I didn’t understand gardens until my daughter was born. My mother and father had both been gardeners, and my grandparents all around, on all sides. Motivated by beauty and an escape from poverty, my entire lineage has had their hands in the soil. Although I appreciated surreptitious raspberries taken from the back of Gran’s wee plot, enthusiasm for the dirty endeavour generally escaped me. But then, I gave birth. I recognized what it felt like to welcome living things into being, and I could not stop.
I began by planting fruit trees, hoping that they would feed my child into adulthood. I also began by sprinkling wildflower seeds in the lawn and just waiting for the bouquets to emerge (they never materialized).
It was shortly thereafter, when my mother died, that I truly understood my garden. It was May, but I remember little of that summer, or the few after that. What I do remember is a montage of plunging my arms into the soil, using mud and leaves to patch the great, gaping loss that had torn through me. I remember so slowly realizing that even in the face of death, I could usher things to life. I could surrender to the cycle; I could participate in it. I could destroy slugs and pull buttercups by their roots. I learned that everything has a time to die.
And if I had watched at the doorway while my two most precious people had passed through – my daughter into life and my mother into death – I could also try to map out the route they took, in tiny rows of carrots and tangles of Wisteria. Every one of us has, at some point, searched for reason amidst chaos – in religious text, astrology, self-help books. I had dirt beneath my nails and close encounters with a hundred thousand growing things all around me, grasses and hoverflies. I could use them to divine some meaningful patterns, I could craft a sense of order and purpose, even on a minuscule scale.
Over the last 13 years, my garden has grown, and where some things have flourished, others have faded away. It keeps a few secrets – the falling-down fence and chains of blackberry struggling for domination hide the most fragrant roses you could imagine, and some honeysuckle besides. It is untidy and it is romantic, in the broadest sense of the world.
I have returned to this garden after a two year absence. It is still my favourite salve for restlessness, confusion. I really feel like I am making magic, when I am out there – wresting control and being overcome, resurrecting plants I thought were lost, getting drunk on the smell of springtime (there is nothing more intoxicating).
This year, for the first time, I am recognizing that this land does not truly belong to me – this is unceded K’omox territory, and my ownership, my order, is a beautiful illusion. The relationship I have with the land is a gift (albeit one that comes at the expense of others), and “my” garden is as temporary as I am.