Garden helpers come in all shapes and sizes, including David Lowther with his tractor. (Mary Lowther photo)

Garden helpers come in all shapes and sizes, including David Lowther with his tractor. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: The pros and cons of helping hands in the garden

Even the most grounded of us need an extra pair of hands.

By Mary Lowther

Solitary gardening can be good for the soul, tilling the soil with your hands while your mind considers the Earth. There are times, however, when the number of seedlings to be planted, weeds to be removed and invading varmints to be repelled are simply too much, and even the most grounded of us need an extra pair of hands. This is where David comes in.

It’s his own fault, really. I made a few (hundred) remarks over the years about how much I would like a larger garden but it was David who decided to buy the acreage across the road. It was David who cut the trees, pulled the stumps, cleared and fenced the land and then turned it over to me as if his part of the project was complete and I could till the land while he moved on to pastures new, returning betimes to help me consume the harvest. Imagine his shock when he learned this was not his future! Besides, he is more affordable than hired help and exempt from labour legislation. I also know where he sleeps.

He does have his drawbacks, though. I can ignore the whining, but David is pretty obsessive compulsive; when he hangs a picture, for example, he uses a laser level. Just imagine how he can complicate trimming a cedar hedge. Nonetheless, once shown the difference between the weeds and the crop he was easily trained to use a hoe, although he takes a bit longer to weed because he has to dig out every sprout down to the deepest root, but once he’s done those weeds are history.

I have to admit I enjoy having company. When I had an allotment garden I enjoyed talking with my experienced neighbours, who shared the benefit of their years of experience. It was pleasant to swap stories and tips with people who knew how to use the business end of a shovel, but when the work piled up (often quite literally) they had their own plots to tend and good help is hard to find.

I tried indoctrinating my kids, but they were more interested in chasing the ducks and quail. They also had a weakness for my neighbours’ prolific raspberry canes that left them with happy smiles and their mother terrible guilt without much actual assistance. In an ideal world one can get to the garden every day, but this far from ideal world has distractions like work, parenting and other time consuming nonessentials. Another pair of hands can halve the time if they know what to do. In those long ago days I tended to wing it, but I should have planned ahead of time and known what to delegate before taking David to the garden. Seriously.

He was willing and a great help at first, but decided I needed to be more organized and set about it for me. Because I spent half an hour every time organizing my tools, David built me a terrific box the size of Goliath’s coffin for them. It was also as watertight as Noah’s Ark and floated away when the creek beside the garden flooded every year. Naturally, it was perfectly square and absolutely level. He built me trellises and cold frames, also perfectly square and absolutely level, and then spent 10 days deciding what colour he should paint them. I was greatly relieved when he moved on to help other gardeners organize their plots as well, until they elected him Secretary of the Association. After that when I needed help I had to book him a week in advance.

Kids make unreliable helpers but they generally don’t think they know more than we do until puberty, and this isn’t that kind of advice column. At least they don’t suggest better ways to garden. When you have carefully planned YOUR garden there’s nothing more aggravating than asking someone for help and having them tell you how you could be more “efficient,” especially on the rare occasion they happen to be right. I have semi solved this problem with David by encouraging him to buy a small tractor and persuading him to move a large pile of dirt from one end of the acreage to the other. Now when I am gardening alone I spend my time thinking of reasons I can use to get him to move it back when he is finished. I’ll keep you posted.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.


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