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

Tips for planting an urban potager
Master Gardener Elizabeth Stewart spends the winter planning her entire garden, including her square-foot beds, selecting vegetables with attractive fruit, foliage and flowers. Many are heirloom varieties that taste as good as they look. Here’s her advice on creating an ornamental kitchen garden.

  • Look at English and French potager gardens for inspiration: Elizabeth chose a simple design of six raised beds.
  • You can’t make a mistake in a square: make a grid with pushpins and string in each bed, subdividing the space into 16 one-foot-by-one-foot sections. Then, think of each bed as a quilt: make a pattern as simple as a checkerboard, for example, using lettuces in a combination of four different colours. 
  • Incorporate the colour of flowers, fruit and foliage into the design.
  • Mix in a variety of annuals such as nasturtiums, pot marigolds and tall orange cosmos. 
  • Chances are, your garden won’t be the same size as your mother’s, so instead of growing shell peas, select sugar snap and snow peas, which have a greater yield, and are available in both space-saving dwarf varieties and self-supporting types, which cuts down on the number of stakes needed.

Potted potager
In space-hungry city plots, growing vegetables in containers makes sense (Elizabeth Stewart grows potatoes in buckets, for example). Here are some tips for potting up veggies.

  • As long as it has drainage holes, almost anything can be used as a planter, from barrels to window boxes. However, avoid containers coated with a preservative or that have held toxic substances.
  • Use a good commercial soil mix supplemented with compost or composted manure in a 3:1 ratio.
  • When growing veggies on a balcony or rooftop, use a lightweight soilless mix and lightweight pots.
  • Select dwarf and compact varieties that won’t outgrow the container, and include vines such as pole beans and cucumbers that can be trained up trellises and teepees.
  • Fertilize with a solution of liquid seaweed at planting time; during the season, feed plants with compost tea. (To make tea, suspend a cloth bag containing one part compost or composted manure into a pail with five to eight parts water. After one day, the water will turn dark brown; dilute to the colour of weak tea before using.)

—with files from Heather Apple

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