I’ve been enjoying the tomatoes that I planted in my bed at the community garden, and when I stopped by the other day to check out what was ready to harvest I noticed something: two sunflowers planted at the end of the bed had blossomed, turning their yellow faces to the sun.
I can be a bit forgetful, but I was positive that I hadn’t planted any sunflowers: just various types of tomato plants (all of which are doing very well) and four pepper plants (not doing so well, but they were a last-minute addition, and I wasn’t expecting great things). The sunflowers were therefore a surprise, but a welcome one.
Looking around the garden, I saw that mine wasn’t the only bed sporting sunflowers: they had sprung up in several of the other beds as well, including one that was otherwise empty. I can only think that some kind person decided to imitate Johnny Appleseed, only with sunflowers, and their gesture has paid off, several weeks later.
As for the tomatoes: well, they remind me of those long-ago days at my maternal grandparents’ house at Skaha Lake. Grandpa Grant was a keen gardener, and as he and Grandma developed the property they planted a variety of fruit trees, along with a vegetable patch where Grandpa carefully cultivated tomatoes. My favourite lunch there was a plain and simple tomato sandwich: white bread, mayonnaise, salt, and thickly-sliced tomatoes fresh from the garden.
Looking back on those days, I realize how fortunate I was to have ready access to fresh fruit and vegetables there. The apricots and cherries were first, followed by raspberries, the canes taller than I was and the fruit bursting with flavour. Then would come several varieties of apples, and finally the prune plums, which were delicious, but also a sad indication that summer was drawing to a close and it was time to go back to school.
I should also mention the wild asparagus that grew up from the lake, along the fence line separating Grandma and Grandpa’s property from that of the Teasdales’ next door. As a child, I could never understand the grown-ups’ excitement over the tender shoots of asparagus, one of the few foods that I would not eat. As a grown-up now myself for lo, these many years, I can only shake my head at having turned up my nose at such a delicacy.
It wasn’t just at The Lake that I enjoyed fresh fruit and vegetables. Growing up in Richmond, there was an abundance of farmers’ markets along Steveston Highway, and of course fruit stands galore peppered the route to either the Okanagan or the Ashcroft area, our two summer destinations. Now, of course, I have easy access to the bounty at Desert Hills and Horsting’s, so all my life I have been blessed (or spoiled, depending on your point of view) when it comes to fresh produce.
Just how blessed (or spoiled) I was came home to me when I moved to Britain in 1992. The south of England is known for its apples, but the vast majority of the fresh fruit there has to be imported from places like Israel, Morocco, and South Africa, with prices that reflect the distance they have to travel. Early on in my life there I wanted some peaches, and found them sold in packs of four, carefully nestled in trays. They looked like an art display, and when I saw the price tag I realized why. I remember thinking “I want to eat them, not put them on a shelf and admire them,” but bought them anyway, only to be disappointed by the weak and watery taste of them. They weren’t a patch on the luscious fruit I remembered from home, picked fresh from the tree.
It makes me appreciate even more what was available to me when I was growing up, and what I have access to now: fresh fruit and vegetables grown close to home that won’t break the bank. The sunflowers at the community garden? A wonderful, and welcome, bonus. Thank you!