Flying High Veggies!
Nature in the most unlikely places
Most of you are aware of my Lavender Hat, let me introduce you to my second Hat: “Condo Queen”! For a number of years now, I have been day jobbing downtown in the most unlikely and amazing properties. I can stand nine floors up and have hummingbirds zing over my head to Arbutus eunedo trees in big pots, watch grasshoppers calming cavort on Live Roof plantings…a bit kamikaze there with the dramatic drop over the edge, or simply walk onto patios full of scent and beauty as if I had my feet on solid ground.
Years ago I was teaching at Landsdowne Campus on the upper floor of class rooms, it was a pause just before students came tumbling through the doors. Just for a moment all the boulevards, busy streets and pedestrians became a miniature sandbox with toy cars and roads and buildings with an unbelievable amount of green life tucked everywhere: more garden than you can imagine compared to other international capital cities. I have never forgotten that altered view of Victoria. At that time I never envisioned I would be a part of “greening” the city myself.
Patio pots are very pretty, trendy and functional to soften hardscapes for our outside social pleasures, outside cooking BBQ’s or simply sitting outside in a quiet puddle of green and colours as we take a respite from our busy lives. Quiet enough to hear a butterfly drift by or watch Mr. Woodpecker drum on your aluminum piping to serenade a mate! Cutting flower gardens with boxes of Dahlias, towers of ethereal sweet peas or dancing tulips and peonies together right now (crazy Spring weather) allow a bedroom slipper walk with scissors in hand…just no wet grass! A bowl of violas on your table top can be plucked to scatter on a rooftop grown salad, and be a centerpiece. Herbs on a balcony are a piece of Lavender cake!
These are restorative moments no matter the size of your outside space.
My latest pride and hopefully joy, with successful growing, is an eighth floor totally edible patio~ including any flowers. It made me reflect on how you can “green” a tiled or cemented space and be an urban farmer: though no goats or chickens in this space…think of those grasshoppers!
Big ceramic pots are first prepped with a humble square of webbing cut from a common plant carrying tray, then a layer of rough lava rock. This ensures drainage and no possibility of roots plugging the drain hole. Next a layer of heavy black fabric cloth stops soil leakage. Make your soil mix as normal with lots of “yummy” ingredients plus a good dose of small lava rock or rough perlite in the bottom two-thirds at the very least, to prevent your soil slumping with time and leaving your fig tree deep in a pot and no easy way to amend or correct underneath…Add Seasoil or compost in the planting upper area as for smaller plants, this is their main root zone. I add fertilizer under each plant as I go.
For veggies this also means extra dolomite lime under brassicas, and I do mean extra, like a generous cup for sweetness and to prevent club root problems. Stir these amendments well, into the soil underneath. Tomatoes, roses, berries get extra minerals from Epsom salts, the kind you use for tired muscles at the end of the day. (Use one teaspoon each for the plants, a cup per bath for you!)
For those all-purpose planting boxes; it is enough to prep the drain holes, a light layer of small lava rock, and then your soil. Box “feet” underneath are optional.
Then the planting fun begins!
Group like-minded veggies together, mindful of light situations and soil requirements: please never plant your Lavender in the shade - you will both be miserable. One planter box can be ever-bearing or alpine strawberries with edible violas. Or a box of Mesclun mix with a row of green or red-green onions front and back. Try a box directed seeded with dwarf tri-coloured runner beans, adding a frill of nasturtiums along the front. Or ditto with dwarf shelling peas, adding a backdrop of woven small bamboo stakes to ensure support if it is a breezy site. In another fat bellied pot, pop in Honeydew Sage with its edible, continuous, flamenco red blooms for you and the hummingbirds! Blue Cornflowers at the back to dance in the wind…Scented geraniums, Rainbow Loveliness Dianthus, even Tangerine Tagetes: all edible flowers, all insect friendly, all decorative- possibilities you may not have discovered yet…Not forgetting a tasty culinary Herb box or try a Herbal Tea box tucked with Anise Hyssop, German Chamomile and exotic pagoda style blooming Bergamot. Just like on the ground, use a separate container for your Mint medley, all they care about is their own space and water.
Water…It is not difficult to run a half inch feeder water pipe with individual quarter inch feeder lines with loops of a good laser perforated drip line inside each container. Choose the six inch spaced perforations. This whole set up is water sourced from a common outside tap with a back flow preventer and a simple, reliable, “DIG” 8 volt battery run timer with a digital screen. It sounds more complicated than the reality and easier than being a water slave to constantly dry pots on a hot deck!
One last touch for your high flying visitors: create a shallow dish of clean water with beach pebbles, no life guard required.
This is an actual planting I just completed…heat loving Sweet Basil to follow Spinach, maybe a compact Cucumber plant or dwarf Zucchini to follow the first Lettuce. Can you follow the possibilities? It can be more than wishful thinking if you do not have that elusive dream-like perfect country property.
And you can proudly harvest and dine anywhere you live from YOUR personalized edible garden!
Eden can be found in the most unlikely places…
Originally published in the June 2015 edition of the Metchosin Muse