Life and death in the garden.

my vegetable garden

I’ve just poured hot sauce down the groundhog‘s burrow. His crime: biting the tops off my young sunflowers and nibbling my cucumber seedlings. These critters hate spice and garlic and so there was nothing else for it.  Such is the cut and thrust of growing veggies in the woods (I appreciate I'm encroaching on their world and not the other way around).  Soon after - we see him circling the house looking for a new burrow and hot footing it ( no pun intended) into the woods. This morning my mother-in-law cannot understand where her beautiful yellow lilies have gone - on closer inspection they have the telltale nibbled stalks. The blighter has moved on. Tabasco is being sprayed on to the lily patch as I write. Our cottages have a decidedly spicy smell in the heat.
Here in our woodland cottage in the Laurentian hills I'm surrounded by animals who'd like to eat my flowers and vegetables. City Farm School last Fall has inspired me and I'm trying to grow over 25 different fruit and veg - mostly from seed. But it's not all plain sailing.

The irony of all this is that I presented a workshop called Keep Your Paws Off My Vegetables last year at farm school. Gardening can be quite traumatic. It's not all just flitting about in a sun hat collecting your bounty in a basket. These oriental poppies below rewarded me this summer after many years - with three gorgeous blooms - only to be battered to death by rain two days later.

Oriental poppy meets brutal death

One good thing this summer is that the tent caterpillars didn't come back - hundreds of the things suspended in nets in the trees which dropped to earth in a sort of biblical shower. You could hear them falling like raindrops from the trees.  Absolutely disgusting. We've only had to contend with the usual black flies and mosquitoes which like to bite me and deer fly and horse fly who favour my husband. (Fireflies are a treat to watch through your bedroom window as they flash on and off during their flight.)  Dragonflies are welcome as they eat a lot of these pesky bugs.
Mostly I get bitten when I'm in my vegetable garden: I'm trying to grow some unusual produce this year including mouse melons (tiny cucumbers that look like miniature watermelons and are the size of a grape - see below.)

I'm trying to grow cucamelons like these.
my cucamelon vine

They are also known as Mexican sour gherkins and cucamelons. Most of my mouse melon seedlings died as they grow tendrils and get tangled up very easily. (You see how traumatic gardening is?) I've now learned for next year to stick a mini trellis in with them as they grow. Nevertheless I did manage to keep some alive (above right is the vine) climbing up netting. Other weird veggies in my raised beds  include dragon's egg cucumbers (favoured by groundhogs and producing big white fruit shaped like, you guessed it, an egg), dragon's tongue beans (yellow with purple streaks) and patty pan squash AKA scallop squash (mine are bright yellow and I'm excited to see them grow.)

This martagon lily AKA turks' cap lily is a garden success story as I transplanted it from a lily-beetle infested patch and it has bloomed for two years now and grows tall and strong. It's from an old flower garden that was here 50 years ago and I love that it keeps going and is so unusual. Also the beetles haven't found it yet. (only a matter of time I'm sure).

Martagon or Turk's Cap lily
 Also to be found in my raised beds this summer are ground cherries (physalis or cape gooseberry) which are probably my best growers, swiss chard, rainbow chard, kale, cherry tomatoes (brown berry and black cherry), italian tomatoes, purple tomatillos, chinese five colour peppers, watermelon radish (green outside and red inside), delicata squash (beautiful yellow and green stripes with a skin you can eat), courgettes (grown so I can stuff and eat flowers), okra , pickling cucumber (only one seedling developed), chioggia beets, (white circles inside) coriander, basil, wild rocket, mixed bush beans (some purple) ; chinese eggplants (Ping Tung Long which are thin and light purple) and strawberries. Re-reading this list I realize I'm attracted by the look of quirky veg as much as the taste.

my fave gardening t-shirt from You Grow Girl website

I'm hopeful that they will grow well but I am in the Laurentians and it's not as hot as the city in summer. Fingers crossed. I'll let you know. I would never have had the confidence to try all these weird and wonderful veg if I had not experienced City Farm School at Concordia University in Montreal last Fall. I'm still attending and making a film about the school this summer. So I leave my plants in the country and go to tend our plot at the farm - and notice that everything is growing so much more quickly - several weeks ahead of my country garden.

peony problems

This gorgeous peony is currently showing off it's beauty in my front garden but where once there were four stunning blooms in previous years it's down to one small flower. I'm thinking about transplanting it to a sunnier spot. Another trauma - I'll be terrified I've killed it. One reason to smile are all the wild strawberries that appear on the unmowed lawn. There is a family mowing ban so that they can be picked for jam-making. I love the hopefulness and optimism involved in growing vegetables from seed. They may be a disaster eventually but for now - while I'm keeping them alive - I can dream of a bountiful harvest. As Audrey Hepburn said : " to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow."

wild strawberry crop from our lawn


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