I didn’t hold back for my partner Dan or the real estate agent.
“But look at the four-space garage!” Dan said. “This is my dream house.”
We were standing in front of the aluminum-walled farmhouse in downtown Brockville, a small one-and-a-half-story cottage, and far from renting an apartment in a Victorian semi-detached house in High Park. I marked the abandoned piece of land immediately next to the property. “It’s a shambles.” I kicked at a discarded vodka bottle. “Someone finished their lunch.” The task of converting this neglected space into something other than a parking lot seemed absurd.
Now, six months after we bought the house at the last minute and moved in, something is growing on what I wouldn’t call a lawn. Things I don’t know about I know a little bit about weed, so stay away from it. But the other things? I’m sure the neighbors are sick of me crying out loud.”Is that a weed or a plant?”
Some people love gardening. There are entire stores and store sections dedicated to plants, trees, shrubs, flowers, seeds, soil and similar organic materials. These places are called kindergartens. I think of babies when I think of nurseries, not shrubs that look like characters from Dr. look cute. However, I had to familiarize myself with kindergartens because I want to be a good neighbor. According to Brockville ordinances, being a good neighbor means taking care of your property—growing and all.
“I have it. MULCH.”
We go to a nursery and buy fifteen bags of mulch. I’m going crazy over the mulch and think what powdered wood chips scattered on the stained lot would look like au courant. The mulch barely covers the periphery of the room. The country looks like a wasteland. Maybe it is is a wasteland.
A dear friend gave me three magazine subscriptions to move in: Canadian House and Home, Canada’s Home Style, and Better Homes and Gardens. I flip through the magazines, my jaw dropping at the beauty and genius of professional interior, exterior and landscaping design. An idea strikes.
“I have it. GRAVEL.”
Dan draws the line when leveling the property with gravel. His parents grew vegetables and fruits in their backyard in Saskatchewan. They ate nothing but homegrown produce and preserved it for the cold season. His mother, a hardworking and cheerful woman, still bakes bread herself. My late mother, a cranky and whimsical nurse, was very good at buying sliced bread from the supermarket. I agree with Dan’s judgement.
In April I go onto the property with a shovel and dig up anything that resembles a Star Trek tribble. One day while he was vigorously digging up brown buttons, a local gentleman stopped by and gave me a little history lesson about what he calls the “garden”.
“The Fiddleheads should sprout soon.”
“Oh yes. Plenty of it. Where you have your shovel ready – that’s a fiddlehead.
I look down at the pile of roots I’ve already dug up. Those things were fiddleheads?
“You mean the type of food?”
I feel inexplicably guilty. I stop shoveling, go inside and sit down. I’m a fiddlehead killer. I love fiddleheads which I used to buy from my local greengrocer in Dundas West and Bloor. But pulling them out of the ground just as? Didn’t I need third party verification other than a neighborhood co-worker? Someone from the Department of Agriculture? I’ll leave reaping the springtime treats to Dan.
Dan begins to accept the project. A neighbor gives us wood from an old vegetable patch and Dan rebuilds it in our yard. I pace, hosing things off randomly and stare longingly at the paved road.
I once had a plant. It was on my patio in High Park. I think it had flowers.
Then it died. How is it supposed to work?
In my defense, I understand why I’ve never gardened. As a renter in Toronto and an active member of the public, I went out. A lot of. I went to restaurants, to shows, to meetings, to work, to the library, to visit friends who may or may not have gardens, to bike, to hike. I used my apartment as a place to eat, sleep and shower. Now, as a homeowner in a city with a formal garden designed by Frederick Olmsted of the Olmsted Brothers, from the guys who designed Central Park in New York City, I feel the pressure to up my game.
We have joined the Brockville Horticultural Association. The gentleman behind the front desk offered us seeds, which Dan happily accepted. He gave me the seeds to plant in a planter. He watched as I gently pushed her into the earth, watered her and stepped back.
“You’re telling me something will grow?”
To my great amazement and delight, green shoots have grown and apparently spinach will come out soon. It is gratifying to see this little microcosm of the life cycle unfold. It also brings me closer to the land, not just as an abstract environmental entity to be protected, but as a living, breathing preserver. A partner. A friend. Something you can rely on. Something to appreciate and respect.
Much like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, my country just needs a little love. I’ll do what I can and Dan will do much, much of the rest.
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