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Rent a Garden - Grow Your Own Veggies This Summer
by Donna Balzer
by Donna Balzer


If you somehow missed her on the award winning garden show Bugs & Blooms (now in re-runs on HGTV and around the world), you can catch her in the summer answering listener questions on CBC. Failing that, open the Calgary Herald and you’ll find her on-going gardening column. There’s also a good chance you’ll see her work in either “Garden Life Magazine” or “Canadian Gardening”

Donna’s work has also been recognized through several awards. Her first book “Gardening for Goofs is a Canadian best seller and her second book “The Prairie Rock Garden” received the Carlton R. Worth award for writing. In 2003 Donna received “The Distinguished Agrologist Award” from her peers in Agrology. HGTV’s hit internationally broadcast gardening show “Bugs & Blooms” won Donna and her Co-Host Todd Reichardt the Garden Globe Award for best talent in electronic media in 2002.

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April 30, 2000

A practical way to end the daydreaming and begin the real gardening season is to rent a patch of land to grow vegetables this summer. Deciding on vegetables you¹d like to grow, the quantities of seed you need to order and the approach you¹ll take to manage your own patch becomes real the day you sign on for real estate .

I say "sign on" because many city lots are too small for a serious vegetable patch and many of us live in small condos or apartments not practical for production. This is why hundreds of people sign on to rent a space for their summer vegetable garden ­ an activity that will cost about $50.00 for the land as well as $40.00 - $50.00 for seed and transplants.

"We¹ve been gardening at Al¹s (The Garden) for five years now and had another five years at the Father Lacombe Centre before that" said Art Torode, who lives in Bonavista but gardens on an assigned plot in "The Garden", a u-grow, u-pick operation 10 km east of Calgary along Glenmore trail. It used to be all seniors ­ retired people- but there are a lot of younger people now. The food is good and fresh" continued Torode, who saves his potatoes from year to year for replanting in the spring and also grows his own tomato transplants. His seed and other transplants cost about forty dollars per year in total.

Torode harvested over 400 lb of potatoes from his garden last year. He has been successful with all kinds of vegetables grown at his country plot which is 25 feet by 25 feet in size, herbicide free and watered by the property owners as needed all summer.

When asked if there is a downside to gardening in the country where the elements , wind , hail and frost are more likely to hit than within a protected city lot Art quickly dismissed my fears. "No! ­ we are going again- we¹ve been going for ten years ­ you just get so much shade here in town ­ you get the open sky all day in the country. It¹s not to save money- it¹s to get exercise, and of course it¹s also a social event. We¹ve got grandchildren who come out now; we picnic and we garden and we exchange ideas with the other gardeners.

One fellow grew pumpkins on his plot last year and was giving them away by fall ­ he had over twenty five. But pumpkins take a lot of room. We grow beets, carrots, potatoes, peas, beans and squash. Last year we bought a few blue potatoes at a grocery store and planted those but we didn¹t really like them- brown gravy on blue potatoes wasn¹t very attractive."

The owner of The Garden, Al Schernus, started renting out plots five years ago when Torode¹s group the "Golden Age Gardeners" were forced to leave their garden patches at the Father Lacombe Centre. The group rented fifty-one plots from Schernus the first year and ­ because of increasing demand and the broader spectrum of gardeners now interested ­ the numbers of plots available has steadily grown to over two hundred plots available this spring. "Although the origin of this gardening project was a senior¹s group, in recent years (the gardeners¹ now include) a much broader demographic with young families and singles forming a large part of the clientele" says Schernus, who also has a u-pick strawberry , vegetable and flower area as well as a u-fish trout pond on the site.

Paid staff till the land and stake out the plots in the spring. Schernus takes care of all the watering so that each person doesn¹t have to drag out their own hoses and sprinklers.

In the beginning the Golden Age Gardeners were mainly women ­ senior women - who lived in apartments downtown and gardened at the Father Lacombe Centre where the nuns used to grow vegetables for the children in the orphanage there. Thankfully alternative garden space can be rented by individuals within their communities (Cliff Bungalow, and Kensington for example) as well as in the country.

Although there is no promise you¹ll get 400 lbs of potatoes off your plot there is some promise that the task won¹t be demanding or particular as emphasized by Wildwood gardener John Rymes who said his vegetable preference in his city garden is for potatoes - "My favorite is potatoes because they grow like petunias". Well, in Calgary petunias are legendary but it looks like potatoes are fast taking over in popularity among folks in the know.

For further information about renting a plot at The Garden call Al Schernus at 936-5569 or call the Calgary Horticultural Society at 287-3469 for further information about community gardens in the city. Mothers and fathers of University students may want to register their kids for plots of their own- something I¹ve done for Chelsie and Kalen. Surprise girls! Guess what we¹ll be doing when you get home this spring!

Balzer, whose column appears every two weeks in the Homestyle section, is a garden consultant and author (Gardening for Goofs and The Prairie Rock Garden). She is also heard seasonally on CBC radio in Southern Alberta. Ideas for future columns may be forwarded to

Her brand new site is up - see it at Donna Balzer Phone: 403-233-8999 Fax: 403-266-6390 Mailing Address: Box 46021 Inglewood Post Office, SE Calgary, Alberta, Canada, T2G 5H7

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