How to Choose a Tomato

With over 3000 heirloom tomatoes and a whopping 15,000 known tomato varieties in production, picking the right tomato for your own backyard can seem like a daunting process.

West Coast Seeds has provided this handy chart that may help simplify things a bit.


Obviously these are just a few varieties that this particular outlet sells, but it is good launching point for the overwhelmed tomato chooser!

Most of the varieties mentioned above are easily sourced at local nurseries as well.

Whatever variety you choose, you are sure to be rewarded by a smacking taste sensation. There is nothing like biting into a sun-kissed home-grown tomato. Unless it’s a sun-kissed home-grown tomato wrapped in a fresh basil leaf.

Delectable!

A Thousand Words About Winter. And Some About Naked Gardeners.

 

That’s already a thousand words right there, but I will add a few more.

I saw a post on Facebook that said there were five stages to winter:

  1. Shock
  2. Denial
  3. Anger
  4. Depression
  5. April

to which a friend sagely commented, “Winter is over in April…said no Peace Country resident ever.”

It made me laugh, but I have to admit that as soon as March climbs on her lion and leaves, I always think spring is going to come bouncing in on a lamb. April Fool. And this despite living over a half a century in The Peace.

I guess April is when I hang out in stage 2. There is no lineal order to these things. And there is no guarantee we will be able to comfortably garden naked on May 5th neither.

You know, on World Naked Gardening Day.

It’s a thing and it happens annually on the first Saturday of May.

According to Wikipedia World Naked Gardening Day (WNGD) is an annual international event celebrated on the first Saturday of May by gardeners and non-gardeners alike. According to NBC’s Today News, WNGD “has become an annual tradition that celebrates weeding, planting flowers and trimming hedges in the buff. While it’s linked to a movement of nudists who promote wholesome and unashamed acceptance of the human body, the day is meant to be funny, lighthearted and non-political, founders say.”[6]

“It’s not about exposing your body to other people,” said Corky Stanton, of Clothes Free International, an organization that promotes nude recreation.

“It’s about body acceptance and being one with nature on your own.”[6]

The article goes on to suggest that gardening fits in favourably with nudity, and I suppose that is true. So long as you’re not pruning roses or barberry bushes. And it’s not snowing.

And if you haven’t just moved to a new neighborhood and are still hoping to make a somewhat positive impression with the neighbours. I don’t think any of them want to see my wrinkly butt through the hedges. Or other bits for that matter.

Ruth Stout wouldn’t have cared. Moreover, she would have scoffed at the hoopla of going to the bother of actually making a decree of garden nudity. Just do it, was her motto long before any fitness clothing company came up with it.

Ruth Stout, for those who might not know, was the Queen of Mulch.

Born in 1884 in Topeka, Kansas, Ruth and her husband Fred retired to a 55 acre property in Redding, Connecticut  in 1930.

Fred, a former psychologist, spent his days wood turning, creating beautiful bowls in his workshop, while Ruth took up gardening.

For years she gardened the way everyone around her did; she had her plot worked up by a local farmer and then she dug in.

One year the person who was coming to till her garden kept postponing and in her impatience she had an idea.

Why not just stick the seeds in the untilled earth? If it was good enough for Nature why wasn’t it good enough for her garden?

With that thought everything about her gardening changed. She never tilled the earth again.

Over the years Ruth perfected vegetable gardening based on Nature’s example. Just as leaves and other organic matter fall to the ground to feed the wild earth, she heaped hay and leaves on her garden and let it decompose in place, leaving unbelievably rich, moist, soil in its wake. When she wanted to plant seeds she simply raked back the mulch and popped them in.

Much to her surprise, her sensible, simple, method was not only a huge success, it soon became a public sensation.

She was asked to write numerous articles for Mother Earth News and went on to publish several books with titles such as How to have a Green Thumb without an Aching Back: A New Method of Mulch Gardening and the book I found at our local library that would become my own gardening bible for years, The Ruth Stout No Work Garden Book; Secrets of the Famous Year-Round Mulch Method. 

As you may have surmised, Ruth frequently gardened in the nude. Not to make a statement, but simply because she liked to.

Her husband said he could tell when Ruth had discarded her clothes by the sound of traffic braking on the highway that ran past their farm and garden. He would just smile and continue turning bowls in his shop.

I never gardened in the nude but I did shed my clothes in the garden once.

We had bought an old iron claw foot tub at a garage sale which I had whimsically placed in the center of my herb garden. It was only meant as whimsy, though sometimes I would fill it with water and let it warm in the sun and then dip water out of it for the plants.

At the back of my mind there was always this idea of having a bath in the herb garden that appealed to me. I imagined sprinkling some herb leaves and rose petals on the water, stepping into the warm bath and settling in while birds and butterflies flitted about. What’s not to love?

One afternoon the temperature climbed into the mid 30’s-a rarity in our area. I had filled the tub a couple days before and when I went to scoop some water out for watering, I was surprised at how warm it was. Almost hot.

Suddenly the idea of stepping into that bath on that sticky, hot day seemed glorious. No one was home. We lived in the country at the end of a long drive, with no visible neighbours. Why not? I even sprinkled some rose petals and herb leaves about and then, a bit giddy at my daring, shed my clothes and climbed in.

It was everything I imagined it would be.

For about five seconds.

Then I heard a vehicle slowing down on the road at the end of our drive.

No matter that all vehicles slowed down at the end of our drive because we sat in the middle of an S-curve forcing them to gear down. I was convinced this vehicle had not only slowed down, but was about to turn in. I sat up, gripping either rim of the tub with white knuckles, listening hard until the motor (thank you Jesus!) faded off around the bend.

I had scarcely leaned back and started to relax again, when I heard the sound of a small plane approaching overhead.

To make matters worse, the idea came to me that it was one of those planes that take photographers around to snap aerial photos of farms, which they later bring around to sell to the landowners.

I scrambled out of the tub, snatched up my clothes and ran for the house.

The old claw foot tub in the herb garden behind our log home.

Not long after, my bees discovered the tub and decided they would much rather collect water from it than from the pond. I threw in some branches to keep them from drowning and it soon became the bees favored watering hole.

That was the end of my nudity in the garden. I understand the appeal and agree that we should be far more accepting of our body and more connected with nature. I guess I have a nudist heart but an uptight head.

Which is too bad, because if Ruth is anything to go by, nude gardening may even contribute to a person’s longevity. After all, she continued to garden-on her own way terms-right up to her death at the age of 96.

I sincerely hope everyone feels free to shed their clothes in their gardens on May 5th (or on any day for that matter). And when May 5th comes along, I also hope it has stopped snowing.

 

 

 

Alarmed on the First Day of Spring, Memories and Fiery Viburnums

It wasn’t the fog that swallowed our building this morning or the forecast for many-so very many-centimeters of snow later in the week, that had me alarmed on this first day of spring.

It was the apartment.

The entire building in fact.

Alarms were going off in every direction.

Today was the annual fire alarm check.

The fire inspector strides through our building with a big long stick going from apartment to apartment and then room to room pushing the alarm button on each of the three smoke detectors with his stick before heading on to the next unit.

All 51 of them.

Three alarms each.

And then there’s the entrance, the storage unit, the conference room, the game room, the exercise room, the elevator, the stairwells, the hallways and the public washrooms.

That’s a whole lot of alarms.

Once the fog lifted I left the building to escape the cacophony and went where I always head when I have nowhere I really need to be.

Dunvegan Gardens.

Just as I hoped, the greenhouse was filled with flats of new, green, growing things poking their heads up into the fresh new world. There was a feeling of renewal everywhere you turned.

I was walking around, just looking at labels and leaves, when, as so often happens these days, I had a sudden flashback.

It was a memory of the last time my mother and I came to this greenhouse together.

I had bought Mom a Dunvegan gift certificate for Christmas. She had come up that spring to stay with us for a few days, so I drove her out to the greenhouse to spend her gift.

Gift certificates to greenhouses were always the perfect go-to gift for my mother. An avid gardener, she never had any problems using them up and going to the nurseries together was something we always enjoyed.

But that spring was different.

It was the beginning of the end of her interest in gardening.  Dementia was ruthlessly making its slow, steady, inroads, stealing pieces of my mother bit by bit.

Standing there today, I felt like I had suddenly swallowed a cactus. I froze in the plant aisle, remembering how Mom had just shook her head and said she wanted to go home.

For some reason, as I tried to free myself of the memory, I looked towards a doorway that opens to the potted shrubs in season. As suddenly as the last memory enveloped me, a second, far happier one, slid into its place.

Just outside that entrance was the exact spot where, years earlier, I stood beside my mom and her cartload of plants. I was her chauffeur, taking her on a spring shopping spree. She was looking at the viburnums and lamenting how there was a particular variety she had been trying to source for years, but no one ever seemed to carry it locally, nor had she been successful in ordering from her countless plant catalogs. It seemed every time she ordered one, they were sold out.

A lady was watering plants nearby and overheard our conversation. She set down her watering wand and stepped over the hose.

“What variety were you after?” she asked.

Mom, a bit embarrassed at being overheard, told her the one she wanted.

The woman’s face lit up. “We just got half a dozen of those in last week! I think we still have a couple here somewhere.”

As Mom held her breath, the woman sorted through the shrubs and just when it seemed they had all been sold and Mom was once again out of luck, she gave a triumphant cry and pulled out a shrub with the variety indisputably written on the glossy tag.

“One left!” she said, holding it up.

As triumphant as she was, her pleasure was nothing compared to my mother’s.

So great was Mom’s excitement that she loudly exclaimed, “I could just kiss you!” causing us and everyone within earshot to burst into laughter.

Just like that, the cactus in my throat dissolves, and now I’m smiling at the memory, warmed by Mom’s unabated joy in finally finding that long coveted shrub.

When Mom left her country garden behind and moved to town, it was this same variety of viburnum that she planted on her front lawn. She always maintained that if she could only have one shrub it would be a viburnum.

They give you everything you need in one plant, she would say. And they do. Blossoms in the spring, berries in the fall and gorgeous leaves that crackle their way through the colour wheel, going from green to pink to red to orange to purple, depending on the variety.

So there I was, standing in Dunvegan, now with a big smile stuck on my face, knowing that when spring does finally arrive, I will come back and get a viburnum of my own to plant in my new garden.

As vivid as the memory was, you would think I’d remember the variety, but I don’t. Maybe it will come to me at three in the morning, and if it does I’ll let you know. I think it might have been Redwing, but I’m not sure.

If I don’t remember before their inventory of shrubs arrive, I am just going to have to riffle through the pots and rely on a sign from Mom.

I’m good with that.

 

 

 

 

 

Let Your Garden’s Freak Flag Fly

A kindred gardener tuned me into a series on Netflix called “Big Dreams Small Spaces” in anticipation of me turning soil in my new city garden.

At first I tried to ration out the season, but as so often happens with Netflix, the ration card soon flew out the window after a couple of evenings and I binge watched the episodes instead.

The host of the series is apparently Britain’s most beloved gardener, Monty Don. Even though I hadn’t heard of him before, it didn’t take long for this Canadian to understand his appeal and become a fan. He not only exudes garden know-how but a gentle, kind, down-to-earth spirit.

Each segment of the show follows two different gardeners in two locations, each bent on creating a garden of their dreams in a small space, armed with only a few sketches and a handful of loose ideas on exactly how to make that happen.

Enter Monty Don.

Britain’s favourite gardener is always full of interest, encouragement and tact.

However, this doesn’t mean he’s afraid to express his own opinions and reroute budding gardeners and their plans, if necessary.

One of the episodes featured a woman whose sister had been killed in a tragic accident when her car was hit by a train. She had recently received a small “compensation” check on her sister’s behalf and wanted to use it to create a special garden in her backyard.

As spaces go, hers was among the largest in the series and she had big dreams to match.

Among the many items she wanted for her garden was a Mud Head.

“A Mud Head?” asked Monty.

She produced a picture from The Lost Gardens of Heligan.

She went on to say how she had always wanted one in her garden.

Why? Who knows why certain things attract some and confuse others? In the case of the Mud Head, Monty fell in the latter category. He suggested she install a topiary in the shape of a head instead.

She reluctantly agreed and I…well, I fell apart.

It was the strangest reaction.

The magnitude of it alarmed even myself.

“Noooo,” I actually shouted at the TV, “Don’t give up your Mud Head! If you want a Mud Head you should have a Mud Head! Make your Mud Head!”

Darcy, who had given up several innings of Blue Jays in spring training so I could watch Monty transform a couple backyards, also looked alarmed.

Very alarmed.

“What are you saying? Do you…do you want a Mud Head in our new yard?”

“No, but look at how much she does. So she should have one.”

Darcy relaxed back into his chair, his initial alarm dialed down to mild concern at my overreaction.

I can’t really explain why I reacted the way I did.

I will admit I love gardening for a variety of reasons. Mostly it’s the connection to the earth and an opportunity to be part of nature’s magic. But sometimes it’s because-how do I put this-I enjoy feeling in control.

There. I said it.

I love how I can dream up a vision and through hard work, careful planning and a heaping dose of Nature’s generous magic, watch it come to fruition. I find that enormously satisfying.

Oh sure, sometimes Nature puffs up her cheeks and blows the whole thing to smithereens. Sometimes she dumps hail on the party, sends in the aphids or unleashes an unexpected cold snap, all as a comeuppance to remind me who really is running the show. But for the most part, Nature has allowed me to happily muck about in the soil and see my dreams come to life. Eventually.

The idea of anyone leaning over my shoulder and bringing down a giant eraser on a key part of my gardening vision makes me…well, it makes me a bit wild. Clearly, I’ve been locked up in this apartment for too long.

Anyway, that was the reaction I had to the loss of Mud Head.

But then something wonderful happened.

The gardener chose to ignore Monty’s advice! She decided she would have her Mud Head after all.

And I, sitting in my living room chair, in my apartment in Canada, clear across the Atlantic ocean and thousands of miles west of her garden, cheered on her decision as if it were my own.

I watched as her mother, leaning on her cane, offered encouragement peppered with concern over what Monty was going to say, as the Mud Man took shape beneath her daughter’s determined hands.

The result?

Well the result was bloody amazing.

All of him, from his spiky grass hair, to his yogurt-infused moss-covered cheekbones, to his clay pot eyebrows arched over a pair of succulent eyeballs. He’s a feature to behold through and through. And don’t even get me started on his ears. Take a look at his ears and tell me you don’t agree!

When Monty returned to the garden and spotted the Mud Man-this glaring omission of his advice-he simply smiled.

When the gardener told him the Mud Man blended in with the rest of the garden, he laughed and assured her it certainly did not. But then again, I suspect that was sort of the point.

The gardener goes on to say how every time she steps outside, she looks at her “Mud Head” and he makes her smile.

In other words he’s perfect and in the end, Monty understands this.

It’s seeing things like Mud Man that makes me love seeing other people’s gardens.

Not to see what everyone does the same, but to see what everyone does different. I love the things that pop out at you. The things that lift a garden up and make it the gardener’s own. I love seeing their dreams come to fruition.

Only ten more days until we take possession of our new house and garden. And despite the snow still on the ground-and more in the forecast for week’s end-tomorrow is the first day of spring and I can’t wait.

 

 

 

 

 

Horatio’s Garden; A Story of Tragedy and Healing

It’s every parents worst nightmare.

The call that comes to tell you your child is gone.

For Olivia and David Chapple of Salisbury, Wiltshire, that call came on August 5, 2011.

Horatio Chapple was only 17 years old when he took part in a five week Arctic Expedition the summer before his final year at Eton. In the early morning of August 5th, a starved polar bear came into the camp and attacked the tent Horatio and two others were sleeping in, killing Horatio and leaving his two tent mates and the two guides who rushed to help, critically injured.

The tripwire designed to alert the camp and set off explosive charges to scare away any intruding bears, failed to go off. The only rifle in the camp was old and difficult to use. There was a shortage of flare pens. These and other facts would be called into question later, but first there was only disbelief and overwhelming grief.

And an idea for a garden.

For the last two summers Horatio had volunteered at the clinic where his father David worked as a spinal surgeon. In his short time there, Horatio had seen a need for a garden; a space for patients to escape the confines of the hospital while coming to terms with their injuries. His father suggested he do some research into the feasibility of such a project, and with great enthusiasm that is exactly what Horatio did.

The young man made up a detailed questionnaire and took it around to the patients at the clinic, who all thought a garden would provide a welcome escape from the hospital.

As excitement for his idea gained momentum, Horatio even brought in the chairman of the NHS and pointed out to him from a window at the clinic, exactly where he imagined the garden being situated.

It was this memory of his son’s enthusiasm for the garden that David turned to in those first hours of grief. He made up his mind they would help his son’s dream become a reality. The family asked that donations of sympathy be given to what would become Horatio’s Garden. Within two weeks they raised an astonishing £23,000; equivalent to 42,000 Canadian dollars. And the gifts kept pouring in.

A year later, in September of 2012, Horatio’s Garden officially opened at the Spinal Treatment Centre in Salisbury, but the dream didn’t stop there.

A General Practitioner, Olivia gave up her practice to take on running the foundation for the gardens full time. She wanted to see her son’s vision come to fruition at all eleven spinal treatment centres across the UK.

The second Horatio’s Garden opened in 2016 at the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Injuries Unit in Glasgow and the third Horatio’s Garden will open at The National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital this spring (2018).

In an article written for The Telegraph by Anna Tyzak she writes the following about how the garden became a lifeline for Horatio’s family, and how for Olivia Chapple, it became her way of continuing her relationship with her son.

“I’m still his mother; the love is still there but it is a different relationship. You’ve got to find a way to make that relationship work; that’s what keeps you going.”

It also helps her to reconcile the fact that her talented son, who was a keen trumpet player, budding actor, 1st XV rugby player and had won national titles for water polo, never got to fulfill his dream of becoming a doctor.

“I know that in life he was going to have a profound effect on a lot of people; this way he can still do that,” she says. “His life has a purpose beyond the people who knew him.”

What a remarkable young man Horatio was. His instincts were incredibly insightful and at such a young age.

As a blurb from the Horatio’s Garden website so aptly cites,

“Spinal cord injuries are catastrophic, life-changing events. Patients often have little or no access to the outside world during their hospital stay, yet research shows that at times of stress, being outside with nature contributes to a feeling of well-being.”

The story of Horatio’s Garden captured my heart both as a mother and a believer in the healing powers of a garden. The story of Horatio, his family and his legacy is a stellar example of how gardens can bring about healing and hope, even in our darkest moments. Or perhaps, especially in our darkest moments.

To see pictures of Horatio’s Garden and to learn more about the project simply click on the icon below.

Gardening Through Grief

A huge part of needing land beneath my feet, this spring of all springs, comes from losing both my parents this winter.

My mother passed away in December and my father in February.

They were both 87 and had both been struggling with their health for a long time.

Only days before her death our mother told us, “I’ve had such a wonderful life. I got to do everything I wanted. I am ready to go.”

Dad wasn’t able to talk-or walk-for the last two years, but we knew him well enough to know that this wasn’t how he wanted to end up. That he too, in his own way, was ready to go.

I know so many people who have lost family much younger who were not at all ready to leave. When I grieve it feels almost indulgent, but I know this is ridiculous. They were still my parents. Of course I am still going to grieve.

And so comes the craving for soil. My parents had huge ties to the earth; my father as a farmer and my mother as a gardener. My love of the country, of land and of gardening feels as if it’s genetic. Or if it isn’t, then it’s definitely a happy case of serendipity that I was lucky enough to be raised by parents who shared and supported that passion.

However it all works, I just know that getting my own hands back in the soil will help me sort out the soup of emotions that are bubbling around inside me.

The last dozen years spent watching my parent’s health decline, one after the other, and of those last days spent together, are all tied to over 50 years of being their youngest daughter. There’s so much to sort out, I don’t even know where to begin.

As things worsened for my parents if felt as if I had been grabbed by the heart and yanked in the air, feet kicking, suspended in some kind of in-between reality. At the same time, I was hovering four floors in the air, looking down from our apartment at all the people walking their dogs, having a barbecue and going about their normal lives, while my own felt more and more untethered from anything resembling normal. Or at least the version of normal we had been so fortunate to have known for so long.

And even though my parents were declining and I knew things were never going back to that normal, that instead they were going to get steadily worse, I still hung on to hope, because that’s what humans do. You hope that today your parents won’t be in too much discomfort, that today maybe Dad will be alert enough to smile when you talk to him, or tomorrow you’ll come up with something special to make Mom feel a little happier. A part of you starts thinking it’s going to go on this way forever, that it will never be over. And then they’re gone.

It seems so strange that we finally found a house after all these years of searching, so soon after losing my parents. It’s like I am slowly being lowered back down to earth, to a new place, a new reality, new roots. Now what? It all feels so shaky and surreal.

I am so lucky to have two sisters who have shared in it all, every step of the way. Two people who will listen and know exactly what I’m feeling, even when I am not altogether sure myself.

And I am so lucky to have a husband who is willing to trade in his carefree condo life for more maintenance, just so his wife can have a garden to work out her grief in. And so he can have birds to feed in the backyard. At least he gets birds out of the deal.

And we are all so lucky, lucky, lucky, to have had two wonderful parents in our lives for so long.

They will be missed.

Sixteen Days and Counting…

For almost every spring of my life I have watched the season give birth on a crazy abundance of land. When we moved into our condo I was unprepared for the shock of condensing my outdoor space to a 186 square foot balcony.

It’s a huge balcony, as balconies go, and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but there are things about having solid soil under one’s feet that you don’t fully appreciate until it’s pulled out from under you; especially when you’re an unrepentant gardener.

We’ve been in our apartment for over three years now. We have been actively looking for a house with a yard for two of those years.

After all these months of fruitless searching, finally we’ve had success! For the first spring in three years I am going to have a garden in the ground again.

Darcy said the house had him from the moment he walked through the front door. I said it had me from when we stepped out of the car and I saw an apple tree on the front lawn still holding its frozen tennis ball-sized orbs from the summer before.

It was kind of strange that the apples hadn’t been picked by either humans or birds.

“Maybe they taste terrible,” I worried to Darcy before the ink was even dry on the offer.

A week later we arrived back at the house to meet with the home inspector and all the apples were gone. It was as if we had imagined the whole thing.

Then the inspector came back from a trip to his truck for some tools and exclaimed, “There must be over three hundred birds that just swooped in and landed in that tree out front.”

We could only grin. The apples were tasty and better yet we had birds! During our house hunt I am sure we caused our realtor to think we were more than a little daffy. We’d walk up to the front door and as he searched for the lock box, we’d suddenly light up like a pair of Christmas trees and say, “Listen! Do you hear that? Birds!

It was as if we had just been freshly imported from a bird-less planet or something. Which we sort of had. Other than the odd croak from a raven passing overhead, we didn’t hear or see many birds from our apartment. The strata didn’t allow bird feeders on the balconies and fair enough. Who wants to live in a building plastered in bird crud? Still, Darcy has missed feeding his birds as much as I have missed digging in a garden.

It was a strange bit of timing though. It’s almost as if the tree held onto its load of apples and the birds held off eating them on purpose, just to show us what the tree was capable of.

Other than a dozen or so mature trees, there doesn’t seem to be any garden to speak of in our new place, which is kind of a bonus. There is scope for imagination as Anne Shirley would say. There will be room for me to grow and sow and slowly make the place my own.

As is the case with homes that have mature trees, the house itself is older, a bit dated, and a little rough around the edges, just like its new owners. In other words, we’re a perfect match.

Possession date happens in 16 days, but whose counting? Well, that would be me, my felt pen sharply poised to mark another X on the calendar.