“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.” May Sarton (1912-1995)
Surprisingly enough, this whole train of thought came about as a result of two young brothers fighting over hockey cards at the garden centre where I work. It put an instant smile on my face and brought me back to my childhood, when I would trade cards with my two brothers, although instead of Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin being the prized players, it was more like Ken Dryden or Bobby Orr. The difference here was that they were speaking Arabic and the only words I understood were the team and player’s names and yet they had seemed to have quickly adopted a time-honored Canadian tradition. They, along with their family, were recent immigrants from Iraq and their parents were looking for a few plants to remind them of home…grapes, jasmine, figs…all of which they were delighted to have found. While I would love to think of hockey as that international bond, the father upon noticing me admire his boys trading hockey cards said, ” Don’t ask me, they just love hockey, but I don’t know a thing about it”. And of course one could put my theory to the test by simply wearing a Boston Bruins jersey to a Vancouver Canucks game to know that hockey isn’t always something that brings us together, unless of course you are all cheering for the same team, like during the ’72 Summit Series. About two weeks later I was visiting the local community garden in Pitt Meadows, interviewing a few people for an article I was writing. One of them was John Blackman, someone I had known for quite some time on a casual basis. I found out that he had been a Victory Gardener during the war, and had survived the blitz in London as a young boy while all along tending to his vegetables. He, along with many others, are constantly helping out new gardeners with some sage advice and yet they all remarked at how much they had learned from younger members, many of which are newly arrived immigrants who can’t afford a house but choose to grow their food here at the community garden. They bring new plants and gardening techniques, they also learn what grows successfully here and how to do it, and we seem to be richer for the experience. When I think about it, being a nursery manager puts me in the crossroads of many cultures and on any given day, it is much like the United Nations of gardening. I have people from all over the world searching for the plants that remind them of home and I seem to learn something new from them with each encounter. These are for the most part perfect strangers and yet when they find the plant they are looking for or sense in me a kindred gardening spirit, they treat me like an old friend. Like the woman from Ukraine who upon finding a white lilac in bloom, simply smiled at me and said “Lilacs are home”, and I knew exactly what she meant. The couple from Slovakia who finally found a Cornus mas or Cornelian Cherry tree and told me that once it is planted in their yard, it will really feel like home. Or Asia (this is her anglicized name), a tiny lady formerly from Taipei who is always on the look-out for a new winter camellia or Chinese flowering plum (Prunus mume) to make her Burnaby garden feel a little more like Taiwan. So it appears that gardening is one thing, maybe even the only thing, that brings people from all over this world, together.