how does my garden grow?

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockleshells

And pretty maids all in a row.


This rhyme, along with many other favourite nursery rhymes, is credited to Mother Goose.  Just who is Mother Goose?  The jury’s out on this one.

One theory says she was a widow from Boston (Elizabeth Foster Goose or Mary Goose) in the late seventeenth century who entertained her grandchildren with chants, songs and rhymes, which her son-in-law later published.
Many disagree with this possibility. French terms, like “mere l’oye” and “mere oye”, translated Mother Goose, were connected with French texts from the early seventeenth century.  In fact, some sources suggest that Mother Goose may even be referenced as early as the tenth century!
Though we cannot truly be certain of the identity of the ‘real Mother Goose’, we know that Charles Perrault published a collection of nursery rhymes and tales in Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oie in 1697.  It was translated into English in 1729, in Samber’s Histories or Tales of Past Times, Told by Mother Goose.

Now, back to “Mary, Mary”.  What is the background of this nursery rhyme?  As with many nursery rhymes created to keep alive certain aspects of history–good or bad, truth and opinion–this rhyme purportedly tells the story of a queen.  Mary of this rhyme is the infamous Mary Tudor, or “Bloody Mary”.  It is said that the garden in this rhyme actually refers to a graveyard, ever growing under her murderous reign, and the ‘silver bells and cockle shells’ were torture devices.  The ‘pretty maids’ are said to be a precursor to the guillotine and called ‘The Maiden’.

Now that I’ve learned this, perhaps this was not the best way to introduce my garden.  This is just a plain, old garden made to give us food.  No macabre undertones, I promise.

Here on the east coast, summer comes late.  The growing season for our area is a mere 115 days, with no-frost dates only between May 30 and September 22.  That May 30th date is pretty optimistic.  We’ve been known to have a fire in the wood stove or the furnace on well into June.  This is new to me, as Ontario has a decent growing season.

I am sharing this with you a little late, and I do apologize if you were looking for ideas in beginning your own garden–maybe next year.  I’ve always done a traditional row garden, or wide row garden, as we had lots of room at the farm–and a rototiller!  We had a large family to feed and I always did some canning and freezing.  This time, we have less garden space and storage space, and fewer mouths at home to feed.  To make the most of what we were working with, I decided a square foot garden fit the bill perfectly.  I did not make raised beds because I’m cheap and wanted my money to go to the plants and seeds.

My love went about the task of removing sod and turning the soil with a few amendments–peat, compost and black earth.  I didn’t really tell him that I was doing a square foot garden, so he just went ahead and made it 11 feet by 6 feet.  This kinda went against my sensibilities, but I was thankful for his manpower!
I began with a plan:
  • square foot garden plan: 11 feet by 6 feet divided into one foot sections.
  • a list of vegetables and herbs that I wanted to plant
  • the number of plants per square foot (e.g. tomatoes 1, beans 9, etc.)
  • for each plant, I decided on plants or seeds, or a combination (e.g. I planted a few bean plants, but also seeds)
  • I highlighted plants that would require cages or trellises (I ended up using stakes and twine for my supports)
  • I also noted companion planting recommendations (e.g. kale and tomatoes don’t like each other)
  • I entered the plants to go in each square on my plan
  • I also took note of the days for germination and days till harvest

Then it was time to get my hands dirty.  I sectioned off one foot square sections with some wooden skewers from the dollar store and twine.  This was time consuming, but worth it, in my opinion.  I realized–after I’d finished marking out the entire garden, mind you–that my skewers were on the grass, so I’d have to remove them when planting was done or move them inside the garden for the sake of mowing the lawn. Sigh.  I really wanted to keep them for ease of identifying seedlings, so I proceeded to just wrap the excess twine around each skewer as I moved it in.

My df girl and I got to planting.  We got lazy toward the end and just scattered some of the small seeds, like carrot and lettuce, to be thinned out later.  I did leave a couple of squares toward the centre empty for ease of getting into central plants.  I also forgot not to put kale next to tomatoes, so I moved those, as well. Sigh again.


Some seeds are doing very well, others are definitely struggling. Here’s what it looks like today:

We’ve enjoyed lettuce, kale, arugula and beet greens from the garden, so far.  The spinach is not thriving, however. We’ve also used several cuttings from the herbs, as well.  With these plants you can harvest up to two thirds of the plant and it will continue to grow.  There is a baby yellow squash peeking out from under the leaves, a sweet pepper, and a couple of hot peppers and string beans making a show.  I’m seeing lots of blossoms on the squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes, so I’m hopeful about those plants.

There is nothing like growing your own food.  It’s a rewarding endeavour with lots of yummy benefits!

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3 thoughts on “how does my garden grow?

  1. If it makes you feel better, The version of Mary’s garden I’ve heard is that of the garden of England and thst the bells were church bells and the cockle shells were pilgrim tokens. The pretty maids being nuns….

    Liked by 1 person

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