Night-Blooming Plants

We’re used to the full spectrum of blooming beauty we find in our gardens throughout the day. For many of our favourite flower, the sun is like a shot of a concentrated 5-hour energy drink that brings the best out of them. But did you know some plants prefer the more easy-going, less full-frontal light of the moon to bloom by? It’s true! Much like vampires, here are some blooms that prefer to come alive at night.

What is Moon Gardening?

A moon garden is made up of night blooming flowers that seem to glow under the light of the moon. Flowers with glossy white petals are particularly popular for moon gardens, as they become illuminated when they reflect moonbeams, creating a mystical, eerie glow that seems almost otherworldly. Not only that, but many night-blooming flowers emit a gorgeous fragrance that you can enjoy even on cloudy nights when the moonlight isn’t too bright. If you’re big into late nights on the patio and entertaining guests with some after dinner drinks, you’ll love having a luminous moon garden to lounge around in. But these gardens aren’t just for show! On top of being totally beautiful and out-of-this-world, moon gardens bring some pretty great benefits to the table.  

The Benefits of Planting a Moon Garden

Pollinators don’t do all of their work during the day— there are a lot of pollinators that prefer working overnight, visiting flowers after dark to get their fill on sweet nectar. Moths, squash bees, and even bats have been known to visit Alberta gardens at nighttime. The more fragrant night-blooming plants there are, the more likely they are to keep visiting. White blooms that glow under the moon really stand out and the strong scent they produce is highly attractive to pollinators working the night shift.

It isn’t just pollinators that appear at nighttime in moon gardens, either— the glowing white blossoms lure in birds and beneficial bugs that enjoy feasting on the winged creatures that we aren’t as fond of: biting insects. Mosquitoes will get gobbled up, and you can enjoy late nights on the porch without worrying about your ankles getting bitten incessantly.  

The Best Moon Garden Flowers

Any night-blooming flower could be a viable addition to your night garden, but the ones with the most impact are the ones that boast delicate white petals and intoxicating fragrance. Here are some of our top picks for your moon garden:

Night Blooming Jasmine: Nothing beats the soothing scent of jasmine when its blossoms open each night. They actually close back up during the day, so they work some serious magic once they reopen in the evening, releasing one of the strongest scents of any flower, detectable up to 500 ft away. They produce fresh blooms as many as four times per year, so you’ll get to enjoy this gorgeous flowering shrub for months and months.

Night Blooming Cereus: This is actually a group of plants — cacti, to be specific — that produce distinctive white blossoms that resemble a cup surrounded by a fan of feathers. While they bloom much more infrequently than jasmine, I think it’s still worth it to pick a few up for your night garden. The flowers on these guys are remarkably beautiful.

Moonflower: With a name like that, you can bet these flowers belong in a moon garden! Also known as tropical white morning-glory, these nighttime bloomers have tall, twisting stems that intertwine with one another. As soon as the bright summer sun hits its petals, they’ll close up, but if it’s rainy or overcast you might notice that the blooms stay open for a while during the day.

Angel’s Trumpets: These downward-facing white blooms look like fancy white-skirted ladies dangling from lush canopies of leaves. While they are incredibly beautiful under the moonlight and are incredibly effective at attracting pollinators, take caution — this is one of the more poisonous garden plants out there. If you have curious pets that like to roam the garden, this one might be a no-no.

Mock Orange: This popular shrub doesn’t actually produce oranges, or even orange coloured flowers. Instead, it gets its name from the fabulous citrus scent it produces from its clusters of frilly white blossoms. You’ll love the smell just as much as the bees and hummingbirds do!

Snowdrops: These lovely bell-shaped blossoms are doubly useful in a moon garden because they help to repel hungry rabbits, mice, chipmunks and deer. They are incredibly early bloomers, showing off a fresh set of blossoms pretty early in the spring and going back into dormancy by summertime. They much prefer our colder Canadian climate, sometimes sprouting up while there’s still snow on the ground.

Nocturnal plants that glow in the night and fill the air with perfume make for a pretty impressive backdrop for date night, or entertaining friends late into the evening. Put down a blanket, crack open a bottle of wine and bask in the ambience of your ethereal moon garden.

Wind Resistant Gardens

Viburnum and Rustic Garden Fence

Wind Resistant Gardens

Wind in the Garden
Protecting Against Wind
Plants That Can Take It

“A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine.”
– Anne Bronte

If all wind were are delicate and soft as the one Anne Bronte describes, our gardens would never have anything to fear. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where fact and fiction don’t always collide. Wind can actually be one of the most destructive forces in our gardens. It tears through, leaving only tatters behind.

Wind in the Garden:

A light breeze can often be a good thing in our yards, especially on a hot summer day. Our plants catch a glimmer of this passing air and ripple with colour and invigoration. When a strong wind comes knocking, though, our plants are often left holding on for dear life – literally.

Strong winds will do their best to force their way through everything in their path. While they can’t make it through a sturdy structure, like a house, our smaller and more pliable plants are easily plowed through. In the chaos, leaves and petals are often ripped to shreds and stems crack under the pressure. However, not all the damage is done above ground.

The pushing and pulling of our plants by the wind can often cause issues below the surface. As the plants move back and forth forcibly, the roots are also being tugged along with them. This pulling and ripping of the roots damages them, preventing the plants from absorbing the water and nutrients they need.

Winds can also play cruel tricks on our soil, making it less than ideal for our growing greenery. With more air circulating against the soil, water will evaporate much quicker from the ground. With no water to quench their thirst, our plants may even fall more susceptible to the negative effects of the wind.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more helpful gardening tips!

Protecting Against Wind:

The biggest mistake that gardeners make when trying to keep out wind is trying to create a barrier. I could get into aerodynamics and explain the science behind why this won’t work, but here’s the gist of it: diverted winds only get stronger, but broken wind is weaker.
For example, if a wind stream encounters a fence, it has to move around it. So, that stream moves to the top of the fence. Trouble is, there’s already a stream up there, so the two of them have to combine forces. Suddenly, you have a much stronger wind than before. But if you just break up the wind in the first place, you get a weaker wind instead.

Now, you don’t need to be a scientist to make this happen. You still want to create a barrier, but in that barrier you want small holes for the air to be dispersed through. The easiest way to do this is to use hardy trees and shrubs. This way, you get to add to your landscape (and market value), while still protecting your garden. Popular trees and shrubs for blocking wind include willows, viburnums, beeches, and rugosa roses.

You can also simply build a fence or a wall, allowing spaces for the wind to be dispersed. For an easy windbreaker, lay your slats vertically or horizontally, leaving an inch or two between. For a more artistic look, try cross-checking them in a trellis pattern.

Also, remember to protect your soil. Keep your water from evaporating by mulching. As an added benefit, you’ll also enjoy regulated temperatures and fewer weeds!

Plants That Can Take It:

If building or growing a barrier isn’t in the cards, you can always try your hand at planting with wind-resistant plants. These plants are strong and sturdy when it comes to a blowing gale, so you can relax when the weather turns.

Plants with upright stems tend to crack in the blowing wind, so choose plants with more flexibility. With the freedom to blow in the wind, they will be less likely to snap or break. Ornamental grasses are a great example of this. Feather Reed Grasses, Blue Fescues, and Oat Grasses are just some examples of grasses that will add colour, texture, and movement to your garden as they wave in the wind.

Plants with narrow leaves also have a better chance in the wind. Big, full leaves are easily picked up and caught in the wind, much like a kite, so they are prone to shredding. Smaller, more narrow leaves are more aerodynamic against the wind. Possibly the smallest and most narrow leaves of all are seen on coniferous trees, like arborvitaes and junipers, making them excellent choices for wind-resistance.

Plants with thicker and sturdier foliages are strong additions for a wind-resistant garden. These plants are designed to stay put, with fleshy leaves that are much too heavy for the wind. Easy examples of these types of plants are succulents. Smaller in stature, these plants stay closer to the ground, giving them a better centre of gravity while their thick outer layer protects them from the elements.

When it comes to the wind, we don’t have to cut our losses on our gardens. In fact, protecting them can be as simple as a little extra gardening or landscaping that can even add market value to your home! To learn more about building a wind barrier in your yard or planting a wind-resistant garden, stop by the greenhouse today.

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DIY Landscape Design Tips

Salisbury Landscaping

DIY Landscape Design Tips

Getting Started
Try This

“Enjoyment of the landscape is a thrill.”
David Hockney

By far, one of the hottest trends on the market right now is the Do-It-Yourself project. With home improvement and craft shows dominating our channel surfing, it’s easy to dream up a new landscape. All it takes is a couple gratuitous montages of digging, building, and cleanup and suddenly that drab lawn has become a backyard oasis. Simple, right?

Not so much. The reality of DIY landscape design isn’t quite as easy as it seems on TV. However, with the right tips and planning, your dream landscape doesn’t have to stay on the screen.

Getting Started:

When it comes to DIY landscaping, it can be easy to jump right in, head first, with whatever new trend caught your eye. Trouble is, once the romance is gone in a few days, you may find it wasn’t what you were looking for. The best way to get started is to wait, do research, and prepare.

Once you’re sure, it’s time to build your master plan. Take the time and make a rough sketch (art classes not required) that maps out the changes you’re making.

When planning, divide the project into smaller tasks. A big landscape overhaul isn’t a one-weekend event. Landscape projects take time, and no one wants their whole yard under construction for weeks. Instead, create a step-by-step process and stick to it. Don’t move onto the next task until the one you are working on is done.

In making your plan, go in with a budget. Research your cost of supplies and make a spending plan to work within, both for time and money. Top tip: always plan to spend 15-20% more than budgeted. Accidents happen!

Once you have a plan, it’s time to prep your workspace and start fresh with a clean yard. Mow the lawn, prune trees and shrubs, and get rid of any weeds. With a clean slate, you’ll get a better idea of your space and how it will look when it’s complete.

Then you’ll be ready to buy supplies, and the goal should be to buy what you need in one trip. Measure the spaces that need to be worked on and make sure you’re buying enough of what you need – mulch, soil, landscape fabric, etc. All the little trips back to the store will add up and waste time (and probably money) you could be using on your new yard.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more helpful landscaping tips!

Salisbury Landscaping

Try This:

Create a polished look for your design by adding an edge. Simply add a clean, defined line of stone, brick, or even flowers to outline your garden beds, water features, or walkways. This defines the space and gives it an extra finishing touch.

Give your space a focal point. Our eyes like to wander, but a clear focus in a yard will bring sharpness and clarity. It will give our space a clear point of interest, unifying all our landscape elements together.

Landscaping can often look disorganized if there isn’t something to tie everything together. You can easily bring cohesion to your design by just repeating elements throughout. For example, if you want a gardenscape full of bright and bold colours of every kind, choose one colour that will appear many times.

Nobody wants a design that only dazzles in spring. Design for every season. Evergreens are great for winter, while fruit trees keep summer fresh.

With the excitement of a new landscape design, it can be easy to get carried away with adding elements. The trick to remember is don’t overcrowd. The best landscapes feel spacious – regardless of actual size – so don’t be packing your yard like a can of sardines.

If you’re worried about spaciousness breaking up your cohesion between elements, link them with a walkway. These stones, planks, or tiles will keep your design together, no matter the distance between them.

Designing a new landscape doesn’t necessarily mean hiring a professional. With DIY tutorials just a click away, your backyard space can easily transform at the touch of a hand. For more landscaping tips and tricks, or to get started, visit us at the greenhouse today!

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Landscape and Housing Value

Landscape and Housing Value

Does it Increase Value?
Reaping What You Sow: What Works and What Doesn’t

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”
Warren Buffett

When it comes to landscaping, one of the most frequently asked questions is about the value it will add to your home. While you may be landscaping for yourself now, how much of your investment will you get back down the road if you sell? The answer may surprise you.

Does it Increase Value?

Salisbury Landscaping Sherwood Park

Researchers have been looking for patterns linking landscape and housing value for years. The general consensus is that a well-landscaped exterior can increase a home’s value anywhere from 5 to 15%. Not all landscaping features pack the same amount of punch for their dollar, though.

According to studies, the top-yielding landscaping projects are those that add lifestyle value beyond aesthetic. For buyers browsing the market for a new home, they want a home and yard that does more for them. As far as landscaping is concerned, they will look at features that not only add beauty to the home, but those that add comfort, are convenient, use the space well, lower the cost of heating and cooling, create a quieter space, and don’t require too much upkeep.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more great insights on home gardening!

Reaping What You Sow: What Works and What Doesn’t

This year, the National Association of Realtors released the 2018 Remodelling Impact Report: Outdoor Features from their research department. This report details the impact that landscaping has brought to housing values seen by realtors in recent years. They highlight specific landscaping features and how much of your investment you may see again in resale.

Lawn Upkeep – If you want a simple way to get your money back and more, regularly maintaining your lawn, garden, and trees is the way to go. With regular mowing, pruning, weeding, planting, and fertilization, you create a polished look that buyers want. It’s also very cost-effective, and for what you spend, you could see a return of 100 – 250%!

Sprinkler Systems – When buyers are looking at homes, they want one they don’t need to work too hard to maintain. Sprinkler systems allow them to maintain a lawn and garden with the simple flip of a switch. They can bring back 85% or more of your investment.

Walkways – Clean stone or brick walkways lined with bushes, shrubs, trees, or plants add an aesthetic and comfort value. For what is spent, a return of over 80% may be seen.

Patios and Decks – Patios are something that we as homeowners may love, but when it comes time to sell, they typically yield less than 70% of their value back. Wooden decks, however, with proper railing, stairs, and sealing may see a return of 80%.

Outdoor Kitchens – These features are excellent additions if you plan on using them lots before you sell. However, they typically require a bit more maintenance, and some buyers don’t value the use of outdoor space. You may only see about 70% of your money back.

Fire Features – Adding a backyard campfire feel is a great way to build a sense of community. When it comes to the resale value, though, they don’t make much of a splash, meaning you may only get around 65% of your money back.

Pools – Pools are something that everyone believes will bring them a lot of money when it comes time to sell. After all, who doesn’t want a nice, cold dip on a summer day? Unfortunately, pools require a lot of upkeep to keep them clean and pristine, which buyers see as more work and inconvenient. When it comes to adding one of these just to drive up value, reconsider, as you’ll probably only get back half of what you spent or less.

While many people landscape for their enjoyment while they live in a house, it can also be a great way to add some value when the time comes to sell. If you’re landscaping just to sell, though, you’re better off keeping it to simple lawn and garden care. For what you spend versus what you’ll get back, the real value is how much use you’ll get out of it. Spend now to get the use out of it, regardless of the money, and enjoy a little extra return when the time comes to sell.

Images courtesy of Salisbury Landscaping. View the full Gallery here.

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Outdoor Kitchens

Salisbury Greenhouse Dig In Outdoor Kitchens

Outdoor Kitchens

Why Have an Outdoor Kitchen?
Design Ideas

“People who love to eat are always the best people.“
– Julia Child

You probably love to BBQ. I even bet some of your best meals have been eaten outside in the summer and fall evenings.

Outdoor kitchens are one of the current top landscaping and home renovation trends because people want to take that feeling further. The design styles are endless and entirely personal, and when you really start to think of what they can bring to your home and lifestyle, they start to make a lot of sense.

Why Have an Outdoor Kitchen?

Outdoor kitchens are all about lifestyle. If you don’t love to grill and sit outside with family and friends, it’s probably not for you. If you love those things and want more of them in your life, then it’s time think about some of the other advantages:

Entertaining: Who doesn’t love a summer patio party? Whether it’s your reason for building or not, an outdoor kitchen will make you want to have more friends over, throw some steaks on, and mix up some margaritas. You’ll save money by eating out less and using your own backyard more.

Taste: Face it: grilled tastes better. The fat drips off meat, making it leaner, and ingredients taste fresher. Being able to prep all your materials outside, where you cook them, will keep the mess outdoors and make grilling that much easier.

Resale: Entertainment value aside, they have real ROI when it comes to resale. MSN Real Estate experts estimate that you can get your money back or more, should you decide to sell. Depending on how versatile and appealing your kitchen is to a broad pool of potential buyers, you could reap 100% or more your investment back.

Space: If you have a growing family, a small home, or both, an outdoor kitchen opens up a new frontier of living space. It will keep the family outdoors longer in the summer, where you can relax with a drink while the kids run off some energy.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more outdoor landscaping ideas!

Design Ideas:

Once you decide you want one, you can start daydreaming and designing. Ideally, the design style you choose should be a mix of practical and beautiful. It should be something that blends into your existing backyard design, but also adds something you’ve been dreaming of.

Here are a few styles to get the ideas flowing:

Traditional: This is often the simplest and most budget-friendly choice. Imagine brick masonry, with a wooden pergola overhead to enclose it. If you want to integrate it closely with your indoor kitchen, to seamlessly move between spaces,  match it with existing fireplace or foundation.

Contemporary: If you want an entertaining centerpiece that will keep guests buzzing, go for an energetic, modern chic design. Picture sleek lines, granite countertops, and polished wood. You can create a secluded oasis, tucked away from the rest of the yard, or a prime-time, poolside hub.

Rustic: If you want your outdoor kitchen to capture the “dinner party in Tuscany” vibe, this is your style. Gorgeous, rough-stone counters and earth-tone colours create a warm, inviting feel that will make your dinner guests relax and enjoy the wine. This is the perfect style for a pizza oven!

Resale Values:

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Straw Bale Gardening

Salisbury Greenhouse Dig In Blog Straw Bale Gardening

Straw Bale Gardening

Why Straw?
The Straw Bale Advantage
Planting A Straw Bale Garden

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”
– Janet Kilburn Phillips

Having a garden is a great summer hobby with incredibly rewarding results. Starting a garden from scratch, though, can be time-consuming and expensive. Luckily, there is an awesome solution to these issues and more: Straw Bales.

Why Straw?

Straw bale gardening is a technique that has been used for thousands of years, world-wide. It gives gardeners the freedom to make an instant garden just about anywhere with very little work and few supplies. Given that it is organic in and of itself, straw bales make the perfect compostable container. They are high in carbon content and, given enough nitrogen, are ready-made to cook up some home-brewed soil plants will love.

Straw bales will only last a season, or maybe two, so planting just for the year is ideal. This makes them great for annuals and vegetables! Use them to grow delicious tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, lettuce, and more. For an easy, DIY trellis, simply add a tall stake to either end of a bale and string wire between them.

The Straw Bale Advantage:

Straw bale containers are the perfect solution to many common gardening issues:

Compost: Not only do they compost and make their own soil for growing flowers, but when the bale is finished growing, it will continue to compost. This compost can then be used in next year’s gardens, too!

Bad Soil: Many gardeners have faced the struggle of having poor soil. These soils will be too sandy or too dense to drain. Luckily, straw naturally breaks down into rich, black earth that is full of organic matter! It is also excellent for plants’ water-draining needs, with natural drainage built-in between the stalks.

Short Growing Seasons: Straw bales don’t need to thaw, so they can be plopped down and ready earlier in the season. Carbon and nitrogen together will naturally produce heat (for making compost), so your plants can get started sooner.

Time-Consuming: Straw bales are incredibly low-maintenance. With ready-made holes and new soil forming every day, no digging is required to plant in these garden beds. The bales are also weed-free by nature.

Expensive: For those with impossible soil or little yard space, gardening can get expensive. Factoring in the cost of building and gardening supplies needed for a raised bed, growing a garden isn’t cheap. Straw bales are relatively inexpensive – especially in the farm country of the prairies – and won’t require much more than the plants themselves.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more unique gardening ideas!

Planting A Straw Bale Garden:

Planting a straw bale garden simply requires a little planning ahead to get started. The bales need a little TLC and time to get ready for growing plants.

Start by getting straw bales – not hay. Hay may be cheaper, but it is typically just dried grass that is full of seeds. With hay you’ll have more weeds and too quick of a break-down time. For best results, I recommend wheat straw.

Begin by placing your bales somewhere with plenty of sun. Lay down a barrier between the bale and the grass to prevent weeds – wood mulch or newspaper will do. Water your bales thoroughly every day for two weeks.

For the first week, fertilize every other day with a high 1st number fertilizer (lots of nitrogen) before watering. In the second week, fertilize with half-doses every day for the first three days. Simply water the rest of this week. After this preparation, your bale should feel warm to the touch. You might also notice “peppering”, the appearance of little soil clumps. These mean you are ready to plant!

To plant seedlings, make a little hole by separating the straw with your fingers. Place your seedling in the hole and water thoroughly. You can cover any exposed roots with a light sprinkling of potting soil. For seeds, simply lay down some potting soil on top of your bales. Add your seeds as you would in a bed and water thoroughly to settle.

With a little planning and prep, and very little work, you can have a simple, low-maintenance garden. Place, prep, and plant and you’re ready to go all season long with straw bale gardening!

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Low-Maintenance Planting

Low-Maintenance Planting

Low-Maintenance Planting
By Rob Sproule

Let Go of the Lawn
Using Native Plants
Design Ideas

“Native plants give us a sense of where we are in that great land of ours. I want to look at Texas like Texas and Vermont like Vermont.“
– Lady Bird Johnson

If I could sum up 2018’s landscaping trends in one word, it would be “lifestyle”. People are wanting to extend their living space outdoors more and more. They want to spend more time outside, and most modern landscaping happens to support that goal.

But what about our plants? We still want them to be gorgeous, but we don’t want to spend our extra time outside watering, weeding, and fussing over prima-donna plantings. The Low- Maintenance Planting trend is all about freeing up more time to enjoy our backyard lifestyles.

Let Go of the Lawn:

Where do you spend the most time when maintaining your yard? Chances are it’s mowing, watering, and fertilizing the lawn.

In some phases of our lives, like when the kids are small, we need lawn. After that, however, the best way to save time in your yard is to ditch the lawn and install beds of native, low- maintenance plants, instead.

Using Native Plants:

The best way to reduce watering is simple: avoid plants that need a lot of water, like tropicals and tender perennials. As a general rule of thumb, if it won’t survive the winter or must be babied to do so, you’ll need to water and fertilize them regularly.

Native plants are a lazy gardener’s dream. They’ve evolved and adapted to the rainfall your yard normally gets, so in a normal year, you likely won’t need to water at all. Of course, some supplemental watering and a touch of fertilizer will make them healthier and better able to resist pests and diseases.

As a happy side-effect, natives are the most environmentally-friendly plants you could choose. They’ve developed natural resistances against the pests that plague imported plants and local pollinators flock to them as the most known and trusted food source.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more landscaping and gardening tips!


Wood mulch is the unsung hero for low-maintenance gardening. It’s cheap, easy to install, and here’s what you get:

Watering Help: The mulch prevents soil evaporation and keeps moisture on the roots, where it needs to be. This decreases your need to water as frequently.
Weed Control: Smother those weeds! Cut holes for your existing plants to grow, and cover the rest. The only weeds that you’ll see will be from the odd seed that lands on accumulated soil on top of the mulch.

Biodiversity: This is usually overlooked, but the healthiest yards are those with resident predators to keep pest numbers under control. Whether it’s ladybugs, ground beetles, or spiders, mulch (particularly nuggets) provides ideal hiding and overwintering spots for your backyard mercenaries.

Design Ideas:

Low-maintenance is in vogue. Manicured, perfectly groomed gardens are less popular and have been exchanged for the “bed-head” look.

A bed-head garden is exactly how it sounds. It’s messy, wandering, and exactly how it’s meant to be. It uses native, low-maintenance plants and lets them grow as they will, without interfering or pruning. The idea is that a natural, micro-ecosystem will emerge that self-regulates pests, attracts pollinators, and bring its own style of rugged beauty to the yard.

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Container Garden University: Compatibility

Salisbury Greenhouse Container Garden University Basics

Container Garden University: Compatibility
By Rob Sproule

Gladiators Below
Aggressive Plants
Assertive Plants
Passive Plants

Inside every container garden there’s an epic battle being waged – even if it is happening on a scale that only plants can truly appreciate! Planting the right varieties of your favorite beauties will ensure that it’s a fair contest.


“Anything worth having is worth fighting for.”
― Susan Elizabeth Phillips


When I was a teenager, I inherited a second hand, 30 gallon fish tank. I was giddy because I’d always wanted a soothing tropical fish tank, and hurried to the pet store to spend all my money.

Thinking that a fish is a fish is a fish, I bought a wide assortment of whatever caught my eye, including a lot of ‘Neon Tetras’ and a band of ‘Barbs’. I went to sleep that night excited that I finally had a fish tank to call my own, so you can imagine the horror when I woke up the next morning to find the tank full of shredded Tetra bits and some very pleased Barbs. The Barbs, an aggressive fish, had made short work of the passive Tetras.

Looking back, I had violated the cardinal rule of fish tanks: don’t put nasty fish in a closed space with nice fish. When you’re planting annuals, and especially when you’re container gardening, think of your container as a fish tank.

Your container is an enclosed space where different species, with different evolutionary backgrounds and learned behaviours, battle each other for control of needed sunlight and precious little water and nutrients. Within every beautiful summer container on a patio or a shepherd’s hook, there’s a merciless life-or-death struggle being waged.

Gladiators Below:

As serene as container gardens look, they’re little gladiator pits where only the strong survive. The fastest growing will spread its leaves wider to get the sun, grow its roots thicker to get the water, and bloom faster to attract the pollinators.

Compatibility is as important to consider as moisture requirements when deciding what to plant with what. Plunking the equivalent of a 90-pound gladiator in with a 250 pounder is just throwing your money away. Match them equally, and you’ll enjoy the beautiful fruits of their struggle all summer.

You can pair “Assertive” with either “Aggressive” or “Passive” as long as you keep the scissors handy for rescues, but pair the extreme types together and you’ll either be horrified at what happens, or strangely entertained…

Aggressive Plants:

Including many of the most popular and fast-growing container stuffers introduced in the last 10 years, these plants (almost always annuals) are just plain imperialistic and will grow quickly in an attempt to control as much space as possible. Assume the following will be very aggressive:

• Designer annuals like Supertunias, million bells, and bacopa. They’ll be in a pot and usually have a big glossy tag.
• Annual or Tropical vines
• Grasses


Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more lessons from Container Garden University!

Assertive Plants:

These plants will fight for their share of space but aren’t out for world domination. In an unsupervised fight against an aggressive plant, they will lose, just as they will eventually begin muscling a passive plant out of their way.

Here are the most common “assertive” container stuffers:

• Old-school annuals like petunias, alyssum and pansies. You’ll often find them in 4- or 6-packs
• Most perennials
• Herbs and most edible plants


Passive Plants:

These are plants that grow slowly or sometimes barely at all. They include many unorthodox container ingredients, often houseplants that find their way outside.

Passive plants tend to cost more, and are often plants you’ll want to keep year after year by bringing them inside in the fall. If you pair them with Aggressive plants, you’re asking for trouble. Here are some common, and gorgeous, passive plants:

• Succulents and cactus
• Houseplants like crotons, bromeliads and orchids
• Terrarium plants like tiny ferns, mosses and pileas

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Container Garden University: Exposure

Salisbury Container Garden University Exposure

Container Garden University: Exposure
By Rob Sproule

Before you Shop
Full Shade
Partial Sun
Full Sun

It is one of the basic requirements for a healthy, lush garden: sunlight. So it can be tricky to find the right location when every plant on your wishlist has different sun requirements. But just a little bit of strategizing for sun exposure can make all the difference to your container success.


“The late afternoon sunlight, warm as oil, sweet as childhood…”
– Stephen King, Carrie


The most frequently asked question, and arguably the most important, is the question of sunlight. Will your lovely shade plants burn up, or will your sun-lovers get pale and stringy?

It will be downright easy to find the right plants for some exposures, while others will thwart whatever plants you place there. Savvy gardeners often end up repeating what works best in a tricky area, once they find it.

Think of a Garden Center as a United Nations of plants. The plants you browse through in the spring have been pulled from the 4 corners of the earth (especially the annuals and tropical plants), and a plant native to the deep jungles of Columbia might be found on the bench beside one from the Namibian desert.

Before you Shop:

The plant tags will give you the exposure basics. Before heading to the Garden Centre, take a good look at your spot to see when the sun shines, how intense it is, and any other variables (for example, is there a big water feature next to it that will cut the sun with moisture? Does white reflective siding rise over it?)

3-5 pm is the period of most intense sunlight. If your spot gets sunlight all the way til noon and then again in the evening (eg, a big southwest-facing tree in the way), you’ll be able to plant partial-shade or even full-shade plants, even though it’s mostly sunny.

If your spot only gets sun from 2-5 pm (eg, a south-facing gap between 2 houses), partial-shade plants will probably burn up. This will be the most difficult spot to fill, since full-sun plants won’t get the hours they need.

Full Shade:

If the tag says Full Shade, or shows a cloud with no sun, you’ll need to provide ample shelter. These plants often come from tropical regions where very little sunlight filters down to the jungle floor.

It’s important to note that all plants love sun; it’s the intensity of the sun that they need to be sheltered from. In Miami, New Guinea Impatiens grow in full southern exposure but the humidity is extremely high. Ultimately, it might take some trial-and-error to see what will grow best in different spots of your yard.

A word of caution. Try to find a spot for full-shade plants (begonias and impatiens, especially) that has both shade and air circulation. It’s a tricky combination, but if you put them in a still air spot then powdery mildew will set in.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more lessons from Container Garden University!

Partial Sun:

The ideal spot for a partial-sun lover (usually the label will have a cloud with sun peeking out) is a morning-exposed spot. A label showing a sun with a cloud over a part of it indicates a plant that still needs a good amount of sun but will need to be protected from the afternoon sun.

Dappled afternoon light works too (eg, a tree to filter some sun). You can also plant them on the north sides of bigger sun-lovers for built-in shade.

Keep in mind that if you live in a humid area, you can probably get away with full sun. Watch for yellowing leaves, which will indicate burning.

Full Sun:

This means that the plant needs at least six hours of good sunlight in order to perform at its best.  Less sunlight and you’ll probably start to notice its original compact, pleasing habit getting leggy quickly and its foliage turning a paler shade of green.

Many full-sun plants are also drought tolerant plants that have adapted to arid conditions. These plants are ideal for your south-facing deck or patio, under a white siding that reflects the sun.

The high-octane annuals hitting the market, like Supertunias and Verbenas, tend to be full-sun. They get massive energy from a combination of sun and steady fertilizer and use it for their gorgeous summer shows.

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Container Garden University: Basic Elements

Salisbury Greenhouse Container Garden University Basics

Container Garden University: Basic Elements
By Rob Sproule

The Biggest Flower Doesn’t Always Win
The Structural Basics
The “Thriller”
The “Filler”
The “Spiller”

“Gardening has always been an art, essentially.“
– Robert Irwin

Like all art forms, container gardening works best with rampant creativity that follows certain guidelines. Think of the guidelines as “hints” of how your creation will look and perform the best. Happily the hints are so broad that you can do almost anything within them.

Think of making containers as gardening for people who don’t like commitment. Trees and perennials endure, but each new season can bring an all new look to your planters.

Here are a few guidelines to help you design at your best:

The Biggest Flower Doesn’t Always Win:

When container gardening was in its infancy, the goal was to cram as many flowers into one pot as possible. We’ve matured since then.

Recipes replete with foliage annuals like coleus and sweet potato vine, succulents and even edible herbs and veggies are popping up on patios everywhere. We’ve discovered the subtle beauty of leaves, branches and fruit.

Contrasting colours used to be the only element of design we thought about. Now we’re weaving together elements of shapes and texture to expand our creative scope.

The Structural Basics:

Here’s your rules of thumb:

•  Whether short, tall, skinny or fat you choose the container. But to keep your sense of scale (unless you’re going for a far-out contemporary vibe), the height of your plants should be your container’s height plus a third. So if your container is 3 feet high, your plants should be about 4 feet high.

•  If you’re planning to look at your container from all directions, put your centerpiece in the middle. That will give you less room on the sides for filler and colour, so choose a larger container

•  If your container is going the wall, put your centerpiece at the back to give the illusion of more space. You’ll be able to get away with a smaller pot or a grouping of them.

•  Check the plant tag to see how big it will get. If you live in a colder area, subtract about 30%, as the tags are typically printed for ideal growing conditions (unless the Garden Centre makes the tag, in which case it will be more accurate)

The “Thriller”:

Centerpiece plants: These provide the vertical focal point and are often the most striking architectural feature.  Their shape ranges from being very vertical (Millet, Cleome) to being more loosely vertical and airy (Guara, Fountain Grass), to being lush, leafy, and just plain large (Canna Lily, Hibiscus).

The shape of your centerpiece plant will usually determine the shape of your container garden, so it’s important to look at the habit of the plant in addition to the numeric height and spread.

Shrubs make excellent central features and you can plant them in the garden in the fall as a bonus.  If you’re thinking of adding a shrub to your yard, you can get a free container centerpiece out of the deal.

Dig in with Alberta’s Best Gardening Blog for more lessons from Container Garden University!

The “Filler”:

Central plants (Fillers): these are usually mounding plants, either flowering or foliage, that will provide the body and the bulk of your container. They typically have a mounding habit.

When you’re choosing them keep in mind the proportionality of its size to the rest of the elements in the container. Look here to provide the heavy lifting for your flowers.

The “Spiller”:

Trailing plants:  These are cascading plants that flow out of the container and provide a sense of height to the container garden and soften the container itself. Some trailing plants have more volume than others and may compete with your filler plants for space. For example, Superbells Calibrachoa are also robust filler plants and so you might want to leave some room for them to grow upwards as well as down, while Bacopa will tend to trail right away.

If you have a tall container (or an ugly one), choose long vines to masque it. Likewise, if your pot is stout than opt for smaller or no vines to keep the sense of scale.

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