoping that the planning I do now will result in baskets of flowers and produce this summer.

Spending a few hours browsing online seed and plant catalogues while it snows outside has got to be one of the most pleasant ways to pass a January afternoon. What’s different this January is that a few large and small companies are either already sold out in some categories, have temporarily stopped accepting new orders until they’re caught up with the ones they’ve already received, or are urging consumers to order early, early, early. Apparently, everyone who started or expanded a garden last spring in light of pandemic restrictions were happy with their experiences. More keen home gardeners is heartening, even if it means I can’t find the exact tomato I’m looking for. It’s not like there aren’t hundreds of others I could try.

Browsing leads to ordering, of course. I’ve reserved more than a dozen tomatoes from Tree and Twig Farm to be picked up in early May. A half dozen single (also called collarette) dahlias will be arriving from FGL Dahlias. Seeds ordered (so far) include rusty foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea) and yellow foxglove (D. lutea), snapdragons, chard,  zinnias, love in a puff vine (Cardiospermum halicacabum), various lettuces, ‘Green Gold’ bupleurum, and ‘Pride of Gibralter’ cerinthe from William Dam Seeds, Florabunda Seeds, Antonio Valente Flowers and Select Seeds, which is in the U.S.

That’s already too many seeds for the space I have, and several packages will contain even more seed than I can possibly use in future years. Therefore, I’ll share with friends in town who are also avid gardeners. But they have also placed seed orders and want to share with me. You can see where this all leads, right?

All this incoming seed has prompted an upgrading of old grow lights. I used to start seeds under a combination of warm and cool fluorescent tubes in metal reflectors, but light technology has improved greatly in the past few years. I’ll be growing a few flats of annuals that need an early start under full-spectrum LED grow lights from Lee Valley Tools mounted to the frame of an old portable mini-greenhouse now set up indoors. A Way to Garden discusses some of this new grow light technology.

Although it’s still too early to start seeds, I’ve also ordered a couple of bags of soilless mix from the local hardware store for curb-side pickup. If some seeds and dahlias are already sold out, I want to be prepared in case seed-starting supplies are scarce, too.

If you’re planning to grow more plants from seed this year, “Starting Seeds Indoors” answers questions you might have.

Attending online webinars and lectures has been a good way for me to get inspired and fill lockdown hours at home. I’ve learned more about growing vegetables under cover, designing with native plants, and choosing hellebores and snowdrops, thanks to webinars and Zoom lectures organized by horticultural groups, botanical gardens and other organizations. I wish I could recommend one or two websites where all of these online webinars and lectures are listed. Those offered by horticultural societies are often available to non-members; check our Events Calendar. I also discovered several randomly through plant groups I follow on Facebook and newsletters from various botanical gardens and environmental organizations in North America and England that I subscribe to.

Wouldn’t this be nice?

In the meantime, think of how wonderful it would be to install a new garden bed and discover a cache of gold coins while digging. That’s what’s been happening in parts of Britain as more people turn to gardening during lockdown.

Or, we could nurture whatever nascent photography skills we have and consider a project similar to what retired newspaper photographer Denis Thorpe accomplished by documenting all of the birds visiting his small garden last year. He has an upcoming book, Birds in My Lockdown Garden. We may not get a book contract, but we’ll have a greater appreciation of the beautiful, helpful birds that grace us with their presence.

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