My unexpected friendship with a neighbor became a lasting legacy

This I article was written by Angela Robertson, an author and communications specialist who lives and works in Qualicum Beach, BC. For more information on CBC’s first-person stories, visit the FAQs.

There are people we meet in life that we may not know will leave an indelible mark on us right now and carry with us for the rest of our lives.

Carlos was one of those people.

Twelve years ago, my husband and I moved into our first home an hour outside of Vancouver, where housing projects for new families sell out before the clapboards are nailed down.

We were in our early 30s and expected to make friends quickly in a neighborhood full of people of the same age, but it wasn’t easy. We were the only ones with no children which made it difficult to make connections. While they planned play dates, we spent our time renovating our neglected garden with amateurish pride.

But nothing grew.

As I walked our dog in the neighborhood, I studied every lawn. Sometimes I would stoop inconspicuously to read labels planted in the ground. And then there was the house on the corner – the head turner with a pristine lawn and a garden full of flowers with names I didn’t recognize.

One day I noticed that the owner was watering. Intimidated by his talent, I felt the need to avoid him, but stayed put. He introduced himself as Carlos and bent his hose to give our dog a drink.

“You have a beautiful garden,” I said.

It turned out that Carlos was a professional landscaper and kindly offered tips and secrets about pruning our garden. I ran home to tell my husband all the secrets of Carlos.

I didn’t expect anything to come out of a friendly neighborhood banter, but shortly thereafter I found Carlos on our lawn with his gardening tools. He gave my husband step-by-step instructions, all of which were followed to the letter, and we watched our garden with bated breath. We also occasionally saw Carlos driving down our street to check on the progress.

Angela Robertson’s husband Shawn used her old friend Carlos’ tips and tricks to grow his garden in Metro Vancouver. (Angela Robertson)

Over the next few years, our little garden—filled with hostas, black-eyed susans, and a beautiful Japanese maple—thrived, as did our friendship with Carlos.

So does our family, which grew with the birth of our daughter. We stopped by often to see Carlos, who kept insisting on buying her an outfit. “This weekend,” he promised.

A home with lush landscaping and a for sale sign out front.
When the Robertsons moved out of their Metro Vancouver home, the yard and garden looked lush after years of care and guidance from Carlos. (Angela Robertson)

A few weeks after our last visit to Carlos, we were invited to dinner one night by a couple a few doors down. We chatted about the neighborhood. They complimented us on our garden and we always paid tribute to Carlos.

“I haven’t seen him lately,” I said, followed by the quick and innocent statement of “it’s a shame he died” from our neighbor.

My husband and I were devastated.

A year after his death, Carlos’ widow sold her house and a new owner moved in. Eventually we moved away too. We bought a house on Vancouver Island with a yard ten times the size of what we were used to.

We got straight to work.

A man and children play frisbee in a yard.
Angela Robertson’s family spends most weekends in their backyard on Vancouver Island. (Angela Robertson)

It’s been three years, and while it’s not the showstopper Carlos once had, I like to think we’re making him proud. Our garden shed is full of tools and every spring my husband sows the lawn as he was shown all those years ago.

I don’t have a photo of Carlos in his beautiful garden, but his image and words will live on in my memory.

When we sit back and comment on how green the grass looks or how triumphant the flowers I know now, I often think of Carlos. I think not only of the skills he taught us that we will pass on throughout our lives and to others, but also the fact that friendships are sometimes formed with unexpected people at the most unexpected of times. Sometimes right in our own backyard.

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