1. Order seeds. Many gardeners prefer to wait and head directly to the garden centers in spring to buy their seeds, but others like to browse through seed catalogues and websites, selecting all or a portion of their seeds and waiting impatiently by the mailbox for them to arrive. Personally, I do both, ordering from my favourite seed catalogues, but also stopping at every single seed rack I encounter (farmer’s markets, supermarkets, garden centers, hardware stores - anywhere!) just to make sure I haven’t missed anything.
2. And since you’re ordering seeds, start some indoors - At this time of the year, slow growing seeds - like annual geraniums, for example - can be planted indoors in a sunny windowsill or under grow-lights. I also like to start pansies indoors now, transplanting the cold-tolerant seedlings to my outdoor containers in mid-April for a breath of spring.
3. Pot up some herbs - When I first got serious about gardening, I began with herbs. It amazed me that those little glass bottles lined up on my mother’s spice rack were filled with bits of plants that I could actually grow. I started with the basics - parsley, basil, rosemary and thyme - and discovered that fresh plants tasted (and smelled) so much better than those bottles of dried green flakes. I never went back. Now, I grow a steady supply of aromatic herbs in our gardens, supplementing in winter with pots on our windowsill. Some herbs, like thyme and parsley are super hardy and can be overwintered in a cold frame for a non-stop bounty, but others like basil and rosemary are too tender and must be grown indoors. Also don’t shy away from unfamiliar herbs like lemon verbena which makes a delicious tea or lemony addition to fish and chicken dishes. Discover the range of herbs at the Canadian company, Richters Herbs (www.richters.com) which sells both seeds and mail order plants through their free catalogue.
4. Force some branches - You know that forsythia shrub sitting in your front lawn - c’mon, we all have one - go outside with a pair of sharp pruners and judiciously clip some branches, choosing those that may have needed a pruning anyway. Any twigs that are damaged, crossing each other or sticking out in an odd way, can be pruned off and brought indoors to be forced into bloom. Look for branches covered in fat buds - flowerbuds - for the best show of colour. Also consider pruning twigs from your other spring flowering shrubs - crabapples, witch hazel, serviceberry, quince and willows. Pop those stems in a vase of water, changing it every few days and within about a week, those flowerbuds will swell and burst into bloom.
5. Put your thinking cap on. Right now, the garden is a blank slate, especially if you literally have no garden. If that’s the case, think about what type of garden you would like and what you’d like to grow - perennials, shrubs, vegetables, herbs? - and how you like it it to look - formal? natural? cottage garden? Get inspired by gardening books and magazines, or take some time and get lost in the countless garden photos found online at Pinterest. If you already have a garden, you may also want to re-evaluate and consider what works and what doesn’t, moving underperforming plants to new areas and making a list of new things you’d like to try.
Niki Jabbour is the award-winning author of The Year Round Vegetable Gardener and the host of The Weekend Gardener radio show, which is currently on winter break. Find her online at www.nikijabbour.com or on twitter @NikiJabbour.