Landscaping Basics - Knowing What Your Needs Are

by Liz Deleeuw on June 10th, 2010

Indigenous peoples used plants, shrubs, and trees for food, medicine, dyes, shelter, tools, and a myriad of other things. They had a good knowledge of their natural surroundings and shaped their environment in small ways to meet their needs.

We too shape our environment using natural materials, but our world is far removed from the sources of what we use. Metals, plastics, synthetic materials must have base products found on this earth but they are so manipulated they become unrecognizable. The items we use daily are made far away in factories, shipped thousands of miles from their origin, and are delivered to stores near us. We don’t stop to think of their journey.

Our homes are a small oasis where we can control our personal environment in ways that are important to us. This is where the landscape comes in. The first step in the landscaping process is to think of all of the uses of the outdoor space. Landscape designers often refer to creating outdoor “rooms” to accommodate those uses.

Possible uses are:

Entertaining places where we are in a pleasing setting. A BBQ on a deck sheltered by a shade tree comes to mind for me.

Places where children can play and are visible; space for their games. I spent the winter months of my childhood on a backyard rink where we spent endless hours playing hockey. The yard did not have much space for anything else but in the summer we could run around there and play catch. In my own yard we had a huge lilac bush where we housed our clubhouse.

Storage Sheds. My husband has taken the garage to house hundreds of his tools and I need the shed for my landscaping basics.

Food. In my day families depended on garden vegetables to supplement the family food store. We canned or froze our vegetables and ate them all winter. Jams and homemade wines were exchanged at Christmas.

A Place for Fido. The family dog may need a dog house and run where he can’t jump the fence. Maybe he likes to run the perimeter of the yard.

A Fire Pit. If it fits in the yard in keeping with the city regulations, a fire pit can supply the feeling of being at the cabin or camping without all of the travelling.

Any number of reasons.

AND - Having your favourite plant material near you. I have begun such a collection. Of course, native plants have their place in all of this, but I still have a few non-natives that I can’t seem to part with. Plants that we get from the local greenhouse come from all over the world. They are hybrids and species which have come under the fine tooth comb of the growers. Plants, trees, and shrubs are cloned and bred to fit our likes. Bigger flowers, resistance to disease, perfect fruits, and any number of variables count. On a trip to Europe a while back I found myself recognizing ornamental plants and shrubs that I learned to know in Ontario. They were the same varieties.

What is the role of the native plant in the urban landscape? There is no way that we can reproduce exact native prairies as they once were in our area. We can however give native wildflowers a chance to re-establish in our yards. This requires more discipline and knowledge than visiting the local garden center.

The plants that the Edmonton Naturalization Group distributes come from local sources. We encourage the preservation of the gene pool by gathering seed from several locations, then starting plants and finding homes for them. We also sell native flower and grass seeds.

I started with one plant carefully labelled because no one of my relatives or friends would ever have been able to identify it. Now Meadow Blazing Star is moving across my patch of native plants, and the Western Wood Lilies I thought were eaten by the neighbourhood hare are up and even bigger than last year.

A few years of patience with plants that many would have thought would never amount to much is beginning to pay off. They are holding their own with the tulips, petunias, and delphiniums.

Consider giving native plants a chance to inhabit one of your garden “rooms”.



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