Monday, June 29, 2009


This is a ladybug larva. They look super weird and then they turn into ladybugs. I know this because for a little while I was a nature educator in Calgary and had to spend some time as "Dr. Ladybug" (an expert on the ladybug's life cycle) in various kindergarten classes. Next time you find one of these strange creatures check it out up close. They're pretty awesome.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

June 28, 2009: Garden Update

Blueberries! Full sun to part-shade and growing on my patio thanks to my friend Jacqui, a local garden designer. This is a very exciting addition for me as there is hardly anything I enjoy as much as fresh blueberries. I'm hoping this particular variety, Patriot Blueberries (USDA Zone 3) will bring me back to days of picking wild blueberries in Nova Scotia.

AND another fabulous addition to the garden: a little pot of succulents that love full sun. Thanks to Sara for contributing these lovelies.

Here's how everything else is shaping up:

Peas are climbing.

Tomatoes are flowering and fruiting.

So are the patty pan squash!

The patio is lush and productive these days.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Show off your green space!

The David Suzuki Foundation is having a little contest for those of us who garden pesticide-free. All you have to do is send a photo and the story of your pesticide-free garden (200 words or less) and you could win "a great prize package". Seems easy enough. The deadline is August 15, 2009.

If you are looking to eliminate pesticide use in your garden, consider the benefits of using aromatic pest confusers. This is just a fancy phrase used to describe the method of interplanting your garden with things that smell bad to bugs: marigolds, chives, and peppermint are good examples of readily available, easy to grow pest confusers.

Want a little more visual recognition of your garden innovations? Check out Apartment Therapy's contest: My Great Outdoors. Send five photos of your outdoor space by June 30, 2009 to enter. And check out the other entries for some totally excellent garden inspiration.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Garden

The Garden BEFORE

Imagine a community farm growing all manner of tropical fruits, greens, heritage corn varieties, even cacti. In a climate like Los Angeles' it's completely feasible. In fact, it existed. At East 41st Street and South Almeda Street, a 14 acre community-run farm grew just such edible treasures. The Academy Award Nominated documentary The Garden reveals this lush and productive landscape to be essential to community building and local food security. There's just one problem, and as you can likely guess, it comes down to money. Land is worth money, development makes money, whereas gardens are perceived as worthless, as are the social benefits enjoyed by a community endowed with meaningful, communal public space.

The Garden NOW

The man who claims ownership over the 14 acres cultivated by the South Central Farmers has other plans for the land. Namely, a warehouse for purveyors of cheap clothing: Forever 21. Google Earth enables us to visit the site, no longer an oasis in a parched and shelterless residential neighbourhood that verges on a warehouse district, but rather just a scrubby dirt lot. Regardless of the damage that's already been done, the resilient South Central Farmers continue to fight for their right to grow food in their own neighbourhood.

If you have a chance to attend a screening of The Garden you must go. If you don't, order a DVD and organize a screening of your own.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

June 24, 2009: Garden Update

Rain! It's finally raining! It's great to have a day off from the old water butt (see my earlier post on gardening books if you don't know what a water butt is). The four squash plants that I've got on my patio are totally taking over the large area that used to house peas, mint, and bush beans, too. They are greedy for space and a little tough to move around and prone to being blown over or knocked down by visiting skunks, raccoons, and a local cat I call "Sneaky Bandana".

I also added a couple of habanero chillies to my garden. This one is growing in an old coffee can, inspired by my sister Jennifer and her boyfriend, Peter. Living in Vancouver, we do a bunch of grocery shopping in the United States at Trader Joe's. Coffee is cheap there and comes in these great cans. This one has a bunch of gravel in the bottom for drainage and sits in one of the hottest, sunniest spots on our patio.

Lemon Verbena

A few years ago my search for lemon verbena (Alloysia triphylla) began. I lived in Calgary at the time and tended the garden pictured above. A visiting friend told me that she'd just encountered lemon verbena for the first time and that I should grow it. In fact, she wrote on a Post-it note "LEMON VERBENA -- GROW IT!!!" and stuck it to my cupboards. Every time I went to a garden store I asked about lemon verbena. My queries were, surprisingly, often met with looks of confusion by the staff at any given garden centre.

When Melissa instructed me to grow it, I'd thought I would just go out, find it, and grow it. When I couldn't find a plant, I looked for seeds, none were to be had; apparently this is a plant that does best when one starts it from a cutting (like that French tarragon I'm always talking up). It didn't help that lemon verbena is a USDA Hardiness Zone 8-10. Calgary, of course, is a three, and now my neighbourhood in Vancouver is about a six. So, two years later when Melissa was again at our house, she saw that Post-it still clinging to the cupboard and declared it (I think) "creepy" that I'd kept her note all that time.

It's now been three years and I'm happy to say that I have finally FINALLY finally found lemon verbena. And it is a gorgeous plant. Fragrant and delicate, I'm hoping that I'll be able to keep it alive indoors this fall and winter and not have to look for it again next year. Strangely, there seemed to be a plethora of lemon verbena at my local garden shop this spring. I guess I just wasn't looking on the right day. I'm thinking of using it to make some delicious jam, or, if you're super weird maybe you want to make Martha Stewart's super tricky dessert with a sprig or two.

My long sought-after lemon verbena plant.

June 19, 2009 Garden Update

Ten days later the garden is really coming along. Squash are flowering and fruiting like crazy (though exhibiting some signs of irregular watering), peas are climbing all over the place and my favourite, burgundy bush beans, are up! Check out West Coast Seeds, you can order lots of varieties of bush beans from them (these are beans that don't need poles or trellises to climb). Not only are bush beans great for smaller containers and spaces, you can plant them around your squash plants because they are nitrogen fixers and squash are heavy feeders. Nitrogen is essential to healthy plants, and planting legumes (beans and peas) keeps nitrogen in the soil naturally. Add corn to your planting of beans and squash and you'll have a three sisters garden.

The best place to hang out.

The general set-up of my patio garden.

Patty pan squash are getting big.

Gardening Books

While recently at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon (incidentally, the best city and the best bookstore) I came across Growing Stuff: An Alternative Guide to Gardening. Though I'm a little skeptical of trendy gardening books (often pretty pictures with no information about cultivation and care) this one caught my eye. It's a little more exciting than other DIY gardening books because you don't have to have access to vintage wooden crates or a cool Manhattan fire escape to get the full benefits of the creative gardening projects covered within. Once I figured out what "an old holey water butt" is (watering can, I think) I was on board with lots of these projects, wishing it was April again so I could start a beet box of my own.

Earlier this spring I checked out Garden Anywhere from the public library and was inspired to repot my root-bound house plants and put together a mixed mint pot, perfect on a north-facing patio. Now I've got English, pineapple, and cat mint thriving with some lemon balm and peppermint in a small terra cotta pot.

Of course, if you're gardening in Alberta or anywhere on the Prairies, your garden guru is, without a doubt, Lois Hole. Any of her books are worth checking out, no matter where you garden. They cover everything from seed-starting to harvesting.

My Patio Garden

June 8th, the beginning of my patio garden. This year I'm growing Sun Gold tomatoes, patty pan squash, a variety of mint, peas and more. Everything got off to a bit of a late start, because I wasn't inspired to plant until it really seemed like summer was here. I have only one small corner of sunshine (which every fruit-bearing plant needs a lot of) so every living thing (plants, humans, and animals) hang out together. One of my favourite things are these custom-built boxes for greens and other shallow-rooting, small plants. The original plans appeared in Organic Gardening magazine. These boxes are very simple: 1 x 4"s, some screws, and the bottom is supported by galvanized hardware cloth and vinyl window screen. Handles on either end make them easy to move around.