garden boxing

I take a few months off blogging and, woops! There goes all the news and activities piling up.

I upended my vegetable garden.

Well, not literally, I guess.

When we moved into the house I was resolute on the idea of devoting a chunk of the yard to a vegetable garden. It was a family thing. My parents had a huge garden. Both sets of my grandparents were avid gardeners. My in-laws have a huge garden. My wife’s grandparents lived in their garden and even maintained a second one on their old farmstead after they moved into town. It seemed like gardening was almost hereditary.

So we devoted a full third of our backyard to a plot of black soil and for a solid decade tended, cared, enhanced, refined and evolved it into a pretty respectable garden plot.

I don’t know why it slipped, but it eventually did.

It’s been five years since we’ve had a respectable harvest from our respectable garden plot.

Invasive weeds. Mice eat all the carrot tops. Wasps took over our lettuce patch last year. The potatoes seem to have given up completely as fewer come out of the ground than go in as seeds.

I didn’t want to call it quits, but I decided last fall that I needed a rethink.

The rethink came in the form of a raised garden box.

I built a square box (atop where the old box-bed had sat, which I demolished) out of 4×6 by eight foot treated posts stacked three tall. I lined it with mesh and recycled cardboard. I filled it with a blend of salvaged soil (from lowering the grade slightly around the box), peat, and free compost from the City’s green-waste composting program. Around the box I’ll grow in the grass as a lawn, but all good things in time. As for the box itself:

I mixed and raked it.

I irrigated it.

I hung up some stuff to startle the magpies.

And I planted a few tomatoes, a couple peppers, a squash, a bunch of carrots, beets, lettuce and a scattering of radishes.

It’s May long weekend, the weekend in Canada when all good gardeners are fully planted for the season. I’m fully planted. Does that make me a good gardener again?

Monday Zen: Pulling Weeds

In a previous post I mentioned that my vegetable garden has been sprouting through the spring in a particular state of ambiguity. 

As all the little seeds I deliberately planted in May began to germinate and grow, so did the variety of weeds and volunteer plants begin to emerge from the soil.

In many cases it was difficult to tell them all apart, good from bad, wanted from unwanted.

In one particular case, the case of the neat rows of deliberately planted carrots versus the scattering of rogue dill weed, the new shoots looked virtually identical in their one and two leaf stages.

Unable to tell the guests from the squatters, I left them all to be — carrots, dill, and a small assortment of other little plants turning the raw soil into a lush gardenscape of green sprouts.

Then this past weekend something interesting (though not unexpected) happened.

The dill began to mature into delicate, blue-green thread of delicate feathery leaves, while the carrots began to mature into paler green wisping fronds.

In the matter of a couple days I could suddenly tell one from the other. Amazing! At last! And I knelt at the edge of the garden box and acutely began to pluck the invading dill from those neat rows of young carrots.

Pulling weeds is not particularly interesting, but gardens, weeds, and all that sprouts in the spaces of those efforts makes for a well worn analogy for many aspects of living a well-cultivated life — pun intended.

Being able to pluck the weeds from your own life, be that from the emotional or physical or whatever spaces of your day-to-day seems simple enough advice.

But then again, just like the frustrating ambiguity I encountered with my carrots versus dill problem, sometimes deciding which bits are the weeds and which are the germinating seeds that you’ve planted deliberately is not always one hundred percent clear.

The mind, the heart and the soul are fertile soil for ideas and thoughts and emotions, some purposefully cultivated with care and attention, while others drift in with the wind and grow of their own accord.

Either can flourish, but it’s up to us with patience and practice to weed the gardens of beings and ensure what grows inside us is meant to be there and will yield the fruits (or veggies) that we want to harvest at the end of the process.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this process lately, both literally as a gardening practice and metaphorically as an act of self-care — and somehow coincidentally both tend to lead me to be on the ground on my knees in my backyard, hands covered in wet soil.

Backyard: Travel by Flower

In recognition of yet-another-local-lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic, I'm doing a week of feature blog posts about living in the backyard. From May 10th through 16th, my posts will be themed around life outdoors but as close to home as possible, a few steps out the back door.

It’s Travel Tuesday, and even tho I cannot go anywhere I have been plunging plugs of soil from the yard as I deal with some visitors from Europe who have overstayed their welcome.

Dandelions: the two most commonplace species worldwide, T. officinale (the common dandelion) and T. erythrospermum (the red-seeded dandelion), were introduced into North America from Europe and now propagate as wildflowers.Wikipedia

This photo is one that I took last year in the park near my house. A couple thousand square meters of little yellow flowers that blossom for a few days before turning into countless white puffballs.

Millions of yellow flowers cover the parks of my city starting in mid-May each year, and it is only with an epic diligence plucking, pulling, or even poisoning the colourful weeds that my yard does not look like a dandelion explosion.


There is an eternal tug-o-war between the naturalization of green spaces including the small parcel of land over which I steward, also known as my yard, and the tending of those spaces into manicured single-species carpets called lawns. We work, spend, and bicker over the fate of these little flowers that appear for at most a couple weeks each year.

Locals despise them, pick them, and chide each other for letting them grow too amply.

For many reasons we favour grasses, green and soft, mowed to an even trim.

And even if I did not, if I instead chose to let my property return to the natural state of mixed natural flora, local bylaws would trample on my eco-crusade and issue me a ticket in the name of neighbourly harmony.

So I pluck dandelions from among the blades of grass, knowing that one visiting species, grass, is in a constant battle against a different sort of traveler, the aggressive yellow dandelion.

It is a fight against a flower in an epic struggle for a so-called perfect lawn.

Sometimes I really am just tempted to dig it all up and grow potatoes.