Even a small garden can add up to savings during the summer months. Photo: Christine Nielsen
This story is part of a feature that first appeared in print in Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine’s March 2023 issue. Read the entire e-edition here:
Words by Jill Macdonald. Photos by Christine Nielsen.
It’s difficult to put a price on gardening. Outdoor spaces provide us with sanctuary, serenity, food and the reward of manual labour. The benefits are plentiful. However, costs are rising and as we turn toward spring to refresh our senses, we will be faced with balancing excitement against the hard realities of expenditures. We also want to balance the time spent looking after our gardens with time spent simply enjoying them.
For many of us, gardening is a form of gambling. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. Most often it’s a mixed result. Some wins and some losses, which is fine on the annual side of things but no one wants to end up fighting with their landscaping or resenting all the pruning and mowing.
We spoke with Christine Nielsen from Magpie & Larch about simple ways to minimize costs and maximize benefits in Revelstoke gardens. During Christine’s years of hands-on cultivating here, she has accumulated a wealth of valuable local information.
Photo: Christine Nielsen
Choose plants that fit the microclimate of your yard. Consider sun exposure, water conditions and soil composition. Prepare the beds properly first – make sure they are free of weeds! This is one of the most common mistakes people make. Competition for nutrients, water and soil puts your new plants at a serious disadvantage and they risk being choked out.
Stick to the plants best suited to your outdoor space. Falling in love with the impossible will simply cost you money if your choices cannot flourish.
Size matters. Be mindful of the space you have to work within and select appropriately sized plants, shrubs and trees. They will fill in over time. Crowding prevents plants from thriving and ultimately results in a poor return on your investment.
Consider mass planting of single varieties for visual impact. When planted with complementary mass groupings, you establish a coherent look to your bed rather than a hodgepodge assembly of various singles. Consistency and boldness make a stronger statement. Mass plantings also suppress weeds. Open soil is an invitation to unwanted elements.
Don’t worry about the initial look of the bed. Practice patience and let the plants fill out. In the case of perennials, mature plants can be divided down the road. Dividing also invigorates plants, promoting health.
Christine’s budget-friendly suggestion for Revelstoke spring gardens: Don’t be in a rush. Getting seeds going is not necessarily going to save you money or time. The rule of thumb for seeds is that the smaller the seed, the more technical and difficult they are to manage. Without the proper equipment, the results can be disappointing. In Revelstoke, we suffer from a lack of light and excess humidity. Once the soil has warmed, direct sowing is often the most successful. If you really can’t wait, break up the snow and remove mulches to let the sun touch the soil directly and hasten the warming process.
Reconstitute used potting soil
One way to cut costs and use materials already on hand is to empty containers from last year and repurpose that soil. In a large bin, break up the dried clumps, moisten them and allow the mixture to come to an easily workable texture. Add bags of composted manure to enrich the mix. Apply topically on established beds or use it for planting containers. This saves you from having to purchase large bales of peat or mixes.
The empty containers can be placed in the bottom of planters to take up volume and keep the containers lightweight while providing drainage and aeration at the bottom of the pot.
Making use of on-hand materials is one of the simplest ways to save money. Trellises, for example, can be made from sticks found elsewhere in the yard or forest. Look in the garage for broken handles, leftover building materials and sporting equipment (skis and hockey sticks are popular in Revelstoke).
Interesting containers and statement items can be made from old toolboxes, teapots and garage sale finds.
A little sweat equity goes a long way to saving you money. Photo: Christine Nielsen
Where do you spend the most time? Christine suggests that being less concerned with a manicured, curated look frees up people’s approach to their outdoor spaces. Allowing a bit of wild in adds to our relaxation.
Look for simple solutions. Fill in empty spaces with features that don’t require care – interesting wood, metal, stone and water features. These elements add to the look of your yard all year long.
If space is a concern, choose plants that offer double duty. Not only are they pretty, but they also produce food. In our climate, good choices are blueberries, currants, Saskatoons, grapes and rhubarb.
Ornamental edibles can be mixed into perennial beds as well. If you live in Arrow Heights, consider subbing in ostrich ferns (fiddleheads) for hostas. Ferns add interest and deer don’t like them.
Fruits of your labour, including glorious cabbage. Photo: Christine Nielsen
Parting wisdom from Christine
Have fun, experiment and don’t look for perfection. Plants are stronger than we think, don’t give up too early. And while giveaways might be tempting, however, sometimes they come with nasty surprises – the plant itself might be aggressive or it can be hiding weeds. Sometimes it’s safer to pass on the temptation of something free.
To be a gardener is an exercise in trial and error, creativity, learning and sharing. It’s a constant dance. Be prudent in your choices and patient with the process.