Seed-Saving Season

green zebra

It’s peak harvest time in the garden now and many of us are focused on eating and preserving as much as we can. But it’s also time to think about next year’s garden, so leaving a few fruits and vegetables to fully mature so that you can harvest the seeds can be part of the plan, too. As I’ve told you before, I’ve been successful saving seeds from the heirloom beans my family grows, but I’m trying to expand those skills.


With that in mind, I headed over to Figaro’s Garden on Sunday to attend their Intro to Seed Saving workshop. The owners are committed to becoming a centre for our neighbourhood’s organic gardening needs and they’ve been providing regular workshops to share skills and build community. They’ve also got a strong connection with Environmental Youth Alliance, which works with young people to build skills and connections with the natural world. One of the owners is the Executive Director of EYA and EYA’s Volunteer Co-ordinator, Katrina Sterba, is also Figaro’s Event Co-ordinator. This crossover has meant that there is a strong grassroots ethos at the garden centre, along with a deep knowledge base for teaching and community outreach.


Sterba led the workshop, allowing some folks from around the neighbourhood to benefit from her expertise. We all had various levels of experience and success with seed-saving, from complete novice to regular experimenter. The workshop led us through a primer on which seeds are the most viable for seed-saving – open pollinated, self-fertile plants are easiest for beginners, while hybrids and some heirloom seeds won’t necessarily grow to resemble the plants they came from. Each of us got a pamphlet with a run down of the concepts she covered and a resource guide for further exploration.


Next, we had a demonstration of the two most common methods of seed-saving: dry and wet. Katrina gave us hands on experience of threshing and winnowing some spring wheat that had been grown right here in East Van. Then, she demonstrated the wet method with one of the most luscious-looking Green Zebra tomatoes I’ve seen.

We also learned from each other. I now have a plan in mind for starting tomato seeds indoors next winter – no small feat in a two-bedroom apartment. There was also a spirited discussion of how to rescue sunflower seeds from hungry birds, or whether we even should.

Demonstration Garden

If you’re in Vancouver, I recommend stopping by Figaro’s Garden for a look at their demonstration gardens or a chat with their staff about your gardening needs. I’ve gotten a number of plants from them over the years, from a dogwood bush for my parents’ (late, lamented) farm to a flat full of annuals for my flower baskets. I’m also going to keep an eye out for more workshops, like the Mason Bee primer they’ll be hosting on September 27th – I think I might become a regular student. In the meantime, I’ve already expanded my seed-saving to the sage plant that flowered abundantly this summer and the peas I grew from seed I got at a seed swap this spring. I’m also keeping an eye on the nasturtiums I picked up from the Kensington-Cedar Cottage Seed Sharing Library so that I can return some to them and keep some for next year’s garden.

Maybe someday, if I keep up the learning, I’ll be able to stop calling myself a beginning gardener.


Midsummer Garden

I may get impatient for the harvest. I may worry that my flower beds are too sparse. But, something I never forget to do is to take pleasure in the bits of beauty the plants in my garden create. I’d much rather look at the plants and watch their progression than weed. And I often do.




potato vine





My gardening goals for this year are concentrated on learning more about seed saving and increasing the variety of foods I grow in my vegetable garden. I’d also like to keep extending my perennial flower collection across seasons, eventually having colour in the garden year-round.

I’ll be replacing a few plants, like the thyme that died mysteriously last summer and perhaps building a vertical squash structure if I’m feeling ambitious. Mostly, though, I’m going to try and take advantage of some of the workshops and seed swaps that are happening in the next few weeks. I think it would be great to connect with some Vancouver gardeners.

Here are some of the things on offer around here this growing season:

Garden Basics

Village Vancouver offers gardening workshops across the city

VanDusen Botanical Garden has a range of courses for the budding horticulturalist

City of Vancouver workshops are affordable, basic skill-builders

The World in a Garden has great workshops throughout the season

Farm Folk City Folk‘s Knowledge Pantry is full of wonderful resources

A little farther afield, North Van has GardenSmart Workshops

There are a number of neighbourhood-specific workshops that are tied to food security and food justice: Grandview Woodland Food Connection, Renfrew-Collingwood Food Security Institute, the Edible Garden Project, and Cedar Cottage’s Seedy Saturday and Planting Workshop are a few examples

Victory Gardens’ workshops are well-regarded

Getting the Goods

Treekeepers provides $10 fruit and decorative trees to Vancouver residents

West Coast Seeds is a great source for organic seeds and their website is full of information – they also offer workshops

Salt Spring Seeds focuses on heritage and heirloom seeds

Sharing the Wealth

Plant a Row – Grow a Row

Vancouver Fruit Tree Project

Sharing Backyards

Advanced Adventures

City Farm Boy is for the ambitious urban farmer

Vancouver Urban Farming Society is a great resource if you want to make growing your business

Beekeeping courses

UBC’s Landscape & Garden Design Programs

Extending the Season

UBC Botanical Gardens’ Year Round Harvest Workshop

Winter Harvest resources

There’s a lot more, but that gives you a sense of the Vancouver gardening landscape. Now, tell me, what’s happening where you live? Are there plenty of resources, workshops, and community connections? Or do you rely on online resources to find what you need?

Aspiration Season


Thoughts of spring come a little earlier around here than in most places in Canada. Shoots erupt and trees start to bud in January, even though we often have a final bout of cold weather (and occasionally snow) in early February. In about a month, though, it will well and truly be spring. And all that garden cleanup I procrastinated on last fall will become an urgent task.

For now, though, I’m going to enjoy my newly arrived seed catalogues, making overly ambitious lists of varieties I’d like to try growing, while studying my charts of gardens past.

Do you have space for plants where you live? Are you a balcony gardener or a backyard farmer? Do you grow for show or for food? What new plants or varieties have caught your eye this year? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

A Day for Remembrance

Fall flowers.

Today is All Saints Day in some places, Día de los Muertos in others. It was also knows as All Hallows, which is where Hallowe’en came from (All Hallows Eve). It’s a day of remembrance for those who have passed and I’ve also always thought of it as a good day for broader reflection on the impermanence of everything around us. Reflecting on impermanence gives us space not just for letting go, but also for honouring what’s lost to us.

In that spirit, I’d like to share some photos that I took on a recent trip to Mayne Island at the Japanese Garden. It was built by residents to acknowledge the loss of one-third of their community to internment in World War II and to honour the history of those Japanese Mayne Islanders. The garden, uncoincidentally, is a beautiful place for reflection.

A small bridge.


Running water leading down to the pond.


A view across the central pond.


A waterfall among the foliage.


A bell along the forest path to Mayne Island's Japanese Garden.