Day 37: Success can be a frightening thing, but this is just sheer triumph. The measure of botanic miracle is in whether delphinium in numbers can be obtained first season for a mere pittance, and after three years of failure to bring those seed to life under lights, I have dozens and dozens of them! I have maroon petunias and snap dragons, azure salvia and sweet peas, clove-scented dianthus, indigo viola (germinated in the dark), and more. Delphinium seedlings

I have multiple kales, peas, multi-coloured cauliflower and carrots, bok choy, broccoli, many lettuces, red orach, cabbages, chards, soy, fava and broad beans, eggplant, peppers, and thyme.  I have passed a test and I am overjoyed. Tomatoes were never even in question.Peas, lavender, onion & kaleThough the spring has put us back at least a month, there will be a concertina effect within days: spring and frenetic garden work will hit with a compression bang, so I’ll be heading to Styx Crossing with many of these babies in a week. Up there, the clock will be ticking furiously. I have no time to get or build any greenhouse, no lights, not even cold frames, so until that alters, I’ll be back and forth, bush to city quite a bit until the major first-week-of-June plant. Since weed is the most prolific crop there, one of my first tasks may be to create a temporary weed-free bedding area, but the peas need to find their summer home possibly before I even open my own.

This split location propagating has been worth much on-line research; the benefits and pit-falls, the relative costs of additional tube lighting, unheated cold frames, or greenhouse construction – this research is what I have spent more than a few days on the couch doing.  And though the romantic in me is very badly longing to stand in my own greenhouse, I am reaching the more rational conclusion that I just may never need one up north. The vulnerable period between two inch basement seedling and robust tomato plant in the windy yard must be travelled very carefully. I think a modest addition of artificial lights kept up north combined with substantive cold frames is where I am likely headed. Whether I have time to build any makeshift cold frames this spring remains to be seen, but if not, I can heft the little ones in and out of the comfortable house as weather permits like fat-cheeked babies in a pram. And as if someone wishes to personally bless me for my courage and blind faith in the dark and cold winter basement over the last two months, this morning I received my 2018 letter of invitation to Jardin de Quatre-Vents in Saguenay-Saint-Laurent. Life is, on occasion, just so darned good. delphiniumbluedonnalandscape


Day 34: I am old enough to have attended school when grades were given with strict and seemingly arbitrary rule. And since up until grade thirteen when grades finally mattered, my mind was never on school for any moment of my attendance of it, I was habituated, if not used, to the heavily negative passenger called failure, which for me came with anything short of seventy-five percent, and was most of what I ever attained within curriculum content at school. From first to twelfth grade, I never got below a passing grade, but somehow in a family of intellects, fifty was not any measure of failure: that would have been a sign of brain damage. Ellagance 1 month

Ellagance Lavender one month in.

In researching how to start celery seed, I learn that a sixty percent germination rate is high success indeed. For some plant species, forty percent is success. And in my first attempts at raising seed to garden planting, my success rate was closer to fifteen percent, and that seemed a humiliating enough reason to give up trying. I have since learned not only much of what I was doing was thwarting success, but that failure in gardening is not just inevitable, but happens to world renowned gardeners, and that eighty percent is well-nigh perfect. Hidcote Munstead 1.2 months

Hidcote and Munstead Lavender one and a half months in.

What can go wrong? This year my Hidcote and Munstead lavender rides at about a fifteen percent germination rate, and no one seems to know how to improve this: cover with a humidity dome, keep wet, keep dry, leave off the lid? I get shrugs but no answers. Surely this should be an easy science by now. Then, some of my cell packs caved in the middle, where the light heated the plastic perhaps, or the weight of bottom water brought their retaining walls to recede, or a manufacturing error, I’m not sure what has caused this. But the result is that in the central quadrant of at least two large flats, nothing got watered, nothing germinated. I won’t buy more of this brand, and I likely won’t ever buy more 48 cell packs, but instead pack multiples of smaller components into one tray so that each can be removed as differing seedling growth rates determine differing transplant dates.

cell wall collapse

Cell pack wall collapse.

Last year, my city yard contained every possible garden pest and plague I’d both heard of and hadn’t. This, whether true or not, I deemed to be my fault. In lieu of having other ready material, I had used immature compost from my yard bins as mulch, but I will never know if this, or improperly sterilized tools, insufficient feeding, the general damp, or something else entirely caused so much disease, such as hollyhock rust.

hollyhock-rustI am highly grumpy and emotionally frail about garden failures yet, and this I attribute to never having been counselled while growing up, that failure is just one small component of all roads to success. Quite the opposite. I was not-so-subliminally deemed the “dummy” by my mother in a family of near geniuses. Which book I chose to read was inevitably a dim reflection of my worth; the music I listened to was ranked by my brothers; and whether I chose to be with friends or to be alone, was always the foolhardy decision according to my mother. Even much later in life, while having to suddenly earn a living at real estate, the overtly taught mantra of courting failure as route to success, seemed an atrocious con job perpetrated the slick and well-paid motivational speakers I suffered through. But none-the-less, at least on an intellectual level, the benefits and wisdom of learning good from failure are ever so slowly getting through to me, and its injurious nature becomes a little bit easier to bear. Still, at the age of nearly sixty-five years, I grit my teeth and feel shame.



Spring of the Endless Winter

Day 30: The wind blusters and slams screen doors before dawn, and the tulips and hydrangeas I bought to cheer the house for Easter dinner sit huddled together in my living room for protection. The cold days drag on. But in that time, I do not stall hope and plants and green chores. So my new iris path to the barn is now in near dormant rows on a wire shelf in a cold shed behind my city kitchen. Iris path picks  I have bought and employed a mechanical composter that efficiently turns my live kitchen scrap slime into pristine rich fertilizer in about three hours, thus nicely saving my two yard compost piles from overflow.


I have raked the front yard to allow the promise of spring to fool the neighbours. I’ve found two extra-large statement planters to replace the two that were crumbling with age.


I set up the two-shelf light stand my father gave me for Christmas thirty years ago, and another four, four-foot tubes set over work tables. I remember my father’s two short light trays propped up by bricks, a very small allowance amidst the bulky business of a family of six, growing just one or two tomatoes, and the odd bulb for Christmas display, and I wonder if its deep modesty frustrated him, though at the time, I paid no attention. For that reason, every year I take this on, it is an experiment with highly mixed results. This year I haven’t killed anything yet, but it’s early days yet. Upstairs, I’ve indulged in two beautifully fragrant topiaried myrtles, then re-potted my forty year old benji; planted and set under said lights seeds for kale, peppers, onions, peas, tomatoes and much else.


I’ve selected a safer basement space heater designed to be wall mounted close enough to this little light farm to counteract the chilly reality of an April Canadian cellar. And I linger over the spring smells I can manage to bring into my comfortably heated living areas.


I read a biography of another gardener, the sculptor Isamu Noguchi, called “Listening to Stone” as I listen for spring. I also watch the seven day weather forecasts like a person obsessed. Now for me, this is what early spring is all about in Canada, not any escape to Mexico.

The waiting itself brings poetry.