Expectations vs. Reality

When starting a garden, we often start out with a vision of what it will look like in our mind. Some imagine a neat, tidy, evenly spaced garden. Others may imagine a more intermingled meadow look. No matter what you are hoping for, sometimes things don't go as planned. I am going to share a couple of instances where what I had envisioned for our garden didn't quite go as planned....

The first instance is plants that I assumed would be fine to grow in my backyard but simply haven't done as well as I expected. Prairie Crocus (Pulsatilla nuttalliana) are a common sight throughout the prairies in early spring. For many, they signal the beginning of spring. They are common in the natural areas right near my house so it stands to reason, they should do well in my yard. The first time I planted them, I put three plugs right at the front of a flower bed that gets full sun all day. The next year two of the three came back, the following year only one and it now is gone as well. I have now planted more crocuses in a different spot that gets part sun and quite a bit more moisture than the previous spot. Three of the four I planted last year have come back this year but none flowered for me yet! Here's hoping they will next year.

Prairie Crocus (Pulsatilla nuttalliana) blooming in my Calgary yard


Interestingly, a couple of other classic prairie plants seem to have a tough time in my garden. Blue Flax (Linum lewisii) is everywhere during the summer months on the prairies and yet it doesn't love my yard! I keep trying though, maybe I'll find that perfect spot yet.

On the other hand, there are plants that have done a wee bit better than I expected. Golden Flowering Current (Ribes aureum) is a native shrub that I had read is a great early season attractant for hummingbirds so I set out to find it! I found it at Beaverdam Nursery just south of Calgary and scooped up a pair as they produce more flowers and fruit if there are two. I had read on the tag about 5' in height by about 5' in width. This sounded perfect! Well, now they are both around 7' tall and spread over a good size area competing with raspberries for space (oh yes, raspberries, native and definitely a good space filler). Birds are also fond of the currants themselves and do a fantastic job of spreading seeds. I now have seedlings throughout the yard. While they are beautiful in spring and great for birds, I was not expecting to have so many! Also, I have not seen a hummingbird on them but that does not mean one hasn't visited. I have however, seen a hummingbird moth which is just as amazing!


Golden Flowering Currant (Ribes aureum) with hummingbird moth (Sphinx moth species).


In another case, I discovered a local native plant nursery, ALCLA was selling Mountain Hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis). This plant can only be found naturally in the corner of the province around Waterton Lakes National Park and I hadn't actually ever seen it in person. I had read in Lyndon Penner's book Native Plants for the Short Season Yard that Mountain Hollyhock was a great choice for pollinators and hummingbirds so again, I had to have it. I visited the nursery and was told that there were a couple of them growing at the side of the house there and to have a look. It was still spring and they were just coming up and were in a shadier spot so they weren't terribly huge. I was just excited to have found them so I took my two little plugs home and plopped them in that same sunny garden bed the crocuses had been in before and hoped these would grow. They did grow and grow and grow. I had also read that if they really like you they might self seed but that they can be difficult to propagate and in nature often appear in droves after a wildfire. Let's just say they like me.....I now have several hollyhock plants growing around and while they take up a lot of space, I don't mind. Mountain Hollyhock flower for most of the summer providing food for a variety of bees. I have watched itty bitty bees climb right into the nectar pouch while I have watched giant bumble bees buzz pollen collect where they go into the flower basically shake the pollen free by buzzing. I have also seen Painted Lady butterflies collecting nectar on it and is the host plant for the Common Checkered Skipper butterfly.


Mountain Hollyhock (Iliamna rivularis) in bloom


And then there's the fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium). I can't really talk about plants that maybe exceed expectations without mentioning fireweed. I love fireweed. It is without a doubt one of my favorites both out in nature and in my backyard. The name fireweed derives from it being one of the first plants to grow in a newly burned forest. It blankets the forest and creates a beautiful landscape for biodiversity while new trees, shrubs and perennials begin to build a forest again. It provides food for bees, hummingbirds and butterflies, is used as a nest liner for leafcutter bees and is a larval host for both White Lined and Gallium Sphinx Moths. I had some appear in a shady spot in the yard and had loved it for several years so when we were struggling to find something to grow in the corner of the yard, I thought fireweed might be the answer. It has been and now it is spreading to other spots...A prolific seed producer with potentially 80000 seeds per plant as well as a root spreader gives fireweed plenty of potential to dominate. While it may be appearing in places I didn't anticipate like the lawn....I don't mind. Fireweed provides so much for biodiversity and flowering in abundance for most of the summer so it is welcome in our yard!


Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) in full bloom in a hard to grow spot in the yard.


At the end of the day, building a garden is a lot like having a baby and parenting. You may have an idea of what it may be like but sometimes (most of the time) things don't go as planned and you have to be okay with that (trust me, the birth of our first child went the exact opposite of how I thought it would go!). While comparing a garden to parenting may seem a bit odd to some, it is the best analogy I can think of as it relates to my life. While some things haven't gone as I hoped or expected, our garden has turned into so much more and like a child, we continue to nurture it and create new, amazing connections along the way. Gardening is not childbirth but it is nurturing and creating something amazing that represents who you are. Whether it turns out exactly perfect or not, it's an adventure and like parenting, an adventure worth having.

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