Catching up, part 2

The second in a series of three posts in which, during the rainy parts of my vacation, I'm catching up on blogging. Today's topic: the community garden from early to mid Spring.


Snoozing at the community gardenOn Earth Day, while Piper napped in the shade under the bench, I cultivated the soil in the three pollinator beds and rearranged the plants that had survived the winter. A fellow gardener and I have volunteered to plant and tend this vital part of the community garden. In early May we liberally sowed California and Shirley poppy seeds in the beds and added other plants including Echinacea, Asclepias and Allysum. By early summer, or sooner I hope, the blossoms will be providing nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies.


So far, I've harvested only a few crops from my own plot: assorted Asian greens (a little), chard (a lot), and radishes (just enough to add a spicy crunch to lunch for the past 2 weeks). Broccoli raab is missing from the list because a mysterious creature with paws trampled the bed soon after the seedlings emerged. Then tiny slugs with big appetites ate most of the remaining young greens and baby spinach. (Help -- what is your successful, organic slug control strategy?)


Community garden plot in mid-May

Plot inventory, May 19th: chard, garlic, greens, herbs, peas, radishes, spinach

First radish harvest: Pink Punch, Easter Egg II, French Breakfast (Renee's Garden seeds)

Above ground, the garlic is green and mildew-free. But now that I've learned about all the pests and diseases that can afflict this herb, I'm tempted to pull one 'Purple Softneck' to see what's going on below the soil's surface. I'll resist and and hope for beginner's luck and good garden karma as I'm growing most of this garlic for a friend.

No peas yet, but the robust vines and pretty flowers are promising.

Dwarf Grey Sugar pea transplants, April 22nd

First pea flower, May 26th

And now as I write this, it's 12 noon and the sun is shining -- barely. I'm off to you-know-where to prep the open squares for the tomato and pepper transplants. See you soon. Though I hope not too soon as it will mean it's raining again.

'Swallow' pepper ready for transplanting and chard ready for a frittata

Herbs, vegetables, and glorious sunshine

Yesterday was green, blue & bright yellow from dawn to dusk. (And if there were a few clouds, I didn't notice them.)  A perfect summer Sunday for crops to grow & gardeners to weed, water, inspect, repot and of course, view brilliant colour & light through the camera's lens.

Though most of the excitement & growth is in my community garden plot, I'll begin with the balcony's stars, all highly recommended for culinary, olfactory & aesthetic reasons:

Balcony Garden

Left pot: four varieties of thyme: 'Doone Valley', 'Golden Lemon', Tabor', Thymus fastinoi
Centre pot: 'Alma Paprika' Pepper
Right pot: Basil ('Red Rubin', 'Genovese' ), French Tarragon, Italian Oregano

Rosemary officinalis 'Blue Spire'

Balcony Garden

'Sea of Red' Lettuce - for those of us who eat with our eyes as well as our mouths

Now, on to Plot 6A, which totally astounds me when I visit it daily. I did not know plants could grow this quickly. Because light is limited on my balcony, I'm used to a much, much slower growth rate.

Front row, left to right: chard, spinach, cucumber, eggplant, tomato
Middle row, left to right: chard, tomato, beets, eggplant, pepper, tomato
Back row, left to right: peas, beans, carrots, beets, eggplant, tomato

In a future post, I'll describe the specific vegetable varieties as well as my planting strategy & design. I've held off because my approach has been evolving to what is now a "mash-up" of square-foot gardening & crop rotation following Mark Diacono’s sequence outlined in Veg Patch: River Cottage Handbook No. 4 (i.e., legumes -> brassicas -> roots & onions -> potatoes/Solanaceae).

Community garden update

Even though spring skipped it's turn and so far, the summer sun has been a shy friend if not a cool stranger, the crops are growing. Last Saturday evening, a few were glowing:

Tomato, 'Glacier'

Tomato, 'Glacier'

Pepper, 'Alma Paprika'

Pepper, 'Alma Paprika'

Eggplant, 'Rosa Bianca'

Eggplant, 'Rosa Bianca'


Beets, 'Golden'

Beet, 'Golden'


Beets, 'Jewel Toned Blend'

Beets, 'Jewel-Toned Blend'


Chard & Spinach

Chard, 'Italian Silver Rib' & Spinach, 'Catalina'


I'm dying to share stories with you, but I must spend today's limited after-work time IN the garden. When I've more time to write, I'll tell you about kite string and square foot gardening, green pea risotto dreams, and wireworm woes.


Peas, 'Little Marvel'

Pea, 'Little Marvel'

Balcony update

Sweet anticipation, flavour, scent & serenity*:

Tomato 'Glacier'


Tomato 'Kootenai'


Assorted green & red lettuces


Lettuce 'Sea of Red'


Assorted thymes: 'Doone Valley', 'Golden Lemon', Tabor', Thymus fastinoi

20110605-Balcony Garden-3653

Compact oregano, Origanum vulgare 'Compactum'


20110605-Balcony Garden-3658

Basil 'Genovese', Basil 'Red Rubin', Thymus x citriodorus 'Doone Valley', French Tarragon, Oregano 'Italian'


Addendum, June 10th: Oops -- forgot to explain the asterisk (*) after "serenity" in the first line. I wrote yesterday's post while roofers finished erecting scaffolding around our condo, floor-installers sawed new baseboards for the apartment in the building next door, heavy machines continued tearing up the side street for new Hydro pipes, and a recycling truck and moving van negotiated for space in the alley behind our building. Yes, my little balcony has become a green oasis that grounds, calms and nourishes me.

Sweet, spicy & the first tomato...

...these are the most exciting crops on my balcony this week:


Sweet Greens & Reds

Sweet Greens & Reds (Renee's Garden) - a mix of 'Little Gem', 'Tango', 'Cimarron', & 'Outredgeous' lettuces


California Spicy Salad

California Spicy Salad

California Spicy Blend (Renee's Garden) - a blend of Arugula, Curly Endive, Red Mustard and Mizuna



The first berry on my 'Glacier' tomato plant (seeds from Tatiana's TOMATObase) - I've named him Harry Little Tom.  {Lucy will know why ;-).}


Short & sweet reading list:

The balcony gardener's Edibles post

Consider the lettuce (thanks go to @Kathryn for tweeting this link recently)

Spicy greens for your garden

Tomato - An Anatomy Atlas

Community gardening

I woke up to the sound of rain against the window; it's now late morning & though I can't hear the rain, it's still very grey outside. I suspect, at best, today will be unsettled with rain, showers & maybe (?) sunshine. No, none of the latter. I just checked the Environment Canada forecast -- but wished I hadn't because now my hopes are dashed. Sigh. At least we had yesterday.

Sorry. In writing the introduction to this post I got off on a weather tangent & lament. Back to the real topic. Which I'm writing about because of the weather. If it were dry & warm, I'd be out in the garden. The community garden, that is.

Yes, finally after 20 months on a waiting list, I have a plot in the City Hall Gardens. (If you follow me on Twitter, you'll already know as I shared the news a week ago. Thanks for joining in my happiness! Your delight & support made the good news even better. I do believe gardening is like eating -- sweeter when done as part of a community.)

Since early May, I've been a busy bee: I prepped my bed, began sowing seeds & transplanting peas & tomatoes, attended the community garden AGM & work party, & planted the sharing garden with summer crops that will help nourish a local neighbourhood house.

In this post, I'll show you some of the shared care areas. During our recent AGM, each gardener signed up to tend one or more of these groups plots during the coming year.

Entranceway arbour & perennial bed. (I'll tell you more about this area in future posts as I volunteered to help tend it.)


Blossoms on apple trees around the garden's perimeter




Rhubarb (I've already harvested some tasty stalks from this shared plot)


Myosotis (Forget-me-not) in the all white Healing Garden


In a future post, I'll introduce you to my plot, which looked like this when I first saw it two weeks ago:

Yes, I had a bit of a clean-up ahead of me but as I discovered, there be treasure (overwintered 'Dragon's Blood' carrots) beneath the soil's surface.

Bright red berries for the winter garden


I bought this Gaultheria procumbens on inpulse while grocery shopping on the weekend. Well, impulse born from the desire to lure the songbirds to my balcony. Richard (Dick) Cannings, biologist, birder and author, thinks this plant might attract them. This past Monday he was Mark Forsythe's guest on B.C. Almanac so I summoned up my courage and phoned in to CBC radio to ask about berries for birds. (His full answer is in a podcast that I'll transcribe and publish later as a follow-up to this post.)


Though several garden writers recommend using Gaultheria procumbens as a "filler" in winter containers, I think my berry-full, lush plant is lovely on its own. I agree with this U.K. garden shop ad:

With a dwarf, rounded habit, Gaultheria procumbens ... makes the perfect container specimen. The lovely white flowers in summer turn to masses of bright red berries and the evergreen foliage takes on red hues - ideal for festive displays on the patio.

I succumbed to G. procumben's charm (and sale price) again last night and bought a second plant; I may try a mixed planting in a large pot with black mondo grass, and white Helleborus or hardy cyclamen.

Recently I listed eleven favourite balcony garden plants from 2010: one for each month January through November. To the list I'll now add my December pick: Gaultheria procumbens. If you garden in zones 3-8 and have the right conditions for it to thrive (full to partial shade; acidic, well-drained soil, rich in organic matter) you may want to try growing this lovely-in-all-seasons, edible plant, too.

Recommended reading:


Gaultheria procumbens, Wintergreen (Flora, Fauna, Earth and Sky |

- a concise, thorough overview

Wintergreen: The Little Tea of the Woods & Winter Portrait (Paghat's Garden)

- rambling descriptions, accurate information & delightful anecdotes on Paghat the Ratgirl's wonderfully eccentric site

Planting colourful winter containers (BBC Gardening Guides)

- scroll down the page to find Gaultheria procumbens featured in "perfect for a cool corner" and "perfect for a warm welcome"


And some resources about berries & birds:


Which berries do birds prefer? (from BirdForum)

Inviting birds to your garden (Landscape Ontario)

Top 10 Berries for Birds (Birds & Blooms)

Birds and berries (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK)

Looking back...

301/365On these first days of December I'm looking back on the past 11 months of balcony gardening. For a start, I've selected one plant portrait for each month. During the next couple of weeks, I'll write some posts about my balcony-tested favourites --  in case you'd like to try something new in your 2011 garden.



Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigra' (Black Mondo Grass)


Tête-à-Tête Narcissus

Narcissus 'Tête à Tête'


Violas & Heuchera

Violas and Heuchera 'Obsidian'



Lewisia cotyledon forma alba


Lettuce, Paris Market Mix

Lettuce, Paris Market Mix -
Curly Endive (Frisée), Escarole, Chicory 'Blonde',
Red Oakleaf & Red Salad Bowl Lettuces, Arugula, Chervil



Lettuce, 'Sea of Red'



Calibrachoa 'Compact Safran'



Origanum vulgare 'Aureum' (Golden Oregano)



Rumex sanguineus var. sanguineus (Red-veined Sorrel)


Doone Valley Thyme at the end of October

Thymus x citriodorus 'Doone Valley' (Doone Valley Thyme)



Acer palmatum dissectum 'Crimson Queen' ('Crimson Queen' Japanese Maple)
(Zones 5-8)

Crimson Queen

Crimson Queen Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Crimson Queen' (Crimson Queen Laceleaf Maple)

To capture the best light on a grey, overcast day, I moved the red queen to the front of the balcony for these first two photos. Usually, though, this elegant tree occupies the sheltered back corner where she adds beauty, grace and -- especially this November -- brilliant colour.

287/365 - alternate

A closer look at the foliage, "deeply cut and finely serrated, delicate and elegant" (Ezra Haggard's apt description; see links below) 

The manner by which 'Crimson Queen' marks the seasons -- purple for spring, bicolor for summer, bright red for autumn, then revealing its limb structure for winter -- makes it an all-season delight (Paghat's Garden).


Crimson Queen Laceleaf Maple

Two months ago, 'Crimson Queen''s leaves were green and deep reddish-purple (September 2010) 

Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Crimson Queen' delights from spring through fall and serves as a natural sculpture in winter. Foliage, form, and structure all combine to make it one of the most interesting trees for the garden. 'Crimson Queen' ... tend[s] to form shrubby mounds, wider than tall, 8' to 10' in height and 12' wide. Branches can be kept weeping all the way to the ground or be pruned up for a more tree-like, pendulous effect. The gnarled, twisted branches have their own beautiful pattern, creating a triangular shape that takes a while to come into its own....The foliage of 'Crimson Queen' is a deep reddish-purple, 5 to 9 lobes deeply cut and finely serrated, delicate and elegant....As the tree matures, the branches form a living sculpture, spreading outward and curving upward (Trees, shrubs, and roses for midwest gardens).

Japanese maples and black mondo grass  


The balcony garden 3 years ago (September 2007)

Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Crimson Queen' (Crimson Queen Laceleaf Maple) - in rear

Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Inaba Shidare' (Inaba Shidare Japanese Maple) - front left

Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' (Black Mondo Grass) - front right


Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Crimson Queen' receives my highest recommendation for the small garden. I purchased a two-to-three year old specimen from a community plant sale in 2004 and since then, this lovely Japanese maple has grown slowly in the same place in the semi-shady corner of my balcony.


My growing notes:

  • Growing zone - 7-8 (Vancouver, BC); 'Crimson Queen' is hardy to Zone 5.
  • Location on balcony - sheltered northwest corner, semi-shade.
  • Container size - 13-inch (33 cm) diameter, glazed ceramic pot; however, 'Crimson Queen' will need to be repotted to a larger container before next spring.
  • Soil - organic potting mix enriched with vermicompost; refreshed every spring.
  • Age - Unknown but at least 8 years; I've had 'Crimson Queen' for 6 years (since June 2004).
  • Pruning/Staking - I haven't done much pruning, other than remove dried branches. This autumn, though, I removed the bamboo stake, which had been promoting an upright habit; without this support, beginning with next spring's growth 'Crimson Queen''s leader branch should begin cascading down.

Recommended links for more information:

Google books excerpt from Trees, shrubs, and roses for midwest gardens by Ezra Haggard

Paghat's Garden

Gardener's World



Three for the balcony in autumn

Last Saturday morning, just before 8 am, I was beyond ready, eager and impatient to be on the road east to brighter skies, long walks & photo ops along Hope River Road and on Little Mountain, and, at the end of the day, a warm, tasty meal of homemade soup and pumpkin seed bread. But before leaving, I chose to exercise self-discipline (a weak muscle for me) and spent a good hour -- with the emphasis on good so it was really no hardship --  tidying and tending the balcony's plants, tools and surfaces.

After I'd finished clearing the dried leaves from the Japanese maples and sweeping the deck, sunlight began streaming through gaps between the clouds. Because I consider it a "sin" to waste a moment of good light in October, I dropped the broom and secateurs and picked up my camera so I could preserve the images of herbs that have delighted and nourished my senses through late spring, summer and now autumn.

Thymus 'Doone Valley' (Doone Valley Thyme) 

Rumex sanguineus var. sanguineus (Red-veined Sorrel, Bloody Dock)

Origanum vulgare 'Aureum' (Golden Oregano)

This post contains an experience-based recommendation -- and perhaps some evidence -- for including these three "5-star" plants in the fall kitchen garden.

Each plant gets stars for: #1) attractive appearance, #2) container suitability, #3) ease of care, and #4) culinary potential.

Each plant gets a fifth and one or more bonus stars for these features:

Doone Valley Thyme -- scent.

Red-veined Sorrel --  other common name: Bloody Dock!

Oregano -- exuberant, lush growth habit: it spreads, climbs and trails to fill and spill over a container.

Most of all, my eyes enjoy all three along the balcony's railing where they look good in all levels and qualities of light, even today's overcast grey.

Growing tips from some favourite resources

It's about thyme - from You Grow Girl

Origanum vulgare 'Aureum' | Golden Oregano - an excerpt from Designing an Herb Garden

The Macabre Beauty of Bloody Dock - from Paghat's Garden


Note: I eventually made it to my destination but that's the subject of the next post.