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…”

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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An old bike on the garage rooftopAlisonsrooftopbike

A bunch of clock faces

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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.

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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

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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.

SFU Community Garden Replaces Less than Golden Memories

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I drove up to Simon  Fraser University on top of the mountain this past week to see the garden plot that my friend Gwen and a friend share. They both work at SFU. As I drove up the hill, I thought back to all those times when I was just 18 years old and would always take that first long wide corner too fast on the last stretch of the long journey from my parent’s house in Langley. Some things don’t change. I did that again, pushing 80 mph, for old time sake. Nary a cop in sight.

When we met up in front of where the old pub and coffee shop used to be, and a much bigger one now is, the first thing I said was,  “You know, every time I come up here, [which is almost never], all these memories come flooding back and they aren’t particularly good memories. My memories are of being isolated and out of place and alone. Of wondering what I was doing there. Of grey and concrete and more grey and more grey and socked in clouds and feeling depressed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m now glad to have a degree from SFU. But, had I been less shy, more confident and sure of myself, I wouldn’t have gone to university at all. I would have done what I should have done. I would have bought a knapsack and travelled.

I never could figure out how so many other students managed to pay tuition and travel all summer which meant they didn’t work. I think it must have been called the Canadian National Bank of Parents. Strangely enough, given my recent history where formal working environments have not figured prominently,  I worked every summer and paid tuition and my money ran out by about March every year when the Canadian National Bank of Parents would have to kick in the difference. But I digress.

I’m sure my reaction to driving back up the hill would not be something SFU would be happy to hear but it wasn’t their fault. It was mine. It just felt overwhelming. At least in the first year or two. SFU is a commuter campus. And, I didn’t know how to get involved even though it was all around me. Silly me.

I asked Gwen if she had good memories of Waterloo. Her answer was short. “No. Not really.” And, we laughed thinking about how the Alumni Associations of both places would be very unhappy to hear that.

As we walked over to the community garden plots all those bad thoughts quickly dissipated. And, it reminded me once again how nature is the world’s best relaxation therapy.cabbageforweb

I love beautiful little cabbages because they remind me of this favourite book I had as a kid called Home for a Bunny where the bunny always hid inside the cabbage leaves. I can never see a cabbage without wondering if a tiny magical imaginery bunny might be hiding in them.

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Here’s Gwen watering the plot which is thirsty thirsty because of the dry weather. When Gwen first started gardening all she wanted to do was grow the ingredients for Borscht. Strange but true. She’s not even a Mennonite.

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 I loved the way these bean vines were practically painting themselves across the late afternoon sky.

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This little flower is a dainty jewel fit for a princess. Do you know what they are?

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Someone has decided to make their own beer. At least it looks that way. Hops are wonderful and delicate and papery crinkly.

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As I was wandering around with my camera, I didn’t notice that I was disturbing a hungry visitor who couldn’t get enough of someone’s plot until its hairy brown back scared me through the viewfinder of my camera.

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These little baby garlic look as if they’re out on a hot air balloon excursion.

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This is an asparagus plant that has gone to seed. I just liked the way the golden beads are looking ripe for a necklace.

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It’s a jungle up there. And, given all the bounty, it’s strange that Gwen says she’s almost never seen anyone else there. Maybe little garden gnomes and fairies are watering at four o’ clock in the morning.

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At the end of the watering session,delicious green beans to cook, just right and whatever you do, don’t overcook them. A little salt. A little pepper. A little butter and some of that baby garlic and you’re good to feed yourself from the greens of your labour.