My garden is a true and steadfast companion. It gives me pleasure no matter the season or circumstances. In the middle of winter, I can see the tall grasses that border the flower gardens and I find frozen thyme under the snow. Sometimes gardens need to be moved around, expanded and others remain in place for generations. When my four daughters and I moved from the city 14 years ago to this farm in Southern Ontario, there was no sign of a vegetable garden and only one tiny forgotten flower bed with some daylilies.There was a rundown farmhouse and a falling down barn and driveshed and not much landscaping to speak of that might have offered the inhabitants nourishment from the land. There was also a scraggly lilac hedge directly in front of the kitchen window, obstructing the most beautiful view of the fields. We didn’t choose the farm for the buildings, we could see the beauty all around us in the pond and surrounding hills and the potential of the farmhouse to make a home. I feel that this place chose us to take up residency and to help repair and restore not only the buildings but the land.
We spent the first year fixing up the house, getting rid of leaks in the roof, putting a wood cook-stove in the kitchen, replacing the linoleum with wide floor boards, upgrading the plumbing, painting and generally making the place our home. The next spring, I was desperate to put in a garden and open up the view from the kitchen window. We did both – and the garden replaced the lilac hedge which moved to a better location. We dug our first vegetable garden out by hand in very hard clay soil planting a basic variety of vegetables and flowers. The vegetable plot has grown over time to almost three acres but I will never forget the incredible bounty of that first garden. Living in the city, we never really had enough space (and time) to grow our own food and while there were then and are even more now incredible farmers markets, the joy of getting our hands in the soil and pulling out carrots and beets was a feeling and a taste not easily forgotten.
[june 4 2012-0194.jpg – early years of the garden]
Over the years, we evolved from a single family home to a home-based event business. As the business grew it was my goal to grow as much of my own food as possible for all the guests that came to the farm for dinners and celebrations. Each year we claimed more and more land for vegetable and flower production. I took over a goat paddock for an herb garden and one year had enough parsley and basil to feed the township! Like any passionate gardener I pour over seed catalogues during the winter looking for old fashion varieties and balancing out what to serve for our farm dinners and what I know my family loves.
This past year was a difficult one for so many. Our event business was non existent and finding a way to sell what we grew versus using it for our meals and tablescapes forced me into a new way of looking at my business. Toward the end of the summer, it was apparent to me that changes were required and they were going to be difficult ones to make. I also made the hard decision to let the large vegetable gardens go back to the fields and focus on smaller plots just like we had when we first arrived here.
Difficult as it was, I went back to being a one woman business just like in the very beginning, digging out the gardens, planning flower beds but turning my attention from gatherings at the farm to creating both fresh and dried decorative items such as fresh edible herb wreaths and now in the middle of winter, wreaths from flowers I’ve dried this past season.
The one positive aspect that I have realized about living through a pandemic is how I look at our lives and our work. While at first, challenges seem to be huge and insurmountable but I see clearly what is important and what I can rely on. Gardens big and little have given me pleasure and economic sustainability. Today, I embrace all that I loved during those first years living here and am fortunate to be able to rely on the land in the future. I know my daughters also appreciate the value of growing our own food. It is funny how the basic things we created in the first year such as a beautiful and productive garden is what I draw on now for both food, comfort and aesthetic value that tending and harvesting provides.
I’m Danielle French, founder and owner of South Pond Farms. South Pond was founded in 2008 as a small food delivery business. I would grow food in my garden, make prepared meals and deliver them all over the GTA. Since then, the farm has been slowly restored and converted into a culinary destination, offering special events, weddings, workshops and corporate retreats all set in our restored century barn in the rolling hills of rural Ontario. My vision is to create a connection to the land, the food we grow and prepare in our kitchen to bringing people together.