Saturday, April 21, 2012


Every year it is a miracle.

As many times as I have been through it, it is still a miracle.
The restlessness begins in early January, as soon as the changing angle of the sun become perceptible.

I've pored over seed catalogues since the garden went dormant. The order goes in, gritting my teeth at the expense; anxiety sets in until the seeds arrive.

February: time to start tomatoes. I stand in the icy wind putting compost in pots, gently bedding the tiny, almost transparent seeds, covering them with vermiculite. I put them in plastic bags on a tray and take them to my attic room where they bask under a skylight.

Then the anxiety becomes acute. What if none of them germinate? Just because it's me, they might not.... it all becomes quite ridiculous. Such a small seed to become such an enormous fruiting plant—impossible! Of course it takes time...

The second week passes. I begin to sweat. I plant a second series of pots with my most favourite varieties. No sooner have I done this, of course, than a day or two later there is a fragile sprout. I take off the plastic bag. Then another sprout and another until all my pots are full of fast-growing small green tomato plants. O me of little faith!

The pots are transferred to the conservatory. I am impatient to make the first transplants to bigger pots; I probably do it a mite too soon, but the infants are tough and survive the handling.

Some weeks later, I have rapidly growing plants in the conservatory—far more than I need even after giving more than half of them away. I'm now impatient to get them in the ground or in their outside pots. This morning a rogue weather forecaster suggests May will plunge us back into winter. I start biting my fingers. While pumpkins and squash are already germinating, I haven't yet had time to start sunflowers and basil. Where will I put everything?

People laugh when you suggest that plants communicate. They do. They convey their needs, somehow. It's like fishing; in Alaska people laughed when I replied to their question, 'You have to listen to the fish', but I caught more than most people.

Plants become your children. I can't bear to throw away plant material or damage even a leaf, much less break a stem, as sometimes happens; I began these life cycles, now I'm responsible for them.

Gardening is zen-like: every year is different; every year you are a beginner. Some people may see gardening as 'scientific'; and certainly there are techniques that help. But me, while I'm grateful for and use them, I listen more with the other ear, for what the plants, the air, the sun, the soil will tell me. 

Spring: ephemeral, full of false promises, giver of life, however brief. But for the two or three weeks in summer when everything is blooming and the vegetables are fruiting—all the work is worth it. More than worth it. We learn silence in the garden; we learn to listen; we learn obedience to what we cannot know; we rejoice in beauty; we grieve out our mortality.

I am so grateful for the small patch I am allowed to care for, which, soon, will be crammed full to bursting...


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