I thought it was time to pay a visit to our local Pitt Meadows Community Garden and see for myself just how the growing season was coming along. Given the weather shenanigans of a record-breaking cold winter followed by a prolonged monsoon-like spring and then instantaneous sweltering summer heat…I expected a lot of frustrated gardeners struggling with their vegetable plots. What I found instead was a healthy dose of optimism and some really great quotes that I’m going to share with you.
The first gentleman I approached was harvesting leaf lettuce when I asked him how his garden is faring given all the unpredictable weather this year. He shot back with, “Every year is getting odd now so we’re just going to have to get used to it.” And while his beets were giving him grief, he had a bumper crop of shelling peas as compensation. His friend from Canmore Alberta remarked that she thought the community plots were extraordinarily bountiful, given the meager vegetables she was able to grow at home in the short growing season of her mountainous town.
My next stop was a few plots over, where I could see that someone had cycled into their garden. She was busy weeding when I asked how her growing season was going. Her blunt reply was, “If I was a gardener, no one would get to eat.” Personally, I think she was being a little too hard on herself, as this was her first season in the community garden and she was just learning the basics, like pruning her Brussel’s Sprouts to increase the yield. In any case, she looked content just having a space of her own to grow and care for.
Not far from her was another industrious woman who was busy trying to extend her rustic obelisk of dried branches to accommodate her pride and joy, a very robust vine of Winter Melon or Dong Gua. She proudly showed me the developing young fruits but had to admit that there might not be enough summer left for them to develop properly. Still, there were ripening cherry tomatoes packed into her very full plot and she was quick to remind me that “Even my weeds are delicious and very healthy for me,” as she pointed out the portulaca, mustard greens, and Amaranthus (pigweed) that most people just pull and throw away.
As I strolled towards the south side of the community garden, another woman commented, “The sunflowers are free this year," pointing to a beautiful specimen on the edge of her plot and despite the setbacks that a wet spring had brought, she was still looking forward to her fall crops.
Not far away was a younger gardener with an impeccably maintained plot surrounded by raised beds and espalier fruit trees. While he was busy watering, he told me that “It’s getting to be the fun part of the work, because the garden is actually starting to produce,” perfectly illustrating how gardeners always seem to have their eyes on the prize, despite the many hours they devote to their homegrown produce. We spent a few minutes talking about fruit tree grafting and how the bald-faced hornets were slowly chewing away the wood on his arbors in order to make their nests. Even though the carrots this year were nearly nonexistent, he was already harvesting young kale leaves and the broccoli is looking awesome – so he still seemed to be able to focus on the positive.
On my way out I stopped by one last garden with a prominent Trini-Dad sign out front. I found an elderly gentleman seated on a short stool, busy weeding his cold frame. When I asked him the same How’s the season going question, he told me that the tomatoes were very disappointing this year, as he usually has three harvests in by now and he hasn’t even had one yet. But then he followed with “But the mint was great this year, and since my wife is Lebanese, we cook with a lot of mint,” so again, that ever-present optimism came to the rescue.
After wishing him good luck with his garden I began to stroll back to my car, past golden zucchini with powdery mildew, ripening red currants with aphid damage, apples and pears with a bit of scab, as well as sizeable cabbage with looper holes – yet I couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that despite the unfavourable weather and pests they still managed to harvest something, maybe not pristine fruits and vegetables but edibles nonetheless. And if the gardeners who call the Pitt Meadows Community Garden home taught me one thing that day, it’s that hope has no problem growing in the fertile soils of optimism.