Monday, September 17, 2012

The Best Laid Plans... Require My Mother (Reflections from a First Time Gardener)


Growing up, I would sometimes join my parents at their seed shows to help out. I figured I’d do some cash sales, hang out with the folks, maybe they’ll buy me a hamburger later - you know, easy peasy!  After my first jam-packed Guelph Organic Conference, I knew this wasn’t gonna be easy. I was being asked questions, like “What was this?” and “How do I grow this?” and “Why don’t you know what zone this is appropriate for?” I would stare back at the inquisitive soul, smiling, completely at a loss for words. Sure, if asked, I could sing the entire score of The Phantom of the Opera on the spot to this gardening aficionado , but tell them which tomato is good for making sauce? Oh heavens no. You need to ask my mom. So to assist our customers best, I made myself a name tag that said, “I’m friendly but useless. Ask my mother.”

Fast forward to this year, and I’ve officially joined my parents at The Cottage Gardener handling a lot of administration and customer relations. Slowly but surely, I am learning about dirt and all the wonderful things you can do with it. And with the new house I had just purchased with my new husband, I knew what I had to do: build my first garden .I surveyed my yard. Typical, suburban greenery. Easy, right?

I made my garden plan and proudly showed it to  my mother. She looked at my plan: squash, herbs, tomatoes, ground cherries, and peppers. She paused. "Can I dig now?" I asked her, impatiently. She smiled - uh oh - and began to explain the litany of things I needed to consider. What is my soil quality? (Cement-like) How much sun do I get? (6 hours - a good thing) How far apart was I going to plant things? (I needed more room) What tools do I already have? (Tools, you say?)

I redid my garden plan. Four raised-bed 4x6 gardens, plus some containers for last minute things I just couldn’t resist growing. To fix my soil, I carted home bins full of compost dirt from my parent’s house every night after work. I made a detailed shopping list for these "tools" she spoke of and on a Friday in May, my husband and I trekked off to Canadian Tire - plan in hand. There we stood in the Gardening section, amidst all the tools and gnomes and decorative pots. The pressure was on. I had to make some snap decisions in Aisle 12. After living in a box in the sky in downtown Toronto for many years, I was ill-equipped to navigate this enticing but confusing section of the store.

For example:

1) Question: Do we get a wheelbarrow?  
Considerations: My husband wanted it.
The Final Decision: I said no. “Our yard is so small, and the wheelbarrow is so expensive!”    
The Repercussions: The grueling task of carrying load after load of discarded weeds across our yard in a old laundry hamper.

2) Question: Which of these pole-like tools should we get?  
Considerations: I’m very short.
The Final Decision: Purchase the tiniest shovel in the world. “I’m tiny and this shovel is tiny and it’s so cute!” I say.
The Repercussions: After several hours of digging up the raised beds, I look to the sky and cry, “Why why why did I pick the tiniest freakin’ shovel in the world?! This is so hard!” Painful regret. Even a tiny person needs a big shovel in this world.

3) Question: We need to till the garden. Should we get the The Garden Claw?
Considerations:  “I’ve seen this on TV!”, I say with excitement. “It looks amazing!”
The Final Decision: Made for TV means made for me!
The Repercussions: It was too tall for me to use. In fact, I would shove it in the ground and then could do acrobatic balancing work on it because that thing was NOT gonna move. Oh yes, it’s all fun and acrobatics until someone breaks The Garden Claw.  Which I did, trying to be funny.  

And outside we went, our loot in tow. After three hours of exhausting work just harrowing the garden, we took an omelette break. Back to it. Three more hours. It was getting late and the sun was waning. I stood up to assess our work and a furrow came across my brow. With a whimper, I dropped to my knees and dug my hands into the dirt and looked up at my husband with glassy eyes, “Isn’t this supposed to look like dirt? How the hell are we supposed to turn this grassy mess into nice brown dirt? This should look like dirt. This isn’t dirt.”

After a moment, I knew what to do. I took a picture of our gardens so far and sent it to Mom.  “Is this right?” I texted her. “Yes! Everything looks good! You did it!” she texted back. I smiled, relaxed, and looked upon our gardens with satisfaction. See? I just had to ask my Mom.

 Follow Me on Pinterest

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I love this post! I love that after all those years, your mother continued to be your fountain of garden knowledge. I think it's great how helping out at your parents' seed shows got you interested in growing your own garden. I'm interested to know how it's progressed from when you first finished it.

    Helen Guann, Landtech Landscaping