The new home garden

June 2020

Several generations have passed since eating home-grown produce was the norm. My mother grew up on a farm, enjoying all organic food, fresh from the garden, or in winter, selected from the jewel-toned jars lining shelves in the basement cold-room. As an adult she went on to supplement her own family’s diet with produce from her own small garden. Canning was unnecessary, as the local grocery store was a block away and had a wide variety of fresh (if inferior) produce in the winter months. While my child-self enjoyed the harvest, (sweet steamed baby carrots with a gloss of melted butter…so delicious!),

I was not interested in learning to garden. As a young adult, I gardened when prepared land was available, and my thrifty soul rejoiced in free food. Later still, finally settled in one location for more than a year or two, I started again, developing raised gardens. Our harvests were hit and miss as I learned from my mistakes. We enjoyed abundant feeds of string beans; I grieved over promising kale and swiss chard destroyed by garden pests. Zucchinis grew to enormous sizes when I neglected my harvest for what seemed only a day or two.

Then one year, I focused on the one existing flower bed in the front yard. A mostly dead shrub shared the space with a few orange daylilies and the odd tulip. Ten years later, I have five flower beds in the front yard, and six in the back. Last year I grew no veggies at all.

I needed the room for the flowers! Why waste perfectly good garden space on veggies that I could buy (sans bugs!) what I needed at the grocery store? I needed to feed my soul! Some beds I dug down, using a double digging technique and mixing in lots of compost. Others I built up using a layering technique of vegetable peels and coffee grounds, sawdust and shredded dead leaves, paper and cardboard. There was so much to learn! So many good gardening books in the library to study! Life was lived outside, and family, friends and neighbors were blessed with sweet evening scents, the sight of butterflies dancing and bees buzzing. A rainbow of colours came and went each summer, as the daffodils and tulips passed into the season of peonies and lilies, which then gave up the stage to the asters and coneflowers.

Then came the spring of 2020, which we like to refer to as “20/20”. This clearer vision let us see that food security is not guaranteed. We are frightened by store freezers with empty shelves. The produce department has more empty bins than we’ve seen before, and we learn to plan meals around what’s available. We begin to think that growing a few vegetables at home might be a good idea.

Maybe I should give some of my flower space back to carrots and beets. Do I need to decide between vegetables or flowers? While one feeds the belly, the other feeds the soul. I think the women of generations past had the right idea with their cottage gardens – enclose an area (for them it was usually out the front door) and fill it with a mix of vegetables, flowers and herbs. They can benefit each other. Marigolds, for example, deter deer and harmful garden pests, and attract beneficial insects. Herbs that taste delicious with a certain vegetable sometimes actually help it to thrive (think tomatoes and basil)!

For those of you considering gardening for the first time, know that results will vary according to your knowledge of how gardens and plants work. Thankfully, we are blessed with several local Facebook groups in which experienced gardeners are ready to share their wisdom and dispense advice. We have a group of Master gardeners who volunteer their time and expertise. You may have an older friend or relative who still can’t figure out email, but who can garden circles around you. There are many ways to learn to produce an abundant harvest.

Learning to garden is a win-win. If we need that extra home-grown food, it is there. If not, we have the choice of fresher, tastier organic fruits, vegetables and herbs to delight our palates and nourish our bodies. Don’t forget to plant some flowers too, to cheer your heart and bring extra joy to life!

Kim Kilgour is a wife, mother of three, retired dental hygienist and gardening enthusiast.

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