Blossoms & Beds

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Our computer seems to be malfunctioning, so I’m using the WordPress app on my phone for my post today. It’ll be a short one, as I’m not fond of tap-typing.

There are blossoms appearing everywhere in my neighbourhood, though some of my favourite trees have yet to bloom. I’m also pleased to see that many of my neighbours are converting their front yards to garden beds. We’ve got backyard garden space ourselves and I’m looking forward to getting my vegetable garden planted this weekend or next.

My food gardening guide is Mel Bartholmew’s Square Foot Gardening, but I saw an Urban Farming guide today that I’d like to add to my collection.

I’ll leave you with a shot I took of a neighbour’s yard in which they’ve converted all the available space to gardening beds. I think it’s much more beautiful than a lawn.

I’d love to hear about spring in your part of the world and what your plans are for your outdoor space, whether it’s an acreage or a balcony.

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Vancouver’s Party Dress

The snowdrops are blooming and the crocuses aren’t far behind. There’s a threat of snow in the forecast, but winter’s essentially over. Soon, the rest of the early flowers will emerge and my favourite season here will begin. Summers in Vancouver are lovely, but summer’s magic lies in seducing each place into taking on its form – summer is itself a place, anywhere and everywhere.

It’s only in spring that I become homesick for Vancouver when I’m away. The air becomes softer and a little warmer, the evergreens develop pale green tips, and there are green shoots and flowers everywhere. Then, the cherry blossoms, Vancouver’s crowning glory, transform streets across the city into ornamental gardens.

I’m itching to get into the garden, to dig compost into the beds, divide my vegetable patch into its square-foot allotments, and plan my planting schedule for the year. As many have said, spring is the season of hope for gardeners. I’m also looking forward to more long walks with the dog, looking for flower patches and enjoying the blossoms.

Now tell me, what’s your region’s season?

Late Summer Garden

A glimpse of one of the flower beds.

I was a little worried about my garden over the last month. In the middle of July, I sprained my ankle rather badly, managing to damage it about as much as I possibly could without actually breaking anything. (Go, me!) My partner was able to do some watering for me and the weather was fairly mild, so nothing died while I was out of commission, thank goodness. The weeds, being the hardy, prolific, and opportunistic garden dwellers that they are, spread riotously. I was stuck looking out the window and watching their progress. Now that I’m mostly healed, I’m trying to slowly clean up the garden beds. They aren’t so bad, but the yard itself has become a little daunting.

Flowers on my bean vine.

The good news is that I’m finally starting to eat from my garden. First radishes, lettuce and basil; now thyme and carrots; soon beets, Swiss Chard, beans and cucumber. I’m also hoping it’s not too late to put in a few more squares for fall harvest. Not bad for my first season of square foot gardening.

Tiny, growing cucumbers!

I’ve had a few challenges, including aphids, though they haven’t done as much damage as I feared. The cucumber and bean vines are making forays into the yard and up the bay tree, the mixed greens have finally bolted and my sad, little pepper plant may never produce a thing, but I’ve had few failures. The biggest disappointment was finding one whole square of carrots stolen. I’ve dug up the rest, though they could probably have used a little more time in the ground. I’m hoping that the person who took the carrots leaves the rest of my garden alone.

English lavender and in the background, beets and marigold.

I’m working on letting that go, because it’s a futile anger. I’m trying to focus instead on why I want a vegetable garden. It’s a place for experimentation and learning, as well as for growing my own food more cheaply and healthily than I can buy it. It’s also a better use of land than a lawn could ever be. It’s nice to feel, in however small a way, a part of the revival of food production in our culture.

Lettuce, hiding underneath dill. (Lacy vs. Frilly)

Garden Grows

I’ve been spending some time in my garden, watching over the vegetables in my raised bed, adding a few plants to the flower beds, and (above all) weeding. There’s still a lot to do, but here are a few photos from my backyard, carefully composed to avoid showing the areas that need the most work!

Pink and pinker dianthus.

Lavender.

Flowers in my container of annuals.

A view of the garden through the trellis.

Beets sprouting, with marigolds in the background.

My vegetable garden is starting to take off!

A cluster of pink roses.

Taming the Gardener

A bench in front of a raised bed full of flowers and vegetables.

When we think of a garden, the image that comes to mind is of neat rows of mounded dirt, with paths running between them for the gardener. Or, perhaps, a quiet, grassy space surrounded by flowers and shrubs. What we don’t think about is the stories that gardens tell.

A vegetable garden can be a quite utilitarian affair and a backyard can be a haphazard jumble of flower beds, bushes, trees and ill-placed lawn. But it doesn’t have to be so. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself for years now. I have had an ongoing battle with blackberry cane, bindweed and nightshade that’s been discouraging. I’ve managed to rid two flower beds of these plants and have a third that I’ve had middling success with, but overall it’s been a discouraging process. My attempts at vegetable gardening have been unqualified failures, though I have a rhubarb plant that produces well each year. I’ve also managed to calm down a rose bush that had been trying to take over the yard in a Sleeping-Beauty-prison-like fashion. Now it’s a reasonable size and flowering nicely, without trapping any wayward travellers or foolish quest-seekers.

A view across the garden, with raised beds, stone-circled patches, bushes and trees in view.

I’m not a necessarily a fan of the manicured garden, with carefully placed plants and no room for surprises, but I would like a balanced space that’s enjoyable for us and hospitable to the plants I do want to introduce. Part of the problem is that all the plants I’m having difficulty with aren’t native to this area (or even this continent). I’ve often thought they are both a metaphor for the colonization that’s happened here and a legacy of that colonization. I admire native plant gardens, which allow for a riot of growth and propagation, but are in harmony with the region, so aren’t unmanageable in the way that imported plants can be.

Curlicue vines.

All of this is to say that my garden tells a story of forays and routs, outposts and sieges. Not exactly relaxing. I’m working on it, though. I recently took a workshop in companion planting at The World in a Garden, an urban agricultural project that is part community garden and part teaching space. (All the photos in this post were taken there and, as you can see, it’s both beautiful and functional.) Our instructor was Brian Campbell, a master gardener and a beekeeper.

Our instructor, Brian Campbell.

I expected the workshop to outline the basics of companion planting – a carrots love tomatoes list, with tips and tricks for success. Though that sort of information was part of the discussion, the workshop was really about exploring a broader definition of companion planting, that of using plants to develop a narrative for your garden.

A raised bed with a mix of flowers and vegetables.

The idea of companion planting has its roots (so to speak) in neo-Platonic philosophy, with certain plants being associated with certain of the classical humours and the elements of air, earth, fire and water. So, this sort of gardening accomplishes a philosophical correspondence, rather than a system for successful growth. Modern permacultural practices look at companion planting in its practical aspects, using plants to help each other repel predators and encourage beneficial insects and nutrients. Between these two poles, there are many narrative possibilities, including metaphorical gardens. Plants have accrued many meanings and a little research can help you to plan one that can be read as musical, poetic or more.

A bee hive surrounded by grasses and flowers.

Brian encouraged us to think about the qualities we were looking for in our gardens and to use those descriptors to guide us in our planning and planting, helping us to develop garden narratives of our own. For me, that means concentrating my efforts in my newly-built raised bed and creating a contemplative and relaxing space in the rest of my backyard. I’ve also decided to incorporate the permacultural idea of Zone 5 into a corner of my garden – an untouched, sacred space that doesn’t represent a battle zone, but instead provides a refuge for native plants and insects. A little balance and harmony in the garden should reinforce those qualities in the gardener, don’t you think?