My Garden Confession...

This is my last summer in Canada.  We're leaving in just two months for our lengthy sabbatical (2, 3 or more years).  For ten years I've tried to harness my novice gardening skills to the short, powerful summers.  

I've learnt although summer is short in the north, you can grow a lot of produce in this wild climate; I've learnt Alberta is one of the top honey producing areas in the world; I've learnt we get as much sunlight as Florida and if we used it well we could live off passive solar; I've learnt to dehydrate, can and ferment foods. 

I understand now although the ground is frozen much of the year, there are an abundance of 'superfoods' in the north and the tricks of food preservation, used for centuries, can enable people to be healthy, just on what grows here through the long winters (not that (m)any of us choose to rely solely on our short seasons produce).  Powerful medicinal plants burst out of the ground in the summer and it's easy to gather arnica, yarrow and many others, dry them and create beautiful creams, salves and tinctures for your family first aid kit.  Seriously, if you've never tried this, it's time to give it a go.  Check out my blog, 'How to Make a Medicinal Salve' or 'How to Make a Medicinal Oil'. 

When we moved to Canada in 2007 I had ideas of living on a ranch and becoming 'one with the wilds' and maybe even getting draught horses to plough the land on the patch I was going to farm.   I thought long and hard about how we could buy thousands of acres on the edge of the city to protect the land and prevent the suburban sprawl concretizing the edge-land wilderness (we almost hosted a round table of investors to try and get this project off the ground).  I took permaculture courses. I learnt how to make medicinal herbs with our wild flowers (arnica, yarrow, horsetail, red clover, goldenrod, chamomile, plantain are a few that roll off my tongue).  I learnt the sounds of my favourite summer birds (redwing blackbirds, hummingbirds and evening grosbeaks).  I learnt how to keep bees and got all our clinic staff involved in fun extracurricular beekeeping training.  I even had undercover backyard chickens (which I discovered I didn't love - the undercover part - it's not fun hiding something in the backyard that makes noise and is pretty darn obvious).  

I love to make things beautiful.  My favourite gardens to visit are those that include statues and interesting architecture amongst the garden beds (in England Kew Gardens and The Eden Centre are my favourites, in Calgary, the Zoo is fun). 

For my own garden... well.. here's my confession:  I really like gnomes.  Errrr.... what?  I know... perhaps this isn't much of a confession to you.  But.  I was brought up in a socio-economic bracket that disliked gnomes.  A whole class of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Brits KNOW that it's 'not done' to have a garden full of gnomes.  In England people who have more than, lets say, three gnomes (and actually this is true of almost any other small garden figurines - unless it's a bird bath) are considered 'naff', 'tacky', and definitely not very posh or stylish.  

But.  I really love my garden gnome (pictured with his skate board).  I daren't get more than one for fear that I might disappear into some kind of gnome lower class strata from which I might never reappear.  But I do have another gnome in my house which I plan to keep - I will NOT let my husband put this indoor gnome in our garage sale.  I've hidden this little gnome (actually it's a pair of gnomes - husband and wife, round and merry -  that make a tea light holder) and I will put this gnome pair into storage to reappear when our stuff emerges when we figure out where home is next.  

The next place we go, (which is currently looking like Nicaragua, so long as the country doesn't become too unstable) I plan to learn about tropical medicinal plants.  I also plan to do some central American beekeeping. I hope I'll learn to identify more birds by their songs in addition to the noisy chachalaca (which although you may not know the name of, if you google it and you've been to Mexico or further south you'll know this birds call). 

There are new nature garden adventures waiting - I'm ready to learn and share all that I discover.   There are a few more stories about my Canadian garden exploits under each of the pictures. 

 6 year old Nina and I beekeeping on our back deck (this was before my bees decided to use our neighbours hot tub as their source of water and die en masse in the hot tub and prevent the hot tub owners from using their hot tub!).  This was my first solo attempt at beekeeping, hence the computer open which was guiding me step by step from a blog post on what to do!

6 year old Nina and I beekeeping on our back deck (this was before my bees decided to use our neighbours hot tub as their source of water and die en masse in the hot tub and prevent the hot tub owners from using their hot tub!).  This was my first solo attempt at beekeeping, hence the computer open which was guiding me step by step from a blog post on what to do!

 The perils of gardening in this climate.  The season ends dramatically!

The perils of gardening in this climate.  The season ends dramatically!

 Freshly picked from the paths near my house, Yarrow, the best styptic (stops bleeding) - a magical plant  

Freshly picked from the paths near my house, Yarrow, the best styptic (stops bleeding) - a magical plant  

 Beautiful teachers in California, Penny and Jeanette, who taught me over a series of long weekends how to use medicinal herbs

Beautiful teachers in California, Penny and Jeanette, who taught me over a series of long weekends how to use medicinal herbs

 My team of osteopaths, learning beekeeping

My team of osteopaths, learning beekeeping

 My garden gnome in the early season watching over the seeds

My garden gnome in the early season watching over the seeds

 2013, Building the backyard chicken coop

2013, Building the backyard chicken coop

 May 2018, moving the chicken coop to it's new home at moose mountain ranch

May 2018, moving the chicken coop to it's new home at moose mountain ranch

 Nina harvesting garlic scapes

Nina harvesting garlic scapes

 A happy gnome amongst his veg and milk thistles

A happy gnome amongst his veg and milk thistles

 Hanna, our german WWOOFer  (willing worker on an organic farm) - we didn't have a farm but we are pretty farm-ish folk, so it all worked out 

Hanna, our german WWOOFer  (willing worker on an organic farm) - we didn't have a farm but we are pretty farm-ish folk, so it all worked out 

 Worm composting (I wasn't very good at it, our worm bin seemed to grow all sorts of strange things it wasn't meant to through my lack of upkeep)

Worm composting (I wasn't very good at it, our worm bin seemed to grow all sorts of strange things it wasn't meant to through my lack of upkeep)

 Making herbal medicines in my kitchen

Making herbal medicines in my kitchen

 My honey ... and it's pretty labels

My honey ... and it's pretty labels

 The beehive in a better location than my back deck (see pic above on how the bees got into my neighbours hot tub!)

The beehive in a better location than my back deck (see pic above on how the bees got into my neighbours hot tub!)

 The first spring flower, the prairie crocus.  When you find them in April, amidst the snow, you know spring will come. 

The first spring flower, the prairie crocus.  When you find them in April, amidst the snow, you know spring will come. 

Lucy Paget