When the gardener can’t garden

I stumbled across a blog, You Grow Girl, where the gardener, Gayla Trail, was kept from her garden by illness for a season. She describes the pain of not being in her garden and how some things died but much of the wilderness she created carried on. When she posed the question of what it means to be a gardener who can’t garden as part of her writing guild I decided to join in. So here are my thoughts:


Rosemary flowers from my office window

From my home office, I can sit and look out on my garden (well part of it now that I’m expanding my garden space). The backyard is where I started when we moved into this house five years ago. Days after we took possession I was already planting lettuce seeds. It was early May and it didn’t take long until I had filled the existing beds with produce producing plants. Thinking back, I certainly didn’t always have access to land and was often living a nomadic life, but I almost always was growing something – and if I wasn’t growing something I was thinking about it.

The first garden that truly felt mine was a shady patch under a big leaf maple I claimed as a child. Bleeding hearts grew there naturally and I would carefully collect their tiny black seeds and spread them around with the hope more would grow. To add to the garden, my mom bought me already flowering impatiens which has left me with a nostalgic fondness of their cheery blooms even though now I prefer to grow vegetables.

Between that garden and the one I have now I tried many growing schemes, exploring all sorts of options that didn’t work. My balconies and window sills were always filled with potted food growing attempts. I know some people are very successful growing food in containers but I never was. Aphids would descend making lettuce, basil and dill to sticky to contemplate eating, while one forgotten watering session would lead to mass plant extinctions. Once, in a balcony-less apartment I had years ago I tried growing roma tomatoes inside, resulting in floor-to-ceiling leggy plants that never bothered blooming. But I kept trying.

For two years in a row, I signed up for a plot at the community garden near where I lived at the time. It was rural Alberta, a place with space – lots of it. All the plots were the same size, way to big leaving me overwhelmed. I was successful growing plenty of food, but both years the weeds took over. Threats to plow my plot under unless I got the weeds under control were issued forcing me to wrangle up my friends and press them into weeding service (which turned out to be fun).

On a micro-scale, while on an icebreaker in the Beaufort Sea a few years ago, one of my crew mates showed up ready to grow sprouts. I thought that was a fantastically original idea and my mind was set free to the possibilities of portably growing food; a thought exercise I still use when I can’t sleep. Under the right lights, I could try grow anything (especially in my imagination). Oh, and growing sprouts on a ship turned out to be an old idea – Sir Parry an Arctic explorer in the 1800’s grew sprouts for his crew to ward off scurvy (I haven’t found any record that his crew actually ate them).

I often ponder why I’m drawn to gardening, even when I’ve not been set up to do so. The answer is that I don’t know. Maybe its because I like working with my hands. Or maybe its because I get to witness a process that almost feels like magic, where with a little effort on my part, a speck of a seed grows before my eyes into a majestic plant.