Cultivated: On stepping out of the rhythm of the year

Christin Geall is an avid Oak Bay gardener and writing instructor at the University of Victoria

It goes like this every fall: rooting cuttings; sowing sweet peas; pre-sprouting corms; harvesting flowers; planting bulbs; raking leaves; covering plants; moving perennials; protecting shrubs. If you didn’t notice all those active verbs, I guarantee your back did.

So what if we let it all slide?

I’m a nature-worshipping urbanite: coffee runneth through my veins (and half of it I don’t make myself). But every day I’m deep in the green: futzing, pottering, and what’s more – thinking about my garden. I feel tied to the rhythm of the seasons, a Wordsworthian thrum in my heart. For many years I longed to be the person I’ve become. But on bad days now the beat runs to a samba and I stumble, overwhelmed. Do this. Do that. Now. And gardening, my love, feels like a chore.

For solace, I have long returned Margaret Atwood’s poem, ‘Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer’. It is about the wilderness and the Canadian mind but it speaks to growers in the thick of it too.

He stood, a point

on a sheet of green paper

proclaiming himself the centre,

with no walls, no borders

anywhere; the sky no height

above him, totally un-

enclosed

and shouted:

Let me out!

Recently I got out.

I ignored the perennial weeds – the English ivy sprouts who miraculously appear miles from a vine and the creeping Pacific buttercup that sneaks from lawn to bed. I left dahlia tubers undug, chrysanthemums untied and leaves unraked. I got about as far from my garden as I could get for four nights: I went to New York.

And there, I saw flowers. At the Met I marvelled at urns filled with branches of cherry red dogwood, silver eucalyptus and plum hydrangeas ten feet high. I saw a vase filled with old Noisette roses painted by Van Gogh. I inhaled the sharp scent of my Toronto childhood – concrete and grime –and mooched around the floral wholesalers on 28th then travelled blocks underground. I went to a wedding where the bride held more flowers and the men wore boutonnieres of twigs and blooms. I thought about gardening but obtusely, not sharply as I do at home, and all my little horticultural worries fell oddly into place. To have a plot of earth of one’s own is a rarity; to be able to grow what I see on my travels is a gift. Seeking inspiration from abroad is not a step away from the work but a step towards new aesthetic understandings.

Once you see the world in shades of green you can’t do anything but. That is the life of a gardener; so be it.

So go.

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

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