Family garden brings isolation salvation

June 2020
Alice Mendelson

Isolation salvation came to us by a 1’ x 1’ green piece of hard plastic. Somewhere in our travels, I came across this ingenious square marker that indicates how many plants can be planted within a square foot, with convenient holes indicating where they should be planted.  Radishes? 16 per square foot.  Tomatoes? One per foot. Shallots? Four.  This little green square sat in my kitchen for months.  

“What is it?” The kids asked.  “Send it back,” my husband suggested. It was a vibrant, odd-shaped dust collector.

Then suddenly I was gifted with endless fillable hours with my four  children.  We built planter boxes and ordered dirt to fill them.  When the truck arrived before 7 early one morning, the kids greeted the driver ecstatically in their pajamas. (He was the first person we had seen in our backyard in months.)

On cold and rainy days, we looked at seed catalogues and plotted our plots.  We watched our seedlings grow on our windowsill and planted cold-loving plants as early as we could.  The idea behind the square foot garden is that it allows you to grow as much as possible, as early as possible, in a small space.  The square foot garden has become my metaphor for living in this pandemic.  I want our family to flourish amidst less than ideal conditions. 

I pulled out an article my mother-in-law had sent me ages ago about growing a winter garden, in Montreal.  Knowing too well the reality of a Montreal winter, growing a winter garden in southern Ontario seemed much more feasible and a good way to make use of the planters now occupying our backyard.  So now, as everyone else plans their summer gardens, we are planning our winter one.  

Making a winter garden, like being with kids 24/7, requires persistence and flexibility.  I will have to gear up and get outside to uncover and water the garden in frigid temperatures.  I’ll also have to accept that some plants may not actually grow, but remain dormant instead until the temperatures warm up.  Who knows? Maybe their roots will grow steadily beneath the snow where we can’t see them.  Similarly, my kids won't be able to show me their projects and marks, formative assessments of what they have learned these past few months.  Maybe my kids appear dormant at this time.  Grumpy, introverted, and sleeping too much.  That’s okay, it doesn’t mean they won’t flourish with time. 

While some people might think that a winter garden is simply making the best of a bad situation, the hidden truth is that some vegetables actually do better in winter conditions.  Cold-loving veggies taste better and sweeter when exposed to cooler temperatures.  My gut tells me that some of our kids are growing just fine too.  Even in this pandemic madness in our chaotic, messy homes, kids are learning and growing in flawed and imperfect conditions.  We forget that kids, like vegetables, often only need the basics to thrive.  Love, sunshine, food, and a bit of weeding.