That Time of Year

This post is a rewrite of something we posted back in 2009 (original here), written by my wonderful spouse, Ross Arbo. I asked him to write a fresh post for us this year, but he reminds me that the advice for yard gardens stands the test of time. He’s right. So instead, I’m updating it to include some houseplant / container gardening info along with his previous sage advice for your yard.

Around now, the weather is getting (noticeably) warmer, and many people start to think: gardening. No matter where your garden is – balcony, counter, or yard – a bit of extra effort now can spell maximum enjoyment later.

Two notes for all gardeners and would-be gardeners:

  1. Our library has wonderful gardening books and they don’t need to be new and fancy to fit the bill. Stop by and ask the helpful staff for some advice on finding the right one for your particular garden.
  2. While there is no official “garden store” in New West, there are some great options for buying locally: most chain grocery stores carry garden items seasonally and Lowe’s in Queensborough and Uptown Market on 6th has a great selection this time of year. There are two dollar stores in Uptown with a decent selection, and both Robin at Bunches & Blooms in River Market and Rani at The Bloom Bloom Room in Sapperton can probably help you find the exact thing you need.

One final word: for any of you dying to buy and plant that technicolor flat of impatiens you see on sale, and even though our spring feels like it started a month ago, please wait until Mothers Day (May 8, 2016); it’s often still too cold at night. The flowers will just get shocked and die and then it’s a waste. Continue reading “That Time of Year”

Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine: Keeping a Medicinal Garden at Westminster Pier Park

File this under “who knew?”: Western Canada’s only accredited naturopathic school is right here in New Westminster.

The Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine, located at 435 Columbia Street is a graduate-level naturopathic medical college. Students applying require a university bachelor’s degree from a recognized post-secondary institution, or the equivalent and once accepted are entered into a rigorous four-year, full-time doctor of naturopathic medicine program.

The school is also home to the Boucher Naturopathic Medical Clinic. Much like the student massage clinic at West Coast College of Massage Therapy a few doors away, this teaching clinic offers high quality, affordable health-care to the public, while equipping our senior clinic interns with essential hands-on experience.

They are also the tenders of a public garden initiative at the Westminster Pier Park. Bill Reynolds, the Store Manager for the Boucher Institute told us about his recent day of gardening at their plot in the Park:

The day dawned bright with promise as we gathered at the Boucher Botanical Garden in Westminster Pier Park on April 28th, the last weekend in April.  Armed with shovels, rakes, hoes, brooms, watering pales and other requisite gardening tools; members of the Botanical Garden Committee met and proceeded with the task of the day which was the planting of our Garden.

Everything went well.  The garden plot provided by the New Westminster Park Dept. was fresh and had no weeds so, with many hands, the work simply flew and well before noon we had planted every herb available, raked the ground smooth, swept the adjacent sidewalks and then stood for a few minutes, finishing the last bits of our coffee and admiring our work.

The Boucher Botanical has been a dream of the students for quite some time and so it is especially gratifying to see it become a reality.  To date we have planted: Lemon balm, St. John’s Wort, Thyme, Sage, Lavender, Motherwort, Raspberry, Celandine, Marshmallow Comfrey, and Skull cap.  We expect to add a few more plants in the next month or so but now the job is to keep everything watered and weeded.  We want to invite all to come and visit our garden.  Westminster Pier Park borders the Fraser River just east of New Westminster Quay.  We hope you all enjoy and we will post pictures to show the progress of our plants over the spring and summer.


Flowers and tomatoes offered at annual Kiwanis hanging basket sale May 11

In New West, hanging baskets are a traditional Mother’s Day present. After all, why buy a bouquet when you can give flowers that will last all season long? Once again, the Kiwanis Club of New Westminster will be holding their annual hanging basket sale on the day before Mother’s Day (Saturday, May 11) from 10am – 3pm in the parking lot of the Terminal Pub. This year, there will also be cherry tomatoes for sale – and a contest to see who can get the best yield from their cherry tomato plant.

Hanging baskets will be sold for $25 each, with all profits supporting New Westminster charitable causes, including the Lord Kelvin Breakfast Program, St. Barnabas Lunch Program, Monarch House, New Westminster Ambassador Program, Purpose Society, and the New Westminster Secondary School Bursary. Cherry tomato plants will cost $10.

Participants in the cherry tomato growing contest will compare the number of cherry tomatoes on their plants at harvest time. The person with the most cherry tomatoes on their plant on September 8 will win a prize. Any surplus tomatoes will be donated to Plant a Row / Grow A Row.

For more information, phone 604-521-8567. 


Learn about permaculture in a free presentation by the New West Community Gardening Society

Permaculture is a fascinating field of gardening expertise. By trying to replicate the natural systems of a wild environment within the garden, permaculture hopes to reduce or eliminate the need to add water, fertilizer and chemicals.

If you’re interested in learning more about this holistic approach to gardening, you might want to check out the New Westminster Community Gardening Society’s upcoming presentation “Permaculture Principles and their Applications in an Urban Environment” with Jodi Peters, this Saturday, February 19 at Mary Mount Garden (121 East Columbia St.).

The presentation description is: “Permaculture principles and the ethics that guide them give powerful new ways of understanding the natural cycles of nutrients and energy, which helps gardeners to make decisions that save time, effort and are sustainable over the long term. These principles help illuminate the vast, but often unfamiliar resources in the urban eco-system. Some examples will include work with urban waste streams, no-till bed preparation, aquaponics and urban seed saving.”

The presentation will be followed by the NWCGS AGM. If you go, NWCGS asks that you bring a reusable side plate & cup for the snacks & drinks that will be available.

I had the pleasure of attending a workshop about permaculture a few years ago and was struck by the difference between a permaculture perspective and mainstream gardening advice.

Permaculture doesn’t just look at a plant in isolation, adjusting soil and water conditions to support its growth. Instead it looks at the interactions between plants and how they affect the soil.

For instance, in the workshop I attended, we were recommended to plant in spirals or circular mounds instead of typical rows to make efficient use of space. One lovely tip was to build up a spiral mound using large stones and plant with herbs. The rocks help contain heat, and when you water the plants, the water runs down the spiral. Plant dry soil-loving herbs at the top and herbs that require more water at the bottom and all the herbs are happy. Other tips to help minimize watering requirements, included selecting plants with watering requirements that are compatible with the natural environment of the garden, spacing them closer together to reduce the amount of free space that weeds could colonize, and mulching liberally to discourage weeds and retain water in the soil.

I’d highly recommend checking it out if you’re interested in gardening. Whether or not you decide to change how you garden, you will almost certainly come away with a different perspective on gardening and likely also a number of tips you could apply in your own little plot of soil.

What: Permaculture Principles and their Applications in an Urban Environment, a presentation by Jodi Peters

When: Saturday, February 19th, 7 to 9:30pm

Where: St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church Hall (Mary Mount Garden), 121 East Columbia Street

Welcome migratory birds to your backyard with native trees, shrubs

This is a guest post by Marianne Dawson. Marianne will be presenting a  public education program on migratory birds visiting Metro Vancouver during the summer and how to create habitat for them in backyards and attract them to nest on April 9 at 6pm at the New Westminster Public Library. You can read more from Marianne at

As gardeners across Metro Vancouver begin working in their gardens, there are some spring and summer visitors who are very interested in what they are doing. These visitors are the birds. Every summer, thousands of these little migrants fly up from the States and South America to breed in and around Vancouver. But as commercial and residential developments spring up in former bird habitat, some of these visitors will find it increasingly difficult to compete with invasive birds for the last remaining nest sites.

A Yellow Warbler is a summer visitor to the Vancouver area. Photo: Marianne Dawson.
A Yellow Warbler is a summer visitor to the Vancouver area. Photo: Marianne Dawson.

In 2003, a study showed that in highly urbanized areas, three of the four most common birds were non-native species. The researchers attributed this to a lack of suitable habitat for Vancouver’s native birds. The highly competitive nature of non-native birds for food and nest spots only makes the problem worse. Every year, migratory birds are having more and more trouble finding the food and nests they need due to these unsuitable habitats, invasive species, and shrinking territories. But the situation is relatively easy to fix.

Most birds think that perfectly manicured lawns are a yawn. What they want most are native plants planted in a natural way, similar to how a forest is structured. This includes trees such as Rocky Mountain Juniper, mixed with medium shrubs, and some flowers and ground-creeping plants like Kinnikinnick to finish it off. To really get these birds excited, the addition of feeders and bird baths will make your yard seem like a luxury suite. They will be breaking down the door to get a chance to nest and raise chicks in your backyard.

Currently, most migratory birds will try and find parks and undeveloped areas to nest in. Creating bird-friendly backyards will make habitat corridors to link parks together and encourage our friendly migrants to nest in new places and better compete against invasive species.

To learn more about how to help these little birds, visit the What the Heck Are You Doing Down There blog at

Garden Nerd Series: Garden-grown food for a good cause.

Last year I started the spring growing season by attending an annual meet and greet event for Plant a Row, Grow a Row, an international organization that had local hubs in many communities.

Tough customer sampling some green beans at the source.
Tough customer sampling some green beans at the source.

As it says on the website, it “builds on the long-standing tradition of gardeners loving to share their harvest with others. It is a people-helping-people program to assist in feeding the hungry in their own communities”. In short, gardeners are asked to produce just a bit more than they otherwise would plant, and donate the surplus to the local food bank. The Plant a Row, Grow a Row group makes it easy by having a weekly drop off point in the community. As last year, St. Thomas More Collegiate. has volunteered to host the drop-offs.

This year, as last, the group, organized locally by well known city horticulture manager (and neighbour) Claude LeDoux, is holding the annual Gardener’s Party at the gym of St. Thomas More . It is a great chance to come and meet some fellow gardeners, listen to some fascinating speakers and learn about this great program.

At the event this year, scheduled for March 18th at 6pm, speakers include renowned horticulturalist Brian Minter; Daniel Mosquin and Ingrid Hoff from the UBC Botanical Garden, Conrad Lum from GardenWorks Mandeville and Mark McDonald from WestCoast Seeds. Expect refreshments and some free goodies. The evening was entertaining and informative last year but consider bringing a cushion (seating is on the bleachers in the gym). From the recent press release:

Growing food is this year’s hot horticultural trend, and it’s a great family activity, especially when you can help kids learn about the importance of helping others at the same time. You can grow vegetables and fruits in containers, in with your perennials, or in your own backyard plot. You can even grow Tumbler tomatoes or strawberries in a hanging basket!

So please join us March 18th at 6 pm at St Thomas More Collegiate (7450 12th Ave., Burnaby) to find out more. Admission is free, but we would appreciate the donation of non-perishable food for the Food Bank. See you there!

With the undeniable passion for gardening in New Westminster, the developing sense of food security and local sources of food, the sustained two-year push to gain another community garden in this city (culminating in the recently announced new plots at St. Mary’s in Sapperton), groups like Plant a Row, Grow a Row, really help form a network of community involvement and responsibility out of a passion for a good hobby. Congratulations to them for another great year, and happy gardening.