John Blackman with a ripening ‘Bartlett’ pear. (Inset) A ‘fantastic’ tomato; cardoon and golden spaghetti squash

John Blackman with a ripening ‘Bartlett’ pear. (Inset) A ‘fantastic’ tomato; cardoon and golden spaghetti squash

Celebrating the midsummer harvest

A gardening column by Mike Lascell's a nursery manager in Pitt Meadows who has writes weekly about gardening

I recently paid a visit to my favourite community garden down on South Bonson Road in Pitt Meadows, with John Blackman being kind enough to give a tour and update me on the goings on.

There were certainly a lot more flowers than I remembered – with dahlias, gladioli, sunflowers and marigolds taking center stage in this July heat wave.

Right at the front of garden was a glorious cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), with its huge purple blooms looking like Scotch thistle on steroids. While often grown as an ornamental, the blanched stems of this massive perennial (averaging two metres high) are occasionally steamed and seasoned as a gourmet treat that is very closely related to artichoke.

Even the vegetables proper can be beautiful in their own right, with mixed plantings of glossy mahogany and green-leaved lettuce, bright yellow banana peppers and towering scarlet runner beans catching the eye as frequently as the nearby blooms.

Blackman mentioned that the community garden was encouraging its members to plant flowers along the fence line to beautify and attract pollinators. As well, a living fence of raspberries is being created along the south side to free up more space in the smaller plots.

Pollination was another topic we touched on when Blackman remarked that members were just building-up their local hives, as the bees had abandoned them the previous season.

This community garden does not allow the use of chemical pesticides, so there was a little powdery mildew on the cucumbers and squash,  few cabbage looper holes in the cole crops, a smattering of trellis rust on the ‘Bartlett’ pear. That said, everything seemed to be producing just fine.

More importantly, as gardeners we really need to get over the use of pesticides for purely cosmetic purposes, because we can still grow perfectly good fruits and vegetables on less than pristine-looking plants, and the gardens here are a real testament to that fact.

Our favourite vegetable (technically a fruit) is well represented here, with many of the cherry types (especially ‘Sungold’) already ripening.

There were even some Italian heirloom and ‘fantastic’ tomatoes reddening up in the heat – although those of you looking to grow slicing tomatoes and still beat the late blight may also want to try ‘Oregon spring’ (determinate/75-80 days) or ‘Early girl’ (indeterminate/75 days) next year, because we may not get another dry July like this one again.

Many of the gardeners here have erected small, portable greenhouses (with roll-up sides) to sheer the rain off, as keeping the foliage dry will also prevent late blight infection, provided the air circulation is good and the humidity kept down.

The other big change at the Pitt Meadows Community Garden is that there are more younger families participating and the overall age demographic has shifted from an average of 60-65, down to the mid 40s, which shows us that the ‘grow your own food’ trend is as strong as ever.

While currently fully occupied, this community garden has plans to expand in the near future so that others can join.

• For more information, visit pmcommunitygarden.shawwebspace.ca.

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author. Email him at hebe_acer@hotmail.com.

 

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