With the recent stretch of mild sunny weather, I’ve been outside enjoying my garden. Bulbs are bursting through the ground, birds are already staking out their territories and tree buds are swelling. I can feel the push of nature to make the most of this fine weather. Although the calendar says we’re still in the depths of winter, it seems that Mother Nature is itching to get on with the serious business of spring.
After making quite a racket in the trees, a pair of squirrels hurtle past me, chasing each other in a very friendly manner. Hmmm. They’re not the only ones engaged in the race to reproduce. After they’ve scampered off I notice that my fine collection of chickweed is already flowering – AAACK! I’m already behind with weeding before my other plants have even woken up. Other chores beckon: laying down landscape fabric to be topped with bark mulch for certain pathways, terracing, edging with stones and starting the replacement of weeds with grass. I should make the most of this balmy weather and get working.
The unseasonable warmth is making every living thing livelier. Even I’m feeling a little more energetic than usual. Indoors, I’ve been sorting through cupboards and closets. Outdoors, I’ve been listening to my mp3 player and ‘rocking out’ as my neighbour’s teen aged daughter puts it. Note to self: must modify ‘rocking out’ behaviour while gardening to a more subdued level; it just doesn’t seem appropriate that my inner exuberation be on display to the world.
However, I’m not the only one full of energy, I see neighbours out walking and tidying up their yards. Both my grandfathers were gardeners, I wonder if they felt a renewed energy level in the spring when they began working outside again? Of course Grandpa S would have been working outdoors throughout the winter as that was his job, but did he feel the same joy when the plants began emerging? I know Grandpa A made every effort to begin his gardening season as early as possible. He had built a greenhouse and started many seedlings months ahead of the time they could be ‘released’ into the garden. I wish I could talk to both of them about their gardens, but time has robbed me of that pleasure.
Fortunately, I was able to spend time in both gardens. I remember the garden in Oxford as a magical place. Potted geraniums lined up like a little army were near the back door. The greenhouse, screened from the house by a tall hedge of lilacs, was like a gateway to the rear garden. Exploring further, among the redcurrant bushes, thickets of goldenrod reached for the sky and the verdant hues and heavenly scents of the mint bed sparkled with jewel-like beetles, their emerald-green bodies glistening in the sun. The front garden, though more restrained, was equally beautiful. A bed of yellow and red tulips surrounded a rosebush and an enormous pink hydrangea stood sentinel at the edge of the garden near the living room window. A clipped hedge of boxwood surrounded the small front garden and gave a sense of structure and orderliness.
Grandpa A’s garden in Vancouver was a treasure as well. A small path led down the side of the house; narrow and dark between two houses, its tightness amplified the size of the back garden. Once into the back garden, beyond a small lawn and bed of asparagus, lay a pathway dividing the vegetable garden in half. The greenhouse on the left was filled with plants, trays and all sorts of interesting pots. Grandma’s Christmas rose was nestled at the edge near the fence, and beans sprinted up the side of the garage. Renowned for his tomatoes, he grew rows and rows of them. He would carefully collect the seeds and label them for the next year’s crops. Did he allow them to be openly pollinated or did he painstakingly manually pollinate them, trying to breed the perfect tomato? I guess I’ll never know.
I wish I had known my grandfathers better. For example: if given the opportunity, would they have listened to music while they gardened or would they have preferred the noises inherent to their city gardens? Would they have approved of my methods of interplanting ornamentals with vegetables? What suggestions would they have about gardening on a hillside? Would Grandpa S have been able to teach me how to pleach? Would they have been enthusiastic about rescuing doomed plants destined to be bulldozed to make way for a new freeway?
Gardening is timeless, it is a direct connection to the earth with undercurrents of all the stirrings and energies of the seasons. It transcends time and place, tying generations together. Gardening is an outlet for our best and worst traits. We can peacefully tend our dear plants, creating our own vision of Eden, or wage a vicious and extended battle filled with hatred and disgust against disease, weeds and pests.