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Niagara Falls
Tuesday, June 6, 2023
Growing Together: How to get around those areas where nothing grows

Joanne Young

Special to The Lake Report

Like the old saying goes, “If at first you don’t succeed … try, try, try again!”

Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for motivating others, but when it comes to gardening, I would like to put some limits on that phrase.

Over the years of designing and helping clients solve their gardening dilemmas, one of the statements that I have heard repeatedly is, “I have planted 10 different things in this same spot and nothing has survived.”

I think they are hoping I will know of a miracle plant that will survive, but my response is always the same, “Well, stop trying to plant things there!”

We all have places in our gardens that prove to be difficult. It could be under a large tree, a wet corner or an extremely dry place under a large overhang.

These locations can be the source of much frustration. So instead of “try, try, try and try again,” it is time to stop, take a step back and look at your situation differently. Most likely, at this point, the solution to your garden’s most frustrating problem is not a plant.

So, what can you do with these difficult spaces? The first step is to analyze what the actual problem is.

Are there too many shallow roots that you cannot get your shovel into the ground? Is it a really wet area that doesn’t drain well? Does the area get scorching sun and never a drop of rain? How many hours of sun does the area receive?

The second step is to consider the style that you are trying to achieve. Are you wanting a contemporary look, a more traditional style garden, a zen look, or something more rustic?

One of the most difficult areas in our gardens can be found under the canopy of larger trees, whether deciduous or evergreen. The reduced light levels and established root systems of the trees can make it impossible for anything else to grow.

There are ways though to make these areas still look landscaped without just leaving a large dirt patch underneath the tree. Think about what you can be adding to that area that will help you convey your theme or style to your garden’s visitors.

For a more contemporary style, you may want to add a modern looking sculpture, or place an armour stone or two in these difficult spaces. Another way of bringing out this style is by adding a large pot with very simple lines.

If your goal is more traditional, you can still use a collection of brightly coloured pots, maybe in cobalt blue or lime green. The pots themselves can be used just as a feature or, if sunlight permits, you can place some colourful annuals or perennials in them.

If your style leans toward rustic or cottage, maybe the answer is bringing in an older wooden bench with some flagstone under it or adding some older item that you found at a flea market or antique store.

If you like attracting birds, why not hang some bird feeders or houses from the lowest branches of the tree or place a bird bath in the garden?

Whatever your style is, think about how you can take those impossible areas and turn them into special features in your garden. Remember, if at first you don’t succeed, it is time to get creative.

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca.

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