During the May mayhem at Figaro's, I heard the staff mention "burnout" a few times and I too was feeling overwhelmed, especially with the new flower operation underway and being behind on most of my regular shop responsibilities. We had had an incredibly busy six week period through April and early May (thanks in part to the amazing weather) and we were all pretty exhausted. During these times, it is important to step back and assess why we do what we do, in order to deal with and feel ok about the madness. It allows us to see the bigger picture and know that the effort, hard work and the unflinching service is worth it. The industry brings in over 60% of its annual revenue just in April and May alone and you better have some real motivation to get through it. Here it is...
the cultivation & observation of plants is an amazing learning force
I think we are a successful retail garden shop because as a team, we realize and respect that plants have this amazing ability. They can also help heal and calm our mind; they excite us, and challenge us...all things you'd expect from a good friend. That we can pass on this understanding and passion in assisting others through their garden exploration, drives us forward. It is such a privilege to help find the perfect Japanese Maple for a customer's backyard or select the best blueberry cultivar for their patio garden. This pleasure is so worth the temporary burnout we feel, usually around Mother's Day. I look forward to next year's chaos and the life lessons it (and the plants) will bring :)
What's the fuss?
Beginning in late March, we begin getting phone calls asking when we are going to have our local/organic tomato starts in stock. Due to the incredibly warm weather we had in late March, we were getting 10-15 calls a day with this question. In early/mid April, it got super warm and it seemed every second phone call was the same (we get about 50 calls/day)
It got me thinking, why is everyone so compelled to begin their tomato growing so early? Here are some thoughts:
1) Tomatoes are one of, if not the best fresh-from-the-garden crops. Can't beat a Sungold straight from the vine. So, the earlier they can be put in the ground, the closer we are to having that intoxicating experience.
2) Tomato planting symbolizes the end of the cool/rainy spring and a springboard to the glory days of sunny summer. With our grey Vancouver skies 6 months of the calendar, the sooner we can get them in, the sooner it seems this shift will take place.
3) They are an easy plant for the new or semi-new gardener who is often eager to get the ball rolling on the season.
4) The experienced gardener enjoys taking risks and to say that you have a ripe tomato in late June would be very gratifying.
The reality is, a tomato planted in May, 3 or 4 weeks later than its April counterpart will almost catch up in size and development as the warm June arrives. You may get a slightly earlier harvest from an April planting but is it worth the risk of a struggling seedling you've paid good money for, battling the possible rain and cool, overnight temperatures? We've been lucky the past two Aprils and with climate change, who knows what will happen. Guaranteed though, April will still be unpredictable. You may be tempted by the offerings at the local big box or garden centre; we say, be patient. Wait for overnight lows to be consistently over 10 degrees. You may not be rewarded with a super early Early Girl or Black Krim, but at least you avoid the risks.
Speaking of tomato frenzy, ours arrive this week, fresh from our amazing local supplier, Friesen Farm. Tomato starts do not get any better than this. Trust us.
Today marked day one in seeding for our quest to grow some intoxicatingly beautiful, organic, cut flowers for the shop and farmers markets around town. The seedlings will be grown out in plugs in our sexy new greenhouse and then taken to Richmond where it they'll spend the next few months in some incredibly fertile Fraser River alluvial soil. We have 32 varieties planned, some will be very familiar and some are even new to us. Unique varieties of Rudbeckia, Zinnia, Sunflower, and Celosia will be mixed with Ursinia, Bracteantha, and Setaria.
This is all new to us and so there will be bumps and bruises along the way but it will certainly be an exciting, enriching learning experience. We'll get to have our kids at the farm harvesting flowers, picking out slugs, weeding here and there, and enjoying the quietness (mental and physical) of working in the soil and tending to some incredible plant species. We will also have the fortune of hanging out with Kimi and Kareno from Sweet Digz Farm who are simply, just awesome people. They also happen to be super talented farmers growing amazing food for people like you and me. We have already spent a bit of time out there and it feels really special to be collaborating and building local business with good friends. If you are interested in joining a CSA, these gals are a sure bet.
Stay posted, we'll be regularly updating our triumphs and our follies. Here's to a good farming adventure...
Our friend and mentor Katherine O'Block is leaving Figaro's this week and we can't thank her enough for her generosity, genuineness, hard work, expertise, and enthusiasm for helping people grow their gardens and their spirits. Katherine joined the Figaro's world almost exactly 6 years ago and has been an essential anchor ever since...we wish her all the love and happiness and success she deserves.
A Farewell Thank You
For the past 6 years I have had the great privilege of working at Figaro's Garden, and for this, I would like to say thank you. Thank you to Glen and Peter for taking a chance on a young urban gardener looking to work with them in their 'Urban Oasis'. Thank you to Faerlyn for being such a solid rock through out the transition of ownership. Thank you to Hartley for seeing the potential in this wonderful little neighborhood garden shop. Thank you to all of my co-workers and fellow plant nerds over the years! It has been such a pleasure to work along side of you rain and shine. And last but not least, a huge thank you goes out to you our customers! Thank you for sharing your love of plants and trusting us to help you with your gardens. You have made Figaro's such a meaningful and rewarding place to work. I love hearing about your gardening ideas both indoors and outdoors. Oh, and Wilbur! Thank you for keeping a watchful eye over the shop and being such a wonderful furry friend.
Few gardening endeavours are as gratifying as starting your own seeds. When those little cotyledons pop out of the soil, it always feels like such a tiny miracle. Starting them yourself saves money and is a great activity with kids. Here are a few tips to get you started:
1) Drainage is essential - make sure your pots have holes otherwise seeds/seedlings will rot.
2) Cover trays or pots with a plastic dome or wrap to create some humidity and stable moisture. Remove after germination
3) Bottom heat will encourage a more thorough, quick germination as most seeds appreciate temps of 18-24 degrees. Use heat mats or place on top of an existing heat source. Check moisture regularly as heat encourages quicker drying
4) Feed regularly with a liquid fertilizer once its first set of 'true' leaves are up (the leaves that look the plant when mature)
5) Harden off seedlings before planting outside - slowly introduce them to the outside world and the sun over the period of a week.
This is the time to consider putting out your mason bee homes and cocoons. The Blue Orchard Mason Bee is a native bee species that does an awesome job of pollinating our early fruit tree crops. They will start to emerge if we ever we get a few solid days of warm temps and some sun. Sigh. Look for Forsythia or Pieris in bloom for a good phenological indicator. We have some beautiful, new mason bee hotels as well as locally harvested cocoons in stock.
With the water restrictions last summer and residents' reduced ability to use nematodes to defend their lawn against the Chafer Beetle, this scene will be increasingly played out on properties all over Vancouver (and surrounding areas).
I keep wondering when this green icon of American suburbanization of the 1950's will finally be relegated to the sidelines in favour of thriving annual and perennial gardens. Don't get me wrong. In some scenarios grass is the perfect application. Great for kids to play on, perfect for formal spaces, appeals to the structured aesthetic and cultural symbol of stability and safety, and the smell after a Sunday morning mowing reminds us of 'home' for many who grew up in Canadian suburbs across the country. Trouble is, they are huge resource hogs - water, fertilizer, pesticides, and time. With the chafer beetle sweeping across the region, it seems like the perfect time to give up at least some of the lawn so we can enjoy our spaces with diversity, flowers, wildlife habitat, or food. I don't think with climate change, we can expect anything but more drought in summers to come this chafer problem is also not going to go away anytime soon. The damage crows, racoons, and skunks are wreaking on them leaves quite an eyesore and the amount of labour/$$ to start from scratch seems highly wasteful . Every time I see someone reseeding these extensive torn up patches, I want to reach out and convey the current lawn reality. Plant lavender, plant thyme, plant ornamental grasses, plant clover, plant whatever. Let the lawn go.
Needing inspiration during these dark, short days? Look no further than our garden planet.I saw this amazing composite "earthrise" pic from NASA taken from the moon last week and it immediately altered and elevated my mood. It's not like I haven't seen images of our beautiful planet before. Perhaps it was a need for a planetary lens after the Paris climate talks. Or maybe just a boost from a lunar perspective after all the rain/darkness the past two weeks? Not sure. But, the outcome was clarity around moving forward with a years-old plan to build a greenhouse in the Figaro's nursery area and research establishing a rooftop growing space on top of our large shed. As gardeners, we need to nurture plant life and when we are not, there is a real void. Sadly, I have not been doing a lot of growing the past few years and the prospect of opening up space to do so, leaves me inspired, motivated, and excited for the endless possibilities that only a bare patch of soil (or growing media) can foster. Thank goodness we have the planet to do such marvellous things.
I'm happy that from here on in, our days will be getting longer. Incredibly, the snowdrops will be popping up soon. When the time comes, I'll be even more pleased to mix a big batch of potting soil, place seeds atop it in a small container, wait impatiently for them to germinate, and grow my physical/mental well being. That's progress.
From all of us in the Figaro's family - Faerlyn, Katherine, Conor, Britt, Anne-Marie, and Hartley - we hope you have a wonderful solstice and festive holiday season; may the earth be with you.
Is it just me or have the fall colours in the city this season been better than previous years? I find myself wanting to take pictures of everything.
Ginkgos have definitely topped my list with their buttery, saffron yellow leaves. I wish they would hold on to their branches just a little longer. Something about the bifurcation (split leaf) creates an elegance that few trees can match. That, plus the idea that they have existed on the planet over 270 million years ago makes this a slam dunk in my books.
Another one I can't get enough of is Liquidambar styriciflua, or Sweet Gum (image above). Their canopy is always so full of fiery red-yellow leaf brilliance. They are definitely in the same league as the fall colour king, the maples. Wikipedia says it "has been characterized not simply as a flame, but a conflagration". Now that's high praise.
It would be remiss of me to not mention Calicarpa bodinieri, Beautyberry. It's all in the name. The violet-purple berries look almost fake. I've seen people walk by the shop and have this one stop them in their tracks. "Did I really see that or was it that garden shop playing tricks on me"? This one kinda creeps up on you. It has a lame flower in spring followed by uninteresting leaves in the summer. The berries come on in August and show their gorgeous colour by mid September. It's only when they drop their leaves in October that you get the full effect. HELLO!
Lastly, I've really been enjoying the amazing diversity of small evergreen plants available to the Vancouver gardener. Hellebores, Gaultheria procumbens, and Polystichum come to mind. They fill such important gaps in our gardens. It's just so nice to have some texture and green even when it's 2 degrees out and the rain seems like it's never going to end. These guys can help you through.
One thing that's happened in the industry is that small coniferous trees have hit the scene in a big way, offering that cutesy, 'mini' look that seems to be on trend. Firs, spruces, and cypresses all have teeny-tiny cultivars now that only put on 2-3" of growth/year, making them awesome friends for bonsai and/or containers at the front steps for the holiday/winter season. The beauty of it all is that they are all hardy, some of them to -25C.
Fall is a great time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials. Even though plants may not look their best and you'll be waiting until next year to see blooms, giving them time to establish over winter can give them a great head start come spring.You can also find some great deals at this time of year
Fall planting is much the same as planting at any time of the year. Make sure to dig the hole wide rather than deep and keep the soil's surface at the same level in the ground as it is in the pot it comes in. If the hole is dug too deep, the plant itself can settle and sink over winter, ending up quite a bit lower in the ground after a few months of winter rain.
Place the plants in it's new home and rotate it to find it's best angle. Step back and look at it from a few vantage points to make sure you have the right spot. After teasing it out of it's pot, don't be surprised if your plant is root bound, it has been growing in a pot for the whole season. If you can, gently tease apart the roots, however sometimes it is necessary to take a pair of pruners to the root ball to cut any dense encircling roots. Because plants aren't growing as actively, we don't have to worry as much about disturbing the roots; less growth means less water uptake. Place your plant on a firm and level base, fill back in with soil and water well.
With our mild winters, most commonly grown plants won't suffer too much from the cold. However, once the deciduous trees have dropped their leaves, a good leaf mulch can keep your plants nice and snug over winter. Going over the leaves with a lawn mower is a great way to make sure that your mulch doesn't become an obstacle for young shoots in spring. If you use a heavier mulch, clear it from the crowns of perennials once the coldest weather has passed.