Growing up, my mother was an avid gardener. Though we didn’t have land of our own in Germany, she rented out a lot in the community garden and grew vegetables in the summer. We also had plenty of potted plants in the apartment and on our balcony. When we moved to a townhouse in Riverview, New Brunswick, we had a wee patch of lawn in the front, and a bigger yard in the back. Mum asked the landlord if she could plant a garden on both sides, and he agreed. She planted some perennials in the front, and vegetables in the back. The townhouses weren’t much to look at, but Mum’s garden made a difference, and though some of our neighbours followed suit and planted gardens of their own, theirs never seemed to match Mum’s in terms of balance and beauty. When we moved to a house Shediac, the neighbours fought over my mother’s bulbs and perennials. And of course, in Shediac, Mum planted an even bigger perennial garden in the front yard, and an enormous vegetable garden in the back.
And I didn’t lift a finger to help.
I just didn’t see the point. It seemed like a lot of hard work, and boring at that. Then, a few years ago, my friend Sandrine had one of those decisive fights with her then-boyfriend and moved out of their apartment. She was perfectly willing to stay in a hotel for her remaining 2 months in Montreal, but I told her to stop being silly and move into my extra room. She brought with her a tiny, sickly Ming Aralia that was unfortunately sharing a pot with an overbearing Pothos. She didn’t know that’s what they were, incidentally. I had to find out on my own. When she left shortly after, I inherited the plants. The first ones I’ve ever really had.
Truth is, I found them quite pretty. As a little tree, the Ming Aralia looked a bit like a bonsai. But knowing the Pothos’s vine-like behaviour was probably choking the Ming, I separated them, put them in different pots, tried to find out what they needed from me, and gave it to them. For 8 years, they’ve survived a modest life in my living room. I’ll be the first to admit that I found they embellished it. The Ming is now about 2 feet tall and mighty bushy, while the Pothos is practically a weed. I had to get poles so it could wrap around something. It just won’t stop.
With that experience, I learned to appreciate taking care of plants, but I was happy to leave it at just those two. Then, last summer, I decided I wanted to grow a herb garden. It’s a culinary thing. Like anyone else, I enjoy the flavour of fresh herbs in the food I prepare. I figured it shouldn’t be too difficult to grow one, since so many people do it. And I wanted lots of herbs! So I picked up some seeds for coriander, rosemary, parsley, chives, thyme, tarragon, oregano, dill, and basil. While I was at it, I picked up some lettuce seeds. I also bought young herbs: lemon thyme, a curry plant, and some purple basil.
I’m one of the few people in the Plateau with the good fortune of having a backyard. True, there’s no lawn or anything on it, and it’s more or less unpaved with a bunch of weeds here and there; but at least it’s mine, and the landlord is pretty open to letting me use it how I please. There are cinder blocks in my backyard, just hanging out by the garage. So I used them as a sort of surface for my herb pots. I planted the seeds, stuck labels in the soil, and waited. People warned me that seeds might be tough, especially as I don’t get huge amounts of sun in the backyard. But within a week, I started to see some growth. It started with the oregano and tarragon, then the thyme, and then everything else seemed to follow.
Not only was I not expecting the seeds to grow so quickly, I also didn’t anticipate the awesome, gratifying feeling of watching your garden literally spring to life. I called up my mother and said, “I get it now!” Naturally, she was all, “it’s about time.”
But I didn’t stop there. On a recent trip to the Atwater Market, I picked up some pots and plants for the backyard. Because I’m looking at a shade garden, my colour palette is somewhat limited (no oranges, yellows or reds, I’m afraid). Still, a shade garden can have that gorgeous zen look that spas everywhere are paying good money to copy. Right now, I have a pot on each step leading to the backyard, and two pots on the back patio. In the process, I was awed by a couple of things. Firstly, how fun it is to create floral arrangements. Secondly, how a couple of flower pots can really pretty up a place. My yard went from tool shed to back garden with a couple of Impatiens, Begonias and Vincas. That’s all it took!
I called up Mum and told her how beautiful the backyard looks now. Naturally, she was all, “how much money did you spend on this?”
Which brings me to a final point. Gardening costs money at first, but your soul will appreciate the investment.