Posts were few and far between on Heavy Petal in 2009, and if you’re still reading, I’m grateful (and a little surprised!).
I was busy writing a book.
There, I said it. I’ve been afraid to mention it here in case I jinxed it, but I’m forcing myself to do it now. Kind of a start-the-new-year-off-with-a-bang thing.
The book is about gardening, of course. About growing organic edibles in small spaces, to be specific. I can’t give you a title, yet, but I can tell you this: the publisher is Timber Press, and it’s coming out in the fall.
Despite the neglected blog (you should see my home! Thank goodness my husband picked up the slack in the child rearing department), the days (and nights) spent hunched over my computer, poring over books, and attending photo shoots were (almost) entirely enjoyable.
I feel so incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to write this book. To write about things I am passionate about. To be able to share, beyond this blog, my experience in growing food in the tiniest of spaces; on balconies, rooftops, and patios; in community garden plots, back alleys, and in all the rented apartments I’ve moved plants in and out of. I feel so lucky that my publisher saw something in this blog and asked me if I’d be into writing a book (my answer? Hell yes). I am grateful that they liked my ideas and believed in my vision for the book.
I’d like to thank all of you, my readers, for helping to make this happen. For the community created here, and for the endless inspiration you all provide. I couldn’t have done it without you. Oh, and, now that the manuscript is in the publisher’s hands, I promise I’ll have more time for Heavy Petal. Stay tuned. And have a fabulous 2010.
Photo credit: Jackie Connelly Photography. I am so fortunate that I was able to work with the fabulous Jackie Connelly on this project. Here’s a sneak peek at just one of the beautiful photographs appearing in the book.
Wait—how did it get to be December already? We just finished the Halloween candy.
Since there are obviously fewer minutes in an hour these days, I give thanks every time I click “add to cart” and check another name off my shopping list without setting foot in a mall. So here’s a little treat for you: a round-up of gifts any gardener would love. And they’re all available online.
Felco classic pruners. There’s a reason these hand pruners have “classic” in their name. Felco is the name in secateurs, and you’ll never regret the investment in this quality product. This is another gift that will last a lifetime ($43.18 on Amazon.com).
I recently had the opportunity to watch The Botany of Desire, a two-hour special that will premiere on PBS on October 28 at 8pm. You should make a note of that date, because you won’t want to miss this.
Subtitled “A Plant’s Eye View of the World,” The Botany of Desire is based on the best-selling Michael Pollan book of the same name. It examines the unique relationship between humans and plants, with the premise that plants use us for their purposes just as we use them. Linking our fundamental desires for sweetness, beauty, intoxication and control with the plants that gratify them — the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato — The Botany of Desire shows that humans are intricately woven into the web of nature, not standing outside it, as so many of us like to believe.
This is a beautifully-shot film that is as fascinating as it is entertaining. Watch it on PBS on Wednesday, October 28 at 8pm, or buy it online.
My husband works in a funky live/work loft building, which is full of artists, photographers, dancers and other creative types. Most of the gardens along the front of the building are eclectic, colourful and a bit boisterous. Then there’s this.
I think it’s the red lava rock that really makes it special.
Name of gardener: Gordon Harris Location: Campbell River, BC Size: A narrow, trailer park lot Orientation: South, but with a great deal of shade, and no sun in winter Years gardened: Seven Style: Natural/cottage mixture
Inspiration: A forested, box canyon Favourite element: Peaceful ambiance Favourite plants: Lilies, tellimas, hostas, Michaelmas daisies Biggest challenge: Narrowness of the lot Biggest save: A large, de-potted pine tree that was a cast-off from a nursery Biggest splurge: The Russian Olive shade tree ($200) Advice for others: Be careful what you accept from others – Welsh poppies are taking over the garden!!
Plants press in against pathways, achieving Gordon’s aim of making his garden feel like a box canyon.
Heavy Petal says: I’m delighted to be able to share Gordon’s garden with you today in this, the first garden tour of the year. In global terms, Gordon is almost a neighbour of mine: he lives on the east coast of Vancouver Island just over 200 km away. I wish he were an actual neighbour; he seems like a pretty handy fellow to have around, and is a true plant-a-holic.
What I love most about this story is Gordon’s resourcefulness. This is a guy, who, faced with a barren lot, lack of funds, and a pent-up need to collect plants after 15 years living on a sailboat, collected seeds and plants from back alleys and building sites, and even got a part-time job at a nursery so he could take advantage of employee discounts. (Come on, we’ve all thought about it!)
Here, at the back gate, you can see how close the neighbours are. Living screens do a great job of providing privacy.
Money wasn’t the only constraint. The lot was long and narrow — making its design awkward. His trailer park had a fence height limit of four feet, and the neighbouring trailer was just a little too close for comfort. As well, a huge underground concrete septic tank sat just four inches beneath the centre of the yard!
Gordon wanted a private garden, so he quickly set about building fences (keeping to the four-foot height limit) to contain his dog and to provide privacy. He planted donated raspberry bushes on the outside of the fence and a Virginia Creeper vine on the inside. Within a couple of years, these had both grown to well over four feet high and were providing privacy from the trailer behind him.
The main garden area feels enclosed and private.
To deal with the septic tank, Gordon built up a pile of compost and soil to a height of two feet over top of the tank and built a rough stone wall along the route of his pathway to hold the soil in. This later became a rock garden. In the middle of this mound, he set pieces of driftwood on end to resemble an old stump and planted a small flowering tree in the centre. This all added to the height of the tree.
The last difficulty, the long, narrow shape of the yard, was solved by fashioning the garden to resemble a box canyon. Says Gordon, “All I had to do was to cover the vertical walls with greenery!” What you see here is the result, seven years later.
The moon gate offers glimpses of the garden beyond.
One of the best things about being a garden writer is receiving plants to trial. Nurseries and growers send writers and other horticultural industry types their newest plant introductions so we can try them in our own gardens, provide feedback, and—hopefully—fall in love with them and rave about them to others.
I especially like receiving these boxes of plants because of the surprise factor. Often they aren’t plants I’d seek out in a nursery, but once I find a home for them in my garden, I quickly see their value.
That was certainly the case when Proven Winners sent me six of their new introductions earlier this year. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have a lot of experience with annual bedding plants, (usually flowering plants grown for a seasonal display of colour). Perennials and edibles make up most of my plants, and although I usually tuck a few Euphorbia Diamond Frost® into the cool-toned bed adjacent to my front patio, annual flowers are nearly absent from my garden. Receiving an unexpected box of annuals forces you to rethink all that.
Take Petunia Pretty Much Picasso™ , for example. I’ve never grown petunias before, avoiding them simply because they are so, well, common. (I know, I’m a snob. Sue me.) But Picasso, from Proven Winners, is anything but ordinary. Its pinky-purple flowers are edged in lime green—one of my favourite colours in the garden. It’s a vigorous plant, trailing down the side of the tall container I have it in (along with rosemary, purple shiso, butterhead lettuce and golden variegated sage). It hasn’t stopped blooming since I planted it a few months back, nor has it needed deadheading. A real winner.
Now, I said I don’t buy many annuals, but I do have a weakness for foliage plants, and Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato vine) is queen of foliage in the world of annual bedding plants. (Well, perhaps coleus might have something to say about that, but I’ll let them duke it out.) Proven Winners has two new sweet potato vines coming out next spring: Illusion™ Midnight Lace and Illusion™ Emerald Lace (the “lace” in the name refers to their lacey leaf-shape). Here’s Midnight Lace, above, mingling with yet another Proven Winners new release called Diascia Flirtation® Orange in a colour combo your mother warned you about. I really like this diascia hybrid. Despite its name, it isn’t really a true, bright orange. It’s more a subtle salmon colour. It would be great in containers or hanging baskets. It’s bloomed non-stop since I received it.
Both of these new sweet potato vines (here’s Ipomoea Illusion™ Emerald Lace with Alchemilla mollis [Lady's Mantle] and Heuchera Dolce® Peach Melba) have more of a mounding habit than other ipomoeas I’ve grown. In fact, they’ve been rather slow growing, just slowly expanding rather than tumbling down in the cascading habit I’ve grown accustomed to in this species. This might be just what you’re looking for: I prefer the trailing variety.
The final two trial plants, LobulariaSnow Princess™ (sweet alyssium) and Lobelia Lucia™ Dark Bluefound a home in an experimental hanging basket I put together. I say experiemental because it was a type of hanging basket I’d never used before; I also tried to use all edible plants (other than these two flowering annuals). You can see it hanging above my front patio in the above photo (that’s my neighbour’s yellow-and-red combo basket although it looks like they’re attached). I don’t feel like either of these plants got a fair trial in this container, which also contained purple shiso, chives, tricolour sage, strawberries, thyme, parsley, purple bush beans, nasturtium and sorrel. Lobelia Lucia™ Dark Blue was planted in the basket’s bottom pockets, which I found did not receive their share of water. As a result, they’ve limped along, barely alive (though still flowering!). LobulariaSnow Princess™ fared much better. It’s flowered continuously, and although it struggled a bit throughout the heatwave, it’s bounced back. Like all sweet alyssium, it attracts beneficial insects.
All of these plants will be available in spring 2010 wherever Proven Winners plants are sold.
My family and I visited the Terra Nova Rural Park in Richmond today. Despite having being told about the awesomeness of Terra Nova over a year ago, today was our first visit.
Spelt growing in the Daily Bread section of the Schoolyard Society garden mixes wonderfully with other edibles. The original ornamental grass!
In addition to a thriving community garden, the Terra Nova lands are used by organizations for the benefit of the community. The Tzu Chi Foundation Sharing Farm and the Richmond Fruit Tree Sharing Project (Terra Nova Sharing Farm) grow food for the Richmond Food Bank.
Then there’s the Terra Nova Schoolyard Society garden – a non-profit, community-based garden project that connects elementary and high school students with the earth. Students grow, monitor, harvest, and eat from the garden. For example, last year, they planted wheat, harvested and threshed it – then baked bread using the flour. The project, run by chef Ian Lai, integrates the complete food cycle – from seed to table, and from table to soil (in the form of composting).
I loved the way so many light, airy grains were integrated into the Schoolyard Society garden. Did you have any idea that buckwheat (above) was so pretty?
Terra Nova hosts a hugely-popular event called Chefs to the Field, coming up August 8. You should go.
The community garden section of the park is divided into individual plots, which form a colourful patchwork of edibles and ornamentals. Gardeners were busy harvesting and tending their beds – but not too busy to tell me about what they were growing.
If you go: Terra Nova Rural Park is at 2631 Westminster Hwy, Richmond – about 30 minutes drive from Vancouver. Entrance and parking is free. The Richmond Food Secure blog lists upcoming workshops and events (such as “Beescaping” and “What can I plant now?”) held at the park. Combine with lunch on the wharves at Steveston (only a few minutes away) and you’ve got yourself a fabulous summer daytrip.