Gadbois: On spring, distancing and gardening

Honestly, if I didn’t have my garden, I think this period of self-distancing would be a lot more difficult. With two teens and a dog at home, I am very happy with their company, but with some more clement weather now mercifully upon us, it is nice to just go outdoors into the garden on a sunny day for a breath of fresh air and to take a break from the bombardment of concerning news that we all find quite overwhelming. Gardening is, for me at least, a stress reducer and a form of exercise, both so essential to good mental health.

Nature is waking up. Birds are coming back and plants are starting to peek out of the ground. Normally, I would say let’s not go traipsing on our lawns too soon, let’s not lift the winter debris of dead grass and flower stalks until the ambient air has hit a consistent 10 degrees Celsius. But it is not a normal year is it?

So, if we are careful, we can get out there for an early start to our spring clean-up. A light raking and loosely depositing the larger debris on to our compost pile or at another spot on the perimeter of the property will allow those overwintering beneficial insects to emerge naturally and stick around. Now is a good time to over-seed the lawn too, especially since the voles, raccoons and skunks have been tunnelling into the ground in search of those yummy white grubs and leaving quite a mess behind. I call it nature’s aeration. A light topcoat of compost will provide cover and nutrients for the germinating turf seeds.

The good news is there has been a sudden uptick in interest in planting vegetables this spring and seed houses are having an unusually good year. So good, in fact, they have been flooded with an unprecedented volume of seed requests. So good, that Vesey’s have recently posted on their online site:

We have recently experienced an extraordinary increase of orders due to so many families developing an interest in growing their own food. As a result, we have had to make the very tough decision to stop accepting any new seed orders for a period of time. We realize that we need to concentrate our efforts on the processing and shipping of existing seed orders so that we can continue to meet our customers’ expectations of receiving their seed in time for planting. We value your patronage and encourage you to visit again as we will be updating this message daily.”

In checking some of the other Canadian seed houses, similar notices have been posted ranging from complete closure due to staff shortages and/or significant delays in delivery. If we can’t find seed packets at the grocery store, we might try local gardening centres which are taking online orders, accepting contactless payment and doing curb-side pickup. At time of writing, seed packets are flying off the shelves. I have noticed that some are still available at our local Carp Garden Centre.

On the subject of this developing interest in growing vegetables, my thoughts turn to the issue around community gardens like the Neighbourhood Tomato community gardens in Carp and Almonte, which has preoccupied many community groups since the pandemic regulations began here. By some oversight or misunderstanding about the purpose and role of these community gardens, the province has declared them non-essential recreational venues while allotment gardens, run by municipalities, are deemed essential. What is the difference? There are many reasons why community gardens are important, ranging from fostering community spirit to providing good locally grown food for citizens and food banks. The encouraging news now, however, is that Ottawa Public Health has just adopted a motion to “…direct the Chair of the Board of Health to write a letter to the Premier of Ontario and to the Ontario Minister of Health… to exempt outdoor allotment gardens and community gardens from the closure of outdoor recreational amenities in jurisdictions where public health measures can be implemented to support their safe operation to prevent the spread of COVID19.” 

This is good news and we look forward to a timely resolution of this matter. (ref:

The irony is now we seem to have more time on our hands because of the coronavirus distancing circumstances, with a consequent renewed interest in all things garden-related, but of course there is still uncertainty about the timing of the loosening of regulations and so access to traditional sources of planting stock at this point is curtailed. The date of the opening of our farmers’ markets is still up in the air. Plant sales, which often are held at the markets are affected. Most local garden club meetings and activities, often a source of plant sales and swaps, have been suspended until the fall.

Where can we go then to get plants? Until the garden centres are open and ready to supply, here is a suggestion: why not start a neighbourhood curb-side plant swap? A perfect time to divide and transplant is in the spring. Why not pot up some of our extra divisions, label the pot, post it on our neighbourhood social media site and/or just place them at our own curbside with a ‘free’ sign. I am going to try the latter over the coming weeks when my perennials are ready to divide, as I have some irises, hostas and others to share.

In the meantime, I will look forward to the emergence of spring bulbs – tulips and daffodils – and start to plant some vegetable seeds I have saved from last year and some which I purchased at Seedy Saturday in Almonte last February, which now seems so long ago. I will also continue to enjoy the now blooming ‘75th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands’ tulips which I forced in a flower pot inside the house last week. A true sign of spring.

Be well, stay safe and till the next time, happy gardening!

Anne Gadbois is a long-time member of the West Carleton Garden Club and its past president. Gadbois, who lives in Corkery Woods. Anne writes on the wonders and challenges of gardening in our large, geographically diverse area.