Behind the scenes at local nurseries: Get the 411 on one of gardening’s busiest seasons

Community, Features, Off The Vine

By Lisa Caroglanian Dorazio

Unlike our southern hemisphere friends, autumn, also known as fall, begins for us in the Lower Mainland September 22nd. As our daylight disappears, it is the time of year when you begin to think about Thanksgiving and Halloween, transitioning out of swimsuits into sweaters, and looking for interesting and fun things to do when the temperatures cool.

While we are so fortunate to lead the nation in the most tempered climate, we often neglect to take advantage of the weather and set out to discover the hidden treasures in our backyards. Only a short distance from our homes and workplaces are dozens of plums in garden centres and nurseries. Within the grounds of these riches you can find yourself shopping in venues for items ranging from West Coast Seeds (organic seeds from Delta, BC), to the North American-made Garden Girl clothes (Homestead Nurseryland & Florist), canning items, and even pet carrying cases (in the pet-friendly Buckerfield’s locally owned and operated since 1919). If you work up an appetite while searching for plants at Tanglebank Gardens you may find yourself taking a break to do some Christmas shopping and lunch at their very own Brambles Bistro. Admittedly, I found myself salivating over The Reuben, a delectable Cultus Lake corned beef, house-made sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese sandwich with Russian aioli (served with bread and a side salad) while passing time looking at the landscape or watching others shop for amazing winter-hardy herbs. Additionally, Tanglebank Gardens grows produce for their restaurant, further adding to the uniqueness of this enterprise.

Although not yet in the public eye, merchandise is often priced during the summer for “Christmas in July” events. Similarly, riches that you will see in these enterprises in March/April are actually being purchased now.

On the recommendation of a friend, I discovered Cannor Nursery, which has served our community for over 40 years. Did you know that in addition to selling primroses (which are typically ordered in February) you can purchase beautiful Oak Leaf Hydrangeas and Rudbeckia, and find fantastic crabapple trees, bark mulch, and gravel too?

The Mathies family provides a cozy venue — in the Tamaringo Café located on premises — for locals to meet and enjoy delicious treats prepared daily. Also displayed on premise are photographs taken by local talent Mitch Aivazoff. Not well known is that Cannor Nursery is the home base to Canada’s first mobile boutique — InsideOut Mobile Boutique — yet another fascinating part of what really takes place within the walls and on the grounds of these centers.


Nurseries are blooming with garden expertise

An avid gardener knows that fall — even more so than spring — is the time to enjoy getting out and obtaining creative tips to spruce up the surroundings in preparation for Thanksgiving and Halloween. Whether you are looking for mums or gourds and pumpkins, there are dozens of venues open to the public in the Lower Mainland, where you can purchase these items for your garden or containers and obtain free education too. Variety is the spice of life, they say, and so too is the selection of plants. Choosing an annual (a plant that goes from germination to the production of seed within one year, and then dies) versus a perennial (a plant that lives for more than two years) plant varies from person to person. There is no right or wrong as it is all in personal preference.

While additional personnel are brought in to manage the busy seasons, there can be the expected seasonal staff decrease; however, most companies maintain staff year-round, providing steady employment for our locale. These organizations offer workshops and are available to assist you daily. Whether you want to know how to care for your outdoor plants or what type of fertilizer to give your indoor plants, pro-active consultation is available. As I was reminded by Kees De Jager, Manager at Devan Greenhouses: “every plant is like a human — they need vitamins.” Passionate about their work, the staff at Devan Greenhouses is highly educated, friendly, and always excited to help you answer any questions.

Consider for a moment too the free education you receive at a garden centre. Do you want to know how to set up a “fairy garden,” English garden, or how to plant trees?

When I visited Devan Greenhouses I had no idea I would be schooled in irrigation systems. I thought I would meander through the store, to look at goldfish for sale, to see beautiful plants, and to take the odd photograph for your enjoyment. Having shopped there for years for hanging gift baskets, vegetable plants, and basket stuffers, I had no idea that they had a sophisticated water filtration system. How did I manage to miss the very obvious holes in the floor, you might ask?

Mr. De Jager was kind enough to further educate me — and in layman’s terminology — about their very sophisticated system for a winter of growing plants. Basically — and I take generous liberties in simplifying the process — recycled water comes up out of the floor and then drains during the off-season for watering.

We also think of fall as the months of September to December, but what you may or may not realize is that for most garden centres and nursery businesses, fall is actually their busiest time of year. Fall is an amazing time for growth and getting a heads up for spring. It is a particularly good time for shrub and tree planting. When planting in the fall, roots benefit with an early growth for the year ahead and fall blooming plants are afforded the heads up for spring. These businesses actually purchase plants in October for April sales.

Consumers are encouraged to visit these sites in the fall to see colours and the beautiful ornamental grasses that are available for planting.

Ironically, the planning for fall occurs in what most would consider the slowest time of year — January. It is during that time many of these businesses are making plans for the upcoming seasons, while the details of the past season are fresh in their memories. Some of the activities that occur in January include travelling to gift/garden shows in Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Toronto and analyzing previous year sales, customer requests, and recommendations from local growers and vendors. Considerations are given to a wide variety of items ranging from which type of garlic bulbs are the hardiest for our soils to what garden plants, accessories, and colours are trending for the year.

Nurseries that utilize local growers, such as North Star and JRT Nurseries, for raising their plants, will spend the winter season reviewing their orders and inventory. To say there is never a dull moment in these big businesses is an understatement.


Playing in the dirt is good for you

After you have enjoyed your fall plants make sure that you winterize them so that you can, like nurseries do, pot them up for next year. We are in the 8a and 8b hardiness zone for plants. While most perennials should be cut back after the first hard frost, to minimize plant debris and soil-borne diseases, you should consult with your local gardening centre for plant specifics. Plants will winter best in well-drained soil and generally, after fertilizing them during the summer months, can be left to the elements. Mulching is another way to protect your plants throughout the winter months and we do advise you consult guides or your local nursery for more information. All of these steps will help to advance your spring “potting up” of plants into beautiful arrangements.

Gardening is not just good for the soul; it is good for your health. Whether from a strong desire to learn about our food chain or recognizing the value in being outdoors, staff at Buckerfield’s shared with us that they are seeing what was old renewed again as “younger people are getting back to roots.” Dirt is good for you. It is outdoors, good for the brain (the mycobacterium vaccae found in dirt can accelerate learning and brighten moods), good for the immune system, good for the skin, and some medical research has indicated that it is even good for fighting allergies and asthma.

A challenge for garden centres and nurseries this time of year is to sell out of all their merchandise, but not too soon. The majority of the operations I spoke with generally relied on experience and not the Farmers’ Almanac for predictions and long range forecasts. Despite predictions for warmer temperatures, there was no accounting for an early fall this year and the record number of mum sales to date at some of the shops.

Despite some record-breaking plant sales, there are still multitudes of colours and assorted types of flowers and plants for you to purchase and assemble in time for Thanksgiving. Stop in to visit your local store for plant selections, workshops, or to be added to their newsletter lists.

Whether you go out and enjoy the self-guided Circle Farm Tours that are available throughout the Lower Mainland (#CircleFarmTour), take a stroll through your favorite garden centre or nursery, or just go play in the dirt in your yard, my hope for you is that you explore the endless possibilities that avail themselves to you for a happier and healthier life in the Lower Mainland.

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