A New Leaf: Growing with my Garden by Merilyn Simonds. Doubleday Canada 2011.
Merilyn Simonds gardens on an acreage near Kingston, Ontario, an hour or so distant from my own garden. It’s always interesting to compare notes with another gardener, and doubly enticing to read of gardening in these early spring days when the garden begins to beckon. In fact, A New Leaf mixes well with garden work. It is composed of a series of short essays, each of which can be readily digested over a cup of tea between weeding sessions. Originally conceived as a blog, many of the entries were first published on Simonds’ website: Frugalista Gardener. A visit there will offer you a taste of the Simonds’ style.
Simonds’ topics are diverse, but all the essays share something in common. They shine with Simonds’ passion for gardening. Many of the essays explore subjects that are central to every gardener’s experience. Is a weed just a plant that is growing in the wrong place, as is often suggested? Or something more sinister, like garlic mustard, which poisons the ground around it. As Simonds’ notes, “If you garden, you weed.” Seed catalogues are another topic dear to a gardener’s heart, especially a northern gardener, who seeks out that ray of hope in the midst of winter. And plant supports. Who hasn’t watched in dismay as the peonies, their flowers in full, magnificent bloom, are smashed to the ground by rain? But how to stake them up without stiffly imprisoning the plants?
I laughed when Simonds relates how the movie Amelie spurred her search for a garden gnome. I agreed that plants can be sentimental reminders, like forget-me-nots, which remind Simonds of her mom who died of Alzheimer’s. I was delighted when Simonds tracks down the identity of a favorite giant plant: Persicaria polymorpha, Giant Fleeceflower. I once tracked it down too, and have one growing in my garden. I shared the exasperation of looking for lost tools that you set down only moments before, and the surprise of digging up buried treasure, glass and such. Personally, I’ve found lots of marbles, small cars, shoes and even Mike the Monster. My favorite entries are about plants. I especially enjoyed Of Icebergs and Italians, about lettuce, and wished for more plant-focused entries.
Over the course of the book, Simonds follows the flow of the seasons over the year and the evolution of her garden over time. She also introduces a supporting cast of characters, from her husband, My Beloved, to the Garden Guru to the Frisian…who comes once a week to weed! What a marvel! What luxury! In all, A New Leaf is a pleasurable and relaxing read that most any gardener is likely to enjoy.