Goodbye veggie garden! See you next spring!

Before we know it, October will be over and snow will be dusting the ground.  So there was no time to spare to make a last visit to our allotment garden and clean up.

Tomato carnage!  :c(  Alas, we planted so many that we just couldn’t keep up.  We did manage to eat a lot off the vine and then put the rest in the freezer for winter soups and sauces.

But there is nothing sadder than a veggie garden after everything is finished.  Tomatoes fallen, shrivelled vines and broccoli gone to flower.

I am clearly not proud of this sight.  In the background you can see forgotten bales of straw that weren’t used and bamboo supports that were meant to showcase a stunning variety of colourful sweet peas (why, oh why do I keep thinking you can grow sweet peas in Ottawa??).  My attempt at growing beans, watermelon and squashes were really more of an afterthought (they really should have been planted earlier in the season); next time they’ll go in the ground much earlier. 

But work today was swift and productive.  It was a sunny day, around 9 degrees celsius and almost no one else was around.  Many of the allotment gardens appeared to have been abandoned; few of the plots around ours had been fully harvested and put to bed for the season. 

After clearing out all the beds, we hauled the debris over to our new compost heap!

And then we laid the bales of old straw atop the planting beds and spread them out.

The partially composted straw will break down over the winter and when the ground warms in the spring, worms will work this organic matter into the soil. 

As you can see, when we were finished we were left with four beds (three horizontal and one vertical at the back).  The remaining garden on the rear right is full of ragweed that has gone to seed — oh no!  But this will be our project next spring.  There are several bales of straw remaining and they will get used to topdress these new beds, as well as the pathways — that will probably be quite soggy again in the spring of 2012. 

My lessons this first year of our allotment garden are:

1.  Plant more variety.  This spring I planted tomatoes (four varieties), broccoli, peppers, beans, sweet peas, onions, watermelon, patty pan squash, melon and pumpkin.  Of these, the tomatoes and broccoli were the best producers.  If I had planted more beans and done it earlier, they would have been prolific as well.  We harvested two Ailsa Craig onions (I’m sure I planted more…) but probably should have left them over the winter because they are still quite small — more like shallots!

I had packets of greens, carrots, etc. but didn’t get to plant them.  Good news is that I’ll sow them next year.

2.  Plant less of some and more of others.  Less tomato plants (less with little fruit – we just don’t eat them…) but beefsteak varieties are always popular, especially my favourite ‘Rose’, which was juicy and flavourful; more onions, squashes, melons, etc.

3.  Plant earlier.  And here I mean the squashes and melons.  That way I’ll actually get a better, more mature crop.

4.  Plant more flowers!  The only flower I planted this time was Tithonia or torch flower.  Stunning orange flower but a little lost all by itself.  I had seeds for varieties of sunflowers, cosmos and hollyhocks, which I’ll plant next year.  I’ll also look for some good edgers like Little gem marigolds and a variety of charming cutflowers.

5.  Plan more visits in mid-summer when the heat pushes everything out of the ground like gangbusters!  Especially the weeds! 

6.  Get better supports for those monster tomato plants.  The 6′ bamboo stakes just didn’t hold them up.  Anyone have any ideas?  I don’t want to invest too much money because they might be tempting to someone else…

All in all, I’m very happy with our first season.  And very satisfied with our clean up effort so that next spring we can get right at it.

Hortus Urbanus re-visited

It occurs to me that some of you visiting my blog might not have seen my store, Hortus Urbanus, before I closed it in 2007.

Was it really that long ago?!  It seems like yesterday.

When I first opened up and had custom window boxes built for the front, some naysayers warned that:

a) they’d be vandalized;

b) the city wouldn’t allow them; and,

c) in the winter, the sidewalk plows would rip them off.

But none of that deterred me and I filled and re-filled those planters every season (more than most because they were regularly vandalized) – a heart-breaking occurance whenever it happened!

Because, after all, containers full of seasonal plants were one of our specialties!

Not to mention hand-made statuary, stone benches, interesting wall fountains and lots of plants.

And my personal favourite, lots of pots…

We always had the front door open, if the weather allowed, to draw customers in:

It was a real thrill finding beautiful items to sell and placing them around the store so that they would be irresistible to everyone, including me!

I have since regretted that I didn’t take more of these beautiful things home myself; many of them probably won’t be found again since the makers are no longer in business, or the pieces were one-of-a-kind.  Another reason for us to grab things when we see them!

But of the items I did snag, these two gorgeous and incredibly heavy Italian terracotta pots and the hand-made bench are among them.  I’m still enjoying them years later…

Where is the Kingston I loved?

What happened to the Kingston I used to know and love?? 

It seems that our once favourite weekend holiday spot has become a disappointment.  And this feeling has been echoed back in 2009, by a writer for the ‘Kingstonist’ here.  But first, let me tell you what we still love about Kingston.

We visited yesterday in a bit of a celebratory mood after our Skye-dog got a clean bill of health after completing her chemo treatment in late August.  Yeah! 

Anyway, we have loved Kingston for many reasons:

1.  We love that we can stay with our dog in one of two hotels right next to the marina downtown.  We get a ground-floor room and have easy access in and out for dog walks and ball throwing in the adjacent grassy area. 

2.  We love that we can walk throughout downtown, where water bowls are placed outside for dogs to drink from on hot days and we can sit at cafes (and some restaurants, shh, Chez Piggy) with her, either at our feet or on the other side of the railing, and everyone smiles at her as they walk by.

3.  We love that we can have great food at places like Chez Piggy or the Black Dog Cafe.  We also love that we can take great food back to our hotel room, should the weather be inclement, from places like Pan Chancho or Tara Natural Foods or Cooke’s.  And we can get great coffee at Coffee & Company or try the hot chocolate at the Mug & Truffle Chocolate Cafe (I haven’t been here yet but it sounds amazing!)

store front

4.  We love that we can shop at beautiful stores like Paradiso, Trug’s or the many small and unique spots that help give character to downtown Kingston.

Especially during holiday season when there are treasures like these displayed outside:

But wait, these stores are gone! :c(  And let me say that I think downtown Kingston is suffering.

Our visit yesterday allowed us to see for the first time the newly completed “K Rock Centre“, a 7000 person stadium, ice rink, conference centre and event location.  This giant building is a hop, step and jump away from the picturesque Princess, Brock and Ontario Streets and no doubt will bring hoards of people to this area when events are scheduled and send them into the bars nearby afterwards.

My first reaction was that this new building stimulated the construction that took place in 2010 to replace the infrastructure around the southern tip of downtown Kingston.  Surely the owners/investors of this building would require some kind of assurance that the whole sewer, utility and road quality around it wouldn’t collapse under the pressure of added weight and traffic, both vehicular and foot?

Whatever the impulse (the sewer system was archaic, after all, and its overhaul was certainly long overdue), road work took place last year and although I understand these things are necessary to keep the invisible workings of businesses and life running smoothly, there is also a big price to pay.  Plus, the kind of re-visioning that takes place on the heels of this upheaval is critical to making sure the soul of a place is not ravaged by those who are just looking at the bottom line and possibly, re-election.

A story appeared in the magazine Kingston Life about the road reconstruction and how everyone worked together to make it a great success.  After all, affected businesses were given a cheque for $1000 as compensation (a nice gesture but a drop in the bucket when it comes to losses!)  But it also goes on to list the businesses that succumbed to the drop in sales both during and in advance of the excavation:  Paradiso, S & R Department Store, Sir Gawain and others were affected.  The work began in March of 2010 and by late April, the parking garage at the Confederation Place Hotel had collapsed, resulting in the whole area being closed down for inspectors to assess the safety of the structure and surrounding ones.  The author of this article quotes the youthful project manager who said, “[The hotel closure] made the temperature on the street go ‘way up.”  These were words spoken by Stacey Corcoran, the 29-year-old daughter of the excavating firm’s president, Dan Corcoran, who had the challenging job of communications director.

But the owner of Sir Gawain clothing store says that even before the road work began, sales were down 15 to 20% and when the hotel garage collapsed, they lost 80% of their business. 

I am left to wonder what the grand scheme for downtown Kingston is?  The plan is to do the same road and infrastructure work further north on Princess Street next year, which will send shivers down the spine of businesses up there. 

On our drive back to Ottawa, we were left to contemplate what it was that Kingston had lost.  Most obviously, specific businesses that contributed to our enjoyment of the place were now gone.  Many had been replaced with shops catering to students and those looking for a bargain.  The kinds of retail places that enrich my soul and draw my interest (not to mention my money), have been replaced by dollar stores, purveyors of trendy and throw-away clothing and accessories, tourist tchotkes and fast food outlets.    The kind of stores you’d find in a mall where turn-over is everything and ambience is nothing.  Seeing the historic and majestic architecture that is so prevalent in downtown Kingston housing stores like these is, in my opinion, a travesty. 

Then I wonder, if we lose these shops where the owners are present, working long hours and searching far and wide for the most beautiful and unique products, will we ever get them back?  Will this kind of shopping experience where entering a store was more like entering a beautifully appointed home rather than a series of product displays (and I use the word ‘display’ loosely) be gone forever?  My world appreciates patina, both old and new, skilled craftsmanship, usefulness and value.  Are these the same things for the ‘younger generation’, where they may never know homes that are old, full of history and character, or products that have been hand-crafted rather than mass produced? 

Or, am I crying in the wilderness?  I know what I am saying has been said before and that perhaps I feel it more strongly because I was one of those retailers (in Ottawa) trying to sell unique and hand-made works of art in a setting that was beautiful and who was also adversely affected by year-long infrastructure repair. 

Beyond the shops lost, we noticed the quality of the streetscape outside the stores.  Street-sized planters were cracked and empty, garbage containers were dented, damaged and needing a fresh paint job, and the overall feeling was that the remaining vendors, landlords and land owners weren’t interested in even making an effort.  Granted, I understand that if these street accessories were going to be replaced in 2012, it makes no sense to replace them now.  But, leaving planters empty when they could be overflowing with late season glory, especially during harvest season and a still active tourist month, is beyond me.

If the economy of downtown Kingston has been shaken by the world-wide recession (this 2009 article in the Whig says that retail sales that year will plunge 8.5%), that is even more reason for a distinct, proud and unique plan to be adopted by its’ people and politicians. Making money and retaining the unique charm of the neighbourhood should not be mutually exclusive.

The City of Kingston needs to know that there are plenty of visitors like me who see all these things.  What they don’t see is the plan for the future, nor what is considered important to the City Council and the downtown BIA.  They should tell us:  put up some signs, have a storefront that illustrates the new vision for downtown Kingston where visitors can see it.  Assure us that the Kingston we love(d) is not going to be lost. 

But I believe the historic, charming downtown Kingston might be in peril.  Our next long weekend holiday might be to Prince Edward County instead.