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A Garden Story

When my husband and I first arrived in Los Angeles, direct from Montreal, with only two suitcases, I was excited to begin a new chapter in our life together. Everything was new and bright and I was entirely smitten with the climate. I had always been a summer lover and I was more than happy to turn my back forever on the cold, Canadian winters. The never ending sunshine was blissful. I could wear short sleeves and spaghetti straps any and every day if I wanted.

I think I projected a whole lot of fantasies on how the California weather was going to make me feel. You see, as sometimes happens, fantasy and reality did not align. I arrived from Montreal, where I had been quite miserable, but prior to that I had been in Vancouver. Time and time again, I had discovered that I truly and completely belong in the Pacific Northwest. Even after we determined to make Southern California our home, I found this couldn't be. My heart and spirit were in a different locale. Eventually, if I was ever going to feel whole again, I knew that I had no choice but to join them.

Admittedly, I wasn't craving to go where I thought I could thrive. I was running away, as well. The sun in LA had become oppressive. I felt its weight pushing down on my shoulders. Rarely, when there were a few clouds in the sky, I might weaken and get my hopes up for shade or rain, only to be dashed when the winds off the open ocean rapidly blew them over. I recall that when my mother-in-law would visit, she would look through the kitchen window every morning, up into the blue sky, and pronounce that it looked today would be a beautiful day. My young son would giggle: what a ridiculous pronouncement. at how ridiculous this behaviour was. Of course it was going to be a beautiful day! I found it all slightly depressing.

When my son was four years old, he took part in the Anaheim Ducks Learn to Play program. I swore that my kids would never play hockey, but there I was, living as an ex-pat and the deal the Ducks offered was far too tempting to resist. So, off we went to hockey, with me being about the only parent who had any idea how to put on the mounds of equipment and lace hockey skates. It was pretty fun and my little boy was in his element, too. I would sit in the bleachers with a friend, getting colder and colder and colder. Sometimes there would be a heat wave of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit raging outdoors, but when I would arrive in my hot, steamy car, I was cold enough to bear it. I would drive all the long way home (because of course we drove the freeway to get there. The 710 to be exact. I include this detail for my California readers who will appreciate the clarification 😉) with numb toes. Bliss. My relationship with cold, and with winter, was altered forever. It turned out that I liked the cold after all and didn’t want to live without it.

Just before my son started kindergarten, we traveled back up to the Pacific Northwest. This was one of the happiest road trips of my life because I was going back for good! I was going to plant a big garden and go for walks in the woods where I was familiar with the plants. I imagined walking on the beach, in rainboots instead of flip flops, and woolen mittens on my hands, toque on my head. I was returning home and my heart was singing.

When we began to look for a new home, we had unusual requirements and the first space we needed to see with every house was the garage. If the space too small, the ceiling too low, then the house would be a no-go. Once we determined the garage could be transformed into an ideal art studio, the next deal breaker space would be the yard. Enough sun exposure? Big enough for my dreams? And…trees all around, too? lol Pretty big bill to fill. But we did it! We moved into the first house I looked at online the summer before we moved, the house that I was convinced would become my home. I wanted it so badly that I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone, but I repeatedly imagined myself in that house. Amazingly, that house became ours. And in that yard, which doesn’t have quite enough sun, I set to planting a garden with the belief in my heart that this was a garden I would never be forced to leave behind.

The task of creating that new garden from scratch was - and still is - daunting. Among the challenges was that I am not handy and for this garden I knew I wanted raised beds. I would have to rely on my very busy husband to create all my garden beds and trellises. At the time, he had no wood working skills to speak of. Sometimes, when we look back at his prior endeavors into wood working, we all dissolve into tears of laughter. I honestly did not believe that my garden would get its start that first spring and had decided to not pressure my husband. I resolved to be patient and to wait. Obviously, I didn’t know my husband as well then as I do now. I was not even late with my planting. Those days of him building the first raised cedar beds and the kiwi trellis are some of my dearest memories. After a cold winter, the weather was mild. Other than the birdsong all around us, the days were quiet and still. These were our first days outdoors without jackets and my youngest child ran through the yard without shoes. The kids and I had a picnic lunch on the grass while my husband worked away. What he could do in less than an hour now, took many hours back then. I am grateful, because the extended length of his building that spring, draws out the length of my memories, too.

I started out slow with the garden. Four or five raised vegetable beds, some herbs, dahlias and a few perennials. Gardening was a challenge that year because with no fence I could not reign my young daughter in and I spent a lot of time chasing her and swiping weird things out of her mouth with my finger. She was always one to take off and run away and she was born with an adventurous palate. I am not one to panic easily, but there was a day that I searched frantically for her, only to finally find her all alone, wandering inside our neighbour's home. Along with the poisonous mushrooms (fortunately, the type that takes years of eating to kill you), back then I even found her sucking a snail out of its shell and another time she was spotted licking a banana slug. As far as she was concerned, the mulch tasted as good as anything else in the garden. So, yes, the garden was slow going.

Each year the kids get older and easier and my time to dedicate to the garden increases. Raised beds have multiplied considerably and so has the variety in my vegetable garden. My husband has always been the primary preparer of dinners, and for the first couple years he did do some grumbling about there not being a good enough produce selection in the garden. Having always cooked simply, I didn't understand what more he could want. One year I challenged myself to learn to cook, too, and to learn to cook well. I thought I would lighten his load. Cooking for my family was eye opening experience that made me a better gardener. I realized how right he was that the selection in the garden was too limited and from then on, what I grew became much more varied and complete.

We have increased the size of the garden each year, as well. First my husband condemned a segment of the driveway and the the following year we filled in our ditch. The kids annoyed for sure. They claim there is nowhere left to play. There is still lots of grass (in the shady sections!), but it is true that I am always after them not to kick their balls in the garden and to watch the seedlings as they run and jump from one stepping stone to the next.

Once I had the vegetable situation under control, I turned my focus to flowers. To justify to myself all the time I spend joyfully in the garden, I manage to grow approximately 95% of our yearly produce. I can't imagine relying on a grocery store again. It feels tremendously good to feed my family straight from my yard. Still, my heart craved flowers. There were never enough flowers! I don't know if my husband realized that our latest section of garden would be dedicated almost entirely to blooms. I think he was surprised. What will he say when her realizes that this spring while he has been away, I have planted up two of the vegetable beds with flowers, instead? These raised beds are now filled with snapdragons, statice, scabiosa and strawflowers. I also tore out a strip of strawberry plants this week and repIaced them with strawflowers! really can't help myself. Just like my move back to the Pacific Northwest, this is a garden meant, ultimately, to nourish more than my physical body. If you have been reading my newsletters, you might have guessed that this year is turning out to be the year of my spirit. So bring on the flowers!

blue garden bench in garden of flowers grown for making soap and skin moisturizer

Of Note in the Garden

  • The tulips are in their full glory. This tulip - yes, all four flowers -belong to one bulb!

  • On our sunnier days, the mason bees are chewing their ways out of their cocoons and pollinating the apple tree blossoms. Watch the bees hatch out of our hands here.

  • Forget Me Nots, Pulmonaria, Bleeding Hearts and Primulas are all gracing the shade garden with their blooms. If you are wondering what to plant for your own spring flowers, these are suggestions for some very low maintenance shady spring bloomers.

Upcoming Events

  • Your Local Small Market, Point Roberts Community Center: Saturday, May 7, 11am to 2pm

  • Sunday, May 8, 11am to 5pm: The Garden Stand is open. Slow Botanicals are stocked.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend,


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