June 16, 2014: The State of the Garden

This week’s most exciting development: the peas are flowering!  I thought I’d planted them too late, but here they are.


I had also given the strawberry plant up for dead, but the few sad little sprouts seem to be hanging in there, so maybe I’ll get a few berries out of it after all.


I’m pretty chuffed about the beans.


The raspberries have done flowering and the berries are on their way.


The cucumber looks great, but does not seem to be fertilizing itself; the little cukes are not growing up.  I have tried to help it along by hand-pollinating it with cotton swabs, but so far, no luck.


The little zucchinis are popping up just fine, although I’ve already had to start battling powdery mildew.


The peppers and tomatoes are flowering nicely, and are looking bushy and beautiful!


I’ve seen the first slugs, and the standoff with the leaf miners continues – they lay eggs, I remove leaves with eggs, they lay more eggs, nobody’s happy – but I’m loving the way the greenery is filling the yard and the first flowers and fruit are peeking through.

The horrible winter now seems like last night’s dream.  (I almost wrote “a distant dream,” but that would be untrue.  It feels shadowy, but very, very close behind me.)  In Montreal, if we get to experience “late spring,” at all, it usually lasts only a day or two, so I’m trying to enjoy every second of this surprisingly long reprieve: it feels like summer, but you can go for  a run in the morning without risking heat stroke, and you can vacillate about whether it’s time to install the air conditioner.  The garden likes it.  Me too.



The State of the Garden: “Spring” 2014

It’s been the longest, nastiest winter in my memory. It finally seems to be lifting, but even now, after four days of above-zero temperatures, the yards are covered with a thick cobbler of ice and mushy snow.  Once this ice and snow melts, it will leave brick and mortar scree all over our front lawn and garden, residue from our February window replacement.  Needless to say, nothing is growing.  At least, not outside.

The only blessing of this wintry hell (and yes, it’s really gotten me down.  I used to like winter.  Not anymore) is the intensification of my pleasure at 1. watching things grow indoors and 2. anticipating the day they can go outside.  For example, here are my collard greens.


I started them in February, and they’re happily humming along in the sunny mudroom.  I’m hoping they’ll have time to get outside and grow big and strong before it gets hot around here.

Also in the mudroom, some alyssum and rapini…


…and the arugula, which I feared was lost when the overnight temperatures dropped to -15 (the mudroom isn’t much warmer than the outdoors).  But no!


Our new windows have nice wide sills.  The cats and the plants appreciate this.  Here, Cat A stands guard over some thyme, dill, calendula and lovage.


I managed to coddle some herbs through the winter.  I’m especially proud of the basil, which was quite spindly when it came inside in October.  Look at it now! The marjoram is also hanging in there.


In the basement, I’ve set up a new grow-light system, and the results have been fabulous. I still have the old purple-bulb-lamps-and-shelf setup for emergency transfers when the main system gets too crowded, but the difference a real adjustable starter light makes is remarkable.  I’ve also bought a couple of heat mats so that the peppers and later the tomatoes can stay toasty.


We’re expecting more rain today, so I’m hoping that the peas can go in their raised bed tomorrow or Monday, and then I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they can produce before summer descends on us.  I’m very interested to see what this season has in store, as Nature seems to be hellbent on proving that we’re not the boss of her.  (Note to humankind: Could you please stop trying to prove that you’re the boss of Nature, and maybe appease her with some nice new rainforests or virgin sacrifices or something?)






They Grow Up So Fast

Over the last few days, there have been all sorts of exciting garden developments.  Some have been good!  Some have not.

In the bad news:

1. Zucchini down!


At first, I blamed the cats.  Then the squirrels.  In the end, though, I think the zucchini was too big for its britches.  Which is to say, its container.  Next year, I will rig up some support.  I was tempted to fiddle with it, but after much agonizing I decided to leave it alone, and it’s recovering:


2. The savoury plant seems to be a perpetual victim.


This is the second time it’s been knocked off its perch.  Not sure who to blame, but the cat looked guiltier than usual.

3. A couple of the tomato plants have bad cases of leaf roll.


After doing some research, I think this is due to cool temperatures and high humidity, and nothing dire.  They are still producing like crazy and, although some leaves have a mild black speckle, there is no sign of spots.  Some of the lower leaves, however, are looking chewed, so I’m keeping an eye on them.

4. The beans and the kale are also getting munched.

chewedbeans chewedkale

I’m not too worried about the beans – they are otherwise fine, and production doesn’t seem to be affected.  The kale makes me sad, though.  Some of the basil plants are getting it too.  I expect it’s slugs, but am investigating other possibilities.

5.  I don’t know if this guy is bad news or not.


The best I can tell, he’s a diurnal firefly, and therefore a) benign and b) cute! and c) a firefly, albeit without the glowy stuff.  If he’s something else, that’s a different story.  I’ve solicited opinions.  Including yours, please.

In good news:

1. We harvested the first green beans!


I steamed them and made them into a salad with some zucchini and blossom refrigerator pickles I’d made earlier in the day.

2. So far, the netting seems to be keeping the squirrels out of the strawberries.


We ate one of these yesterday and it was INCREDIBLE.  However, I just surprised a squirrel sitting on top of the hanger, chattering at the top of his lungs (“I’M STEALING YOUR STRAWBERRIES I’M STEALING YOUR STRAWBERRIES!”) so we’ll see if the net does its job when I’m not there.  (He also knocked over the collards I’m sprouting, so I’m starting to think he’s responsible for the savoury fiascos.)

3. The calendula is blooming.


4. The peas did well, and yesterday I harvested the last of them.  Today, I pulled them up and planted some more carrots in their place.

goodbyepeas newcarrots

Not sure if it’s a good idea to put carrots in after peas – too much nitrogen in the soil – but we’ll see what happens.

5. We now have two – count ’em, two – poblano peppers.


6. The basil and sage on the deck are looking great.

deckbasil decksage

7.  It’s a funny little garden, but it’s full of good things, and I grew it all myself.


The Garden In My Mind

SONY DSC“Describe your fantasy garden,” someone said.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


This post was written in response to a prompt from Gayla Trail.  Gayla is sponsoring “The Grow Write Guild” on her excellent gardening site You Grow Girl.

Image by Lucyna Andrzejewska

Choose Your Own Adventure

npOM2EqI’ve been thinking about violas.

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.


This post was written in response to a prompt from Gayla Trail.  Gayla is sponsoring “The Grow Write Guild” on her excellent gardening site You Grow Girl.

Image by Lekki