Turf & Rec

Gardening, Alberta style

June 14, 2010  By Ian Robinson

Gardening season has arrived on the prairies.

That means I have two weeks to spend hundreds of dollars, plant a bunch of stuff and watch my dreams for my garden wither and die.

If I’d grown up here and didn’t know any better, it’d be OK.

But I used to live in southern Ontario and the process of gardening worked like this: In April, grab a handful of seeds, throw them up in the air and stand back.


Pretty soon, you were up to your glutes in flowers and corn and squash and pumpkins and tomatoes.

Note to urbanites who’ve never had dirt under their fingernails: No. A “glute” is not a vegetable.


Although a well-formed pair of lady glutes has been known to resemble nothing so much as an upsidedown strawberry.

If you squint a little.

And if you’re growing something a little illegal hidden between the rows of corn.
Backyard gardens where I lived were so prolific, you could eat veggies three times a day, put up preserves until Mr. Mason got sick of making jars, and still the plants kept producing.

It was like fighting a benign invasion of vitamin-rich, leafy zombies.

When you went to visit a friend, you’d bring a big basket full of cabbages and tomatoes and zucchinis and hand them to your buddy, relieved that you’d finally got rid of some of the crap growing insanely in your back yard.

But the downside was that when you left, your friend would hand you a giant basket of his surplus vegetables, and you’d grin through clenched teeth so you didn’t call him names and totter off home beneath the weight of his agricultural bounty.

I was starting to think that cucumbers were a crafty alien race who’d invented humanity just so they could be driven from door to door.

True story: We had a really late fall one year so the garden just kept on producing and producing and producing and finally, I’d had enough.

I borrowed a friend’s roto-tiller and just ran it back and forth in the back yard until everything was destroyed. Then I poured gasoline on what remained and set it on fire.
I was standing there before a mini-landscape that looked like Saddam Hussein’s retreat towards Baghdad when my wife came home. She fell into my arms, crying a little and laughing a little, all the while murmurring: “Thank God. Somebody had to act.”

A southern Ontario garden is kind of like one of those annoying overachiever kids with annoying overachiever parents that you run into trying to set up a play date so annoying overachiever kid can play with your kid.

You phone and this is what you get: “Oh, tomorrow just won’t work. Hmm, let’s see. It’s karate Monday and ballet Tuesdays and Fridays. Sarah tutors poor children in math on Thursdays. No, Saturday’s no good. Sarah’s running her first triathalon that day in Kelowna. We don’t expect her to win this one. We’ll just be happy if she finishes. Sunday’s bad because she’ll still be on I.V. fluids replacing the electrolytes she lost on the final leg of the Ironman. I don’t think they should call it Ironman, do you? It discourages children, especially girls, from competing. All next week is out. Sarah’s advising the Obama administration on remaking its image with the under-25 demographic…”

While the mom is still talking, you hang up the phone and turn to your kid and say: “You aren't allowed to hang out with Sarah.”

“But she’s the coolest kid in my kindergarten class!”

“I don’t care. She’s a bad influence.”

Ontario gardens are like a Sarah.

To say gardening is not like that in Alberta is like saying that Jessica Simpson is rather unlike Stephen Hawking.

I mean, the two things are really, really different.

In Ontario, the successful gardener hears stuff like: “Oh, how beautiful. My goodness, you’ve reinterpreted the traditional Japanese template in a manner that defies criticism.”
In Alberta, compliments are phrased like this: “Oh, cool. Your tree lived. Too bad about all the flowers. Hail, right?”

Hail yes.

A weather map illustrating Alberta’s summer weather looks like the inside of a schizophrenic’s head.

You’ve got your sunny scorching 30 degrees Celsius followed by a thunderstorm with hail followed by some heavy rain, a tornado and maybe … if you’re real lucky … a light dusting of snow.

You know what we call the time period where all that occurs here in Alberta?

A Tuesday in June. That’s what we call it.

I thought about giving up, but then somebody introduced me to the term “xeriscaping.”
Xeriscaping is a gardening term that means “I quit,” but sounds like you’re still doing something.

Saying you’re xeriscaping is the gardening equivalent of breaking up with a girl and saying, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Either way you’re giving up.

You just grow in your backyard what Mother Nature planned to put there.

That means you can feel all environmentally superior to the guy next door who is still planting stuff and using chemistry to try to keep it all alive.

There’s only one problem.

You know what Mother Nature planned for my back yard?

A couple of big rocks and some gravel.

But I figure once I can convince my wife to let me throw down some of that green indoor/outdoor carpeting, we’ll be able to walk out there in bare feet again.

It’ll be just lovely.

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