"Someday's gonna be a busy day..."

Friday, 14 August 2009

The inconstant gardener

When we moved to Someday farm from Waterloo, I missed very little about my old house. It had its charms and I was fond of it, but I certainly didn't miss the cupboard doors that wouldn't shut, the bathroom plumbing that misbehaved at inopportune moments, or the mold growing stealthily in the basement. No, I didn't care so much about the house; what tugged at my heart after we'd settled in at Someday were all the wonderful green and yellow and purple and pink things I'd left behind outside.

I lived at 139 Moore for over 10 years, and in that time, I'd managed to amass an impressive (and motley) assortment of flowers, plants and shrubs. I had gardens everywhere I could dig them. They were crazy and unmanagable but I loved them all the more for their untidy beauty. I enjoyed tinkering with my naturalized boulevard and chatting with passersby; I shared ribbon grass and russian sage cuttings with complete strangers who complimented me on their abundance and traded plants with neighbours. Gardens are great conversation starters.

What my gardens lacked in respectability and neatness, they made up for in personality. My seven foot high raspberry patch pulled me into a prickly embrace every morning when I went to pick berries for breakfast. Clematis vines stretched happy purple faces up the sour cherry tree and along the south wall, growing as high as the eavestrough. Dozens of rose of sharon shrubs bloomed serenely along the east wall where they'd sown themselves from my neighbour's fertile plant. My grapevine produced sticky sweet and sour fruit every year that my husband, dog and feathered friends enjoyed with equal pleasure. Peach and green striped tulips were the pride of my spring, tomatoes and herbs the pride of my summer. I didn't care so much about leaving my first house as I did about leaving my first gardens.

Thankfully, Someday already had many beautiful plants, shrubs and trees for me to discover when we moved here. But there was one thing missing: a vegetable plot. Truth be told, I'd never had a big vegetable garden before. I'd grown berries, herbs and tomatoes successfully in the city, but little else of edible interest. One year I attempted to grow two rows of popcorn; I can still remember my neighbour, an accomplished gardener who grew tomatoes from seed and zucchinis the size of baseball bats, shaking his head at me as I flicked earwigs off the cobs and chased squirrels away in vain.

Shrugging off my past failures, I pictured myself gloating over a green space teeming with with spicy herbs, giant tomato plants, fuzzy cucumbers that twined wandering fingers around the soil, orderly rows of peas, beans and onions. I'd even grow sweet corn. I was now a country woman, and I wanted me a vegetable patch!

My husband ploughed up the foot of the apple orchard with his uncle's tractor (and would have kept going if I'd let him) and hemmed in the space with weathered timber. He warned me that corn and watermelon probably wouldn't grow but I ignored him and planted lots of both, along with the other aforementioned veggies. How hard could it be?

As I've mentioned, I am not a tidy gardener. My watermelon vines overflowed onto the lawn, cucumbers kept climbing up the tomato cages and my peas clung to the nearest corn stalks. It looked a bit wild, but I didn't care. I planted everything myself and with the exception of the corn and watermelon, my crops were bountiful and beautiful.

This year, my garden is wilder and more overgrown than ever, thanks to the arrival of my baby daughter during prime planting time. I couldn’t dig up the garden, spread the manure or plant the seeds, so I enlisted my very tired hubby to do both. Carrying baby Jade in a sling one mid-June evening, dodging bats and mosquitoes, I called out instructions to my patient man on where to set the tomatoes, the herbs, the cucumbers and the onions. He even planted my beans and peas from seeds I’d saved last year. I felt a surge of relief a few weeks afterward when everything sprouted. And then, busy with baby, I proceeded to tend my garden in imagination only.

When my husband informed me we’d be getting our barn roof repaired by local Mennonites, an alarm went off in my head. Mennonites had impeccable gardens with neat, orderly rows and vegetables that behaved themselves. I could not let anyone, let alone a Mennonite farmer, see my garden in its current state of chaos. Baby Jade went in her buggy and I went to work on a warm August day. I pulled out pigweed by the fistfuls, hacked at stray dandelions and desperately tried to train my tomatoes into some semblance of order. I realized that I’d completely forgotten to cage three out of my six tomatoes, and there were two unidentifiable yet important looking plants that I couldn’t remember asking my husband to put in. Gah, I thought. I am a terrible, terrible gardener.

And then, in the midst of my sweaty gardening angst, I started to laugh. I looked at my dirty toes, my mud-caked nails, my dirt-smeared arms. I sniffed the aroma of bruised mint and pruned tomato vines. Jade was cooing in her buggy and the birds were singing. I'd forgotten what fun it was to dig in the dirt and I was having a great time. My garden didn’t have to look perfect. It didn't even have to yield much of anything. It was there for me to work in and learn from. And I have a feeling that it will be there again next year, waiting for me to dig in and learn some more.


Susan said...

If this is the piece I'll be critiquing later today, I don't think it'll take too long!! Thank goodness, since I'm working all day, then have to go home and make supper before getting to it.

I'm a worse gardener than you are. Our front yard landscape looks forlorn and dissheveled, and we are having a couple of landscapers visit us next week to see what we can do about it. I'm sure we are the eyesore of the neighbourhood!

You never did come down to help, but I know you are a very busy mama, and I didn't really expect you to anyway :)

Susan said...

And that was in no way intended to make you feel badly. I know we were only kibbitzing around :)

Mrs Successful said...

You set the scene delightfully, Kimber. Quite a charming one too. xx

Biddie said...

Oh, please, please, tell me how to make Clematis thrive! It has been 8 years of Shawn struggling to successfully cultivate one. Just ONE sweet bloom....
Maybe in the spring you and Jade Lady can come by and help us out....:)

Mrs Successful said...

Hope Biddie returns to this post to read how to get a flowering plant (which refuses to flower) to flower. I had a hydrangea which didn't flower for 7 years. I went down to it one springtime and gave it a severe talking to, telling it if it didn't flower this coming year it was out on it would be dragged out by its roots and thrown out on its ears! I repeated it again before I left and said ... "and I mean it". Yep - I got flowers that year and they get more and more beautiful every year. Treat them mean and keep them keen Biddie..... xx

Kimber said...

And here I thought you were supposed to be nice to them! Sheesh.

As for clematis, here are my hints: plant it against a south facing wall and make sure you cover the roots/stems of the plant from direct sunlight. I use mulch or old pieces of bark. Make sure the soil is moist but not soggy too. Good luck!