Much as I love a beautiful flower garden and an abundant vegetable patch, I like absolutely nothing about creating or maintaining either. Gardening well takes energy and patience; it is – especially in a summer like this one – hot work, and there is just no end to the weeds that require attention.
Fortunately for me, my partner is a gardener, which means I can reap the benefits – fresh flowers and homegrown produce — without having to do any of the work.
As I have watched our garden take shape over the spring and early summer, I have been reminded of American environmental activist and farmer Wendell Berry’s words:
“I can think of no better form of personal involvement in the cure of the environment than that of gardening.”
From rural to urban gardening
For many years, my partner and I lived on 140 acres of land in rural eastern Ontario, where we had a very large vegetable garden. Our plans were big, so the garden was always a work in progress with a seemingly endless amount of work ahead.
We have lived in the city now for several years, where my partner has been able to put his gardening passion and skills to use in a smaller and more structured space. Even so, the garden is in a state of constant expansion. Year one saw part of the driveway ripped up in favour of asparagus and raspberries. Year two, the lawn in the backyard disappeared to create more space for vegetables. Year three, a raised bed garden appeared to break up the vast expanse of paving that constituted the driveways for our house and that of our next door neighbour. Year four, the lawn in the front yard began to be replaced by flower beds.
And so it goes, with changes and expansions every year.
Gardens make good neighbours
It is a rare day between early May and late October when at least one person does not stop to admire and comment on the garden in our front yard. My partner has come to know many of the people in our neighbourhood because of their interest in our garden. Grandparents stop with their grandchildren to show them the flowers. A Syrian refugee asked if he could have some of our pampas grass for a trellis he was building. Cars pull up, windows roll down and people point at the yucca plant, flowering in all its glory right now, or the caster beans.
If we are outside, people ask if they can have cuttings, seedlings or seeds, and the answer is always yes. On more than one occasion, I have been in the back hanging laundry or sitting reading a book when a passerby has wandered into the yard looking for more of what they have seen out front.
No one has ever taken or destroyed anything in the garden. Surprisingly little litter gets dropped among the flowers. Dog walkers are diligent about removing their pets’ leavings.
It seems the American horticulturist Luther Burbank had it right when he wrote:
“Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.”
Saving the environment one garden at a time
As green space disappears from the planet at an alarming rate, even small gardens like the ones my partner has created contribute to a healthier planet. We are able to meet some of our own food needs while putting more oxygen in the air, thus helping offset global warming. Our gardens are organic, so no chemicals seep into the soil and water table.
Gardens create a space for wildlife within the city. Mind you, that wildlife consists mostly of raccoons, squirrels and rabbits, with whom we are in a state of constant warfare over the garden produce. At the moment, the rabbits seem to be winning: we have given up a significant share of the salad greens to them. Perhaps they have marijuana-induced munchies, because those plants are taking a real beating this year.
Good for the soul
There is a veritable din, growing louder by the day, of the troubles we need to concern ourselves with. It is important that we fight back, speak out and resist, and that we do that collectively with others.
But that takes a lot of energy, and we need to also find time and space for solitude and reflection. Gardens can help us with that. As poet Minnie Aumonier wrote:
“When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden.”