Some of my Favourite Gardening Mistakes

tree abuse

Gary Westlake


Over my years of gardening, Iíve had many lapses it judgement. I thought it might be helpful for some of you if I shared a few of them.

Like most gardeners, my wife Dianne and I are not satisfied with the millions of plants that are happy to grow in our zone. Instead we insist on trying to grow plants that belong in North Carolina. I have seen many pictures of wisteria growing on arbours or castle walls and have always wanted to grow one. We just had to have one after we visited the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington while the wisteria was in full bloom. I built an arbour strong enough to hold the vines and we planted a couple of wisteria. Spring after spring, there were problems with winter kill. Not only that, we soon realized that, on average, it would be only one in ten of Peterborough winters that would allow the flower buds to survive. Finally, this year we removed our pathetic little wisteria and planted a clematis. Lesson learned Ė If you dream about growing a plant that belongs outside your zone, some day your dreams will be dashed!

I have discovered that trees do not suit todayís fast moving society with its need for instant gratification. Although I know that eventually a tree is going to outgrow the space I allocate for it, I still canít resist the temptation to plant them too close to the house or too close together. You have all seen older homes that have had problems with blue spruces planted in the front yard. For the first few years after they were planted, they looked great but now you can no longer see the house from the street and the people in the house can no longer see the sun. Some homeowners in desperation cut all the lower branches off but the resulting trees just look like lollypops standing in the front lawn. Worse is the landscaperís friend, the Norway Maple, that is planted everywhere because it is robust and grows fast. The problem with this tree is that it is planted in the foot and a half of space between the sidewalk and the street, under the hydro lines. Twenty years down the road, the power people have hacked the middle of it out so it looks like a monstrosity, the sidewalk is heaving with the roots and the seedlings are popping up everywhere. There are two lessons here Ė Plant trees with the mature size in mind, and Norway Maples belong in Norway!

When I was younger I used to water my lawn and the gardens as well. I probably also watered the driveway too although I canít remember for sure. Now we live with brown grass in August (or in June and July for a year like this one). The unwatered garden might not grow, but the roots go deep and it survives somehow. Now we rarely water except when plants are new.

We have been plant collectors, squeezing every plant known to mankind into our garden or as I heard someone describe it, we plant in drifts of one. The problem with this is that it is hard to make the garden look like a symphony rather than a cacophony. We are learning to design the whole garden rather than its individual plants.

I used to try to control weeds in the garden by hoeing and I was not very successful. What I did not know at the time is that the soil contains more weed seeds than I could possibly have imagined. When I hoed, I was removing the growing weeds but at the same time I was bringing hundreds more to the surface to germinate and replace the ones that I took out. Now we disturb the top of the soil only when necessary and cover it every year with compost. The worms now do the work for us as they come to the surface to get the compost.