Monday, January 18, 2016

Yellowknife Made Me a Gardener

I didn’t expect Yellowknife to have gigantic tomatoes. The Canadian Territories are leashed agriculturally by northern latitudes and brief windows to grow anything that’s not a native species. Or so I thought. One random August day I found myself in Yellowknife, NWT. I wasn’t looking for gardening bliss, but rather searching for the fabled Ragged Ass Road. Wanderers have a sense of humor and Yellowknife’s historical street-namers were no different. I wanted to see for myself the street that held bragging rights to such a conspicuous name. Besides, I have a souvenir code and if I wanted one of those green and white pseudo street signs boldly declaring Ragged Ass, I needed to actually see it.

With plenty of daylight left and being pointed in the general direction, I went exploring. Besides, I wanted to walk off lunch. It turns out that culinary prowess is also a trait of Yellowknife. The salmon and whitefish made perfect, spicy bedfellows in my rosé seafood chowder. I’m still dreaming of a second bowl.

I was caught off guard by the bright blue, yellow and red houses dotted around Great Slave Lake. It was as unexpected as finding the tundra rivalled New England in autumn glory. Yellowknife and her northern sisters were drawing me in, wrapping me around their Northwest Territory fingers and I wanted to see more.

Then I looked up the road and stopped short. It wasn’t Ragged Ass, but glass! A red deck had been transformed to a greenhouse and huge tomato plants boldly filled the large space. Vibrant and lush, the plants shimmered with vitality, and daring. I had always heard the north spoken of as an unforgiving climate, but I saw the plump fruits of ingenuity, determination and adaptation correcting my misconception.

I had found a Garden of Eden north of the 60th parallel. I wanted a tomato sandwich. I wanted to hold the slick smoothness of those plucky fruits in my hands. I wanted to shove my nose deep into the leaves, inhaling the punchy fragrance tomatoes alone have.

But that was private property and I was leaving in the morning. Gawking, but aware of the setting sun, I remembered my mission to Ragged Ass Road. It was a short, partial dirt road lined with a few houses and would have been mundane except for it’s name. But I knew its secret. The unassuming road had led me to magic that day. I was not a gardener when I went to Yellowknife, but I came back one.

*I first shared this story with World Nomads. Cool site and community for those into traveling. I'm pretty sure I'm older than their typical blogger. My footloose and fancy free days of traveling, backpacking and studying in different countries is a bit tempered by a mortgage (I LOVE my house), 2-legged and 4-legged kids (whew - they are total adventurers, too!), and a heady hankering to explore backcountry backpacking and road trips with the family.

Sometimes our itineraries change focus and we find whole new adventures to play in . . .  Never stop exploring!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Seed Catalogues and Marshalltown Trowels

Look what just came in the mail this week! 
I did it, I just did a happy dance. 

Each winter around this time the West Coast seed catalogue comes in the mail and I start dreaming of new garden beds, different heirloom varieties to try, and what I can tweak what I’m doing so the plants have a stronger chance. There is something exquisitely satisfying about growing your own vegetables, fruits and kitchen herbs. 

For anyone who is reading this and feeling the least bit intimidating, don’t!! My idea of a trowel still is my archaeology Marshalltown. Even now, I still use that one instead of a proper gardening one . . . except when I borrow my daughter’s “play” garden set. My mother-in-law got them for her and those things are metal, sturdy, and perfect for a bunch of the container gardening I do. She only sometimes rolls her eyes when I ask to borrow them. “Mom, you know those are toys, right?” Not if they do the job, then they’re implements.

Can you tell I did not grow up gardening. I figured when I grew up, you know, stopped living in a tent for archaeology field seasons and stop moving every fall/winter to a new city or town for school or work, I would eventually settle in one place long enough to be able to entertain the idea of gardening. Turns out Calgary was where we did that. For the gardeners out there, Calgary is Zone 3, with some pockets of Zone 2. I didn’t know what this meant, and I’m still learning how to play with how Mother Nature in my neck of the woods, ‘er . . . prairie. But what’s a perennial elsewhere works as an annual here. Our growing season is short, but the sun is hot and plants will all of a sudden take off across your yard (true story) when they get those long hot days of 30+ (90+ fahrenheit). 

This year a raspberry patch is so on the list! And more native species, too. No need to grumble about zone 3 when there really is a plethora of plants that have always thrived quite nicely here. As far as the rest...I’ll have a flip through the catalogue, research online and scour more books to see what to add to the usual seed and plant suspects.

Speaking of zones, I have a happy little gardening story that I will share Monday about my life-changing trip up to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. The Territories are many beautiful, wondrous things, but I never expected my trip up there for work to turn me into a gardner . . . stay tuned!