Check out these Squamish gardening tips

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Vitae Gardens’ Hugo Jackson works throughout the Sea to Sky Corridor.

Any good gardener knows that everything starts with the climate.

For Hugo Jackson, owner of Vitae Gardens in Squamish, it was the climate that first drew him from the UK to Canada’s west coast. As a specialist in Japanese gardening, he was looking for an environment where particular Asian plants could grow and flourish. And now that he’s developed a business maintaining private and public gardens throughout the Sea to Sky Corridor, he can personally attest to the fact that this whole region is a lush playground for gardeners – far from what he grew up.

“In English gardens you will notice that they are very full, with everything packed together. You don’t see much soil under the plants, whereas in Canada people like to be able to see black soil. They don’t want it to be too full because they think it looks messy. You have a lot more structural planting in Canada, compared to the mass planting they do in the UK,” Jackson said.

And it is this artistic element that he appreciates the most in his work. Launching his business shortly before the pandemic hit in 2019, he began by supplying hotels in and around Whistler. When that contact dried up, he spent time landscaping the town before focusing on private clients.

About this Sea to Sky floor

“The real benefit of doing different gardens in different pockets all around the Sea to Sky is that you never end up doing the same thing over and over again because the climate will dictate what you can do. In Squamish you have their normal climate , then there are microclimates – like a cul-de-sac in the road – and some areas don’t get any light, or maybe there’s more wind exposure, or it’s hotter , and those micro-climates really dictate a lot of what’s possible,” he said.

“So the first thing I do when I look at a drawing is pull out my compass and figure out which way the house is facing. If it faces south, there will be plenty of sun and it will be warm. It would therefore be necessary to put something resistant to drought or have very good irrigation. I could go to a house on the south side of the street and another on the north, and they could end up with two completely different types of garden.

In the Sea to Sky, one of the biggest concerns in caring for your garden is soil erosion from all the rain. It’s something Jackson teaches his gardeners upon setting up: the importance of top-dressing, which means using a soil amendment regularly to replace nutrients that have been washed away. But that’s minor compared to some of the significant damage he’s seen in recent weather events, including the record-breaking heat dome and a particularly nasty winter – his final months were spent cleaning up, in some cases recovery of gardens that have been absolutely devastated.

When helping gardeners identify their ambitions, he often encourages them to create a vision board that will help them clarify what they find important or enjoyable. And he pushes them to think outside the box, exploring how aesthetic preferences in other areas of life can carry over to the world of gardening.

“I tell them to take your vision board and throw all the plants you’ve seen and like on it. Then do the same with home decor, with fashion, with colors or prints. Anything that catches your eye and makes you think “cool”. Once you put together this vision board, it will help you narrow down what you are looking for in your garden,” he said.

“You might want a hot tub and steam room with a cedar deck and a rock garden next to a putting green, and all of those things look great on your vision board, but once you try to l fit on a piece of paper and think everything is supposed to fit in a garden, you realize that “it will look like a dog’s dinner”.

gardening coach

In a way, Jackson has become something of a gardening coach, and it’s a role he loves. According to him, gardening is a lifestyle activity that requires hard work and commitment, and not everyone is cut out for it. But if you are, there are plenty of benefits.

“You have to be able to be outside. You must love being outdoors and live religiously according to the quote “there is no bad weather, just bad clothes”. It’s huge. You have to like being dirty. You must be the type of person where there’s nothing white in your closet because you can’t keep it clean for five minutes. Gardening is knowing that the work you do helps bring happiness and life to a garden and to people,” he said.

“I was reading an article and they’ve done quite a bit of research that shows that if you garden without gloves, there’s a whole bunch of enzymes and nutrients that will seep into your skin and help with anxiety, depression and a whole range of different things.”

As part of Jackson’s service, he provides garden owners with advice on current planting trends, weather issues and tips to help their garden survive these tumultuous times for the environment. For example, Squamish recently released a new bylaw limiting the planting of cedars, yews and junipers within 10 meters of your home, but they have continued to fly off the shelves of local big box stores. By raising people’s awareness of these issues, it can help them make a positive contribution to the fight against climate change.

But most of his advice is pretty mundane, like reminding your kids to brush their teeth. And one of the most important lessons he teaches is the importance of mulching with the Sea to Sky climate. You can fertilize all your plants, weed properly, and cover carefully to mitigate erosion, but mulching is what will get your garden through the winter months.

This is one of the biggest tips he gives to his clients.

“Mulching is extremely important in today’s climate. It’s important to do this in the fall as it will insulate the plants through the winter, and it’s important in the spring as it will help retain water from irrigation and rain. It really helps with water retention.

Please note that this story is part of a special annual home and garden feature.

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