Tuesday, 12 June 2012

I'm Relaxing as Fast as I Can

It's spring, heading for summer, and that means the second busiest time of the year for gardeners. I've spent the winter drooling over seed catalogues and making elaborate lists and diagrams. I daydream of ordering seed by the kilo instead of by the tiny packet. I draw up plans worthy of a ten-acre hobby farm instead of my humble suburban backyard. Gardening dreams even sneak into my writing, invariably colouring my plots and settings.

Now I'm up to my neck in mulch and mud, bringing it all about and loving every minute of it. Gardening is relaxing to me, the suspension of time and stress, when I can just commune with the plants and with my own soul. A robin follows me around hoping I'll dig up worms. A rabbit hops from the hedge and grazes companionably beside me as I weed - I suppose he thinks I'm grazing too - close enough that if I wanted to, I could reach out and stroke his red-brown fur. I love nothing more than plunging my hands into good rich loam, dark as chocolate, breathing in the scent of damp earth, and anticipating the abundance to come.

The early onset of hot weather has sped things up this year, however. Everything is a month or more early. It seems I have hardly gotten the seed in the ground, and the plant's bolting into flowers and running for the border. The asparagus is going to fern faster than I can pick it. I gather bouquets of it, a foot tall, and by evening there's another foot-tall harvest to bring in. I keep it in vases of water in the fridge, and it's too tall to fit. Amazing! The lettuce and radishes have long since gone to flower, three feet tall and filled with butterflies. At this rate, summer will be over by August and we'll be thick into the busiest season for gardeners -- harvest.

Harvest time is when I cease to sleep. I've told my editor I can't travel or do book signings in the fall. The garden comes first. I pack the work into every spare minute of my day - shelling beans, bottling tomatoes and peaches and pears and apples, making grape juice, jelly, jam. Dehydrating carrots and herbs, stringing up garlic and onions, freezing squash and pumpkin. I don't want to waste a second of precious time. I think it's probably safe to say I'm the only person ever to have threshed wheat on the Toronto subway system. But I couldn't bear to just sit there, commuting, knowing how much work was waiting to be done. The funny thing is, no one on the train raised an eyebrow. Torontonians are an unflappable breed.

It's worth every bit of effort, though, to be able to open a jar of strawberry jam in the middle of January and taste fresh, wonderful berries, the essence of summer. Opening a jar of homemade grape juice in winter is like drinking in sunshine. Once you have experienced that, the culmination of all your efforts in something so rewarding, you can never go back. You are hooked on gardening for life.

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