16 Days…

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

…until the last frost! We’re coming down the homestretch to spring, to digging in the dirt, to sowing seeds. But we’re not there yet so, as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m still depending on CBC Radio to keep me sane until the snow melts, and, specifically, this morning, it was a Spark interview that I enjoyed with my morning coffee – an interview with Ingrid Fetell and her research into the “aesthetics of joy”.

I felt she made a convincing case for the importance of designing for joy but it’s probably because I already believe that we need more joyful spaces – more places that lighten our mood, make us smile, engage our hearts. It’s why I designed my kitchen garden the way I did.

Believe it or not, but I’ve gotten flack for my kitchen garden. I’ve been told it’s not efficient, it doesn’t make the best use of the space, and some parts are too tight to work easily in. These things are all true, to a certain extent, but only if the goal of my kitchen garden is to produce the most amount of food in the allotted space with the least amount of effort.

Hear that sound? That was the sound of joy being sucked out of my garden!

That’s not my goal for my kitchen garden. My goal always has been for it to bring me joy – in the looking at, the working in, and the eating of.

I designed the garden with raised beds because I like tidy edges; with bamboo trellises because I like the feeling of walls; and with lots of flowers…because I like flowers. These things also allow me to control the type of soil I use, provide support for tomatoes and climbing vines, and attract pollinators, but that, to me, is secondary to the joy it brings me to see these elements.

I decided to lay down gravel for the paths – I love the crunchy sound it makes when I walk on it and raking it smooth reminds me of those Japanese sand gardens. Okay, so it’s an inexpensive and easy to lay surfacing material – that’s so not the point.

I plant things we love to eat fresh – peas, radishes, tomatoes, lettuces, beans. These are almost all consumed during the course of the growing season because to me, the flavor of food harvested right from the garden, sometimes still warm from the sun, brings me intense joy. Frozen beans eaten in the dead of winter don’t always produce that same intense sensation – although the Romano bean I grew last year tasted better after being frozen, which was a joyful discovery (Ingrid talks about surprise being one of the elements in creating joy).

And the other thing that gives me joy in my kitchen garden, when the snow is white and thick on the ground, is the designing of it. Below, is this year’s plan for the garden. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

2011 Kitchen Garden Plan; click on plan for a larger image

2011 Kitchen Garden Plan

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Garden Remix Cont’d

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

I’ve been scribbling some tweaks for this season’s garden and I thought you’d like to see what I’ve been thinking so far.  Bear in mind that none of this is carved in stone…

Rough thoughts for 2010 garden plan

Rough thoughts for 2010 garden plan

 

  • I’ve dramatically reduced my growing area which concerns me somewhat; on the other hand, the garden was almost impassable last season when everything got to mature size and since I intend on ramping up my work hours in the spring, I don’t think I’ll have the time to tend more beds.
  • The husband is keen on the pea gravel and I admit a partiality to it as well.  It’s going to be a mess without edging though, so unless I get that sorted out, I may have to use a technique I learned as a fledgling gardener at the Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, and plant the sloped edges with compact plants – once established they keep the soil from eroding.
  • That isn’t the exact footprint of the cold frame, just a ‘best guess’ as to where it should go.  I balanced it at the end of the garden with a ‘focal bed’ – no clue what’s going in there yet (probably something exotic that needs constant care and attention)!
  • I decided to try growing a variety of vining plants on the fence and, where there isn’t a bed, planting them directly into the paths and treating the pea gravel as a mulch.  I think that technique will make the garden feel more open, give it more ‘white space’.
  • I need a little bench or stool.  As I mentioned on the plan, we visit with our neighbors, frequently, over the fence, but with the fence height and the slight grade change, it can be difficult to see faces without standing on tiptoe.

That’s the most I can do for now until the seed catalogues show up and I can start planning what I’m planting where.

Garden Remix

Monday, January 4th, 2010

Every year, especially in the beginning, I always tweak my kitchen gardens.  For me, that’s part of the fun of gardening – nothing is permanent, change is good (and necessary), and I don’t have to live with my mistakes.  When one is a perfectionist (there, I outed myself!), gardening can be a free-ing experience.  So, while I’m waiting for my seed catalogues to arrive (thanks to the list from The Far North Garden), I’ll take a look at what worked – and what didn’t – in my garden. 

Below is a scaled sketch of my kitchen garden where 1 square = 1 foot.  I find photos can be tasty and inspirational but there’s nothing like a plan to show you how it all works together.

Garden plan and planting schedule 09

Garden plan and planting schedule 09

  • The size of it (300 sq. ft. total with about 187 sq. ft. of growing space), I realized, worked for my schedule and energy levels – I design, plant, and maintain the garden mostly by myself and spend, on average, a couple of hours a week pulling weeds, tying up plants, cleaning up, etc.  My network of paths cuts down the amount of growing space I have but, in the future, I can always convert the paths to beds if I need more room (and have the time and energy too). 

 

  • For the most part, I like the path and bed layout.  The central axis (2 ft. wide) relates to the kitchen window and formalizes the garden style (order and control is another reason I garden but feel free to laugh, since I often do, at the thought that I have more than a smidge of control over any of it!).  The narrower 1-1/2 ft. cross-axis paths allow me to create 4 x 4 ft. beds – a dimension that suits my body proportions since it allows me to stand in the path and comfortably reach halfway across the bed, protecting the soil from compaction.  I think I’ll remove the bed in front of the garage door though (on the left-hand side of the plan), since it makes the space feel too congested.  Ditto for the bed by the garden gate (at the top of the plan).  I’ll lose planting space but I like to have room to inhabit my kitchen garden so I’m fine with the trade-off. 

 

  • Speaking of beds, I really need to find an edging material.  Right now, I’m leaning toward wattle edging, a material I used in my Nova Scotian kitchen garden with fairly good success (unfortunately, this was before I learned the importance of documenting my work).  It’s a relatively easy, if time-consuming, DIY project and is free if you know someone who doesn’t mind you harvesting young willow saplings from their property.  It might be a little too rustic looking though, for the modern urban aesthetic I crave…

Bare soil paths = weeding nightmare
Bare soil paths = weeding nightmare
  • …but that might depend on the path material.  Last year I didn’t do anything because I couldn’t decide on what I wanted but that state of affairs can’t continue – even I, who loves weeding, was getting a little tired of keeping the paths free and clear.  I was quite taken by the twig carpet how-to idea from Chez Larsson but combining that with the wattle edging would be too much!  (The same can be said about plain old wood mulch.)  My favorite idea to date is 2 x 2 sq. ft. concrete pavers floating in pea gravel but it might be more than I’m willing to spend at this point in my garden’s life.  The debate rages on…

 

  • I need to extend next year’s harvest so I’m planning hoop houses and trying to find a spot for at least one cold frame.  And I need to decide if the compost bins are going within the garden space or in the back driveway.

 

  • The spiral tomato stakes worked fairly well, particularly on the cherry tomatoes.  The same could not be said for the bamboo stakes so it’s back to the drawing board for not only the tomatoes but the cucumbers, as well – they didn’t like the fence netting and kept trying to escape into the neighbor’s garden!

 

  • The garden was very colorful and lush, mostly because of the nasturtiums and Rainbow chard.  I’ll be keeping them in the planting scheme but seeding less of them and adding more flowers, with borage and calendula at the top of the list.  (I recommend Rosalind Creasy’s The Edible Flower Garden as a good primer on the topic.)  Once the seed catalogues arrive, I’ll start listing what else I’d like to try this year.

I think that’s probably going to be enough to ponder for now.