The Garden is the Heart
June 27, 2007

Summer is finally here. Some things I remember about childhood summers:

Home made ice cream, creamsicles, revels, fudgecicles. Ice-cold orange Fanta. Falling off my bike and skinning my knee. Living in creamsicle-coloured bathing suits. Swimming lessons. Hot days with nothing to do but daydream. Drive-ins, fire pits, sandy shallow lakes. Picking vegetables out of mom's gardens. Summer camp in the Rockies. Road Trips, tacky tourist attractions, Sleepovers. Getting bucked off horses, building forts and rafts. Country fairs and rodeos. Picnics in Drumheller with mom's fried chicken. Dust, dust, and more dust. Blue blue blue sky. Sweaty farm boys with dark tans. The chlorine smell of the Luseland Centennial swimming pool. Dawn Alison's Archie Comics. Pulling apart the lines of a barbed wire fence to get to the slough and collect snails. Sweet peas, evening scented phlox, purple rocket, sunflowers, honeysuckle, buffalo beans, wild roses, dandelions, and sage.

As an artist, summer has become the time when I am most productive during the year. The trouble is that when I get immersed in my work I forget about summer. I have a seven-year-old child and he deserves the best summer of his life, and it's up to me to see that that happens. That's a lot of pressure!

Well, this summer I'm going to try to make our garden a really creative space for my son and his friends. I have been suffering from gardener's block ("What do I plant?") until I went to Dan Jason's talk on the "Zero Mile Diet" last Friday at the VPL. Dan Jason is an incredible gardener and seed saver. He talked about how diverse his garden is: one hundred varieties of tomato plants! The thing is he doesn't have insect "problems' because his garden is so diverse it keeps the insects in balance.

Dan showed us beautiful slides of some of the unusual varieties of plants he grows and if I send him twenty bucks he will send you the seeds of the five plants you choose to grow from his seed bank.* He's creating a living seed library--very important work in light of the greedy companies who are trying to destroy every heritage seed they can get their hands on.

So Dan inspired me to try to grow some of his seeds and to increase the diversity of plants in my garden. So I went out and bought two new lavender plants that are different varieties from the ones I have. I've eaten Dan's wonderful vegetables at the Salt Spring Yoga Centre, and I've spent some delicious daydreaming time in a hammock under his pear trees. I have photographs I took of what I call his "United Nations of Garlic". It's a very sacred place.

I don't know how sacred my garden is, but the woman who used to own our house loved to garden and so I try to do my best not to kill her roses. Luckily most of what she planted seems to thrive on neglect. It's been seven years now since we moved it, and it's time to start replanting some sections. The sickly cedar bush and the irises with knobby toes have got to go. A corner of the lawn has to be sacrificed to make a raised vegetable bed. The old deck where Mrs. A. used to sit drinking beer and watching tv needs to be made into a pirate ship, magic show stage or a "Wendy house". We don't have much space or money, so we're really going to have to think creatively.

Eventually, I'd like to have a beehive in the garden, or two. For now we'll put up some mason bee houses, bird feeders and plants that attract our favorite pollinators: the hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. I'm going to work on a few varieties to begin with.

Flowers: bee balm, bergamot, butterfly bush, California Lilacs, Echinacea, Calendula, milk thistle, sunflowers, wheat, nasturtiums, and sweet peas.

Vegetables: scarlet runner beans, lettuce, kale, strawberries, and Cherokee Trail of Tears beans.

Herbs: lemon balm, lavender, chives, oregano, fennel, basil, and thyme.

My neighbor told me that Mrs. A. loved her garden and any extra money she had, she would not spend it on her plants. Today it occured to me that she was onto something: the heart of this home is not its kitchen with its solid vintage oven, the dining room with grandma's heirloom table, nor its living room piled high with children's toys. The heart of this home is its garden. If we can create that paradigm shift in everyone's home, imagine the possibilities we'd have for ecological change. Today I thank the bees for Dan Jason and Mrs. A. and their gardens of inspiration.

*Salt Spring Sanctuary Society
PO box 444 Ganges, Salt Spring Island, BC
V8K 2W1
(250) 537-5269