This is the first package of seeds I have purchased for the 2008 growing season. Of course I have acquired other seeds via trades but this was the first I bought. It has a decidedly Canadian sounding name, no? It makes sense given that the plant heralds from Beverlodge Research Center in Alberta. I bought it because one of my longterm goals is to try as many tomato varieties as possible to determine which varieties are the best for container gardeners. My criteria for judging ranges from how they fair and yield in smallish containers to taste and attractiveness.
People often ask me about my own gardens and I often feel I have to explain that despite the fact that I am an artist, they are not really self-expressive or artistic gardens but have become experimental spaces. In some ways they aren’t really mine to do as I please but where I try out different plants, varieties and techniques so I can learn as much as possible within each growing season.
From ages 13-18 I was determinedly set on an educational path towards becoming some sort of scientist. By age 18 I was starting to question that choice as I also had a deep longing to make art and interests in other areas (i.e cultural theory and other humanities subjects). Everything changed one evening when I looked around my grade 13 Chemistry night school classroom and had the sudden, clear realization that while I liked the gadgets and the experimentation I was not at all cut out for a life in science. The reason why I am telling you that bit of history about myself is to explain that forgoing the personal choice for experimentation is not exactly a hardship. I enjoy it equally to self-expression.
In that sense I think I am drawn into gardening through a range of interests. I like the physicality of it, of using my muscles and interacting with soil and plants. I like it as a creative outlet, making beautiful spaces with plants and junk. Which leads to my life-long appreciation for making something out of nothing. Sure we can’t garden with literally nothing, this isn’t magic after all. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the “stuff” we think we need, but in the end we can do a lot with just a handful of seeds and somewhere to put them. It is in that sense that I don’t understand why we focus on depicting gardening as an expensive pursuit. People of all classes garden. Of course there are financial limitations (who owns space and has access to it, and resources that are both financial and in the form of leisure time) but I am just as amazed by the back alley tomato farm as I am by a high-faluting potager. Every garden is a place of wonder with so much to discover and learn from. That aspect of it connects me to my child brain, where my interest in the sciences was really more about uncovering and reveling in a sense of wonder and awe about nature. From that perspective the choices that led me to being so deeply entrenched in this pursuit were the right ones. It taps into several different sides of my brain and has pushed me in areas I didn’t realize needed pushing.
Gardening is a unique activity in that it can be approached from so many different angles. Every gardener has their own personal reasons for being drawn to it and for sticking with it throughout their lives.
So today’s post ends with a question for you. Why are you drawn to gardening? How does it tap into your interests?
If you’ve been to a tropical country you have probably come into contact with one of the many species of this tree, the Pandanus or Screw Pine. Although not a pine but commonly named for the spiral growth of the leaves, this tree is not native to Cuba but is often planted in tropical countries due to it’s strong fibres that are extremely useful for making ropes, weaving clothing, hats and all sorts of helpful items. It has medicinal uses too although I am not sure what they are.
Our first sighting of a Pandanus was in the Jardin Gran Piedre, a botanical garden and former coffee plantation located high up in the Sierra Maestra mountains. [I will write more about this garden in the future.] The tree was a female and covered in large, interesting fruit, leading us to spend several minutes speculating on what it could be, our guesses almost completely uneducated and based on absolutely no experience whatsoever. We love to do that; pretend like we’re really knowledgeable about things we’ve never seen in our lives and possibly have a clue. We concluded it had to be some kind of breadfruit-like plant until our guide intervened revealing the plant’s name and explaining that the fruit is inedible to humans.
Aerial roots grow down from high up in the tree functioning as prop anchors holding up the heavy, fruit-laden top of the tree during stormy weather.
Another photo of the first tree showing the prop roots. Apparently soil and plant matter is trapped in the roots making the plant a good erosion preventer.
A Pandanus flower
So we were supposed to be in Cuba last week over the Holidays however our plane left without us, 11 hours prior to the originally scheduled departure time. Who has ever heard of such a thing? I certainly haven’t but can tell you that it will never happen to me again. We started checking and rechecking flight plans over a day ago. So far so good. And so we have spent the week here trying not to mope around in anticipation of getting on that plane and heading out this week. Admittedly I am finding it difficult to get back the level of sheer excitement I was experiencing last week but hopefully that will return once we are safely on the plane and on our way.
Sort of like this except in real trees rather than in a greenhouse.
From a plant-lovers perspective alone our trip should be nothing short of fantastic. We are staying in a UNESCO Biosphere nestled within the Sierra Maestra mountains and located just outside the city of Santiago de Cuba where there are a reported 138 endemic plant species in addition to all sorts of tree ferns, cacti, and epiphytic plants. I’ve still not decided exactly which film cameras I will be bringing but I have stocked up on extra digital camera cards to avoid any situations that would require deleting images in order to make room. I can’t wait to make all kinds of amazing discoveries and I can’t wait to come back and share those here with you (okay maybe I can wait to come back).
All-in-all not a bad way to start the year.
Like this but 20,000 times better. And with tarantulas. (At the Montreal Botanical Gardens. Oct 07)
Until then, I want to wish you all a very relaxing and enjoyable New Year. See you in 2008!
Panoramic of the Roof Garden July 21, 2007.
The following was found in my archives and is dated for July 14.
The rooftop garden is coming along beautifully this year. I do believe it is my best year yet. I was shocked to discover that on final count I am growing 14 tomato plants and 2 tomatillos. Most of the tomatoes are mid-sized determinants and 3 are indeterminants. I am growing the same number of tomatoes at my community garden plot with a grand total that far surpasses the total number of tomatoes I have ever been able to grow at one time. Thrilling! And yet it still doesn’t feel like enough. When I think of how hard it was to narrow things down to these varieties, I pine for all of the varieties I could grow at one time if given more space. Sigh. And yet I have so much more than most gardening, apartment-dwelling city-slickers. The more I garden, the more I want to garden and the grander my ideas grow. It is hard to be satiated with limitations. After all of these years there is still so much that the process of gardening is teaching me about patience and feeling satisfied with accomplishments within any given moment.
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.