Growing up I was not a gardener: I was a passionate bookworm. Tending a garden was either the realm of little old ladies, or back breaking labour to torment children. Yet books, as I’ve mentioned before, have a funny way of inspiring me to attempt the impossible. Fictional gardens inspired me to go out, play in the dirt, and see what all the fuss was about. Just remember; whenever I spend far too much money at the greenhouse, when the houseplants take over my home (as they invariably will), and there’s dirt under my fingernails… it’s all Mary Lennox’s fault.
Mary Lennox, that grumpy, selfish heroine of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s classic “The Secret Garden” made me see things differently.
Thanks to the green thumbs of parents and grandparents I had long known that a garden was a place of magic, the perfect setting for games and imagined adventures galore. My “fairy cakes” made in the sandbox looked better iced with the petals pilfered from my mum’s flowerbeds. Gran knew that neither her peas nor raspberry patch were safe when I came to visit. Until that stubborn (and throughly loveable) orphan and I got acquainted though, I had no interests in growing such enchantment myself. It was my many reading visits to Misselthwaite Manor that changed my mind. If Mary Lennox could find beauty and grow green magic, I found myself wanting to do the same.
A Gardener Begins to Grow
After rereading “The Secret Garden” more times than I could count, I began to see things differently. More and more I noticed the plants around me, and became more curious about them. Green buds on trees seemed more miraculous, the tiny shoots in the garden more fragile and needing of care.
That’s what did it really. Along a neighbour’s side garden in the alley was where I first saw them: green shoots choked by weeds and dead leaves. I felt a surge of anger. What were those people thinking! If they couldn’t be bothered to care for it, they did not deserve such beauty!
Like my fictional friend, I concluded that those poor plants needed to breathe. Once the coast was clear, I snuck up and fixed things. Much to my surprise- it was fun. Throughout the whole season I’d sneak back; pulling up weeds, delighting in each bud and blossom.
That “bit of earth” was not lawfully mine, but I loved it fiercely. Thus began my life as a ninja gardener. I was eleven years old.
My interest grew. Along with deadheading flowers on the sly, books with gardens-and gardeners- became a mainstay of my reading diet. Anne Shirley entered my life. I discovered the flower fairy books, quite unperturbed that as a teenager I should have been reading something more moody- or at least far “cooler”. Favourite books were found here and memories were made.
Surrounded by gardens, be they fictional and real, I was happy.
But things changed. When I moved away for university, my ninja gardening was not enough. While studying out among the lilac bushes on campus (the University of Calgary has some of the best I’ve ever seen) it was no longer enough. Student housing may be adequate, but quite lacking in the plants I needed to soothe my soul. Being far from home, I could no longer rely on the gardening efforts of my family for a green fix.
Thus I began tiptoeing into a whole new realm. From the world of guerilla gardening I slowly have moved into having “bits of earth” that are unquestionably mine. I started with pots and houseplants-most of them died- but that didn’t stop me. Eventually, (in the married student phase) I got my first community garden plot. Now that we have a house, I have a garden to share with my family, and anyone else who comes over to play.
My Neverending Adventure
I am a gardener now. Never saw it coming, but that is what I’ve become. My first foray into the neighbour’s yard was simply just the result of my reading and one excellent book.
What books have inspired happy changes in your own life? Is there a book you sigh over each time you read it, simply because you don’t want the magic to end? Gardening is one way I take that story with me and make it real, but there’s many more.
Dead houseplants or bug infestations won’t stop me. Like anything else, growing a garden, and being a gardener, is a process more than a destination. Ever since I first lost myself in Mary Lennox’s story I was a goner.
The best part? As a gardener there’s still so much to read and learn. My life is more beautiful as a result. Yours can be too.
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