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Getting Down and Dirty
by Eleanor Tylbor
by Eleanor Tylbor


Eleanor Tylbor has been a freelance writer and columnist for more than twenty years. A resident of Laval, Quebec, Canada, she began her career as a columnist writing for weekly papers and continues to freelance a column covering local news for “The Chomedy News.”

She has also freelanced articles for Internet sites in addition to providing human-interest pieces for various dailies, and is a monthly contributor to the site, sharing her humorous observations and gardening-angst with gardening aficionados.

She is now into balcony gardening.

Blog The (Somewhat) Complete Gardener

May 25, 2003

This was the week for my customary pre-season stroll through the garden to assess the winter damage. Anticipating the worst since it was a particularly brutal winter I brought along a pair of shears to perform emergency procedures, and/or to execute surgical removals where necessary. Surprisingly, most of them managed to make it through, but there were several that appeared to be hovering somewhere between this world and the hereafter. As expected a few of the weaker plants will be getting up-close-and-personal with the composter. Upon reflection a composter could be considered the great horticultural equalizer, in that both your pedigreed and common garden species end up side-by-side. A little food for thought...obviously very little.

Last fall in a moment of temporary insanity caused by the terrifying thought that gardening would be suspended for six months, I expanded the flower bed in the back garden. It didn't occur to me or maybe I pushed the thought to the back of my mind that a larger bed means more work, and there was no rational reason for making it larger, anyway. Logically, I should re-seed the area with grass but since when does logic enter into the picture, where gardening is concerned?

I'm presently at the embryonic planning stages of the selection process...(translation: I'm trying to figure out how to make it visually acceptable without straining every bone and joint in my body in the process)...and hoping that it'll all be worth it in the end. After all - I'm a Virgo and people born under this sign are reputed to be the earth tillers, and born with green thumb.

Thinking back to my origins, it was inevitable that I take to gardening with a vengeance since dirt has always played an important part of my life. As a child it could be said and frequently was by onlookers, that my mud cakes were unequalled in form and texture. Instinctively, I knew the exact amount of water and dry soil to achieve the right consistency for the creation of perfect patties.

"That girl has the makings of a good gardener, when she grows up," adults would comment admiringly. In retrospect maybe it would have been wiser to cultivate this aptitude given the evolution of my proficiency in the garden.

According to older family members who keep records of these things, getting down and dirty - in the gardening sense - has always been in our blood. We can trace back our gardening roots to Russia at the turn of the century, when great-great grandmother tilled a small vegetable plot. Mainly she grew potatoes, which was their main dietary staple, but great-great grandfather had his own particular reasons for raising this particular crop, other than for eating purposes. Seems that he had a penchant for homemade vodka to keep his blood circulating and to help see him through the cold winter Russian nights.

After deep thought and meditation I've concluded that the problem lies within my soil, or clay to be more precise. Over the years I've attempted to deal with the problem by adding various soil amendments including peat moss and shrimp compost, which has helped somewhat. I've also tried tossing in some sheep manure every couple of years upon the advice of a neighbor, and even added rotting leaves in autumn since it was easier than expending energy raking them up.

I'm open for suggestions and take advice from anyone who appears to be knowledgeable, especially if it appears they will share some plant cuttings. Last summer my neighbor, Mary, invited me over to discuss dirt. There I was, under the assumption that she had some juicy tidbits of gossip to share about neighborly peccadilloes when in reality, she just wanted to show me how she made her rich and loamy soil. I mean, soil is soil is...Goes to show where my mind is at.

My recent inspection revealed that there has been soil erosion all along the base of the wooden picket fence in the back garden, necessitating replacement of earth. The last time we did soil replacement work was when we innocently ordered a yard of topsoil on the advice of fellow gardener, who appeared to know about soil measurement. A yard of earth for the uninitiated is...a lot of earth, with accent on the "a lot of". A dozen bags will do just fine, thank you. My Russian great-grandmother would have understood.

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