In The Garden – May 2021

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I want to welcome those new to gardening in Point Roberts. You aren’t necessarily new here, but might have taken up gardening during pandemic restrictions. No matter how you got to this point, welcome to Point Roberts gardening.

There is so much to tell you, so much to convey about how to garden in our little exclave. We are fortunate in having a mild climate for all sorts of growing, but also face some challenges.

But first to our climate. In North America, we use U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones to determine what sorts of plants will thrive. This is a numeric system, which quantifies how cold it gets in an average winter, ranging from a low of 1a (-60 F, as in northern Alaska) to a high of 13b (65 F, as in Puerto Rico). We are a comfortable 8a (10 F) – the same as most of Britain, with its world-class gardens.

Hardiness zone determines which plants will survive the winter, so we are fortunate in being able to winter over all sorts of popular ornamental and food plants. How great is that?

Summers are generally mild, sunny and dry – much like our unusually balmy April this year. This makes working outside pleasant, but the aridity challenges gardeners. Unlike the distributed rainfall that British and east coast plants receive, ours receive virtually no rainfall in summer.

Native plants thrive in these conditions, and gardening with them is highly recommended. Xeriscaping, or dry gardening, is not: those plants will rot in our cold winter rains.

Many desirable non-native ornamentals and edibles grow vigorously in our summer sun and long days, but get thirsty. Unless you want to spend summers dragging around a hose or watering can, you must invest in an irrigation system – a drip system if your plants are permanently sited or an in-ground spray system for broader or more flexible coverage.

Gladly, we do not need to worry about ‘wasting’ water – the water district is legally obligated to buy far more water than Point Roberts needs.

Another climate characteristic is that our growing season is approximately eight months, sandwiched between the last frost at the end of March and the first frost at the beginning of November.

This limits the cultivation of edibles developed in climes with a longer and hotter season, especially those that will not tolerate our usual April temperatures or our October cold rain. Basil, eggplant, okra and tomatoes will not even make it into October. Tomatoes rarely receive enough prolonged heat to yield huge luscious beefsteak tomatoes – unless you have a greenhouse or an especially warm sunny garden.

So if you are committed to growing a particular vegetable or fruit, check out its ‘days to harvest’ before buying it.

The smaller the number, the more likely you are to
eat well and eat longer.

We can extend our season a little by using shoulder-month protection like floating row covers in vegetable gardens, but you might be happier simply growing some cooler season crops like chard, kale and garlic.

Popular ornamentals have a better time of it, so feel free to invest in your favorite annuals and frost-hardy perennials.

If you like early spring color, invest in spring bulbs like daffodils, Muscari, and bluebells (squirrels, voles and deer eat tulips) and spring-blooming hardy perennials like pasque flower and wallflowers. On the other end of the calendar, Echinaceas and Rudbeckias will supply early autumn garden color. In between, grow almost whatever you want.

I can’t let this opportunity pass to caution you about a unique challenge gardening here – obtaining plants.

Technically, plants and seeds cannot be brought in from ‘stateside’ without a phyto-sanitary inspection certificate because Canada requires all plants crossing its border to be approved for import into Canada. Although Canada Border Services Agency officers will usually give you a pass without a certificate as long as you are only in transit, it is not worth the risk of a border delay awaiting an inspection, confiscation of your plants, or a flag on your record.

Hopefully, we will return to the time when we could shop across the border and have purchases inspected for import into Point Roberts from Canada.

In the past few years, ordering plants by mail has become a less viable option than before.

Annie’s Annuals has stopped shipping to Point Roberts because of inspection delays. FedEx gave up shipping live plants across borders, and I read that UPS has now stopped also.

Given that buying plants and seeds in Canada is considered non-essential, we have to count our few remaining blessings: Lady Bug Nursery, Chwynyn’s garden stand, mail-order seeds, social media seed exchanges and plant offers, and the upcoming Garden Club Plant Sale.

Thinking of local, the Point Roberts Garden Club welcomes all interested in gardening, be they old or new hands at it. Email info@pointrobertsgardenclub.org to get on their email list.

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