In the garden with Carson Arthur

Landscape designer, television personality and all-around gardening guru Carson Arthur shares how he traded city life for country style


IT ALL STARTED when the Bank of Montreal went on record saying that almost 50 per cent of Canadians would be moving in the next five years. It got me thinking that a mass exodus away from higher-priced cities was inevitable, and a few years later my partner and I bought a home in Ontario’s Prince Edward County. We purchased this “farm” as our eventual retirement home, with lots of areas where I could start the gardens that I dream about.

If you haven’t been to Prince Edward County yet, it is quickly becoming known for the wines and farm-to-table culture that the upscale restaurants provide. In 2019, more than one million tourists came to “The County” looking for a rural experience and to sample some world-class wines and foods. In addition to the wineries, breweries and restaurants, visitors were spending more time at the farmers markets and the roadside vegetable stands.

Our home came with a small two-acre lot attached to the property and a line of trees clearly divided it into two separate spaces. Originally, we didn’t have a specific plan in mind for this space, but the more I looked at it, the more I realized that I wanted to open a retail location that would focus on everything about gardening that I love. Specifically, to teach homeowners how to grow fresh food and have “The County” experience in their own outdoor spaces. So, in the spring of 2018, I opened Carson’s Garden + Market.

My focus has always been on plants that give back. Canada is a fantastic spot to grow fruit and vegetables, but somewhere along the way we stopped growing our own food. We lost a generation of gardeners.

I’ve been talking about the loss of this group of gardeners for a few years now, but I blame two simple little words: low maintenance. As landscapers and designers, we’ve been able to give our client’s their version of the perfect backyard that requires less work and less time. Homeowners are willing to spend more money to get it, with the average outdoor renovation coming in at around $50,000 according to several landscapers. Even in my own design business, homeowners always ask for a low maintenance space when talking outdoor renovations. Instead of what plants they want, items like outdoor kitchens, spas, decks and patios have replaced flowerbeds and perennial collections. Effectively, we’d taken the garden out of our backyards.

Thankfully, this exodus predicted way back in 2013 has also brought a reinvigoration for growing food. Surprisingly, it was Millennials that led the shift. According to several online sources, Millennials list gardening and keeping plants as a top hobby. Even more surprising, first-time homeowners look for outdoor spaces when choosing a house so that they can plant heirloom tomatoes, ghost peppers and flower gardens for bees and butterflies.

And these items are all that I sell. I decided that a store that focuses on heirloom seeds, rare herbs and vegetables, Mennonite grown fruit and nut trees, and tools from around the world would be somewhere I’d like to shop… so I built it.

In 2020, organic gardening exploded in Canada and my little market exceeded any expectations I may have had. With more than 10,000 organically grown seedlings, 400 varieties of seeds and an extensive list of fruit trees and shrubs, we want to help both the experts and the first-timers grow food to feed their families.

I look back at 2013 and the foresight of some economic experts and thank my lucky stars that they knew what they were talking about.

Ready to get your garden growing? Why not start with herbs?

The majority of the herbs we grow for cooking and flavour are from France, Italy, Spain or Greece. They grow best when you can recreate their favourite growing conditions. Hot, sunny and sandy.

HERBS NEED AIRFLOW The movement of wind around the leaves not only strengthens the plants, it also helps prevent diseases like powdery mildew and fungal infections.

HERBS LIKE HEAT Varieties like Thyme and Oregano even like to be planted in spots beside rock and concrete, which hold the heat of the sun long into the cooler evenings. Unfortunately, many of the heat-loving herbs won’t do well in our tough winters. I like to baby my herbs in the first year by burying them in a layer of insulating mulch in the garden. Others live in pots that come indoors around the end of October.

HERBS LOVE SAND If you are repotting or transplanting your herbs, add some sand to the soil mix. By blending the sand in with the other soil, you improve the drainage. Aim for one-part sand, two-parts potting mix.

HERBS LOVE DRAINAGE Herbs grown in containers MUST be in a pot that has a hole in the bottom. They hate sitting in a puddle of water at the bottom of a flowerpot. If you have a really cool planter that doesn’t have any holes, but you want to plant an herb into it, then keep the plant in its original pot, put gravel in the new planter, put the old pot in the new one and cover it with moss so that no one knows!

HERBS LOVE SUN Some will take as much sun as you can give them. Others like a little bit of shade. Here are my favourites to plant in low-light spaces: Lemon Balm, Chives, Oregano, Mint, Parsley, Thyme.

HERBS MIGHT NOT LIKE YOUR DESIGNER POTS Not all herbs love the same size of pot. Kind of screws the whole uniform-look on the windowsill. Some herbs, like Parsley, prefer to have a deep pot that allows for longer roots, while others need a wide pot for lateral root growth. The general rule of thumb: tall plants like tall pots and bushy herbs like wider pots.

HOW MUCH WATER? When it comes to watering your herbs, most of them are drought tolerant and prefer to be watered less. Once a week is plenty for most herbs but consider planting a Rosemary bush in your mix. Rosemary is a great indicator plant… when the leaves start to droop or look wrinkled, it’s time to water everyone!

Carson’s must-haves for the garden

  • NIWAKI PRUNERS These are the sharpest I’ve ever owned… and they hold their edge so much longer than other brands.
  • ACTISOL ORGANIC FERTILIZER Made from chicken manure, this is healthier for my plants and for the lawn too! Almost impossible to overuse.
  • BEARCLAW HEIRLOOM TOMATO SEEDS Rare pink lobbed tomatoes that taste AHMAZING!
  • PESTO PERPETUO BASIL This variegated basil looks great in the garden and bugs leave it alone. Perfect for fresh eating or for pesto (like its name sake).

Top three flowers to plant this year

HELLO SUNFLOWERS Make sure to get some sunflowers in the ground. Not only do they look great, the flowers feed pollinators and the seeds feed local and migratory birds.

MELLOW YELLOW Plant yellow! Whether its yarrow or even marigolds, 2021 is all about yellow gardens for hope towards a brighter and better future.

EVERYTHING’S COMING UP DAHLIAS I’m adding dahlias to my vegetable garden. They act as a magnet for pollinators, which in turn increases the yield of your flowering veggies, like tomatoes and peppers.

For more about Carson and the market:

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