I fell in love for the first time nearly 12 years ago when I was studying horticulture at Capilano College. It hasn’t all been vines and roses – I’ve walked away more than once and I’ve done some things that I have later regretted. But I was a lost soul before we met; feeling like my life had been blown irrevocably off course and I was being tossed about in the riptide. Through the years this love has always been there for me when other things in my life were falling apart; a constant reminder of what can be accomplished with the right blend of dedication, letting grow, and time.
We began innocently enough; I would spend a couple hours in evening with it or plan a full day of activities on the weekend. It gave me a sense of purpose,and I immediately liked feeling that I was building something. Before long things began to get serious and I would think about it all the time – whether I was at work, school, or just hanging out with friends. I was constantly coming up with ways I could make it better. I would imagine how everything would be in a few months time, a year from now, five years from now. What had started out as a way to let go of the past was becoming the basis for a hopeful future.
In many ways my story is not unique. Many people recall the beginning of their love affair with gardening as something that started small and grew into something bigger and better than they had imagined.
In that first year I had a list attributes I wanted in my garden and everything I planted had to fit a certain criteria or perform a specific function. Bodnant viburnum for the early spring colour and floral scent, sweet smelling osmanthus as an evergreen staple, rose-of-sharon for the late summer bloom, japanese barberry for a pretty purple barrier. In those early years I was very concerned about the way things looked. I deadheaded every bloom past it‘s prime, pulled every weed and picked up every fallen leaf. And during that time, my garden was as pristine as any you might find in a garden magazine.
One year I decided to take my relationship to the next level: vegetables. It was all the rage. I started about a bazillion seedlings early in the spring – tomatoes, peppers, peas, carrots, squash, lettuce and an array of herbs. When the weather warmed up and they were big enough, I started planting them among the ornamentals. I spent a lot of time with the garden in that year; becoming well versed in the fine art of organic pest control and learning about what each plant needed to grow the best edible portions – leaves, fruit or tubers.
I was also learning a lot about myself, too. I liked having something in my life that gave me a sense of purpose, a way to create and manifest, and most importantly, the belief that I deserved the things I was envisioning for myself.
But relationships can be tricky. By this time I had also formed relationships with other gardens. Gardens that were able to give me things my first garden couldn’t. Gardens with water features, gardens with more space, with a larger variety of plants. Gardens in more exotic parts of town that were already very established. Formal gardens. English gardens. While I remained friendly with some, the majority of these new relationships never amounted to anything other than a seasonal fling. But each experience taught me a little something and helped me get closer to realizing what I truly wanted in a garden.
Eventually, it became clear that my first garden and I needed some time apart. For a couple of years we became little more than acquaintances that would exchange pleasantries at family gatherings. A pulled weed here and a pruned branch there. For the most part I just watched everything get bigger and grow together. Meanwhile, I had a few semi-serious relationships with other gardens and it seemed as though me and my first love were destined to be a thing of the past.
I fell hard for the second garden I ever loved before we’d even met. It was much more than just a garden, it was a collection of green spaces; parks, flower beds, woodland areas and playing fields. It seemed as though the sky was the limit with this new garden. It inspired me to expand my horizons – I became interested in rainwater management and took a short course in permaculture.
There was a time when I hoped that the relationship I had with the second garden was one the one. But it was an older garden, very set in its ways and one that had many past and present lovers. A garden with a history like that is bound to have some complications and my new love was no different. Before long, some of the unhealthy relationships my new garden had started affecting the relationship I had with it. I was starting to question whether I even wanted to be in a relationship with a garden anymore.
I soon enrolled in the Restoration of Natural Systems program with the University of Victoria and started taking courses on ecology, environmental law and conservation. I learned about different ecosystems and their components and I started to see how gardens were a small yet vital component of the urban landscape mosaic. They are outdoor spaces for people to enjoy – as quiet places of refuge, as a place to spend time with friends, or simply as places to connect with nature. They provide ecological services like carbon sequestration, water filtration, and erosion control. Gardens, or green spaces as I have come to call them, provide food and habitat for wildlife – everything from microscopic soil microbes to insects to birds to mammals…. the list goes on and on and on.
That’s when I started to understand that we all have our own relationships with gardens, or green spaces or any little piece of nature. I started spending more and more time visiting my old flame and noticing things I hadn’t taken the time to see before. Bees swarming the rose-of-sharon, worm castings under fallen leaves, birds eating seeds from dead flower heads. It inspired me to get involved with it again. My first project was a hugelkulture bed, which I should really thank my mom for letting me construct, seeing as the garden is on her property. Thanks mom! When my nephew visited, we would do “experiments” with the soil and sometime other household items. I even made a pesto mix out of chickweed and peppercress – things I would have considered weeds years ago. I couldn’t help but feel regret over all those years I had spent trying to turn the garden into something I wanted it to be.
The best part about falling back in love with my first garden was that I could finally see how wrong that new garden was for me. I had’t seen how being with it had made me feel confused, unappreciated, and unwelcome. Like I was back in that riptide, being pulled down into the undertow. With the rekindled relationship underway I noticed a positive shift in many other aspects of my life. I guess sometimes you don’t have an understanding of how unhappy you were until you are able appreciate how happy you are. Or maybe it’s like when you let a flower go to seed… Your instinct tells you to deadhead so everything looks tidy, but when you see the birds eating from it you realize that in nature, one thing is always giving way for another.
As far as what the future holds for me and that first love of mine, I think it’s safe to say that the best is yet to come.
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