dear gayla: a letter to a garden friend

birds on lampshade‘DEAR GAYLA’: Those two words are how each “letter” in this new occasional series will begin, each time I write here to my friend Gayla Trail of You Grow Girl [dot] com, a sort of “out loud” reality check we thought might be good for both of us (and maybe fun for you, too). We’re very different, but also birds of a feather in many ways (and those “birds” in the photo above are clip-on ornaments she sent me for the holidays, which I clipped onto a light shade in my kitchen). The first installment of our correspondence starts on the jump page:

Dear Gayla,

SINCE YOUR VISIT last fall, I think of you every time I make pasta (brown-rice pasta, of course, because like you I try to keep the gluten to a minimum—well, unless someone bakes fresh bread and I simply cannot resist).

The simple act of salting pasta water got connected to you because of that amazing herbed salt you taught me to make, the unpronounceable “salamoia Bolognese” laced with fresh garlic, sage and rosemary. Divine. I keep a little Mason jar I filled with it right beside the stove (and sometimes confess I sprinkle it, intensely salty and crunchy as it is, on other things, too; it’s amazing for roasting vegetables).  It’s also good for sticking one’s nose in when summer just seems so far away as it has some weeks lately; a pinch of warmer times.

preserving with gayla trailWe keep having little pinches of winter—a few inches of snow, a bout or two of deep cold—and then spring again, or at least mud season. In one warm spell about two weeks ago, the intermediate witch-hazels began to bloom, the first official flowers of my garden’s new year. I have lost count of how many times the on-off seasonal switch has been flipped, though. You must be all up-and-down in Toronto, too (though I am embarrassed to admit I can never quite keep straight your C versus our F and the relative temperatures).

Speaking of cold: The garlic and potatoes and onions I grew last year are staying nicer than ever since I moved them to the upstairs of the barn, where it’s much cooler than the cellar of the house, more like high 30s than high 40s. The room up there has a tiny bit of electric heat (just enough to stay above freezing, but not warm), which is what they all want to last better in storage, as cold as it seems.

I sometimes imagine you with all your marginally hardy things stuffed in oddball places at your house, too, probably tripping over them as I do here in some spots like the mudroom. Each of us could use a proper root cellar and a small greenhouse, but I don’t think either is in the cards here or there, right? Thank goodness that lacking proper infrastructure as we do, we are hardy and improvisational types.

I’ve thought about you, too, these last two weeks, in that “Gayla would understand” way, as I’ve raced from one book-related event to the next, feeling like the proverbial headless chicken but hoping nobody would notice. I know you have been through book launch several times, but at least you are a better traveler than I am. I mean, you even take planes and everything, like to Cuba. Me? I put 1,000 miles on my poor old car the last 10 days.

When I get home from each long haul, my reward is a binge of streaming TV—mostly British stuff, as is my usual—and I wonder if you have seen “White Teeth,” a mini-series about three cross-cultural families in 1970s England (though it released in 2002)? Loved it.

Do you feel as I do at this time of year—just before it all begins again in a giant whoosh!—that this will be the year that you (fill in the blank about some resolution or other that never seems to come true)? I’ve stopped committing to label every plant, which used to be my annual promise to myself but frankly would be a fulltime job.

One thing I hope I actually make happen: extend my food-growing season with some intentional changes—maybe one raised bed will get a proper low tunnel over it, and I really do need to run drip-irrigation tubing in the key beds.

Oh: and I must make a space for more herbs the way you manage to even in a smaller space.  Encourage me! I scored some half whiskey barrel wooden planters on half-price markdown late last fall, so those may be the solution, carted into spots here and there where there is sunshine.

For now, though, I must finish my seed orders—and sow the banana shallots!

Talk soon; love to Davin and Molly. Meow from Jack.


P.S. — Thank you again for the bird ornaments! Serendipity: The grandmother who inspired me to garden decorated her holiday tree with bird ornaments, so I think with that genetics and upbringing, I am prepared to make them right at home here.

And also: I love the collage of seasonal photos you posted this week on your site, the same views seen at four moments. Must do that more deliberately myself, too. Thanks as ever for the idea.

Gayla’s letter to me

GAYLA’S FIRST LETTER to me in this series is here. They crossed in the “mail,” so I hadn’t read it as I typed this. Off I go to see…


  1. narf7 says:

    This is what blogging is all about…finding like minded souls all over the earth and tying ethos to ethos, making the world a smaller but stronger place. I love it! :). A beautifully written letter and I, for one, am going to enjoy being a fly on the wall with this gorgeous corresponence :)

  2. Ruth says:

    I couldn’t help but comment when I read “meow from Jack”. The furry critter at our house is Jack, too, and even though he lacks ears and most of his tail, we still call him a cat.

    The letters were both beautiful, and both inspired me to try to sprout some seedlings this spring in my drafty, small, shaded, south facing windows, instead of just wishing for a greenhouse.

    1. margaret says:

      So nice to hear from you, Ruth. Jack is curious what life without ears (which he likes scratched) and his tail (which is VERY long since he is more the size of a dog) would be like. Oh, dear. Do stop and say hello again soon, both of you!

  3. Jason says:

    Both the series and book ‘White Teeth’ are excellent, in my opinion. I also loved ‘On Beauty’, but have not yet read the new novel,’NW’. ‘Autograph Man’ I thought was so so. Also, I’m going to have to look up Salamoia Bolognese – whatever the heck it is, it sounds delicious.

  4. gardenbre says:

    Lovely to be invited to read the correspondences – thank you both!

    I have some of Gayla’s salami bolognese salt that I just opened this past week – soOo good – what I’d been missing by not having cracked that jar open earlier. I was very pleased to see the recipe posted – thanks – I will now be able to use it a little less judiciously. Not that I wasn’t. I’d been sprinkling it on vegs, meats and pasta – was getting a little concerned what I was going to do once it was gone! heheh

  5. Daisy Marshall says:

    My favorite “Sunday off”, to open my e mail and find your wondrous blog. As the other reader said, thank you for the invitation, look forward to this exchange of mind and heart. Love the british stuff,so I will definetly check out White Teeth. Currently reading On my own by F Falk, it struck me how your books and this blog have helped me reclaim my abandoned garden spaces and find a path back to where they still stand.. That Frances Hodgson Burnett was on to something, wasn’t she?? And so are you Margaret, so are you…… Thank you!

  6. Susan says:

    I’m going right out now and get all the ingredients for the
    herb-infused sea salt……sounds devine!!! I love to cook
    with herbs so this sea salt recipie will be just perfect.
    I am in Florida for the winter and reading the blog all about
    February frustrations makes me so long to dig in the dirt
    in Boston!!!

  7. Rosemary says:

    I am moving from my one third acre 5 bedroom home to a 2 bedroom courtyard space garden and I’m already going through my numerous garden books for inspiration as to what I’m going to plant where and I love your ideas which I try on a ‘mini’ basis in my garden and its always successful….

  8. Eve Mauger says:

    I love this new correspondence section of your blog, Margaret! Haven’t even got to Gayla’s letter yet…..saving that for later. Now I must check out the herbed salt recipe. Thanks!

  9. Mrs. Curtis says:

    VEGETARIANS, PLEASE SKIP THE FOLLOWING RECIPE! From a born-again-carnivore swine-aholic…

    A delicious variation on the herb salt is with overcooked, but not quite burnt, bacon: remove as much of the grease as possible (on paper towels or what-have-you,) grind fairly fine/pasty in a food processor or blender, transfer to a bowl with sea salt of your preferred texture and dried herbs of choice… I usually use granulated garlic, powdered ginger, turmeric, black pepper and a wee bit of chipotle for smoke. A jerk flavored bacon salt is suberbly decadent, as well: allspice, thyme, habanero and granulated maple sugar- if you have it, or raw cane sugar or even brown sugar will do.

    Not being one who measures, by contrary nature, I can’t supply accurate amounts used… it should kinda flow freely, but will still clog shakers; just experiment with the flavors and texture until it feels right! So easy and delicious!!! Also, clean up goes a bit smoother when some salt is rubbed around in the belly of the food processor, the greasy bacon residue turns sandy and can be scraped out and added right into the mix.

    Thank you, Margaret and Gayla, for opening your hearts for all to share. I am truly inspired by your efforts!
    LIFE’S A GARDEN, DIG IT! (Joe Dirt’s t-shirt)

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Mrs. Curtis, and I pretended there’s no swine involved. :) Frankly, after 35 years as a vegetarian, the only thing I still miss is bacon!

  10. jen says:

    Gayla Trail’s books got me started in Gardening many moons ago & I am tickled pink to read that you two are friends.

    I am starting Sweet Peas here in Okrahoma. Today its beautiful outside, but tommorow? Who knows!

    Thank you both for inspiration! I appreciate you muchly!

  11. Claudia says:

    So love the idea of the correspondence! Now I will get a double dose of inspiration. Thanks for taking the time and sharing with all of us. It is very appreciated.

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