Amy Simcox, with twin daughters Grace (left) and Lily, pull some weeds from their backyard strawberry patch. (Melissa Smalley - 100 Mile Free Press)

Dirty hands, happy heart

Gardening an essential way to relieve stress for 108 Mile Ranch family

  • May. 21, 2021 12:00 a.m.

To South Cariboo resident Amy Simcox, nothing feels as good as having her hands in the dirt.

She can be found most evenings in the backyard of her 108 Mile Ranch home, working to expand her fruit and vegetable garden with the help of her trusted assistants – four-year-old twins, Lily and Grace.

Along with her husband, Dave, Simcox has been slowly expanding her backyard oasis since moving onto the property five years ago. Each spring season, the 100 Mile Elementary teacher adds another new garden bed or a bushel of plants.

Last year, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, her garden became more than just a hobby; it became a way to help cope with the newfound challenges of teaching online.

“Last year, when COVID hit, I was pretty stressed out. I was going to work every day and I really needed some kind of physical outlet. So I would come home and rip up the sod by hand,” she recalls, pointing to a large rectangular patch of soil.

Simcox has long had a fondness for plants and the science behind how they grow. She studied ecology and environmental science at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, where she had her first opportunity to grow a garden of her own.

At the time, she had a few small tomato plants in a pot on her apartment balcony. When she told her landlord how much she wished she had a larger garden space, the landlord created a 10-by-10-foot plot for her on the apartment-complex property, where she grew tomatoes, carrots and raspberries among other things.

“It kind of brought everyone together,” Simcox recalled. “I’d be out there working in the garden and chatting with the neighbours, and then we started trading things like raspberries for a loaf of bread.”

Now with a much larger growing space to call her own, Simcox is excited to be expanding her garden and her knowledge.

Plus, it also provides a great opportunity to teach her daughters about the wonders of knowing where their food comes from, and the growing cycle.

“I really like weeding the best,” said Lily, wearing a well-used blue princess dress while elbow-deep in soil.

Grace, just as happy being filthy, chimes in that her favourite gardening activity is finding worms.

This year, Simcox is planning to test out what’s known as a “Three Sisters” garden, a type of companion planting that includes corn, beans and squash, chosen for their tendency to thrive together in one bed.

She said she is unsuret how the corn will fare in this climate, but is excited to see how it goes.

Other popular crops in their backyard include potatoes, peas, carrots, and leafy greens such as spinach, lettuce and kale.

Her girls love to help in all aspects of planting, tending, and harvesting fruits and vegetables, she said.

They are especially avid helpers when it comes to picking the fruits of their labour, especially the fresh raspberries and strawberries that sometimes don’t make it into the freezer before getting devoured.

“There is so much learning that happens out here,” she said. “And it’s a lot of fun because I just get to talk to them while we’re out here, weeding. They tell me stories about their day.

“For me, it’s a mental health thing, getting your hands dirty. Being in nature is calming – plus we get to get dirty.”

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Grace Simcox waters some plants in the family’s backyard greenhouse. (Melissa Smalley - 100 Mile Free Press)

Amy Simcox shows her daughters, Lily and Grace, where to plant potatoes in their backyard garden. (Melissa Smalley - 100 Mile Free Press)

Lily (left) and Grace Simcox work on prepping plants in their backyard greenhouse. (Melissa Smalley - 100 Mile Free Press)