Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Long Ago Gardens

The very first time I built a garden I was very young, before my second child, Katrina, was born. Heidi was two years old and had found friends in the neighbourhood; the only way I could keep tabs on her was to be outside, along with her and her gang.

We lived in an older home which had been renovated many times and not in a particularly good way. But it was affordable. For $20,000 we received a five bedroom two bath full basement home, with a mother-in-law suite and the added bonus...a large covered deck. During foul weather, that deck kept Heidi and her friends outside with all their toys.

There were the obligatory plants around the foundation in front of the home, a large Cherry Tree, and five smallish Walnut Trees, all in a row. Oh, and a poor, old Pear Tree on the West side of the home.

Having many gardeners as relatives and feeling a garden should be more than Trees and a few Shrubs, I thought I could make it look more inviting. And so, with very little knowledge of what I was doing, I went to work.

I had no understanding of Plants which preferred Sunlight or Shade, wet Soil or dry, or even in which direction South or North lay. I didn't know the prevailing Wind, which began to blow at four o'clock every afternoon.

And I didn't begin with only a small corner of the yard...oh, no. I wanted the whole corner lot on which the house was situated to be completely landscaped. Since we were broke much of the time, there was no doubt that I would have to do this landscaping myself.

I was lucky in that most everybody I knew had a garden. I received many cast-off Plants and a huge amount of Seeds from friends and family.

Plant nurseries, when I began to garden at the tender age of twenty-two, were not places I was familiar with. They intimidated me with the lush, gorgeous Plants on display. But...you guessed it...it was not long before I began to yearn for this Plant or that one.

And I wanted a soft-Fruit garden...Raspberries, Strawberries, Rhubarb and Currants. And of course, a Vegetable plot, as well.

In fact, I wanted to transplant my mother's garden right to where I lived...

I borrowed shovels and rakes and edgers. I mapped out the yard, just as all those gardening magazines said to do. And then I got to work...

Beginning on the East side of the house, mainly because I could see my daughter  more easily from that side, I began to dig. There was a concrete sidewalk, I recall, between the house and what would be the new garden bed.

Nobody told me that all Soils are not created equal. The Soil on this piece of property was nothing but very hard-packed Clay. As difficult as it was to dig, I still marvelled at the rich, red colour of it...and I was sure it was as fertile as any Soil. Even if I was told differently by my gardener friends and family, nothing could deter me.

I discovered then something which has never changed for me. I discovered that I loved to dig and make garden beds. Whether or not there were any Plants in those beds matters not to me, even now.

There is something about a clean, raked bed that I love. I could leave these beds empty forever, if Mother Nature did not have other plans. She strews her Seeds everywhere, and a bed that has been raked to the nth degree excites her no end. Soon, that beautifully clean space of Soil began to show signs of...oh, no!...the dreaded Buttercup...

Huh. I had to plant my minimalist garden, if I wanted to have more than Weeds surrounding me.

I had been given slips and divisions of plants and Seeds gardeners had saved. I planted the slips and clumps of Plants...yet, still, my long garden bed looked strange and empty, just waiting for Mother Nature...

A movie came out just around that time...The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds. I remember seeing it and loving those Marigolds featured in the film and planted all over in my Mother's garden.

I had Marigold Seeds, in my very minuscule gardening supplies. So very early on in my gardening career, I had no idea there were so many varieties. I planted those Seeds in my possession into that red Soil. And I waited for them to appear, glorious with their shaggy, golden heads.

And waited...and waited...

After two weeks of peering closely at the Soil where the Marigold Seeds had been planted, still nothing had appeared.

And then I learned that these same Marigolds I was trying to raise by Seed came in large flats, already half-grown and already quite charming, in my book. I saved the money for them by feeding my family some very creative wiener dishes.

Feeling quite flush, I bought myself a flat of those gleaming-like-gold blossoming Plants and planted them the very same day. Still there was room in that bed!

Hmm. The marigolds looked like soldiers on parade, all in a row...with at least a foot between them. 

The neighbours were watching the travails I was undergoing by now. They would wander over with coffee cups in hand and offer all kinds of advice. But not one of them suggested I wait awhile and let the Plants grow. They only suggested other varieties of Seedlings I could add to make the new garden bed look fuller.

One of my neighbours brought me a flat of Seedlings she insisted she did not need. It was true kindness on her part...any gardener will tell you there is always room for one more Plant in the garden.

At any rate, I planted them and was at last satisfied as to how my first garden looked. Full of Marigolds, Pansies, Nasturtiums, Spinach (yes...any Plant will do when you're desperate and we could eat the Spinach) and Petunias and Zucchini, it was a riot of colour!

At first. Then, with copious amounts of fertilizer and water, those Flowers grew and grew. Over and under each other, flopping here and wrapping themselves around another Plant there. And then...I noticed the Marigold Seeds I had planted earlier were also up. Not to mention the three Zucchini plants that brought forth great, green bats that seemingly grew overnight...

That year, even as I enjoyed cut Flowers for the house, I learned a gardener needs patience. Gardens do not just happen...it takes concerted effort. And time. And even (although I disagreed and went my own way at the time) knowledge, either from others or books.

I learned, as well, that my enjoyment of this little garden was not only about sprucing up the corner lot we were living on. I discovered I loved giving away the extra bounty, and my neighbours seemed pleased to receive it.

At any rate, they were, until there was just one too many visits with those Zucchini bats...

My first long ago garden is lodged in my memory. 

Just as all first experiences of anything tend to be. 


  1. Oh, Marion, I can so relate to this post from the Marigolds to the red clay!! My family often says, "But you have a green thumb!" And I tell them that my green thumb came from years of trial and error plantings and hundreds of dollars, too. Only God knows how many beautiful plants I murdered before I learned how to amend the soil. LOL! But I wouldn't have it any other way. I learned something valuable from each of my mistakes. Yes, gardening teaches patience most of all and also acclimates us to the seasons of life. Thanks for a great, wise post. Blessings!

  2. So many times you take me back and you did it again. I had never grown anything until we bought our first house and there was a geranium "resting" in the daylight basement. For some reason I slopped water on it and a few days later a green leaf appeared.

    I brought it out and soon I was rewarded with beautiful red flowers. I thought that growing flowers was really easy. I was wrong, but I learned a lot through the years.

  3. oh my dearest sister marion! do you know i am a gardener too?--educated like you, still bargaining with the soil, "What?! i gave you plenty of rich additions last year! why are you so dry/sandy/clayish/stony?"

    i loved reading this post so much i have to go back to look at your photographs. last year i filled the yard with shrubs--many hydrangeas-- this year perrenials and only eight tomato plants! (surrounded by basil and marigolds)

    i could rake and turn and then STARE at that soil all day! this is what i will do for at least part of tomorrow, my day off from work-work.

    you've made me very happy tonight.


  4. you learned alot more than just about flowers and soil...as it should be

  5. And now look at the flowers you plant! And how your gardens have spread - all the way here to blogland where we can enjoy them as much as your neighbors do! Thanks!

  6. A lovely story X:-) i need to start with the same enthusiasm in my garden <3

  7. And an excellent memory it is too. (I'll bet you made some of those flowers up?? hah)

    I have been looking into Reiki at your suggest and have found many references. Is there a particularly detailed referencee as to history and technique ? I see it is a fairly recent practice--1922-- but based upon much older ideas.
    This "laying on of hands" seems most basic and instinctive but not used much in healing with modern medicine. First thing I want when I am sick is attention, hands on me is good, and someone to look, feel, and pay attention. It is just natural. But we get gowns, needles, procedures , "sirs" waiting, small talk; but nary a touch. Please, just a touch to agree and show that we are of the same bunch of suffering beings here in the same space of time. Nothing meant by the touch, except what it is and what it is meant to be, without trim. Just do it, I'll undersand and think the better of you for knowing.
    Dear, I've gone on now too long way past where you know what I mean. . .

  8. Marion,

    Oh, I know about the murdering of plants!When I look back and remember the tropical varieties I planted, along with wetland plants placed in dry spots, I just shake my head. At some point, preparing the soil properly took over from just getting the plants into any old bed. And over the years, my favourite reading included gardening magazines and books, from which I DID learn.

    I enjoy making really super soil now, with a little of this and more of that. Such a difference it makes!


    I think all former owners left spindly geranium plants on a basement window sill...it must have been a requirement. My house had them in the basement as well, as weak as anything. But what a lesson for me...a little water, a little sunlight...and those geraniums came back to life! And I have to confess, in the selling of a long ago former home I left a couple in a basement window myself, ha! I think it was because I just couldn't throw them out, knowing what was hidden inside!

  9. kj,

    Last year I filled the garden with hydrangeas myself, only to find they were not friendly with our very cold Winters. I learned after this winter that perennials do much better; against all odds they all popped up albeit much later than on the coast. But lilacs do very well here...I have quite a few of these shrubs dotted in the garden here and there.

    I'm never sure of how many tomato plants I've got...there was always one more variety in the plant nursery that I had to try. And then there are the ones I'd seeded...they are doing well now, as well. Lots of tomatoes, I think, for the kitchen this year!

    I can't believe how LARGE cabbage plants grow here. And my carrots are almost ready to eat! And of course, please tell Emily my lollipops are ripening well and so far, haven't been stolen...heehee!

    There is something about dark, loamy soil that makes me salivate...guess I'm not the only one!!! xoxo


    Yes, gardening teaches us far more than how to plant. Each garden I have made grew exponentially with each crisis I have had; it's where I take out my anxious energy to have it soothed by plunging my hands deep into the soil, thereby grounding myself to face another day.


    Thank YOU for writing about nature in such an awesome way...I read your blog to get in touch with Mother Nature and her infinite moods. I thought about all the gardens I have made over the years; they were all really good memories. And mostly, I have the photos of past plantings, which I enjoy now, when my garden is not so glorious!

  10. Nollyposh,

    Once you begin, I guarantee you won't be able to stop. Just one more bed, I promise myself, just one more...and then I find that corner over there looks bare and/or I need to balance this bed with a new one. It goes on and on, lol!xoxo


    Ahh, Goatman, I know so well what you mean. And as a hospice volunteer, I have learned that the touch soothes far more than any small talk I may try. Most patients do not want to talk, it is very trying and tiring for them, and there is no equal to the human touch. I call it skin hunger...the truly sick individual yearns for the touch of another's warm skin on their own.

    Healing Touch is another modality used by many medical people and it is amazing as well. It all involves touch. A good book which is not too overwhelming is Essential Reiki by Diane Stein. It is available through Amazon.

    Another good person to contact is Dave from the blog Serenity and Love...http://touchchi.blogspot.com/ . He's also on my sidebar. Dave works for hospice as well and gives Reiki outside and in...he would be a really good person to talk with.

    I have no doubt there must be a Reiki practitioner near where you are. Any new-agey type shop will have references to one. And I guarantee you will feel better, inside and out, even through chemo, with Reiki or a similar modality.

    And by the way...I did NOT make up those flowers...that first bed is engrained in my memory, never to be forgotten!!!!heh!

    You'll get through this, my dear friend...I will send long distance Reiki to you, if you wish. Graham also sends his very best...he's a Usui and Karuna Reiki Master.

    One more link you might want to try is William Rand's site...just google William Rand. There's lots of info there, as well. xoxoxox

  11. I've always loved to garden but never had time for it when I was working in the city. Plus my condos never had enough ground space for much. I am still at the impatient stage for seeds to sprout. I worry that I am losing a important part of my limited growing season so I tend to over plant seeds and replant them if there is no evidence in two weeks. But it always works out, just not as planned sometimes. - Margy

  12. I love this reminiscence of your first garden :o) I only learned a year or so ago that a gardener's greatest gift is patience. I've learned to overlook the small, new plants, and to anticipate more the splendour of the mature, "experienced" plants.

    But what a joy it is to have bounty to share.

  13. Really enjoyed this description of the first garden. It does bring back a few memories of my own. I wish I had your love of preparing the beds; I'm more slapdash/stick'eminthere but fortunately flowers seem to do what they will, with or without my "smart" planning.

  14. Ooh, I really like your river rock border.

    If Peggy loved gardening, I could get into it because I do so love plants. Alas, she has no interest, and I do too many things alone as it it. I sure enjoy other people's gardens though, I sure do enjoy your photos.

  15. Hi there!

    Shortstorybook.net is organizing a short story writing contest.

    We do think that you too might have a marvelous story to tell, one that is your own! So if you can compose it in not more than few words, we would want to hear from you. Also, you stand a chance to get your story published on our site and win cash prize of USD 100.

    “Then what are you waiting for? …put on your thinking cap and get writing. For registration and other information check - http://bit.ly/short-story-contest-2010

    Happy writing!

  16. Margy,

    I love your posts about your garden on the water! I tried, when I had a cabin in an Ocean bay, to make a garden. First, I tried on land, but found the garden was really interesting to the Animals who lived there in the wilderness. Then I tried in pots...but since we were there only on weekends, watering was a problem. The only thing that didn't seem to mind the lack of water and the salt Air was Parsley. It did really well.


    Congratulations on your new endeavour! You won't have much time for gardening with your family and your new business!I hope you will take some time out and pull a weed or two...it will certainly ground and centre you, as you know!

    My Kateness,

    Welcome! I'm so glad you visited. You're so right...flowers and vegetables, as well, will do what they will. All the fuss and worry in the world won't make a bit of difference when it comes time to harvest or watch the beauty of a rose bush that only has one blossom. There's always next year...another well-known gardener saying!

  17. Snowbrush,

    Thank you, sweetie! I love Flowers, too, but I believe I love Vegetables even more. Nothing tastes as good as a freshly picked Veggie to me. Cucumbers, especially, taste so much different out of a home garden...and carrots, and tomatoes and potatoes and cabbage and and and! Heh!

    Those boulders were put in place by my stepson Scott...it will forever be known as Scott's bed!


    Thanks for the heads up! I shall check it out...$100 is a great prize.

  18. Anonymous4:08 p.m.

    Hello Marion,

    Yes, the one thing I am learning in gardening is patience. This year, I was sure we would have no vegetables with so many of the bean plants and squashes being eaten up by slugs or succumbing to cold wet unseasonal weather. But I was worrying my head over nothing, mother nature conquered again, we have enough beans and squash to show for all our effort this year.
    I enjoy your gardening stories, I feel like I am in good company, not the only one with a not so green thumb and didn't have a clue to begin with.

  19. Now I'm wondering if Blogger ate my comment or if I only thought I left a comment:P It's probably the latter!

    I love this post because you sounded so much like me when you insisted flying by the seat of your pants! I still pretty much do that, especially now since I've moved back to the 4 seasons. In CA I was just getting it right after 16 years!

    The flower photos are beautiful, and I too love sharing with neighbors although I don't grow zucchini~just flowers in containers these days.

    Nature restores me. It's the best medicine!


  20. Beautiful flowers, Marion... but... BATS? Did you say "Zucchini bats"? (((screams)))

    See, I knew there had to be a down side to gardening, LOL.

  21. What a great post, I felt like I was actually in the garden after a while. I love our passion for dug soil beds heheh, thanks for the wee journey, it's brightened my day. I'll be in touch mail-wise soon hon xxx

  22. Miruh,

    Our cucumber plants took ages before they showed signs of growth. I'm not sure yet whether they will produce anything this year or not. But, as they say, there's always next year!


    Nature restores ME as well. There is nothing like letting soil run through my fingers...crumbly, dark earth...for grounding myself.

    These days, I try hard to listen to advice or even criticism. I might not always take the advice...alright, I admit I might be a tad headstrong. Heh!

  23. Daisy,

    I'm so glad to see you back! I hope you're refreshed and peaceful after your break.

    Heh, heh! Zucchini bats would have made a good story to tell my grandson...I'll tell him next time I see him.

    Just this morning, as I was watering and dragging the hose around the yard, and trying to bring crunched plants to some semblance of life, I thought all the watering must be the downside!

    All Consuming,

    I was just thinking of you this morning, Michelle! Just wondering how your party went...I've had the grandkids here for the last while and there was absolutely no time for the computer! I'll have a hop over to see how it went.

    Your herb garden looks great as well. It's amazing how plants adapt to the strange weather we've been having...cold one minute, blazing hot the next. I'll have to take a leaf out of their books....hee, hee!

  24. Hi Marion, it's been too long since I visited! The photos are wonderful and have brightened up my evening considerably, and its always good to read your words, thank you...

  25. Anonymous8:39 p.m.

    Hi Marion,

    I loved your post about your first garden!

    My husband and I just bought our first house and I was able to grow my very own garden this year. The house had a lot of mulch that I had to clear out (my husband is European and he says that mulch is for lazy people!), as well lots of myrtle (an invasive species where I live) and lily of the valley (we have so many growing in our yard).

    I developed muscles I haven't used in years, by sweating and toiling to get the beds ready. I figured since this was my first year gardening on my own, my garden was just going to be an experiment, because I didn't want to be disappointed if it didn't turn out the way I wanted it to. I just wanted to have fun and see what I could do.

    I planted mostly wildflower seeds, dormant rose bushes, gladiolas, lupine, nasturtium, herbs (lemon balm, spearmint, chamomile, catnip, lavender, etc...), some day lilies I found for free off of craigslist, and some plants I dug up at a woman's house who was trying to downsize her garden.

    My garden isn't exactly what I envisioned, but it is beautiful and colorful. I loved watching the seeds turn to seedlings, and then into flowers. The roses blooming were my favorite accomplishment, as well as the veggie garden I planted.

    I know I will look back at my first garden and smile at how much fun it was to just experiment and have fun gardening, and that next year's garden will be even better!