Chantal Lemoine’s garden is no ordinary one. And she’s no ordinary gardener.
A former physician, Lemoine is known as the moon gardener. “I started gardening really seriously after I became ill and went through a long period where I had to have a bunch of surgeries, a lot of physical therapy, a lot of pain,” Lemoine said. “At that time I was taking narcotics around the clock. I was given all the wonderful drugs you see on the news these days – I was put on Oxycontin and told to go back to work and it really became a cycle where I became increasingly depressed and after I stopped working I just retreated to my bed,” Lemoine recalls.
From her bed, she felt a pull to go outside. Utilizing a little rolling stool she had, and equipped with a back brace stuffed with an ice pack, Lemoine took to the outdoors and managed to clear out a little space.
Unfortunately, Lemoine’s first attempt fell apart when she left for seven months to tend to her ailing brother. Upon her return, she retreated to her bed again, relying on her routine of Oxycontin. Her second bed stay however, did not last. “Again, this pull said okay – you gotta do this,” Lemoine recounted. “I came out again and did it and the second time, I was like ‘Well something is pulling me out here and I don’t know what it is — let me look at the moon.” Let me look at what is going on. And that’s how I got into moon gardening. It seemed to me that [it was] whatever forces were pulling me outside at planting time — at the right time.
A mystical pull and the moon’s co-signature did not fully impress Lemoine at first. Being a woman of science, she backed up her gut feeling with some research. She found the art of lunar gardening to be a popular and recognized practice in Europe, and a close relative to biodynamic farming. “Gardening by the phases of the moon never made much sense to me; it always felt a bit like hocus pocus, but gardening by the position of the moon in relation to the position of the zodiac is a completely different way of looking at it,” Lemoine said. “There’s one more thing that you have to take into account, and that’s whether the moon is ascending or descending,” she explained. “The plants, and everything feels whether it’s going up or down and that influences the movement of water through the plants. It matches your rhythm to the natural rhythm of the plant and things grow better. It’s amazing.”
She pointed to an example through a garden she said has been “six years in the making,” but actually “looks like it’s been here 20 years.” It’s a garden that, thanks to Lemoine, has fed both stomachs and souls around the community. Initially, Lemoine would make the rounds leaving produce on people’s doorsteps. Eventually, she grew tired and tried a new method. “I put a little stand at the bottom of the garden and I put signs up to say take whatever you want. Nobody took anything,” she said, laughing. “So I put a bin and I asked for eggshells, coffee grounds, and juice pulp, and that’s when people said ‘okay, since I’m bringing you something, now I can take something.’ That’s what started my little food exchange.” Lemoine also leads classes that she calls the Sharing Garden, based on community.
With the holidays approaching, she especially takes pride in her produce. “For Thanksgiving, it’s just always been great to say ‘I made this, I actually grew this.’ So the squashes that go into, the pumpkins inside are already curing. They’re going to be ready for Thanksgiving,” she said.
For aspiring gardeners, she has some soulful advice. “Grow anything. It gives you hope. Just the act of putting a seed or a plant and caring for it brings you out of yourself and puts you in touch with nature,” she said. “Put your hands in the soil; you’ve already touched some soil microbes, which are known to actually release endorphins. That’s one of the reasons gardeners are always so happy. But even if you’re on a balcony, grow something. Start little. Grow something you can eat, and grow enough to share.”