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Julia Monkman plants sage as her boyfriend Alec prepares for a new flower bed behind her at home in Montreal, May 21, 2010. (Christinne Muschi/Christinne Muschi for the Globe and Mail)
Julia Monkman plants sage as her boyfriend Alec prepares for a new flower bed behind her at home in Montreal, May 21, 2010. (Christinne Muschi/Christinne Muschi for the Globe and Mail)

Meet four budding gardeners from across the country Add to ...

Montreal: Julia Monkman

Julia Monkman, 27, of Montreal, also gardens at work - Santropol Roulant, a meals-on-wheels community group that cooks with vegetables grown in an urban garden on campus at McGill University.

How long have you been gardening?

It'll be the first summer that I'm actually planting in the ground - I got a new apartment with a backyard. But I've volunteered on farms and gardened with the Santropol, so roughly seven years.

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What are you putting in the ground?

We're putting in a lot of tomatoes. I have seven different varieties. We have kale, chard, sage, basil, thyme and lavender, and we're going to do beans off the balcony. We're also planting the Montreal melon. There's a legend that it grows on the mountain in Montreal. It's a cantaloupe. It's in the same family as cucumbers so it's a really big leafy plant that takes over and only produces a couple of fruits.

How much of what you plant goes on the plate?

We'll see what happens this summer. It's hard to know. We have a farmer that we go to every week, but this is more for the experience of growing the food ourselves. It will be trial and error.

Given the weather, do you think this could prove to be one of the best planting seasons?

We've had a really warm spring in Montreal and the forecasts say it's going to be a hot summer. That's really great for tomatoes, which we chose because they're so productive compared to other things that farmers are expert at growing. Last summer was super rainy and the tomatoes couldn't handle it.

Calgary: Laurie Leier

Laurie Leier, 42, arts administrator in Calgary. This is the sixth season Ms. Leier and her husband, Greg Stein, will be tending to their 6- by 7.5-metre backyard garden plot, which enjoys all-day sun exposure and is cordoned off from the wild neighbourhood rabbits.

How long have you been gardening?

"In the beginning it was more, why not try it? It would be good to have our own veggies. It was definitely trial and error at first. You try to remember what your parents did when you were 10."

What are you putting in the ground?

Tomato plants were seeded indoors in pots in March, and outdoor planting began last week. This year, the couple will have 17 types of vegetables, seven herbs and five kinds of greens. Produce ranges from staples such as carrots and potatoes to spinach, arugula and unusual items such as kohlrabi. "It's relaxing, but it's also very rewarding. Determination and love: It's totally what we've thrown into this garden."

How much of your what you plant ends up on your plate?

Their garden supplies all of their vegetable needs from mid-July through the end of October, as well as the tables of their friends and neighbours. "We give away so much throughout the year." In addition to freezing and storage, they've added canning and pickling. "We're learning how to stretch it out. One of the coolest things is having a freezer full of your own food."

Given the weather, what are your expectations for this year's crop?

Gardening in Calgary can be tricky. The region is blessed with an boatload of sun, but snow is in the forecast again this holiday weekend.

Ms. Leier said her plants seem to "green-up" better when quenched by rain - plus, a liberal amount of rain makes it easier on the water bill and means less work for the gardener. She's optimistic this will be a good growing season. "I think it's going to be fine as far as the veggies go."

Toronto: Chris Wong

Chris Wong, 24, founder of Young Urban Farmers

How long have you been gardening?

Since I was a young child. That's how I got started, helping my parents set up and tend to a vegetable garden when I was young. I stopped doing it for a couple of years in high school and in my university studies, being away from home. But once I finished my studies and got back to the city, I started up my garden again.

What do you like about it?

I just love the thrill of harvesting, picking and eating your own fresh grown produce. The taste just can't compare with anything else.

What kind of things do you grow?

I've got a whole variety of stuff in my garden. I've got a cherry tree, sunchokes, I just put in some rhubarb. I'm growing tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, Swiss chard, beans and peas. I'm growing Mexican tomatillos this year. I'm starting broccoli and I'm starting an interesting variety of snowpea, it's a purple snowpea that turns back to a green colour when you cook it.

How big a yard do you have?

It's not a big area. One of the big misconceptions is that you need a big space to grow your own vegetables. Even if you have small containers or a small space, as long as you have enough sun you can grow lots of great and delicious produce.

What do you think the planting season's going to be like this year?

It's well under way for us already. I think the forecast for this summer is supposed to be hot and dry, so our plants should do really well this year. It might be a bit of a hit on our water bills because of how much we're going to water our gardens, but it's definitely worth it in terms of saving money at the grocery store.

Victoria: Mary Ann Bodenberg

Mary Ann Bodenberg is a community-garden activist in Victoria.

How long have you been gardening?

Throughout my whole life, my parents had a large garden. … But New Jersey was really steamy, it put me off until I moved to Victoria. I started again with an allotment garden in 1996 and I've been gardening seriously ever since.

What are you putting in the ground?

I grow vegetables 12 months of the year here. [Already in: turnips, potatoes and bare-root strawberries, gourmet lettuce, tomatoes. This weekend, she hopes to plant beans and transplant leeks.]

How much of what you plant goes on the plate?

We eat everything I produce - we either eat it right away or freeze it. [She's dining this week on spinach quiche thanks to an early winter harvest. But she'd like to have more space.]I keep inching my flowers out and sneaking my vegetables and herbs in.

And given the weather (Victoria has had a cold, windy spring), do you think this could prove to be one of the best planting seasons?

If this is like last year, it's going to be slow coming. Everything was late last year. This year I'm trying to grow only Early Girl tomatoes. [But like a Canucks fan, she's eternally hopeful that this year will be better than last.]

Follow us on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski, @justine_hunter, @SiriAgrell

 

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