Spring in a new house with a garden is very exciting. Here’s how things look today.
I believe these little guys are violas. Here they are in the morning, still asleep. When they wake up, they have white faces with tiny purple freckles, like they were made in the ice cream machine with a purple vanilla bean.
The tulips and daffodils were sparse. I think I cut their foliage down too soon last summer. Even now, though, they’re pretty.
I pruned the lilac tree too vigorously in the fall, but we are still getting plenty of blooms. I like the tree a little less showy.
The zucchinis and cucumbers went in last week; they looked resentful at first, but are starting to come around. The zukes have already grown themselves a bunch of calendula friends. The beans are coming up (must thin them today), and the poblanos (seen here with chard babies) are doing GREAT. The onions…well, they didn’t get a good start but a few of them have toughed it out; I’m proud of them no matter what happens.
Actually, wait – a pot of chives did show up in my CSA box, so I guess that counts as buying a seedling, too. Those guys are doing great, as is the spinach, even though I’ve already picked it a bit too clean.
That said, it’s been a lucky spring so far…wish me courage for the cold snap, and tell me what’s happening in your garden.
Flowers are coming up in my garden, but I don’t know what they are. Can you help me?
Is this a daffodil? It seems to have an unusual, flat, upright shape.
Is this a dogwood?
What about this little blue guy?
And what is this strange creature? Is it a hyacinth? Why does it look so naked?
In other news: the tomatoes went into their pots yesterday. They are still a bit spindly and unsure of themselves, but they seem more relaxed.
The lettuce and spinach are doing great!
However, I’m afraid the rapini might be suffering from damping off. It’s falling over and not growing well, although it has finally developed some true leaves.
I got some living chives in my last CSA basket, so I separated and re-potted them. It was a tedious business, but they look good!
And finally, because I have too many poblano seedlings, I’ve decided to turn one into a houseplant.
I live in a tiny, century-old, dilapidated house in a worse-for-wear corner of Montreal. When we visited the house for the first time last March, we immediately fell in love with it, not least because it was a HOUSE (until then, we had seen only condos).
We paid little attention to the yard, however. For one thing, it was so small; for another, it was under a scab of dirty, half-melted snow. Neither of us had ever really gardened. There were trees, which pleased us, and the yard was ours, which would please the cats. Otherwise, we paid it little mind.
When we next saw the house, it was June, just a week or so before we were to move in. From the outside, it was an entirely different place. The birch tree and two lilacs, now covered with leaves (the lilac blooms were long gone), turned the house into a hobbitty overgrown cottage. There was grass on one side of the front lawn, and some persistent tulips on the other. Under the living room window, a bed was bursting with daylilies and gooseneck loosestrife. In the back yard was another bed of goosenecks, and one of proud raspberry canes. The current owner was digging and piling up masses of mint, and apologizing to us for their minty error.
(I spent my first morning after we moved in pulling mint and dreaming of garden possibilities. Then I made mint tea, which my husband was unwilling to drink, perhaps because of the stray cats wandering the neighbourhood and insisting that our yard was their own.)
Now I’m seeing the house in April for the first time.
In the front yard, the lilacs are in bud.
A little patch of yellow eranthis buttercups, with a couple of purple crocus friends, shines under the naked hydrangea, right in the spot where Cat B lived for the first three months of our tenure here, when he would come indoors only to eat, because he was so angry with us.
A whole bunch of bulbs are leafing all over the place – we assume some are tulips, but the others are a mystery.
We’re worried that the birch tree might be dead – the tree doctor will return in May to see…
…but we think that the cedar bush will make it, despite an irritable hacking my husband gave it when it took up too much room in October.
Behind the house, I’ve set up a couple of wooden crates that my husband has donated. I’ve transplanted the onions and sown the carrots and peas, and am hoping that the freak snowfall a couple of weeks ago didn’t kill them.
I am bringing the pots of kale, lettuce, spinach and rapini seedlings out daily – I might even leave the kale outdoors tonight.
The dwarf Alberta spruce, which looked pretty battered at the beginning of the month, are plumping up nicely.
The raspberries may be done for, as I pruned them too ruthlessly in the fall (ok, fine, I chopped them all down because I didn’t know what I was doing – you got me.) That’s ok. They were making the wasps a little too happy.
All sorts of things are happening in this garden that I don’t even know about. I can’t wait to see it through this last of our four seasons here, and to transform and nurture it through many more.
Easy. Thus far, my garden is nothing BUT a fantasy.
I’m in a new house, and this is my first garden. I have no practical knowledge of what to expect. It’s been a long winter, and my desire to get out there and garden began sometime in early November. I’ve therefore had plenty of time to create and perfect the garden inside my mind.
If I calculate all the hours I’ve spent accumulating and browsing through gardening books and magazines, reading gardening blogs, listening to gardening podcasts, trolling online seed catalogues even though I already have more seeds than I can handle…it would add up to weeks of my time. I’ve filled my basement with tomato, poblano, bell pepper, onion, thyme and catnip seedlings – will they survive out in the sunshine and away from the grow lights? I’ve splashed out lots of money in the hardware store, even though the clerks keep telling me that no, the garden centre isn’t open yet. (“After the snow has left, madame,” they sigh.) My husband and I spent the weekend in the solarium, drilling holes in the bottom of wooden crates, and then out in the yard, picking up the debris exposed by all the melting. FINALLY, THE MELTING. But the snow is still sitting in icy mounds where my vegetable patch will be.
My garden is all in my head, and scattered around me inside my house, waiting to be assembled. When it’s done, I have no idea what it will look like.
Here are some elements that I know are not plans but are pure fantasy. In my imaginary garden:
- There are no raccoons or stray cats. In my fantasy garden, I won’t have to put chicken-wire 3-foot collars around all my containers so that the raccoons won’t dig up my carrots. I will also not need to cover everything so that the stray cats (and my own cats, the little dears) won’t use my garden as a litterbox. In my fantasy garden, the cats lie in patches of sunshine, and politely accept the tidbits of snow peas and parsley they are offered, and leave everything else alone.
- There are eggplants. The eggplant seeds didn’t germinate. I could buy seedlings, but there’s some ego involved now. I tried eggplants, and I failed. I will try again next year.
- There are lots of nice fat bees, but no wasps. Our neighbourhood is absolutely lousy with wasps. We sprayed two wasps’ nests in our eaves in the couple of months after our arrival in July. I have no idea how early they show up. I should therefore probably not grow fruit, but I was really hoping to get myself at least a hanging strawberry plant.
- I get to spend all day, every day, tending and picking and pruning and watering. This is only half fantasy. Once things really get going, I’ll be on summer vacation, and most mornings, at least, I can be out there with my hose and my scissors and my twine and my head full of recipes for the day. But there will be other tasks, more than I can even anticipate right now. In my head, I have nothing to do but garden.
- It’s always a lovely 24 degrees Celsius. Today is April 2. It is -13 with the windchill. Soon, we will have a brief and blissful spring; come the end of June, I have no idea what the ravaging, moist heat of a Montreal summer will do to those poor plants. I know what it does to me, and it’s not pretty.
- Everything thrives. In my fantasy garden, nothing is eaten by aphids. Nothing rots. Everything is bushy and drooping with produce, and the edges are surrounded by pink and yellow flowers.
My garden will have none of these qualities. I can’t wait to see what it DOES have! As long as it’s not raccoons. Or blossom-end rot. Or swarms of locusts… But surely my garden will also have some things that I can eat, and some long afternoons of plucking and coddling, and fat-faced cosmos? My fantasy garden has all these things, too, and surely some of them will turn out to be real.
Image by Lucyna Andrzejewska
We called them “johnny jump ups,” and they were the first things I ever learned to plant. I must have been eight or ten, because I was old enough to be given my own little patch of garden, but the patch was in front of the house that we left when I was eleven. My mother had bought a flat of viola seedlings for herself, and she designated some for me. I dug some holes and stuck the violas in the ground.
And there they stayed. I don’t remember watering them or feeding them or deadheading them or weeding the patch. Maybe my mother did these things, but she was the sort of mother who expected me to take care of my own tasks or face the natural consequences of my neglect. I do remember the flowers being there all summer long, their cheerful little purple faces never reproaching me.
Gardens didn’t mean a lot. I lived just metres away from a field of deciduous trees, overgrown with lady slippers, forget-me-nots and wild strawberries. This was far more interesting than a tended patch of yard. I passed through the field almost every day, on my way to and from the nearest corner store – we called it “the little store” – or because a friend and I decided to go play “adventure.” It wasn’t possible to have an “adventure” on the lawn. You had “adventures” in spots where you might come across anything at all, buried under the grass or hidden behind a pincherry tree.
In my memory, when my friends and I went to play in that field, or when I walked through it to “the little store” to buy Hickory Sticks or cigarettes for my parents, no one else was ever there. Sometimes there was a sign that someone HAD been there. We occasionally found an abandoned baseball or a crushed candy wrapper. Once we discovered a rain-battered pile of porn magazines. But in the six years I spent playing in that field, I don’t remember ever running into a person who hadn’t come there with me.
Now I live in the middle of the city. There are parks. I’m near the St. Lawrence River, and can walk along it for miles in relative quiet if I want to, surrounded by trees and bicycle paths. But: “relative quiet.” Someone always comes along. I never know who that someone might be. This kind of adventure does not appeal to me.
However, I also have a house with a tiny yard in front, and another tiny yard in back. No one else can come into these yards if I don’t invite them. This spring will be the first I spend in this house, and I have no idea what might pop out of the earth, what I might find snuggled under the hostas or behind the two dwarf spruce.
Beyond those surprises, I get to choose my own adventure. I’ve purchased an abundance of seed packets. They’re mostly vegetables, but there are also some flowers: cosmos, nasturtiums, poached-egg plants, rudbeckia. I don’t really know what will happen when I put them in the ground. This is all new to me.
Only after I’d placed my seed orders did I think of violas. There’s plenty of time – we had a two-foot snowfall today, so the garden’s in no hurry; I could pick up some seeds or seedlings when it’s possible to actually plant something. But I feel little to no inclination to buy violas. They were fine, but not as fat and velvety as pansies, not as sweet and wistful as forget-me-nots, not as shocking as bleeding hearts. Maybe, once I’ve seen the garden go through its first cycle, I’ll notice a spot under the birch or along the fence where violas would be perfect next year. For now, when there are so many things to grow, why would I choose something I’ve already planted?
I am not, nor have I ever been, sentimental. When those first violas finally died, I didn’t feel sad; there were too many horsechestnuts to smash and too many crabapples to pick. I didn’t know that the day would come when I would search my whole new city for an empty, lonely field full of wildflowers, and discover that there is no longer any such thing.
Luckily, I have a spot where I can build one myself. Luckily, when it comes to growing a garden, even the things you choose yourself are bound to be full of surprises.
Image by Lekki