The garden was established by the people who owned the house before we bought it last fall. They had spent 16 years turning a large barren lot into a multiple-garden bed wonder. I thought my job - daunting enough - would be to maintain their efforts.
When we made the decision to move away from Toronto to our small town and our huge garden, friends said things like, "why don't you just move to a condo?" "you're going to miss the city," "how will you ever maintain such a garden?" They knew I would care for the garden largely on my own and their comments nipped at my confidence.
So this spring I set out to face the challenge and soon discovered that the fun came not in trying to keep the garden as it was - an impossibility anyway - but in learning each section and rebuilding it to keep it going forward, to reflect our tastes, and to add some edibles.
As I work, I'm reminded that gardening let's me know where I am at and who I am. Sometimes, I am impatient to get the jobs done. Sometimes, I want perfection, Sometimes, I lose myself in the quiet contemplation of the land. Sometimes, I channel my father as I create a vegetable patch. Sometimes, I channel my mother as I clip flowers for the house. Sometimes, I channel my original self, the one who loved to play in the dirt as a child.
But I've discovered that gardening in the third phase is a different proposition. In the past, I have planted trees and perennials - buying the cheaper, smaller pots - knowing they would grow eventually. But now, I think a lot about what a tree will look like in five years, how high a perennial will be in two. Because, just like plants, life is fragile. And as I plant a cedar or a stick of a pear tree, I hope they will survive the harder winters and I wonder how long I will be able to be around them. I plant nonetheless because life is a gamble at the best of times.
The strongest reminder of this is the paw-paw trees I recently planted. The paw-paw is a native fruit tree I'd never heard of until I moved to the Niagara region - a tree that produces a papaya-looking fruit. But I can't expect to see any fruit for at least three years, have to keep the trees wrapped for the first year and a half. In some ways, planting the paw-paw trees is a leap of faith, an incentive to keep active. If nothing else, they are a legacy. Native trees I'll leave behind. D