A growing obsession

Columnist Shannon McKinnon takes a break from gardening, sort of.

This summer I took three days away from gardening and used them to go on three garden tours. Good grief, hey? You know you’ve let yourself become a tad consumed when you use your only days away from gardening to look at gardens!

Another clue was the afternoon I came in from the garden, plopped down beside Darcy on the couch and started watching a Blue Jays game. Instead of getting caught up in the strikes and runs, I started thinking about how much time they spend playing ball. Unlike hockey, ball season starts at seeding time and continues right through to harvest. The more I thought about it the more unsettled I became until finally I blurted out, “It must suck to be a ball player. How do they find time to garden?”

Darcy just stared at me in that way he has that always makes me worry about myself. I realized I have entered a dangerous obsession zone where I think everyone is either doing what I am doing or wants to. My only excuse is gardening not only gives me exercise and stress release, but it provides us with most of our vegetables and berries for the year and it is the subject I use to make part of my living writing for garden magazines. It is both my work and my play.

I do believe everyone benefits from a walk in a park or a stroll through a botanical garden. The simple act of taking off your shoes and feeling sand or grass on your bare feet can lift your mood faster than a year’s worth of planting your butt on a therapist’s chair. But while we all need nature in our lives, we all don’t need to control it. And like it or not, that’s what gardening is. Controlling a piece of earth all the while knowing our little Eden is only borrowed, never bought. It’s kind of like building sand castles. You race around packing water, shaping the sand, creating grand designs and you are incredibly happy; but in the end the tide reclaims your castle — turrets, moats and all.

The whole east side of my garden is edged with forest. While I’m racing about with my wheelbarrow, buckets of water, pots of plants, packets of seeds and a head filled with plans, I imagine nature watching my activity with amusement. It sends runner roots of willows and poplars into the perennial beds. It blows seeds in on the wind, while others are woken from decades of slumber by my spade. On summer nights I fall into bed exhausted beyond belief, but pumped with the euphoria of watching my plans slowly come together. Of course, in the end it’s all for nothing. If I walked away from my garden within a month the vegetable garden would be lost to weeds. In a year grass would have a stranglehold on the perennials. In five years only the rugosa roses, peonies and monkshood would remain as evidence a gardener once passed through.

This doesn’t make me sad. I am glad nature wins in the end. When I want something for a difficult spot I try to use material that comes in on its own from the woods; a patch of wild roses or a clump of white yarrow have been granted space in my garden while a robust patch of fireweed and goldenrod lurk along the southern edge. I eye them uneasily as they bubble with energy, no doubt discussing their conquest strategies long into the night. One corner has been completely taken over by bluebells. Every summer I consider ripping them out, but in the spring they are prettier than any of my pampered spring bloomers. So I suppose the takeover has already begun in a sort of Trojan horse kind of way. Nature is beguiling me with beauty while hiding its robust reclaiming roots from view. No matter. If my whole flower garden turned wild, I wouldn’t mind. I might even prefer it. The vegetable patch, however, is another matter. No matter how gorgeous they might be, if they venture through those gates it’s off with their heads!

As for the three garden tours, I was blown away by the green thumbs quietly working their magic in pockets of the Peace. Despite being in Zone 2b and having one of the hottest, driest, summers on record the gardens were amazing. I didn’t walk away from a single one without a new idea. Over the next few weeks I will be sharing pictures from all 20 gardens at www.peacecountrygardens.com. So come on by, kick off your shoes and treat yourself to some botanical eye candy; no weeding required.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com.

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