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Secrets of a Happy Gardener

Swallows BirdsI have always found gardeners, whether professional or layman, to be astute observers of human nature. The reason being that they are always there in the background, trimming a hedge, cutting the lawn, or pruning the roses  seemingly minding their own business  so most people just pretend that they aren’t paying any attention. Over my four decades of working with customers as their estate gardener, landscaper, garden designer, or nursery manager I have discovered that there are basically two types of people, those who appreciate what they have in life and those who always want more.

The contented gardeners also seem to share a set of principles that keeps them on the sunny side of things and I am sharing these here in hopes that the less-contented souls might finally realize that their glass can be half-full, instead of appearing perpetually half-empty. So, if you want to be a happier gardener, maybe consider adopting a few of these practices as a part of your horticultural karma.

Make It Personal

(Rosa 'John Cabot' and Lonicera 'Gold Flame' Arbor)

Your landscape is an extension of your home, and as such, it should have something in it that reflects you. In my garden there are many personal accents, but my favourite remains a driftwood arbor that I built for my daughter’s wedding, which she was unable to accommodate afterwards in their second-story townhouse. I can see it from my writing desk where it reminds me of that happy day – smothered in roses and honeysuckle in summer and serving as a favourite perch for the Varied Thrushes in winter.

Enjoy the Accidents

White Foxgloves

(White Foxgloves)

Some of the most beautiful garden displays I have experienced were not carefully planned landscape designs, but complete accidents. In one corner of our garden my wife planted mixed foxgloves (Digitalis) of pink, rose and white with Campanula persicifolia ‘Alba’, or white-flowered Peach-Leaved Bellflower. It was a nice enough display the first year but when the following spring rolled around and all of the pink and rose foxgloves had died out leaving only the white, a stunning perennial alba feature was accidentally created.

Eat and Give

Redbor Kale

(Redbor Kale)

No matter where you live, you can always grow a little something to eat. As a young family living in a rented home, we always had wild strawberries (Fragaria vesca) for our girls to fight over. Now we grow berry bushes, potted fruit trees and family heirloom tomatoes grown from seed (given to my wife by her uncle) tucked into every available pot and border, so that we have fruits and vegetables to savour and share with friends and family. Giving and gardening go hand in hand and since I planted too much kale in my daughter’s garden this past spring, they have promised me that I am going to have to eat kale salad every time I am invited over for dinner until it is gone…so be careful what you plant.

Leave Room for Nature


Even though my wife and I live in a townhouse with a modest-sized garden, it is still full of wildlife year-round. Over the years we have seen black-tailed deer, a bear, coyotes, Douglas squirrels, Cottontail rabbits, Juncos, and hummingbirds all enjoying our garden, or at least the edible portions of it. Whether it’s the wild blueberries that the Towhees favour, the nectarines that the raccoons poach just as they ripen, or my seemingly tasty back lawn that the deer like to graze, I don’t mind sharing because just seeing them provides much more than they could ever take from me.

Share Your Love of Gardening

Wintergreen Plant

(Wintergreen Plant)

I had a grandmother with a beautiful garden and orchard in her Westbank home. It was where I spent all of my summers as a kid. She didn’t teach me anything about gardening (except not to throw apples at her bee hives) but she is the reason that I went into horticulture, because Gran showed me that anything can be beautiful with a little bit of care. Today I continue to honour her by introducing bubblegum plant (Wintergreen / Gaultheria procumbens) or lemon bush (Cupressus ‘Wilma’) to bored children that visit the nursery, and when I see the wonder in their eyes, I know there lies a potential future gardener.

Accept the Losses and Savour the Memories

Camellia sinensis plant

(Camellia sinensis Plant)

Nothing lives forever and given the extreme weather we are all experiencing, dead plants from record cold or severe drought have become the norm for most gardeners. I have a few plants that I fuss over such as a golden Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis ‘Aurea’), a dwarf pomegranate and a mature Tea Camellia (Camellia sinensis) which had its own protective cold-weather cover. I used to love watching the Anna’s hummingbirds foraging the early winter flowers, which is why I kept it just below the feeder. It passed away two winters ago in the extreme cold but I still have those fond memories to brighten those bleak December days.

Embrace the Seasons

Katsura tree

(Katsura Tree in the Fall)

Here in the northern hemisphere we are blessed with four unique seasons that can teach us the ultimate life lesson: we are mortal. New life begins with spring, flourishes in summer, ages beautifully in autumn, and declines in winter. It is a pattern that hits us over the head, year after year, until we finally realize that nature is teaching us about our own impermanence, and that the sooner we learn to accept it, the more we can appreciate every day that we have left.

All images Copyright MK Lascelle 2023

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