Post #3019: New house, new garden.

I feel like I haven’t done nearly enough photo posting about the new house yet – which I’ll rectify shortly – but the weather has been a bit overcast since our move which isn’t showing things to their best advantage. While I am really glad for the wetter weather (than predicted for June) because we now live on a drought-prone island – it’s made garden work and photos intermittent. Not to mention the fact we’re still getting sorted.

Although I told Brian when we were looking at houses that I did not want a large garden to maintain, I have to admit that I am a sucker for landscaped and food gardened homes – and on agreement that I could hire yard help when necessary, we ended up with a place that has a sizable amount of yard work. Fortunately, the garden bones are very good and it doesn’t seem to suffer from any pernicious weed infestations – plus it’s mostly native plants, and plants adapted to the PNW climate (never mind the huge palm like plant growing on the deck – that’s going to go at some point). There are a few garden boxes for veggies, and some overgrown herbs – but no food plants beyond that (save for a single young cherry tree).

As to be expected with a house on the market for a year, the gardens are all a bit neglected at this point. It’s hard when you are selling your house to put the  effort in to gardening, and I expect that last summer’s drought on the island didn’t help matters either. There are several plants that have severe drought damage, including some trees on the perimeter that are completely dead – and the veggie boxes are as hard as cement (they haven’t been gardened in some time).

But mostly what’s happening is the out of control shrubbery (pictured above, and that’s after I hacked away at it yesterday). Around our deck is a thick hedge of California lilac, which all but blocks the lower part of the yard, and is interspersed with some really out of control Skimmia (lots of it), Rhodos (all drought damaged), and ferns. While the greenery is quite striking, and drought tolerant (super appropriate),  it’s also a bit *much* and so I’m working away at it here and there. Like yesterday when I was working from home and took a fifteen minute break to descend into the bushes with the loppers, only to emerge, twigs in hair, with another bit of pruning complete. Or not – complete – because there’s no such thing when it comes to gardening – but done for the time being. As recommended by my friend Kyla I am trying to introduce arches between the lilacs and pathways in the skimmia so that at least the yard is reconnected (on the other side of these hedges are more neglected veggie boxes which probably got more sun at one time in their existence, and which I would like to grow greens and herbs in for now).

The nice thing about working on a garden that you didn’t build from scratch is that it’s incredibly easy to pull things out and hack them way down. Much easier than when you can remember how much this or that plant cost, or watching it grow from just a wee thing. One of the very first things Kyla and I did (mostly she did) was pull out a horrible vine plant on the front of the house that was both growing into the siding and killing everything else around it (think morning glory but with no flower and a single stalk) – a remarkably easy thing to do when you aren’t attached to having planted it, or made the choice to grow something so pernicious in the first place.  On the other hand, a new garden is one in which you don’t have to repeat the mistakes of your old garden (for the record – ornamental ivies are always a bad idea, also don’t just take any old raspberry cane from anyone, and make sure you don’t buy the cheap soil from lawn boy…..). While this garden already has a lot going on, there is also a lot that can still be developed and worked on (like more food plants!)

In the meantime I am working on uncovering the many sweet spots that just need a little trimming to reveal themselves – like this sitting rock in the front yard.


Post #2097: Starting a garden again

It feels like a million years since I last posted about gardening. That’s partly because it’s wintertime, but also – I haven’t had strong feelings about my garden for the past couple of years. When we moved into our house seven years ago, we immediately tore up the backyard and installed garden boxes, and have added trees, perennials, and ornaments to our garden space each year since. But while it’s got many fabulous qualities (sitting out on warm summer evenings surrounded by our lush veggie boxes is one of my great pleasures), there are some things about our original plan which just didn’t work as much as I wanted them to.

For one thing, we have a North-facing yard which gets some decent light towards the back (away from the house) but around the house itself is in shade most of the time. I had tried to compensate for this by planting greens in the boxes closest to the house, but the difference between the boxes which get good light, and those which don’t points to a lot of wasted effort in planting and maintaining things which will not grow well no matter what I do. On the other hand, our BBQ sits over on the brick patio near our studio, which gets so hot in the summer that cooking is miserable in that space.

So we’re going to switch things up this year with the goal of bringing more functionality to our yard space, in addition to replacing our garden boxes which have started to fall apart (not bad for a bunch of cedar fencing that I bought cheap on Craigslist – we got six years out of it!). We are so far planning to:

  • tear down the current garden boxes
  • build a new set of boxes
  • build a deck on the cool side of the yard with room for the bbq
  • refill all boxes with new soil
  • remulch
  • build some garden furniture for the deck and sitting area

This is a lot of work, obviously, and there’s a part of me that knows that we can’t do everything this year. But that won’t stop me from trying. I’d also like to configure a new, small water feature since it’s so good for the backyard birds and insects to have flowing water around and my current water bowl is cracked and doesn’t hold liquid anymore.

I’m looking forward to a bit of a refresh in hopes of creating more usable space for hanging out, while also maintaining some of the food-growing potential that the sunnier part of the yard holds. More on this subject soon as I plan to measure and draw up plans later on this week!

Post #2042: What I did on my summer vacation

Post #2015: Early summer love

Despite the fact that it’s only June, we’re already watering the garden daily – temperatures in Vancouver are above average for this time of year and the rainfall we normally receive in May and June is non-existent. I’m not one for hot weather, so this doesn’t bode well for my summertime enjoyment – but for now I’m enjoying my early summer garden. I took the above photo last night and somehow it encapsulates for me exactly what my garden in evening feels like right now – a little cool after the heat of the day, freshly watered, flowers and ripening fruits.

Post #1980: This little frog is a bit of garden magic

Someone left a frog on the edge of our front yard pond and for a moment this morning, my partner thought it was a real frog. Hooray! Isn’t that a little bit of fun 🙂 The pond is very small, but it is a fascination to the little kids on walks with their moms – probably it’s the turtle fountain that shoots water – but it could just be that our yard feels cozy and inviting. I want to do a lot more planting in it come this spring – plus add some more little features. The front yard has been a long work in progress – I sometimes wish I had a few thousand dollars to throw at it and just get it done – but instead I pick away at it a bit year by year.  I see that one of the houses on our block is slated to be torn down and I’ve got a mind to knock on the door and ask if I can dig up the plants in the front yard to fill mine with.



In the Bookshed: Unlikely approaches

Kiss my Aster, Amanda Thomsen 2012

This is probably one of the most fun gardening books I’ve come across in a very long while – “a graphic guide to creating a fantastic yard totally tailored to you” which incorporates amusing drawings and humorous commentary alongside great advice for planning and landscaping your yard. Think of this as a gentle approach for the newbie who isn’t sure if they have it in them to create a great yard and garden – this book breaks it down with a casual approach rather than coming at you all serious-like. For the already-committed gardener, I’m not sure if this has a lot to offer – the information is pretty basic and tailored around having an outdoor space that you want to shape and create. What I do appreciate about it is the emphasis on understanding plants, shrubs and trees over the long-term and how those work to create different effects (not to mention how easy they are to move if you don’t like where you first put them). And did I mention it’s amusing? Definitely reads like a book for the unlikely gardener – which I have a lot of appreciation for, because at one time in my life I was also an unlikely gardener and a book like this would have gone a long way to inspiring me back then.

The Speedy Vegetable Garden, Mark Diacono & Lia Leendertz 2013

I own a lot of gardening books, and I get a fair number of them delivered to my doorstep for review – so I have to say that by now I’ve seen most variations of the encouraging food gardening book. But this one… well….. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a veggie gardening book focused on “speed” which is not an attribute we typically equate with gardening.  In fact, as Diacono and Leendertz mention in the introduction – we tend to think of food and other gardening as part of the long view. But as the authors point out, there are plenty of things that are at their best when harvested not long after sowing – sprouts (being the obvious one), micro-greens, early squash with the blossoms still on them, flowers just out of the bud, baby carrots, new potatoes and early-fruiting varieties of tomatoes – just to name a few of the early-season foods you might think about when sowing your garden this year. Nicely photographed, the book includes sowing and harvesting advice for each recommended crop as well as recipes that feature these early spring foods – something that I look forward to trying out as my garden starts to pop (it’s just on the cusp of providing more than radishes right now). If you’re impatient to start eating from your garden in the spring, this book offers a remedy to the wait by encouraging micro-crops and early varieties to tide you over.

In the Bookshed: Recipes for Good Living

The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook, Barbara Damrosch & Eliot Coleman 2012

This book has been sitting on my kitchen counter over the winter months, tantalizing not only the fresh-ingredients cook in me, but also the gardener. A two-in-one book, the first half of Four Seasons is dedicated to growing, while the second half is comprised of 120 recipes incorporating foods from the home garden. Damrosch and Coleman manage to provide an excellent overview of all aspects of edible gardening (including garden layouts, soil advice, and food storage) with the inspiration to try out new veggie crops and cooking techniques in the recipe section. This book is beautifully adorned with full-colour photographs and drawings which invite the reader to imagine their own harvest-to-table experience. This book would make an excellent gift for a first-time gardener or homeowner looking to turn their back (or front) yard into an edible paradise.

The Flower Recipe Book, Alethea Harampolis & Jill Rizzo 2013

I have to admit, I find it odd that I am so drawn to a book about flower arranging – this being a topic I haven’t ever given much thought to despite the fact I grow and cut flowers for my home and table all summer long. The Flower Recipe Book is easily one of the most beautiful books I have ever seen on the subject – the floral arrangements coupled with gorgeous photography invite even the most cynical reader (me!) to linger and draw in the useful and instructional advice the authors give in their “recipes”. With 100 arrangements that cover all floral seasons, Harampolis and Rizzo break information down into simple instructions, including plant facts and care, the various vessels used in their designs and where to find them, and step-by-step explanations of how to achieve various visual effects (not to mention how to get the most longevity out of the arrangements). Although I do not have all the different vessels at my disposal to make these arrangements,  I find the structural information on each arrangement easy enough to improvise with — and I love the fact that many of the containers are simple found objects, or in some cases, easily knocked together from some scraps of wood then lined with a tupperware (that’s my interpretation, not theirs). Thrift store tins, mason jars, wine glasses and old gift baskets are all pressed into service in these designs – and as a flower-gardener I am looking forward to a summer yard that provides the raw material for building them. This is another beautiful gift for the flower-gardener or home-aesthete in your life — even a very cynical one.

And….. we’re off!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOvernight it has gone from winter to gardening season in Vancouver – or at least that’s how it seemed yesterday when the deluge of the previous week opened up to a blue sky and mild temperatures. This propelled me to the garden centre, already guilty about not getting the Fava beans in during February – I sure didn’t want to miss the window for potatoes!

And so the early spring madness – plant fever, muddy fingernails and mutterings about why I didn’t clean-up better in the fall – begins.

This year is probably my least-organized since I’ve been in the Urban Crow house. I didn’t order all my seeds in January, I have no idea what I’m putting in each box yet, and I’m thinking of switching at least one box from square-foot to keyhole with concentric circles coming off the compost feeder….. But what I have been figuring out all along is that no matter how meticulously I plan leading up to the season, I’m still pretty much just winging it once I get out there. That is, letting the garden, weather and my mood – lead me to what makes the most sense each time I’m in the muck. So no matter my planting charts, my timing and everything else – I still end up doing things somewhat haphazardly, and it mostly works well.

This year I’ve added three more potato bags to the mix – bringing them up to six bags of four plants each, and I’m thinking to rustle the basement for the remaining burlap bags I’m sure are down there to finish off the seed potatoes I’ve got. I also picked up three red tomato bags yesterday – the red supposedly helps the fruit to set and ripen, and I’ve decided that I really like bags over stiff planters for weight, flexibility and look. My potatoes did really well in their bags last year – and the material really held up super-well (it’s essentially tarp material – you could easily make these on your own for less expense than GardenWorks sells them, but I’m not looking for one more project at the moment).

I also turned the compost yesterday, and scooped about half the mess out for the potatoes. If I manage to get out today, I think the rest of it will be going to top-dress the garlic bed which is coming along nicely. (If you didn’t get your garlic in during autumn, you are right at the edge of the latest spring planting for it – so get going!)

And beside the peas and fava beans which went in their beds yesterday, I’m thinking this afternoon should focus on radishes and greens – plus turning and amending one more bed. Oh! And dahlias! I’ve got three new ones to plant after I uncover the flower bed from its winter mulch.

But of course, this is only if I can get my schoolwork done this morning so I’ve got a couple hours this afternoon – so I should go off and hopefully I’ll have some garden pictures to show tomorrow (instead of just the lovely view from upstairs this morning)…….