Not talking about writing

February 16th, 2013Posted by Nancy

And certainly not posting about much else, either, these days. I know this blog is really supposed to be about my writing (ok, really it’s supposed to persuade you to BUY MY BOOKS, let’s not pretend otherwise) but I don’t have much to say on that subject. I’m fearful of jinxing things, I suppose. Or of revealing how lazy I am.

What I want to write about is gardening and canning, so that, as this is my blog and I can do anything I damned well please, is what I’m going to do.

It was certainly a surprise to me when I started to become interesting in gardening. Every plant I’d ever had in my apartment or house died and I’d really never gardened in my life. It was a bigger surprise when I decided to trying canning, because I don’t cook. I never have. I’m fortunate enough to be married to a man who both likes cooking and is very good at it, but if I were single, I suspect I’d exist on a diet of cereal, grilled cheese sandwiches and take-out.

When we moved into our current house 8 years ago, it already had a well-established garden. The front was marred by rather large squares of interlocking brick and some half-empty beds but the back was an oasis of shrubs, lilacs, a little pond with a fountain, a magnolia tree and a very small patch of grass. I had absolutely no idea what half the plants were and what I was supposed to do to take care of them. I had been counting on my mother to help me with that but she was diagnosed with liver cancer just as we bought the house and she died without ever having seen it. Fortunately, my day job provides me access to lots of experts and at a BBQ at the home of the Canadian Living Editor-in-Chief, I met Sara Katz, a garden expert who wrote for several of our publications.

I promptly hired her for a consultation. On the appointed day, I trailed her around the garden with a sketched map and a notepad madly writing down what each thing was and what I was supposed to do with it. I hired her again the next spring to tell me what all these new things coming up were and eventually I had her redesign the front yard.

Her design made the most of the existing plants but eliminated the sterile interlocking brick and substituted a river-rock “river” and a selection of hardy, drought-tolerant plants. My husband and I did all the prepatory grunt work (with some help from my father, who claimed to be imported slave labour from the Maritimes) and on the appointed day, Sara arrived in her rubber boots, a truck followed with plants, and we spent a long day digging, planting and transplanting. The experience was invaluable, as Sara’s instructions gave me confidence that I wasn’t going to kill everything I touched.

My other “garden guru” has been my neighbour Joe. Now in his late eighties, a resident of the street since the 1950’s, Joe had an enviable swath of his backyard devoted to tomatoes, peppers, onions, and chard. He could remember the days in which the row of Italian neighbours, their gardens open all along the street, would gather to make tomato sauce from their harvests. When I tentatively started planting vegetables in pots, I would ask Joe for advice and do my best to understand his answers. I kept an eye on his activities and when he planted his onions, I knew it was time to plant mine. He’s slowed down considerably now and half his garden has been given back to sod (I almost lobbied to take it over but realized that might be a bit too much for me with my busy summer work schedue) and he now sits on his back porch directing his daughter, his grandson or one of his caregivers.

A few years ago, we dug up the useless patch of grass and turned the space into four beds for vegetables and herbs. Last year we cut down the magnolia to create two large beds with more sunlight. The magnolia was pretty but given the choice between more space for vegetables and a tree that blooms for a week a year – well, there was no contest.

I can’t claim to be a very good gardener – I’m lazy, I don’t have any eye for colour or composition, I’m easily seduced by anything that’s purple or has a cool name – but when I walk into the backyard after another long day of budgeting, I can feel my blood pressure drop. Poking around among the plants in the backyard, listening to the sparrows squabble in the “mystery bush” and contemplating what we’re going to do with everything the garden gives us (my husband makes a mean lavender martini), I think life is pretty good. And that’s enough for me.

The vegetable beds

The vegetable beds

The back yard

The back yard

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