Cultivated: A dog and a garden

Christin Geall is an avid Oak Bay gardener and creative non-fiction writing instructor at UVic

Just over a year ago, my dog was killed by car. I wasn’t there – she had been at Windsor park with my father – so I only saw her dead at the hospital afterwards: her body still warm, her fur still silky soft, her body thick and solid but the gorgeous thrumming life of her gone.

It was a profoundly difficult winter. For a month, it felt like I had to heave each word up from a creative well that had run entirely dry. I had no energy.

Which terrified me.

Which is, apparently, grief.

So why write of it now? Because even though my sadness felt bottomless, even though every time I stepped outside or opened a door and expected her there, the garden remained constant in its demands. Through freeze and thaw, windstorm and weather, the garden wrenched me from flat sadness into rage, frustration and delight. Feeling – any feeling – to the bereft means care, for the self or the world, it doesn’t matter, so long as it’s there.

I often think about how my garden grew commensurately with the growth of my son. As he moved out in the world, I welcomed more living things that needed me: more plants, more soil, more spaces. Was it solely a matter of having more time to garden? Or was it some other need to nurture? To care not only about, but for?

No surprise then, that I got said dog from the Humane Society a month after my son moved away for university. She was young, untrained, and in our first week together so unruly in the garden I tethered her to my waist so I could work. She ate everything: compost riddled with avocado pits (bad for dogs) and oyster shells (not great either); sticks and stems and plastic tags and, and, and…she was insufferable.

She was also impossibly affectionate and cute.

When she died, I spent hours in the greenhouse huddling out of the wind, seeding in a frenzy, planting Dianthus and Cobea too soon, twitchy to transplant and pot things on. Growth: I needed to witness it. Seeding flowers helped me imagine a future in colour.

This year, in the roar of March, I was tired of being alone while I worked outside. I found an older dog, another rescue, who now shambles about the garden, not eating a thing. He lolls, he rolls, he rampages occasionally through the borders, but most of the time reclines sniffing the breeze. I suppose he suits me now—calmer and older, the both of us.

Another spring has come and with it another round of seedlings and hope. It’s the season of making promises: to water, to tend, to clip, to feed. What is spring for a gardener, if not committing to care?

Christin Geall is an avid Oak Bay gardener and creative non-fiction writing instructor at the University of Victoria.

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