Gardens - Featured Gardens

The urban farmer

By
Lorraine Flanigan
Photography by
Tracy Cox

You can't eat food grown closer to home than the harvest from your own backyard

At-a-glance

Gardener Elizabeth Stewart Location Toronto Occupation marketing consultant Pets cats Sook Yin and Sarah Jane Years gardening 10 Years in house 9 Special landscaping challenges poor air circulation; low water pressure means hand-watering from rain barrels Garden size 7.5 x 15 metres Orientation south Conditions amended soil in raised beds; sun to dappled shade Growing season March to December Garden focus ornamental potager in raised beds; primarily heirloom varieties Zone 6b with microclimates

When Elizabeth Stewart’s neighbour Russell picks up the phone and hears “Beans on the wall!” he knows to collect a basket of fresh produce from atop the brick wall between their two small properties in downtown Toronto.
Gardening on a compact lot means being generous with your harvest and your plants, says Elizabeth, a Master Gardener who grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan and now grows heirloom and unusual vegetables, fruits and herbs alongside colourful annuals in her pretty—and productive—urban potager.

Elizabeth’s “city farm” is very different from the farm of her youth. “In the country, you grow giant rows of things out of necessity and it’s a lot of back-breaking work,” she says. “Mine is a dilettante’s kitchen garden—it’s fun to eat what I’ve grown, as opposed to needing to grow my own food to survive, as we did back on the farm.”

Growing a city veggie garden
In 1999, Elizabeth, an avid cook, fell in love with and purchased the 45-square-metre home built in the 1850s—with its sunny, south-facing backyard, which was a jungle of self-seeded zucchini, rampant raspberry canes and wandering wisteria, all legacies of its previous owner. Other remnants included 60 metres of industrial pipe used to fashion arbours and pergolas, concrete pavers and a dog run enclosed by chain-link fencing, most of which Elizabeth dug out and had hauled away.  

In transforming the chaotic space into her ornamental kitchen garden, Elizabeth’s biggest challenge was dealing with the 38-centimetre difference in grade between her lot and that of her neighbour to the east. After replacing the rusty white-painted steel fence that separated the properties and was collapsing onto Elizabeth’s side, she evened things out by building a raised bed along the fence using earth dug from the middle of the yard.

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