Growing concern

Gardening season is here and with it thoughts of flowers, herbs and fresh, tasty produce. Think the only thing you can grow is a rock garden? Think again


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Whether you’ve got four acres of land or four inches of windowsill, you can be a gardener.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/05/2019 (1367 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Whether you’ve got four acres of land or four inches of windowsill, you can be a gardener.

We’ve had the April showers (well, OK, more like sprinkles). May is upon us and it’s time for the flowers.

The old proverb, unfortunately, provides a simplistic explanation of what it truly takes to cultivate “May flowers” — or vegetables, or herbs — during the fabulous but fleeting summer months that are Winnipeg’s reward for conquering another crushing winter.

PHOTOS BY TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS When gardening, don’t be afraid to fail, says Dave Hanson of Sage Gardens Greenhouse ‘Just go for it.’

Succeeding in generating gorgeous gardens takes a lot of time and effort: hours spent planning what to plant, where, and when; hours bent over and elbow-deep in the dirt; hours watering, pruning and preening, and many more watching and waiting for growth.

It can seem overwhelming to greenhorn gardeners who want to beautify their spaces but don’t know the difference between pansies, petunias and peonies.

That’s where gardening gurus Dave Hanson and Maggie Wysocki come in.

The first thing a beginner should do is assess their space and verify their vision, Hanson — founder and co-manager of Sage Garden Greenhouses — says from his lush, Eden-like St. Mary’s Road space.

“You’ve got to assess: I have a windowsill, I have a balcony, I have a backyard… where’s my playground for this?” Hanson says. “Kind of match that up with what sun you have, and the right plants, and sort of start small… Try to match that vision with the ingredients that are easily at your disposal.”

Most rookies just focus on the plants, Wysocki adds, but success starts with a good compost-based soil.

“It’s about what you’re feeding your plants and the soil itself,” says Wysocki, whose radiant enthusiasm could probably make a plant spring up overnight. “If you can invest more of your focus there, then you’ll probably be set up for success.”

“Gardeners, ever since there’s been cultivation, have been recognizing soil as the most important thing to make the plants, sort of look after themselves more than anything,” Hanson agrees, adding the foundation is much more important than any fertilizer you can throw in it.

Sage Garden Greenhouse

Hanson and Wysocki co-host The Grow Guide, a weekly podcast that tackles a variety of seasonal topics and “the trials, tribulations and successes of growing in climates where it can feel kind of impossible.”

The Grow Guide is in its second season and has featured guests from around the world who have talked about everything from seed starting and sunflowers to tomatoes and potatoes.

“The response has been insane,” Wysocki says, who figures they average 2,000 downloads per episode.

“We wanted to create an organically-focused gardening podcast, something that captured millennial and Gen X perspectives a little bit more, and just be very accessible,” Hanson adds. “(Being) relatable and down-to-earth is probably the number-one thing that’s been accessible about the podcast — it’s not hoity-toity.”

The podcast, which is nearing 60 episodes, is inherently binge-worthy and available for free on iTunes, Spotify, and at It also has an active Facebook group of nearly 900 members who swap knowledge and discuss successes and failures.

On The Grow Guide, Wysocki labels herself as a “rookie” compared to “veteran” Dave and his 30 years of experience — but she has serious skills, nonetheless.

Wysocki grew up in the suburbs and never had an “extravagant” garden, but was always interested in helping her parents plant “the classics,” such as potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and peas.

“I always just thought that where we lived, that was the extent of what you could do because there’s a short growing season and we don’t have the climate to grow more elaborate things… My perception was very small,” she explains.

Gardening success starts with compost-rich soil , says gardening podcaster Maggie Wysocki. ‘It’s about what you’re feeding your plants and the soil itself.’

It wasn’t until she met her now-fiancée Justin Feeleus — who has an agricultural interest himself and a background in tree farming — and moved in with him on his four acres near Birds Hill Provincial Park that her passion for growing blossomed.

On Wysocki’s birthday in 2016, she came home and found her beau had been hard at work making her a gift that would foster growth for both their plants and their relationship.

Feeleus had welded the frame of a 100-square-foot greenhouse, which they finishing building together and now use to grow a vast variety of vegetables — cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuces, radishes, beets and artichokes, to name just a few — and fresh herbs. Feeleus even used the space to pop the question last December.

However, you don’t need a greenhouse — or any outdoor space at all — to experience the joys that come with growing.

“There’s really no limit to get going, (even) if you don’t have any space at all,” Hanson says.

He recently held a workshop called “Awesome Patio Veggie Planter,” showing participants how they could use a 14-inch space to grow veggies from winter through fall.

He also holds the “28 Day Indoor Garden Challenge,” in which he gives away 1,000 packages of seeds so people can see how much they can do in just a few weeks with an 11-by-11-inch indoor planter.

“It’s just to experience that idea that there’s really something that in 21 to 28 days can grow into an edible, fully-harvestable garden,” he says. All participants need is a sunny spot or some grow lights and some time to tend to things.

Sage Gardens Greenhouse

Wysocki points to The Grow Guide episode 41 as a resource that covers “square foot gardening” and how to maximize even the tiniest of spaces.

Hanson and Wysocki have a number of suggestions for more “forgiving” flowers new growers can plant.

“Sunflowers are easy-peasy to grow, that’s why you see massive fields of them all across Manitoba,” says Wysocki, adding she’s “so not a flower gardener.” Nasturtiums are also “edible and beautiful,” Hanson says.

Marigolds and petunias are also good for beginners. Hanson used to be anti-petunia, feeling they’re old-hat, but has shifted his view.

Petunias “have had a revolution,” he says. “There’s so many remarkable styles… they’re fragrant, really good at attracting pollinators… (but) forget the red-and-white petunias. There’s tie-dyes, there’s one called night sky,” and many other splashy patterns.

A “gateway” for many people getting into gardening “is often herbs, which can be really beautiful and very amazing because they’re so sensory and you can eat them,” Hanson says. “There’s lots of herbs that are selected for their ornamental qualities,” he adds, such as purple basil and mint.

Succulents — thick and fleshy plants such as cacti that are often thought to only grow in arid climates and have striking and remarkable appearances — are another ideal thing for beginners and “container gardeners” to grow. They don’t require a lot of watering and can be transitioned between outside and inside depending on the season.

Sage Gardens Greenhouse

Succulents are easygoing, can live for decades, and can grow to epic proportions. Hanson proudly shows off his 30-year-old San Pedro cactus — taller than his six-foot-something frame by a few inches — that he planted from a seed when he was 14 and working his first job at a Nova Scotia herb farm overlooking the Bay of Fundy.

“You can really forget about them and treat them like they’re in a desert setting,” Wysocki says.

Hanson says gardens are much more than just pretty things to look at, and it’s millennials like Wysocki who are fuelling new views of what a garden can mean.

“A garden can be very eco-friendly in that we’re trying to help bees and other pollinators; a garden can be part of our lifestyle in terms of cooking,” he says.

“It’s very social… people are really excited to share their success or even their missteps with the community, because then they get the chance to learn in the process.”

Gardening doesn’t just have to be a warm-weather activity either. Hanson and Wysocki grow year-round, something that’s benefitted Wysocki on a personal level.

“It’s been transformational for mental health throughout the winter and coping with seasonal depression,” she says. “Now I’ve been able to not just categorize Manitoba as summer and winter and as cold and hot.”

Being able to plant all through the cold months — starting her peppers in February, for example — keeps her looking forward and occupied through harsh winter months and has given her a new appreciation for where she lives.

Sage Gardens Greenhouse

Gardening 365 days a year can be “soul changing,” Hanson agrees. A lot of The Grow Guide listeners have reached out and told them it’s helped in hard times.

A big takeaway Hanson and Wysocki want people to understand is that gardening is for all, and that no one should be afraid to fail.

“If you are interested in learning and passionate about it, you can have a green thumb, 100 per cent,” Wysocki says.

“Just going for it is probably 99 per cent of the thing,” Hanson agrees. “Just do it. There are some things that aren’t going to work out, there are some things that are going to work out amazingly well. All along the way, it’s going to be pretty fun and awesome.”

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