“The world is full of people looking for spectacular happiness while they snub contentment.” Doug Larson (1926-Present)
You are looking at a picture of my dad and I doing a little gardening in his yard, circa 1990. My father was a career military man – a hospital administrator by profession and a damn good one at that, but he was an equally abysmal gardener. To be fair, my parents didn’t exactly have an ideal landscape to start with, as their Vancouver Island property was composed entirely of heavy clay soil that was frequently flooded by the stream in the backyard. As a result, the lawn had as many dips and curves as the rollercoaster at the PNE and there was probably more buttercup than actual grass growing in it – yet it was still green (except when the buttercup was in bloom).
Alas, my dad fared no better at landscape maintenance; in fact, he once managed to sever the tip of his finger while clearing the chute of his lawn mower, while it was still running. And his morbid fear of Garter snakes often led him to suddenly abandon this same mower at breakneck speeds, leaving his young granddaughters to venture out and scare away the ‘dreaded beast’. My father’s concept of summer flowers was usually 10 flats of iridescent pink impatiens, planted in every conceivable nook and cranny. At maturity, the glare from said flower display was blinding, and enough to make even the vainest flamingo envious. When it came to choosing a dwarf hedge to line his sidewalks, my dad bought some very young Leyland cypress trees (x Cupressocyparis leylandii). Little did he know that he had chosen one of the fastest-growing conifers available, often maturing (when left unpruned) at 100 feet or more. Still, he managed to regularly hack them into submission with his handy electric trimmer, creating the semblance of a three-foot-tall hedge, often with the same undulations as the lawn.
His pride and joy was a small rock garden in the backyard – which was little more than a mound of soil, edged with a few white-painted rocks and topped with a concrete statue. By virtue of being a raised bed with good drainage, the plants growing here actually had half a chance and generally looked pretty good. Mind you, there wasn’t anything fancy growing there – just violets (Viola odorata), hens & chicks (Sempervivum) and candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), with a few Muscari and pot marigolds (Calendula) for seasonal colour.
It has been 20 years since my father and his garden passed away, and in all that time I have yet to encounter another gardener who enjoyed their green space as much as he did. For all his horticultural faux pas, my dad really loved his lumpy lawn and hot pink impatiens – so who was I to tell him any different. In retrospect, maybe my father wasn’t such a bad gardener after all because unlike so many others, he actually found a way to be happy with what he had.