Thursday, March 10, 2011

I long to play in the dirt

Some years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to help my sister with her gardens. She had three different plots, with many different vegetables and berries, as well as her flower beds which surrounded her house. I loved digging and hoeing, pulling weeds, planting the spindly little tomatoes seedlings, adding manure, compost and mulch.

She lives in the east end of the city (which actually used to be outside the city limits), where the soil is of much better quality than any other area of the city. The land in the surrounding area boasts of fertile farmland and sod farms that grow some fantastic quality goods. There is a creek that runs along the back of her property, where some edible things grow wild. There are wildflowers all over the place. It is a beauty to behold.

I remember staining my fingertips with the black earth from hours of digging up potatoes. The garlic left a fragrance in the air before we ever cut the shoots, or pulled the clusters. Lemon balm grew in amongst the grass, so I could just reach down anywhere and pick some leaves to roll around in my hands to make them smell pretty. Cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and  corn grew in one huge plot. Peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, raspberries and rhubarb were in another. Potatoes and garlic dominated the third. Over the years, she tried different varieties of veggies. Some of my favourite memories are in that garden.

But her gardens fostered a growth of a different kind as well. While we worked, we often talked about our troubled past, working through difficulties we had with our mother while we worked the soil. Many a frustration was taken out on hardened chunks of dirt. It was some of the best 'therapy sessions' I ever attended. We talked a lot about what our hopes and dreams were. We cried over losses, adding our tears to the soil, giving them back to Mother Earth. Some days it was almost like a religious experience, giving up our troubles to a being greater than ourselves, yet sharing them with someone who had similar experiences.

I treasure those days, sweating in the heat, working alongside my sister (who is almost old enough to be my mother), laughing, crying, and basking in the beauty of a warm summer day. We held children's birthday parties between those garden plots. Our kids took baths there too, with water in an aluminum tub, or played in a plastic pool nearby. Her dogs were always running around in the yard with us, keeping the children from wandering out to the road. We mourned the death of her beloved Chihuahua, Punky, who was older than her own daughter in those gardens.

The other day, I started some cherry tomato seeds to be planted in a pot on my balcony. I also added some new soil to my houseplants. While I was scooping handfuls of dirt into the pots, the memories of the many days spent in my sister's garden came flooding back to me. I miss that time so much! I know she still gardens, but on a much smaller scale now. The health problems that she and her husband have limit what they can do now. I'm hoping that this year I can allocate some time weekly to help her in the gardens again. I'd love to get my hands dirty, and work through some issues I'm having.

Of course, the vegetables I could grow would certainly help with our grocery budget as well.
Frugal food, frugal therapy, frugal exercise, frugal tanning...what more could a gal ask for?


  1. I loved what you talked about today. One of the homes ( actually 2) I've been looking at on line have " gardens, fruit trees and berry bushes". The houses are not as nice as mine, but I can work with that!

    Thanks for the reminder about getting back in touch with mother earth, I can picture working the soil! I love the smell of fresh turned soil!

  2. Great post! I have such fond memories of gardening too which started when I used to help my dad plant seeds in our garden - he could grow anything and living off the bounty really helped our family finances. There was nothing better than just walking outside to get some things for supper: lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, beans, strawberries and so on. I miss those days.