I was thrilled when Garden Culture asked me to write a piece on urban gardening. I’m a born and raised city girl, 3rd generation Torontonian, and have always tried in some capacity to grow my food. It started with my grandma, who grew up in the very self-sufficient dirty 30s and wartime before DIY had a name.
My grandparents had a small post-war house on Chine Drive in Toronto, and my fondest memories are of the endless bounty of raspberries that grew around their above-ground pool.
Grandma also had a kitchen garden with root vegetables but was challenged by clay soil, critters, and the occasional Farmer Brown-style veggie-heist from other neighborhood kids.
I fast forward to my own suburban home in Montreal’s west island, where my veggie patch also suffered from critters and clay soil.
And Then There Was Lockdown
When the pandemic hit, many immediate changes happened in our lives, like everyone else’s.
The hardest thing for us is the ongoing border closure that separates us from my American boyfriend and stepson in the northern Vermont mountains. We have to get used to being full-time city slickers again; quarantined city slickers.
So, to distract from the loneliness that comes with being apart from loved ones, and in an ongoing effort to grow food, I evicted the squirrel family from the little balcony on the 4th-floor apartment I now share with my two daughters in the Montreal borough of NDG.
I purchased a five-tier aqua drip planter, and the girls and I planted tomatoes, beans, lettuce, basil, chives (from seedings), and kale, carrots, and beets from seed.
Along the veggie planter side, we planted flowers in white, pink, and purple to attract pollinators.
We used recycled maple syrup cans to grow even more beet greens, which we enjoyed all summer long.
My eldest daughter convinced me to purchase a small citrus tree at the garden center, which produced white flowers, then tiny green oranges and continues to thrive in our apartment’s reading nook. It smells amazing!
Living on the top floor, we also had to consider wind. My youngest daughter and I found a stretched canvas on the side of the road, painted a big heart on it in red and gold, and that became our wind barrier.
We also put out a comfy camp chair and a beach umbrella for shade and further protection from the wind and other elements—our little garden oasis, four stories up.
The balcony is off my daughters’ bedroom, and through the summer, it became their daily project to water the plants, pull weeds, and remove wilted and dead foliage.
Our source of fresh garden veggies and microgreens was also an opportunity to educate, and the girls took immediate pride in our little kitchen garden.
I chose the planter with the express plan of moving it inside at first frost. I also purchased a small grow lamp to clip on the side of the planter. It now lives in the sunniest corner of our big 1940s-style kitchen, and we continue to enjoy microgreens and fresh veggies.
I’m starting to consider what might grow best and bountiful indoors, so this is a story to be continued!
It’s a learning process, like everything. A day at a time, a seed planted in my childhood, memories of enjoying an endless bounty of raspberries (with frozen Cool Whip) from my grandparents’ back garden on Chine Drive.