Recently my friends Jamie and Frank moved to a new house, and with it got themselves a substantial, well-established garden. Jamie, who has never been, well, “outdoorsy,” has taken on her new project with a little trepidation and lots of gusto. Lately, as the garden begins its springtimey flourishing, she’s been posting pictures of the various plants on Facebook with the request that her friends near and wide identify them so she can learn what to expect and how to care for them. It’s been a fun little exchange, with people from all over the world arguing whether a thing is a hydrangea, some kind of ivy or a forget-me-not. (And I since this is my blog, I’ll just say that I have NEVER seen a forget-me-not as big as a PERIWINKLE.)
Anyway, it’s been really wonderful connecting with Jamie again on that funny old forum called Facebook six years after I left her back in Windsor, and it’s been great seeing her embrace this garden life. Last night the posts got me feeling lonesome for my wonderful pal Debbie, who still lives in the country near where I embraced gardening for the first time, back when my ex-husband and I started out on our own.
We first lived in a charming white farmhouse with red wooden outbuildings, lots of old fashioned shrubs and an apple orchard. I didn’t know much what I was doing, but I tried. And it’s no doubt where I got my love for un-manicured country and cottage yards, with bits of flora growing up willy-nilly in every corner.
Later when we built our own house nearby, I constructed a rock garden down the length of the driveway. It was hard work, slugging and lugging those rocks, but exceedingly satisfying. And by the following summer that garden was bursting with growth, with help from my Aunt Martha and my Grandma who shared plants from their own gardens. Aunt Martha even shared with me a fragrant violet which had originated in the garden of my other Grandmother who had died long before I was born.
Debbie lived directly behind me on the other end of the country block a mile away. Those were really happy years; our families were together all the time, raising our small kids, going for walks, feasting on seasonal produce and barbeque, chatting around kitchen tables – and gardening.
Every spring we would take an excursion out into other parts of the county to buy our bedding plants for the year. Debbie and I have always shared a sense of the aesthetic, and there is no one I’d rather wander through gardens and greenhouses with, lingering over some odd leaf formation or stunning hue of orange. Or just wander in particular – Debbie is undoubtedly the easiest friend I ever had – we never had time for anything but enjoying each other’s company.
Those summers we walked our country road daily. We’d fill bowls with wild mulberries and admire little pink roses growing wild in the ditch. The last summer we lived out there was the time Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines. While the volcano wrought terrible destruction to people there, it, ironically, gave us on the other side of the world a summer of spectacular sunset skies. (It was something about those nasty little particles, like those that grounded Europe a few weeks back, reflecting light.) Every evening we walked and marvelled at the colours we saw beyond us. And just at dusk millions of fireflies would come out and join us along the overgrown abandoned railroad adjacent to the road.
My marriage was coming undone that summer and we were getting ready to move to Windsor. But I’ve never forgotten the magic of that time. Because I’m certain that without Debbie to appreciate it along with me, the magic would have been greatly diminished. In fact, thinking about the consequences of having lived that particular time – and this life – without those shared experiences with her is devastating – I would look back on a life with much less colour and substantially less appreciation for beauty.