The Tangled Garden: Through the Ivy
It’s no surprise to find a luscious garden in Nova Scotia’s fertile Valley Region, especially in the juiciest part of summer – when each plant seems to be bursting in its own season. But walking into Beverly McClare’s Tangled Garden has the mystical intensity of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novel that stuns me with wonder as I approach the front gate.
Brushing past the wall of English and Boston ivy that blanket the perimeter, I feel like Burnett’s young Mary Lenox of The Secret Garden when she discovers that magical plot beyond the wall. I am the only one standing in the garden. There is a little shop to my left with distant noises of clinking jars and friendly voices, but for a moment I take it all in.
Beverly meets me in the shop. She is exactly as one would imagine her to look like, in denim coveralls with splashes of colour from both the vibrant pocket trim and the jelly dropped on her knee. Her smile is genuine and her eyes, kindly and beautiful – she looks like she very much enjoys what she does.
“I wanted to grow herbs, I knew that,” Beverly explains as she shows me her now busting confectionary collection of jellies, vinegars and liqueurs. “What I didn’t realize was that I was an addicted gardener.”
Grasping this new self-awareness, Beverly has been able to marry two things she loves and does well; food and gardening.
Beverly walks over to the tile counter top and lays out two aged photos for me to look at. They show fielded farmland with a small shop and what looks like an even smaller house. Dry rows fade into the distance and a brown, unruly yard reaches toward the buildings. There are a handful of trees, and that is really it.
“This was what we bought more than 20 years ago,” she says. It takes me a moment to recognize the road running alongside that dreadful patch of grass is THE road. The Evangeline Trail that winds through the Grande Pre region. The road that stops outside the wall of ivy so high I giraffe couldn’t see in. This looks nothing like the dripping jungle I am surrounded by now.
Beverly tells me of how she decided to leave her restaurant she had owned and ran in Wolfville, and simply plant some herbs. Inspired by an article in Canadian Living on herbs suspended in jellies, Beverly leaped toward a path that would eventually become a life-long project.
The land was shallow, they found out, and set on an impenetrable ledge of bedrock. But there was a century old quince tree, two large and unique pears, and an ancient maple. Taking clippings from farmers of grapes and black currents, Beverly literally dug her fingers into sculpting that plot of land into something not only beautiful but a viable living.
“We started with your traditional mint jellies,” she explains, now taking me outside into her first of many herb gardens. “Yes. We started with around three to five jellies, but now we have somewhere around 55 or 65.”
This self-described “addiction” to gardening is obvious as we wander deeper into the gardens. Her fingers pluck, gather and snip bits off passing plants, seemingly unaware of her conscious self.
“What I really love to do is design and create a garden.” She says while leading me down a stone path toward her newest section. “This is wild territory.”
Emerging from a narrow passage of foliage I am suddenly appreciative of what The Tangled Garden has grown into. In front of us is the start of a large pond, already teaming with a chorus of frogs. To our left her team has begun to cascade a stone path up around the bank leading to a bench.
Beverly has met her calling and each visitor has the honour of experiencing that for a small while.
Back at the shop a small team of ladies, Tippy, Debbie and Jane, are finishing a batch of black current jam and tarragon, dill vinegar.
The team produces anywhere from 150 to 250 jars of goodies each day, depending on the season. These are all done the “old fashioned” way, and in small batches. Only six jars at a time for the jellies. Debbie says this is the perfect size for the right consistency of jelly.
A few cars have found their way to the gardens and a small group of people begin to file their way toward the good smells. They have the right idea, to start with a tasting before making their way into the labyrinth beyond.
“Keep the strength up while they’re wandering,” Beverly says, now spooning a dollop her Zesty Spring Onion jelly onto a cracker for me to try. Wow. Zesty. After sampling my way through the Apple Sage, Radiant Raspberry and Scarborough Fair (a witty mix of sage, rosemary and thyme), I move on to the very delicate liqueurs.
Just when I thought I was satiated, Beverly leans a little closer and asks “Have you heard of our Boozy Pops?”.
These I have not heard of but in this August heat, the name says it all. Out of the freezer, and not to outshine the gorgeous and flavourful “kid’s pops”, these fresh juice popsicles with a splash of her handcrafted liqueurs are the absolute perfect way to explore the gardens again.
I say my goodbyes and with popsicle dripping in hand, I head out to enjoy Beverly’s pure inspiration. Happily vanishing into the green, purple, white and blue waves of the garden.