The Crazy Watering Can Lady

You don’t get two dump truck loads of soil tipped onto your front lawn without attracting some attention. People walking by, as I work in the front yard, often call out something along the lines of, “Looks like someone enjoys gardening!”

I feel accepted in our cul-de-sac as The Lady Who Gardens. People smile, wave, share their own gardening endeavours, both past and present, or even enquire about certain plants. Some may think I’m quirky or obsessed, but in a harmless sort of way. Not in a grab-the-children-and run-inside kind of way.

Well, until yesterday.

Up until yesterday every trip to the school community garden involved seeds, transplants, garden tools, stakes etc. making it necessary to take the car, despite it only being a couple blocks from our house.

Last night, for the first time, I prepared to go over to the school with nothing more than my watering cans. The gardens have a couple water tanks but no shed or spot to stow any sort of garden stuff. I grabbed my watering cans from the backyard, walked through to the front, said hello to a couple neighbours who were outside, and then headed off down the street.

As I went on my way, all conversation between the neighbours behind me stopped. As conversations are wont to do when someone comes into their front garden packing a pair of watering cans, tosses out a cheerful hello and then continues on across the street and down the sidewalk without so much as a backwards glance.

Not one but two vehicles went by as I made my way down the sidewalk. I noticed that both drivers did a double take and stared at me. One had a passenger who looked at me and laughed.

I wondered if I had forgot to brush my hair or something. It happens. Then it dawned on me that walking down a city street carrying a pair of watering cans could be considered a tad odd.

I thought about the neighbours falling silent in my wake and wondered what they had thought. Did they think I was so addicted to gardening the watering cans were like a token of security for me? That things had escalated to a point where I couldn’t even go for a walk without carrying some sort of gardening paraphernalia for comfort? Or maybe they thought I was so used to packing garden stuff around I had somehow forgot I was carrying it at all. Or that I was simply losing my mind, gardener style.

I decided I would casually wave my watering cans at the neighbours upon my return and call out, “Been over at the school watering some beds I rented.” That should clear things up.

Alas, even though I hurried, when I got back home there was nary a neighbour in sight. Obviously they had grabbed their family members, rushed inside, locked the doors and were going over strategies on how to handle any future encounters with The Crazy Watering Can Lady. Because that’s my name now.

I considered knocking on their doors and explaining why I had headed off down the street carrying watering cans, but that seemed even crazier.

There was only one sensible thing left to do.

Move.

When I explained it all to Darcy he suggested that maybe, just maybe, no one really cared why I was wandering the neighbourhood with watering cans in hand. Furthermore, it was possible I worried too much what others thought.

So we’re not moving after all, and I have decided I will continue to pack my watering cans down the street to the gardens, because driving a vehicle two blocks, while at the same time trying to grow more of our own groceries to lessen our footprint, really would be crazy.

Right?

The Cold Begins to Strengthen

We have been under an extreme cold weather advisory for well over a week. Today it is -25 with a windchill of -38 C. Balmy compared to Monday when it dipped to a windchill of -50 C

I can picture my father coming into the sunny farmhouse, a blast of cold swirling around his knees as he stamped the snow from his boots, proclaiming with a twinkle in his blue eyes, “When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen!”

And so it always does. There is no cold like the cold that follows the shortest day of the year and the slow return of the light. It is a special kind of cold that reaches its icy tentacles into the months of February and March and on down into your bones.

On the upside, the days are getting longer, which is a welcome salve to our frostbitten souls. And then there is the sunshine! The Peace Country excels at serving up generous portions of sunshine and cobalt skies. It may be cold, but it is rarely dreary and I am always grateful for that. And for a warm house with central heating.

It’s been a year since my father passed away and a year and a couple months since my mother died. We miss them. A lot. The grieving process has been a bit of a strange process because they were both so sick and losing their minds for such a long time, so the grief started long before they died and now it keeps morphing around like a shape shifter or something.

I miss who they were when they died, but I really miss who they used to be before that and then all their personifications from the parents of my childhood to becoming grandparents to my own children. Sometimes it feels like I am grieving for several different people, instead of two.

As a farmer and gardener, memories of my parents inevitably end up entwined in memories of plants. I went to Violin Nidra last night, which is this amazing thing that happens every few weeks, where an incredibly talented violinist comes in and plays music while the yoga instructor leads a roomful of stressed out people in a guided meditation. It lasts for an hour, but feels like fifteen minutes. It is beautiful and a great lesson in learning the art of being present.

Of course, the mind is sometimes a mischievous thing that likes to dart off here and there like a hyper chichuaua instead of just staying with the breath.

Last night, in the middle of meditation, my mind unexpectedly filled with wild roses, asters, yarrow, paintbrushes, golden rod, arnica daises, alfalfa, saskatoons, wild strawberries and red clover. While the instructor’s voice urged presence and the violin notes soared over our still bodies, my chihuahua mind furtively began to dig a garden bed in tribute to the Peace Country, to my childhood, to my parents.

I decided that come spring I would see about getting a few rocks and roots from the piles that edge the fields out at the farm. Piles that my sisters and I once helped our parents build as we cleared the fields in preparation for seeding. Laying on the yoga studio floor, no one knew I was busily positioning roots and rocks around wildflowers and berry bushes. Which was kind of a shame, because the result was quite spectacular, if I do say so myself.

Since most of the plants are on the invasive side, I decided to make the bed in the “dead strip” against the shed so it would be safely bordered by the building and lawn. I was just entertaining the idea of transforming the shed into a log cabin (how fitting would that be, right?) when Violin Nidra came to a close. My plans would have to wait.

Today there is a pile of snow against the shed, but soon it will melt and make way for my new bed. That is the magic of gardening. It heals, it offers hope and it can take an idea dreamt up in a yoga class and turn it into something real, something solid, complete with roots, stems, leaves and blossoms; well, solid and real for a season anyway.


If You Don’t Like The Weather Just Wait A Year

What a difference a year makes. I keep a line-a-day journal so I can annoy my family by telling them what we were doing on this very day last year.

Yesterday in 2016 it was plus 28 Celsius and-as you might expect-all our snow was long gone. Yesterday it was -9, my sons headed home after an Easter visit and spent an extra hour looking out at a snow covered landscape while their planes were deiced.

On this day in 2016 I had gone down to Dawson to help my mother in her garden. She had just been diagnosed with both early Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia two weeks before. To say she liked to garden would be like saying Jane Goodall had a passing interest in primates. From the time Mom retired as a librarian right up until the summer before last, she was all about the garden.

Winters were spent designing, ordering plants and starting thousands-yes, thousands-of seedlings. Most years she would jet off on a garden tour, her favorite destination New Zealand. You could point to any tree, shrub, perennial or annual and if she couldn’t tell you the name, cultivar, genus and species she could quickly look it up on her garden map or by riffling through her index cards.

And then she couldn’t. Suddenly she didn’t know the difference between a rose and a petunia. Worse, she knew she didn’t know the difference.

“How could I forget the names of all my plants?” She would say, shaking her head. “That’s just cruel.”

It was cruel. It was also deja vu of the worst sort as we had watched my father go into the same decline only a few years before.

So on this day last year I had gone down to work in my mother’s garden because she had not only forgot all the names of her plants, but even more heartbreaking, she had lost interest. Only eight years earlier, faced with my father’s diagnosis, she had bought a duplex in a gated community in town and proceeded to not only move their belongings from the farm, but had us move most of her garden in as well.

She chose the unit because it offered the largest backyard and the garden soon filled every bit of it. Just before Christmas in 2013 my father had gone into long term care and now here was Mom, losing her mind as well. As I worked my way around her garden on this same day last year, I remember thinking how therapeutic gardening can be, but I wasn’t finding any stress relief. My sisters and I were sad, worried and more than a bit worn down.

Only a week before we had found an amazing woman who lived nearby and was willing to help in the garden. Over the winter we had arranged for caregivers to check in. Mom was fierce in her resistance to it all. She decided she would rather move into assisted living than have strangers coming into her home. Even beautiful, kind and saintly strangers. But the waiting list for assisted living was long, spring had come and the garden was indifferent to all the heartbreak, resistance and changes happening around it.

Last year, late in the afternoon I headed off for the hour’s drive home, promising to return in a few days, only to find the Alaska Highway was closed because of a wildfire. It was hot and dry and fires were popping up all over the countryside. I had to cross over to the Hart Highway and reroute through Chetwynd and Hudson’s Hope. My one hour drive turned into four.

To my surprise it was the drive that provided the therapy I had looked for in the garden. The detour was both beautiful and apocalyptic. Another fire had jumped the highway just after the Pine River and blackened fence posts were still smoldering, but then I came around the corner and spread out below was a gorgeous valley tinged with spring-green leaves budding out on the trees. And that’s how it continued to unfold all the way home. I would pass a burned out car, blackened bits of forest and then be presented with gorgeous green vistas. The bible verse about beauty for ashes, oil of joy for mourning and a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, kept rolling through my mind.

In a few days the blackened destruction would give way to summer grass and the untouched trees would spread their leaves wide open in spite of their fallen companions and life would go on. Only the spring before my mother had welcomed the first two great grandchildren into the family. In two months Mom would finally get her apartment in assisted living. We would empty the duplex, work in the garden without her, tuck it in for winter and then Mom would sell the place the next spring-only two weeks ago-to a lovely couple with garden aspirations of their own.

Sometimes the landscape is burning, sometimes it’s dead and sometimes it feels reborn. This year it is…well, it’s frozen. It has been such a long winter and it is so hard to believe how early spring came last year. Or winter for that matter. Snow fell and stayed on the last night of September and we are still waiting for it to leave. It feels like we are stuck in a holding pattern in so many ways. Last week I saw geese, ducks and crows, no doubt regretting their untimely migration, but here they are just the same.

Well this has been a ramble and a half. I guess what I am trying to say is things might look pretty bad right now, but spring can’t be far. Today the snow has finally stopped falling, the sky has cleared and we are being splashed with a huge dose of our famous Peace Country sunshine. As my line-a-day journal proves, if you don’t like the weather just wait a year.

Or something like that.

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Allotments and Summer Homes

 

In many parts of Europe allotments- what westerners call community gardens-are common. And big. Very, very, big. Here in North America 4 X 8′ raised beds are the norm. Europeans laugh at us. Their allotments can measure in at 5,000 square feet which translates to a 50′ X 100′ plot; the size of a city lot.

Panoramic view of Communal allotments in Suffolk, England

Panoramic view of Plots of land cultivated by the tenants for food production

People often rent these lots for a lifetime, frequently handing them down through their family. They can keep chickens and bees on their plots and because they are there every year, they can also plant fruit trees and other perennial things. Even though they don’t actually own the land, because the gardens are so long term, the renters even build garden sheds on them at their own expense. In some places, such as The Netherlands, these sheds are decadent enough to double as summer homes that gardeners live in during the growing season.

Excuse me while I swoon and shed a few green tears.

Wouldn’t a summer shed/home in a garden patch be heavenly? Of course, when I say the garden sheds are decadent, I simply mean they have a roof, a door, a window, a bed and a hot plate, as well as a corner to store ones tools and a few shelves for seeds and such. For a gardener that is enough. More than enough.

Gartenhaus mit GemĂĽsegarten

Honey, I’m home!  Okay, I admit this is a pretty tricked out decadent garden shed…

 

Htte

This would do equally well for my “she shed”     My garden home away from home…

 

I recently read a book of fiction called The Mulberry Tree about a fellow who inherits his grandfather’s allotment. It left me wishing we had spacious places like that we could rent.

mulberry tree

 

In Europe the rent for allotments is low. Really low. The yearly lease usually rings in at the equivalent of $50 – $150 Canadian. The idea is to provide an affordable place for people to raise their own food; never mind that land in Europe is becoming rarer than hen’s teeth.

Here in Fort St John we have an enormous empty space near the heart of the city where our hospital used to be. Every time I drive by that big empty space I picture it filled with tiny house garden sheds and garden spots.

I think it would be a wonderful green use of space and if done right, it could even offer alternative housing as well as giving people an opportunity to grow a significant amount of their own food. The whole tiny house movement stumbles on where to park the tiny houses once they are built. An allotment-type subdivision could be the answer. Stir in some green energy options and the whole project would be incredible.

Gartenlauben / Schrebergrten

Something like this for an allotment/tiny home subdivision could look as good as the vegetables taste…

It’s fun to think about, but I suspect few would share my enthusiasm for such a project. As always, there are economics to consider. Right now our city lots-the equivalent of one allotment-can sell for $180,000. You can buy a lot of vegetables for that kind of coin. The space where the hospital used to stand would be worth a fortune. And-as weird as it sounds-it is possible that wanting a tiny home wouldn’t necessarily equate to wanting a huge garden.

It’s all very interesting. Oh, and while we are on the topic of tiny houses, I have to put in a plug for my favourite tiny house book by Dee Williams…The Big Tiny  If you are at all interested in building your own tiny house this is the definitive book on the subject. You can also find some really interesting videos about Dee Williams and her tiny house on youtube.

The Big Tiny

Well it looks like it is going to be another blue sky gorgeous day in the Peace. I think I will go for a morning walk and get some of that sunshine on my face. Maybe I will even walk by the old hospital lot and do a little dreaming…

Don’t be in a hurry for your garden to grow up…

Does your own garden look more like this…

2009 Fall Landscaping 014 Than this?

2012

When we’re kids we can’t wait to grow up. It seems like we’re always straining forward, anxious to be a teenager, then desperate to turn 16 and get our driver’s license. We can’t wait to graduate from high school and get out on our own. But then we look back on those formative, growing years and wonder why we were in such a hurry. Why didn’t we slow down and enjoy it more?

The same can be said of making a garden. We can be so anxious to have a beautiful space; to have mature trees, fully formed shrubs and lush perennials that we don’t pause to appreciate the formative years. Many gardeners look back at the beginning when they had nothing but a blank slate of soil, a binder of grid paper and a fistful of seeds with fondness. No matter what age you are, when you start a new garden it’s like getting to be a kid again. Don’t be in a hurry for your garden to “grow up”. Gardening, like life, is about the journey not the destination.