My idea of therapy doesn’t take place in an office. I don’t settle into a cushiony chair or sofa. My therapy is a quiet affair. It requires gloves and comfy shoes or boots and a willingness to get dirty, sometimes muddy. Therapy for me is being outside, either in my garden or my kayak. As soon as the days begin to warm and the sun decides to stick around a little longer I begin therapy.
For more than twenty years, my major therapy process has been gardening. If you would have told me in my twenties or even in my thirties that I would want to spend day in and day out putting around my yard, I would have said you were nuts. I would have also said that if you told me that I would take up kayaking after sixty. These two things are now my favourite summer activities.
We moved into our current home on a lake after leaving Ontario in 1998. Nova Scotia was home for me and a place to visit for The Doc. When we decided to move here, we played with the idea of lakefront then realized that, given the circumstances of the time, lakefront was actually doable. Timing was everything and we were very lucky.
In Ontario, where summers are so hot and humid for months on end, I rarely went outside, except when we travelled up north, which always reminded me of my Nova Scotia home, to go camping or rent a cottage. In between those times, I was a cranky, cooped up, not-very-happy bitch, stuck in a house that backed on to a very noisy road.
Our new Nova Scotia yard had a couple of rough gardens that needed help, but unlike Ontario gardens, didn’t need watering to live from spring to fall. Slowly, with the help of The Doc, I began to fix up these gardens, building walls, sorting plants and figuring out how to make them better. The Nova Scotia climate, especially where we lived, was cooler. I rediscovered the beautiful season of spring, which can last for weeks, unlike the two-day event it appears to be in Southern Ontario.
The back of our yard, leading to the water, was a long sloping sort-of lawn with a scoop in the middle. If it was wet, we couldn’t walk up or down without slipping. When The Doc mowed, the mower often couldn’t make it back up to the top. It was tedious at best. So in 2002, we had it reshaped into mulch-covered tiers, still quite steep, and a curving walkway down towards the lake. “What are you going to do with that?” someone asked. “Plant it,” I replied having no idea how big of a job this was going to be.
I started with hardy crane’s bill geraniums and ditch lilies, beautiful orange ditch lilies that real gardeners tell you not to plant. These things were already on the property so I split them and placed them in strategic areas to help stabilize the slopes, which had a tendency to wash away in heavy rain. The Doc had to dig drains in the crusher dust walk way, add timbers and bring in pea gravel to keep it all from running down hill.
Every year, I would purchase a few more perennials, then split them when they grew larger. I let all the babies my plants created live and used them to help fill in empty spots. There are some, I probably should have tossed, but hindsight is hindsight. I lost a lot of finicky things to the winter winds that blow up the hill and remove the insulating snow. I purchased hardy shrubs. I read books, did my homework and learned by trial and error.
This north facing back garden is like me. It is slow to get started but once it does, it goes for a long season, often providing colour well into November. I am a no rules, no deadline gardener. In my silent putting around this garden, I have solved many problems, thought through many creative strategies when I worked as a graphic designer, and came up with some perfect sentences for my writing. This putting has made me a calmer, fitter person, one who can hardly wait to get outside on nice days.
My garden is a living ecosystem not a perfect painting. It is constantly changing. It has ants and aphids and slugs and flies and mice and moles and beetles and bunnies. Some years there is more insect damage than others. I pick lily beetles, spray aphids with insecticidal soap, sometimes put down slug bait and only deal with ant’s nests that are damaging a plant. I don’t expect perfect plants and unmarked leaves. I never stress about these things. They are part of the ecosystem. They are part of nature.
There are bees and hummingbirds and hummingbird moths. There are birds that build nests and make my garden their home. Others, like ravens, crows, hawks, osprey and eagles that fly overhead. Their wings making an unforgettable whooshing sound.
There are also billions of weeds that I never intend to eliminate because weeds are part of the rural ecosystem. In my yard, they are spread very efficiently by the wind. I pick the big ones, the most obvious ones, then I wait until that moment in the summer, usually mid July, when the plants are full sized and in bloom and hiding many of those weeds. I actually like weeding and will sometimes go out for an hour or so and fill a trug or two when I don’t feel like doing other tasks.
There are places that appear wild and haven’t been touched in a few years. There are plants that have taken over in places, creating a need and plan for future splitting, if not this year, then next. There are always mental lists being made, although not everything gets executed.
I don’t expect these gardens to ever be finished. They inspire new projects every year. As a graphic designer, I was a project person. Starting new projects was always my favourite part of that job. The creative rush that followed the assignment. The thinking and mulling and planning. Now that rush comes from my gardens. I have no desire to just sit in them. I prefer to be hands on.
During gardening and kayaking season, nothing, absolutely nothing else, gets to the top of my list. Piano doesn’t get practiced often, maybe on the odd rainy day. Many just-checking-in phone calls don’t get made. Blogging is pretty low on my priority list. Puzzles only get pulled out when the rain stretches over a few days. And cleaning… well, if you follow me, you know what I think about cleaning… cleaning only gets done two or three times during this period. So don’t be offended if I seem to be off the grid or less social than my usual introverted self because this time of year I am always in therapy.
The pictures are to show what over twenty years of therapy has accomplshed.
Thank you for reading.
Photos: Jenn Stone