Although temperatures in Ontario remain stubbornly below average, the sun came out of hiding today and faint glimmers of spring are around. Everywhere, Canadians are impatiently watching for warmer weather. In my garden the purple and white crocuses are providing some welcome touches of colour. In mid-April, it is finally beginning to feel like spring.
It is time to give the annual collective exhale as the sun warms our soul as well as the ground around us — the winter hibernation can end. Lingering outdoors becomes an epidemic and any excuse is valid. As I drive through suburban streets, I see hardy Canuck males walking around in shorts and hoodies and pretending the weather is warm enough for California outfits. Some of my friends spent the past few days cooking and baking for Easter and Passover festivities. Others have fanatically begun spring cleaning — both inside and outside of their houses. My cats spend the afternoons lounging in the sunshine.
This season strikes everyone differently. For me, the longer days and above zero temperatures bring thoughts of my garden and of resolutions for transformation and rejuvenation — no time for cleaning or cooking or baking. There is something about spring that creates the urge to tangle with nature and produce something beautiful.
Gardening Fantasies and Realities
I am a self-taught gardener. For the past thirty years, I have planted various trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and vegetables. Sometimes these efforts have been wildly successful but more often, my efforts produce a domain of slightly wilted or dwarfed plants. I have learned that not everything that is put into the ground will flourish. Rabbits seem to consume most of the green foliage especially those early lettuces.
The reality is that I have a rather ordinary Ontario city garden with a front and back lawn, some perennials that thrive despite neglect, a patch of spring-flowering bulbs, space for a vegetable garden, some roses, and a few herbs to support my culinary efforts. A large patch of raspberries produces a bountiful crop most years and a few asparagus plants provide an early spring harvest. The garden also has 2 apple trees, a plum tree and a pear tree — all of which bear too much fruit for two people to consume. The excess means that I give bags of fruit to any neighbours who don’t have their own bounty.
For many years I have had a recurring spring fantasy of a thriving garden filled with rambling plants, inhabited by butterflies and birds, and producing a bounty of beautiful flowers, fruits and vegetables. The fantasy expands to include a calm and serene shade garden under the large oak trees that surround the cottage.
Despite my best efforts, the gap between this fantasy and the reality of my garden is considerable.
Spring Garden Dreams
As happens every spring, I have a dream that this year my garden truly thrive. Perhaps this is what keeps all gardeners dedicated to their plot of land. The urge to change the garden, making it easier to keep up, or making it more productive, or making it look more ornamental — this urge hits every year. With more time available now that I have retired, my resolve to improve the garden is stronger than ever.
During the winter I’ve taken some gardening courses which are encouraging and depressing at the same time. The latest thinking in gardening circles is about conservation — especially conservation of water which makes sense to me as then I can lounge around at the cottage and not worry about whether there is enough rain to support my plants in the city. Many gardeners are also moving to using only organic methods. Pesticides are now banned in Ontario; many gardeners are moving away from fertilizers in favour of natural methods of enriching the soil. Recycling rainwater is another trend. Mulching is now recommended as the way to add nutrients while providing enough protection to prevent weeds from growing between plants.
What changes can I make?
I’ve begun with a few retirement gardening resolutions.
- This year there a professional will come to give a consultation and give recommendations for a more successful garden. My husband and I are preparing our questions. Do we need such big lawn areas? As we aren’t about to begin re-cycling rainwater (yet), should we install underground sprinklers to make things easier for us in dry periods? Should we remove some trees to allow more sun? How much does the heavy clay soil need to be amended for best results? What perennials need to be removed or moved? Where do we get a few truckloads of mulch? How do we make the garden easy to maintain yet beautiful?
- The second resolution is to make a plan. The garden has usually just happened and remains a ‘work-in-progress’. While planning is essential in running an organization, I have never had a formal plan for the garden — neither in the city nor at the cottage. This year, I am putting pen to paper. Perhaps a plan will also ensure that plants that need sun get the best spots instead of fighting for light near to tall fences of tall trees.
- With retirement, there will be enough time to prepare the soil and do the planting. Prior to retirement, most gardening was crammed into a few spring weekends when I prayed for nice weather so that I could maximize time to prepare the beds and to finish the planting. With more flexibility, I’ll be able properly prepare the planting beds and do the planting when the weather is at its best.
- This year, there will be composting with earnest. Compost is the best fertilizer available. Since I’m trying to move to organic methods of gardening, I won’t throw clippings or peelings out with the garbage. Instead, I will begin mulching with the compost as well as use it to enrich the soil. My goal is to keep two large composters working through the season.
- Finally, I’ll keep my dreams modest. My gardening dreams will take years — not just one season. Having a quiet and peaceful place to sit and enjoy the sunshine, a place to sit with the morning paper and a cup of coffee, and a place to enjoy meals al fresco is the reason for my garden. Creating it and watching the results is a process that gives much pleasure.