Reviving the Garden

This summer will be my fourth season as a gardener. By now, I have learned that the way in which I start planting each year is roughly the same: inevitably, Graeme and I will have gotten lazy during the previous fall, and we will not have properly cleared things up before the snow arrived, meaning that by now the garden will be an unholy mess that seems unsalvageable. I will therefore hem and haw about whether or not I want to devote my time to this tangle of weeds and dead leaves at all. It will seem so daunting. Despite my ambivalence, my decision, each year, will actually be made for me by my mother, when she randomly shows up at my doorstep (or more commonly, letting herself right into my yard) with a bag full of seedlings. She will instruct me to start cleaning up, and to get them into the soil. I will obey. And so it will begin.

I started gardening when we moved into this apartment, enchanted by the idea of growing my own food, and influenced by my mother’s magical green thumb; I grew up watching her tend lovingly to seemingly thousands of flowers and vegetables and berries, and I aspired to her greatness. I still do; she is the most talented gardener I have ever met. Because of my mother, gardening seemed like the kind of skill any reasonable adult should have; it never seemed optional to me. I am grateful to her for that influence, which was why Graeme and I immediately set to work as soon as we moved into a place that had space for us to grow things. Still, for all of its romance, gardening involves committing to many tedious chores before one can enjoy that transcendent, perfectly ripe cherry tomato; weeding, in particular, drives me crazy, especially as a neighbour’s tree pretty much constantly sheds into our yard. So, while I had a healthy commitment to gardening because I should do it, it took me a while to actually learn to enjoy it. I finally started understanding the hours that my mother spent obsessing over her immaculate garden last summer. I don’t know why, but that year it just clicked for me. I realized how peaceful it is to fall into these summer rituals of watering, surveying the previous twenty-four hours’ growth, pruning a branch here and there, plucking off any ripe vegetables, and spending the rest of the day smelling the residue of a tomato plant on your hands. I finally understood how profoundly meditative gardening can be; it is all about attention to detail, observing the subtlest changes and noticing each new leaf, fruit or sprout. My actual gardening practice still leaves much to be desired–I have a lot to learn, and I get lazy and cut corners far too often, especially as the summer progresses. But when, yesterday morning, the first lot of seedlings arrived in my house care of my always ahead of her game mother, and I realized that once again, the decision was made for me, I hearkened back to last year’s rituals and felt excited to get started. This would mean that my summer was, indeed, about to begin.

My mom handed over two tomato plants, three cucumber plants, and an array of lettuces. That is, of course, just the beginning. But I took some time yesterday to at least clear off a corner of my raised beds for this first wave, at least as well as I could. Before we can start going strong we will need to spend a good afternoon clearing the space out of its debris, and adding a whole lot more soil and fertilizer; things are looking pretty limp at the moment. Despite the current lackluster state of the garden, I found my usual sturdy herbs going strong; the oregano has already nearly over taken its section of the garden, the tarragon was already over a foot tall, the sage and mint are looking healthy, and we have more chives than we can eat already. While keeping these herbs in check is a bit of a terrifying prospect (that damn oregano in particular!), it is always so cool to discover that there is actual food growing out there that took literally no effort on my part. Even more thrilling was discovering that this little guy had already sprouted:

I planted asparagus for the first time last year. Asparagus is a plant that needs to go to seed for at least one, ideally two, seasons before you can harvest it. This is a dangerous prospect when you live in a rental, which is a lesson we learned when we narrowly escaped getting our apartment repossessed this winter. Would you believe that in obsessing over how much it would suck to leave our apartment, the asparagus I had been waiting for was at the top of my list of injustices? It was. I know, I am weird. Thankfully, we are staying put, and I was waiting on tenterhooks as the snow melted to see if my lovely asparagus would come back this year. It did. Hooray! The big question is, of course, whether or not it, or we, will make it until  next year.


It felt satisfying to get my hands dirty and start putting things into the soil. (Another part of my yearly start to garderning ritual seems to be resolving to use gloves that year, in an attempt to not constantly have dirt under my fingernails, and then abandoning that resolve about half an hour into my first planting session. It’s tradition.) Of course, this year, I was helped by my new assistant:

She is enthusiastic, but still has a lot to learn. For example, it would be most helpful if she would not decide to lay down in the middle of the soil, although I understand that it must be a pretty comfortable spot for a nap.

The garden isn’t much to look at right now, but I post these photos as a way of documenting the process from its messy start–full of debris and tiny leaves full of promise–to its inevitable messy end–overgrown tomato plants and bean stalks tangled up in each other. As I am still very much learning, I hope that I can share some of my lessons with you this summer. As well as, of course, the delicious foods that will hopefully result from all the planting and pruning.

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4 thoughts on “Reviving the Garden

  1. Is there anything better than the smell of tomato plants? I love how even the leaves smell perfectly tomatoey.

    My parents are big gardeners (as were my grandparents before them), and we got started gardening the same way – my dad loaded our trunk up with seedlings on the way home after we bought our house (and thus had a yard for the first time).

    This is also our fourth summer gardening, and we are definitely still in that beginner gardener, stick in the ground and hope it grows stage, but it’s pretty awesome. We started our plants from seeds ourselves this year and put them in the ground last weekend. I can’t wait to watch everything grow.

    BTW, when my parents moved last year, they dug up their asparagus and transplanted it at the new house. My mom says it’s doing well!

  2. Yes, my mom had assured us that you can transplant the asparagus too! I just wasn’t sure our future place would have a yard, as we are pretty blessed right now to have a rental with a big outdoor space. But thankfully it can stay put. :)

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