Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Spring is in the mail

Spring must be right around the corner!

I opened my mailbox this morning and there it was—the first breath of spring—and the soft, sweet fragrance of a summer garden. Yes, the first garden catalogue of the year has arrived, and it’s my favorite.

Richter’s Herbs is in the middle of the Ontario countryside just outside Toronto, a stone’s throw from where I grew up. When we lived in our first married home in Markham, Ontario, I used to visit the herb farm every spring. I’d wander through the greenhouses and dream of a day when I’d have a garden big enough to grow all these marvelous plants.

When my kids were born, I planted herbs in our Ottawa garden for them—things to touch and taste and smell and discover. We grew Woolly Lamb’s Ear for the soft furry texture of the leaves. We planted globe thistles and teasels for the shapes. There were sunflowers for the birds, and morning glory vines, and we even dyed t-shirts with tansy flowers one summer. We nibbled mint, sage, fresh raspberries, basil, and chives, and exulted in the scent of lavender, bergamot, and roses. We planted a hedge of catnip for our cats so they could spend sultry summer days in the garden too, hidden under the shady leaves, listening to the bees and the birds in the ultimate feline happy place.

Now we live in Calgary, and I get my annual Richter’s haul by mail, and count the days until it arrives each spring.

My kids are grown, and my son uses fresh herbs to cook with (he’s 21, handsome, charming, and single, ladies. He speaks three languages, and he cooks delicious, wonderful things). He chooses some of the plants we order now, exotic things to experiment with, like Thai Basil, Cilantro, Mexican and Greek Oregano, Zaatar, and hot peppers.

It all sounds perfect, doesn’t it? An urban oasis of scent, color and taste. In my imagination, and here in the dead of winter with a cup of tea in one hand and the Richter’s Herb catalogue in the other, it is perfect, a magazine-worthy backyard landscape of sheer magnificence.

In truth, my garden doesn’t look like that. The seasons here in Alberta can be wildly unpredictable, and the intense heat and dryness of the climate make it a hard place for a gardener with an Ontario-variety green thumb to make things grow. My catnip patch here is scraggly and bare most of the summer, rolled on, crushed, chewed, and much loved by five cats.

The rest of the garden suffers under the giant feet of my unruly chocolate lab. Flowers get broken in the heat of dog play, and prime canine napping spots are carved out in the warm dirt, regardless of the fact that things are trying to grow there. Squirrels eat my sunflowers, and crows nip the buds off my roses. The basil is well plucked for cooking, the chives snipped, and the black currants are stolen by birds, deer, voles, and jackrabbits. For all those creatures sake, there’s no pesticides, herbicides or commercial fertilizers, so weeds abound. 

Still, I wouldn’t change a thing, because it’s home. My garden is part of the family, and it grows and changes as our family does, and that, to me, makes for one prefect garden, a reflection of who we are, and who I am.

This year, I’m going to order a new variety or two of rose, and give up on tomato plants that never do well here, and add a new variety of mint, perhaps. Sweet Pear Mint, anyone? Or maybe I’ll just make space for some extra Genovese Basil, or try growing a Chicago Fig tree, or Jasmine. Perhaps it’s a good thing there’s weeks yet until spring, and lots of time to pore over the catalogue before I decide.

Richter’s has a wonderful on-line catalogue, and they ship across North America. For your breath of summer inspiration, Richter’s web address is www.Richters.com

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