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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: November is a time for remembering

Gardening together has become the foundation of many a close, long-term friendship.
Little Napoli grown in patio pots produces small Roma tomatoes on compact little bushes. Sun Dipper gives large yields of small, elongated orange tomatoes on tall, slender vines. Both produce fruit well into autumn. HELEN CHESNUT

Today is a day for remembering. At 11 a.m. on this day, I always stop what I am doing to stand and think of my father, who ran away from naval college when he was 15 years old, to enlist in the army. He was trained as a sapper and sent overseas.

November’s beginning with All Saints and All Souls days sets a tone of remembering, too, as we think about cherished and honoured family members and friends who have moved on from this world. And though remembering brings sadness, it can also inspire thankfulness that those people were part of our lives.

Gardening together has become the foundation of many a close, long-term friendship. Pairing up with another person to garden inevitably involves much chatting and sharing. Over time, a bond forms and deepens.

In the early days of our 27 years gardening together, my friend Daphne and I even developed our own little comedy routine — lame, but we thought it hysterically amusing.

My garden is not for the faint of heart or body. It’s a big, unmanicured, energy-sucking affair. Whenever we embarked together on a daunting task, one of us would ask the other: “You all right?”

The standard response, in the most pronounced whiny-martyr tone possible, was: “Oh, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fyyyyne.”

If ever we were to have a motto for our work together it would have been “Bottoms Up.” Whenever anyone ventured into the garden to find us, they would look for two rear ends pointing skyward as we bent over to address some earthy concern or other.

Smashed potatoes. Daphne and I exchanged many recipes over the years. One that has become a standard in my home came from Brigitte, her sister-in-law. It’s a salad with chopped kale, grated carrot, cubed smoked tofu and toasted sunflower seeds in a lemon juice and zest, olive oil, cumin and maple syrup dressing.

At one of the last potluck evenings she attended this summer, Daphne brought a pan of “smashed potatoes” — cooked potatoes squashed down with the bottom of a sturdy glass or mug. They were favourites of the little children in her large family. The “smashed” bit appealed to them. The cooked, smashed potatoes can be topped with grated cheese and baked or put under a broiler, briefly, then dressed with sour cream and chopped green onion.

Tomato report. Another friend, Vicky, a sparky 90-year old who maintains a garden, was more than pleased with her bountiful crop of little Sun Dipper tomatoes. They lasted longer in production than any other tomato she grew, as did mine — and my son’s plants, as well. I ate the last of mine last week. I’d brought them in earlier, and kept them in a cool place (not the fridge).

Lasting equally well was Little Napoli, a compact plant bearing small Roma tomatoes. I grow it in pots on my patio. I ate the last of them last week, too.

Dracaena and vegetable patties. My friend Marilyn grows potted flowering plants atop a retaining wall bordering her patio and she has a thriving houseplant collection on a long windowsill. Her African violets seem always in bloom.

Marilyn and I have been monitoring a three-stemmed, rather leggy dracaena she was given two years ago. She recently showed me a new plant she’d grown from an offshoot on one of those stems. We’d discussed how to root and grow a new, compact plant this way. The offshoot severed, the stem shortened and inserted in soil, it has become a lovely young plant.

Marilyn’s brother-in-law Robert has an interesting way of cooking root vegetables and squash. He steams them until they are fairly soft, mashes them, and forms them into small patties for frying lightly in coconut oil. The method, according to Marilyn, “brings out the flavours.”

Here’s to friends. May we treasure and honour them while they remain with us.


Peninsula meeting. The Peninsula Garden Club will meet on Monday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. in the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney. Bernie Dinter, from Dinter Nursery in Duncan, will speak about “Dwarf Conifers — A Journey into the Miniature.” With shrinking garden spaces in mind, Bernie will review many available dwarf forms. He will describe their hardiness, foliage colours, textures and range of shapes. The evening will include a parlour show, raffle, refreshments and Master Gardeners to answer questions. Drop-in guest fee $5.00. Everyone is welcome.

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