Monday, September 9, 2013

Edible Landscaping Community - Condo Complex

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A big rock that was dug out when putting in the path. Also visible left to right: temporary planting of peppers, gold leaf anise hyssop, lovage, kale. 

The condo board agreed that their landscaping - which consisted of some rough lawn, a few shrubs teetering on piles of dirt and perennials crowded in front of their entrance sign - needed a bit of freshening up. Resident Patricia suggested they try edible landscaping.

Now, it is my suspicion that though everyone was more or less fine with the concept that they let Patricia go ahead with her unorthodox plan because she has an infectious enthusiasm. Sonia figured this meant some nasturtiums but was happy that it ended up being "more than I imagined."

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The core team: Krystal, Sonia and Patricia standing in a path designed with an inverted mirror image pattern.

I met with them for the first time on a cool morning just after the snow pack had melted to be confronted with a patch of barely lawn covered in gravel from snow clearing that I was assured would be vacuumed up shortly. It was perfect: full sun, lots of access and lots of space. We discussed some possibilities then I went to work.

It needed to be neat, attractive and contain edibles that were not too far off what people would recognize as edible. A mixture of common cooking herbs like oregano, thyme and sage, perennial edibles like monarda, anise hyssop, sorrel and lovage and some complementary temporary plantings like nasturtium (just as Sonia thought), kale and chard found their place on a flowing framework.

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Some perennials, such as Echinacea, that were rearranged in front of the sign spilling over to create bee habitat foraging on the other side too, and some low growing herbs. 

I suggested that we use sheet composting as a method to build the garden bed as they didn't have any serious weeds. It requires less work, less materials and doesn't remove the existing fertility or overly stir the soil's weed-seed bank. I think they were okay with the 'less work' plan. Soil and mulch was ordered and plants were sourced. Some came from Aster Lane Edibles - the biz - and some from local nurseries.

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Krystal with a purple carrot from one of the resident's gardens.

Dig day was a beautiful day in late spring. The shape of the garden was cut a week or so beforehand. Though I provided drawings, I like to finalize the shape on the ground. Subtle (and not so) changes in elevation and other idiosyncracies can be better incorporated this way. I find it helps to remain flexible during the installation phase. For example, the perennials in front of the condo sign were very crowded, including a clump of iris that had been infested with borer. These had not been included in the original design but were easily incorporated in pleasing geometrical patterns, that enhanced the design, on the day. Also digging out the paths revealed a huge rock which became a focal ornament.

The core team of Crystal, Ashley, Patricia and Sonia worked tirelessly throughout the day removing half dead junipers with roots that seemed twisted to the centre of the earth, lugging endless wheelbarrow loads of soil and mulch and finally planting. I love it when clients work with me. This was truly a community effort!

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Delicious empanadas made by Patricia from fresh kale and chard from the entrance garden.

Those little starts grew quickly in the plentiful rain and good soil. When I returned, even I was impressed by how wonderful the garden looked. There was a lot of love being dug into this garden. I asked them what the rest of the residents thought of their new garden. "Appreciation is high but participation is more of a challenge but people are slowly getting on board with lending tools and planting their own gardens," said Sonia.

"Communication is key. People don't know what to pick and when. I didn't know what everything was," said Crystal, who refers to the Anise Hyssop as Bee Palace - this must be my favourite nickname for the plant because the bees really do love it.

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The kids know where the strawberries are.

"People are interested in food," said Patricia referring to the many new gardens that are popping up all over the complex. "They are putting in their own gardens." The remaining mulch and soil was offered to the rest of the residents. Many of whom were making good use of it.

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Mint in another garden that has sprung up in the condo complex taking over a place that other plants found difficult.

Sonia took me around to show me some rain barrels that were being attached to the sides of the housing units at the end of redirected downspouts. They also showed me some more garden spaces that were filling in with flowers and food. We spoke about plans for expansion next year.

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Patricia's raised bed garden in another part of the common ground growing some onions.

That first garden was a seed that was planted and grew into a community effort to make beautiful use of their common ground. I am honoured to be part of it.

1 comment:

Ed - Shade Gardens Windfield said...

That's a wonderful story! Thanks for sharing. It's good to know the rest of the community was putting the extra resources to good use as well. Gardening/landscaping can be quite the fun and relaxing activity!