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Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Grateful for gardening sessions and dinners with friends

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” — Marcel Proust

I’ve never been so happy in, and glad for, the garden as throughout this past summer. Everything — the first spring lettuces, pods plumping up on double rows of shelling peas, sweet little cherry tomatoes and succulent bell peppers on the patio — brought fresh pleasure.

Perhaps the long, long wait for useable planting weather made sunshine and warmth in the garden so delectable this year.

Because it began so late, the summer seemed short. But then mild, sunny weather continued through September and early October to provide bonus time in congenial conditions for the “extras” that often remain undone in my garden, like digging out really annoying plants, moving others to better sites, and planting more containers than usual for added winter colour close to the house.

As Sir Francis Bacon noted in his Of Gardens, “… a garden … is the purest of human pleasures. It is the greatest refreshment to the spirit.”

Pot luck. We hadn’t met indoors for well over two years. We managed just a few outdoor gatherings, our chairs well spaced, each bringing her own meal, cutlery and drink. Last month we decided, on condition that everyone was well, to return indoors and communal dishes. It was a treat being at closer quarters again, catching up on the details of our lives and sharing food.

There was a green salad with goat cheese, a pasta and vegetable salad in a pesto sauce made with home-grown basil, a vegetable and bean casserole, and warm zucchini and feta cheese squares topped with sweet pepper strips and olives. A celebratory cake and tea ended the meal.

It was an evening of fine food, most of it home-grown or locally grown, and exhilarating hilarity.

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” — Marcel Proust.

Help! Thanks to people who help. To a friend who manicures post-bloom lavender hedges like a master sculptor. To a helper who cleared away half the strawberry patch and pruned and weeded the raspberries. Companionable gardening sessions with helpers always results in an astonishing amount of neatness and order.

Thanks also to experts who help with answers to questions — to Russell Nursery on plant stock and plant identification issues, and to Linda Gilkeson on insects and plant diseases. She gave me extra assurance that there is no problem using mildewed maple leaves as mulch and in compost. She tells me the this currently widespread species of mildew affects only big-leaf maples, not other kinds of maple tree.

Off the hook. Over the course of decades of gardening, I’ve come to accept the fact that I won’t be able, every year, to grow every fruit and vegetable that I enjoy consuming. A fall-back to be thankful for are local farmers’ markets. Late last month, I visited my local market and picked up a basket of vibrant salad greens from two young growers who have taken over a nearby farm. They use ecological growing practices. I’m thankful for and choose to support them.

May this holiday weekend celebrate family, fine food, gardens, and small local farms building healthy environments as they grow safe, nutrient dense produce.


Abkhazi Garden hours and art show. Abkhazi Garden, 1964 Fairfield Rd. in Victoria, is now open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The garden will be open on Thanksgiving Monday, Oct.10, when the public is invited to enjoy a stroll through the autumn garden, buy plants on the last day of the garden’s plant sale, and view an Art Show of local artists’ sketches and paintings inspired by the garden. The Teahouse will be open Wednesday to Sunday, with the last seating at 3:30 pm. Light lunches will be served and the Teahouse will begin taking bookings for their Festive High Tea at Christmas time.

Nanaimo meeting. The Nanaimo Horticultural Society will meet on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. in First Unitarian Fellowship Hall, 595 Townsite Rd. in Nanaimo. Gordon Cowan will speak about Keeping Bonsai.

Government House plant sales. The Friends of Government House Gardens Society have perennial plants for sale at the nursery, across from the tea room at Government House, 1401 Rockland Ave. in Victoria, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Members receive a 25 per cent discount on plant purchases. Membership cost is $20. Plant sales end on Oct. 20.

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