Sometimes, an otherwise wayward edible just needs lovingly enforced boundaries. Strawberries have a reputation in Calgary for being disappointingly unproductive, but can thrive when contained. Balzer says that’s because, when planted directly in the ground, strawberry plants “can kind of take off on you,” running rampant ground cover and sending out energy-sucking shoots at a rate that prohibits berry production. Contained, however, they can grow exceptionally well in Calgary.
Last spring, Balzer tried something new with her berries, to delightful result. “I drilled holes every foot or so in a 10-foot length of eavestrough — just a regular rain gutter from the hardware store — filled it with soil and planted strawberry plants every six inches or so.” She hung the gutter on small metal brackets screwed to her fence and, she says, “we had amazing strawberries until quite late in the season.”
Balzer has also had delightful results with container-grown summer squash. “It was such an unexpected surprise,” she says. “It grew down the side of the pot and spilled onto the sidewalk. The flowers were so pretty and the leaves were 30 centimetres wide and really exotic-looking.”
Hearty herbs such as sage, thyme, mint and rosemary look great in a pot, which can be positioned for easy access from the kitchen. Balzer tucks herbs in with just about any mix of potted plants for pizzazz and practicality. One of her most dazzling recent discoveries was potted saffron. Commonly grown in Iran, Greece and India, saffron is derived from the flower of crocus sativus; it’s essentially a pretty, purple, fall crocus. “By the end of August, pots start to look pretty horrible,” says Balzer. “Go get yourself some saffron bulbs — they’re not easy to find but some stores will have them — and crowd them into a pot and they’ll bloom in the fall, providing nectar and pollen for late bees” (if not saffron threads to finesse your paella).