For the next week or so, I am watering my friend’s garden while she is away for a break.
Since we moved to our tiny apartment six years ago, I have been satisfied with two large planters for flowers, and a smaller one for herbs. They sit out on our roof deck where it is very sunny and warm most plant growing days.
My friend’s garden is another thing altogether. It is brimming to the edges with life. Both garden and house are well settled and full of history. There is a lovely little thinking spot with rocks, birdbath, and an old wooden settee, the artifacts from a lifetime of love of beauty. There are areas for all manner of vegetables with their companion plants to keep the bugs away. Raspberry canes are blossoming and a medium sized sentinel cherry tree makes a statuesque focal point. Food for the body as well as the soul grows in this place.
My task is to water everything in the back yard. Yesterday, as I began, an interesting phenomenon took place. Because every square inch has something growing and needing moisture, I began to slow down and pay attention. I drew closer to the foliage and adjusted the spray for gentler output. I began noticing the individual plants and how they had been juxtaposed with one another in a confident, casual way.
Then, an amazing thing happened. The names began coming back! I had not remembered those marvelous names for years. Solomon’s seal, lavender, columbine, bleeding heart, hosta, sedum, clematis and on and on. I’m sure if you had been there you’d have thought I’d lost my mind. I was having a silent conversation with each plant as I moved down the side of the house to the back. I was so pleasantly surprised to find those names in the jungle of my aging mind. Soon, I began to recall some of the gardens I had nurtured or visited. As I watered the vegetables, I remembered my German grandmother’s Northern Saskatchewan garden of root vegetables, cabbage and endless rows of peas and beans. I was always allowed to pick peas, strip them out of the pods and eat them while standing between the rows and soaking up sunlight. I can recall the pungent smells even now.
My mother always had a garden when we lived in Winnipeg. I remember protective caragana hedges surrounding yards and creating a gentler environment for iris, cotoneaster shrubs, bachelor buttons, daisies, Icelandic poppies, alyssum, petunias and the beloved hardy species of flowering almond, all tough-as-nails plants. Of course, everywhere were lilacs in mauve, purple and sometimes white. Perhaps because she remembered endless hours of back-breaking weeding in my grandmother’s half-acre,
Mom rarely grew vegetables. After the long, brutal winters had passed, we visited market gardens and sometimes even started our own plants in March to be put out after danger of frost had passed. Gardening was a blood sport on the prairies!
When Paul and I moved to BC, I knew I had arrived in a garden paradise. I had never gardened in a mountainous, semi-arid climate such as Princeton, but after settling in, I began to get the hang of it. My first delight was finding that the ancient hedge growing against the front fence of our little rented house was a variety of prolific yellow rose, and we happened to be experiencing an exceptional year. For nearly a month, we delighted in a riot of yellow. On my walks with the dog and cat, I watched for balsam root – I called them sunflowers, lupine, penstemon and one incredible day, I found an exotic bitter root growing under a ponderosa pine.
I always knew that gardening is good for a person, affording healthy exercise. I even had a tentative grip on the idea that it was good for the soul. The surprise was to discover that I had not lost the names of the plants. My mind and my spirit were enjoying delight and harmony and that made for a very, very good day.
I hope I never forget.