The Good Neighbour


This is my father in his garden at Frog Point, Humbug Bay, Manitoba. It is north of Hecla, nearly at Pine Dock.The government launched a plan at one point to see if people could grow gardens in these northern communities along the lake. They should just have gone to my father’s fish camp and taken a look. he didn’t need any grant.

Last summer, after being in Manitoba for three and a half months, when I returned to Victoria, I found an azalea and a rhododendron dead. It had been a dry summer. They were beautiful plants, valued parts of the garden that fronts my house. I have no lawn. Just a garden of mixed shrubs and flowers. Also, when I left for Manitoba, my fig tree was covered in new figs. When I came back, the figs had dried up and fallen off the tree.

Perhaps it is vanity but Victoria, given its climate, is a city of garden proud people. Plants of all kinds flourish here. When I first moved to Victoria in the early seventies, I was amazed to discover trees and flowers that we’d had in southern Missouri. The climate allows extravagances such as the palm tree in Playfair Park. People grow palms simply because they can. More spectacular, though, are the tulip trees, astounding fountains of flowers. The rhodos at the University of Victoria are breath taking.

Not to garden seems churlish. Only the blackest of thumbs couldn’t make something grow.

I come from a family with two stellar gardeners. My father, surprisingly, a rough, tough commercial fisherman, loved to garden. At his fish camp along the west shore of Lake Winnipeg, he grew masses of flowers, rows of vegetables. The soil that lay over the limestone had been undisturbed for eons and he had all the fish offal he could possibly use for fertilizer. My Irish grandmother was the other gardener but while she grew some flowers, her heart’s desire was vegetables. Her city garden, created under difficult circumstances, flourished, was laden with string beans, peas, was packed with carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes. Her side yard provided plums from wild plum trees she’d brought from the forests around Gimli. Rhubarb and strawberries flourished.

That is why, too busy editing and writing, too busy going to Manitoba for Islendingadagurinns and ice festivals and holidays, I’ve left my garden untended, unweeded, unwatered. In spite of that the Grape Hyacinth have provided a wonderful display among a mass of white flowers the name of which I do not know. The daffodils look like they are on steroids. The rhodos, after looking limp last fall, are bursting with large red blooms. However, they all show the signs of stress from last summer.

I swore before I left this year, I’d have an automatic irrigation system in place. Those who don’t know me won’t understand what a brave and foolish statement that was. Mechanical systems defeat me. Fortunately, there live across the street a couple who are exceptional gardeners. Someone recently said to them, “If I were getting married, I’d want to get married on your lawn.” You only need a glimpse at their “lawn” to understand why.

When I mentioned to David that I was going to put in a micro watering system, he took me around his yard to show me how such a system worked. Then I went off, with his advice, to buy the component parts. Knowing nothing, when a salesman sold me the wrong plastic tubing, I bought it. It put me back a day and after trying to make the tubing work, David went with me to HD and we were told, oops, sorry, wrong tubing. And, no, we don’t have any of the right tubing but if you drive to Rona in Langford (this is quite a distance) they have some. End of day one.

Today, I left early for Rona, found the correct tubing, plus some more bits and pieces sold separately and after having watched what David did yesterday, went to tackle putting the system in place. Fortunately, my neighbour saw me and came over. And, for the next four hours, did most of the work required to get the system in place and working. We both got soaked. It was chilly. Didn’t matter.

I’m a bit thunderstruck. I’ve always been lucky with my neighbours but help for two days in a row getting in an irrigation system is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced outside of small town Manitoba. This is, after all, the big city.
Good neighbours make a community. If there are more people here who are like my neighbours across the street, I really have moved not just into a house, but into a community.