On Becoming a Garden Gnome

On a very snow-spanked January 24th, I would not have agreed with my current (June 7th) belief that the best time to move is in the winter.

However, after surviving harrowing highways and a pending moving truck cancellation, the severe weather watch tamed to a gentle snowfall, the kind they portray in romantic movies and Hallmark commercials.

When you move in the winter, you are held hostage by interior work—which, I am now grateful for. My indoor painting work ethic is much stronger when the sun and humidex isn’t being all seductive and alluring. We painted every inch of our house in February. We sucked up 150 years of spiderwebs in the bedrock-floored basement. We tended to neglected toilets like they were part of a fine porcelain collection. All the while, it snowed Andes mountains kind of proportions.

And, now? We can almost bask in our preferred barometer reading. From March until yesterday, Kim and I have transformed into garden gnomes on a clear-cutting mission. We came, we saw, we mulched, we conquered. God bless yard bags, landscape fabric and my massage therapist at Sentio. And Wellington Brewing Company.

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But, back to winter being the optimal moving time. Yes, everyone touts spring and fall as the time for renewal and change, and, I’m sure we would have jumped on that bandwagon given the opportunity. We didn’t find our house until the drizzly, funeral-skies end of October though. Our deal wasn’t finalized until mid-November. Our first real, semi-unhurried visit to our home kept within the wet and grey theme—when we looked at the backyard it was seen through rose-coloured glasses (and, also, glasses of rose-coloured champagne) as a promise of privacy, space and serious sun-tanning potential (void of shadowing high rises and monster condos). There were several scrubby flowerbeds that had long since wilted and were more sideways than upright. We had no idea what was going to emerge in the spring.

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When you purchase a house in the summer, you have a reliable idea of what it’s going to look like in the snow-laden months. Everyone can picture a snow-buried yard and snow heaped to the sides of a driveway. But, if you’ve never seen a yard in its spring prime—wow.  The surprise element is worth schlepping flat screens and boxes of books through the snow with chapped hands and streaming nose.

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We’ve had front row seats to all the perennial beds coming to life. Snowdrops and daffodils announced spring, closely trailed by intoxicating hyacinths, Siberian squill and an Eastern Red Bud (my favourite tree)—its cotton candy blooms cheerleading warmer weather.

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Lilies of the valley, cheery alium (those purple pom-pom thingies) and delicate forget-me-nots filled out what we thought was an overgrown and composting heap of nothingness. Given the inside condition of the house when we moved in, we had zero expectations of anything but a field of dandelions and waist-high weeds in the flowerbeds. Thistles and burdock and barbed wire if you will.

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Instead, Pepto-pink peonies and scarlet poppies mingle with impossibly blue spiderworts. Bachelor’s buttons add purple punches to the lower tier. Japanese blood grasses are taking on a serious rouge fringe and the hostas—they could double as elephant ears already.

Amongst the velvety lamb’s ear and bounty of hens and chicks, we are the lucky recipients of a birder’s bonanza—because of the come-hither gardens. However, when my friend Kay suggested leaving sliced oranges in the yard to attract the orioles closer, we only managed to attract ants from six neighbouring counties.

016 Cedar waxwings do fly-bys, a flicker frequently stops by for a worm survey and white-breasted nuthatches creep up and down the walnut trees regularly. Yes, I’ve found bird nirvana in Galt!

The flora and fauna acts as an anti-inflammatory to my years spent in the city. My mom is eager for us to plant a garden. Oh, how our family of resident bunnies would love that! This year we’ll keep to thinning the perennials before embarking on edibles. Maybe we’ll do some dill and basil. There are already chives and lemon verbena in the verdant perimeters.

rabbit and flowers 008My brother, Dax, was keen on us going all factory farm with the tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini too. He is wise to the rewards from a childhood spent tending garden. Even at age 8 he had entrepreneurialism coursing through his veins. My mom purchased all the seeds from Stokes catalogue, set Dax up with my grandfather’s rototiller and a truck load of pig shit–and then Dax turned around and sold the produce back to her. Visitors to his garden in those organic-before-organic-was-cool days will remember his fairy tale sunflowers (seriously 15 feet high) and embarrassment of raspberries. The asparagus row was to be envied and he could have won a World Fair ribbon for his curly cukes or bat-like zuchinnis.

I know my sister has different garden memories which involve abandonment in a vegetable patch. We were told (daily) not to run through the gardens that belonged to Gramma Grunt (our great-grandmother who lived directly beside us). Of course we ran through them, even more so (they were a beeline shortcut to the house, duh!). On one terrible soggy day, Kiley went knee deep into the squash row and couldn’t be retrieved. Her rubber boots were like suction cups pulling her the opposite direction, to China. She couldn’t be saved and when we heard the slam of Gramma Grunt’s aluminum screen door, we had to abandon Kiley and run for our lives. Flat on our bellies in the wet grass by the tracks, we watched Kiley’s arm nearly come clean out of its socket as she was pulled out of her boots. “You kids are ‘rangatans!”  Gramma Grunt was like Willie Nelson—she looked like she was 100 for the last 30 years of her life.

Editor’s note: Sorry about that abandonment, Kiley. But, look at you now with your community garden plot in Banff and all!

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As much as I’d like to brag, “I had a farm in Africa,” I think saying “We had flowerbeds in Galt” is the equivalent. And, when you see them, you’ll approve of us buying our veggies at Sobey’s. For now. And, on the occasions that we manage to wake, caffeinate and be mobile by noon, the local farmer’s market. (Couldn’t somebody invent a marketplace for people who want local honey and Mac apples but would like to sleep in a little? Oh. I guess that would be 24-hour Sobey’s. Case closed.)

023Special thanks to my friends with huge botanical brains: Connie Lockwood, Kay “Cornflower” LeFevre, Judy Leitch-Beal and Laura Halladay. Collectively they saved a lot of spiderwort from the weed heap. And, they have been an integral part of our flowers remaining perennial.

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