Garden-sitting for the Alters (Part 1)

My garden is lovely. It really is; and it’s mostly thanks to my mother, who sneaks in while I’m away to plant hostas, Virginia creepers, herbs, ferns and juniper bushes. I’ve added my own lavender and cat grass to the mix, and on my top deck there’s the tomato plant, overly ambitious blueberry bush, spring onions, lettuce and Mr. Meyer Lemon. Out front, I’ve got an enormous, surely hundred-year-old tree (I don’t even know what it is, actually, but I want to say it’s an oak) with some unruly green bushy business underneath (what is that again, Mom?).

But the amount of actual gardening space is still fairly restricted; I do live right downtown, after all, in a highly dense row of houses. While lamenting this fact the other night in a conversation with Lloyd and Kelly Alter — both fellow Torontonians and writers at — they began also lamenting the state of their own garden. Every summer, they go up to the cottage for two months, and whatever they plant in their backyard usually dies by the time they return.

“Well, why don’t I look after it?” I said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Kelly’s eyes lit up as she realized the potential of this: They could spend the next few days filling their yard with fruit and vegetable seedlings, give me a quick briefing on which plants need what kind of care, show me where all the tools are and how to get in, then relax up at their cottage knowing I’d be dropping by the Toronto homestead on a regular basis to water, weed and maybe aerate the soil.

By September, there’d be a solid harvest.

What’s in it for me? Well, the Alters have done all the purchasing and planting ahead of time and have also offered to split the bounty (providing I don’t kill everything!), and in the mean time, I get some extra gardening practice. It’s kind of like a community garden or an allotment, but more straightforward — in a word, I’m garden-sitting.

So from time to time, over the next couple months, I’ll be blogging about my experiences in surrogate urban gardening, posting lots of photos so Lloyd and Kelly can check in on my progress from the cottage and see how things are going. To begin, here’s a pic of me weeding around the kale plants earlier this afternoon, snapped by Jacob, who claimed he was too jet-lagged and full of ribs to help:


Er, yeah. Ignore the cleavage please. Anyway, I was mostly weeding, but also clipping back some dead parts of the rose bushes, aerating the soil a bit and making sure everything was watered. Some things are looking pretty good: The lettuce is still alive, the squash and zucchini plants are growing, the basil is healthy. But the Alters seem to have a lot more animal issues than me: The kale was being eaten by some sort of bug, a lot of the bell pepper and bean seedlings are now only tiny stalks, and the tomato plant… well, see for yourself:


I don’t know what got into that. Either way, we’ll see how things go — maybe I’ll bring around some of my organic slug bait and fertilizer next time, or rearrange their chicken wire to make it more animal-proof. I’m also going to wear sturdier gloves — those rose thorns are killer!

That’s it for now! Happy gardening, everyone!

21 Responses to Garden-sitting for the Alters (Part 1)

  1. kibbles says:

    Oh no, that poor tomato plant!

    One tip I read to prevent bugs from gnawing on veggies and plants is to blend a head of garlic with a few cups of water as well as possible, strain out any chunky bits and then mix with a gallon of water and spray your plants with it with a little hand sprayer. Try that!

  2. PeyPey says:

    Thanks for that tip Kibbles! I’m going to try it too!

  3. dave says:


    How are you dealing with aphids with the pesticide ban? There is an infestation due to the small lady bug population this year. Got any green ideas?


    • Dave,

      Our red maple was infested with aphids this year. I tried spraying with high presured water – no luck. I understand that some nurseries sell lady bugs. I was thinking about that, but then the 30 degree weather hit and the aphids are almost history — and I’ve seen more lady bugs on the tree lately.

  4. Can I come over and play too?

  5. KitKat says:

    I tried the garlic method once and it didn’t help. Course, my problems were beetles and a neighbor’s cat, it may work on nibbly squirrels. Hot pepper tea, ground cayenne and vics vapor rub (camphor keeps the flies off) finally worked.

  6. Condo Blues says:

    I’m garden sitting my neighbor’s container garden this week. She just asked me to water her plants, but I noticed a lot of dead leaves on some of her plants so I removed them. I don’t want those plants to die on my watch. Her watch maybe, but not mine!

  7. Dahlia says:

    That definitely looks like slug damage. Try sprinkling some crushed eggshells around everything. All the rain we’re getting -is it raining as much in Toronto as it is in Montreal?- is a boon for the slugs. Have fun garden-sitting!

  8. Heyboy says:

    Hey, nice rack! Spice rack I mean, after you grow some spices.

  9. pat says:

    Ah, my Canadian daughter having trouble identifying a maple tree!! Underneath is euronymus (plain and variagated), a great shrub for shady areas and winter colour.

  10. jinman28 says:

    Hi there!
    Crunched up eggshells around the tomato plants. Slugs crawl over them and get sliced to ribbons while doing it.
    Yes, I know I’m diabolical, but it’s them or me, baby! 🙂

  11. viola says:

    try marigold plants around the tomatoes – they grow nicely with tomatoes and keep the slugs away. i’ve tried garlic, cayenne – everything – it seems to spice things up for the squirrels rather than keep them away….

  12. Kelley Ray says:

    As an avid gardener…I really enjoy others’ trials and tribulations in the soil.
    I too took some time (actually about 15 years!) to ‘greenify’ my family’s home & lifestyle… lots of little steps really add up.
    Keep up the great green crusade!

  13. Beatrice says:

    Be really careful about Virgina creepers – they will strangle the other plants in your garden and watch for Junipers…they make soil extremely acidic!

  14. Josh says:

    Ive been told to use a dish of beer, ( not your favorite) the slugs are attracted to it then they end up drowning in it.

    and or kosher salt near the plant unfortuantly it will harm the poor slug but save your tomato plants

  15. Sorcha says:

    Beer traps for slugs! Using the cheapest, nastiest beer you can find (generally Dutch Gold or a cheap Polish import here). You can also reuse plastic food containers, if they’re shallow enough, instead of saucers. It works really well, although you do have to keep refilling them regularly, particularly if it rains and the beer gets diluted!

    Although, those tomatoes don’t look like they have slug damage, more like they’ve been pecked by birds or eaten by some sort of internal grub. Any glisteny silver slug trails about?

  16. Kerri says:

    Small containers placed flush with the soil level, filled with beer attract lots of slugs. I just dump the dead ones on top of my soil, I believe the nutrients will be ‘reused’.
    Check out the link to the garden centre I used to work at in Kanata. We’ve been organic for over 10 years! There is a plethora of information there.

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