Agriculture Sciences instructor Sampath Walgama is a man of many passions. Topping the list are teaching, research and gardening. Walgama says it seems he has always spent time each planting season with his hands in the soil, both in Sri Lanka, where he was born and raised, and in Lethbridge, where he moved in 2011. He now devotes as much free time as possible to the flower and vegetable gardens at his westside home. Walgama would love to encourage novices to take up gardening and encourages longtime growers to try new crops and varieties. Whether it’s tomatoes in pots on the balcony of a high-rise apartment, or well-tended beds in the backyard, Walgama says the time spent cultivating crops is a worthwhile – and delicious – investment.
Wider Horizons: When did you start being interested in gardening?
Sampath Walgama: I did some gardening back home but it was not on a full scale as life was very hectic over there. [After coming to Lethbridge], I started gardening in the summer of 2011. With my background in agriculture coupled with the passion I had, I thought it’s nice to have some gardening here in Canada, as well. Gardening is an outdoor activity that allows the whole family to be involved, and my wife is also passionate about gardening and we do it together. Also, gardening is relaxing and to watch plants start their life from seeds to maturing is something mentally satisfying.
WH: Do you feel like you are helping the planet while you help yourself to delicious homegrown vegetables?
SW: Yes! After we bought this house, we turned a barren patch of land – our backyard – to a land with lush greenery with gardening. Little or large, having a garden benefits the environment in many ways. Sometimes food at the supermarket has travelled very far to get there and used up a lot of energy. Having a garden, be it flowers or vegetables, also creates a habitat where bees can thrive. At the same time, when you garden you provide a habitat for lots of lifeforms and you encourage birds and insects to thrive and to reproduce. I make compost out of garden clippings and biodegradable waste from the home and use them to nourish the plants.
WH: What advice would you give to novice gardeners?
SW: First, decide if you want backyard beds or pots. If a backyard is an option, then find out the best place to locate the beds as plants need adequate sunlight for their growth. Then decide what plants you want to grow. I focused on plants that we eat often, such as potatoes, beans, carrots, beets and cucumber. For whatever varieties you are planning, it is best to start on a smaller scale. And finally, decide how much time you can spend on gardening, as plants need a great deal of care right from planting until the yield at the end of the season.
WH: Does southern Alberta offer any particular challenges or opportunities when it comes to gardening?
SW: Whether its potted plants on a balcony, small-scale backyard gardening or larger field-scale planting, if you are in this part of the province there are a few challenges you have to face. Hail, frost and winds are the most challenging as all these natural phenomena are very damaging and can wreck the entire planting beyond recovery. Pests also present serious threats and managing these pests is also something that challenges good planting.
WH: What do you think is the value of people gardening in their own front or back yards?
SW: The value of gardening is many fold. First it’s aesthetically pleasing to have gardens around homes. Having gardens also gives lots of mental satisfaction as gardening reduces stress to a greater extent. Having a good vegetable garden reduces the cost of purchasing those items from a store. And gardening vegetables gives food that anybody can enjoy as homemade. When we prepare a potato curry and a salad with vegetables from our garden, for example, it’s really exciting to see that we are eating our own food!