By Jenn Watt
July 19, 2016
When I think of my father’s life’s work, I think of the garden. Not really the garden, but gardens. When I was growing up, my dad was self-employed as a gardener; he planned people’s properties, helped them choose the right shrubs and flowers and then rolled up his sleeves and made the drawings into reality.
I was used to seeing strangers wandering across our lawn. People would park their cars on the side of our dirt road in rural Bruce County to walk through Dad’s English-style gardens. Like slow-motion fireworks, each week new colours and shapes would emerge and then recede as the next group took their turn in the sun.
While the flower gardens were the scenic backdrop to my summers, what I remember with greatest fondness is the veggie garden. Interactive and eventually delicious, the vegetables took centre stage. I was never very involved in creating the garden, but as Dad worked, he would let me do small things. I remember being given a handful of seeds, entrusted to deliver them into the warm earth in just the right places. I remember shelling peas on the front step into large green buckets. (Fun at first, tedious 10 minutes in.) I remember taking in the scent of freshly picked tomatoes. (Dad also “let” me keep tomato hornworms as pets in a glass jar in my bedroom. They also curiously smelled like tomatoes until I inevitably killed them by accident.)
But despite my father’s love for gardening and my proximity to the tools and knowledge, I never became a junior horticulturalist. Heading into my 20s, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the difference between an annual and a perennial. It just wasn’t a priority for me.
Over the last few years, however, things have started to change. We bought a house with gardens, which I began tending. And this year I joined the Haliburton community garden group. I call my dad often to ask the questions I should have asked two decades ago: how far apart do I plant beets? Should I grow spinach or Swiss chard? Should I worry that my carrot leaves aren’t keeping pace with the rest of the garden? (Answers: two inches, Swiss chard and don’t worry so much.)
My garden plot is quite small – four-by-eight feet – but you’d be surprised how much can fit into a confined space. I watch as more seasoned gardeners conduct their orchestras of zucchini and broccoli, kale and tomatoes. The plants climb and curl their way up homemade trellises trumpeting happily at the rain and the warmth of summer.
And my garden looks pretty good, too. A solid showing of chard, beets, carrots and beans now stand at attention in my plot, undeterred by the fact I’m a newbie.
As I watch my tiny garden grow, I find myself transported back to my childhood. I remember again the taste of fresh chard and the delicate flower that precedes a fresh yellow wax bean. I remember the way my dad would hunch over the tilled earth, sowing seeds and getting his hands dirty.
Before the first carrots have matured or the first beans have sprouted, my garden has already given me a deeply fulfilling harvest.