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The Globe and Mail

I’ve happily noticed a lot of newbie gardeners this year, which, along with the COVID restrictions, has led to unprecedented garden-centre lineups, more traffic and busy parking lots. Gardening seems to have a new, hip image, like knitting or sourdough bread, I suppose.

The media is full of urban and community garden feel-good stories, with suggestions for the 10 best plants for sun or shade and reminders that container gardens need “thrillers, fillers and spillers!” And the resurgence of home veggie plots is reminiscent of Victory Gardens from a previous time of heartbreak.

But listen, gardening can be hard work. Your nails are going to break, your knees might become permanently stained and standing up will take some effort. You’ll get a wonderful glow from the fresh air and sunshine but your tan will be most prominent on the back of your neck. Don’t be deterred. I’m delighted that you want to dirty your hands. Go for it. The world could use a whole lot of extra beauty these days.

But be forewarned: A bit of scratching in the dirt could lead to a full-on passion that has you perusing catalogues and wandering retail aisles, coveting any number of available accessories and implements. A growing collection of plants here and shrubs over there call for tools of the trade: shovel, spade, trowel, rake, hoe, pruners and gloves. Make sure you pick up lots of gloves since you’ll lose them by leaving them everywhere. So your pruners aren’t cutting it? You will need their cousin, the loppers. There’s an endless assortment of tools for weeding, and purchasing one of each could cut into your retirement fund. I have a wonderfully reconditioned Erie 1035 wheelbarrow that has pride of place in my shed. It’s so cherished I’m thinking of naming the beneficiary in my will. See what I mean?

You’ll find that gardeners are a friendly lot, willing to share their knowledge. Years ago, my gardening buddy was standing in line to pay, plants in hand. A diminutive older woman of Italian look and accent leaned in, pointed and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “Don’t buy that one here. Go down Concession 5 about three miles. Better prices.” Quickly acting on this insider information, we hightailed it down the road.

This same buddy has been my partner on horticultural travels that started about 10 years ago. We kick off the season in May with a full day touring as many nurseries as possible. My husband is advised that I’ll need his truck and, regardless of the weather, we’re eagerly prepped to go. Living in Ontario’s Niagara Region, with its warm climate and abundance of nurseries and gardening interest, we drive about an hour from home base and work our way back taking backroad side trips everywhere. Over the years we’ve visited the grandest of nurseries to the smallest of specialists and become more knowledgeable and sophisticated. The choice of annuals and perennials has grown exponentially over the years and we’ve indulged ourselves looking for the coolest of plants of just the right colour, shape or size for our seasonal pots and personal patch of beauty. We’re amazed at the profusion of geraniums and pansies that still sell but they are old and floriferous standbys that have stood the test of time for generations. At the end of our mid-May tour, the truck is full to the sidewalls and sometimes we manage to stop at a winery or two. Well, it’s not just imperative, it’s unavoidable, they’re everywhere!

We’ve built perennial gardens that include the whimsical. Big Daddy, Love Pat and Striptease hostas are happy near the Black Negligee bugbane. Maidens, fern or otherwise, are planted close by with a Guardian Angel hosta for intervention. My friend’s garden has a Wedding Party series of hellebores. The Blushing Bridesmaid and Wedding Crasher were joined by the Dashing Groomsman this year. While the guest list continues to grow, the Bride is yet to show but she’ll be sure to turn up. Plant breeders must drink a lot of cocktails. How else do they come up with these names?

Oh, sure we’ve said we have no more room for another plant, but who’s kidding who? Expansion is always a possibility and, if need be, we can be ruthless. If one hasn’t lived up to its reputation or thrived as expected then that plant is outta here! Yes, I’ve had some failures. My poppies never seem to reappear and coneflowers go in and out of our affections. My friend doesn’t like irises, an admission after a lengthy drive to a specialist. While at a loss to comprehend this, I accept it. I’ve learned that true friendship is your pal going with you wherever you need to go in search of a “have to have.”

We’re not horticulturists but we attempt the Latin names for some of our favourite flowers. We’re not landscapers but, to us, our gardens look pretty wonderful. Sharing a bottle of wine, we admire and praise one another’s garden and each year we claim we now have the best ever. Our efforts are an evolving relationship with nature, the timing of blooms and our artistic aspirations to grow gardens of great colour and form. We and our gardens are a perennial work in progress and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

For those who are new to the horticultural game or if you are someone who thinks it’s just not summer without geraniums in your garden – welcome to the club. We’ll see you at the nursery next year!

Linda J. Woods lives in Niagara Falls, Ont.

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