It was a fall evening some years ago, just before the golden hour (my favourite time of the day). My friend Laura was headed out to Humber Nurseries to take some photos in their private garden and offered to take me along. Not one to forgo a chance to get out of the city or into private gardens, I went along and took with me my digital and one film camera.
January of 2011. I was not feeling the New Year vibe. I realized then that for the gardener, the New Year comes when we can once again dip our hands into the soft earth, and I made a resolution to make a big deal about spring when it arrived.
And I did. That spring, Davin and I made our own holiday cards and sent them out to friends. Each card included a packet of seeds and a piece of paper with simple instructions for growing them. I chose mesclun mix, an assortment of easy, quick-growing, cut-and-come-again leafy salad greens that are harvested early while the plants are young and tender. I felt confident that friends with a wide range of living spaces and varied gardening experience would be able to handle it.
2011. It was the first year in my new garden, and with what initially felt like space to spare, I went wild, starting seed from every tomato that caught my fancy. I had heard about Italian long keeping tomatoes and was eager to try them. These are tomatoes that don’t ripen well on the vine within the growing season. Instead, they are brought indoors before the frost and hung in a cool spot (usually a basement or garage) to be enjoyed fresh throughout the winter. For the first time in my adult life I had a basement, so it was all systems go. I started the seed from two varieties: a small orange, bicolour fruit called ‘Giallo a Grappoli’ and the more commonly known red type ‘Grappoli d’Inverno.’ It turned out that my eyes were a lot larger than my new garden. When forced to make a choice I chose orange, ‘Giallo a Grappoli.’
I don’t know about you, but I’m having a particularly hard time with winter this week. I go into winter kicking and screaming like a toddler having a temper tantrum, but its actually the last few weeks before spring that really get to me. With seed starting and other preparations underway, its springtime in my head and winter outside my window. It is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile the two.
I thought I would post some early spring photos that I took in my friend Barry’s garden as a reminder that winter does end.
Dear Margaret: Those two words are how each “letter” in this new series will begin, whenever I write here to my friend Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden. Installments will include a letter from each of us, unplanned and posted simultaneously to our websites. It will be interesting to see how our correspondence develops and what similarities and differences occur between our two gardens: one urban and the other rural.
The first instalment coincides with the launch of Margaret’s new book — giveaway details can be found at the end of this post.
Margaret’s corresponding “Dear Gayla” letter for this week can be seen here.
Attached to my home is a south-facing, unheated porch that I use as a cold greenhouse of sorts. In the winter I store many potted half-hardy plants there with the most tender of the bunch huddled together against the brick of the house where they can benefit from a bit of passive heat. I long to line the windows along the east side in bubble wrap for added insulation, but the porch faces the street and there are already so many off-kilter things about us that sully our reputation locally as-is. Covering the windows in packaging materials may be one step too far. When it comes to the neighborhood sensibility, I generally try to keep my outward appearance on the side of eccentric, avoiding the line that crosses into street weirdo. Our previous neighborhood was full of freaks and weirdoes so we blended in easily.
The other morning I stepped into the greenhouse (I need to find another name for this space as it is not a “real” greenhouse) to check up on my plants and was horrified to discover that winter had well and truly arrived. It was my own fault; I have a bad tendency to push things further than they should go. I’d been half-bragging for months about how well even the most tender Pelargoniums (scented geraniums) were doing out there in the cold. They were flourishing and some were even blooming. I got cocky. Truth be told, we haven’t had a proper, true north winter in years and I was starting to believe that those days were over. I’d become too bold. I didn’t protect things as I should have, telling myself it wasn’t worth the bother. And then I woke up one day to find dozens of potted plants frozen.