I took a walk through an Edmonton garden centre the other day-- a hive of activity preparing for the upcoming garden season. Employees water rows of geraniums, begonias, tomato and cucumber plants, divide trays of seedlings and stock shelves with seed packets, all of which will grow to fill containers, raised beds and garden plots in coming months.
Even with arrows on the floor to direct foot traffic and hand sanitizing stations to remind patrons we're not in ordinary times, it still looks and feels comfortingly like business as usual. The Alberta government deemed agriculture-related industries--including garden shops and farmers’ markets--essential services during the pandemic, and it's a decision that sits right with people, whether gardeners or not.
We humans have a strong need to commune with nature, to plant and watch things grow, and to have control over the food we put in our bodies. In a world that feels out of control, being able to push a seedling into the dirt, harvest a home grown tomato or create a colourful container of blooms on a back deck or balcony --these things nourish in more ways than one.
In practical ways, community gardens, back yard plots, rooftop beds and windowsill herb gardens provide fruit, vegetables and greens that save money at the grocery and offer a food source when supply is uncertain. Like war time victory gardens, when citizens were asked to do their part and grow vegetables to ease pressure on overall food supply, today’s rush on seed packages at the garden store and wait lists at community gardens seem a similar response. We want to do something in times of crisis to help ourselves and the greater good too. City governments are wisely upping the numbers of community gardens too, allowing more of those without their own outdoor space to reap the benefits of a garden.
I grew up in downtown Winnipeg, in a largely industrial area populated with factories, chain-link fences and parking lots. Amidst this, my large family home and huge back yard garden stood out, with rows of sunflowers, tomato plants and poppies waving at passersby rushing to their work sites up the street during warm weather months. The lilac trees, lily of the valley, hollyhocks and tiger lilies provided colour and scents to mark each season, but for my family it was all about the vegetable garden.
Besides school for the six kids, the year revolved around preparing, planting, growing, harvesting and preserving all that grew in that 30-foot by 18-foot patch of clay-heavy dirt. Tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, horseradish, beets, cucumber, peppers, dill--all were nurtured and then picked, stored, canned, dried or frozen to use until next gardening season.
My mom and dad came to Canada in 1950, after being displaced from their homes and farms in rural Poland at the start of World War II. Losing a way of life that had included tending huge vegetable gardens, gathering eggs from the laying hens, feeding pigs and milking cows was no doubt traumatic for them. When they immigrated, met and settled in Winnipeg, it was only natural that one of the first things they created for their new home was a vegetable garden. Among other benefits of a garden, my parents found comfort in the familiar.
The satisfaction of getting your hands in dirt and seeing something sprout and grow is one thing, but it's the familiarity of working with the rhythm of nature that can make sense when other things around us don't.
Don’t take my word for it--plant something this summer. It's one thing you can do for yourself and your family, while also being part of a larger effort in the broader community. There's satisfaction in all of that.