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“My wife’s a water sign.  I’m an earth sign.
Together we make mud.”
–  Rodney Dangerfield

It’s funny how the public perceives you when you’re a physician.  They assume that since you are so capable in one arena you must have talent or knowledge about everything.  Take gardening, for example.  Wouldn’t you think that a woman who could ease a newborn into the world or convince a toddler that his ears needed close scrutiny with a pointy instrument had some nurturing ability with our indigenous flora?  Not a chance!  When it comes to rearing flowers and shrubs, I am, sadly, inept.

Now, I suppose I can rationalize things a bit.  When I relocated from Manitoba to British Columbia many moons ago, I was truly awestruck by the lush, green vegetation everywhere.  There were so many shades of green!  Coming from a province that boasted just two seasons – winter and mosquito – and where you were lucky if you could get grass to grow never mind flowers and brambles (and what on earth IS a “bramble” anyway?) I fell instantly “in love” with my new surroundings.  I was keen to learn as many names as possible of the gorgeous flowering shrubs and perennials.  I had never seen a rhododendron or a dusty miller.  And what was this groovy bush known as “juniper” that was ubiquitous? 

brambles flowering plant
Now THAT’s a bramble!. (Photo by David Boozer on

Good Intentions

I made seasonal sojourns to the local nursery to purchase everything that looked pretty and get an education. Here is a sampling of the expert advice that was regularly bestowed upon me:

“These like an acid soil.  Make sure you don’t overwater them.” 

“Impatiens are part-sun, part-shade loving plants.  Don’t scorch them!”

“No, you should never plant a lone rhodo in the middle of your lawn.  They do much better surrounded by other foliage.”

“You have to water this hanging-moss-basket twice a day.  And feed it three times a week, minimally. This 50-60-70 combination of potash, lime and cabernet sauvignon will work wonders!”             

“You should probably rent a flatbed truck to cart the manure and bark mulch you’ll need.  No use doing things halfway.  Plants are living creatures that need a lot of attention.”

“Well, of course the plant died!  You can’t put it in a northern exposure window!”            

“You’ll need to cover these tomato bushes at night.  Yes, that’s right.  Put a nice warm blanket on them to protect them from the frost.”            

My goodness!  So much to learn.  Plant physiology.  Phyla. Taxonomy.  I swear there wasn’t this much to learn about my children when they came into the world.  Imagine worrying about humidity and companion planting and pollinating.  Can’t these plants just grow and propagate without human intervention?   And the seasonal tasks! Who knew you had to plant tulips and daffodils in the fall if you wanted some spring colour?         

Daffodils. . . .pretty but are they worth the effort? Really?

I dutifully purchased gardening books and clipped newspaper articles on everything from pruning roses to composting to fruit trees.  I tilled, planted, watered, weeded and waited.  My resolve to keep it up weakened ever so slightly when my lower back informed me that kneeling over tomato plants was spasm-evoking.  I wasn’t even deterred when the aphids devoured my expensive rose bushes.  All God’s creatures, after all.  I just needed to find some natural, organic, “insect discourager”. 

I shared my bumper crop of cherries with the birds almost willingly having had only one minor verbal tantrum witnessed by next-door neighbours.             

Time passed. . .            

A Change in Attitude

Now my poor gardens look exactly as you would expect them to – having been sorely neglected by their mistress who has fancied herself a student of medicine for the last six years. I had such good intentions to decorate my yard with roses and lilies and fragrant blossoms of all sorts.  What has survived in my garden must be the hardiest of the species.  I’ve got a lone salmon-coloured rose bush that seems to be thriving despite the fact that it has been forsaken.  Next to it is a hydrangea that I haven’t seen too many flowers on.  Perhaps it’s expecting to be fed or some foolish thing. 

My updated idea of a worthwhile plant is one that you put into the ground and forget about.  Let nature do its thing – none of this ridiculous coddling that so many of our seniors are famous for.    

I had forgotten all about my gardening escapade until I visited the exquisite Butchart Gardens in Victoria.  Quite extraordinary!  Made me feel extremely guilty that I have been so remiss with my own plants.  I could have sworn I heard a dazzling display of begonias whisper about me as I walked past:  “Psst. . . there SHE is.  It’s that HORRIBLE woman from Langley who is abusing our cousins!  Send one of the pollinating workers over there to sting her fat butt!”            

Passing the Torch

Sadly, it’s hereditary.  My infant daughter had a penchant for posies.  One particular rubber tree was repeatedly and savagely attacked without provocation by this 14-month-old child who couldn’t resist bending its slender trunk and chomping on its exotic leaves. No, gardening would not be in her future. Or, as it turns out, mine!

The evidence. 14 month old Raina with my rubber tree in the throes of agony. (1993)

An Update

As I reread this article that I wrote almost 30 years ago, it occurs to me since i am now retired from medicine, perhaps I’m ready to give the garden another go. After all, I have the time now; I have some money; I’m a little more patient. I’ll start by planting some flowers for the hummingbirds; then some roses; I thought about lilies but apparently they are toxic to cats. I definitely want to start some basil plants; and maybe some tomatoes; I just need to get that darn wasp nest out of the eaves. . . where’s the ladder? Looks like the house needs a coat of paint. . . did you know there’s a family of racoons living under the deck? What do you mean the rosemary died? We only had 3 weeks of freezing weather last winter! I suppose we can afford to have someone come in and mow the lawn. Housework? No time. Got to get those weeds out. Wait! Which ones are the weeds again?

Toby loves the garden! (Photo by Colin Rankin)

Other articles you may enjoy:

Butchart Gardens, Victoria Splendor

Nicer in Nicer (a humorous look at topless sunbathing in France.)

Pura Vida, Costa Rica!

Vandusen Gardens, Festival of Lights

Quack Attack! Top 10 Ducks to see in British Columbia