Sunday, January 20, 2008

Urban Farming - cold style (part I)

Okay, nearly everytime I look up 'urban farm' I am brought to lovely sites of west coast gardens where they dance happily in the eternal greenery of spring time. That's not to say there aren't brave urban farmers in more northern, central locations such as initiatives like foodshare in Toronto but they seem to be fewer and farther between.

Overwintered Fatali hot pepper (was in my window sill) with a Caribbean habanero.

Perhaps it is just natural that the embarrasing riches of urban edibles occured first and most frequently to those who lived in such lush climes. Or maybe it is the history of 'free spirits' that roam the coastal paradise. Whatever it is, I say let us in 'parka* land' not be outdone!
*A parka is a very well insulated coat used to prevent you from freezing your bums off - literally.

Large coldframe / polytunnel type thing.

We too can BAN THE LAWN.

Now I know this sounds like one of those things that is easy to dream about but more difficult to do. Not that it is hard, really it's quite easy. I can provide anyone who needs it with detailed instructions... but it is difficult to overcome the barriers of normalicy to allow yourself to start killing off the bowling field of green.

Overlit picture (sorry) of cosmos growing around a very productive though young Montreal Plum in the front yard mini-orchard.

I too have my limitations. Let me call them Neighbours, Family, and Time and Enjoyment.

Lavender hedge with a cabbage patch just behind it in what will be a raspberry patch. I got lots of puzzled looks about the cabbage, even some compliments such as 'What is that purple plant - some sort of floweirng kale?'

Neighbours: "What will they think?"

If you landscape your frontyard mini orchard or decorative veggie garden nicely and keep it weeded, they will be curious, maybe even impressed. If you give a huge grinny smile everytime they pass by, and start handing out tomatoes, they may start to think you're kooky but grow darn tasty produce. If you keep it up for years, skipping merrily down the street with armfuls of excess green beans and mint flowers, they might get thinking that they too could do something of the sort.

Centre of my mini-orchard spiral garden in the front. As the semi-dwarf /dwarf trees grow, perennials will be thinned, changed or given away.

If you garden in your backyard then it's your little secret isn't it? Unless of course, you're inclined to do the aforementioned skipping.

Rugosa rose produces lots of edible rosehips with diablo ninebark, a cultivar of a native.

Family: "Where will the kids play?"

Sigh. This is my life - balancing the supposed needs for my children to dash around on a green surface, my husband's need for something restful and decorative and my need to overthrow the lawn. If you have a big enough yard, this should not be a problem. Give them half and keep half for growing veggies. And remember, gardens are great places to play.

Not my garden but a heritage cottage garden nearby. That's my little seedling though.

If you have a very small garden, then you might need to get more persuasive. I suggest you start small, really small and quietly expand year upon year as you re-cut the edges of your garden bed. -hee hee hee- (Note to husband: No, this is a suggestion for other people. I never, ever do such a thing. Really.)

Chufa grass which produces edible tubers, backed with beebalm and lemon balm, flanked with germon chamomile (the last three make great teas), and on the other side by my husbands garden with some ornamentals. P.S I'm not convinced by this pink / red combo - plants shall be moved.

As for time, I understand not wanting to take on too much and that gas powered lawnmower or landscaping company makes short work of a large space. However, a well mulched garden can be less work than you think. Start with a garden patch filled with perennial edibles and herbs and see how you like it. You may find that pulling the occasionally weed out of your decorative rock garden filled with sense sensational herbs far more satisfying than running the lawnmower.

I love the fact that the garlic is bigger than my toddler!

Time and Enjoyment: "But I like flowers!"

So do I which is why I suggest that you allot a percentage of your yard to the decorative. There are lots of flowers that can attract pollinators, give a habitat to local wildlife, and ward off or trap pests, which also are great to look at. The more visible your garden, and the more you are worried about Neighbours, the higher your percentage can be. Make sure you choice decoratives adapted to your region and microclimates. If you plan on mostly relying on rainfall to irrigate your garden and you don't get a lot of it, then use drought resistant plants. Native plants often fit the bill but if you want to maintain planting spaces for your edibles, be sure to choice plants that won't take over your garden!

Rhubarb planted with columbine, lupin, horseradish, violets (edible flowers), daylily, garlic in the front this year, and there is a row of Jeruselum Artichokes hiding just nearby.

Also, many useful tea and medicinal plants are darn pretty to look at. Think 'cottage garden'.


Part II - Perennial vegetables and season extension for the north - coming soon.

Backyard vegetable garden, with a young blueberry patch just beyond it.


Sharing backyards in urban Vancouver
Wading Pool Gardens - for those without a dirt space.


kate said...

In my experience, getting rid of lawn is not so hard, so long as you can withstand the neighbours' questions and raised eyebrows. When I lived in Ottawa, I was lucky to have a partner who hated cutting the lawn. He never complained about my yearly removal of a foot or two of grass. Eventually he sold the lawnmower and appreciated what I'd replaced it with. I had a huge rhubarb and raspberry path that boarded Lac BenoƮt (my son had a big 'lake' of sand which I think he preferred to playing on the lawn. But then he loved digging and moving earth around.)

When I moved to Regina, I took a staged approach to getting rid of the lawn. It took three years - the lawn was in terrible shape when I moved in so it wasn't too difficult. Even though we have hot, dry summers, people love their lawns here. Now people stop and ask about the different shrubs and plants I'm growing. (Little do they know that my front garden will soon see veggies growing among the roses - that's the only place where I get any decent sunlight).

Your children look adorable in the cottage garden.

Irena in Toronto said...

I'm guilty of the garden expansion by edging technique. Every year I reclaim a little bit of lawn for garden space. Your post has me dreaming about a project I've wanted to do for years: the front lawn reclamation. Who needs grass? Not me.

Love the link to the wading pool garden.


Curtis said...

I truly doubt that I will get rid of my entire lawn. But every year a small chunk of it gives way for flowers or veggies.

hw said...

What kind of lavender do you grow? I've been doing some research and it looks like lavender provence may work, but just wondering....

Ottawa Gardener said...

Munstead Lavender, I believe, I got it from Ritchers.