“We aren’t all lucky enough to inherit a mature garden, and starting one from scratch can be a challenge,” says Kim Unger, parks specialist for the town of Okotoks, Alta., near Calgary. With a masters degree in landscape architecture, Unger approves everything from landscaping plans in new developments to implementing water conservation measures. “In my role with the town, I encounter brand new lots frequently. Okotoks is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada,” she says. And if she wasn’t busy enough, she gets her hands dirty as an active landscaper and gardener, designing and building yards in mature and new lots with an emphasis on environmentally friendly tactics, which she calls ecoscaping. “I use the word ecoscaping because so many people have a hard time with the word xeriscaping,” she explains.
Hopefully, the interior of your new home is low-maintenance once you move in all your furniture, but the grounds around it may pose more of a challenge. Hungry rabbits, soil quality issues and water management are but a few of the potential difficulties you may encounter in a new subdivision or development. Here’s how to get your brand new garden and yard going in an environmentally sensitive way, with useful tips from Kim Unger.
Fix your soil
Sure, buying and spreading soil is not as glamorous as planting bulbs or picking heirloom vegetable seedlings, but it’s essential to encouraging good growth. “Our soil type here is typically clay loam, with the stress on clay,” says Unger. Clay soil also abounds in many new developments in Canada. “If I purchased a lot in a new development, I would certainly go through the steps of soil amendment,” says Unger.
Make sure you have enough topsoil
“Developers in most Canadian locales are required to strip and grade the subdivision,” says Unger. “This means that heavy equipment comes and strips off the topsoil; the topsoil is then stockpiled for later use, and is placed in parks and residential lots,” she adds. Developers will replace topsoil, but sometimes it is applied too early in the construction phase and gets compacted by heavy machinery. “We now require a minimum of 12 inches of topsoil,” Unger says of Okotoks’ regulations. “More topsoil means more room for water and roots.” So if you’re creating new garden beds, you may have to beef up your topsoil. Contact your developer if you have questions or concerns about the soil.