VanDusen Festival of Lights
Andrea Bellamy |

VanDusen Festival of Lights

With so many holiday events happening all across Vancouver in these final days before Christmas, it pays to be choosy when deciding which to attend. One event that never fails to deliver is the annual Festival of Lights at VanDusen Botanical Garden.

Now in its 26th year, the Festival of Lights is a Vancouver holiday tradition. Running from December 10 – January 2 (except Christmas day), the event draws huge crowds every evening to witness the 1.4 million lights adorning the gardens.

I went this year with my friend and our two-year olds, and to say the kids were in awe is a bit of an understatement (in fact, my friend and I were pretty impressed, too!). Every tree, shrub, pathway, fence, gazebo, and shelter seemed to have been painted with light. DIG DEEPER…

December 16th, 2010 | COMMENTS (4)

Growing paperwhites
Andrea Bellamy |

paperwhite bulbs

There’s really nothing simpler.

1. Place paperwhite bulbs in jar/vase/pot/bowl.
2. Cover the bottom two-thirds of the bulbs with potting soil, pebbles, or marbles.
3. Add water.
4. Stand back.

paperwhites and watering can

Most paperwhite-growing advice says the bulbs take about six weeks to mature, but that simply isn’t true. These guys were blooming in two-and-a-half weeks. That means there’s still time to grow them as Christmas or holiday housewarming gifts.

paperwhite blooms

Talk about almost instant gratification.

paperwhites

In six weeks, they’ll be flopping all over the place (unless you included booze in their watering schedule).

December 10th, 2010 | COMMENTS (11)

Garden tasks: how to turn the compost
Andrea Bellamy |

Lila at the compost bin

One of the best ways to get great compost in a hurry is to turn it regularly. Turning (mixing or aerating) your compost pile adds air to the mix, which speeds up the process of decomposition and prevents your pile from becoming stagnant. It also gives you a chance to assess whether your pile is too wet or too dry (it should be moist, like a wrung-out sponge) and amend accordingly.

Worms!

Turning the compost is an easy—if messy—task if you’ve got more than one bin (three is often considered ideal. Add new organic waste to one bin, emptying it into the second and eventually third as it decomposes). But with one bin, you’re stuck trying to mix a heavy, deep, and tall pile of rotting stuff either by using one of those compost aerating tools (I used to have one but found it less than helpful. Then it broke.) or by scooping out the bottom of the bin and putting the waste back in the top. (At least, those are my methods. If you’ve got a better solution, please share in the comments!)

Lila scooping compost

This used to be a task I’d do maybe three times a year—grudgingly. Then I let Lila in on the action, and she took to it like, well, a worm to a rotting Jack o’ Lantern. She loves visiting “her” worms, wood bugs, and millipedes. And she actually helps move the compost from bottom to top with her little shovel.

Scooping compost into the top of the bin

Okay, it’s slow going, but I do love watching—and sharing in—her delight as she discovers the simply wonders of a compost pile.

December 2nd, 2010 | COMMENTS (14)

Now Harvesting: late November
Andrea Bellamy |

Lacinato kale

This cabbageworm-chewed bunch of ‘Lacinato’ (Tuscan) kale may very well be the last thing I eat from my garden for months. It’s been incredibly — record-breakingly — cold here in Vancouver, and even my cool-season edibles have succumbed. But not the kale, bless it. Hardy, and delicious to boot.

What are you harvesting now?

November 29th, 2010 | COMMENTS (2)

Sugar Snaps and Strawberries has arrived!

The book arrives!

After months—nay, years—of anticipation, plus blood, sweat, and tears (though fewer than those who know me might expect), I’m thrilled to announce that Sugar Snaps and Strawberries has arrived! (Wow, that was a little like a birth announcement. Coincidence? I think not.) My advance copy (just one!) came via the slowest courier ever, and arrived while I was off at work. I will admit that I was not the most focused employee this afternoon, thinking about the package that awaited me at home. And then I was home, and the package was in my hands. And yet somehow, I couldn’t open it.  I’d imagined that moment for a long, long time, and I wanted to savour it. Preferably along with something alcoholic. But dinner was on the stove and I had a toddler bashing her plasma car into my shins. So I waited. We ate dinner (the package seated alongside us). I almost held out until Lila was in bed, but at some point I said something along the lines of, “screw it,” and tore into the package.

Sugar Snaps - title page

It’s a funny thing, getting what you want. This thing—writing a book—has been on my bucket list since I was an angsty teen (I imagined myself more of a Sylvia Plath or Anais Nin than a garden writer, but heck, I’ll take it). Holding that book—my book—in my hands was a totally surreal moment. As my friend Dave says, nothing is ever as good or as bad as you think it will be. And so it was. The book seemed physically smaller than I’d expected. But somehow bigger with the weight of all the expectations I have for it, the work and love and time that went into it, and just the bigness of it all. I wrote an f*ing book. Allow me to be amazed for a moment, friends.

Sugar Snaps - dedication and table of contents

And there’s so much fear that comes along with it, too. What if there’s an error? What if someone doesn’t like it? It’s so much scarier than hitting “publish” on a blog post. This thing is in print. I am both thrilled and terrified to be sharing it with you all.

Sugar Snaps - spine and cover

Like I said, it was a bit of a surreal moment. I looked at every page. Stuck my nose in and inhaled the ink. Was satisfied. Then I put the book down, saw the spine, and screamed. My husband, thinking I’d spotted a mistake, looks like he might be getting ready to dash our child to safety. Then I explain: “Bellamy! My name is on the spine of a book!” I don’t know why, but that suddenly made everything real, and worth it. I can’t wait to look myself up at the library.

Sugar Snaps - inside spread

Sugar Snaps and Strawberries: Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden features stunning photographs by the uber-talented Jackie Connelly, and is published by the fabulous Timber Press. I owe them huge gratitude, as I do you, my loyal readers. Thank you for being here.

Inside spread

Sugar Snaps and Strawberries will be hitting shelves within the next month. If you want to get your copy faster, please pre-order from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

November 15th, 2010 | COMMENTS (41)

Coveted: air plant pods by Michael McDowell
Andrea Bellamy |

matte white hanging air plant pods

How beautiful are these handcrafted air plant pods by ceramic artist Michael McDowell? Incredible, right?

Available in matte and gloss white, as well as matte sand, these stoneware ceramic pods are designed to house a tillandsia (air plant) and can be hung—each pod comes with a natural hemp cord—or set right side up (upside down?) for a more traditional display.

pods1

Clearly, they look amazing hung in clusters.

pods2

Mudpuppy’s air plant pods are available through Dirt Couture (seller of other amazing garden accoutrements such as hose clothes and those lovely Gallant and Jones deck chairs) for $30.

pods3

You should also check out Michael’s sweet little peace dove trio, stoneware moon bells, and, my personal favourite, his Peking blue bird sculptures.

November 14th, 2010 | COMMENTS (4)

Now Harvesting: early November
Andrea Bellamy |

Prudens Purple tomatoes and basil

Tomatoes and basil? What is this, August? California?

Nope. Just proof that sometimes, green tomatoes will ripen on the vine if you leave them long enough, even if it is nearly freezing out and all the other heat-lovers have given up the ghost.

What are you harvesting now?

November 7th, 2010 | COMMENTS (7)

Japanese maples in autumn
Andrea Bellamy |

'Ao' Japanese maple

I’ve always thought of our back patio garden as a spring garden, with its ferns and ephemeral natives. It took a positive comment from my husband for me to look objectively at the space and think, “wow, it does look pretty great right now.” I know, duh, right? With three Japanese maples—one normally red, one green, and one yellow—plus a fourth deciduous tree (a European hornbeam) it should look pretty damn good in fall.

So, since my last post focused on trees I could grow if I had the space, I thought I should celebrate the ones I have—especially since they really are giving it their all.

'Beni Kawa' Japanese maple

Here’s Acer palmatum ‘Beni Kawa,’ otherwise known as that totally-out-of-control tree. Despite the fact that it is too large for its space, I do love its colouring. Its new growth (and it always seems to be growing) is deep red, and its leaves are a lovely pale yellow—at least until fall, when it seems to burst into flame.

DIG DEEPER…

November 1st, 2010 | COMMENTS (10)

My fantasy trees
Andrea Bellamy |

Maple Leaves

Red maple. Photo credit: inoc on Flickr.

I’ve been having all kinds of fantasies lately. No, not THAT kind. The kind that comes from being a gardener raising a toddler in a tiny urban apartment. That’s right, I’m dreaming about land.

My fantasies are very specific, very romantic, and very far-fetched. In my fantasy, I have a big white farmhouse with a wraparound porch  bounded by fields of wheat, a small but productive orchard, and, further out, forest. With all that space, I’ve got lots of room for chickens, and goats, and of course, a huge vegetable garden. But when it comes down to it, I’ve got room for trees.

I grew up in a rural, forested area. Our yard was choc-a-block with trees: Douglas-fir, cedar, hemlock. And a huge big-leaf maple that dumped mountains of burnt umber leaves every autumn. I miss that. Don’t get me wrong; I love my Japanese maples. They’re very pretty. Very clean. And very urban. But I yearn for real trees. Big, sprawling, messy trees — the kind you need a lot of space for.

So, in my daydreams, I construct my fantasy tree list. Trees I would grow if I had unlimited space. They are:

Red maple (Acer rubrum). Simply for that brilliant red. We don’t get that eastern show-stopping fall colour in our deciduous trees here in the Pacific Northwest, but these trees provide it without fail. Its fallen leaves ook like scraps of red and white paper to me, all scattered around in perfect disarray.

leaves

Katsura leaves. Photo credit: Schnittke on Flickr.

Katsura (Cercidiphyllum). What’s not to love about this tree? It has a nice, rounded form and heart-shaped leaves that blaze orange-red in fall. To top it off, fallen katsura leaves perfume the air with a lovely burnt-sugar scent: like the crust of a of creme brulee!

forest of white birch

White birch grove. Photo credit: Nakae on Flickr.

White birch (Betula papyrifera). Actually, a grove of white birch. For the white bark, obviously. These aren’t commonly grown around here, but the interior of our province has many, and they remind me of holidays spent at my grandparent’s ranch in the Kootenays.

Old Sycamore Tree

Sycamore. Photo credit: Dakota O on Flickr.

Sycamore (plane tree) (Platanus occidentalis). I have no first-hand experience with these trees, however, I love their rounded shape, the mottled bark, and their fantastic seedpods.

What are your favourite fantasy trees?

October 28th, 2010 | COMMENTS (11)

Now Harvesting: mid-October
Andrea Bellamy |

harvest: mid-October

The theme song for this week could have been “Here Comes the Rain Again.” Hello autumn in Vancouver. On the upside, it’s time to break out the cute rain boots. And on the upper upside, here come the greens again.

After an absence of many months, I’m once again harvesting arugula, Tuscan (lacinato) kale, broccoli raab, and a whole mess of Asian greens.  Yay!

What are you harvesting now?

October 25th, 2010 | COMMENTS (7)


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