27 April 2012

Urban Gardening: Growing beyond the traditional backyard garden

Les Urbainculteurs roof-top garden, Quebec City
Urban gardening is not a novel concept, and is currently experiencing a global popular resurgence. Books, websites, blogs and television shows abound, all declaring the relative ease, satisfaction, and importance of growing your own fruit and vegetables. Using this information to start or improve a garden this year would be a great way to celebrate Earth Day (April 22) all season long. However, this tradition of backyard gardens and glut of media, in and of itself, may not be enough for you this season. 
While the perks of urban gardening include shared wisdom and produce from your neighbors, the downsides include limited space, shaded outdoor areas, and tenant-landlord considerations. If you are facing any of these complications, taking a step beyond the typical backyard garden may be necessary for your visions of home grown produce to bear fruit.
Les Urbainculteurs roof-top garden

As in many cities, local options include containers and community gardens.

In Quebec City, if you are interested in patio, porch, or small-space gardening, check out the local nonprofit Les urbainculteurs (http://www.urbainculteurs.org). While their website is in French, the co-founders are fluent in English, and are a great resource for urban agriculture topics. They operate a demonstration rooftop garden near the Marché du Vieux Port, sell plant starts in the spring, offer workshops and advice year-round, and welcome volunteers. 

For readers in other locations, please use the comment section below to share your local resources.  It would be great to hear what organizations or community efforts support urban gardening in your area.  For example, there's Garden City Harvest and Missoula Urban Demonstration Project (Missoula, MT), and certainly many others exist.

For online resources, check out Toronto-based Gaila Trail.  She is the creator of the popular tongue-in-cheek You Grow, Girl online and print series, and has covered the topics of urban small-space, rooftop, and container gardening in exhaustive detail. You can tap into her extensive, non-gender specific experience at www.yougrowgirl.com.  

Here in la capitale-nationale, we faced the same constraints as many would-be gardeners.  If you are among them, there is a hefty list of community gardens from which you can choose.
Our community garden plots await planting in late spring.
Quebec 211 lists thirty-two, distributed throughout Beauport, Charlesbourg, La Cité-Limoilu, Haute-Saint-Charles, Les Rivières, Sainte-Foy, Sillery, and Cap Rouge. Check the list or contact your local arrondissement for contact information for the gardens nearest you. Unlike some cities, where a single organization coordinates a network of community gardens, these gardens are operated independently. As a result, they are quite unique, both in operation and in size. For example, some are quite large and have space for lots of gardeners, while others are much smaller and have waiting lists of up to five years. 

Many of the gardens will be hosting their new gardener sign-up days in April and May - opening day in our community garden is this weekend.  So, contact the ones nearest you right away. 

Start by:

  1. Asking some questions, as varying rental fees, volunteer requirements, and other factors may influence your decision to participate in a particular garden. 
  2. Check with the garden coordinator about the watering system (automatic or manual), and the availability of communal tools, compost and mulch. These factors mean more or less effort and investment on your part. 
  3. Another key question is that of access - some gardens are fenced and others are not. Depending on your schedule, limited access could be a problem. On the other hand, a fence may cut down on the "community food donations" you inadvertently make to passers-by.  
  4. Furthermore, consider the distance between the garden and your home. There is nothing less motivating than a long commute between you and your lettuce, and neglected plots are a real problem in any community garden.
To address this last concern, you can bring the community with you, and share your plot with a friend. Last year, we did just that, and ensured the garden received adequate care throughout the summer without inhibiting anyone’s travel plans. 

As a bonus, over the course of the season we inherited beans, several varieties of herbs, strawberries, and rhubarb from neighboring gardeners. Thanks to our previous experience gardening elsewhere, we thoroughly enjoy swapping strategies, plant names (in French and English), and produce with our garden neighbors. In fact, cultivating a community garden plot can mean joining a community of gardeners in the truest sense. 

1 comment:

Ann said...

Mighty nice looken' group of farmers you got there in that photo!  :)

I have a few questions for you.... I'll email.  Happy gardening Bethann- I will miss our garden talks and sunny afternoons together!

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