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I grew up in the Rocky Mountains of southern Alberta. They call the province “sunny” but it is a brutal climate for gardening. Winter temperatures can reach 40 degrees below zero, and that doesn’t account for wind chill. It often snows every month. It is a testament to the human spirit that anybody ever plants anything. Maybe that’s why I remember so vividly the miracle of purple crocuses blooming through a lens of ice, the brilliant crimson of an oriental poppy against the backdrop of a split-rail fence and snow-covered mountains. The whole family went out to look at them when they bloomed. It was such a miracle that they came back every year.
My grandparents owned a farm on the edge of Waterton , the Canadian side of Glacier National Park. My grandmother was an avid gardener and I followed her around. She wore a housedress, gumboots, and a white shawl with a silver thread woven through it. Sometimes, she draped the shawl over the fence, where the crows worried out the silver threads.
When I was seven, my grandmother gave me a bowlful of seeds to plant in the garden, a plot the size of a football field. I held the round, brown seeds and doubted they would turn into anything. But I admired my grandmother and trusted her. I still remember and relish my surprise when I grew a row of turnips. So white and purple, so absolutely beautiful. I didn’t really like turnips, but I ate them anyway. I had grown them myself!!
When I was fifteen and had been told not to get in cars with boys, I went straight out and did just that. It was a silly thing to do when you live in a small town and come from a big family on both sides. My mother had nine siblings and my step-dad had eight, so I was related to almost everyone in town. The odds of someone seeing me were high. But, at fifteen, I knew everything. I rode in that car for twenty minutes and by the time I got home, my mother knew all about it. I was grounded. For punishment, I was sent to the farm for the weekend to work. My grandmother took me to a hillside where she had a crop of potatoes. She dropped me off with a shovel, a pile of gunny sacks, a lunch, a big bottle of water, my book, and the dog.
It was sunny and warm. The Quaking Aspens glittered in the tiny, cooling breeze. I carefully dug the potatoes and filled the burlap sacks. Then I shared my lunch with the dog and laid back in the grass to read. Ultimately, the disciplinary measure of forcing me to dig potatoes was not a punishment. That day stands out in my memory as one of the finest days of my life. I’m a grown up, now, and have grown children. I own the ratty white shawl with the silver threads my grandmother wore. I still dig in the dirt. My heart still lifts when my irises bloom. I’m not the kind of gardener who collects rare plants. I celebrate the miracle of common perennials.
[May Sample below]
Regular Garden Chores
• Control slugs
• Turn the compost
Plant the following:
• Summer bulbs
• Perennials: daylilies, hosta, penstemon, Siberian iris.
• Annuals and biennials such as African daisy, calendula, clarkia, cleome, cosmos,
forget-me-not, godetia, linaria, lobelia, nasturtiums, pansies, portulaca, sunflower,
snapdragons, sweet alyssum, sweet William, verbena, violas, and zinnia
• Tomatoes, peppers, basil, corn, squash, and beans late in the month
• Container-grown trees, and shrubs
• Vines: clematis, climbing hydrangea, wisteria
• Dahlias, gladiolus, calla lilies, chrysanthemums (plant gladiolus every two weeks)
• Divide summer-and-fall blooming perennials
• Fill containers with annuals and herbs
• Transplant annuals
Prune the following:
• Rhododendrons, azaleas, forsythia, clematis, and daphne
• Wisteria as it finishes blooming
• Deadhead rhododendrons
• Pinch back perennials and annuals
Fertilize the following:
• Roses, evergreens, annuals, azaleas and rhododendrons
• Potted plants and vegetable garden every week
• Take cuttings from evergreens, shrubs, perennials, and houseplants
• Cut strawberry runners to keep the main plant producing strawberries. You can replant the runners if you want more plants.
• Spray the roses regularly to control diseases. Refer to the note on page 14.