I walked outside the other day, into the street garden with scissors in hand to clip some flowers intended for the host of a party I was attending. As I bent over to snip a few Black-eyed Susan stems I discovered that the flowers were completely gone. All that remained were the ragged ends of about a dozen torn stems. And so Operation Garden Terrorism continues. Sigh.
It turns out that despite the damage and attacks that have occurred this spring and summer, I’ve had it kind of easy. At least I have not found the entire garden gone as Scarborough homeowner Deborah Dale did when she returned home last week to discover that her entire front garden, filled with native plants, had been mowed down by City of Toronto bylaw enforcement officers! To make matters worse, Ms. Dale, a former president of the North American Native Plant Society, will have to pay for the “removal” of her 10 year old garden from out of her own pocket.
Image Source: Treehugger
Several other sites have already written about this event, and while I don’t have much to add to an already thoroughly explored discussion the thought that goes through my mind when thinking about this incident is the question of how we define a garden. The City of Toronto publicly promotes growing native plant gardens for environmental reasons but is seemingly confused about how to support the efforts of gardeners who break the mold of what a garden is supposed to look like — support that is especially needed in suburban areas where the lawn still reigns supreme. Ms. Duncan’s garden was leveled based on the complaints of her neighbors and was told that her native plant garden would have been protected had she applied to have her garden officially designated a “natural garden.” On the one hand it is good that at least The City is trying to address this idea of what a garden can be by providing a provision that has the potential to protect unorthodox gardens. Yet at the same time it seems slightly absurd and a little bit bonkers that a gardener would have to assume that their garden required protection from the biases of their neighbors in the first place and then have both the presence of mind and knowledge of the system to apply for that kind of protection in the first place.
Fundamentally how we define a garden and how we conceptualize a “carefully tended” garden comes down to our own subjective biases. And for better or for worse those biases are about as diverse as gardeners and their gardens.
To add insult to injury it The City is reportedly set to go after Ms. Dale’s backyard woodland garden next.
More Reports on This Incident:
Because I woke up this morning and said to myself, “Self, you do not have enough tomatoes. Must. Get. More. Between the bowls in the fridge, the bowls on the counter, the bowl that was just roasted, the bowl that was oven-dried, and the tomatoes still in the garden what you really need right now is another 50 odd pounds. Give or take a few. Mostly give.”
Okay, that’s a lie. The real story is that I ordered these from the Sosnickis at the Farmer’s Market two weeks ago in a moment of weakness (aka insanity). I was only going to order 25 pounds but then I saw in the order book that my friend Jen had ordered 50 pounds so I figured if she was going to jump off a bridge into a lake of ripe, organic, roma tomatoes then so was I, damn it! And so I did. My order came in today.
And earlier this evening we enjoyed Homemade Oven-roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup.
It’s so simple you’ll be asking yourself why you didn’t make it before. Cook longer in the oven or heat it up afterwards in a pot and you’ve got sauce good enough for pastas and pizza. The only difference is the thickness of the liquid.
1. Pop a bunch of tomatoes in a pan with some fresh basil, salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Apply a little balsamic vinegar or throw in a few garlic cloves if you think you can handle it.
2. Roast on a high temperature (around 400 F) until the tomatoes are cooked and swimming in their own juices (about 30-40 minutes).
3. Work those delicious, juicy tomatoes through a food mill to separate the seeds and skins from the good stuff. Take advantage of the fact that no one seems to want these awesome, old-school contraptions anymore what with all the new-fangled electric gadgets available. I got mine for 5 bucks at a yard sale. I got my friend one too.
4. Add some salt and pepper to taste. I sprinkled some freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top and served with a piece of toasted rosemary bread from the market. Take that Campbell’s!
Whomever says tomatoes can not and should not be grown in pots has not witnessed some of the surprising discoveries I have made over the years. While out biking yesterday afternoon, I happened upon this fully mature, volunteer cherry tomato growing up from the dusty earth beneath a pile of discarded parking lot blocks. I was on the ball enough to stop and snap a few photos but realize in hindsight that I have got to go back and collect a few fruits for seed-saving. Because a tomato plant that can make it there, especially in the middle of what some are calling “the worst drought in Toronto in 50 years” can surely make it in a pot of soil. Never mind if that pot of soil is tended and watered now and again. A pot would be like moving into a full-service luxury spa complete with Swedish seaweed serum treatments, warm sage-infused towels, and full-body herbal body wraps after that kind of hard-living, right?
I love a lush, abundant garden as much as the next but I think the plants that best capture my respect and inspire the greatest sense of awe are those that are resilient and remarkably determined.
- Broad Ripple Yellow Currant – One of my favourite heirloom varieties because of their delicate, golden translucency and their dramatic risen-from-a-sidewalk-crack back-story. Who can resist a plant with a history of triumph over adversity? Not me, sappy sucker that I am.
- Secret Gardens – An alley tomato farm discovery that has become a perennial favourite and a great source of inspiration.
Yesterday afternoon, while working on the garden, a woman stopped to chat and mentioned that she had seen my sad and pathetic sign (my words, not hers) and knew who had destroyed the day lilies. It was the dudes who change the advertising on the large billboard that hangs on the wall over the garden! She said that she watched in horror as they intentionally trampled all over the plants — something they did not have to do since there was plenty of room and their equipment wasn’t in the garden and made it possible for them to avoid the garden completely. Never mind the fact that the garden has been sharing space with that billboard for years with minor consequences beyond the annoying lights, the pigeon poop that falls from the nests housed in the billboard structure, and the stray pieces of advertising that falls into the plants. That and the fact that we have to look at ugly advertising splashed onto the side of our building everyday.
As a city-dweller I have become very good at seeing without seeing. So good in fact that I can not provide even a hint as to the content of the current ad and the only ad I can recall in all the years the billboard has been up was for a film with Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. Something with Al Pacino as the devil.
Anyway, I stood there speechless, listening to the details unfold and thinking that there is some kind of irony in this somewhere given that I had been working on finally trying to fix that patch when she happened by, and feeling sore that I have had to suffer both a financial and personal time loss while my landlord reaps the benefits of that damned billboard AND my hard work. Gah! At the very least I now know to whom I can call and send my complaints.
Still no idea who went after the thistles but I have since replaced that patch with a native switch grass, Panicum virgatum. As previously mentioned, I am intensely nostalgic and possibly a little nuts in the ways that I anthropomorphize plants. This is only made worse by the fact that each plant comes with a story and a history. Like the daylilies that were gifted to me by a friend. Or the yarrow that was given to me by a stranger who happened to be driving by with a clump of yarrow in the backseat of her car. In many cases I can recall where and when I received or purchased the plant. These feelings of attachment and compassion for the life of each plant is so strong at times that it is very difficult for me to remove and discard plants, even when I know it is beneficial to the garden. I’ve also got a stubborn streak that thinks I can shove one more plant in somewhere or bring that diseased plant back past the point of no return. My style is very Do As I Say, Not As I Do and I often struggle with the very actions I know to be right and advise other people to carry out. The only positive I can glean from the Operation Garden Terrorism experience is that it has prematurely forced me to carry out my long term plan to replace some of the more invasive gift plants with natives. But just because I can find a positive doesn’t mean I’ll be thanking the ad hanging dudes or the thistle stomping stranger anytime soon.