My Year in Gardening: 2013

Pumpkins Polaroid

Happy New Year and welcome to 2014!

I started doing new year wrap-ups back in 2010, and while I have since identified that as a gardener, January 1 doesn’t feel like a time of renewal in the way that spring does, the start of a calendar year is a convenient time to look back and reflect.


Year Start to Year End

2013 started out slowly, which was exactly what I had wanted. By the end of 2012 I was drained and tired of marching from one project to the next, always looking ahead without giving myself a chance to feel a sense of accomplishment. My personal goals for 2013 were to focus more on narrative than how-to and to stay closer to home so that I could spend lots of much-needed time in my garden learning and exploring (and time bonding with my dog). I did not give any presentations or do any work-related travel in 2013, and in that time I grew out my hair and became somewhat hermetic. A year later and I feel a bit like a turtle poking its head out after a long hibernation.

Oliphant Wetland Primula Oliphant Wetland

That said, I did go places and do things in 2013. The Fentastic Voyage: In May we took a long weekend road trip up to the Lake Huron shoreline to explore its many hidden fens.

Desert Road Trip: In 2013 Davin and I celebrated 20 years together by driving 1000+ miles in a heatwave though the desert landscapes between Tucson, Arizona and Eastern California. Through the course of 10 days I fell in love with the desert, but also let go of any lingering fantasies I held about living there. The desert is a harsh and very humbling environment, and as an uneasy new driver I found the car-centric suburbanism of Phoenix and Tucson too stressful.

2013 was also the year of the squash. Believe it or not I managed to photograph all of the pumpkins and many of them are still kicking it in my kitchen. Enjoying and tasting these beautiful creatures has been one of the year’s unexpected delights.

2013 was also the year that I bought myself a hand-forged copper still from Portugal as a gift for my 40th birthday and made a big mess in the garden. From this I was able to identify myself as a tinkerer. Overall, messiness and its many meanings was a theme in 2013. I wonder what theme will reveal itself in 2014?

Favourite Story of 2013

I added this as a category since there is a distinction between what I see as the best story I wrote versus my best post. This one, about my eighteenth year was written as my personal response to the first Grow Write Guild prompt, “Write about your first plant.”

joshua tree
Most Surreal Experience of 2013

Off the top of my head, I’d have to say that seeing fields of Joshua trees in person was probably the strangest and definitely one of my happiest experiences of the year. It truly is like walking into a Dr. Seuss storybook and I can only imagine how this landscape has affected the creativity of the people who live nearby. I absolutely LOVED it there and we are talking about making the journey back in 2014 so that we can spend more time exploring that area more closely.

cholla garden Joshua Tree National Park

Favourite Plant of the Year

Unfortunately, the blog doesn’t reflect this, but looking back I can see that the genus I thought about most in 2013 was cholla (Cylindropuntia). While yucca — from the pint-sized dwarf species I planted in my garden, to the giant Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia) that I saw in California — certainly captured my imagination and stole a piece of my heart, the cholla cactus worked its way in slowly and stuck. Travelling through so many different parts of the desert gave me the opportunity to better understand the hardy cholla that I’ve been growing here in Toronto and I think I’ve connected more closely with this assertive and doggedly determined plant. The recent ice storm has given me another perspective from which to understand it. From extreme heat to extreme cold. What an amazing genus!

I also wrote about other chollas such as the Teddy Bear Cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) and there is a shot of a cholla bearing fruit over here.

desert botanical garden

Favourite Garden Visited

Our visit to Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, AZ corresponded with the hottest day of their year. I was not prepared for 115 degrees F, and my stubborn determination to see the entire garden, no matter what, resulted in very nearly stroking out and an hour spent on the floor of a public restroom with a wet hanky over my face. Still, we saw a roadrunner and a fasciated saguaro cactus; two of my desert wishes fulfilled in one spot. The Agave Yucca Forest was absolutely breathtaking and I hope to return and see it again at a time of the year when walking around outdoors is somewhat safer.

In the category of personal gardens, my return visits to Uli’s garden win hands-down. Whenever I look at this photo I am blown away by Uli’s sophisticated use of colour, repetition, and texture. It’s impeccable.

tobacco hornworm

Favourite Picture Posted in 2013

It’s hard to choose favourites, but I particularly like this one (above) taken when I found the tomato hornworms in my garden. They inevitably became food for the birds, but I still feel badly about killing them.

Japanese Maple Leaves

Again, it’s not an exceptionally great photo, but this one, a collection of fall leaves from the Japanese maples in my garden was fun to take and a nice reminder of two gardeners that have become good friends.


More Highlights of 2013

Looking Forward (also My Favourite Post of 2013)

The piece I wrote called, False Holly: A Perspective on Garden Writing probably best reflects where my mind is in regards to the future. There have been days when I felt regret about making this piece public. It was never my intention to hurt anyone, while still making what I felt was (and continues to be) a valid critique of the classism and single-mindedness that dominates this profession and the garden industry at large, especially within the mainstream. I was careful to choose words that I felt were not divisive and I made a special point to bring myself and my own personal biases into the conversation so that I was not finger-wagging from a safe pedestal. I am part of the problem and I have no problem identifying where or how.

“Don’t let it bring you down. It’s only castles burning.” – from Don’t Let It Bring You Down by Neil Young

I had hoped that exposing myself in the way that I did would garner more conversation, but I also understand why it didn’t. Barely a month has passed since I published this so I still have questions without answers and yes, there are days when I feel overexposed, alone in this perspective, and vulnerable, which leads to paralysis when I sit down to work. However, the conclusion I have come to so far is that I need to keep pushing myself to take more risks in what I write about in the places in which I have agency (like this website) and see what happens. We learn much in the garden when we succeed, but we learn so much, possibly even more, when we fail.

And so, my goal moving forward is to cultivate a healthier relationship with failure, to make sure that I place the focus of my work on connecting on a human level (not just as a gardener or an “expert”), and to write as openly and honestly, and in the best way that I can about my experience(s) as a person who grows plants.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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4 thoughts on “My Year in Gardening: 2013

  1. Happy New Year! I have a Joshua tree on my list of things to grow for 2014. I think it will require patience. This is also my year for experimenting with fermentation as a way of preserving my vegetables.

    • I brought some Joshua Tree seed back from my trip to try growing, but I agree, it will be quite some time before it looks like much. Enjoy your experiments!

  2. Happy 2014! I love your blog — your perspective and personality comes through so well and resonates with me.

    I went back and reread the False Holly post and, as a garden writing consumer, I can’t agree with you more on that area of publishing. There are very, very few garden publications that appeal to me at all for the reasons you articulated in the post. I don’t know how the situation can be improved, but I certainly will continue to come back here and to enjoy your books on my shelves.

  3. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix is beautiful all winter long. I was there in mid November and everything seemed to be in bloom – so beautiful. Come back in the fall or winter. You will love it.

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