Thursday, October 27, 2011

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Garden Plot

I was lucky to inherit a community garden plot for one year (July to June, an odd growing season but I'll take what I can get!). 

Plot as inherited: remnants of a mostly bolted veggie garden used for summer camp activities in mid-June.
Then August happened.  So hot and humid that after a few weeks of neglect, the weeds had taken over

September: gettin' in gear:

After weeding for days, I performed a "pseudo-double-dig".  Not a proper one, just enough mixing to loosen things up and blend in a small mixture of local compost.

4 beds:

Bed 1: mesculin lettuce and kale

Bed 2: carrots and radishes and green onions

Bed 3 and 4: To be planted with cover crop and then harvested to create "green manure" in the spring

October: Now for some weed control and aesthetics:

Hay is easy to come by this season, and makes a pleasing weed suppressant.  First the ground around the beds was covered with newspaper, then with hay.  The lettuce and kale are dotting the beds, after a trial at succession sowing, two weeks after the initial planting, I added the rest of my lettuce (and radish) packets.  The radishes and carrots are starting to sprout and beds 3 and 4 wait patiently for the clover to be planted shortly.
And we're on our way!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Philly worms

After a breif haitus (packing, moving, unpacking and starting a new job!), I am ready to continue documenting my exploration of the hortus urbanus.  Starting first inside my new urban home: it's time to try making our own worm compost.

Step 1: The Materials (outside)

I opted for the indoor Rubbermaid worm composting container--following Seattle Tilth's design--the cost of materials was about 7$ per bin (2 needed--it's best to buy these online for a good deal) and 20$ for the odds and ends pieces needed in the design. 

It took only a few hours to complete and looks nice enough to keep under the kitchen table!

Step 2: The Materials (inside)

I tore up several stacks of newpaper and thin cardboard and lightly wet the paper, filling the container about 1/2 full, I added about a cup of gritty dirt and then added just under 200 red wigglers, bought from a local tackle and bait shop.  It was recommended to start with more but I felt 200 was a good start (now that it has been a few weeks, I may go back and buy more).  200 red wigglers from a bait shop ran about 24$

Step 3: The food
I started out small, adding just a few scraps twice a week.  The food is disappearing and worm castings are starting to appear.  When I add new scraps, I bury them in the bin and so far there has been no problem with odor. In fact, the bin just smells like fresh wonderful soil!

Step 4: What I plan on adding (and you might want to add):

more dirt or sand (gritty material)
and more worms!

We put the worm bin together on July 12th (I didn't think to document each moment at the time!) and we are now in week 4--so far, so good! (stay tuned)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Want to Get Your Hands Dirty?

Seattleites, get involved!

In a few days my Urban Garden will transplant to hot and humid zone 7 Philadelphia.  I have greatly enjoyed my five years in Seattle and its amazing gardening opportunities.  I've listed a few of my favorites below.  I will continue to explore the mid-Atlantic horti urbani as soon as I get settled.  Enjoy the Seattle summer!!


Seattle Tilth needs volunteers at its big annual events (plant sales and the Harvest Fair) as well as on a weekly/seasonal basis teaching in the Children's Garden and general maintenance in the Demonstration Garden.

Washington Park Arboretum needs volunteers in their gift shop and seasonal landscape workers--it's a great way to get to know the Arboretum!

Take a Class:

Seattle Tilth offers amazing and affordable classes such as Beekeeping 101 and Comprehensive Organic Gardening.

Plant Amnesty, started by local horticultural celebrity Cass Turnbull, offers classes in pruning techniques to prevent plant damage--this website is also filled with great links and resources!

Get Dirty:

P-Patch Community Gardens are named for the original community garden at Picardo Farm in South Seattle.  They are now located in most parts of the city, some of which have lengthy waiting lists so, if you don't want to wait, try:

Urban Garden Share which connects homeowners with willing local gardeners to share the work and the wealth of an urban garden.

Get Informed:

UW's College of Built Environments offers year-round lectures and educational materials!

Sustainable Seattle, Sustainable Ballard and Sustainable Wallingford are also all good places to start!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

May Blooms

May Blooms


Ceanothus is an evergreen shrub or small tree with many clusters of small blue flower clumps in spring and summer.  Bees swarm to the bright flowers in early May.  Spring is a good time to trim out any deadwood in the plant.

Helianthemum (also called Rock rose, Sun rose or Sun flower--as its Greek name translates) is a bright spring and summer flowering plant in the Cistaceae family that does well in rock gardens and in full sun.


Also in the Cistaceae (Rockrose) family, the Cistus genus has pink and white short-lived flowers that bloom in the springtime on an evergreen shrub
Allium schoenoprasum or Chives not only add great flavor in the kitchen but their spring blooms add a pop of color to your garden. They are perennial bulb plants in the Allium family.


Photinia was featured in April Blooms for its unique shade shifting leaves (red new growth).  Now, the red new growth is almost fully green and the shrub is bursting with bountiful clusters of small white (pungent) flowers. 

Thyme, part of the Lamiaceae family, makes a great year-round ground cover with bright tiny flowers in late spring and summer.  Thyme is a hardy plant that does well in rock gardens and around patio pavers for a sweet smelling alternative to grass or moss.

Lavender (genus: Lavandula, family: Lamiaceae) is bursting with fragrant new growth in mid-May. 


Kniphofia, commonly named Red-hot poker or Torch lily, is a native of Southern Africa and its striking orange blooms dot the urban landscape from mid-May through the end of the summer here in the Northwestern USA.  It is an evergreen pernennial which is closely related to the Aloe plant.

Irises (from the Iridaceae family) are part of a genus of over 250 species of varying types (some rhizomatous and some bulbous).  Their name derives from the Greek word for rainbow and this evergreen perennial blooms in a range of colors including purple, yellow and white.

California Poppy
An all-time favorite of mine, the California poppy (Escholzia californica) in the Papaveraceae family, has been slowly popping up in Seattle through April (as the spring weather was finding itself) and now in May, they are finally as ubiquitous as the sunshine. 


Perennials: The Definitive Reference with over 2,500 Photographs by Roger Philips and Martyn Rix
**I just got this book and it is a fantastic reference filled with pictures of perennials in situ all around the globe--a great buy!**

The American Horticultural Society encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers

Stearn's Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners by William T. Stearn

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Desinging for Urban Food

Designing for Urban Food
As a promoter of urban gardens (horti urbani), I was drawn to this event. Designing for Urban Food examined how urban agriculture can shape and change urban design and the urban setting itself.  

 Designing for Urban Food forum was created by a group of University of Washington College of Built Environment students who hoped to illuminate the connection between Seattle's vibrant food movement and the structural design world. This event was also inspired by the Mayor McGinn's "Year of Urban Agriculture" as well as by community initiatives all over the city at the grassroots level that aim to bring urban farming into the city structure.

Thursday April 15 2010
Interdisciplinary Panel

Scholars and Designers from various parts of the Northwest were brought together for a healthy discussion about the place of farming in an urban setting.  Panel members included several UW College of Built Environment professors (architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning) as well as designers practicing in the field.  Each participant gave a brief presentation before the general panel discussion began, and the floor was opened to questions from the audience.

Rendering of possible design for urban food: each resident tends his or her own garden plot while a
common path runs through the entire garden to encourage community interaction

Balcony gardens and communal greenhouses in the residence; large community garden in front
Benefits of Urban Agriculture
The presentations and panel follow-up strove to answer the question "what are the overarching benefits of urban food production and how can the design field play a role in its encouragement and success?"  Here is what I took away from the presentations and panel discussion:

Designing for urban food is not meant as a means to replace farms or even feed a majority of a given city's population (though there was a heated debate over how productive an urban farm can really be once companion planting and season extension are added to the mix).  The point of urban agriculture is not about quantity but rather about quality.  Fresh, local food could benefit all urban residents, in monetary costs but more importantly, in social, structural and environmental issues.  With each urban garden there is the possibility of understanding food and nutrition and with each new design, incorporating communal gardening spaces, the possibility of a new form of social community is being created. 

Friday April 17, 2010

The day long Friday session (fueled by donations of local food) allowed interested persons to gather and brainstorm.  The organizers set up several actual sites around the city that could be redesigned to include a space for urban agriculture.  Then, with tracing paper in hand, visitors were encouraged to redesign the sites.  Some people spent ten minutes on the entire process and some stayed for hours, perfecting their design.  The finished product was then hung around UW's Gould Hall. 

The result of the charrette exercise will not be an immediate application of ideas but it was a means to bring the community of Seattleites for urban food together. Connections and networking were a productive result of the exercise, as well as the recognition that with a little imagination, urban spaces could be transformed into attractive and innovative buildings and urban plans, overflowing with food.

Get Involved
One of the best reminders of the two day event was how important (and easy) it is to just get involved.  There are many levels of commitment and the urban food initiative is happening in neighborhoods all over the city.  Here are a few places to start:

~promoting community agriculture efforts and increased access to locally grown food

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Rendering credits:
Created by architecture student Zachary Stevenson for a studio class entitled "Vertical Farming and Sustainable Site Design"

Monday, April 12, 2010

April Blooms

Early Spring Flowers

It has been a long winter and a blustery early spring in the Northwest but flowers continue to pop up all around the city.  Daffodils are starting to close and fade and but these new blooms are next in line.

Iberis sempervirens

Iberis sempervirens, also called "candytuft" is an evergreen subshrub (low to the ground) that produces a blanket of bright white flowers in April and May.  Iberis sempervirens is a perennial in the brassicaceae family (along with cabbage, broccoli and kale).


Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) thrives in the maritime Northwest.  Its evergreen sprigs can add culinary flavor all year but its purple flowers only emerge in the spring.  They are also edible and can have a more pungent flavor than the leaves. 


April is the time to find tulips bursting from all over the city.  Like daffodils, these perennials stand alone and add great color and diversity to your garden.  There are many varieties of these bright flowers and they can be recognized by their upright stance and bloom time.  Originating inTurkey, the name tulip derives from the Turkish word for turban (tulbend) and according to legend, tulip may have been passed along through a mistake in translation made by a Flemish diplomat in the 1550s.



The evergreen bergenia produces pink or white flowers in early spring.  Bergenia is native to Asia but is now commonly found in the U.S.  This perennial is also called elephant ears or pigsqueak (referring to the sound the leaves make when rubbed together).


Euphorbia blooms in early spring with a large round cluster of lime green flowers.  Euphorbia is part of the Euphorbiaceae family (the poinsettia is another famous member of this family).  It's a good idea to prune back euphorbia plants as soon as these blooms fade.


Photinia is a genus of plants in the Rosaceae family (rose).  Pictured above is the variety 'Red Robin' which is dense and evergreen and is known for its red colored new growth.  The new growth will turn green as it matures and white flowers will appear later in the spring.

Early Oriental Poppy

The beautiful Oriental Poppy doesn't usually arrive this early in the season but it's a reminder of what's to come in the early summer.  It's a perennial flower in the Papaveraceae family, originating in Asia.

Unique Cherry Blossom

Look closely at this cherry blossom to find both white and pink flowers!  It is a white flowering tree with a grafted pink flowering branch (there is an unpictured tree beside this one that is entirely pink).

The rightmost branch is the grafted section

For comparison, here is a picture of a newly grafted apple tree (using wax and plastic).  This is what the beginning of the cherry blossom graft might have looked like.


Tulip 'Juan'
The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers
Stearn's Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners
Ask Cisco by Cisco Morris
The Bountiful Container by McGee and Stuckey