Friday, March 31, 2006

Cherry blossom time

the long road
boughs of white blossoms
light the way

Helen Baker
North Vancouver, British Columbia

This is one of my favourite times of the year; of course, there's the beauty of the spring garden and the potential it holds, but it's also a time that makes me feel extra blessed to live in Vancouver because of the Japanese flowering cherry trees.

Our most common street tree, Vancouver has over 36,000 Japanese flowering cherries. This year, some lovely people decided to start the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival in celebration. You can take plein-air painting classes under the trees, order a blossom picnic, check the website for updates on what's blooming where, and read the submissions for the haiku contest (like the winner of Best Canadian Poem, above).

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Spring is here!

Today, I went out without a jacket.

This weekend, there's a work party organized for my Community Garden.

This can only mean one thing: Spring is here!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Garden aesthetics

So I bought this raised bed kit from Lee Valley Tools for my roof-top veggie garden. I was hoping that it would look as passable as it does in the above photos, but, when I got it home and assembled it, it looked like I had nicked a curbside recycling bin. In short: it's ugly.

But, I reasoned, no one will see it but Ben and me and our occasional guests. But Ben wasn't having any of it. "How am I going to be able to relax on the deck with that thing," he complained.

Which brings me to my rant: why is it so hard to find garden accessories that are sleek, modern and affordable? I can't be the only one who doesn't want - or who's home doesn't suit - rustic chic or "Asian inspired"?

Hmm. Maybe there's a business idea there somewhere.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Phew! That didn't take long. Seeds are a continual source of amazement to me; they're like little miracle pods. These, from a West Coast Seeds lettuce variety mix, rewarded me in just two days!

Friday, March 24, 2006

The sacred garden

I'm happiest in nature.

It shouldn't come as such a surprise to me to realise this. In a world I've often struggled to make peace with, I've always felt most calm, most content, in the forest or garden. Sometimes, when I work in the garden, it feels like a holy rite. Something sacred. It's like a great wave of peace and joy washes over me, and I emerge, cleansed.

In my garden design course this week, we learned about the history of Japanese garden design, and the common thread informing its progression: Shinto. Shinto involves the worship of kami, which can be translated to mean "sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility." Practitioners have a profound love of nature: they believe nature is sacred, and to be in contact with nature is to be close to the Gods. This love and respect for natural elements has informed Japanese garden design for centuries.

I'm mixing religious metaphors, but perhaps in a past life I was Shinto. Sure, most of the time pulling weeds is purely secular, but I'm sure there've been moments of transcendence.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Modern garden accessories

Chiasso carries a number of items that will interest gardeners with a modern minimalist aesthetic. These botanic vase bookends merge my top two passions: gardening and books, while these aluminum planters would solve my container crisis. And just check out birdie in his swanky pad! Love it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

For want of a pot

Spring has definitely sprung here in Vancouver. It was a glorious, sunny weekend, and I finally got started on my garden plans. The first order of business, I decided, was to buy some new containers for the soon-to-be kitchen garden right outside, well, the kitchen. Since this is a highly-visible location (on our front patio) I wanted all my containers to have a similar look that would unify them.

Admittedly, this was inspired by a gorgeous display using AW Pottery at the NorthWest Flower and Garden Show. So, rejecting my usual jumble of terracotta, galvinized aluminum and "found" planters, I decided that a matte black ceramic would be perfect for this sophisticated townhouse.

Several trying hours ensued as I set off to find said containers. I tried my local nursery, Figaro's Garden. I tried David Hunter, Moe's, Bloomfields, and even Home Depot. The only result was frustration. I saw tons of planters, but every store seemed to carry the same ho-hum designs (except Bloomfields, which had gorgeous stuff but seemed targeted to the grossly rich. $50 for a 4" pot? Do I look like I'm INSANE?). Okay, there are still a number of nurseries I can visit, but why is it I can say "yes!" to the first wedding dress I try on, but can't find a damn pot? Is there some secret container shop I don't know about? Or should I just have a yard of soil dumped on the patio?

Friday, March 17, 2006

South Central Farmers need support

Since 1992, the 14 acres of property located at 41st and Alameda Streets in South Central Los Angeles have been used as a community garden. The City divided the land among 350 families who live in the impoverished community, and those families have used the land to grow crops to feed themselves and their neighbors. The land is also used for local gatherings and public celebrations, and helps tie the residents together into a community. It is believed to be one of the largest urban gardens in the United States.

The land, however, doesn't belong to the gardeners - or the city.

In 2003, the Los Angeles city government succumbed to pressure and agreed to sell this farmland to a business called LHIC for around $5 million.

LHIC argues that they bought the land fair and square, that it's legally theirs, and that the gardeners need to get off their land. And the farmers are arguing back, saying that the city violated its charter when it agreed to sell this land without following proper procedure. So far, the courts are agreeing with LHIC and the City of Los Angeles, not the farmers. But the gardeners aren't giving up, despite an eviction notice posted March 1, 2006. It's your classic David v. Goliath battle, with gardeners fighting the corporate world.

Find out more, make a donation, or write a letter of support via their website.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Revelation and pipe dreams

We're on to the theory of garden design in my course now, something I was kind of afraid of... Until my instructor started the lecture with, "A good garden design hangs off a good concept - an idea that unifies it". Suddenly, an Ah-ha moment (I can't remember who called it that - but what I mean is that I experienced one of those internal smack-yourself-on-the-forehead Homer Simpson 'doh!' moments. I finally got it). "It's just like a good ad," I realized. "I can do that."

You see, I work for the Man. I work in marketing. And one of the first things you learn about creating a good advertising campaign is that it has to have an idea behind it. You can't just throw words and images together - no matter how pretty they may be - there has to be an Idea that makes it compelling and cohesive. And, yes, I can see that about good garden design. At that moment, I actually thought, "maybe I could be a garden designer." Maybe.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Embrasse-moi Roméo

I love the gorgeous vases created by Marianne Guedin. Check out the quirky, beautifully-designed glass vases with names like Embrasse-moi Romeo, Zab and Coupelou at her website. I love this one, the Virgule (literal translation, comma). Its description, below, will give you a taste of the design concepts behind these delightful vases.

This vase welcomes a bundle of flowers, one of which will stick in its 'tail'. Like a comma, the stalk punctuates this basic form. This outgrowth is the slip of the pencil, the brush of an excited painter. With only one flower, this vase gives the impression that the flower is floating, defying gravity.

Via MocoLoco.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Now planting ... anxiety

Alex asked what I'm starting from seed right now, and honestly, my response was, "Oh Christ, I'd better get on that!"

Aren't I, as a "real" gardener, supposed to be trembling with excitement now that the gardening season has started in earnest (at least here in Zone 8)? I should have started my seeds by now, but instead I'm thinking, "Wait! I'm not ready for this! I need more time!"

Here's what's going on in my garden right now: nothing. Well, that's not entirely true. Schnoopette (our cat) is testing the timbers of the new fence. Yep, it'll make a great scratching post. But other than feline destruction, there's no garden action in sight. The inside of the new house has been taking up the majority of our spare time, but next weekend I'll be outside ripping out the mint. Yes, you read that right. They planted mint. A highly-invasive plant. In the ground. In a new development. I am now justified in suspecting that the landscape designers had made questionable plant choices.

So, back to Alex's question. What am I planting? Well, I'm poring over the West Coast Seeds website, and wondering what the heck they mean when they say:

Wait to plant until the soil is really warm in early June, or start indoors and transplant out when the rain stops. (Soybean 'Early Hakucho')

Rain doesn't ever really stop in Vancouver. But I'll interpret that as a lessening of the rain... say, May? Phew. That's one planting I don't have to worry about. Yet.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Plugged in

I finally have ADSL again. One month without Internet access at home and I was about to go mental. Who knew it would take so long to set up a new account? But we're into the new place, and while far from settled, we're in. From now forth, I'll be back to my more frequent publishing "schedule". Promise.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

History of Garden Design 101

I had my first garden design class last night: The History and Theory of Garden Design. Sound dull? I'm telling you - it was fascinating! I was nervous, I admit, because I have a history of nodding off as soon as the lights go out and the slide projector whirrs on, but I was alert as Bush in Afghanistan (oh, wait, maybe that's a bad analogy. Bush, alert?)

Anyway, I promised to report back, so here's a terminology tidbit from my class last night: ha-ha. Brits, bear with me.

Ha-has, or sunken fences, became popular in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. The top of the sunken stone wall was level with the garden, so that the view to the pasture beyond was uninteruppted, while still keeping out the livestock. Here is a sketch of a ha-ha, so named, apparently for the surprise expressed when someone came upon one! My instructor, Ron Rule, calls the ha-ha "the most important evolution in garden design." Hmm.

The view from the other side of the ditch wasn't so pretty. This article discusses the class implications of the ha-ha.