City gardens for country souls

urbangardenSummer gets a little sweeter whenever the opportunity for a meander through a garden arises. Even better if you do it with a friend, through their own garden pathways, overgrown and bumpy, and better yet if it’s smack dab in the middle of a city that desperately needs to add to its green spaces.

gardensThe chats that arise in a garden can be as meandering as the clematis vines weaving their delicate tendrils along the roughness of an old back fence.  More often than not the interactions sound a bit like this. “How’s it doing now that the weather has been so hot this summer and how are your tomatoes coming along? What? You have a purple tomato? I didn’t know that was even possible. I’ve never seen one. What’s it called? And how’s so and so? Oh, that must be hard. Yeah, you just never know…”

appletree

These are the words and the clustering and the dreaming that are inevitable, usually grafted over the dreaming about next year’s garden, as one meanders through, vines overhead, little green grape pearls twining themselves around whatever is nearest to cling to.grapes

It’s heavenly in August when the sun is hot and the chairs are placed under the shade of a tree and guest are awaiting lemonade.  It is imperative to create little clusters of conversational possibilities via the placement of chairs don’t you think?

summerpunch

And there’s the community gardens that have popped up in spare lots wherever communities have decided to enable those who don’t own their own land, to access land, to grow vegetables or flowers. Squash and sunflowers mix with the garlics all underneath the fig tree.garlicMy friends Gwen and Penny are garden lovers with three plots between them. I can envision them in retirement, toiling past dusk in their own market garden. Another friend, Karen, even came up with a name for them – Freefield Market Gardens – which is a combination of one part of each of their last names.

GwenandPenny2014

They invited me to the Burnaby Heights Garden Tour that we went on last year and had a lovely time. I don’t have too many photos this year. There were less backyards on the tour but it was still a nice way to spend a Sunday morning.

applesA little bowl of gems set off by the beautiful deep hues of freshly cut Hydrangea.

kittycat Her missus wondering what all the fuss was about and why all the people were streaming through disturbing the tranquility, her peace. So tedious.

thistleI had no idea that artichokes turn into thistles. How could I not have known this until now?treesculpures

These are the weirdest trees. I’m not sure if they have something wrong with them but they’re like a mystical forest of misfits who just weren’t interested in growing straight.

carvingsI love it when people decide to put art or carvings into their gardens in inconspicuous places. The ancestors looking over, keeping watch, listening.

Burnaby Heights Garden Tour

Everyone has a garden now. Community gardens. Windowsill gardens. Patio Gardens. Backyard gardens. Raised beds. Temporary gardens that are being installed while stalled construction projects allow gardeners to lease the space as developers wait for a more opportune time to build in the middle of congested city blocks. If you can find some dirt and a pot, you might as well let that patch of land do double duty: grow some food and beautify. The tricky part, if you live in the Lower Mainland, at least for some of us, is getting that patch of land in the first place.

I went on a self-guided walking tour, Harvesting on the Heights. Gwen invited me and we were  joined by her gardening partner, Penny. They have a large garden plot up at SFU, albeit, they’re sharing it with the pesky deer.

GwenandPenny

We started at the Heights Community Garden, a luscious little patch along Pender at Ingleton in North Burnaby which I failed to get a photo of for some reason.  It’s a square of reprieve full of  kale and pink poppies, squash and cucumbers, pole beans and parsley, even some strawberries.  A welcoming patch with a path meandering through it, happy to welcome guests. From there we carried on to the first garden with a beautiful greenhouse that the owner Dave Gaglardi custom built and trellises full of grape leaves, Chardonnay variety in the back yard and a red growing along the fence.

There was even a CBC television reporter, Bob Nixon, turned beekeeper, inside a tent, frenzied bees wanting to get back to their honeyed gift bumping up against the netting and buzzing around our heads. The honey at $10 a jar was a deal and as fresh as you’ll ever hope to get it.

BobNixonshoney

beehouseforweb

honeyjarsforweb

Overall there were seven gardens on the walking tour. Of course, some captivated more than others but each one of them was interesting.

The stand out garden for me was that owned by  Alison Bridger. It could be because she is a landscape architect, the principal of Terra Carta, with addresses listed in both Canada and France.

When she bought the house 25 years ago, she had a blank canvas to cultivate. Bamboo, seen here in the picture below, has been the bane of her existence. She knew it was invasive when she planted it, she just didn’t realize, she said, how much. Note to self: If you plant bamboo, make sure it’s in a pot. Unless you want it to creep into your foundation, into your drain pipes, and cost you a lot of money.

Alison The thing that was so appealing to me about Alison’s garden was both its maturity, grasses and interesting plants, and most of all the little accouterments hidden in it. She admits that if she sold her house, that wouldn’t be that hard. But leaving her garden after 25 years would be tough. Each plant is like a friend she said. I’ve watched it grow. I’ve watched it change through the seasons for 25 years.

Hidden away on the side of the house, along a pathway, an old doll put out to play.

Alisonsdoll

Here’s some of her mother’s costume jewelry dangling from a tree branch, ready to light the house with colorful prisms when the sun strikes.

Alisonsmomsjewelry

An old bike on the garage rooftopAlisonsrooftopbike

A bunch of clock faces

gardenclocks

I realize, too late, that I was so taken with all the little things in the garden, that I didn’t actually take a photo of the garden itself or any of the plants. Oops. You’ll have to take my word for it. The positioning of plants, front to back, was exactly the way I’d want a garden of my dreams to be.

Here’s Gwen sitting in a corner of Alison’s garden that would be a great place for afternoon tea.

gweninalisonsyard

Then we were off meandering through a few others until another captivated and kept us lingering. Here’s Rick and Barb on their back deck. Aren’t those purple Adirondack chairs fabulous? I loved their garden because of the complete privacy.  They are both travel writers and you can imagine when they return from a trip that their shoulders must just lower a bit after they’ve changed into their comfort clothes and flung open the back door to gaze at their private retreat.

RickandBarb

deck

There’s also the most delightful garden shed named after Frank, a friend who died of cancer. We did get the story and I was paying attention at the time, honest I was, but somehow, not as much as I should have been.   franksshed

Rick likes to collect glass and old glass lamps and transform those glass pieces into garden lamps. He’s got a whole shed full of them.

Here’s a sample from the front garden. gardenlights

I realize I’ve done a horrible job of documenting the gardens. I don’t actually have any plants in these photos but that’s the thing about gardens. It’s not just about the plants now is it? It’s about the people and how, like the gardeners, the spaces are so unique. Some gardeners are strictly focused on the plants and/or the vegetables. Some are about the additions the gardeners choose to sprinkle throughout to enhance the experience. And, the willingness to share is a gardening trait.

You can meet a stranger in a garden and you will always have a focus for a chat. That was true yesterday. It’s always true. And, that’s why gardening can be such a social thing, whether you’re traipsing through other people’s or opening up your own, as those seven generous green thumbs did yesterday.