Garden-sitting for the Alters (Part 1)

July 2, 2009

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!