Getting your hands dirty in a downtown garden

By Katie Gauthier

Spring has arrived and many people can’t wait to get their hands in dirt.

Gardening has become a popular hobby, says Patti Allen, local horticulturalist.

And to help people with their gardening skills, Allen is running a course on creating gardens in small urban environments.

The five-week course, entitled “Gardening Basics,” is being held at the McNabb Community Centre from April 10 to May 8 and costs $75.

Allen says the course teaches people how to maximize their garden space. She says course participants learn tips on garden preparation, maintenance, and design. But the class Allen calls her favourite, explores alternatives to the front lawn.

She says people can use ground covers, wood gardens and rock gardens instead of grass.

“There are a zillion different things that you can do other than just plant grass which has a high-maintenance and ukeep,” she says.

Janet Conley-Paterson, program coordinator at McNabb, says Allen’s course is one of the centre’s successful seasonal programs.

She says this is the third year the gardening course is being offered.

“I think that one of the things that makes it attractive is that it focuses on small gardens which in the Centretown area people generally have,” she says.

Giles Darbell, horticulturalist and owner of Dartec Horticultural Contractors, agrees. He says gardening isn’t just a hobby for people with lots of space.

“People want to get back in touch with nature,” he says. “They want to own a little bit of green space whether they are living downtown or out in the country.”

Darbell says it’s quite possible for people living in the downtown core or smaller urban environments to enjoy a garden.

“In the downtown core, people may have a garden which could be anything from planter boxes on balconies to raised planters on top of a patio,” he says, adding they can even plant a miniature vegetable garden.

“It is amazing how much you can grow on a piece of ground 10 feet by five feet,” he says. According to Darbell, gardens can be any size. He says growing herbs in a pot hanging from a kitchen window is gardening.

Darbell says gardens can add to downtown living. He says hedges and shrubs can easily be fences to increase privacy.

“If you have a small yard on a busy street, grow some sort of a vine or trailing plant along a lattice fence,” he says. “This will give you some privacy and it absorbs the sound.” In addition, Darbell says small gardens are perfect for beginners because they require less watering and maintenance.

“It is the same as anything else,” he says. “If someone is going to start gardening as a hobby, it is best to start small.”

For Darbell planning is the key to starting a garden.

“A lot of thought has to go into the planning process depending on how complicated you want to make it,” he says.

But Allen says she wants all participants to finish the course with one message.

“There are a lot of options out there for people who enjoy gardening but have small yards,” she says.