When I was in University, I had a job one summer working for the Town of Amherst as the assistant head gardener. I was 18 and the head gardener, Bunny Heffel, was 67. We were the gardening crew for the town. Our job was to mow all the lawns belonging to the municipality, including some areas that hardly qualified as lawns. We were also responsible for planting the ornamental gardens in the town’s parks and around municipal buildings.
It might surprise you to know that even small towns — Amherst had about 9500 people — have a lot of flower gardens. As I recall, Bunny and I had about 30 or 35 beds of various sizes (though none of them exactly small) to tend throughout the summer. We planned them, bought the flowers, planted and fertilized them, watered them when necessary — it seldom was; Nova Scotia is a rainy place. As the summer progressed, we weeded and replaced flowers that died. Midway through the summer, we replaced entire beds as the seasons changed and the ‘proper’ plants for that time were needed.
Bunny was a lot of fun to work with. He had a tremendous sense of humour and a way of working that never seemed to break a sweat but always got the work done. His philosophy on lawn-mowing said it all: Don’t try to go to fast; the grass is only going to grow again anyway. Besides, the time you save in mowing you’ll spend in fixing the divots your tear up with speed.
I came to love gardens because of Bunny. I had always helped my Dad with our garden but it was mostly vegetables — useful things but not as enjoyable as flowers. Over the years he too shifted from practical gardening to decorative but our plots were small. I think it was being able to work with a big patch of land and turn it into something beautiful that triggered a love for flowers and gardens that I still have.
I’ve only owned a house once in my life and really didn’t care for the experience of home ownership. But I did love my garden and now that I dwell in a condo I take great pleasure in transforming our balcony every spring into a small (though noisy) oasis of green and red and pink and yellow.. We generally plant about 25 pots on the deck, leaving just enough room for a couple of chairs and a small table to put our wine glasses on.
Whenever I travel I make a point of visiting the gardens of the city I visit. I take lots of pictures but mostly I just sit and look. It gives me as much of a sense of a place as any museum or church.
But that’s ten minutes.