Spring Things and a Purpose for Perennials

It's basically officially spring-time north of the 49th parallel! Ok, so we still have some snow in the forecast, but there is plenty to keep me busy this time of year both in and out of doors.

Early spring in my "Giving Garden".

Early spring in my "Giving Garden".

As soon as the sun starts shining and the temperature climbs above 0°C , I am chomping at the bit for the coming growing season. It has taken a few years (and I am well aware that it is one of those forever projects), but I am so proud of how my little backyard garden has evolved from a sparse patch of lawn overrun by dandelions and crabgrass, to a lush and thriving ecosystem, complete with vegetables, flowers, and a compost pile. It is altogether my muse, my unfinished masterpiece, my summer haven, and my happy place.

 Fun fact: I chose the name Dāna for my garden (the Sanskrit word for giving) because I wanted to honour all of the abundant gifts that Mother Earth grants us. The name further serves to remind me of the persistent pay-it-forward nature of nature, and to endeavor to reflect that generosity in my own actions.

Dāna Garden's sentinel in the melting snow.

Dāna Garden's sentinel in the melting snow.

At the present moment, you wouldn't think she has much to offer! Hard packed, heavy snow and ice still cover the vast majority of the lawn, and there is nary an insect or songbird to be heard. But beneath the layers of last fall's leaves, green things are stirring. How delightful it is to go digging in the cold to find reassurance in familiar, hardy perennials that push through the frost, year after year.

Overwintered Hens n' Chicks popping up to catch some of that early spring sunshine!

Overwintered Hens n' Chicks popping up to catch some of that early spring sunshine!

 Living in zone 3-4 (with the rare warmer microclimate…if we’re lucky) can make for some challenging growing conditions. This hardiness classification dictates that growers must anticipate their crops to withstand a minimum temperature of -35°C to -40°C at the extreme ends of winter (I sometimes even wonder how we survive it ourselves). Regardless, there are a number of stubborn plants that somehow defy all logic and persist year after year in the Canadian prairies. These are our perennials, and they are a very important part of a healthy garden.

Useful zone 3 perennial Catmint waves "Hello!"

Useful zone 3 perennial Catmint waves "Hello!"

There are many reasons to grow perennials; probably my favorite one is that they require less effort on the part of the gardener! Perennial root systems improve soil structure, and also assist with exchange of nutrients and water, contributing to a more sustainable, permanent agriculture system (remember that Permaculture thing I was talking about in my last gardening post? Perennials are great friends to Permies!). Additionally, enduring plant species provide year-round above-ground benefit to their ecosystems. They may offer early or late blooms, extending the feeding season for beneficial pollinators. They might produce fruits that dry out and supplement nutrition during the long winter months for foraging animals. They can even provide long lasting cover and shelter to more sensitive non-perennial species in the shoulder seasons.

 Due to their immense value, I've included a short list below of some tried and true perennials that you can add to your zone 3-4 garden.

 Flowers and Ornamentals

  • Yarrow (Drought resistant prairie classic with many medicinal properties)

  • Asters

  • Lily of the Valley (Shade loving ground cover that WILL grow under pine trees…but watch out! Highly toxic to pets and small humans)

  • Delphiniums

  • Hostas

  • Dianthus

  • Gaillardia (Blanket flowers)

  • Poppies

  • Sedum

  • Hens and Chicks

  • Red Clover (Nitrogen fixer, and the bees love it! I prefer it to a grass lawn!)

 Fruits, Veggies and Herbs

  • Rhubarb

  • Chives

  • Catmint

  • Sorrel

  • Horseradish

  • Asparagus (Takes about 3 years to mature before harvesting)

  • Sunchokes aka Jerusalem Artichokes (if you have room, these guys are spreaders!)

  • Bush berries (Raspberries, Blueberries, Saskatoons, Sea Buckthorn)

  • Fruit trees (Crabapples, Pears, Cherries, Plums)

  • Kale or garlic (Usually grown as annuals…try them in a cold frame!)

This sedum mix brings early, vivid colour to the yard.

This sedum mix brings early, vivid colour to the yard.

Outside of my yard (so, inside?), volunteering and tending to seedlings squeezed between temperamental indoor cultivars fills the remainder of my garden-happy void. This past month, I am so thankful to have been a part several inspiring permaculture-related initiatives: Cabin Fever, Seedy Saturday, and a local Grow n' Learn class, to name a few. Each of these events brought my community together, bolstered my gardening know-how, and contributed to my growing wealth of friends and professional connections. I can't wait for all that April will bring!

What are your outlets for your spring-time craze? How do you cope with another 10cm of snow in the weekend forecast? Which perennial is your favorite? As always, I invite you to share your thoughts and stories in the comments section below!

A last note from my world of wool: I am beginning to shift more of my focus (and increasing panic) on my wedding dress. I am committing myself right now to a blog update and sneak peek in the next two weeks! Stay tuned!

Traci Bee