melissa skinner gardening

Grab those clogs and get in the garden this long weekend

T.O. horticulturalist Melissa Skinner’s four step guide to backyard gardening

Melissa Skinner is the owner of The Gardener’s Daughter Horticultural residential gardening and was a cast member on Room to Grow with Carson Arthur.


As the majority of us do our part staying home to help curb the tide of COVID-19, we try to find things to keep us occupied. As a residential gardener, I keep busy by planning out gardens to enjoy for the upcoming season.

This is something each of us can do at home, from terrace gardens at Bay and Bloor to thoughtful backyard spaces in Hogg’s Hollow and palatial acreage estates in The Bridle Path.

Step 1: Cleaning

Start by cleaning up winter debris, leaves, sticks and dead plant material. Take note of any damaged plants, lawn areas, hard surfaces, decks and fences. This is also something the kids can participate in.

Step 2: Planning

Get to know your garden. Take some pictures of plants you see. Text a friend who has some gardening knowledge, email your local nursery if it’s open or get a plant ID app for your phone. Once you have all the required information, draw out a map of your garden. What plants need to be replaced? How much soil and grass seed is needed?

Then plan colours and new plant choices, and include containers and annuals. Add all of this information to your map.

Step 3: Sweat equity

Can’t go to the gym? No problem! Gardening is the answer to fitness withdrawal. It’s time to get pruning on all those shrubs and perennials. Prune back low-lying tree branches and evergreens that are getting a little too big. Be careful with pruning. Know your shrubs: when they flower, old wood or new wood?

Next up is turning those garden beds. Every garden bed needs a good tilling of the soil. Providing the soil with oxygen and nutrients is important for your plants. After your beds are turned, cultivate them nice and smooth, then add fertilizer and a layer of fresh triple mix or compost. Finish it all off by edging the beds and power washing the hard surfaces. Don’t forget your lawn: use a high-quality grass seed mixture to fertilize the lawn and an organic weed treatment for a great start. Give it two weeks, some rain and sun, and your lawn will be lush.

Step 4: Finishing touches

Fix up any hard surfaces, decks or fences. Think about painting and staining if needed. Get that patio furniture out. Fill your pots with soil and start assembling your new arrangements.

While you’re at it, don’t forget to add greenery inside your home. Start with low-light, low-maintenance options such as peace lily and snake plant. If you’ve got a space with a lot of light, go for a fiddle leaf fig or bird of paradise. Interior plants help purify the air in your home, and we could all use the extra oxygen while being cooped up inside this month.

Eventually, social distancing will be over and your garden will be well on its way. Feel proud and strut outside in those gardening clogs. You got some exercise and created a beautiful serene space to enjoy, all while helping Toronto flatten the curve!

Article exclusive to TRNTO