{ Author Archive - April Demes }

The great gardener’s paradox

I can not win.

My daughter gave me a fridge magnet last Christmas that reads “Gardening forever, housework whenever“. It makes me smile. And I try to live by its wisdom. But the other demands on my time don’t seem to appreciate my priorities.

I spend a lovely, productive day in the garden, then come back inside to realize all the stuff I forgot to do in other aspects of my life. Unopened urgent emails, un-refilled fish tank sucking air through the filter… what’s that? You children want to eat?

So I shift gears, try to repair my negligence a little. Get the laundry put away, make the phone calls I’ve been putting off, help with the Social Studies diorama. But before I know it, four days have passed. The garden is jealous of my attention, and pouts, and the dandelions seed with abandon. Never mind the annoyed greenery in the porch, still waiting for me to get them in the ground. They might as well have their leafy stems crossed and their flowery brows knitted into a scowl.

I’ve had a little chat with my house, and my garden, my business files, and the piece of my soul called “mom”. We’ve negotiated. We’ve guilted. And this is the plan we came up with: One half hour, every day, minimum, in the garden. Enough to keep things together, without everything else falling apart.

Think it will work?

How do you keep a balance?

 

 

Pretty pots

I generally avoid container gardening. I am far too unpredictable in my habits (and memory) to consistently keep pots watered, fed and happy. And having so much available space, I’ve never felt pressed to plant in containers.

But I succumbed to temptation when I saw these lovely little things at IKEA this spring.

SKURAR Hanging planter IKEA

At $2.99 for the table-top version (4″), and $4.99 for the hanging one (5″), it was easy to justify 6 of the first and two of the second. I know, I know, I could have bought one nice big one for the same money, but would it have pretty lacey cutouts? Would it??

I’ve got a couple of them planted up for teacher gifts, and the rest are living in my front porch. They make me smile every time I see them, and I haven’t forgotten to water them… yet.

For the hanging pot, I tried a 'Blutopia' Bacopa, 'Peter's Gold' Carpet flower (Bidens ferulifolia), and a Silver Licorice vine (Helichrysum petiolare).

'Tycoon blue' Flossflower (Ageratum houstonianum), a not-yet-bloomed 'Mojave Tangerine' Purslane (Portulaca grandiflora) and a dwarf lemon try out my new IKEA pots. The lemon will likely need more space before long, but we'll see how it goes.

 

 

Lovage, that loveable herb

I toured the garden this evening after finishing prepping the veggie beds (three points for me!) and ended up doing another hour’s worth of random weed pulling, tidying, and assessing. I discovered, to my dismay, that my sage has all succumbed to public enemy number one (quack grass, for those new to my gardening adventures) and that my parsley has disappeared entirely (rabbits?). Add this to the basil I killed in the windowsill already, the tarragon that was inadvertently dug up last fall, and the savory that called it quits in the shade, and things are looking downright sad in the herb department for me. As in, the chives are alive. I was wallowing in a little black-thumb pity party when I rounded the corner by the garage and met with this sight:

Lovely lovage, in all its bushy glory, happily reminding me I’m not a complete failure. I picked a spring and inhaled the sharp, clean celery scent and a smile returned to my face. I don’t know what I’m making for supper tomorrow, but lovage will be involved. And possibly chives.

Gardener’s toes and a Mother’s Day note

So I was edging the veggie patch this week with some help from my almost-twelve-year-old daughter. I was cutting, she was pulling away the  hunks of sod, and the hunks were raining soil down around our feet, as hunks of sod will sometimes do. And these words came out of my flip-flop sporting offspring:

“Oh, man, there go my summer feet.”

Three things went through my mind in quick succession:

1. This girl has finally turned girly if she’s worrying about her pedicure

2. That’s what you get, child, for your lousy choice of footwear for the occasion

and

3. My definition of summer feet and yours are very, very, different.

This is what I think off when I hear "summer feet." Alas, she, and her feet, are a little bigger now.

Indeed, I looked down at her fancy polished nails, and even flecked with bits of crumbly black they did look rather lovely and fun. I glanced to my own feet, booted for the occasion, and imagined what I would find there at the end of the day. I don’t need to describe it, do I?

As the summer goes on, I know the dirt will keep sneaking in under the nails, the calouses will thicken, and I will so not be ready for my close up without some serious intervention. And my hands? Ditto. Dried up, beat up.

There are lots of good products out there for cleaning and moisturizing geared specifically to gardeners, but I’ll share my favourite homemade trick with you, guaranteed to trade in “gardener’s” summer feet for “fancy” summer feet:  mix a little olive oil with a couple of tablespoons of regular white sugar until you have a nice paste. Massage your feet and/or hands for a few minutes with the mixture. It will moisturize and exfoliate at the same time. (You can add a little essential oil if you like; lavender is nice for relaxation, peppermint for refreshing tired toes.) Rinse with warm water.  Enjoy.

Side note: to all the ladies out there who have borne children, adopted children, loved, taught, scolded, or spoiled children, or intend to do so someday: Happy Mother’s Day! I’ve already gotten one of my gifts: a new compost rake (aka dandelion or thatching rake) I’ve been wanting. But my favourite Mother’s Day gift is when we all go for a little hike behind our town and hunt for wildflowers. That’s what I’ll be doing Sunday afternoon. Do I have it good? Oh yes I do.

How to keep the bugs out, noise down, and people moving

Ah, the sounds of spring.

Birds chirping, rain on the rooftops, humming bees. But not so pleasant is the equally seasonal racket of lawnmowers chugging back to life, and, at least at my house, the slamming doors as everyone traipses in and out to enjoy the sunshine.

While there’s not much to be done about the lawnmowers (unless the whole neighbourhood switched to reel mowers), my mother-in-law has a genius idea for dealing with the door slamming. She has hung a bead curtain in her doorway, instead of a screen door. It’s dense enough to hold off most of the flying insects, but heavy enough that it doesn’t fly everywhere in the wind like a regular curtain or one made of ribbon. The dogs and/or kids can go back and forth from house to yard without fiddling with handles, wearing out tired hinges, or catching fingers. Also very handy when you’ve got your own hands full of food destined for the barbecue… but now we’re talking the smells of spring. We’ll leave that for later.

 

Bamboo is a common material for bead curtains. I really like this one. (amazon.com) I also found ones made with fibre optic lights in them!

Here's one made of recycled bottle tops. That sounds like a lot of work...

 

Kind of funky, but not so good in the bug department, I'd bet. shopwildthings.com has lots more; check local specialty shops, thrift stores, or even Walmart.

 

Giving a little back to the kids

This has been a strange week for me. Not once, but twice, I’ve been asked to help teach about gardening and plants.

Me.

Who has managed to kill all the tomato seedlings I planted this year by leaving them in the chilly porch overnight. Who knows the terms pinnate and palmate, but couldn’t define them accurately to save my life. Who seeds her garden beds in such a haphazard way that surely my grandfather rolls in his grave every spring.

To be sure, the teaching invitations did not come because I’m some kind of superstar with green thumbs; I was an obvious choice by association. One was for my daughter’s grade 4-5 science class, the other the local Cub Scout troupe which just happens to be led by Dear Husband.

But despite the low-key circumstances, I was just a teeny bit nervous. Would I be able to get through my presentations without making any obvious blunders? What if someone asked a question I couldn’t answer? (If you think this is a silly thing to worry about, I’m guessing you don’t hang out with a lot of ten-year-olds.) But more than anything, I wondered and worried whether any of them would even care about anything I had to say. What if they all thought it was lame and B-O-R-I-N-G?

Turns out I worried for nothing. In both cases, the kids were fun, polite, and excited to be there. The Cubs started pumpkins in little pots and helped prepare the garden bed they will use this summer. The 4-5 class helped me dissect a just-bloomed tulip, played name-that-seed-and-why-it-looks-that-way, and got very involved in a discussion of how all life on earth is dependent on plants in one way or another. I answered questions left and right. I got my ego pampered as they admired my “talent” (no one tell them about the tomatoes, okay?).

Most of all, though, it reinforced a truth I’ve always believed in: giving something back to your community, no matter how little you might think it is, pays off for everyone. So I challenge you this week to think about how you might give a little of your garden back: Is there someone you could teach something? Did you plant trees for Earth Day? Can you plant an extra row of veggies to donate to the food bank? Volunteer in a community garden?

While you work on that, I’ll concentrate on keeping the Cub’s pumpkins alive…

 

Are you a garden geek? Come on, admit it

By all current social measures, I can safely be placed in the category of “geek.”

I’m a librarian.

In junior high and high school, I was a “drama freak.”

I have won Star Wars Trivial Pursuit and have been known to wear a Princess Leia T-shirt.

I can fix your average computer.

I have played D&D and Magic, and read the entire Dune series.

And yes, I know what a tribble is.

In college I would still get sucked into heated discussions debating the finer points of cataloguing books. Then I’d mentally step back for a moment, listen to myself and my classmates, and think, “This conversation would make no sense and hold absolutely zero interest to anyone outside the library community. What a bunch of geeks we are!”

Since then, my geekdom has been laying somewhat dormant, only showing itself amongst trusted friends and family. I thought I had mainly gotten past it. I might never be “cool,” but maybe I could be “normal.”

I lost all hope, however, this last weekend at the Calgary Horticultural Society Garden Show. I was choosing some wildflower seeds from one of the booths and found myself gushing over the discovery of prairie crocus and shooting star seeds. I mentally observed myself spouting Latin with my fellow attendees, and imagined the eye-rolling that would occur if my brother were present. “That’s it. I thought. I am truly a geek.”

But then I had an “ah-ha” moment: we’re all geeks about something. We’re just used to using the term only about certain “somethings.” Think about it for a minute. Do you know someone who gets teary-eyed looking over the shiny chrome of a souped up car or motorcycle, and roll your eyes when they start listing off details of its construction and styling? Do you know someone who can rattle off baseball or hockey stats faster than his own Social Insurance Number? Would you call them geeks? Or someone so deeply versed in rock music they can identify a song, with artist, by it’s first riff? Do you dare use the label on them?

Simon Pegg, a guy who knows a little something about being called a “geek,” had this to say:

“Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.”

Hmmm. What’s that you say, Simon? I have a license?? Why thank you, I believe I’ll use it. I’ll spout Latin, and babble to my baby seedlings. I’ll drool over new tools and ask for compost for Christmas. I will embrace my inner geek, and, I’ll wager, be the happier for it.

Besides, normal is a setting on a washing machine.

Live long, and prosper.

Geeking out about fruit trees with the lovely Bylands Nursery people at the Calgary Hort Show.

Geeking out with Gord Koch of Olds College over green roofs, or vegetative roofs, as us geeks are calling them now…

Even if you're not a garden geek, cauliflower and olive sheep are pretty cute. "Bahay Kubo Farm," by Laura Chomyn, an entry in the "Edible Container" competition.

 

 

 

Countdown to the Calgary Hort Show

Five sleeps until I slap down a measly ten bucks (twelve at the door) and enter my first-ever, real-deal, not-just-a-trade-show, horticultural fair! Out East, everyone’s done with Canada Blooms already, and out West you’ve been enjoying the dirt for weeks now, but here on the Prairies, we’re just getting started.

A shot of last year's exhibition hall.

Looking over the lineup for the weekend, I’m thinking I could spend all day just sitting at the speaker stages: so many good professionals, and so many topics I’m interested in. That might be for the best if it keeps me from spending too much time (and hence, money!) with the many vendors, although I will make time to go see the children’s activities. I want to see the beehives from the Chinook Honey Farm in action, and find out what a seed bomb is. And I can’t miss the competition gardens. Hmmm…. I’m going to be very tired on Sunday.

I know it's geared for kids, but I wanna see too!

 

Residual Income

They say one sure-fire way to really get ahead financially is residual income: get something done that will continue to earn you money even when you have moved on to the next project. Like writing a bestselling novel or Top 40 hit and letting the royalties roll in while you focus on the next masterpiece. Or getting paid every time your movie reruns on TV, or dividends from investments, or a share of the profits from the well you let the oil guys dig in your back yard.

None of which have happened for me. Nor am I getting into network marketing: been there, done that, not going there again, thank you very much. But I did get a pretty sweet payoff this spring from some long forgotten work.

I’d been craving something fresh to eat, like not-from-the-grocery-store’s-cold-storage fresh, like peas or radishes straight out of the ground, but I knew they’d still be a few weeks away, at least. Just as a began to grumble, I remembered I had actually done something about this annual hankering: I planted parsnips last year! So out I went to the sleeping veggie patch with my dearly missed garden fork, moved aside some leaf-filled garbage bags, and dug in. Guess what? There they were!

I steamed some that very night, with just a bit of butter and nutmeg. Oh. My. Everything I’d been hoping for.

We’ve had three meals with parsnips, and there’s enough still in the ground for a couple more. Plus the spinach and lettuce planted in the cold frame one mild February day should almost be big enough to start doing their job in my kitchen.

It almost feels like cheating, getting fresh veggies out of the ground this early, but you better believe I’m doing parsnips again, and leeks this year too. I’m happy to do a little more work this spring. This kind of residual income is almost as good as money in the bank.

Almost.

Christmas is coming… but so is spring, right?

It’s puking snow outside right now, I’ve got a community Christmas party to pull off on Friday, and gifts to wrap, and what am I doing?

Throwing around ideas for fresh landscaping on the west side of my house.

There’s something dangerously inspiring about this time of year, when no actual weeding, digging, hauling, or paying is required, and the imagination can run wild. You see, ever since the power company removed the three poplars along the front of the house, my whole perspective has shifted.

This is my blank slate: big line of poplars, with a lilac at the front and open space where the stumps are.

The light is different, the view is different, the possibilities seem endless. That, combined with the hurricane-speed winds southern Alberta has had the past couple of weeks and I’m excited to get started on the windbreak I’ve been wanting to establish.

Here’s where I want to start:

 

My sister even ventured to suggest extending the flower bed in front of the house into a bed around these bushes. That made me remember that I’ve toyed with the idea of turning this whole swath of  blah lawn, between the house and the trees, into a meadow. I’ve got plant lists for it already and everything…

I should be shoveling snow and working on this party. I should be singing carols and crocheting the scarf I started in front of the fire. I should be tucked up in bed with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, but all I’m seeing are crabapples and baby spruce. And my Christmas wish list? A new crockpot, a capo for my guitar, more quick connects for the hoses, new garden lights, a forsythia, 2/3 of the Lee Valley Tools catalogue, pasqueflower root cuttings…

I don’t usually start living for spring until at least March. Or February.

I better get back in the moment over here or this is going to be one long winter.

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