Merilyn Simonds title: A New Leaf: Growing With My Garden


For most of my life, I’ve grown the food my family eats and the flowers that bring beauty to our table. I’ve often thought, as the world where I live became affluent and the drift toward urbanization became a tsunami, that the skills I have accumulated would wither with me. No one needed to know how to cure garlic or when to harvest beans or the best time of year to prune an apple tree, how to make jam without adding pectin or cook a compost pile. Certainly no one was interested in how to make a chicken come when it’s called or which flowers can be eaten, which will cure and which can kill. Once, this was essential knowledge. Not any more, I thought.

But the wheel has turned and here we are again, wanting slow food, uncontaminated organically grown local food, food that we can trace to its home soil. Flowers without that bitter florist scent. Blooms we can eat and drink and float in the tub and savour every minute of their brief lives, and ours.

And something else, too. We hardly know how to express it, it’s such a deep and diffuse yearning, like an ache with no clear cause, though we know when it is soothed. The same urge made our childish selves splash in puddles and fashion caves in the woods—an urge that is satisfied by peeling back the grass and laying a hand on the warm and living earth.

This book is the story of my gardens at The Leaf. At the turn of the millennium, we bought a two–hundred–year–old stone house situated in what was left of an old orchard after the Great Ice Storm of ’98. We opened the soil for vegetable beds, fruit beds, tea beds, herb beds, perennial beds, a woodland garden, a garden of ephemerals, another for native plants, and a Hortus Familia where I grow species that honour our mothers and fathers and where we bury our pets. In all, twenty–six beds. An alphabet of plants. That’s it, I told my Beloved. When I feel the urge for another, I’ll write about it instead.

On March 21, 2009, the first day of spring, I launched a website called The Frugalista Gardener. Since then, every week I post an essay prompted by my gardens. These are not instructional pieces, although a discerning reader might pick up hints on pre–sprouting beans and splitting hostas. Reading them is more like spending an hour wandering the garden paths with me, kneeling in the beds, crushing a slug, pushing a hand into the soil, marvelling at what is there.

What people respond to on the website, and in this book, too, I hope, apart from the joy we share in the presence of things botanical, are the stories, the characters: the Rosarian next door who calmly teaches, the Frisian who comes once a week to weed, the Garden Guru who guides the evolution of the beds, my Beloved who muses laconically on all that we do.

These short personal essays are intimate, meditative, and often funny, filled with wonder and a questioning eye. They evolve through the course of a gardening year, moving backward and forward in time, from the making of this garden to that of every garden I’ve ever worked, meandering into some of the great gardens of the world, coming back always to the soil within reach, to the pleasures and frustrations that force me to grow in my garden, too. For who can watch the brief cycle of a pea without contemplating one’s own life trajetory?

Through it all is woven the motto that guides my hand. Never work harder than you have to; live as gloriously as you can.