Early Days at the Community Garden Plot

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

Last fall I decided to participate in a national growing experiment called, The Great Canadian Garlic Collection, wherein hundreds, possibly thousands of gardening nerds are growing garlic, recording their results, and then pooling the data so we can all find out which varieties grow best under varying conditions. Believe me when I say that it is all VERY important work and I have taken my role as a participant very seriously. In fact I am taking it all so seriously that it has forced me to change my evil, too-open-to-suggestion-and-last-minute-changes ways by making a garden plan.

Last fall, when the garlic arrived in the mail, I knew I would not be able to do what I usually do which is just stick it wherever it will grow and forget about it until spring. I had to keep track of the garlic, the varieties I am growing, and then record my observations over the span of two years. For the first time ever I needed a serious plan. A plan that can’t be changed on a whim. A plan committed to paper.

And so I decided to make an experiment out of this experiment. I decided to try growing a slightly more formal garden at my community plot than is my way. My way is generally one based on informal companion planting. I grow plants in groupings that work, share, look gorgeous, and love together but I don’t get hung up on formally arranging things. I enjoy a bit of organization and try to keep chaos at bay in other areas of my life, but since the gardens aren’t so much my spaces anymore as they are work spaces, I try to leave a little space for serendipity to take hold. I do not use rulers or string. I do not mark space. I do not make a design on paper that can then be implemented in the earth.

But like I said all of that had to change with the introduction of the very important garlic. And so I set about making a plan last fall. I came up with a design and I set to blocking off the garden using sticks and string as markers. I planted the garlic, recorded its locations, drew in the herbs and perennials, finishing off with carefully marked blobs for spring plantings.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

And then in a telling Freudian slip, at the very moment I needed to place my early spring seed orders, I lost the plan. My subconscious did not want to be told it can only grow 4 tomato varieties. My subconscious was gonna grow those ‘Chocolate Cherry’ sunflowers formal plan be damned! I searched high and low but it was gone for good. I went ahead and ordered the seeds without the plan.

In the end it wasn’t a big deal, although as always I have far more seeds than I can grow. The overall layout was still marked off with string at the garden. Garlic sprouts have emerged from the soil with accompanying tags indicating the varieties. The perennials are marking their space, leaving me with empty pockets to fill with the seedlings I started under lights a month or so ago.

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved

And despite the formality there is still plenty of space for serendipity and last minute inspiration. When I went to do clean up on the garden last week I had the impulse to build a sculptural trellis to grow peas and beans on. I am overstocked on attractive pea varieties and thought it would be nice to grow them in the community plot this year. The community garden is surrounded by weed trees that require aggressive pruning every year less we lose sunlight to the garden entirely. I used some of those prunings to build a gnarly tripod trellis, reinforcing it with woven branches at the base. I’m rather fond of it. It is going to look gorgeous covered in peas, if the groundhog doesn’t get to them first!

Photo by Gayla Trail  All Rights Reserved
Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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17 thoughts on “Early Days at the Community Garden Plot

  1. I love the trellis. It reminds me of childhood forts. hmmm…note to self…make an adult-sized trellis-fort in future gardens. Maybe I could knit panels so it could be a three-season trellis?

  2. I have just agreed to do a sunflower trial but luckily it is just over one season. I’m not sure if I could cope with 2 years!

  3. Great idea! The peas should look great on it.

    I’m looking forward to trying vertical gardening for the first time myself this year. I’m thinking morning glories on bamboo poles.

  4. I was thinking about growing peas close to my garlic also this year but then I read somewhere tht peas don’t like to be close to garlic or vice versa. Does anyone know if there is any truth to that? Because if it is not true I too will be building a trellis close to the garlic!

  5. I bought 4 garlic bulbs at Seedy Saturday and was told to put them in the fridge until it was time to plant them … within a day of regular fridge visits I’d knocked off one of the sprouts … so they became the bain of my ‘fridge-opening’ existence ever since – but not for nothing – the broken sprout is growing back!!! Party in my fridge … good to know not to plant them near the peas now that they’ve made it this far …

  6. I think that’s not they “dislike” each other but they like the same nutrients in the soil. They compete, don’t help each other. Also they help each other with the diseases and plagues.
    Peas goes well with lettuce, carrots, corn, cucumber, cabbage, turnip, radish, french radish (black radish?).
    Not so well with garlic, french garlic? (I don’t know how to translate this one), potatoes, tomato, onion, beans.

  7. I’m another one who loves the trellis. It kind of looks like it has antlers.

    Your subconscious sounds very wise. Choosing chocolate cherry sunflowers and serendipity.

    Do you plan on growing sweet peas or is this strictly an edible garden?

  8. @ bre:
    i can just see the film now “brokeback sprout” – germination is a force of nature. ok, we need to work on the tagline. my people will call your people.

  9. Elaine: I planted some black sweet peas this year. I have another variety but I haven’t started them yet. I haven’t grown sweet peas in years but have missed them. Not edible but the flowers are so pretty in a vase on my desk.

    I really need to get back and take some better pics of the trellis. It was late in the day when I took these… getting dark at the garden and I took some tired, half-assed pics after hours of work.

  10. I love that trellis! I think I am inspired to make one myself! What a great use for the weed trees! I love your blog and will be back!

  11. Thanks for the info about why it is not recommended to plant peas with garlic. It would be great to see more pictures with ideas for trellises. I am going to be doing a lot of verticle growing this year to maximize my space so the more visuals the better!

  12. weed trees are awesome for this very thing…but as the name applys…by nature of there growth they usually will “sprout” and continue to grow when using green cuttings…I found that from experience and this year Im going to play with a living wall…planted horizontally instead of teepee…and if successful then prune and weave the lateraly branches to make a windbreak…

  13. Glad you are growing garlic, everyone should. Garlic is a heavy feeder so when planting put in an allpurpose granulated slow release fertlizer. Preferably organic. In the Spring it requires a higher nitrogen like Canola meal. It loves manures. Do this and it will reward you with large bulbs. Good Luck

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