Newfoundland #1: gardens gone missing

My husband and parents and I had been here in Newfoundland (“Best place in the world,” pronounced Chris, our B&B host) for several days before it occurred to me that I’d not seen a single vegetable garden. It’s true that the soil is excessively stony,

Nfld_ps_gdn_stones

so much so that in some flat areas it seems that every dip holds a pond, which simply doesn’t drain.

It also rains practically every other day, which may explain why there seem to be so few water-saving devices in evidence. No low-flow showerheads here, even in the B&Bs. Coming from a drought-prone area like Montana, it takes some getting used to.

But since the fishery industry collapsed a couple of decades ago, the province has struggled. True, there’s a fledgling off-shore oil industry, something that Chris, a Reserve Naturalist at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve  (“Best job in the world,” he says), keeps a sharp eye on, since the reserve is a bird sanctuary, home to one of the largest gannet populations in the world. The tourism we’re part of is also being promoted by the provincial government. Still, many people are hurting.

So I’m surprised not to see more vegetable gardens. In crowded towns with straight streets laid out in a grid, gardens could be hidden in the back yards, out of sight of the street. The only city I’ve seen like that, though, is the capital St. John’s, where the downtown plots are too small for all but the tiniest garden. Most towns eschew any sort of linear plan, and out here on the treeless peninsulas, scoured by sea winds, the widely spaced white houses can be seen from all angles, as can their lawns and occasional flower gardens. If there were vegetable gardens, they’d be visible.

As the picture above testifies, we did at length find one–right here at the aptly named Cliff House, our B&B by the sea.

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Plentiful, beautiful cabbage, sturdy broccoli, most of which has been allowed to go to flower, and tall onions, along with a lone squash, which is producing tiny straight, yellow squash.

The winds here, even on a normal day, can be intense, so more delicate plants simply wouldn’t survive. Looking at the soil, one might wonder how anything grows at all, but the rocky, boggy, land is densely covered in a springy mat of heathers, blueberries, and other plants. Apparently the sea winds carry much more than salt; they’re also rich in potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus, and the fogs that occur so frequently condense the nutrients right on hungry plant leaves. Surely they feed the vegetables as well as the wild plants.

It’s impossible to imagine drought here. I wondered at first why the garden hadn’t been set closer to the house, where the land is more level, instead of fifty yards away on a slight slope, but realized eventually that the slope is essential to prevent the garden from turning into a bog. Indeed, the deep trenches between the raised beds run downhill, probably to keep the plants from simply drowning.

As soon as I can, I’ll check with our hostess Priscilla to confirm this deduction. Since she’s a botanist as well as a folklorist and practicing social worker AND mayor of the nearest town, Branch, where she and Chris both grew up, she’ll know.

2 Responses to Newfoundland #1: gardens gone missing

  1. I’m reading backwards, as so often happens with me. I was born in St. John’s (properly pronounced “Sin Jans bye!”) and know well why the province is nicknamed The Rock. I call it The Rock of My Heart. Gardening there can be a challenge, but what I love are the roadside gardens along the highway on the west coast, around Gros Morne and heading north-east towards the Labrador. Did you get to see those too? They’re often quite lush with crops, and fenced to keep the moose and other mauraders out.

  2. We didn’t get any further north than Gros Morne, but I heard about those gardens. Why the ditches? Wouldn’t stuff get washed away by rain? It does tend to rain a fair bit in those parts, I noticed…
    And you were born in St. Johns! What a great town–
    Jodi, would you let me know if I get anything about Nfld (or Canada) seriously wrong? I have made one or two errors in my life, and I prefer to keep the count low. Thanks
    –Kate

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