There’s nothing I cherish more in a fellow gardener than their willingness to share a good story. Like a gardenful of hardy perennials, these stories offer scope for your imagination and reveries for years to come. Pity I only have room to share two with you today.
In the past few weeks, I have had many garden adventures, or “good calm fun,” the kind my friend Ms. Mel likes to have. Together, we drove out to Commanda Country Gardens in Powasson, for a visit to a perfectly delicious board and batten cottage, wherein the gracious hosts, Jim and Judy Merrick, reside. Jim’s grandfather settled the estate in the 1880s and the family has been there since. A big old weathered barn fills the skyline and looks down on the humble greenhouses that house unique and hard to find perennials. Beehives dot the periphery of the gardens and offer visitors a steady, meditative hum. I was immediately smitten with Judy, her perfect grey bob and friendly ways. She pointed out just what I was after: the delicate maiden-hair fern. There were plenty, just like there were plenty of interesting varieties of herbaceous perennials and lilies; so interesting that in fact, that gardeners from all over Ontario make the yearly trip to the greenhouses. Maidenhair fern, Judy tells me, happens to be a favourite of hers as well. In fact, a generous group of them in her front bed nearly ended her marriage. Since most plants are divided, as opposed to starting from seed, Jim is always on the lookout for things to divide. Judy drove into her driveway one afternoon to find her ferns dug out and divided, despite many warnings to Jim to “leave her maidenhairs alone.” Judy recounts with a chuckle that she dug her heels in and threatened the dissolution of their usually happy marriage unless the ferns were put right back where they belonged.
This past week I had the pleasure of working for a client named Martha. Martha lives down in Long Lake and has a delightful sandstone pond that needed a good tending. After two days of weeding and chatting, Martha and I became friends. This “gardening” friendship was marked (as it usually is) with the sharing of clippings and divisions. As I packed my car up with pieces of lilies and yarrow, Martha reminded me to remember the “foxies”—foxgloves started from seed. I thanked her for all of the plants and she winced. “Now they won’t grow,” she said in all seriousness. My puzzled expression gave to further explanation: “It’s a Finnish custom to never thank a friend for a seed, cutting, division.” It’s better to say nothing. Even better still? Steal the plants when you can.
I took Martha in: a kind, “honest” woman, mother of two; wife; friend; plant thief? Really? Had this blonde woman in curlers really populated her garden by ill-gotten means? Hardly. However, her unusual advice, whilst being unconventional in our society, goes a long way with me. Who are we really to claim ownership? Isn’t Monsanto trying that very thing by suing neighbouring farmers for “stealing” their crops, when in fact, the Monsanto seeds are just blowing merrily into said neighbouring garden and settling down? Here’s the difference: Monsanto does not a good neighbour make. Martha? She can come steal from my garden any old day.