The weather here in Toronto these past few days has been unreasonably beautiful prompting a flurry of gardening activity on my part. My gardens never seem large enough until I have to clean them up. I have spent the last few days rediscovering all over again that, yes, gardening is a physical activity, working muscle groups that have been ignored over the long winter.
On Thursday afternoon, I detoured over to a couple of seasonal garden centres to check out where they are at with spring stock and was delighted to discover pansies and violas in new and beautiful colourways. The one that excited me most was ‘Gem Antique Shades’ a viola mix in subtle gold, lavender, and pinkish tones with some deep reds thrown in (see photo above).
I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but stocking up on these old-fashioned flowers is one of my favourite spring-time activities. While they have a reputation for being old-school cheesy I find they are the best and cheapest way to insert instant colour into a bland early spring garden. Besides the very earliest bulbs and perennials, pansies and violas are one of the very first flowers to go in the soil when the weather is still chilly at night and prone to unpredictable, random acts of snow.
And they’re edible too! I start pansies alongside other early edibles like greens and radishes, throwing them all into a bowl for the first homegrown salads of the year. While the bubblegum flavoured pansy is not your best choice in a salad, most varieties tend to have a slightly sweet, hint-o’violet flavour.
I was forced to limit my purchases to one small box since I was walking and still had to make a stop at the farmers market for produce. However, I’ve already been strategizing ways to get back for another box or two before they sell out. The box I purchased was just enough for the roof but both my community garden plot and the street garden could use a colour splash.
I thought I had certain areas of the city thoroughly mapped out based on the flowers that live there and when they bloom, but yesterday I discovered a huge field of blooming violets that I had not been aware existed. Colour has returned to my city.
If you look closely you can see a little flying insect in the foreground. The world is alive again. I am soaking it all up, not taking anything for granted.
I’ve decided to take the plunge back into the world of sunflowers. Anyone gardening in public space knows that sunflowers have a time-sensitive contract out on their lives beginning the moment they bloom. Their big beautiful blooms inspire grabbing hands that MUST rip and tear and have them all to themselves. I’d like to think those grabbing hands are taking the decapitated, stemless heads home and cuddling with them at night, clutching them with joy. The hands are lonesome. They need beauty in their life! Odds are that those ripped flowers don’t make it down the block — tossed into a City planter as soon as the hands realize the awkwardness of a stemless flower head.
The sight of enormous decapitated plants poking from the back of the garden is too heartbreaking. I got fed up years ago, throwing my arms up in defeat and announcing “A sunflower will never bloom in my garden again!”
And so I have remained since, living in denial that sunflowers exist. Allowing myself rare moments to enjoy them in other peoples’ gardens but never allowing myself to look at seeds or varieties. It’s all very sad and heartbreaking.
I let my guard down in a moment of weakness on our trip to Austin last month. We had soldiered through the rain and across a highway to visit Big Red Sun garden center. I refused to leave empty-handed having put in such great effort to get there! As soon as I saw this pack of ‘Chocolate Cherry’ Sunflowers from Renee’s Garden I knew I had to grow them. I had been withholding from sunflowers for so long that I had completely missed out on all the rich, burgundy varieties available. Now that the door is open I’ve also got my eye on ‘Cinnamon Sun’ and ‘Junior.’
You can bet I will not be starting any of these in the street/guerilla garden. No ma’am, I am saving a nice sunny and safe spot on the roof for these babies and I MIGHT attempt to grow one in my plot at the community garden where their safety is less secure but much greater than their chances in the Garden of Doom.
Garlic Shown: Stiff-neck which tends to be hardy and stores well over the long term.
Sitting down to write this, my first thoughts are to apologize for the slow down in updates recently. I consider writing to assure you that the slow down is merely a glitch in workload and I will not stop writing here during the winter season because gardening is a daily thing for me that does not stop it merely shifts with the seasons. While I’m at it I want to apologize for the header that still says “early Fall” when we all know it is proper Fall now. As I sit here a list of assorted lagging details run through my mind and I entertain the idea of apologizing for each one like something in the room that needs to be acknowledged before our relationship can move on. Or a clearing of my throat. “Ahem. Hi. Is this thing on?”
I wonder what it is about internet writing that brings that out? Is it the feeling of an informal and personable context? Is it the assumption that I am sitting down to speak directly to you and you back to me? When I sit down to write an article for a printed magazine I don’t think to begin with apologies and casual shout-outs. “So… Uh, sorry this is my first time writing for this magazine but you know how it goes, I had other stuff going on and insert excuse here. Before I kick this off I just want to say hey what’s up to so and so whom I met last week at such and such event.”
Okay, enough banter. Let’s talk about garlic.
I should preface these instructions by stating that I am not a garlic eater however I love to grow the plant. I think it is a beautiful plant worth growing regardless of personal taste, requires little effort to produce a good crop, is self-perpetuating (you can use this year’s harvest to produce next year’s crop) and it is especially useful as a pest repellent crop warding off insects like aphids and Japanese beetles. You can also crush garlic cloves in water and make an organic pest spray. Because garlic is easy to grow it also makes a good crop for trading with other food gardeners and friends.
This is what it looked like today. There was a third ripe strawberry this morning but a certain someone (hint: rhymes with Gavin) got to it before I could take some photos.
What it looked like at planting time a few weeks ago.
Turns out that plants, they grow!