I hate telling people what to do. Or rather, I hate myself for telling people what to do, which puts me in a tricky place as garden columnist, because I feel as if I’m meant to prescribe, issue directives, offer advice, and yet when it comes to gardening, I’m a firm believer in cultivating intuition.
Chances are we both know more about our respective gardens than either of us care to admit. Our inadequacies, we itemize. Apologies, abound.
Here’s what I know, right now, as I sit typing: I know the slugs are stirring. It’s dusk and they are crawling up the seedling trays in my poly-tunnel, sliming their way to an evening’s feast.
The penstemons I moved today are most likely in shock: I must remember to water them tomorrow. The garlic scapes need to be picked to drive the plant’s energy into the bulb. The peonies have yet to be corralled despite being swollen in bud, and the roses need protection because the bamboo/netting combo I rigged up is a pathetic excuse for a barricade and the deer like David Austin’s scented roses as much as I do.
Dandelions are ballooning disastrously beside the compost, whilst the cursed Alstromeria is sending its brittle fingers into every impossible corner of the border. I should have watered the south-facing edge of my driveway, where I’ve planted some perennial Verbena which will need coddling before enduring summer’s drought.
I’m at my desk and I know all of this. Maybe you’re standing in the kitchen, agreeing yes, there’s always a list, a great hierarchy of needs. Look out the window at your garden: It can be hard to see the forest for the trees.
Still, every time you look, you learn. Success can come from simply paying attention.
Case in point: the other day I noticed the new leaves of my Belle de Boskoop apple had curled. I’d been seeding French beans, but stretched open a reluctant apple leaf and found an aphid colony, happily being nurtured by ants (a fascinating instance of mutualism, whereby the ants eat the excreted honeydew from the aphids and assist with aphid survival). My instinct was to smoosh the aphids, and before long I was on the hunt, peeling back leaves, grabbing soap spray, settling in for the kill. A half an hour passed before I went back to the beans.
Perhaps, you putter about the garden, trimming here and weeding there. That time you spend, close up and personal with your plants and your soil, allows you to really see, to understand what needs to be done.
Christin Geall teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Victoria and is an avid Oak Bay gardener.