After a whirlwind romance, that cultivated into a happy marriage, I found myself for the first time since moving out of the proverbial nest in possession of a yard (or a spot of yard), and knew this was my chance to finally foray into gardening. I was 28.
IN THE BEGINNING
Growing up, my parents maintained a well manicured yard. It seemed like my dad’s specialty was in caring for trees (oh, how I miss the yellow leaves of fall from those three ginkos that grew in the front). Mum always grew daffodils in the front yard and lovingly tended to a lilac bush that reminded her of her grandmother. There were never any edibles, to my memory, but I’m sure if I am wrong I will be corrected in the comments section later (thanks mum! :-P). My family was not, however, an “outdoors” family.
Still, I wouldn’t say I suffered from a lack of exposure to the outdoors in spite of having a family that didn’t “rough it”. My memories are filled with hours lost in play and imagination outside. I often played in the trees that divided our backyard from our neighbours’, making mud pies and pretending I was a witch! The neighbours had three daughters, the oldest of which was a great playmate of mine. We often ventured into the ravine that budded alongside her backyard. Our houses were at the tail end of a trail that ran along the west edge of an elementary school backfield. Mine, in fact, was the last house before the ravine began. A part from occasionally waking at 7am on a Saturday morning to a soccer game, and children’s names being yelled by their parents, it was an idyllic setting to grow up in. I spent long hours on that field, under the massive chestnut trees, playing in the wooded area that existed a little past the ravine. There were large rocks scattered all around that were perfect for climbing over and hanging off of. I couldn’t tell you how many times I rode my bike around the concrete path that traced the outer edge of the field. And lest I forget that wonderfully deep hill that was the hill for tobogganing!
Thinking about this now, I guess it isn’t so surprising that later in life I began to develop an interest in gardening. I was outside a lot! But I always assumed because I recall being terrified of bugs and hating to get messy, that the desire in my late twenties to be outside with bugs, getting messy seems counter intuitive. I also never took part in the gardening my family did. It was always a chore for the adults, and from what I could see it wasn’t something that brought them a whole lot of joy. So where was this all coming from?
I have shared what I believe is one aspect already, my childhood backyard. Another, I know came from living in the basement suite below an older couple who gardened fervently. They had a beautiful vegetable garden which tending to was a task that consumed most of their time. They were generous and caring, always giving me veggies and fruits to eat. My little kitchen window looked out to the backyard where I could see them sitting beside each other each day, looking over their plot. By watching how they worked their garden, I learned gardening was about patience and dedication, characteristics I could definitely get behind. Once they asked me if I could pick the potatoes while they were away. As payment and thanks, I could take however many I wanted. I’ll never forget the joy I got from digging my hands in the ground and pulling up dozens of golden potatoes that tasted like nothing I had purchased in the supermarket.
Another aspect is my long standing appreciation for the beauty of a garden. Being a visual person, you’re especially attracted to beautiful things and derive a lot of pleasure from being in the presence of that beauty. I had a dear friend growing up whose mother was an avid gardener. Her space was transcendent to walk through. It felt like a story book’s enchanted yard. I admired it greatly. This garden was a magical space that seemed to change every day. There was always something new popping up. As I watched the space’s transformation, I saw my friend’s mother hard at work outside. From this I understood in order to create that kind of magic, it took effort and hard work.
Then there is the bounty! Pretty flowers are marvelous to look at, and great for bringing pollinators, but nothing beats eating home grown tomatoes, plums, beans, carrots, lettuce… all the good stuff! Reward for your efforts in the form of food is a-ok in my books!
I also cannot deny the influence of my current time. When I go online it feels like everyone is DIYing, and doing it well. On some level I wanted to be a part of the “make it yourself” culture on my own terms. I am already a crafty, creative individual that I thought trying my hand at being a cultivator was just the venture for me. The only problem was I had absolutely no idea where to start. So, I did what any good library technician does: I took out books to research.
STARTING OUT SLOW
Some books were so totally over my head, it is a wonder I even stuck with the idea. Some were too specialized, and others unbeknownst to me were not suited for my gardening “zone.” Even those that proposed to be for beginners were difficult to wrap my mind around. I felt like most overlooked just how “beginner” beginners were, and glossed over key terms that I needed to have broken down for me. It was extremely alienating and deterring. So, fed up with my searches, I decided to try a practical approach. I went to the local garden shop and bought a couple house plants that I stuck on my patio (at this point, I had moved into an apartment with a patio), and felt my way about it. Some lived, some died. It was disappointing when they did, but I learned about failure and letting go which is pretty key to gardening I’ve come to understand.
I did, however, manage to keep a few plants and learned it was because by complete fluke, I had purchased some that faired well in the conditions I put them in. These were truly house plants, and ones that loved the south facing screen doors of my patio. Lots of sunshine meant lots of growth! These minor successes were confidence-boosting enough for me to keep the dream alive. I could do this!
Enter my husband: a do-it-yourself-on-your-own-terms kind of guy. This man has been the source of so many positive things in my life, including my development as a gardener. In the early stages of our courtship when my plants were still growing at my place, he and I decided to fix up the garden at his place. He was (and we are still) fortunate to have the best landlords possible. They let him have rule of the backyard. At the time there were two flower boxes, and an old fire pit no longer in use. These outlined the patio area. To the left and below the bedroom window was another planter box. We decided to plant some herbs in the flower boxes and fire pit, and beans in the planter box. Knowing my success rate was 50/50, I prepared myself for impending death. Many of these plants would not last. But… they did.
In fact, things flourished. The lush soil of the North Vancouver area was just what these plants needed to grow. We also had early morning to mid afternoon sun. No baking heat in the evening, which after some research I realized was the ideal setting for the kinds of herbs we had planted. It was such a thrill to come to his place and see their progress, to pull from what we had grown and eat it. Yes, there were a couple snags (the mint developed a fungus, aphids on the dill, and the beans we left too long without picking that they became mouldy), but overall it was a success.
By the time summer was over, I had moved in. Feeling emboldened by our minor gardening successes, I announced I wanted to really try my hand at growing edibles. We kicked around a couple of ideas of how to expand our space, but knew there were legitimate limitations. As accommodating as our landlords were, they weren’t going to allow us to dig up the whole backyard to make raised beds. My husband did some research into garden groups and garden plots for rent in our community. We found a community garden group that had a wait list, but was looking to build a new garden in the area. If we were willing to help out on building day we could have a plot. And so we did! Eventually we were able to transfer to a location that was even closer to our home. Everything was falling into place.
All this, however, did not change the fact that I was still clueless about how to start a garden. I needed to hit the books again if I was really going to take a crack at this, though I was worried I would come up with the same depressing results. Little did I know, I was about to stumble upon the best guide out there for beginners…
Stay tuned for part two!