The arrival of Labour Day signifies the return of routine and ritual in many of our lives. Those with school age children will know exactly what I’m talking about; back to school brings a whole host of ordered activities from making lunches to homework to sports teams. It’s a whirlwind until the dust settles and the memory of summer holidays fades into the haze of September busyness.
Rituals are a very important part of our lives and if you think about it gardening is full of them. We do everything by the seasons out in the garden and with the exception of unusual years (like this one) when everything is either weeks ahead or weeks behind the same things tend to happen around the same time each and every year.
Digging potatoes is a ritual that my daughter looked forward to for years at her grandparents’ house. When she got the word to bring her “potato digging boots” she was thrilled. Months before she would have planted the potatoes and then helped Grandma keep an eye out for potato beetles as the plants grew through the season (10 cents a beetle bounty).
Shelling peas was a ritual when I was growing up. We’d sit with an ice cream bucket full of pods, sometimes on the back porch steps, or in front of the TV if the Montreal Expos were playing and pop pods open with the thumb, run the thumb inside the pod and direct the peas into another bucket.
It was May, the garden was growing quickly, school wasn’t ending quickly enough and the summer loomed ahead of us. Another ritual.
My fondest garden ritual took place over many Saturday mornings as I was growing up. I don’t remember when it started but as my grandfather got older I began cutting his lawn every Saturday morning. Each week was a repeat of the previous one. I’d arrive on my bike, get out the mower, run it around the yard and then come in for lunch.
We had our TV trays in front of the television (Grandpa had colour and cable!) and watch the Baseball Game of the Week. We’d each have a big bowl of ice cream for dessert and when the game was over I’d head home. This was my Saturday ritual for several years and even today I can’t cut my own grass without thinking about those mornings we shared.
Change happens so quickly and so regularly in our society today, even more so as you get older! It’s comforting to do something that you know you’ve done every year and will continue to do every year. That’s the nature of gardening.
It’s hard to describe but there’s a feeling that I get when I take the rake and the spading fork down from the garage wall and walk out into the spring garden. It’s the same feeling when the first lettuce seedlings emerge from the cold spring ground and when the lawn is cut for the first time. That feeling will surface when I rake the leaves off the lawn next month.
On the surface they’re mere chores but they’re more than that. They’re celebrations of ritual, things we’ve always done and things our parents did. I don’t know if my daughter will grow potatoes when she has her own garden but I’d be willing to bet she will.