Friday, February 24, 2012

city gardens

Like many other places in North America, winter as we usually experience it never quite arrived in Halifax this year. Yes, it's often been very cold but there was little snow and none of it lasted on the ground longer than a few days. Now that I know spring is lurking out there somewhere I've been doing my usual pining for a garden to plant things in. Living in an apartment isn't generally conducive to the cultivation of outdoor plants as an experience I had while living in Portland will testify. The dining area of that particular flat had some very large windows with enough hardware left by previous tenants that allowed me to hang up some extra shelves. Instead of filling those windows with the usual indoorsy plants, that year I brought home several boxes of young geraniums and marigolds that I planted in pots. Within a few weeks I had a fabulous display of flowers but hadn't reckoned on just how smelly those outdoor blooms would make our home.. especially when you have more than twenty of them. They had to go long before their intended time.

Anyway, that winter we got lucky - if you can call it being lucky when a new landlord decides to renovate the building, including your apartment, while you're still living there. The luck was in having a very fine townhouse nearby come unexpectedly available, which gave me (for the first time) a balcony not too high above the ground facing east. I spent the rest of the winter planning a garden. Winters in the Pacific NW don't last all that long so we were soon visiting one of the big nurseries where I swooned over the pictures of the flowers fastened on the bare root rose bushes and tried to figure out just how a large a bamboo would fit the space along with a small tree and several pots of pampas grass. I got a bit carried away that year - the roses were gorgeous at first but eventually blighted,  the bamboo died, and the pampas grass went into attack mode whenever we passed it.

Then came the day we saw a hummingbird and for the following six summers that garden was dedicated to our delight in seeing them. They seemed to enjoy examining us as well but it wasn't until late autumn one year that I caught the perfect picture. Several months later an eviction notice was delivered by new owners planning a condominium conversion and that was that for the garden.

I still think of gardening and all the people like me who simply have no access to seeing a little piece of Nature's magic unfold day by day. Just a few days ago I came across an article about the Beacon Food Forest project that has received the go ahead to plant Seattle's first permaculture garden in a city park. This spring a  seven acre plot of land will be planted with hundreds of different kinds of edibles: walnut and chestnut trees; blueberry and raspberry bushes; fruit trees; herbs; and more. It will be perennial and self-sustaining. Best of all, anyone who walks through will be free to take anything they want.

I'm guessing there may well be some happy hummingbirds living there too.


Life As I Know It Now said...

I plan on an herb garden out on my balcony. I've still got the Poinsettia from Christmas and the leaves are still read. I have gotten a Bamboo tree for the apartment and I have a luscious Jade plant. When I visit my mom this March I'll get some Hen-and-chickens ( and a strawberry pot to put them in. I'm most excited to get the herb garden going! :)

Kay said...

I am hoping to use my property better this year. Shame on me for not over the last 30 years...I am not much of a gardener..well I would garden if I could get the whole thing started, built and ready to plant by someone else!! I was thinking of planting hops just to have the big plants to enjoy, and several raised beds since our dirt is so deficient. Then I plan to take back some of the horse pasture which is not pasture anymore from the 2 horses so I can plant some fruit trees and chicken friendly weeds. I have a garden that used to produce well but the neighbors let trees grow along its fenceline and now it has too much new plans to plant it full of flowers and see how it does..their sheep have killed the trees a bit. Sometimes I wish for a tiny yard or balcony so I can keep up with the gardening. Having land is more work than I have the time or will to take of! But not going to complain..just need to get busier.

jams o donnell said...

Hummingbirds in the garden.... I would love that but we don' get them sadly.

marja-leena said...

Such a lovely balcony garden - was that yours?! Balconies can be a challenge. Ours gets very hot in the summer so it's the best spot for growing tomatoes and peppers but it means hauling big pots with soil up, through the house to the other side, then down again in the fall = husband complains of course but loves to eat. Sadly our yard is just too shady for a vegetable garden but I'm blessed by many flowering shrubs like rhododendrons and camellias that suit this west coast climate.

Community gardens are wonderful in the denser parts of the city, a growing phenomenon!

susan said...

lib - From the way you described your new apartment with its balcony overlooking a field, it sounds like the perfect spot for a container garden. My mother used to have hens and chickens in her rock garden which were very pretty. If you have a fair amount of sunshine it might not be a bad idea to put some strawberry plants in that strawberry pot as well. There's a lot of info on the web about gardening in small spaces in case you get really ambitious. Good luck with the herbs :-)

kay - With the help of my dad's digging assistance and carrying capacity, my mother began keeping quite a big garden after she retired. The whole thing was so labor intensive (as I discovered when she needed some help with weeding) that it didn't seem likely I'd ever try it myself. I can well understand why you'd leave your plot of land to look after itself now that the trees have shaded what was a great spot.

One new growing method I've read about recently is called the lasagna garden whose general idea involves no digging whatsoever. Instead it's a matter of choosing a spot where you'd like to plant and then start layering organic materials that will eventually 'cook down' over time resulting in a thick fluffy soil where plants can thrive. No heavy lifting involved. If I had a piece of property I'd definitely try this.

jams - They were very beautiful to see but it may be a while before I get to do so again.

marja-leena - Yes, that was my garden :-) I'm sure your tomatoes and peppers must be very glad of the sun. The balcony we have here could possibly be used but as you mention, the carrying of huge pots of soil is very labor intensive and since we want to move to a non-highrise it hasn't seemed worth the effort. The one in Portland was good for the shade loving fuchsia as it faced east but there wasn't enough sun to keep the roses happy. It's always a question of balance.

Halifax hasn't provided much in the availability of community gardens yet but I'll look forward to that.

Gina said...

The hummingbirds are such a pleasure, aren't they? We see them in the summer every year but for some reason only they and bird experts know about, they flit around our feeder for about three weeks and then they're gone.

Gardening is very rewarding. I usually only grow flowers and herbs, but we so enjoyed our small tomato crop last year, that this coming season, I think we will plant more tomatoes and perhaps a few other veggies as well.

Other than going to Portugal to spend quality time with my mother, I foresee no other travel plans, so it will be good to stay close to the garden, the river and the house. There is a lot of cleaning up to do - several beds are a tangled mess and the southwest facing one is begging for huge sunflowers.

Writing this and thinking about summer is giving some moments of great pleasure. Thanks for thinking spring, Susan!

Love, love.

Gemel said...

Love the hummingbird photo, such magical little beings ♥

My little piece of Gaia has birds come with the feline trio are inside with me, they seem to know when it is safe to visit, mainly crows and pigeons, and native nectar birds too.

thanks for the visit and comment on my page ♥

Rob-bear said...

Ah, yes; the concept of having a garden when one is living in an apartment building. Up on the sixth floor, well above the tree line, we hardly see any birds this high up. We used to have hummingbirds come to feeders at our house. They are probably around, but don't come this high up. Sigh!

Spadoman said...

It's been a while since we've crossed our streams. You know, like in the Ghostbusters movie? They were never supposed to cross the streams of their ghostbuster guns?
Well, anyway, I have been thinking about a garden after a very long hiatus from having one. Since you talk about it here, we've crossed our streams.
When I was going through the heart crap in November and December, I thought life as I knew it, with the traveling and all, was finished. In my mind, I was going to sell my motorcycle and decided that I was finally going to be around the house forever. I'd probably have time to garden again.
Of course, through the miracle of technology, I feel like I can and will be able to ride my Triumph and get on the road a bit, even more than a bit!
I'm still seeing small deck rail flats of lettuce for salads and a flower bed here and there. Weeds may sprout up between the marigolds, but there will be marigolds for next Autumn's Los Dias de Los Muertos.


PS I bought a 1996 Suzuki Sidetrack, (looks like your Tracker with a hard top. Finally got the car I wanted)

susan said...

gina - You're so right about the pleasure of seeing hummingbirds and the ones (Anna's) that lived close to our place in Portland didn't migrate in winter, which resulted in our comical attempts to swap nectar bottles every few hours in freezing weather. It was a good thing I went home for lunch most days. The best thing about them was their curiosity and bold behavior (so long as I wasn't holding a camera) as they flew up to the screen of the glass doors to peek inside or sudden close encounters when I was watering or just admiring the flowers. Being face to face with one is an experience I'll never forget.

We're looking forward to finding a place that's more amenable to some container gardening. As for travel, there may be a trip to New England this summer as well as Toronto. Now is a good time to be considering Spring ♡

gemel - I've always thought this picture was the best I've ever taken, particularly because I didn't even have a digital camera at the time.

The birds we see from our place here are mostly pigeons and gulls. Cats are wonderful animals but it's true their natural tendencies don't make them good friends with birds.

That was a serendipitous visit and I'm glad I caught the moment.

rob-bear - We're in much the same position living on the seventh floor of a concrete box. Hopefully, we'll find a place this year closer to ground level and in a quieter setting that local hummingbirds like.

spadoman - I'm glad to know our streams crossed in such a fine way. I've occasionally thought I'd be happy to give up my paints in trade for a garden I could nurture again. Losing that place was very hard to accept but at least it happened in deep winter rather than spring or summer.

I'm so very glad you've recovered so well from that very serious condition. The lasagna garden idea I mentioned to Kay might be something you and Barb could employ somewhere around your house as it's far less energy intensive insofar as digging and weeding are concerned. I bet your grandchildren would enjoy it too since it sounds like a magical process.

Yes, except for the fact our Tracker is two years older you did buy the same kind of car. What color is yours?

All the best to you too.

Randal Graves said...

Free to take anything they want? That's only going to lead to hoarding and riots. Better station a SWAT team next to the walnut tree just in case.

Gina said...

Have you heard about this? :-)

San Francisco Guerilla Gardening

susan said...

randal - I thought hoarding and riots were just normal aspects of a capitalist society.

gina - That's a great example. I tried some guerilla gardening of my own last spring when I planted about 150 sunflower seeds at Pt. Pleasant Park. Unfortunately, I had no idea then just how prolific the natural plantlife would be.

gfid said...

your balcony was beautiful! hummers love fuschias. And anything red. Happy almost spring. I've tried the lasagne gardening. the tricky thing with it is edges. Any grass or greenery on the edge of the lasagne layers (especially wild grasses like quackgrass and wild brome, and dandelions) will grow through and find its way through the new earth. It is amazing how well a few layers of cardboard or newspaper act as a mulch.

susan said...

gfid - Thanks - making it so was a delight. There are a lot of flowers they love but the combination that worked best for us and the hummingbirds were fuschias and lotus vines.

When i read about the lasagna gardens I guessed that might be a problem but couldn't it be fixed by placing some kind of barrier around the garden space? I'd like to try it myself if we're ever lucky enough to find a patch of ground. The other thing I discovered was this article about making a garden out of eaves troughs. Wake Up World is a pretty neat web page too.

clairesgarden said...

really good to hear of permaculture gardens getting planted up and allowing it to get seen and used. I neglected my garden somewhat last year, trying to plan a less intensive regime this year...

susan said...

claire - It really is nice to know permaculture gardening is gaining respect. I'd love to see more of them too.

linda said...

hi sweet susan, what a funny post and love the hummers...they are such terrifying and sweet birds all at once. and this:

hadn't reckoned on just how smelly those outdoor blooms would make our home.. especially when you have more than twenty of them. They had to go long before their intended time.

giggling over that as i can only imagine...i have always wept over the stink of daisies as they are so sweet a flower. maybe it's time to come south tho nobody is having much winter yet....i know we will not escape some tho, we never do out here anyway. too high up methinks...and for the other news, i shall keep you up and then send carrier pigeon for the rest of the worthy people who seem to be awaiting something almost inspired or something...making me a bit nervous ;)

susan said...

Hello, my dear,
Oh yes, the marigolds were the worst! Yikes, talk about stinky.

Never worry about the posting. I've been in slowdown mode for a while myself but it's always a sweet delight when you visit.

I'll be by :-)