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I have lived quietly at home in my hope not to burden our doctors and nurses with my care in this surreal time of the COVID-19 pandemic. But to my surprised gratification, I have a gift to offer those who care to accept it: it’s what I’ve come to call my “anti-COVID garden.” I call it that because for a few moments it offers the pleasure of flowers and greenery to any passerby who cares to look, and many do. They often comment (frequently through a mask) on the pleasure they get and indicate that in this time of distress even a brief respite is welcome.
I feel that the reason I began the garden so long ago has imbued it with something special, something that reaches out to cheer others going by on the sidewalk, mainly people walking their dogs or caregivers with small children in tow or those out for a stroll. There are some who don’t waste it with a glance – joggers and those walkers just out for exercise, the young people intent on their music or gizmos, and those slow cyclists, not confident enough to use the bike path on the road. Those folk don’t bother me.
Why I think the garden has helped reach out to many who pass by is because it was started for my Mom in her old age. Back then, decades ago, it was just a border beside the driveway. I planted flowers that Mom admired in other gardens when she managed to get out on her short walks – pink and yellow tulips, white and mauve ground phlox, daisies and short purple iris. She looked at everything and was intrigued by such things as mushrooms growing from a stump or a plant developing.
For some years after her death I just maintained the little garden. I’d gone back to work and didn’t have the time or energy. But when I stopped working and summer came, I wanted to be outdoors.
Our front lawn was a mess that year – white grubs had gotten into it. My husband was not a lawn man, except for dutifully mowing it, so he was quite willing to have me dig it all up. At the time, I thought it would just be a rock garden.
Looking back now, I wonder if I was inspired by the heritage of my farmer ancestors from both sides of the family. They had already figured out that it’s an adventure to help things grow, whether it’s a child, an animal or a plant.
All that summer, with some help from my husband, I pulled up the grass and got rid of the old depleted soil. David willingly threw in endless bags of good earth as if, with his Scots ancestry, he was tossing the caber.
But once the soil was in, I didn’t have much of an idea what to do. We had a single ordinary hosta in the back yard, which I split and planted in the front garden. Then we drove out to a roadside spot where we picked up plenty of pretty rocks, just right for making some terraces in the garden slope to retain water for the plants.
Another start to the garden was a lone bushy “tree” planted years before as a shoot in our old lawn. It came from a grocery store, tagged as an Ainsley crabapple tree, but I didn’t know it was grafted onto an ordinary hardy apple root and so I didn’t plant it deep enough. The result was a lovely surprise, as both kinds of tree grew together as one and bloomed profusely side-by-side as white apple blossoms and the crabapple’s large shocking-pink blooms until at last replaced by a white crabapple tree.
Over the years, by trial, error, reading and participating in a local garden club, I’ve learned quite a bit. But the plants themselves taught me the most. They rejoiced in a good, mixed soil, complained if watering wasn’t right for their particular needs and proceeded to plant themselves willy-nilly if they liked an area. The columbine flowers moved on their own from the backyard to the front, as did the native bloodroot plants I’d been given years ago. The original hosta was the gift that keeps on giving, it now forms two long rows near the sidewalk, along with what I call my “neat plants,” sedums that look tidy all year long and which butterflies and bees love when September comes.
Despite my attempts to keep the garden simple and mostly white and green, a variety of coloured flowers made inroads. They bloom in sequence: violets, white and blue Siberian iris, white peonies, yellow, white and dark purple bearded iris, white and pink roses, mauve hostas, white and mauve phlox, white hostas, tall mauve Michaelmas daisies and pink sedums.
As for me, despite age and arthritis, the garden has been a happy companion during this stressful pandemic time. The pleasure expressed by many have made me feel that in a small way the garden and I can briefly lighten their cares, too. At least that’s what I tell the plants.
Susan Becker Davidson lives in Ottawa.