Raking leaves is a chore transformed to a simple pleasure, these days. What is that shift that comes with even the palest sense of ownership? To want to nurture the garden, assist in its beauty and richness.
p>Now I rake with great joy in the physical work, pleased by the change from a patterned lawn to a clear one. Oh! How good to begin to settle into seasonal tasks. I rake up leaves to mulch round plants and protect beds of soil from drumming rains, to repress weeds, to layer with kitchen scraps and enrich our compost for next year’s vegetables. I’m amazed to find myself wishing for more leaves to produce leaf mould. In the rocky highlands the soil is thin, so I’m greedy for earth. Waves of red and gold drop from the trees along the lake, and my arms grow tired and recover in time for the next wave. I like to think of the first old gardener here, doing the same. When the trees are bare, the garden will be cosily put to bed.
There’s such a pleasing industriousness in preserving a little something for winter. Quick as a fruit-infused liqueur and just as easy, is preserving in olive oil. I took my first crack at infusing oil with the last of summer’s basil, just before cold nights could claim it.
Olive oil preserves are a fine old tradition. You’ll want a sterile jar, good quality olive oil, and freshly picked basil, clean and dry.
The key is to be sure that the olive oil covers the basil, and to top it up when needed – eventually you can scoop the herbs out so you needn’t do this. If you’d like a smaller amount of basil oil, chop the herbs finely and drown them in enough oil to cover. I so look forward to drizzling basil-infused olive oil on homemade bread or pizza. Glorious.
Carved into the bark of a tall tree by the lake, now so overgrown that we cannot make it out, there is an aged message.
Unmistakably, a heart; perhaps, some letters, that old declaration, one plus the other. Did a young lover cut initials into the tree? Was it the old botanist, great-grandfather of the lake, who built our cottage, and the great-grandmother who designed the place? Such a sweet old fashioned sculptural proclamation of love.
At this moment, we’re in a cottage on a tiny lake in the woods, at the southern tip of Vancouver Island. This cottage was in our family one way or another for twenty years, through fascinating circumstances, and I have vivid memories of it. It is exquisitely beautiful here, the sort of place one never wants to leave. But it isn’t the lake I wanted to tell you about, just yet. I have a project for you. Our neighbours are wonderful, and took us through their beautiful vegetable garden. One of their projects is so utterly astonishing and inspiring, I can hardly choose whether to sit down and show you or rush off to do it myself, right this minute.
It isn’t pretty like a lake, I know, but bear with me. My friend found this idea by way of another friend, by way of Pinterest, by way of a lovely site. I pass it enthusiastically along to you, like a fine recipe. Sprouting celery! Simply cut off the base of the celery, and sit it in water for a couple of days.
Then plant it. The new celery will spring up from the old plant, rooting down like a cutting, sprouting up like cut-and-come-again lettuce. Goodness, how pleasing is that? I declare I shall set my children to sprouting a row of them, immediately. There are many other plants you can try this with. I think so. Edible science projects, my favourite.
I’m feeling like Monet about his lilies, when it comes to making images of the lake, if you’d like to see – and more about its stories here soon.
Though every day is bursting, and rarely lets up, though this marks the last of April, there is still time to start a vegetable garden. Just a few minutes one day, to choose some seeds, a few more the next, to prepare containers or, lucky you, a bed. Get some good compost in, pick a bright spot. You need only decide how many seeds to plant, how widely, how deeply, the packet will tell you all of this. Get them firmed in and watered. Keeping them damp, perhaps with a thumb-sprinkler, til they sprout is probably the hardest bit. Plant up another round of some things in a couple of weeks, and keep them rolling all summer! Finding these few minutes for vegetable gardening is something I never regret.
If you needed something to make you feel industrious and grounded, even a row of potted herbs will accomplish it. At our house the children take care of watering the seedlings. Food becomes education. Later I’ll help them tie up a frame for the peas to grow up, and give the kale collars to keep cabbage moths from laying eggs. Not much to it yet, hardly even a weed. Our vegetable garden is small, no rambling garden with a greenhouse, just a few containers squeezed into my mother’s beautiful garden, but I am as pleased by it as if it were a many times the size. Just to grow some of our food is a great pleasure.
This year I’m just growing lettuces, kale, peas, beans, strawberries and a few herbs in the container garden. I think you remember my doorstep garden, do you? For more small, do-able, inspiring traditional projects, don’t forget to sign up to appleturnover’s quarterly.