Gardens - Featured Gardens

The urban farmer

Lorraine Flanigan
Photography by
Tracy Cox

You can't eat food grown closer to home than the harvest from your own backyard

The excavation created a central sunken area, about 45 centimetres deep, where Elizabeth then built six raised beds, each edged in wood, and filled them with soil, compost and manure. She planted the beds with ornamental vege­tables, herbs and annuals in square-foot gardening style—an intensive planting method that makes the most of space. Gravel pathways surround these beds, reflecting sunlight and generating warmth, which creates an ideal microclimate for the plants and helps to extend the growing season from early spring until early winter.

In the two strawberry-edged beds on the eastern side, Elizabeth grows the herbs she uses in her gourmet dishes: sage, tarragon, salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor), sorrel and oregano. The other four beds bear a succession of crops: in the spring, Elizabeth grows cool-season vegetables, which are harvested and later replaced by warm-season crops, followed by late-harvest veggies. Punctuating each middle bed are twin teepees that support several kinds of pole beans selected for their colourful flowers and fruit; in each of the two westernmost beds, four heirloom tomato plants grow up spirals. 

More than just vegetable gardens
However, the six colourful vegetable and herb beds occupy only about one-quarter of what Elizabeth calls her “downtown farm.” Surrounding them are the orchard beds, where pears, apples, apricots, cherries, gooseberries, redcurrants, pink currants, grapes, heirloom raspberries, saskatoon berries, rhubarb, Egyptian onions and more herbs flourish amidst groundcover roses, lilies and many other low perennials and shrubs, all sheltered by clematis- and rose-covered fences.

Looking back on the changes she made to the neglected lot purchased 10 years ago, Elizabeth is most pleased with the living-room-like patio and vine-covered blue shed at the back of the yard, which provides much-needed storage space but consumes more than half the entire width of the lot.
“I had to figure out a way to make that shed look pretty,” recalls Elizabeth. So she painted it Benjamin Moore’s Starry Night blue—a colour echoed in vintage garden chairs, various pots, tables and benches, and a steel tree sculpture that stands at the edge of the back patio.

This patio is tucked into a corner beside the shed and is furnished with blue-cushioned chairs, a multicoloured outdoor rug and mirrors hanging on the fence. The branches of an existing pear tree form the ceiling of Elizabeth’s outdoor living room, which, with its back to the cluttered urban landscape beyond the fence, affords the best view of the house and garden.

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