Thursday, May 18, 2017

An Urban-Condo Garden Inventory: What We Were Left

Since some readers expressed interest, I'm going to try to track our progress as we adapt any skills and knowledge gleaned through years in our seaside garden on "our little island" (those links will take you to a few of the many posts about that garden I've published over the years) to a garden on the rooftop terrace of an urban condo.  With the very heavy rains of our past week, we're recognising how steep our learning curve might be, as we carefully watch the (non!)-draining pattern of soil in some of the containers. Certainly, we've grown plants in containers before -- some tall grasses, substantial bamboos, a few decent-sized ornamental maples, a Strawberry Tree (Arbutus Uneda). But we've always had great flexibility in where to put those containers, choosing from south or north-facing, shade or full sun, seaside or woodland.  Now we're figuring out the dripline, noticing that some plants are right in its firing line so that they get soaked, while others inside it stay so dry that they need watering more often than we would have guessed.

We're keeping notes, and I hope to share what we learn as we go along, but as I said earlier, I thought it might be good to start by showing you what we inherited from the previous owners, and then add future posts about our additions and modifications, our ongoing challenges, any solutions we find -- and probably far too many posts with pretty pictures.

First, you'll get an idea of why ours is a Rooftop Garden, but also of why it isn't, quite.  As you can see, ours is one of several units that top a middle, low-rise section of two taller buildings, so that while our Terrace has some advantages of a rooftop -- we can grow tall trees! Check out our neighbour's magnolia across that low glass wall -- it doesn't have to cope with stark exposure to weather.

But of course it's not easy getting trees up to a rooftop garden so we were thrilled that the previous owners decided to leave us theirs. We love the attention-getting red of the ornamental maple in the photo below.

My favourite, though, is probably the golden maple you can see through the wisteria, below. Behind the fountain, it spends much of its time dancing in the slightest breeze, and it interprets the morning light magnificently.

Between the two maples, although my photos don't really show it, is the indigenous snowberry bush. I'm still debating this one's continued presence, although it provides a nice continuity with the woodland portion of our previous garden, where it grew wild and, in fact, I regularly had to remind it of its place. In a container, of course, that's not a problem, and the birds really seem to appreciate the dense cover it provides for them to hide themselves in. I also know the birds will appreciate its berries in the fall, so I'm going to wait at least a year before making any decision to give it away.

I'm really excited about having a wisteria, and grateful for the sturdy structure the former owners built for it. Yes, we will prune it back a bit so that we can continue using that doorway (!), but we'll wait until it flowers this year (if that happens, we've just realised, it will probably be while we're away, too bad) and until we've done a bit more reading about how best to prune. For the moment, I'm not bothered -- in fact, I'm rather charmed by that romantic softening of the otherwise rather stark concrete-and-glass-and-metal of the architecture here.

I won't bother showing you the forsythia again,  but while it's not terribly exciting now that it's finished blooming, it nonetheless does yeoman service as a tall column of green in one corner of the garden. Directly opposite, the Magnolia Stellata, also finished blooming, does the same. (and to the left of it, you'll see that we've followed the previous owner's example and are growing some cherry tomato plants. In the pot below those, I'm hoping to see sweet peas blooming soon.

And while I'm showing you the container trees we were lucky enough to inherit here, I thought you might be interested in a news article about City of Vancouver's annual tree sale and the effort to regrow the city's arboreal canopy. There were some concerns this year, apparently, with the lack of trees for balcony and rooftop growers (which have been available in other years of the program) -- and these concerns will be addressed through a rebate for trees bought at nurseries and through smaller trees once again available at future CofV tree sales. What I found interesting in the article was the acknowledgement that what we grow on our balconies does contribute in significant ways to our urban environment specifically, but also to the environment overall. Certainly, we've been impressed and surprised here to see how many birds stop by here regularly, what a variety of species the city does host. (More on our urban birding in future posts.)

To continue the cataloguing of the plants we were left, here's a hydrangea that I wish we'd trimmed in the fall (they bloom on old wood, and even though this one's blossoms are too, too pink for me, I'm loathe to have to miss the flowers entirely, so pruning will happen in the fall).

I'm very happy with the lushness of that hosta, although I'm not so keen on its probable need for division and repotting soon. Those of you who've grown hostas in pots for years, how often do you find you need to do this?
Speaking of hostas, one delight of rooftop terrace gardening is the complete absence  of slugs (so far, at least. I suppose I should quickly knock on wood, shouldn't I?

I'm waiting for this rose to open so that I can see if it might be the same Rosa Rugosa "Hansa" that I loved so well in my old garden -- a fragrant rose, a very resilient rose, I might add, which our then-puppy Golden Retriever Skeena broken almost immediately after I planted it fifteen or so years ago, and which not only recovered easily from having a large branch severed, but which also yielded an entirely separate rosebush from my sticking that branch in the ground and keeping it just wet enough.  So if this is the same rose, we're old friends.  Never grown it in a container though.

Nearby, there's another rose, a climber, pink, if I remember from the week or two we were here last fall, but I don't remember any fragrance. If it's pretty enough, it can stay, but I have to admit that I don't really understand the point of roses that don't smell. . .


If it ever, ever warms up, cherry tomatoes and sweet peas. I'm keeping my fingers crossed....
And I think this must be a potful of rudbeckia, which will be a very welcome splash of colour before too long, I hope. And eventually, the flowers will yield sculptural seedheads, which will also attract birds, so these guys can stay. There's also a pot with hollyhock, one with wallflowers, and a long pot full of lavender which will bring the pollinators along for the fruit trees we've just planted.

But that's another post. . . .

For now, let me close with a journal-page sketch of those maple leaves opening.  Three or four times a week, I manage a 5 or 10-minute sketch of something in the garden, just one more way that it brings me relaxation and contentment and a deep engagement with Green, with a (Cultured, obviously) Nature that mitigates beautifully the bustle of the city just beyond.

Comments?
Always welcome.

















21 comments:

  1. Wow, your terrace garden is amazing. And how lucky that the previous owners left so much behind - how long would it take if you had to start from scratch, I wonder?

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    1. We're very lucky! It would have been really tough (and expensive!) to get the trees up here with the big pots. Of course, then we could have chosen preferred plants, but the compromise is well worth while, and we can swap out as we settle in and learn the garden. . .

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  2. You've got some really healthy plants there & a wisteria is a real bonus . The previous owners obviously cared about them . No slugs - sounds like heaven . I tell myself I like lacey hostas but it's exasperating . Mine are all in pots as we have sandy soil but we only split them every three years or so , depending on the type as some grow more slowly . I like to have a few things in pots to move around to best effect , as they bloom . Then tuck them away when they are boring .
    Wendy in York

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    1. No slugs -- so no lacey hostas! -- but we're spotting ants and aphids, just as the sun's coming out in full force and we're heading away for a while. Hope our delegated gardeners are up for the task. Thanks for the info about dividing the hostas -- I only had a few in posts, and fairly slow-growing, at the last place and never got to where they needed splitting.

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  3. I could read gardening posts and look at your pictures every day for a long time. Right now I am without a larger screen (because travelling light-ish) so am peering happily at the little leaves on my phone.

    In Paris news: I don't know if you will post again before going away and wanted to tell you about a little exhibit at the Bibliothèque Forney in the 4th 'Mode & Femmes 14/18'. Very small, free admission, it highlights changes in fashion (representative of changes in society, we know) during the years of the war. A nice peaceful break, if you need one.

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    1. I may not post again and I'm glad to know about that exhibit -- those are the most fun, the little idiosyncratic ones. Did you happen to get to the Musée Bourdelle for the Balenciaga? I'm looking forward to that -- but we only have a few days in Paris, so we'll see. You're enjoying sunshine there now, right?

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    2. No Balenciaga but the Jardin exposition at the Grand Palais was wonderful for today, our last day. More of a time commitment though (although I guess that depends on your pace. My daughter and I are studiers and readers and no doubt drive the folks who are just trying to walk through crazy. Too bad I say!) if you are thinking of Pompidou, modern is open but contemporary closed for rehanging.
      Yes, the weather has been very pleasant, with some hot days which are forecast to return next week...for you!

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  4. Wow an abundance of riches! I would LOVE to see a rough schematic, as though looking at it from above, so I could understand how all these plants relate to each other! How fun to have mystery guests, like the likely rudbeckia. Kind of like the children's game, Pass the Parcel, only no grabbing;).

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    1. A rough schematic is a good idea -- probably something we should have for our own planning and reference. Paul's offered to put one together for me and I'll post it . . . I'd like to say "soon," but might be "eventually"! Won't be doing it while traveling, I must admit....

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  5. I'm looking forward to future post detailing the changes on the terrace. Like you...I would miss my garden, my creation when it's time to move to a smaller home/condo in a more urban area. But for now...most days find me outside playing in the dirt....loving every minute of it.

    Ali

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    1. Interesting about playing in the soil -- I'd say I'm learning all kinds of new things about it now that it's in containers. . . Enjoy your garden and all its humus-y goodness while you can! ;-)

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  6. It is amazing how many plants you can accomodate on such limited space. I wonder how you do it.
    BTW, the other day I read a very illuminating article about the Vancouver housing market. In case you or other Vancouverites among your readers are interested, you can find access to it here: http://www.motherjones.com/toc/2017/05

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    1. I couldn't click through to read that without giving up my email, but I can well imagine what it says. Our city has long been realised for some big affordability challenges. Proportional to the earning power here, Vancouver's had the dubious honour of being in the top 3-5 most unaffordable cities for housing. Off-shore buyers are one of a number of factors. Especially tough for the young.

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  7. It's an amazing terrace garden!
    You have beautiful plants to start with
    I would like to see the schematic,too
    Dottoressa

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    1. Schematic coming . . . eventually ;-)

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  8. The rooftop terrace will be a different challenge to your once familiar seaside garden. However, from the lushness of your plants, it appears that you are well on your way to producing a beautiful green space for your new home. Warm regards, Elizabeth

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    1. Thanks Elizabeth. It's definitely a different challenge, and I have a few concerns at the moment, but I think we have a very good start, at least.

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  9. Having had the privilege of visiting your lovely apartment this past week (and you and Pater were most gracious hosts, and he is a good cook and you are a good baker!), I can say that the terrace is a delight, lots of lovely pots full of plants just starting to unfurl. I was particularly taken with the Hosta, and I really liked the snowberry, contained as it is. The fountain's splashing and bubbling makes for a serene space, and inspired me to set up my little water feature on our deck this morning. Happy gardening and enjoy the warm days and your trip overseas! Brenda

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    1. Thanks so much, Brenda! We loved having you visit here. It amuses me how much joy an artificial water feature can bring, given that we had the ocean's waves right below our bedroom window for many years, but that gentle splashing is such a soothing sound.

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  10. I hadn't thought of birds in urban rooftop gardens, but of course! Terrace gardening is a very definite discipline - I am sure you will get attuned to it and I'll look forward to seeing your garden unfold.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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