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July 01, 2013

Floral patterns

Green thumbs make container gardens grow

Jessica Patterson

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Designing gardens isn’t much different than designing interiors. Just ask landscape artist Susan Baldrey of Vintage Garden Design in Calgary.

“It involves the same concepts as interior design; with a focal point, flow, repetition and layers,” she says.

Baldrey, who has been designing other people’s green spaces for 22 years, says to create flow in a townhouse backyard or on a condo balcony, use some of the same plants throughout, maybe some of the same colour.

“It definitely does depend on the space,” she says. “Some people want a more contemporary look, which may involve a few different types of plants to create flow with repetition. You can create a contemporary look with texture and colour.”

Depending on the space you have, your likes and dislikes, designing in the great outdoors can be as complex or as simple as designing indoors: Determine what you want to do in the space.

“If you wanted to make it an outdoor living space, create that space with a sofa, a small barbecue, chairs and tables,” Baldrey says.

Condo and townhouse owners don’t typically have a lot of space to work with. That’s when you become more creative, the expert says. “Built-in planter boxes are becoming popular,” Baldrey says. “You can plant flowers, vegetables and herbs.”

Add colour or a punch of character to your patio or balcony with pots, barrels and planters. Container gardening is easy to take care of, to control, and ideal for growing vegetables and herbs.

Condo owners get more bang for their buck, when it comes to gardening, because they’re not putting a lot of energy into maintaining a lawn, says landscape designer Clayton Ditzler, from The Landscape Artist in Calgary.

What is important to condo owners, who choose to live in condos for the maintenance-free lifestyle, is low-maintenance. Ditzler suggests an automatic watering system for potted plants, so condo owners can enjoy a trip out of town without worrying about their plants.

“Working within a condo’s rules can be challenging,” he says. “You can get a little more creative with smaller spaces. A lot of things have to be portable, like a portable planter or water feature.”

It’s no surprise then, that the major trend in Calgary is low-maintenance gardens. Everyone finds themselves with less time these days, Ditzler says.

“If you have a family and a job, and all of these other things pulling at your time, gardening can get away from you,” he says. “Ninety per cent of our clients want their gardens to look good across the growing season, from spring until fall and through the winter. They want things blooming at different times.”

Ditzler, who has been a landscape designer for 23 years, says the biggest change he’s seen over the years is that Calgarians are using their outdoor space to relax and entertain.

“We’re starting to see fire pits and water features becoming more popular,” he says. “That draws inspiration from California and Europe, where they do more al fresco dining and that type of thing. In Calgary, we’re don’t typically have the same type of climate to be outside as much as them.”

But, if you add a patio heater, some weather-resistant patio furniture, and a fire pit, the outdoors can be much friendlier in the more frigid months.

In terms of plants, Calgary is one of the toughest growing environments, with semi-arid conditions and unstable temperatures in the winter.

“We have a smaller selection of wooded plants than even Edmonton does,” Ditzler says. “People think of Edmonton as having colder and longer winters, but because they have a stable winter without the chinooks, they have a broader selection of plants to choose from than people in Calgary.”

Calgary also has a higher elevation than Edmonton does, which makes for a less forgiving climate. Winters may be milder, but chinooks can be devastating on plants not suited to the conditions. In Calgary, the number of frost-free days varies, but it can be as short as 90 days, Ditzler says.

“The critical thing when planting is the soil temperatures,” he says. “We’re about two weeks behind this year, which compresses the growing season.”

Choose plants that are suited for the Calgary area. The City of Calgary Water Services lists water-wise plants that are drought-tolerant, act as filters and sponges for runoff. These include annuals like nasturtiums which attract birds and butterflies, gazania which thrive in dry and sunny conditions, and perennials like alpine asters, which prefer dry, light soil, coral bells, pasque flowers and peonies which thrive in the sun. Yucca plants have white bell-shaped flowers, spiky leaves and are drought-resistant natives of Southern Alberta.

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