By Joanna Loney
Early June is not too late to get out a pickaxe, wrecking bar, and trenching spade to do a little light gardening at the cabin.
Planting native species is especially rewarding since they are low maintenance, blend with lakeshore surroundings, and are designed—through evolution—to support our area birds and butterflies.
I’ve grown dozens of native species at our cabin from both seeds and pots.
The first step is digging. Thanks to our experienced lake “go-to guy,” I’ve learned it’s possible for my 110-pound, mid-life body to unveil 60-pound rocks from underground.
It’s all about understanding the meaning of “leverage” and using the right tools.
The best tool for breaking up vegetative soil is a pickaxe, or you can deaden the grass by placing mulch over newspaper starting in the fall.
Then use a metal bar to pry out large rocks (for extra leverage, pry the bar over a smaller rock placed on the ground surface).
I also recommend yoga. Awkward poses are helpful for lifting rocks weighing more than 40 pounds.
For example, as a large rock starts to lift out of a hole, you can use your feet to hold it in place while using your free hands to push smaller rocks under the bolder.
Or there’s the ultimate tool: a sharp screech at your husband produces a second set of limbs.
In general, it’s a bit like washing your hair–repeat, as desired, until you get the job done.
Once you remove a bunch of rocks, it’s time to joyously gaze into the pits you’ve created. The mess soon will be transformed into wombs of nourishment for native plants available from a number of places.
Lowey’s has red and white pines in stock, plus some native flowers and shrubs. The people at Hammond’s and The Northwest Nursery also are happy to order in native species.
Prairie Originals is the closest all-native nursery, but it’s a 20-minute drive north of Winnipeg.
Of course, it’s tempting to dig from the wild, but nursery-propagated seeds are genetically superior.
Some of the easiest plants I have purchased include woolly yarrow, bush honeysuckles, wood columbines, fireweed, and black-eyed susans for sunny locations; bog irises, marsh marigolds, and ostrich ferns for wet locations; and solomon’s seal, star flowers, sarsaparilla, and bunchberries for shady locations.
I’ve also purchased blossom trees, such as the highbush cranberry, pin cherry, dogwoods, mountain maples, and mountain ash–all great for birds–but they need chicken wire at first if you want to protect them from snowshoe hare, deer, and grouse.
Once your native perennials, shrubs, and trees are in place, look forward to enjoying more lounging time in years to come. There’s nothing more serene than the scent of fresh blooms while gazing at the flitting of bees and butterflies.
The end result is a bit of a miracle really . . . especially since it all started with a pickaxe, spade, and a wrecking bar.