Commentary: Lessons from the garden

Commentary: Lessons from the garden
Mike Ippen
Clematis in Mike Ippen's garden.

Mike Ippen lives in Central Saanich. His new novel, Saint Illuminator’s Daughter, is available on Amazon and Indigo. When not writing, Mike may be spotted in his garden feeding hummingbirds or passing judgement on delinquent squirrels.

I was in the garden today (as so many of us are these days) and somebody walking down our street pointed at the tulips just opening and said, “what a lovely display you have made.”

Automatically I said “thanks,” then with false humility added, “I didn’t do much.” It was false because I was bursting happy to receive the compliment, but true, because, aside from digging the hole and dropping the bulbs right side up, I did nothing to make their brilliant colours or their delicate petals.

It’s true for everything in the garden, including the dandelions. I once planted daffodils, some autumn way back when the kids were young. They have come back every spring, asking nothing (the flowers, not the kids), but giving everything they got for us and the neighbours, and especially for the bees that circle drunkenly over their heads.

We’ve been in our house coming on 26 years, and I see the changes that build-up, like sediment layers, on the bottom of the sea. There’s the arbour I constructed out of salvaged iron railing, now groaning under the weight of an evergreen clematis. There’s a couple of volunteer arbutus standing like sentinels astride our driveway, and I am happy to be the custodian sweeping up their leaf drop twice a year. There’s a cedar tree out front, a Deodor Cedar, or Himalayan Cedar, as my know-it-all neighbour corrects me. It’s coming on 50 years old and two summers ago, it dropped cones by the wheelbarrow load.

And that fall, while I was cleaning up for the winter, I discovered 19 tiny seedlings, popping up all over the garden. I know I can’t let them get established where they have taken up residence, but I have left them, for the moment, to see how they grow. What happens without my knowing, or doing, is amazing.

There are lessons to be learned in the garden, as every gardener knows, and when I come inside and watch the news, I see some of those lessons magnified a thousand times: the canals in Venice full of life where weeks ago they were full of boats and gondolas, ferrying tourists on their once-in-a-lifetime dalliances. The goats introduced to Wales from the Kashmir over a century ago are wandering down Main Street. Sea turtles are digging nests in the Florida sands in record numbers and I’m sure the same is happening in places I have never been, with animals and birds I’ve never heard of. And that’s kind of the point. There is a peacefulness of wild things when we, in our thousands, millions even, take a pause and give them a little more space.

With all the talk about bringing back the economy I know there are conversations happening; maybe there are promises we could keep about lessons learned in the bigger garden we share.

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Mike IppenMike Ippen

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