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Gardening in Cochrane Part 3: The importance of observation

Backyard gardeners looking to design their dream backyard can follow a simple three-part process outlined by local expert Callandra Caulfield, who specializes in tackling the tough growing conditions here in Cochrane.

Editor's note: This is the third in a three-part series on gardening from Cochrane Eagle reporter Howard May. The previous instalments were published in both print and online in the last two weeks.

Backyard gardeners looking to design their dream backyard can follow a simple three-part process outlined by local expert Callandra Caulfield, who specializes in tackling the tough growing conditions here in Cochrane.

Last week’s Cochrane Eagle story outlined the second step in the backyard-designing process – evaluating your values, lifestyle, and priorities – and asking yourself what matters to you.The second stage of the process stressed the importance of looking closely at how the space is presently being used.

The previous week covered step one, which is imagining your dream garden.

The third and final part of our series covers the last step – observation.

In doing the actual mapping out of what you are going to build, it is important to not fight what Mother Nature intended. Caulfield calls this looking at what the land wants to be.

“The mistakes you can make in regard to heat and sun and drainage, the list is endless there,” she said.

This includes things like water drainage patterns, wind, and what types of plants are growing well there already. You will need to closely monitor how the sun travels through your space. Take pictures at different times of day, and continue this practice throughout the growing season, as it may influence how you move some things around the following year.

Under the observation category, Caulfield’s advice here is direct and to the point.

“Observe. I would say the biggest thing is people don’t take time to pay attention,” she said.

The result can be disastrous. She sees lots of people get really excited about starting their garden, but they do not look closely enough at the site beforehand.

“They don’t look at the water patterns and the sun patterns and they’re not paying attention to what’s there. Then they end up doing a redesign,” she said.

Taking photos of the yard at different times of day will come in handy when you go to draft your plan, according to Caulfield.

Also take into account the mature height of plants before you seed.

“Plants grow. That’s something I completely neglected the first year I planted a garden. When you plant seeds, they will grow,” she said.

She also stresses the importance of drawing up a map, although that particular exercise may not be for everyone. It does not have to be a professional, to-scale drawing, Caulfied added, but a sketch helps.

“I’m a very visual learner. I can’t function without these tools. If you’re the type of person who can work without it, go for it,” she said.

Raised beds are an option that may appeal to people with mobility issues, and they can help ease the weeding workload down the road for people with bad backs, Caulfield explained.

“The cons are they are expensive, and you have to fill them with soil. If you put perennials in a raised bed, they can freeze and they’re not going to come back sometimes,” she said.

“The pros are you can control the soil a bit better – you’re not dealing with the hard-packed clay we have here.

“And they’re going to warm up a bit earlier in the spring, so you can plant things a little bit earlier.”

At her home, she’s tried above-ground boxes and old-fashioned ground level gardening and said she enjoyed both.

“We built raised beds because we wanted to, and we also just dug a hole and shoved potatoes in the ground,” she said.

If you decide to build an above-ground garden box, especially if you are growing food to eat, Caulfield advises avoiding treated wood, which can leach damaging chemicals into the soil.

In her classes on backyard design, she offers an in-depth look at gardening here in Cochrane, and an opportunity to share experiences and ask questions about what might make your yard pop. For more information, go to backyardprojects.com.