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Gardening

The family who moved in next door has family connections to a native plant nursery – just the thing to feed my addiction.

I planted what he sourced for me today – Joe-Pye Weed, Slender Blazing Star, Soiky Blazing Star, Yellow Canada Lily, Starry False Solomon’s Seal, Butterfly Milkweed, Boneset, Mountain Mint, Pale Echinacea, and Nannyberry.

Just thought you might like to know.

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My garden is getting there. It still has a way to go, but it is getting there. I can now sit on the porch and enjoy it for what it, even as I’m planning what it will be.

I can also watch as people walk it in different ways. Some stop and look at the plants. Some wander a ways up the paths. Some sneak fruit when they think they’re unseen. Some come to the door and ask about a particular species. The neighbourhood kids come to use the play equipment. The family picks fruit and vegetables.

All these people all walking my garden in their own way, and I love it. That’s what the garden’s for, even when someone steps on a plant by mistake or a kid dislodges a stone from the path. That’s all part of the garden being a place where people walk. I don’t begrudge it.

On the other hand, there are the Saturday night drunks who pull out random plants, break the fencing, and piss on my house.

It doesn’t happen every Saturday, but often enough to sadden me, not just because it’s stupid vandalism or because it means extra work for me, but because it shows they don’t understand a garden except to destroy it. For whatever reason, they aren’t able to walk the garden, only tear it apart, and there is a symbolic level about this that distresses me.

I feel viscerally that their inability to walk the garden is a symptom of things much darker.

Last fall I had a woman approach me while I was working in my garden.  She told me that she volunteered with the city’s annual garden tour and would be recommending mine for the coming year.  I didn’t think much more about it and forgot all about the incident by the time spring rolled around.

Then, a few days ago, I got a knock on my door.  At first I didn’t recognize the woman standing there, but as she started explaining the situation I did recall our conversation in the garden six months earlier.  She needed to apologize, she told me, and she felt it best to do so in person, because she knew how hard it would be to hear that my garden had not been selected for this years’ tour.

I assured her that it was no big deal.

No, she insisted, she had led me to believe that I would be selected, and she herself had experienced the disappointment of having her garden not be included some years.  She was at fault.  She had been sure that they would choose my garden.  It was okay for me to express my feelings to her.

I realized that she was serious, that in her mind she had offered me the chance of a gardening lifetime and then snatched it away, that she could only interpret my lack of emotion as putting on a brave face.  The possibility that I had no interest in the garden tour at all, that I had forgotten the offer had even been made, that depending on the work involved I would probably have declined being on the tour anyway, was inconceivable to her.

Yes, I was disappointed, I told her, but I would survive.

The lie seemed to be what she needed.  She told me not to give up, to keep improving the garden.  She promised to suggest it for the tour again next year.

I thanked her, but told her not worry about it.  I just garden because I like to grow things, I explained.  I really didn’t need to be on the tour.

Of course I wanted to be on the tour, she said.  Everybody wanted to be on the tour.  And she would see to it.  Not to worry.

I had been using a blog for a homeschooling project back when my kids did that sort of thing (as it looks like they may do again), but it had been sitting around for better than a year, and I had an idea to use it as a place to organize my garden, so I’ve gradually been listing the plants that I have and the plants that I want, and a scalable map of the garden (which is already out of date, but awesome even so), and now I’ve started blogging a little too, though probably in a very interesting way. My approach (for all of two days now) is to list very factually what I did in the garden on any given day and to list also the interactions I have with people through the garden and because of it.  I have no idea what this will look like, but I’m doing it anyway.  Take a look if that sort of thing amuses you.

We picked our first real crop of cherries this year, probably a quarter of a bushel, so we have been eating cherries at every opportunity, putting them in cereal and on icecream, and I used the ones with bird bites in them to make a cherry pie.

Yesterday we also picked our chokecherries, the second year now that we have had enough to make them worth picking.  Their sour taste keeps them from being edible fresh (though my youngest son was not at all deterred), but they make great jelly.  I prefer no-pectin recipes, and they are not always easy to find, so I thought that I should post mine:

Just cover the chokecherries with water in a pot, including some unripe ones for flavour and added pectin.  Boil them until they are very soft, then mash them lightly.  If you want your jelly to be clear, strain the pulp through cheesecloth, but do not squeeze or press it.  If you want a more jam-like jelly, press the pulp through a sieve.  Either way, combine the juice with equal amounts of sugar and about a tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of chokecherry juice.  Small batches tend to jell better, so work with amounts of  three to five cups of chokecherry juice at a time.  Bring the batch to a boil, stirring often, until it reaches jell stage.  Pour into canning jars.  Water bath for five to ten minutes.  Let cool.  Check that the jars have sealed.  Store the jars in a cool and dark place.  Eat the jelly often, especially on icecream.

I took Jayden, my youngest son, on a drive the other morning.  He was going stir crazy, and he needed out of the house in the worst way, but it was pouring rain, so I was not much motivated to take him for a walk.  We drove quite a way out along the sideroads, and I was just about to head home when I saw a flash of lily orange in the ditch, but at a height far above the wood lilies that are sometimes found along the road, even above the much more common garden-escaped daylilies.  I turned around at the nearest opportunity, pulled over next to the patch of orange, and waded in my sandals through a ditch filled with a foot of water and a tangle of bulrushes to discover that what I had seen were Michigan Lilies, almost as tall as I am.  I waded back, fetched the shovel and bucket that I generally keep in the back of the car, waded out a second time, dug up several specimens, and hauled everything back to the car.  The toddler watched the whole procedure from his carseat with what I assumed to be interest.

A day later, I took him for a walk through the neighbourhood and struck up a conversation with a woman who lives a couple of streets over.  She was weeding her garden and had just started to pull out a number of sumacs, one of the low-growing varieties.  I asked if she would let me keep a few if I helped her dig them out, and I came home with a half-dozen of them.

The next afternoon, I went to call my kids in from the yard and found two bags of plants on my front walkway, unlabeled and unclaimed.  They turned out to be some kind of iris or purple flag, not the native variety I like best, but nice even so.

Then, yesterday, we went for a hike with some friends where I knew I would be able to pick up some common milkweed for my front boulevard, since many of the ones I planted last year were killed off when they were covered by a delivery of mulch.  I took my bag and my shovel along on our walk and soon had what I needed.

I love these kinds of plants, the ones that have stories to them, even the simplest of stories.  I love the plants that come, not from a nursery, but from uncommon places.