A Magical Backyard Garden – My Inherited Mom’s Day Gift

Mother’s Day and the Gift of the Backyard Garden

Vibrant little green peas, the smell of carrots with specks of soil still clinging to them, earth with the aroma of green onions – the promise of the backyard feeds my soul. Every May the calendar days around Mother’s Day and my internal genetic calendar push me to turn over my tiny plot of soil, buy a handful of pretty seed packages, and tuck their contents into rows ready to water.  It’s a tradition passed on to me from my mom and her mother, like colouring Easter eggs around Good Friday, and picnics on a blanket on a warm summer day.

nanny's yard picnic

On Mother’s Day when my four kids were little and excited to make me a tray in bed with the most delicious passion-filled luke warm pancakes, overcooked eggs, and bowl of Captain Crunch, I would elicit their dad to help me sneak pass them because always at that time of year the empty garden spots among the blossoming trees were just begging me to prance around on the dewy lawn and be lifted up by the best work I know. I’d run back to bed for my tray of child-love when it was ready.

My mom taught me the simple beauty and deep satisfaction of the vegetable garden. It was her favorite work too. She has five children and I have four. Raising a family is chaotic and chore-filled, and raising a garden takes you into another space for a short reprieve from groceries and laundry, meals and cleaning, ferrying little ones from here to there. Somehow in the garden you find time to dream a little dream while kneeling in the soft grass with seeds in hand, pushing aside an earth worm, thinking about how the summer might go, of people standing barefoot picking peas, or biting into the strawberries the squirrels don’t steal. It’s time away from time.

nanny and roses

I joke with my family that, “It’s all going to be okay. I’ve got the fall harvest in,” when in reality my eight by six foot bed of vegetables only supplies a few colourful meals and delightful raw snacks, not like my grandmother’s farm garden that was needed for survival ‘in the early days’. Still after retiring to the luxuries of town, my Nanny, an image of independence, planted a back yard garden; hills of potatoes and squash, rows of beans and peas, carrots and beets, circled by cornflowers and raspberries, and she did that until she was ninety-four-years old.  It’s my inherited Mother’s Day gift, from my mom, and her mom to be drawn outdoors with a reverence for the sun and the soil and the magic ability that nurturing the earth has to calm and sooth us, to take us to a sweet spot every May of hope and inspiration.  (Discover more at Amazon.com )

seeds in garden

Gardening in the Dark

You know how it goes, you’re making a nice place in the soil for the Sweet Pea seeds you’re going to pick up tomorrow, while your husband plays the banjo on the deck (mine anyway), from there you decide to clean up the delphiniums shoots, imagining their bright blue flowers as you go, and then it’s on to placing the metal rings into the ground that will soon support the fancy big peonies.  A little bug has slipped into your tall glass of water where you left it beside a yellow tulip, and when you step into the house for your pruners to clear the old wood from the raspberries you glance out and see that dusk has fallen over this spring night. And now you are gardening in the dark just for the love of gardening.

It was Nanny, my Grandmother, who graced us with these gardening genes. Her offspring feel her presence with our desire to slip our hands into warm soil, and arrange fresh new shoots, to imagine the future of lacy blossoms, letting go of our worries and losing pieces of time creating green spaces and bright bursts of colour.  So it is that in this Mother’s Day week I’ll dedicate the second quiz about my book, Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys; One Empty Nest, to Nanny.

For you smarties that answered yesterday’s question so quickly I’m making this one a wee bit trickier.  The reader who gets the most questions correct this week gets a signed copy of Text Me, Love Mom sent to them.  So – can you tell me where teenage Lily was when her mom sent her this message, “I do it as much for the brief (in this country) results, as for the relaxing pleasure I get from the work.  It’s hard to explain …but playing in the garden does feel, in the same way that writing does, like a time away from time.”

If you haven’t read Text Me, Love Mom – it’s a great Mother’s Day read about that stage of life when kids leave home and families get their balance again – available from Amazon and other online booksellers. Happy Day. thumbnail_IMG_1227

Raspberry Love – The Blog Post

 

When I was a little girl, younger then eight, my grandparents lived on a farm far down a rural road with a long, long driveway leading up to it. They raised cows, chickens and pigs, I think – it’s hard to remember what exactly I remember. I do recall that I told my grade two class about that farm for ‘show and tell’. I always wanted to bring a treasure from home to show, but my mom convinced me that their farm, where she grew up, was special enough to just ‘tell’.

   There were two aspects of the farm that I was enamoured with – one of these was that my grandparent’s farm in mid-eastern Alberta in 1966 didn’t have running water. All of the water was collected from a pump that ran into a trough, far down a sloping hill from the house. We bathed in a steel tub in the porch with water heated on a pot on the stove.

nanny and roses

   The second subject I choice to tell my grade two class about was the raspberries. Back when I was a little kid we never, ever would have bought raspberries from a grocery store during the limited season that they might have sold them, because when we made the five hour trip to my grandparent’s farm the bright red jewels grew in vast abundance in a field of bushes laden with the sweet fruit. The August sun would be hot on my head as I passed between the bushes, my mother and grandmother nearby, and I was in my own version of summertime Shangri-La – watching my small cup fill, even though I popped as many into my mouth and the berry juice sparkled on my tongue.

raspberry summers

     My grandparents left the farm in 1967 to retire to town. As a young adult I drove my mom back to the property and was shocked to see the driveway was short, the water pump was actually conveniently quite close to the house, and there really wasn’t much of a slope to what I thought of as a hill, at all. My mom and my small kids and I, pushed our way through a tight caragana hedge to get to the empty run down house – diminutive in size as well. We pried away a loose door knob as a odd keepsake and crept back through the hedge. The raspberries, however many there might really have been of them, were ploughed away.

But my grandmother had dug up and transplanted those fertile bushes into her town yard and it was that summer that I asked her if I could take some back to mine.

   My grandmother is gone now. I don’t know if the berry bushes still line her back fence in that far away town, but they grow in abundance at the back of my yard. This weekend I cared for my two small granddaughters – years away from grade two ‘show and tell’. The smallest one, not even two yet, was nonchalant over raspberries in her highchair, but I took them for a short walk, that they might remember as a hike, over the grass to those berry bushes and she literally cooed in delight at finding them underneath the heavy branches, while her sister filled a tiny cup.

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

March. March, March, March. The word sounds like spring. Like hope. Like the smell of thawing earth. The smell of renewal and something you can taste coming to an end. A close. With a promise, just a promise blowing in the wind, of buds pushing out of the ground, of light cleansing rains washing away the sifting dirt of winter, of a neighbour reporting the sighting of a good luck robin, of a hard crust of snow melting in an afternoon, the winding hose left out during a late October blizzard appearing again. Birds sing in the morning and sound lighter, water drips off the roof and a cat meows in heat. I swear people too are more animated, slightly off balance with the extra light and sense of coming out of the dark, having made it through the long nights. March – skip past us, deliver us to the newness of another season.

easter 2012-ish-26

How Winter Tiptoed Up and Slammed Me On the Head

Image I was a victim of seasonal denial. Sometime before Halloween I was saying – “Wow, this is amazing.  It is actually seven o’clock at night and it is still sorta kinda warm out.”  Not only that, I was marvelling at the display of radiant red and orange leaves glorifying the trees.  And being a really slow learner, I left the rake out in a pile of garden debris and wandered away from the task at hand mid-job to enjoy some frivolous distraction.  Then I decided to wait for another equally sunny day to finish the job, refusing to go do it the following chilly afternoon with a forecast of snow.  I believed autumn would go on and on and on. 

So it did snow – a gentle flurry of fluffy flakes, and I watched my neighbours’ set their yards and decks and lawn furniture in order through my livingroom window.  “Silly them, don’t they know there is always snow on the Eve of Halloween and this will pass, the sun will shine and melt all this fluff that they’re making a fuss about.” Image  

Wrong-o Daddy-o.  Yesterday I bought bananas and then realized I now had to venture home instead of making a scheduled stop unless I carried my bananas with me, because otherwise I’d be poking them onto a stick and eating them as a frozen treat as it was seventeen below – the temperature at which bananas and milk and other squishy and liquid materials freeze.  I pulled out of the grocery store parking lot and passed by a mound of snow three times the height of my vehicle, plowed into a mini-mountain that cars could park in a hap hazard fashion all around.  The lost yellow parking lines  would be covered with hard packed snow until spring.     Image   

 

Image  It was time for boots and gloves and travelling with survival gear in the car – a tin can and matches and a fat candle. Yes, winter had crept up on me and was clearly knocking me on the head – my rake would be leaning against the fence until the next calendar year and the hose, frozen standing up in the shape it was in when I twisted it from the tap, would stand that way until March. Yep, this is winter.  And we’re deep in it.

The Homecoming Dance For Spring

Who knows where you will discover the tid-bits of information that ease you through life from season to season?  Long ago, a neighbor – a guy who studies entomology (bugs) and engages in long treks in foreign places – told me he never pulls up all his spent plants in the fall, leaving instead a ‘winter garden‘.  So I pass by flower beds where the owners have meticulously cleaned up every last bit of perennial foliage, undertaking a clean sweep of orderly beds, so only stubble remains in the black earth, readying them for the coming seasons – and I’m so tempted to follow their methodical inclinations.

Somehow I resist, instead I carve out a place for small heaps of snow to pile around a stand of stiff delphinium stocks. I leave a nest of black eyed susans stems to sparkle with crystal hoarfrost .  In the back garden the morning sun reaches a small bed of gangly flocks and shines through the tired golden leafs.  This year I even left the most stately eight foot hollyhocks, rising out of a bed of  snow.Image

I’m grateful to my neighbor who led me to the winter garden inspiration, but now it is late February.  The snow is crusty and hard, the dry crisp leaves rattle in the breeze, clinging to the stems like winter clings to the landscape.  On the February long weekend we made the drive through the mountains to our cottage seven hours west.  Home in Calgary, Alberta is a gardening zone three. A hardiness zone  is a geographically defined area in which a specific category of plant life is capable of growing, as defined by climatic conditions, including its ability to withstand the minimum temperatures of the zone. [1]The cottage, in the interior of B.C., is in a place called the Shuswaps and is a more encouraging zone 6.

ImageDuring a short break from the wet weather we were having that weekend, the sun slanted through the slate blue clouds and searching hard, I found the smallest promises of spring’s revival. These weren’t tulips or even wee purple and yellow crocuses.  There wasn’t even a brave pale snowdrop blossom in sight.  But on the far side of the cottage, against the warmest wall I found teeny weeny hollyhock seedlings, dotting the damp earth.  I had shaken the small flat seeds from spent buds and stamped them into the ground on a fall day months previous, and now here were the beginnings of hollyhocks that would grow to reach the kitchen window high above them, and by August the long stems with a multitude of  ruffled pink and white blooms, encouraged by the sun and warm nights, will stretch even higher.  Image

In that zone six it is exhilarating to reap the abundant beauty of nature’s kindness, but my heart swells with admiration for the determined and faithful green thumbs working the soil in Calgary’s much cooler zone three designation.  Gardening in our foothill’s city is an exercise in patience, optimism and hope.  It might be long weeks before I find the hollyhock seedlings here where crusty snow is still the tired background for my now unappreciated winter garden. But alas, when I do see the itty bitty pale green seedlings peeping through the earth, displaying their own determination, they will beckon my faith in the homecoming of our sweet, though perhaps, too short, summer.Image


[1] wikipedia.org

A Perfect Glory Of A Day

Is it over stated to say it is a glorious fall day?  Glory is in the air. ‘Glory’ – (Webster’s definition) ‘something marked by beauty or resplendence, as in a perfect glory of a day.’

Neighborhood kids that went to school wearing new fall cardigans and jeans will be coming home to put on shorts and run barefoot.  Still, a news story reported that the weather is going to change shortly and the s- word is coming.  The reporter said it that way – the S-word.

It was enough reason to change into my gardening clothes and bring in the harvest.  I can harvest my teeny weenie vegetable garden in a couple of hours.  Maybe vegetable patch is a better way to describe what I have going at the top of the yard.

I planted potatoes in the spring for the simple joy of digging them up  – it’s like a game of hide and seek.  A kid from the coast might like to chase clams on a sandy beach, digging into the wet sand where they see a spray of salty water spurt up.  A kid from the prairie has to make do with digging up spuds.  But it’s a sport to see what’s down there in the dark earth, hiding from the slugs and weather.  With my measly three dozen potatoes piled on the kitchen counter I considered letting the whole vegetable patch be poppies and sweet peas next year – maybe just a corner designated for the rhubarb.  Not being a big fan of rhubarb, even baked into a sweet strawberry pie, I could take it or leave it, but  I love the way the phallic shoots pop up first, announcing spring.

Contemplating what other flowers I might add to the mix I started to unearth the carrots, pleased that the green tops were pulling out of the ground with the orange spears still attached.  Suddenly the farmer genes that my grandparents passed along were winning out – I knew that I would poke a small variety of seeds into the ground again next May.  It wasn’t the sight of the muddy carrots, that convinced me to continue – it was the sharp sweet scent, a scent you can’t quite pay money for at the grocery store.  A scent that made  me think of being seven-years-old and my mom washing garden carrots off with the hose and treating us to the first ones big enough to warrant pulling out on a hot summer’s day.

My Grandmother – Nanny – to all our family, started farming on her own homestead at age sixteen when she married my grandfather.  And after they retired to town, she tended a gigantic backyard garden brimming with peas and beans, carrots and onions, beets and raspberries – until she was ninety-four-years old.  She saved money by canning and freezing her bounty.  I carry on the gardening tradition in my two small raised beds, even though my little effort probably costs me more in seeds and water than it saves over the half dozen meals it supplies.

I put away the shovel, rinsed off some of the small sweet carrots, and sat on the grass in the late afternoon sun to crunch on them.  The planting, tending and harvest are  comforting rituals – marking one season passing before the long winter and the anticipation of the spring to come.  But right then, I relaxed on the lawn that will soon enough be white with snow and embraced the glory of the autumn sun.