Real Estate

How does a garden grow?

Imagining and actually planting can be rewarding, but 'not for wimps'

I officiate at weddings sometimes, and to attend such a celebration is truly an honor. The arrangements and diversity of flowers on display at a wedding is beyond compare. Weddings are the ultimate celebration of love in the form of flowers.

Unfortunately, most wedding flowers are grown commercially and harvested, treated and refrigerated for freshness to be sold to the floral industry.

Jack McKinnon
Yet, I've also officiated and attended weddings that took place in beautiful gardens, and the flowers were spectacular and still on their plants. These gardens are the example that we all can aspire to: A garden that has healthy plants, a wide variety, where there is a show of beautiful flowers and foliage all year round. This kind of garden creates an oasis for our lives that we can retreat to for rejuvenation.

The main thing about planting flowers is planning. If you need help, hire a designer, an architect or someone who knows landscape design and your personality. If you don't know anything at all about horticulture, shop for those who do.

Read all you can about where you live and what kind of a garden will do well there. Different climates, soils, sun and shade situations and budgets all have an influence on what and how you can grow a garden. It doesn't take a lot of money to have a great garden. It does take knowledge.

An abundance of healthy flowers come from many and healthy plants. Great gardens are built on great foundations with good soil mixes (sometimes several different soil mixes are required for different plants) and good care both in construction and maintenance.

Having a color scheme is really important. Simply splashing colorful flowering plants all over the place usually doesn't work as well as a well-thought-out color scheme.

Consider making a place to stroll, a resting place and a place for doing something like having tea or a picnic. Make these work together and include the views , fragrances and the feeling of each as it is experienced.

When I was working in the Sunset Magazine gardens, we had a putting green. Though hardly ever used, when we did have a mini-tournament or an event on that green, the surrounding garden plantings made every place one could stand a photo opportunity.

Growing flowers to pick and bring in the house is a benefit good gardeners often use. It carries the outdoors in, and like being at a wedding, shares the beauty and love that lives in the house.

Caring for a flowering garden is not for wimps. It does take work and often being outdoors on your hands and knees. That's why I have pants with built-in knee pads. Good gloves, a hat and mosquito repellent are a big help.

If one is not doing one's own gardening but managing contractors, it is important to at least know all your plants. If you know a plant by name (I recommend knowing the Latin name, Genus and species), you will know better how to grow it. If there is a problem with health, pests or fertilizer, it is easily looked up. Managing a garden requires diagnosing problems and sometimes ordering plants removed and/or replaced. These are executive decisions and sometimes difficult to make but need to be done to maintain the overall quality of a garden.

Finding time to work in the garden is important not only for the plants but for us. It is easier to do basic chores upfront than put them off until the tasks become too big. Keeping paths clear and the flowers deadheaded (removing spent flowers) is an ongoing and not too difficult job. I spend my time making a living in gardens. I visit them, tour them, work in them, teach in them and generally think about gardens a large portion of my time. Finding time for my own garden becomes a challenge because I need non-gardening time, too. What I do is garden as I pass through my outdoor space.

For example, one day recently, I mixed up a wheelbarrow full of soil mix, adding compost and sifting out roots, leaves and clods. I took three days to do this one task in passing. I would spend 5 minutes one day, walk on by to get to the car and go on about my day. The next day, I would do the same, and the third day, I potted up the new soil and then the task was done. Had I tried to put together 15 minutes in one afternoon to do the job, it would still be waiting for me to do it.

>Jack McKinnon is a garden coach and worked at the Sunset Magazine Gardens for 12 years. He can be reached at 650-455-0687 by email at or visit his website

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