Archive for the ‘My garden’ Category

Garden Tour: Andrea and Ben’s urban patio

Today marks the launch of Rock n’ Scroll: the Heavy Petal Garden Tour (woot!). See gardens from around the world, and share your garden with the whole wide web. Here’s how. To kick off the tour, I’m sharing my own back patio with you. Enjoy!

The basics

Gardeners: Andrea Bellamy and Ben Garfinkel (with daughter Lila, five months)
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada
Size: 195 sq ft. 13′ (4m) x 15′ (4.5m)
Orientation: east
Zone: 8b
Years gardened: 2.5

The Details

Style: West Coast modern.
Inspiration: Modern architecture, Japanese gardens and the West Coast forest.
Favourite element(s): The fence (it was time-consuming, but relatively inexpensive and made such a huge difference in the feel of the space). I also love my little woodland garden bed.
Favourite plant: This garden contains predominently green foliage plants, and it doesn’t really have any one plant that steals the show. I like the way all the different greens work together – it’s such a soothing effect – rather than one particular plant. That said, Acer palmatum ‘Fireglow’ (‘Fireglow’ Japanese maple) provides the only foliage that isn’t green, and as such, is a focal point.
Biggest challenge: Coming to terms with the fact that I couldn’t have everything I wanted in such a small space.
Biggest save: The furniture (bought second-hand and refurbished.)
Biggest splurge: The Galiano Grey basalt pavers.
Advice for others: There are almost always thrifty ways to mimic big money magazine ideas if you’re willing to put in the time.

Cladding the inside of the existing fence with 1″x3″ strips of cedar gave the space a different feeling without completely remaking the fence (or breaking strata rules).

The furniture was bought second hand and completely refinished.

Before: Boring pavers, a rough-looking fence, crappy furniture and a motley collection of containers.

After: Sleek and polished, and way more appealing to hang out in.

See more photos of our garden on Flickr.

Share your garden with others. Click here to copy and paste the survey into an email, attach photos, then email me!


Outdoor seating makeover
Andrea Bellamy |

Wanted: Equinox two-seater from Barlow Tyrie

Runway: Equinox two-seater from Barlow Tyrie

Reality: second-hand sofa with good bones.

I’ve been looking for seating for our back patio for what feels like forever. I had a very specific idea of the clean, modern look I wanted, but it was a classic case of champagne taste on a beer budget (the Equinox sofa, at top, retails for over $2000). So when I saw this old metal-framed sofa and matching lounge chair at a second-hand shop, I jumped.

Sofa, stripped down to its frame

I figured we could strip the pieces down to their metal frames, paint them, and refit the frames with cedar slats (the original cushions were wood-backed).

Sofa, with cedar slats.

Cheaper and quicker than powder coating, RustOleum matte pewter spray paint easily covered the frames – and looks great! Cedar slats, stained with Sikkens Cetol-1 in Natural, provided a stable base that can be left outside year round, and look half decent even without the cushions.

Finally, we had cushions made (out of Sunbrella Charcoal Tweed #6007), added some throw pillows, and voila!

The lack of furniture was my final stumbling block to acheiving patio greatness. Now that it’s complete, a great many gin and tonics will be consumed there (at least until the rains start).

Check back later this week to see before and after shots of the entire patio!


Growing shiitake mushrooms

girl with a drill.jpg

Me, the day before Lila’s birth, preparing to drill holes for shiitake mushroom plugs. (I also lifted rocks and pushed a car that was out of gas that day; I figured that at 12 days overdue, it couldn’t hurt).

I’ve been wanting to grow my own mushrooms for a long time now, even listing them as one of my Growing Challenge edibles, but never quite got around to buying the necessary supplies. So when, at Seedy Saturday a few weekends back, I saw local mushroom company Western Biologicals (no website – call 604-856-3339 or email selling mushroom plug spawn and indoor mushroom patch kits, I knew it was time to live the dream. 

mushroom plug.jpg

This is a mushroom plug, a wooden dowel colonized by shiitake mushroom mycelium. Actual size is about 1″ long by 1/4″ diameter. For $15, I got 150 of these guys – enough to do six logs.

I chose to go the plug spawn route, in which you inoculate a log with mushroom spawn-laced wooden plugs. The other option I considered was the indoor patch kit method, in which you buy a bag of mushroom-spore infused growing medium. While that would provide almost instant-gratification, the patch kits don’t produce mushrooms for as long, and, well, I couldn’t really picture mushrooms growing in my living room. Plus I thought shiitake mushroom-covered logs might look kinda cool in the woodland garden.  

birch logs.jpgThe first and toughest part of this whole project is finding the logs you want to use. The guy from Western Biologicals recommended fresh-cut alder with a diameter of between 4-10″ and a length of no more than 4′. I don’t know about you, but there aren’t too many fresh-cut alders hanging around my neighbourhood. Luckily, my parents live out in the sticks, and there are plenty of government-owned lots to pilfer scrub alder from.

Once we had our logs cut, the next step was to drill holes for the plugs to nestle into. Using a 5/16″ drill bit, we drilled holes 2″ deep and no more than 4″ apart, creating a spiral pattern on each log.
inserting the plugs.jpgNext, you just pop the dowel plugs into the holes you’ve created.

hammering in the plugs.jpgGive them a gentle tap with a hammer if necessary. The plugs introduce the mushroom mycelium into the log and will, over six months to a year, colonize the wood. Once the logs are colonized, mushrooms will start to appear, popping up from cracks or channels in the wood.  

mushroom log goop.jpg
Finally, you seal the plugs with melted cheese wax or other appropriate sealent to protect against other fungi and bugs, then stack or lean the logs in a shady area, watering during dry weather. Then you wait – for as little as six months, but more likely a year – until your little fungi friends appear. Then you make omelettes. Yum.

You can order mushroom plug spawn and other mushroom growing necessities from a number of online shops. Google “mushroom plugs” or try Fungi Perfecti if you live in the US.


Earth Day garden and baby update

erythronium shadow.jpg“Oh the days are long/ ‘Til the baby comes…” – Sinead O’Connor

That’s right – I’m still waiting for this baby. One week past my due date and just learned today that the baby, which for the last nine months has been perfectly positioned, has rotated and is now posterior. This just confirms my suspicions that he or she will be a shit disturber.

There are about a million things you can do to try to rotate a posterior baby; one of them is getting onto your hands and knees as much as possible. Scrubbing the floors on all fours was suggested. Since that has about as much chance of happening as this baby being born on Earth Day, I decided to crawl about my back garden instead. While I was there, I thought I’d snap some photos.

Fawn lily.jpg

The two above photos are of BC-native yellow fawn lily (erythronium; aka trout lily or dog’s-tooth violet). I believe this one is Erythronium grandiflorum but I can’t quite remember I’ve moved the bulbs from house to house as I moved over the years. They look delicate but are naturalizing well and survived last week’s hailstorm nicely.

maidenhair fern.jpgEven people who claim not to love ferns have to appreciate the unfurling of this maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), right?

sword fern fiddlehead.jpg

And the site of fiddleheads – so cute! – on my Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum). You have to love those, too, or you’re just not wired right.

huckleberry buds.jpg

My new evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) will hopefully provide me with some berries this summer.

firegold maple leaf.jpg

All three of my Japanese maples are in various stages of unfurling. This is Acer palmatum ‘Firegold,’ which, when viewed from below when the sun’s shining on its leaves, is just this incredible blazing red. Hence the ‘fire’ in its name, I suppose. This could also be ‘Fire Glow’ – I bought it from the Japanese Maple Guy at the farmer’s market and haven’t found many references to ‘Firegold’.

Acer palmatum beni kawa.jpg

I love my Acer palmatum ‘Beni Kawa’ – the perfect small space alternative to ‘Sangu Kaku’.

virdig maple.jpg

Finally, here’s Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Viridis’ – with its lovely weeping form – making its appearance. Hopefully this baby isn’t far behind. Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Soil pH and nutrients: amending your soil organically
Andrea Bellamy |

NPK test results.jpg

Ever wonder what these funky little kits are for?

Before planting in the spring, I like to do a quick soil test for pH (soil acidity or alkalinity) and nutrients (your basic NPK, or, nitrogen, phosphorous and potash [potassium]). I just use an inexpensive testing kit from a local nursery, although if you want a more detailed soil analysis or suspect you have serious problems with your soil, you can have it tested in a lab. In the US, your cooperative extension office does this. In Canada, try this.

I don’t really need a kit to tell me what’s up with my soil; Vancouver soil is typically acidic and nutrient deficient (perhaps because the rain leaches the good stuff out?). Despite regular amendments with compost, I’m always fighting those underlying traits. I like to do the test anyway, partially because it’s fun in a nerdy Grade 8 Science kind of way, and partially because I just want to double check.

This year’s test didn’t reveal any big surprises. Again, my soil was borderline acidic, so I’ll add a bit more lime. If your soil is alkaline, try granular sulphur, coffee grounds, or pine needles.

As for the nutrient test, my soil was low in phosphorous, and even lower in nitrogen. Typically, other than amending with compost and manure, bone meal and blood meal are suggested as organic soil supplements for these deficiencies (blood meal is high in nitrogen; bone meal in phosphorous). I’ve used both in the past, but this time I decided to look for alternatives to these slaughterhouse byproducts. No, I’m not a vegetarian, nor am I concerned about contracting BSE through the use of bonemeal. But in the past year I’ve stopped buying commercially-raised beef, so it would just seem wrong to use a byproduct from that industry. And I also question how blood and bone meal can be considered an organic amendment, when they aren’t likely produced from organically-raised beef. Plus, well, let’s face it: spray-dried blood is just icky.

Thankfully, there are vegetarian alternatives to blood meal, bone meal and fish fertilizers:

Instead of blood meal or fish emulsion, try alfalfa meal* or alfalfa pellets (sold as rabbit food) to raise your nitrogen levels. With an NPK ratio (the percentage of available nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potash (K)) of about 3-1-2, alfalfa is a green manure that also provides a dose of phosphorus and potash. Because it heats up in the soil, (making it a great compost accelerator) be careful not to burn your plants: don’t add it to the planting hole.

Cottonseed meal*, with a NPK ratio of approximately 7-2-2, is another good nitrogen source. Available at your local feed store, cottonseed is acidic, so unless you’re trying to lower your soil’s pH, avoid it or use in combination with lime.

Soft-rock phosphate, with a NPK ratio of 0-3-0, will raise your phosphorous levels and is a good slow-release substitute for bone meal.

*In the interest of full-disclosure, it seems unlikely that these products would be sourced organically-grown plants, unless otherwise noted. Is that why the organic gardening guidelines developed by Garden Organic (following standards set by the British Organic movement, the UK
government, and the EU) don’t endorse the application of any fertilizer, organic or otherwise?


Nature’s idea of a joke
Andrea Bellamy |

snow in march.jpg
So, today’s the frost free date for Vancouver, and this is what it’s doing outside? Big, fat flakes. Doesn’t look like much in the photo, but come ON! 


The Growing Challenge: expanding my vegetable-growing horizons
Andrea Bellamy |

I’ve decided to join The Growing Challenge, started by Melinda of Elements in Time’s Creating Edible Landscapes blog. 

I’m not very good at these types of things, normally. Let’s blame it on my fear of commitment. Never could quite manage to do Green Thumb Sunday or Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day (although I have ordered the February selection for the Garden Blogger’s Bookclub from the library. Baby steps!). But this seems fairly easy: you just have to grow one additional type of fruit or vegetable than you did last year, and grow it from seed.

Getting stuck in a vegetable rut isn’t really my problem. I love growing unusual edibles. I’ve grown shiso and edamame, saffron crocuses and Vietnamese coriander. The issue, rather, is space.

My balcony is dedicated to veggie growing. I have two raised beds totaling just 16 sq.ft., plus a rag-tag assortment of pots and planters. Last year the balcony was home to five tomato plants, fennel, zucchini, edamame, purple bush beans, mixed lettuces — and a fig tree. While the sun isn’t as good, I grow the herbs (rosemary, parsley, basil, thyme, chives, mint, oregano, marjoram) just outside our kitchen door, for obvious reasons.

What I won’t grow again

I’m going to forgo the zucchini, because it takes up so much space, and hand-pollinating it drove me crazy. Fennel is a no-go, because, hell, how often do I actually eat fennel? I’m also going to pass on the edamame, because I don’t have room to grow enough to make a satisfying snack.

What I’ll grow again

This year, I’m growing a variety of heirloom tomatoes again, which take up half my planting space. I’m growing lettuces: last year’s “Garden Babies Butterhead” and heirloom “Merveille de Quatre Saisons” from Renee’s Garden did very well. The fig tree stays.

What’s new

Instead of bush or pole beans, I’m going to try filet beans – perhaps Maxibel from West Coast Seeds? But the newest thing for me this year will be kale. I’ve recently discovered a love for the stuff, so I’m going to try Lacinato (also known as Tuscan or black kale) as well as pretty Red Russian.

I’m also going to add a red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) to my native plant bed in my back garden. I’m also curious about those Doyle’s thornless blackberries you see advertised in the gardening mags.

I’ve always wanted to grow mushrooms, but I want to grow them outside and not using a starter log. I’ve seen garden show display gardens sink mushroom patches into the ground, which looks fantastic in a woodland garden. I’ll be looking at my options this year.

That’s all I have planned for now – but once I’m standing in front of that seed rack at the nursery, there’s no telling what might happen.

So, what do you say? Will you join me in trying a new veggie this year? Join here.


First snowdrop
Andrea Bellamy |


Today, a milestone – the first snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) of the year! It seems early, but I don’t seem to have recorded its first appearance before. (Note to myself in 2009: I actually noticed the first bloom about a week ago, but it was only this weekend that I had enough light to photograph by, having to leave the house in the dark and return in the dark. Who invented this “daylight savings” time thing, anyway?)

First snowfall of winter
Andrea Bellamy |

snow on fern.jpg
Yesterday morning, we woke up to snow. As if the turning of the calendar page triggered Arctic chill. It seems snow has become more and more common in Vancouver over the past few years. I guess that’s part of the global warming/weird weather phenomenon. At this point, please allow me a short lecture, since I’ll be asked, anyway:
No, actually, Vancouver is quite mild. Snow is rare, though lately we’ve been getting it two or three times a year. It melts quickly though. No, I don’t live in an igloo or drive a dogsled (I swear to God I’ve been asked this more than once). In fact, I don’t own winter tires or a snow shovel, though today I wish I had a Crazy Carpet. Those were good times.



Backyard progress
Andrea Bellamy |

Last time I posted about our “backyard” (I have to put that in quotations because at 13′ x 15′, it’s hardly a yard) it was to brag about our new fence, step one in our garden renovation. I completely skipped step two, in which we laid 1′ x 2′ basalt pavers, which you can catch a peek at in the photo below, because, well, I have no idea really. Anyway, now I’m onto step three – planting. (Woohoo!)

log.jpgI’ve got two beds to play with, and this weekend I started on the little woodland bed. It’ll be full of mostly native plants, though dominated by the not-so-native Acer ‘Beni Kawa.’ Supporting characters include some of the wonderful finds from last weekend’s trip to my parents, like this old log, above. My parents live in what was once “the woods” – now it’s rapidly becoming developed into a suburban nightmare. The property next to them, once a favourite haunt for faeries and local children, was recently razed, and, as sad as I was about it, I decided to see if I could make the best of it. Or just steal some rocks.

nurse log.jpgI love this gnarled old mini nurse log – it’s even got some vegetation starting. Since the property was being cleared anyway, I thought I’d give it a better chance in my mini woodland.

rough stone.jpgWe also picked up two rocks. I love the cracks and lines on this one, above, which is only 1.5′ squarish despite seeming massive in this photo. And finally, the one below, with its intriguing “face.” This one will go in the other bed.

tall stone.jpgIt’s not quite finished (when is a garden ever finished?) but until next spring, here is my modern woodland bed:

side bed_Oct07.jpgLeft to right: moss, which will hopefully grow together lusciously and lushly (the back gate swings over this portion so I kept the plantings low). What is that square of blue stones, you ask? It’s standing in for a future water feature – just pretend, okay? Behind it will be some pondside, moisture-loving plants. Behind that is the log, and behind the log I intend to plant a snowberry. Moving right, I’ve got a Soft Shield Fern (Polystichum setiferum), Arum italicum, tiarella, Acer ‘Beni Kawa,’ salal and a Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum). I still would like to find room for a huckleberry. No wonder my back is sore today.


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