Getting Gloved Hands Dirty: Gardening in the City

My partner and I recently made the move from an apartment to a house with two overgrown gardens that needed some tender loving care terribly. Over the weekend, we went for it and started fixing up the first garden, which lines the front of the house and our bedroom window. To be honest, some of the motivation for planting here first was for privacy’s sake. It’s a little creepy to have a window people can easily peak into, especially being in a busier part of town. Early in the morning the other day, a gray squirrel scared the life out of me by tapping on the window several times. Yep, you read that right! We promptly got up that morning and began tackling that garden.  

The process: 

Between advice from loved ones, gardening podcasts and YouTube videos, we made a plan. I’m thankful to have a lot of green thumbed folks in my family like my mom and my brother so I had a lot of help from them. For the gaps in between, I listened to a couple episodes of The Beginner’s Garden podcast with Jill McSheehy where she outlines the three most popular types of gardens and how to plan your space. I also tuned in with Laura LeBoutillier from Garden Answer specifically seeking out tips on how to work with an overgrown garden.  

Gathering Supplies: 

We began by getting the supplies needed to kick some dirt around. We hit up Peter Knippel Nursery for the plants and Canadian Tire for the tools. Here’s what we picked up:

  • Soil 
  • Mulch 
  • Fertilizer 
  • Shovel 
  • Trowel 
  • Small rake  
  • Pruning sheers  
  • Gloves 
  • Garden sticks 
  • Watering can / hose  
  • Yard waste bags 
  • Flowers 
  • Optional: garden décor 

Once the supplies were gathered, it was time to get our (gloved) hands dirty! 

How to get started: 

The garden had gathered a lot of garbage, leaves and weeds over time.  

We began by shoveling out the more noticeable garbage – a Wonder Bread bag and a bingo token (?) were two of the more noticeable items in the mix. 

Next, we weeded it out with a trowel which went quite well actually, as there weren’t a tonne of weeds – the ones that were there were pretty small.  

Then it was time to get raking! Using a small rake, we went over the soil and unearthed some more trash but mostly some old leaves.  

After that, it was time to crack open a bag of soil. Upon recommendations from my family, we picked up a bag of triple mix, which is a mix of soil, peat moss and compost – it’s full of those good nutrients for plants!  

The garden’s current soil seemed to be in good shape so we dumped the bag evenly across the existing soil and patted it down with the shovel to get rid of the chunky bits. Once those were flattened, we mixed the old and new soil together by raking and shovelling them around. 

We paused here to plan out where each plant would go.

What we were working with:  

Hosta, pink dianthus, lavender, orange and red cone flowers, pink and yellow hydrangeas and yellow and orange roses 

My Mom talked me through the placement based on which plants would grow tallest and which would do best at the front or back. She even mapped it out for me. Check out what she sent me:

Now that we had our plan, next it was time to dig some holes to place our plants.  

When the holes were dug and the plants were snug, it was time for mulch. Mulch is any combination of organic matter but it’s usually pieces of bark and wood chips. It can also be comprised of hay, straw, sawdust, cardboard or wool. You can purchase it in a variety of colours, but typically it is available in light and dark brown and red. Besides looking nice to accent your garden, mulch is also meant to prevent weed growth and water erosion. Essentially, it blocks seeds from flying into the soil and sprouting up. 

The optional last step is to place your garden ornaments! I spotted a reading raccoon while we were plant shopping and I added him to the space. The previous tenants had left behind a heavy heart-shaped rock so we decided to place that in the middle at the back.  

Yes, we did run out of mulch. Also next project: grass!

What I wish I’d known: 

  • Mulch it up!: We didn’t purchase enough soil or mulch so we had to return to the store and top it up.  
  • Plan(t) ahead!: We were one plant short of a nice even garden plan so my Mom suggested a hosta. They are hardy plants that can handle a little extra shade and add some big, bright green leaves to the mix. So mapping out the garden before heading to the nursery would have been a smart plan. But to counter that, I enjoy a little spontaneity and had fun browsing the flowers and choosing in the moment.  

What’s in your garden? Comment below!

Check back as I tackle the circular garden! This one poses as a bit more of a challenge with an apple tree and tulips that bloom each spring.

 If you’re looking for more gardening tips, check out Cathy Sobocan’s chat with Isaac Crosby, the lead hand in urban agriculture at Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto.

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