Helen Chesnut’s Garden Notes: A garden heals the worried mind

From the first days of the pandemic I’ve felt an immense gratitude — first, for living in Canada and in this province, where government officials and medical health officers make regular, unvarnished reports to us and present clear plans for addressing the situation as it changes.

Then, there is the garden. Whether it’s a landscaped acreage, an allotment plot, or a collection of potted balcony plants, a garden is refuge and solace in the face of stress and anxiety. A garden heals. The worries of the world that buzz about in our minds slip away as we delve in the soil and tend our plants

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Watch out! As if to assure us of Nature’s strong and enduring presence, growth this spring has been explosive. One of my neighbours describes her potatoes as having “gone nuclear.” My first (March) planting of peas is like a thick, lush, flower-filled hedge.

After inspecting the guttering along a section of house eaves, I left the orchard ladder I’d used in place. Two days later, a golden hops vine growing against the house wall had begun a leafy embrace of the ladder.

Best not stand still too long in the garden.

Packed plots. As I begin digging and de-rooting the vegetable plots in my garden early each spring, I look up at the solid wall of skyscraper-high fir and cedar trees looming over one side with a less than kindly eye.

Over the years, those trees have grown and gradually infiltrated their feeder roots through almost all the food garden. They block out the morning sun.

There’s nothing to be done but adapt.

The food garden consists of five main plots. Looking toward the back fence, the thick forest of trees looms over the left hand side fence. The far right corner plot is occupied by strawberries, raspberries, a fig tree, a few potato plants and self-sown larkspur along the inner edge.

Two plots closest to the forest trees are slowly becoming almost unusable. I need to plump them generously with compost and grow only the most undemanding and fastest-growing edibles and flowers in them. The onions I’ve planted in one of these areas need several mulchings with a good compost to produce good bulbs.

Carrots, parsnips, beets, fingerling potatoes, broad beans, sugar loaf chicory and snow peas grow in another plot that is less thickly infested with tree roots than the worst ones.

That leaves the most promising one — a rectangular shaped plot, just a bit over four metres long, next to the strawberry bed with a small patch of cucumbers growing on wire fencing between the two.

This plot, this year, I took on as a challenging close-space planting project.

I began by installing a four-metre length of wire, 70 cm from the north edge of the rectangle, for the first, mid-March seeding of a double row of shelling peas. When the peas germinated and began growing, I transplanted miniature romaine and butterhead lettuces along their bases.

These little lettuces grow fast. As they developed I transplanted kale along the edge, next to the lettuces. That worked perfectly. By the time the kale plants became robustly substantial enough to shade out the lettuces, the lettuces had all been harvested and consumed.

One metre from the first double pea row I set up a companion wire fence, for the second pea seeding. Shelling peas are one of my favourite things. I aim for a close to year-round harvest of mint-flavoured frozen peas. When the crop is done and the pea vines are removed, I use that space for winter vegetables.

As the second pea seeding began to grow, one metre away I installed another, four-metre length of new wire tomato fencing and transplanted staking (indeterminate) tomatoes for training against the wire, along the north side, interspersed with broad-leaved endive (escarole).

That left almost another metre-wide strip on the south side of the tomato wire. There, I transplanted lettuces and frilly endive up against the fencing and sweet potatoes along the centre of the strip.

More than half the plantings in this fully-packed plot are, one could say, upwardly mobile. Growing on the vertical is one of the best space-saving strategies a gardener has, especially if both sides of a support are used for planting. Another is interplanting — growing fast-maturing plants like lettuce next to slower, more long-term ones.

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