What’s it like to garden in Ontario, Canada? Here’s a look at life as a gardener in southwestern Ontario in a large back garden with flowering perennials, fruit trees, veggies, and more.
This is part of a series on favourite garden bloggers to inspire your garden life.
Life as a Creative Gardener in Ontario, Canada
Melissa J. Will – Empress of Dirt
- Southwestern Ontario, Canada (Zone 6b)
- Last frost: April 10 | First frost: November 1 (based on recent years)
- Growing perennial flowers, fruit trees, veggies, herbs, aquatic plants
- Organic methods only, compost to enrich soil, minimal watering (annuals and new plants only)
1 Tell us where you’re from and how you ended up where you are now.
I grew up in a small town north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. As a free-range kid I spent a lot of time alone outdoors and fell deeply in love with the seasons: both the extremes of winter (if I could ice skate or toboggan) and summer (if I could swim every day), and the changes of spring and fall.
After high school, I moved to western Canada (Alberta and British Columbia) for a while, then returned to Ontario. As an adult, I’ve gone from big city life to a smaller city, and now pretty much rural. I realized many years ago that my happiness hinges on living in a quiet place where you can see the stars at night.
2 How did you become a gardener?
I always knew I wanted a garden, but I did not work in the garden as a kid. I did spend a lot of time watching things grow and ‘helping’ insects, frogs, toads, fish, and whatever other creatures I encountered. A perfect day was playing outside from morning until dinner time. To sustain myself (and avoid being indoors) in the summer, I would first go to one neighbour’s veggie patch to eat beans and peas, and another neighbour’s wild berry patch for dessert. It wasn’t until years later that I realized the veggies were not perennial or wild. Oops. But no one every complained or stopped me.
I had a lot of houseplants when I lived in apartments and my true garden obsession officially began when we bought our first house. My mom is a fabulous gardener (hugely artistic in all things domestic) and a strong influence. She’s the one who got me into the joy of garden tours, which is the best way to see what you can grow. At that point I knew very little but soon realized all things were possible.
3 Tell us about your garden. What are the perks and challenges of gardening where you are?
My first garden was zone 5b with hard clay soil. It was nearly impossible to dig and took years to get healthy and lush. The trick (I gradually learned) was to add lots of good organic matter / compost on top of the clay and build it up. Double-digging, digging-in, and other methods were a total fail.
My current garden is zone 6b with completely sandy soil. Our move gained me 6 extra weeks of frost-free growing days each year (yay!) but sandy soil is no picnic. Everything washes away. And, plants either struggle or they invade. We’ve been here several years now but I still have a long way to go with the soil.
4 How has gardening changed you?
Gardening is the one thing I found as an adult that brings back the same feelings of complete contentment that I felt as a kid playing outdoors. If I spend two hours ‘working’ in the garden, a good hour of it was probably spent watching insects or birds. It’s a timeless contentment.
Some people start gardening to heal, which is so smart. I think I started early enough that it has been my best preventative medicine.
5 Any fabulous gardening or DIY mistakes to share?
How can I choose? There are many! My most epic one was the time I stepped on a rake and knocked myself on the head with the handle. And because that was not good enough, it actually happened two more times on the same day. I had a goose egg on my forehead for days.
Another blooper was the day I spend an entire afternoon making a rock out of QuickCrete. This might have made sense if I didn’t already have (literally) thousands of rocks in the garden already! And the silly thing was ugly. But I do like to experiment, so it’s all good.
6 What are you exploring in gardening these days?
My main obsession is flowers. Perennial flowers. I have a short list of what I have here. I’m always playing with colours and textures, though the whole garden may look like blooming mayhem to a visitor.
I love the idea of creating a neighbourhood veggie, herb, and fruit stand where everyone can give and take (free) as needed. I’m currently mulling this one over.
7 What do you hope visitors to your website experience?
I want every single person who comes to the site to feel completely encouraged and inspired to dig in, grow stuff, and get creative. I want that feeling to overcome them, forsaking everything else, and become their new, best source of inspiration and contentment. Bonus if they adopt an organic approach to gardening along the way. Might as well shoot for the stars, right?
8 Can you share a good tip or advice for new gardeners?
Buying one great plant and putting it in good soil will pay off much more than 10 good plants in bad soil. Soil health is everything. Make your own compost and feed your soil from the start. You will come out ahead.
9 Have you got some DIY projects for a rainy afternoon?
If you want to sit and work rather meditatively, making a decorative garden ball is a good place to start.
If you have a favourite quote or expression, a homemade garden sign is a great way to personalize your garden.
A day spent in the garden means you will be grubby. This is my perfect recipe for creamy, scent-free soap for sensitive skin.
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I hope you enjoyed this interview!
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛