The Gallivanting Gourmand
Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan
is a freelance writer based in the Montreal region. He is particularly keen about good food. In his day job, Greg is the executive director of the Quebec Community Newspapers Association.

His previous columns are archived HERE.

Posted 09.12.05


I know a secret garden

There is a secret garden here on Montreal's West Island that rivals large outdoor produce markets in varieties of good organic and exotic veggies and fruits. Homegrown Pointe Claire lemons you say?

Melons, peaches, pears, apricots, figs, sweet and hot peppers, exotic cross-bred tomatoes, asparagus, rare Japanese cucumbers, beans, squash and pumpkin, cabbages and potatoes are thriving here at harvest time.

Veggies interspersed with flowers, roses and fluttering monarch butterflies, I watch birds and various members of the insect family as they survey me. I wander a path of horticultural amazement that defies green thumb logic and reveals one surprise after another, just a stone throw from city hall.

This is an example of urban gardening at its pinnacle I think, as I discover row upon row of fresh culinary ingredients to die for. I also contemplate my own garden and wonder just how it is possible that I fail so miserably in comparison to what I am witnessing.

I take bite of some recently pulled garlic and am stunned by its sharp tingle on the tongue. This is no ordinary garlic, no sir. I sample what appears to be a small green bell pepper and am again awed at a burst of unexpected flavor. You do not always realize what one has been missing, despite a tuned palate it seems. Call it flavor innocence if you will and flavor just doesn't get better than this.

Lets backtrack. I wrote some weeks ago that it has been a miserable growing season for garlic and a reader invited me over to witness pungent proof that I was very, very wrong. Oops, I did it again.

Joao and Diane Da Morada aren't your average garden- variety gardeners. The two have won awards year after year for their efforts in the soil. Whether grafting or crossing varieties or by simply making use of the best-composted manure, they have produced what can only be described as Nirvana in a back yard.

Joao says Diane is "imbued" and that he often cannot find her. "She just disappears out back," he says. I suspect that Diane would say the same and that they both take comfort and pride knowing that their partnership of dirty knees and hands combine in a union of gardening glory. They also use their heads by my assumption as the knowledge revealed in conversation goes far beyond the average.

I learn more about roses and their maintenance and good composting techniques in a few short minutes than I have ever learned via the plethora of literature I possess at home. It is clear that I am out of my league here and I take in and register every syllable while knowing this haphazard student is witness to a rare teaching.

I'm hesitant to leave this garden paradise as I gather up a trussed gift of rare garlic. Thinking I'd put it to the fire in a dish for the table I am almost scolded. "That's for planting and not eating this year", Joao says as Diane offers hints for good planting.

I'm offered a Portuguese saying that translates as "bad is the tooth that hits the seed" and I promise myself to heed the advice despite my temptation for a garlic fest.

I'll let you know next autumn how my prize garlic turns out. In the meantime, I'm not sharing, so don't ask.