Back in January I decided to ask my favorite urban flower grower, Heidi Bekker from Forage and Design Flowers, if she would share some gardening tips for gardening in Calgary and I'm thrilled that she said yes!
We are now in mid April and I'm sure most of you are having spring fever and are anxious to get in the garden, probably even more so considering our current self-isolation situation. My yard is still covered in a few inches of snow and there were snow flurries in the air this morning! The seeds I ordered from Edgebook Farm arrived yesterday and I can't wait to enjoy the sun and my backyard once all the snow is gone! I'm also very grateful to Heidi for sharing some of her tips and tricks with us. My garden is going to be a success thanks to her! Please take a minute to give her a follow on Instagram and then you can watch all of her behind the scenes and get a glimpse into urban flower farming!
Just a little background information on Heidi. She is an urban flower farmer who sells her fresh flowers to florists like me who use them in our summer wedding work. Her blooms are grown organically on about 1/8th of an acre of pure blissful south/west sunshine protected from the wind by a high solid metal fence.
She gardens in what is referred to as a "potager garden". Potager is a French term used for an ornamental garden incorporating flowers, vegetables and herbs.This historical design is from the gardens of the French Renaissance and Baroquegarden. The elements are planted in close proximity to each other not only for the absolute beauty and abundance but also for pest mitigation bringing balance to the space.
Photos below were provided by Heidi.
My first question to Heidi (I am a wedding florist after all) is what are your favorite flowers to grow for weddings?
Most seasons I try to grow ALL the things but here are a few of my faves.
Cosmos - These beauties come in such gorgeous colors and who can resist the cupcake cosmos dancing in their bouquet.
Italian Ranunculus - Calgary is an excellent climate to grow these popular beauties. "Nuncs" like our cool nights but should be kept shaded from our long sunny days in the summer. This year if the weather is in our favor the gardens will be loaded with peaches, blushes and white tones, and a new-to-me variety of smoky purple called 'Malva'.
Sweet peas - What bouquet is complete without these gorgeous and delicious smelling wild child tendrils? These easy to grow and frost tough plants are grown strategically throughout the gardens where I pass by often to take a whiff of their incredible scent. My absolute fave is to harvest these stems with some of the vine attached to show off those magical curls!
The photos below by Abby + Dave are from Travis + Pam's Lake House Wedding last August. Heidi supplied many of the blooms for this wedding including the cosmos, ranunculus, zinnias, snapdragons, astilbe, yarrow and scabiosa for a true garden style wedding!
Heidi's Tips for Gardening in Calgary
Calgary is rated at about a zone 4 on the growing scale. The winters are harsh as we all know who live here, the springs are short going from -10 to +20 in a matter of days and a very short autumn that usually starts early September with a harsh frost. We have the most lovely BIG sky full of sunshine but because of our close approximation to the mountains we have cool nights. I say all this to say we have a very challenging place to grow anything due to our extreme weather (did I mention the 100 km winds and damaging hail)?! I like to say that anyone intentionally gardening in Alberta can garden anywhere. There are too many things to think of, especially if you live in and around Calgary. So well done!
A few things I think of before starting a new garden (this happens often, ask my husband ;) is the following;
1) Give yourself the grace to fail and kill many plants at the beginning. I started small and this is the best thing to do as I did kill countless amounts of baby plants but this was necessary and less stressful on a smaller scale. Plant easy and forgiving plants such as cosmos, zinnias, tomatoes, lettuce and herbs. These are really beautiful together and the bees will thank you.
2) How much sun or shade does this space get and what appropriate plants will work here? Take a season and get to know your space. The amount of sun or no sun will change as the seasons change. I have one garden that I have changed the planting 3 times because I wasn't diligent to notice the shadows that emerge because of season changes.
3) Plant the plants that can grow together that require the same amount of moisture or not much moisture
4) Is this plant out in the open where it can get hailed on or wind damage? If so maybe choose something that doesn't mind getting pounded on (Example - grass is more forgiving than a hosta). I love the combination of hardy grasses mixed with something delicate and simple for big impact - Blue Oat Grass and Russian Sage intermingled together is stunning! Add a rock boulder and your set!
5) Plant in clumps for more impact and carry the theme through. This is important as our eyes need a period of rest when sweeping over the garden with interest and mystery. I always plant in either 3, 5 or 7's.
Photos below provided by Heidi.
What are some of your favorite flowers and greenery to plant in Calgary?
Favorite Cold Hardy Spring Varieties: Can be planted before the last frost (cover with frost cloth to protect from frost bite)
Queen Anne's Lace
Favorite Heat Loving Summer Varieties: Plant out after the last frost (May Long Weekend)
Favorite greenery to incorporate in a garden style bouquet:
Ninebark (golden, copper or burgundy)
Fruit tree branches (ideally with fruit)
Favorite zone 4 perennials, bulbs and woodies:
Yarrow (pastel pinks, or summer berries)
Where do you recommend purchasing seeds for those wanting to start a garden in Calgary?