Sometimes, when I look back on the photos I take in my garden, I can hardly believe how much transpires within a single growing season. In the springtime I can see the pathways between beds and most of my plants are just a few inches tall. Everything is exposed. By the end of the growing cycle the garden is a wild, unruly beast. The pathways are devoured by foliage and there is no exposed soil left. How and when did that happen?
“So the days float through my eyes, but still the days seem the same.” -from Changes by David Bowie
It’s amazing when you think about it. Our gardens begin as one thing, and stealthily, silently they transform into something entirely different in just a few months only to start over and transform again, and again and again. Some years, I lose perspective. While I am in the midst of it all, I forget what has transpired. I don’t appreciate the work I have done, and focus instead on what I haven’t done. Sometimes, while knee-deep in the late-season struggle to keep things neat and tidy, I start to take the amazing growth around me for granted — it becomes something to rail against rather than something miraculous to behold.
I want you to appreciate the work you do in your garden. I want you to walk away at the end of the season with a sense of satisfaction regardless of how it went, and a focus on what you have accomplished, rather than on what you haven’t. One way to achieve this is to document and record change. For this reason, we will practice this exercise a few times throughout the growing season, beginning with our gardens as they are now. It will be fun to see how they progress and perhaps even see how our attitudes change with the seasons.
I thought I would talk a bit about tools and process. For me, making these drawing is a mixed emotional and technical exercise. When I began spontaneously drawing these made up birds, I made something of a promise to myself that I wouldn’t be too precious about the tools or paper I used, and that I would give myself permission to draw without judgement or purpose.
In the wee hours, just as the sun had begun to illuminate the sky, we made our way along dusty, winding paths towards our destination, an organic farm 2 miles across the valley in the shadow of Mount Kuchumaa (High Exalted One).
It was amazing to see the landscape bend and shift before me as the rising sun cast colourful illuminations. We walked in formation — practically ran really, in a race against I don’t know what. I am not an early bird gardener-type. I do not greet the dawn with grace. I linger, stumble around, curse the universe, and beg for just one more minute in my comfy cocoon. But then, once I manage to drag my body out of bed, I find it is always worth it. In this case it was worth facing the morning’s cold air, my sleep-deprived crankiness, and the weirdly competitive colourful spandex-cloaked run-walking to see this beautiful coastal chaparral before the harsh and blinding midday sun transforms it into something else entirely.
I’m currently in the process of hardening off the first round of onion and leek seedlings in preparation for permanently planting them outside. To recap, here’s the planting calendar that I follow:
Spring is happening here in Toronto. Flowering bulbs and hardy perennials are popping up in my garden quickly now and the local corner shops have begun hauling out carts full of plants to tempt us. Right on schedule, emails about basil have come flooding in.
“Hi there, I bought a basil plant a few weeks ago. I swear I’ve been doing everything right but it’s going all brown. Is it dying?”
“I only water it when the soil is dry. What am I doing wrong?”
It’s not you, it’s the plant. No, really. Of all of the herbs I have ever grown — and I have grown a good many — basil is consistently the most finicky of the lot and the hardest to get going. Don’t get me wrong, a lush basil crop is easy enough to grow mid-season when it is sunny and warm and nighttime temperatures are consistently above 50°F (10°C). The plant is surprisingly amenable to life in pots and even though I have been experimenting with basil since the start of my gardening “career” and have grown as many as 22 varieties in one season, I am still amazed by the exceptional variety of forms, colours, and flavours available. This is a fantastic herb, and my second favourite food crop to grow besides tomatoes. Judging by the questions I receive about this plant, I think it’s one of your favourites, too.
‘Cinnamon’ basil. A really pretty variety that is delicious as a tea, in deserts, or made into delicious ‘Cinnamon’ basil jelly.