The Cottage Cook: Garden Gaffes or How to Fool the Garden into Growing, Part 2


Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
Mary, Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow?

With the nearest produce department a 45-minute drive away, we started experimenting with cottage gardens years ago. The earliest attempt was a large potted tomato plant, placed on a south-facing dock where it could enjoy the hot summer sun all day and as much water as our pails could muster.

Result: Three golfball-sized tomatoes in late-September.

The next year we moved the tomato pot to the deck. It would receive less sunlight, but enjoy a more wind-sheltered locale.

Result: Three golfball-sized green tomatoes in late September.

With our success rate spiralling downward, we took a leave of absence from gardening for about 10 years, while we researched possible reasons for our failure. The research method was comprised of seeking the advice of a farmer-friend.

He eyed us suspiciously, whereupon we realized there is something shameful in being unable to produce a bumper crop of a fruit that is so plentiful at the end of Winnipeg summers that leaving one’s home unattended for even a few hours can lead to doorstep tomato-dumping.

2013 07 06 food riot scuba jim di rebek sandy 017This is not far from the truth: One year we returned home to find bags of tomatoes clogging the step, along with a box of other veggies and a few zucchinis jammed into our mailbox. One must be wary about giving out one’s address to Winnipeg’s hobby gardeners.

After a 10-year cottage garden hiatus that actually lasted about 20 years, we felt ready to give the cottage garden another try. We began by planting whisky barrels with petunias. This was our attempt to dupe the ‘garden’ into thinking we weren’t really serious about getting vegetables from it.

After a few years of stunning petunia gardens, we tucked stevia, tarragon, chive and parsley in among the petunias. Sure enough, the garden gods were fooled, because all four herbs thrived to the point that the tarragon, chive and parsley plants reseeded themselves every summer, a particularly admirable achievement given the Siberia-esque winter climate in our cottage region.

Then came the big step. In 2012, we planted green, yellow and red beans in the barrels and doused them regularly with MiracleGro.  Low and behold, the little clumps produced pots and pots of beans.

We were ready for the big time. At the end of the 2012 growing season, my husband built a raised garden box on the south-facing slope, a garden box that we did not realize resembled something of a coffin, a fact that a neighbour alerted us to when she dropped in for a visit and found us dumping yard flotsam and sheep manure into the box, as though hiding a body.

We were not hiding a body, although we can see how the dimensions of our garden box might make it look that way. After filling the box, we covered it over with tarp, to prevent the surrounding evergreen forest from dumping acidic pine needles into our little garden.

This spring, with thoughts of the wonderful mouth-slapping adventures of fresh veggies, we ripped off that tarp and planted beans, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and several varieties of lettuce, that we then faithfully watered daily. We waited to see what would happen with the same eager expectancy that a child counts down the days to Christmas.

If we had known then what our garden would grow, we might have bulldozed the whole thing.

Next: Our garden takes an Eden-like turn. 


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About Jo Hatherly

Joanne Hatherly is a Canadian cottager who writes about hosting hordes from her one-sink cottage kitchen. She is an author, journalist, incurable chocolate-addict and lake-swimmer. Repped by a UK literary agency, she is working on a literary crime thriller. Follow her eclectic ramblings on current news, census reports, literature and freakish encounters with snakes and other wildlife on Twitter: @johatherly