the garden

I’ve been thinking about writing about gardening here. Not how-to, by any means as I’m still slowly figuring that out, but about the gardening itself. This is the third summer we’ll have this garden. The first year, we roto-tilled the grass under, bought a few inches of topsoil, lime and other things to amend the heavy clay. We sprinkled seeds, sowed seeds in rows and grew starts in the living room. The garden that year was a jungle. Cosmos and hollyhocks tangled with orach, chicory, tomatoes and brussels sprouts. It was dense, lush, verdant and a mess. We planted so much that there were beautiful plants tumbling over themselves and each other in a feral tapestry. Last year we had another project on the go and thought we would be moving so we mostly left the garden to its own devices. I have an incorrigible curiosity when it comes to gardening and had let almost everything from the year before go to seed. I am also reticent to pull unknown plants in case they turn out to have pretty flowers, or to maybe be something I planted and forgot about. I delighted in American black nightshade for weeks thinking I had hit a west coast eggplant jackpot before they developed enough identifiable characteristics that a google search led me to pull them all out. I also let an elegant frondy member of the carrot family grow to monstrous proportions before a parent pointed out it was poison hemlock. But there was broccoli, and beets and raspberries and strawberries, and the borage, nasturtiums and lupins came back along with the ever-present fennel and what I think hope is lovage. A thimbleberry shrub erupted in one of the main garden beds and though I’ve relocated it three times, I’m sure it will be back as I can’t seem to get at the deeper roots without dislodging neighbouring plants. Last October, I picked up some gardening books but had to put them away after reading “I understand plant domestication as an eternal contract whereby we humans promise to nurture a wild plant and protect it and its progeny from competition.” in Steve Solomon’s introduction to Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades (it took me six months to pick up the book again and finish it). So much for my curious, laid-back approach to letting plants seed themselves and see what happens. I like wild places and find that nature rarely looks messy to me. But I didn’t want to be mistreating my vegetables and causing them to struggle. Our soil is bad enough as it is. That, and the relentless wind around here, and the shading buildings, and the slugs. So this year, this year things will be tidier. I’ve let the raspberries migrate where they like though, because I have never had too many raspberries, and have moved the strawberries to where it looked like they were trying to go. Those giants, fennel and hollyhocks and lovage(?), that turn up throughout are being moved to the edges. I’m not sure I have the heart to pull the poppies(?) that are coming up amongst the leeks and garlic, but maybe I’ll try to move them. I was going to plant a small bed of parsley, and a small bed nearby appears to be full of parsley seedlings, so that works. The big plan for the garden this year was to grow lettuce for the rabbits. Unfortunately, most of the ground I thought was free is now home to a multitude of little gemlike chard seedlings. It’s a good thing rabbits also eat chard. The things I have planted so far (peas, sweet peas, endive, lettuce, orach) have all been in rows, but I couldn’t resist also sowing blanketflower, marigold and borage (and zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers to come). About the gardening: I don’t think I quite actually like pulling weeds, but I do like the moments when I’m out there weeding. I like the meditative calm that comes of having one’s hands in the dirt, and the quiet of the sky and the birdsong filtering through my thoughts. At the risk of sounding cliche, it’s grounding. At the end of a busy workday downtown, the garden feels like an oasis.