Helen Chesnut: Sweet memories at the garden fence

In the past month, I lost three neighbours. They moved away. I’ll miss them and remember their kindnesses.

When my good old 1987 pickup truck finally rusted out, Mel, who lived next door with his wife, Irene, volunteered to look with me for a decent used utility vehicle. We found one that passed inspection at my garage. Though it’s not a truck, with the back seats down, its nether regions give me plenty of space for hauling garden supplies. The third missing neighour, Gisela, moved into her home at the same time as I moved into mine. A few years ago, she built an attractive replacement fence between our back gardens. It is just 120 cm high, with a broad top we used for leaving garden produce and baked treats for each other. There was much gleeful exchange of recipes too.

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At her new condo, Gisela will miss her garden. She grew wonderful potatoes and pole beans — her favourite garden produce. One Sunday morning, she called me to the fence to pick up a plate holding a potato cake, a specialty she made every week for her mother. I’ve made it often since.

Like many of us when making familiar dishes, Gisela doesn’t have precise amounts for the ingredients in potato pancakes. She just mixes together grated potato with minced onion, egg(s) and a little flour, and adds salt as the cakes fry in butter or oil.

One day, Gisela phoned and asked me to meet her at the fence. She had something for me. It was a crevice tool, or “crack weeder” from Lee Valley Tools. We’d been talking about the popularity of this tool, and not just among gardeners. This simple hand tool with a slender hooked steel blade end is used to remove moss, weeds and grass from between closely spaced pavers and in the cracks of patios.

The last time we spoke over the fence, when Gisela told me she was moving away, she asked me to take a bite from an apple just picked from one of her trees nearby. She’d lost the label and wanted to identify the tree for her home’s new owner.

I recalled commenting on the tree as it began producing fruit two years ago. The apples are a beautiful red, at the ripe stage, over yellow. That last taste of Elstar reminded me what a wonderfully delicious apple it is. The flavour is reputed to become even more intense after a short time in storage.

Elstar is a Cox’s Orange Pippin-type apple that is easier to grow than Cox, but it has a similar superb, sweet-tart flavour. The apples are usually ready to pick in late September.

Sallie, a former close neighbour and friend who still lives not far away, asked me to visit a few weeks ago to answer some garden questions and offer some ideas for possible changes to the landscape.

On the tour through her large, productive garden, we came across a broad, very healthy-looking tree loaded with dark red apples with some golden undertones. It was a Liberty apple tree. Sallie invited me to pick and taste an apple. The flesh was crisp and white, very juicy with a rich flavour. Sallie and Les, her husband, use most of their Liberty apples for juicing, but the fruit is also good for cooking. Les finds them at their best “fresh off the tree.”

 

GARDEN EVENTS

Peninsula meeting. The Peninsula Garden Club meets Monday at 7 p.m. in the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney. Carol Dancer, who was head gardener at Government House in Victoria for 35 years, will present a pictorial tour of the gardens, showing the designs of the many different areas throughout the grounds. The evening will include a parlour show, plant stall, library access, master gardeners table, and plant raffle. Everyone is welcome; non-members pay a drop-in fee of $5.

 

Qualicum meeting. The Qualicum Beach Garden Club meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre, 740 Jones St. Doors open at 6:30. The theme of the evening is festive crafts from the garden, an interactive session allowing everyone to move through four stations to participate in these projects:

gifts from the garden, seasonal wreaths; bulb forcing; floral centrepieces. Seasonal refreshments will also be featured. All are welcome. Guest fee is $3.

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