Garden spirit

Gardening thoughts and inspirations

Tag: Naturalistic

Cool Waters


Its finally summertime and our temperatures are starting to rise over the past few weeks. With warmer temperatures, our ponds need a little extra care and attention to stay healthy and clean. We also need to keep a close eye on our fishy friends who inhabit our ponds.

Are your fish behaving normally? Do they seem stressed out – gasping for air near a waterfall? Warm water carries less oxygen then cold water. In the warmer months, your pond may be the most deficient in oxygen. This is also the time of year when your fish are most active, so oxygen levels can easily become low. This leads to stress on your fish which can lead to diseases and so on…


happy fish


There are some preventative measures you can take in order to keep your pond from becoming a warm, unhealthy mess. It all starts with a well-designed water feature. Depth, plant coverage, shade, and circulation should all be considered when building a pond. Here are a few helpful tips:

  1. A well-designed filtration system should bring water back into the pond through a continuously running waterfall for constant aeration.
  2. Add more oxygen to the pond by placing aeration discs into the pond. You can also install a small fountain pump that is continually breaking the surface of the water.
  3. Aquatic plants like water lilies are important for providing shade. Make sure to stock your pond with a variety of plants – a good rule is to cover up to 1/3 of the surface area with plants.
  4. Remember to remove dying leaves and flowers before they start to decay in the warmer water.
  5. Be careful not to overfeed your fish. Decaying fish food in the pond breaks down faster in warmer weather and will quickly create poor water conditions.

If you have a pump continuously re-circulating the water in your pond, you should not have a problem because your water will be constantly filtered and oxygenated. You will have a balanced ecosystem.



The bottom line is that you need to keep an eye on your pond especially during the warm summer months, and let your fish and plants do the talking – but don’t fret about it!

Don’t forget that ponds are meant to be a relaxing oasis, providing relief from the stresses of the day. Running out and testing a pond every day is not relaxing. Just a few simple tasks is all you need to keep your fish healthy and happy. Enjoy your pond…!

pond life 3


Rain, rain gone away…

I can’t believe it has been so long since my last post. We had such a mild spring in the Pacific Northwest this year and then summer started early, so work has just been hopping along since February. Now, I finally feel there is time to catch my breath and post again….

The Alaska Mountain Range and the Chulitna River in the Clear Mid Afternoon

Summer Sizzle

We have had warm summer temps that started in May. Then June was incredibly hot. July started the same and only yesterday did we finally get some rain. To west coast standards the rain we had was pretty pathetic. More of a light drizzle. Plants are suffering, lawns are a burnt brown already and its hard to work in the constant heat.

According to the weather network we usually receive on average about 81 mm of rain from June 1st. This year we are at 7.4 mm since June 1st. Forest fires are being fought all over the province. Last week our sky was a hazy fog of smoke from some forest fires burning in our area. The sun was a spooky orange glow from behind the haze and it was actually hard to breathe outside for some people. Many local municipalities have introduced water restrictions and some have put an all out ban on lawn sprinklers due to the low level of our water reservoirs. There was significantly less snow pack this winter and significantly less rain this spring. Our area is experiencing what some people might call a crisis.

Water wise?

I have a client that I do occasional garden maintenance for. He is an older gentleman , and I help out with things he can’t get to. He is a very nice guy and we usually chat when I am there to garden. Of course, we discuss the weather and on my last visit the drought we are experiencing was a topic. I noticed how his lawn is still green. He told me he is only allowed one day a week to water due to water restrictions.  So he was quite proud of having very little browning with 3 months of little rain. He explained – he gets up at 5am and starts in the front. He has quite a large front lawn and has to move the sprinkler 4 times to “hit all parts” of it. He then moves to the back lawn and has 3 moves…one of his proud weapons in his arsenal is a stainless steel impact sprinkler that can shoot up to 40 ft. Wow! I didn’t know what to say. By 9am he has to switch off and his 4 hour water sprinkling job is done. I wonder how much water he uses in that time? How much of it hits his driveway and runs off quickly to the drain in his cul de sac? A few hundred litres? In 4 hours , I would expect even more.


This years drought has been worse then usual. Some people blame the El Nino weather pattern, others blame climate change. I am not wishing to argue one way or another, or get into a pointless argument on what is causing it. The fact is our region IS experiencing our worst drought ever. I know that the last 3 summers have had long periods of drought. I feel that this is going to be a regular pattern for us. Many other areas in North America have had and are experiencing similar patterns.

A change will do you good!

I feel that we need to change our attitudes towards water use. We need to start learning how to manage our water resources in a more conscious way. I applaud the municipalities that have introduced an all out ban on lawn sprinkling and others that have put restrictions on when people can water.

The lush green lawn and white picket fence were ingrained into our society in the 20th century. The ideal suburban lifestyle. For some reason the white picket fence fell by the wayside but the perfect , golf green looking lawn is still stuck in our psyche of what a home must have.


I understand the benefits of lawn. I have children that play soccer, badminton and run around our brown/dry lawn all the time. It will come back once the weather cools down and the rain comes again. A little bag of grass seed and some soil for topdressing will help it bounce back. Its not the end of the world.

Using a sprinkler to water a lawn for 4 hrs twice a week is in my opinion unrealistic.  Lawns don’t require endless watering. In times of drought a lawn will turn brown. In times of extreme drought a lawn will go completely dormant. I would argue that 90% of people don’t use their front lawns in an urban environment anyway. They are just there for looks. Should we waste our valuable water resources on cookie cutter parcels of lawn? Just for aesthetics?


This photo was taken on July 10th at a clients garden. I have watered it 4 times since May. There are drought tolerant alternatives to lawn that also add more biodiversity.

Every drop helps!

My client is of an older generation. He won’t be convinced of reducing his sprinkling efforts. He must keep his lawn green at all costs. His municipality doesn’t have an all out ban yet and until it does he will continue to get up at 5am and start his 4 hour lawn sprinkling routine. I don’t think any argument will stop him. But we must start educating the next generation to understand that our water is not a never ending supply , especially in times of drought. We have to educate everyone to understand that we all must make a sacrifice and compromise. We must reduce wasteful water consumption.

I think that everyone would agree that it is more important to have a water supply that supplies us with drinking water. We may have a brown lawn for a couple of months. But I feel it is worth it. It is worth it for us now and for our future generations. Do you agree?


Gardening, Nature and the High Line…

“Traditionally, the way plants were organized in parks and gardens reflected a culture that liked to order and discipline nature. Contemporary planting design is not only freer, but also seeks to reflect nature. It also addresses our concerns about how we garden sustainably and in partnership with nature.” – Noel Kingsbury (Planting : A new Perspective 2013)

As we plant and design our gardens in the 21st century , we cannot ignore what is happening around the world in private and public gardens, put to words so eloquently by Noel Kingsbury in the quote above. Sustainability, biodiversity and working with nature are the main guiding lights when we approach gardening today. How can we reduce harmful practices in gardening and also create gardens that become wildlife friendly habitats?

images bee

Our goals are now focused on reducing the amounts of chemical fertilizers used; reducing the amounts of chemical weed control; minimizing the amount of water used; reducing the amount of regularly mown lawns and over trimming of woody plants. The use of long lived perennials and ornamental grasses is a strong step in the right direction for achieving these goals. The convention most used in 20th century garden design is the monocultural block planting. The use of a single shrub, set out and repeated in blocks throughout a garden was mainly to simplify the maintenance costs – especially in public parks. The unfortunate side effect of this kind of planting, is the opposite of biodiversity. These monocultures become more susceptible to frequent outbreaks of pests or diseases. In most cases, this was and is sometimes still dealt with by chemical or pesticide applications. In some cases, annual hard pruning  is done to keep the plants under control. From the 1970’s onward, many ecologically focused garden designers began to promote the use of native species and creating the garden with the idea of biodiversity in mind.


This gardener (from Australia), looks like he is into natural gardens!

In Germany, many public spaces were designed and developed with a naturalistic, wildlife friendly style. The interest and movement of designing and maintaining gardens this way has grown and evolved through the years. And still continues to evolve.  Some argue that you can’t plant in straight lines if you are favouring a natural style of gardening. But, others will point out that a bird does not mind if a tree is planted in a row or in a group – it will still make its nest in it! The naturalistic planting style continues to grow and evolve as designers and gardeners keep exploring and trying new combinations of plants and finding new ways of working with nature in creating gardens.

Plantings still have to excite people – planting which serves a purpose has to look good too. The new plantings are the opposite of the old tradition of order and tidiness. By designing gardens that are inspired by nature, with wild flowers, ornamental grasses and such, the aesthetic can become quite wild. This is where the fine balance of biodiversity and wild life gardening must also work in conjunction with the gardeners eye for creating something beautiful to look at. This kind of garden is maybe just a little wilder then our grandparents gardens! Homeowners and garden designers alike need to educate themselves and their garden visitors of this. We are creating and planting an ecosystem, a microcosm of nature in our back yard or inside a city park. Finding the balance of this naturalistic planting and a garden pleasing to our eyes  is an exciting challenge.

images wild garden

Throughout Europe many old industrial sites have been turned into new city parks with this new, bio diverse, naturalistic approach to garden design. This often takes its inspiration from the actual plants that have started to grow wild in these abandoned factories over the years.

This is starting to become a trend in north America too. In 2009 In New York, the designer Piet Oudolf working with an American Landscape architect redeveloped the abandoned High Line Subway. It was an elevated subway line last used in the 1980’s. The planting design took its inspiration from the grasses and wild flowers that had grown spontaneously over the old rail lines. Ornamental grasses are a crucial mix of the naturalistic planting that was designed and installed there. The High Line has been a huge success in bringing nature into the city and has become one of the most visited tourist destinations in New York.

HighLine5_IwanBaan                          “Take a walk on the High Line”, click here to view video

Take a look at this time lapse video,(link above), of a walk on the High Line , it looks like late fall/early winter. But just notice the amount of people there – walking, sitting, taking pictures etc. This garden really proves that people need, love and will use gardens that are inspired by nature. This is a fantastic garden that really creates a distinct natural, atmosphere in a big city. Hopefully the definite success of this project inspires others across North America.