Our modest garden (lowest maintenance ever!)
If there’s one thing that the members of my family cannot get right, it’s keeping a green thing alive. I mean it – even the time we kept a bamboo house plant. Because it didn’t require the regular tending of watering, we forgot about it and one day when I passed by the plant that had become like familiar furniture in the room, a grimy mineral layer stained the ceramic container and the leaves were browned, crisp, lifeless.
Or the time that we thought it’d be a good idea to bring some life to our Eden-sized backyard (ironic, no?). My dad purchased a Katsura tree from Angelo’s Garden Centre to enthusiastically dig a deep hole, making room for this new hopeful addition. We even rented a large hunk of landscaping machinery to really get into the ground, and it took us the whole afternoon to firmly plant it in our shaky history of horticultural intentions. The plant grew on us too. That night over dinner, my sister decided to name it Elsura – El like L for Lam, combined with the obvious native name. So it was final: we had adopted a new addition into our brown-thumb family, as my father jokes about.
But every passing spring, we will peer out over the kitchen window and wonder why Elsura is lagging so far behind in growth compared to the neighbours’ robust trees, leafy and green. Green with envy was not quite the way to describe it – there was never rivalry or competition with the other manicured lawns in our area (maybe because we knew our place). But we wondered why her leaves came out later and later each year, fell off so soon, and her trunk kept a skinny waist.
So with this history, my sister and I decided last weekend to plant herbs. Actually, there was one summer when I was able to successfully grow a healthy bush of peppermint, basil, rosemary and thyme. That was during my vegetarian phase, when I believed in the organic goodness of things home-grown and unprocessed. The sun shines ferociously in our backyard, and apparently all that heat in the ground makes for good growing. The only difference this time is that my sister and I were motivated to plant herbs for cooking. Laura Calder won’t be the only one with fresh herbs to snip off in her kitchen.
With a smearing of sunscreen, we went outside and found large shovels in the garage and a very rusty wheelbarrow leaning against the house. “Where did we get this from?” my sister asked, holding up a pink set of gardening tools, complete with a Styrofoam kneeling pad. “No idea – maybe a freebee from a conference?” I replied.
I was surprised that the whole operation took a little under an hour. Later when we were sitting around the kitchen, I flipped through a book that my uncle had given to us when he was cleaning out his house. The Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening: Vegetables and Fruits. Title sounds fail-proof to me! Last I remember of my uncle was that he actually used the stuff from his two composts, so the book must be reliable, I deduced. Still filled with optimism for our young garden, reading this paragraph from The Time-Life Encyclopedia of Gardening made me feel even better about the longevity of our herbs:
Do not water unless the plants wilt noticeably during the hot part of the day. [Good, so if I miss a day it won’t result in death] Neither is fertilizer necessary very often; far from needing rich loam, herbs usually grow most vigourously and develop their best flavour in thin infertile soil [Something from nothing – I like it!] The only care most of them need is weeding. Diseases rarely trouble them, and their scent seems to repel insect pests.
I almost forgot to tell you what we planted. We went with what we like to cook with: sweet basil, flat-leaf parsley, sage, and zucchini. It really is modest, huh? But it’s another start. And that we’re willing to do.