Don Burnett

Burnett: The more things change…

Kelowna garden columnist Don Burnett says today’s garden fundamentals were developed years back

In gardening, I find the more things change the more they stay the same.

Many of the techniques and fundamentals used today have been used for centuries even though they may be touted as new. My collection of old gardening books is extensive and includes writings from all over the world but for the most part North America and England. I particularly enjoy reading bits and pieces from England where many of our Canadian gardening practices have come.

One, which I have been browsing through recently, is called Twentieth Century Gardening written in 1913 by John Weathers. In it is a chapter on how to build a gravel pathway by excavating at least a foot of soil away and starting with a six-inch layer of broken brick then a three-inch layer of clinkers before the final three inches of gravel is applied to the surface. They must have borrowed that technique from the Romans famous for their network of roads winding throughout England some of which are still there today. In recent landscapes I often see a two-inch layer of gravel on top of a clay surface which is not sustainable and generally becomes a weed patch.

One of the things I find interesting in old English gardening books are the terms used for weights and measures. I’m sure most of you have heard of bushels and pecks, as have I, but when I start seeing terms such as one square pole I begin to realize just how easy to understand our metric system is. One square pole by the way is equal to 30.25 square yards, which makes a pole 5.5 yards long. As much as there are still many of us that complain about the metric system it’s a lot easier to work everything in 10’s than to remember there are 12 inches in a foot and three feet in a yard and 1,760 yards in a mile.

My collection of old gardening books includes titles such as Garden Guide- The Amateur Gardeners Handbook 1917, The Modern Family Garden Guide 1943 and the American Family Cyclopedia Agriculturist 1885. I have many others but the point is, more than just being collectable they have great information that can be very helpful to the modern gardener.

So how important are the more up to date books written by today’s experts? The short answer is very! It is vital we gardeners whether amateur or professional keep up with the latest studies, journals and of course recently introduced plant material. Of course, the internet has a vast amount of information as well however I urge you to be cautious and rely mostly on university sites and others with some credibility.

There have been many changes over the years in gardening techniques, styles and tools but much has stayed the same and even come full circle. The joy of seeing the first spring flower come into bloom, that great feeling of sitting down on the garden bench after a good gardening workout, sharing information with the neighbour over the back fence and of course tasting the fruits of your labour; these are things that have not and will not change in our wonderful world of gardening.

A reminder the Friends of the Ornamental Gardens in Summerland is holding a Spring Plant Sale; an annual fundraiser for the Friends of the gardens. It will be held this Saturday and Sunday, May 6 and 7 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Summerland Ornamental Gardens. (across from Sun-Oka Beach Provincial Park). Email:

Listen to Don Burnett and Ken Salvail every Saturday Morning from 8 to 10 a.m. presenting the Garden Show on AM 1150 now in its 34th year.

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