Andrea’s Mini Urban Farm
Name: Andrea Bellamy and Ben Garfinkel, their daughter Lila, and Schnoopette the cat
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia
Years lived in: 5 years
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Andrea Bellamy and Ben Garfinkel grow plants in every nook and cranny they can find around their urban townhouse. Potted tomatoes and herbs grace their balcony and front patio, the couple share raised beds with their neighbors above their parking garage, and they planted a woodland garden in their cozy back patio area. Andrea helped start a community garden across the street where they grow vegetables, and this summer she is taking part in a project called Lawns to Loaves, which turned a vacant lot into a wheat field right in the middle of Vancouver.
Andrea writes about her gardens on her blog Heavy Petal, which focuses on garden design and urban, organic gardening. She also published her first book this spring, Sugar Snaps and Strawberries: Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small Space Urban Gardens, which is chockfull of great advice for creating productive, beautiful gardens anywhere you can find the space.
Each of her four garden spaces are very distinct, but they all share a simple, clean aesthetic. The back patio’s perimeter is defined by a modern fence that Andrea and Ben built using narrow horizontal slats of cedar. The area is paved, but the couple left space for a small, but peaceful, garden filled with Japanese maples, hostas, and other shade tolerant plants. My favorite part of this outdoor area is the patio furniture, which started out life as dumpy vintage loveseat and chair. The furniture originally had ugly white vinyl cushions, which disguised its simple mid century bones. They spray painted the metal frame black, fitted it with cedar slats and had cushions made with a charcoal colored Sunbrella fabric. The before and after transformation is pretty amazing!
The third floor balcony is home to a variety of containers. Vancouver’s mild climate allows Andrea to fill the pots, buckets, and cedar planting boxes with a rotating cast of edibles nearly year round. The back patio and balcony are private spaces, but much of Andrea’s gardening is done in common areas around her townhouse and in the community garden. Raised cedar beds above the parking garage give each household in the community a small space to grow food. In these beds Andrea uses the square foot gardening method, which is a great strategy for squeezing a lot of food into a little area. The quilt-like pattern of the squares also keeps the bed looking tidy. A large raised bed that borders their private front patio is filled with a collage of colorful perennial plants, including sedums and ornamental grasses.
Our Garden Philosophy: Be kind. Enjoy the process. Celebrate the harvest.
Our Garden Style: We prefer an “organic modern” look but it really varies depending on the garden.
How we built the garden(s): The community garden plot and townhouse courtyard shared plots are raised beds made out of untreated cedar. On the back patio, we replaced the boring 2’x2′ concrete pavers with basalt subway-style pavers, and clad the inside of the fence with narrow strips of cedar. We also refurbished some outdoor seating and planted up a “woodland” bed full of native species.
Inspiration: The natural world, and plants themselves. Farmer’s markets. Design blogs.
Favorite Element in the Garden: I love our back patio; it feels like such a shady little oasis, and it’s so cool and calming.
Favorite Plants: In terms of edibles, I love peas and beans. They’re so easy to grow, take up very little space, and create a great vertical screen. They’re pretty (and super tasty!). I also love all kinds of basil… because I adore the flavour, and because it’s a pretty plant that beneficial insects love.
Biggest Design Challenge: Designing a small space is always hard because everything is visible at once. In a large yard, you can have an area where you stash your tools or your hideous containers or that beat-up plant you can’t bear to throw on the compost pile. You don’t have that luxury on a small patio. Balcony gardening is also challenging in terms of water access. So few balconies – including mine – seem to have taps. It gets to be a lot of work carrying watering can after watering can out to the deck. We managed to rig up a drip watering system by running a thin hose up the side of our building! It’s made all the difference though.
What Friends Say: “Wow.” Or, “you’re crazy/obsessed.”
Proudest DIY: Thrifting and then refurbishing an old love seat and recliner to look just like a high-end designer version I’d been ogling.
Biggest Indulgence: The basalt pavers for the back patio.
Best Advice: If you want to grow something but don’t think you’ve got room in your garden, go find another garden. And, on an unrelated note: just add compost.
Q&A with Andrea:
What are the challenges of gardening in more than one location?
You know, other than making the time to get to those gardens that are furthest from home, I find my many little gardens come with more benefits than they do challenges. Because they’re all small, they’re fairly easy to maintain on an individual basis. I suppose there’s a bit of a planning challenge in the winter months when I’m deciding what to grow where, but even that is mostly determined by the attributes of the various sites. My away-from-home gardens—my community garden plot and wheat field, along with any guerrilla gardens I’ve got on the go—are the hardest to keep up with just because you have to go prepared. You’ve got to bring your tools, your seeds, and, in the case of most guerrilla gardens, water. And you’ve got to make the time to do it; it’s not as easy as stepping outside your door and turning on the tap when you notice a plant looking dry. (Click here for some tips from Andrea on gardening “remotely”.)
Tell us a little about your balcony garden, courtyard gardens and community garden?
My third-floor balcony is about 4’x10.’ It’s utilitarian but really productive. Everything is grown in containers, and this year, “everything” includes peas, beans, tomatoes, carrots, dill, basil, thyme, cucumbers, zucchini, poppies, nasturtiums, and a fig tree. The best thing about it is the drip irrigation system we installed (using a DIY kit from Lee Valley). It’s on a timer, so it requires very little thought (and little water!). You can even go on vacation and not worry about your plants.
I have two gardens in our courtyard. Outside our front door there’s a huge raised bed (I mean HUGE – it has an oak tree in it) where I have perennials and other non-edible plants (it’s made of treated lumber so I wouldn’t want to eat from it). It sections off a space of the courtyard, creating a little (5’x7′) patio space by our front door. I have herbs in containers there, which is perfect because it’s right by our kitchen! Then there are the three raised beds my husband Ben and I built and installed in a small grassy area above the parking garage for our townhouse complex. The area was rarely used, so we decided to build beds to be shared by interested residents. Six of us share the three beds, and we each get about nine square feet. The area only gets about four hours of sun daily (if that), so it’s become my “salad garden.” And it’s wickedly productive! I mainly grow arugula, radishes, and a half-dozen or so types of lettuce.
Our back patio is about 13′ x 15.’ We redid it a few years ago, cladding the inside of the pallet-style fence with narrow horizontal cedar slats for a more modern look, and replacing the 2×2′ concrete pavers with subway-style basalt pavers. This is our lounge-y space. It’s got comfy seating and is pretty and serene. The plants are a mix of Asian (Japanese maples and bamboo) and Pacific Northwest natives.
At my community garden, I’ve got a raised bed that’s 3’x 9.’ Because it’s not as convenient to get to, I grow lower-maintenance edibles there, like potatoes, garlic, beets, and chard. Because theft has been an issue in the past, I avoid tempting edibles such as zucchini and tomatoes.
This year, I also took over a City-owned vacant lot that’s adjacent to the community garden and planted Red Spring wheat. I’m one of the “growers” for a project called Lawns to Loaves, an experiment in small-space urban grain growing, The idea is that a bunch of people will all grow small plots of wheat, and at the end of the season, we’ll thresh it, mill it and make pizza with the resulting flour.
What is your advice for integrating edibles and ornamentals?
Combining edibles and ornamentals is a great idea. One of the easiest ways to start growing food is to integrate attractive edibles into an existing ornamental garden; just think about adding food-producing plants alongside your shrubs and perennials. Fruiting trees and shrubs are every bit as appealing as those grown for landscape value, and there are dozens of vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers that easily hold their own in a garden bed. Look for herbs or vegetables with interesting or colourful foliage, such as artichoke, basil, beets, chard, rhubarb, or sage. If you’re already growing vegetables, try to tuck beneficial insect-attracting flowers and herbs in any empty spaces; they’ll bring pollinators and other helpful insects to your garden, which will in turn make it more productive. Some of my favourites include borage, calendula, dill, lavender, and yarrow.
What does a “sustainable” garden mean to you?
For me, a sustainable garden is one that produces no waste—where the loop is closed, so to speak. Where the only thing I’m adding to my soil to improve fertility is my own homegrown compost. Where I’m saving seeds produced by my garden, and planting them again next year. Where, instead of buying (even organic) pesticides, I’m managing pest insects through companion planting—planting in a way that encourages beneficial insects and discourages not-so-good ones. A sustainable garden is balanced. That’s the ideal, of course, and it doesn’t always happen, but I still try to strive for it.
Furniture: Thrifted +IKEA
Hardscaping: Northwest Landscape Supply, Sunbury Cedar (these are local Vancouver, BC suppliers)
Plants: West Coast Seeds
Containers: Sunbury Cedar (for making your own), Atlas Pots (great Vancouver shop), garage sales and thrift stores.
Other resources you love: Etsy, Lee Valley Tools, Cobra Head
(Images: All images by Andrea Bellamy)