Solitude with a Spade – A New Garden Journal

Gardening is balm for the soul

Coronavirus is here and until there is a treatment or a vaccine, at least a year away, it is sensible to be realistic and accept that social distancing at least is going to be with us for a lengthy period. I am not an anti-social person but I dislike crowds and large gatherings and so this will probably not be a major inconvenience once we are all used to it … but we need to have things to fill the days with for all that.

In my case it probably means that instead of dividing my outdoors hours to three gardens (home, the Fritz garden and the Arboretum) I will have almost all those hours to be spent in the home patch. Last year we took the first steps towards “rewilding” the lawn with native flowers and other plants so this year we can really make that work. J, of course, spends her hands-in-the-soil time in our garden anyway so I will be the man who digs once more.

Not entirely off at a tangent, there are a couple of books that are appropriate for the circumstances in which we find ourselves …

And so … this week we had some elevated daytime temperatures and the snow started to melt quite rapidly. Nights are still very cold but we are over the hump of the vernal equinox and in the past day or two snowdrops have tentatively poked their heads out. Snowdrops are simply the BEST.

Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles have returned from the south while we briefly enjoyed a Song Sparrow on the deck with our morning tea. The Sparrow, I must make clear, was on the deck while we were inside behind the glass. Canada Geese are flying over in large and small V-formations and the sun is shining. Meanwhile, as is happening everywhere this year local walks involve waving to friends at a distance, or across the road whichever is greater. Groceries are delivered by electric vehicles from the environmentally aware company we patronise ( – check them out if you live in Montreal, their salads actually taste of something instead of bland and crunchy.

The internet keeps us in touch.

Meanwhile – the Garden of Solitude.  As the snow melts, grass is reappearing and, as mentioned above, snowdrops are to be seen. Birds are singing from the trees and squabbling over the seed we put out for them and the squirrels are being a nuisance finding ever more creative ways to get into the bird feeders. One of the squirrels is actually succeeding to the extent that we had to reorganise the deck to try to make the feeder closest to the house a bit more difficuly for him to raid. Fingers crossed.

The ground is still frozen and it will be a month before any leaves appear and six weeks before the “green spring haze”  is on the trees – after which spring will all happen at once with the flowers that spread themselves decently over a period of weeks in England all appearing pretty much simultaneously. Then it will be summer.

During the “socially distant” months ahead we will post occasional updates of our trials and tribulations in the garden and perhaps some people out in the electronic world will be encouraged to join us and think thoughts that are not, for a short while, of viruses and hand sanitizers.

“Rather, go away, Flee into concealment. And have your masks and subtlety, that you may be mistaken for what you are not, or feared a little. And don’t forget the garden, the garden with golden trelliswork. And have people around you who are as a garden, or as music on the waters in the evening, when the day is turning into memories. Choose the good solitude, the free, playful, light solitude that gives you, too, the right to remain good in some sense.”
– Frederick Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, #25, 1886

Thus, we have plans. Last year the lawn was uncut except for a couple of paths and we watched to see what would grow when allowed to. Four species of clovers, I recall. Wild asters (the insects adore those) and coneflowers and some other good things that brought the insects back and pleased the soul. This year we will develop that framework and plant carefully chosen native plants that will attract more insects – bees and butterflies – and in the winter to come provide seeds for the smaller birds that stay here in the cold.

There will be sour cherries in time to pick, preceded by glorious blossom. There will be blackcurrants and rhubarb. Milkweed and cardinal flowers and viburnum flowers and berries for the birds. There will be the pond too.

Then the front garden needs a work over – some big trees there and fairly deep shade but there are things than can be done to improve it once the spring daffodils have done their work.

This is going to be fun – come along for the ride with us.

“I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.”
– Henry David Thoreau