Growing Wiser

Photo by Kathryn Pankowski

Photo by Kathryn Pankowski

By Kathryn Pankowski

One of the delightful (or, depending on your temperament, infuriating) things about gardening is that there is always more to learn. Much more. And much of that knowledge is tied to a particular locale. Move, and many of your gardening tricks no longer work.

So, with spring sneaking up on us, where can we pick up a bit more local growing know-how? Here are a few inexpensive suggestions:

Seedy Saturday

Seedy Saturday (Feb. 17, 10-3:30) is a “must do” for local gardeners, just for the seeds and plants. But it’s also a real educational opportunity, with your choice of 15+ talks by expert local growers included in the $7 admission.

This year, you can get advice on growing brassicas from Linda Gilkeson, learn how to grow great tomatoes (in our climate!) from Mary Alice Johnson, and let Solara Goldwynn introduce you to a wonderful array of perennial veg (only plant once! – an idea which really appeals to my inner sloth).

For those gardening in a limited space (everyone in James Bay), Barrie Agar, head gardener at Royal Roads, will talk about adding fruit trees to small spaces. Chris Hildraeth, who runs Topsoil, a portable urban farm currently roosting in Vic West, will share what he’s learned about growing food in containers. And Joshua Wagler of Edible Landscapes Design will talk about applying the principles of environmentally-friendly forest gardening in a backyard.

There will also be a full schedule of demos and workshops – an excellent opportunity to learn or review gardening basics. Topics include how to plant a seed, to make a no-dig bed, to make really good compost, and to keep your potted succulents alive and happy.

There’s a lot more on offer. Check out the full schedule at Don’t miss it – Seedy Saturday only comes around once a year.

The Library

GVPL Central Branch frequently hosts Master Gardeners in the courtyard, usually for a few hours mid-day on a Saturday. These sterling folk will identify your plants and pests, answer questions, and advise on garden perplexities – all for free. Check the library calendar  for their next appearance.

The Seed Library

This joint venture between the public library and LifeCycles presents free garden talks, open to all, at Central Library. This month’s offering is Pollinators in the Capital Region, Feb. 21, 6:30. You can find the schedule for 2018 at

The Compost Education Centre

This Fernwood institution offers an excellent series of gardening classes, weekends through the growing season. A few are free (sign up early!); most of the rest are $20. In February, there’s a free Composting Basics class on the 3rd, and two pay classes: Planning Your Year Round Veggie Garden (Feb. 3) and Zero Waste Living (Feb. 24). More at

Your Neighbours

There’s no better way to learn about what grows in James Bay than to ask your neighbours. Cruise the allotments, boulevard gardens, and front beds in the hood and, if you can find the gardeners, ask them what they’re growing and how they do it. Come to the neighbourhhood plant swaps in May and September for plant chat with other James Bay gardeners. Or volunteer for a neighbourhood gardening project – you’ll learn a lot from your fellow volunteers.

Neighbourhood Garden News

The big news in February is always Seedy Saturday. Run by the James Bay Market Society, it’s now Victoria’s biggest seed and garden show. It’s fun, close, cheap, gets you in the mood for spring, lets you shop tons of local organic seed and plant vendors in one place, offers great talks, hosts a giant seed exchange – what’s not to like? February 17, 10-3:30, Victoria Conference Centre, $7.

Feel like you don’t have enough gardening in your life? Or like to dabble in the dirt but don’t want to commit to looking after plants every day? Consider joining a community gardening group – all the fun of gardening, plus you can, with most groups, take time off knowing that others will fill in. You can find groups at New Horizons, James Bay United Church, and the James Bay Community Project, which just got funding to do some garden upgrading. Or you can contact me to help create a new boulevard garden on Michigan near Menzies (Thurs. mornings) or plan the new neighbourhood berry patches (we’ll meet on evenings or weekends to be more convenient for people who work conventional hours).

Kathryn Pankowski is the James Bay Neighbourhood Association Neighbourhood Gardening Advocate: she can be reached at The JBNA would like to acknowledge the financial support of the City of Victoria for this initiative.

Julie Lawson: James Bay Author Extraordinaire

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