Designing Planting Beds in Edmonton

Garden design in Edmonton can be challenging. There are many factors to consider before even starting to design your garden such as: climactic zones, micro-climates, soil composition and drainage. The Edmonton climatic zone is Zone 3b, this does limit the choices we can make with regard to plant selection. In ideal circumstances we may be able to get away with a Zone 4 plant. Often big box stores and garden centers will carry Zone 5 plants, although they often are very beautiful don’t waste your money because these are simply not plants hardy to Edmonton gardening conditions. To ensure you are picking plants that are hardy and will survive keep within Zones 1-3 and you should be just fine. Micro-climates within your yard can play a very large part in how your plants will do. For instance a South facing garden and receives little to no wind your plants will be in a situation that could support Zone 4 plants. Alternatively, if your garden falls in the middle of your yard and is subject to a mix of sun and shade and is exposed to the wind, that garden space will definitely fall within the Zone 3 category. The soil composition and drainage will dictate which plants will flourish and which will not. Suffice to say that understanding your site conditions is the very first step to designing any garden.

Once you understand your site conditions you can begin to actually do some planning. The shape of a bed is strictly aesthetic, and should be composed to your own tastes; however, all planting beds should be mounded to maximize soil volume and positive drainage. Before actually picking plants you should consider the ‘sky line’ of your garden. Ask yourself, do you want a constant height across your garden or would you like it to vary. When composing a planting composition typically you will find three layers: Front border (6”-24” height), Main Body (24” – 48”) and Back Border (+48”). To get a sense of how your garden will look, create a simple line drawing from the front and from the side. Now that you have an understanding of the shape of the bed and the form of the plants you would like to see, its time to choose your colours. There are literately thousands of plants hardy to Edmonton to choose from, so have some fun with your colour selections. I am a visual person, so once again I would suggest that you create a simple line drawing in the shape of your bed and with pencil crayon or markers and start sketching in the colours you would like to see and where. This should be done in both the front view and a top view. The next step in composing a garden is to balance the time of peak interest. Climate plays a pivotal role in Edmonton four season gardens, so it is important that you have interest in each of them. I think of garden composition like conducting a symphony, imagine a time lapse video of your garden, and as each month goes by there is a different portion of the garden capturing your attention. To accomplish four season interest, sketch out your garden one more time from a top view, pick four colours to represent each of the four seasons, and sketch out in which season that area of the garden will be in peak interest.

You are now armed with the information you need to start picking you plants: site conditions, plant height, colour, and bloom period. So how to choose the plants that will meet your needs? There are a few options, first you can go to your local Edmonton garden centre with your sketches; second there are many books on the market that can assist ( I recommend Lois Hole’s Favorite Trees & Shrubs and Lois Hole’s Perennial Favorites); and third there are plant finders on line that can be very useful. Plant finders are a search engine that is specific to the stock carried by that particular garden centre or nursery. Millcreek Nursery has a very effective plant finder that allows you to set your criteria and it will provide you a list of plants. You can check it out here: www.millcreeknursery.ca. Keep in mind that if you use a plant finder, it does not guarantee those plants will be in stock, so give your local nursery a call, or a visit.

Enjoy your garden, and keep bringing your outdoor living dreams to life!

William Packolyk, BLarch, Associate AALA