Gardens created for unique circumstances are a lesson in adaptation
On this summer’s Manitoba Master Garden Association Garden Tour in Winnipeg, Manitoba, I discovered three special gardens – special in that they were built to deal with unique circumstances.
Two of the gardens were created amid flood protection landscapes. The third garden featured permaculture design, a natural landscaping design focused on working with nature to maximize biodiversity while minimizing human intervention.
The Red River Valley in south-central Manitoba is a flood plain. The term valley is a bit of a misnomer. The river has shallow banks and meanders through the middle of a vast agricultural plain. In some years, spring thaws and heavy rains on frozen or saturated ground result in significant flooding.
The Red River runs through the centre of Winnipeg. In the 1960s, the Red River Floodway was built to protect the city from flood damage. It is a long channel running around one side of the city, into which river water is diverted during flood periods. Many small towns in the area have dikes to protect them during floods. Rural properties outside of the city and towns must provide their own protection. Following the 1997 “Flood of the Century”, most rural residents raised, diked, or moved structures to reduce flood risk.
Garden 1, featured in the lead photograph above, is located just south of the Red River Floodway. The property was completely under water in 1997. After the flood, a dike was built encircling the house, garage, and yard. The dike has been incorporated into the landscape.
Behind and outside the dike is another yard, which includes a large grassy area, a playground, a pond, a raised garden for vegetables and cutting plants.
Instead of encasing their yard with a dike, the owners of Garden 2 opted to raise their house. The house now sits atop a hill and the gardens at the front and back slope down.
Garden 3 is within the city, in the Charleswood area. It was billed as a lasagna garden, the first time I had heard that term. A lasagna garden is a form of bed construction involving no digging and no removal or pre-killing of weeds.
I listened to an explanation of how lasagna gardening works. You lay down overlapping, wet sheets of newspaper on the area where you wish to create a garden bed, followed by a layer of grass clippings or vegetable scraps (green layer), then a layer of brown, shredded leaves perhaps, followed by two or three more layers of green and brown. You may choose to add some topsoil at the end before you cover with mulch to preserve moisture. If you are covering an area with particularly invasive growth, you may wish to place non-waxed cardboard under the newspaper. Then you wait for nature to create humus-rich soil.
The owner of the garden had constructed the most recent of her beds in fall. This spring she planted only annuals in that bed, because their roots are shallow and the roots of the grass and weeds under the newspaper were likely not dead yet. By next summer, she will start planting perennials. She told me when she lived in southern Ontario, where winters are milder, it took only a few months for material in the lasagna beds to break down. Here it takes two years.
The gardener says that permaculture gardens require knowledge to plan and work to construct, but once they are established they are fairly self-sustaining.
The first two gardens remind me of the possibilities for beauty and growth no matter the environment. The third garden reminds me of the value of working with nature.
For information on the other gardens on the tour, read Nine Reasons to Take a Garden Tour.
Do you have a favourite garden adaptation?
The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings. ∼Kakuzo Okakaura