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first person

Illustration by Chelsea O'Byrne

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I put you in the ground two years ago. I can’t even remember what you are called and the garden centre tag is long faded. You are big and spectacular, the woman told me. So far you have been nothing but big – big leaves, big space being filled, big disappointment. But still I have hope.

This year, as you begin to poke your very green head through the earth, I warn you. This is it! If there are no flowers this year, you are out of here. You are taking up way too much space and there is no shortage of green in this garden in the rain forest right here in the middle of East Vancouver. Green is definitely not a problem in this backyard.

You continue to push through. As with all your gardenly neighbours, it is a serious growing time. At the start you resemble perhaps a rhubarb leaf, when I am feeling charitable toward you. At worst, you remind me of the horseradish we just can’t seem to get rid of. Man, those roots go deep!

I notice a change on one of those perfect plant-growing days you green things love: Nice and wet and dewy to start, hot penetrating sun midday. I swear you have grown four inches since this morning. But all you keep growing is leaves, slightly wrinkly, ever expanding, ever multiplying leaves!

I am one of those people who talks to my plants. Of course I’m one of those people who talks to herself and also counts out loud as I am loading the clothes dryer. I have never confessed to being normal. So I wander my garden and lay down the law.

“You” I say, fingering those leaves. “You are supposed to have some very showy spectacular yellow flowers and if there are no flowers this year, you are out of here! You too, you giant irises. I think I’ve given you quite enough time to get settled, sink some roots in, so to speak. No flowers, goodbye! Think about it.”

Spring turns into summer.

And one day I look at you and I call Gary, my sweetheart, over. “Do you think this is another leaf? Doesn’t it kind of look like it might be something different? Do you think it’s going to be a flower?” This particular spiky shoot does look a little different than before when the leaves came, but I don’t want to get my, or this plant’s, hopes up.

So each day, after coffee on the back deck, I clomp down the stairs to visit the estate. Well, really it is our little patch of yard behind our house. Maybe it feels estate-like since it’s one of the few streets in the city with no back lane so there is an abundance of trees and growth all around. Calla lilies – this season, a disappointment. I think it’s because I am not an Italian gardening in Vancouver – they are the ones with the giant lilies in their yards that I covet. They say, “Oh it’s easy.” “Yeah. If you’re an Italian gardening in Vancouver,” I say to myself, hoping that my latest attempt will yield some lilies one year. I see the snap dragons are snapping along and the Centaurea montana are popping up everywhere there is an empty space. The honeysuckle looks pathetic and the marigolds need to be deadheaded. Yikes! Aphids on the nasturtiums! The gardener down the street says she plants them as a sacrifice to keep the aphids from her roses. But we plant nasturtiums because we like them.

And you, you big green leafy plant, I have not been ignoring you, I just want to give you as much time as you need.

People keep commenting on how beautiful the garden looks this year, but all I see is too much green.

“Gary! Come look! They really aren’t leaves, are they? I think they’re going to be flowers.” Maybe that woman at the Van Dusen Gardens annual plant sale was right. Maybe I will see large spectacular flowers. But right now these little knobs look just like … tight little knobbly knobs. But I think there are now three.

In a few days, I check the plant again and I find another spike and another knot of something wanting to be something else.

I pull out my phone and walk through the garden, talking with my friend Anne, who encouraged me to buy the plant. “You remember, I bought it that day we made the condominium plant basket. The giant leaves? Oh my God, there are now nine blobs!!!”

I get off the phone. I examine you carefully. As if in a slow, agonizing, yet pleasurable striptease, one blob is beginning to expose hints of yellow. Like a butterfly in a chrysalis, you are unfolding, ever so painfully slow.

I want you to spring forward. Why can’t you be like that fritillaria that crashes through the earth, grows like superman in leaps and bounds and miraculously springs forth fully formed beauteous blooms? No. You tease me. A teeny-tiny bit each day. You could take weeks yet.

But, I know what you are planning. You are patient. Much more so than me. You peek a little and tease a bit. You will be big and bold and beautifully yellow. I imagine you will look like suns.

You will bloom all right. But you are waiting for me to leave for my vacation. You will bloom when I am away.

Valdine Ciwko lives in Vancouver.