In the Garden: Never stop growing

Anne Marrison says goodbye in her final column on gardens and gardening.


Some of my editors wanted me to do a farewell column – and though my inclination was to fade away quietly – here I am trying to fit a lifetime of gardens into 580 words.

The first garden I noticed was grandmother’s – stiff Thames valley clay where fruit trees grew in the vegetable garden and the wondrous white lilies by the old pigpen were much taller than me.

My first home garden memory was making mudpies in the cabbage patch. Soon after, my father’s machine shop obtained a government contract and our retired-gardener neighbour, John Chapman, began helping with our garden. I hung out with him for hours asking questions while I watched and learned.

He gave me my own garden strip and seedlings to plant. I also grew primroses, violets, and white anemones robbed from the woods where I roamed on my bicycle. This was the idyllic English countryside of Berkshire.

Later the strong, lateral branches of our Bramley apple tree were easy to climb and I spent many happy hours up the tree reading. In my early teens I made a herb garden.

When we came to Canada, there were chaotic years getting settled. My first houseplant was Mother of Thousands (Kalanchoe daigremontiana). I spent years sweeping up its galaxy of babies.

My first real Canadian garden was a tiny yard in Kitsilano with a perennial pink pea (Lathyrus latfolius) in the front. Des and I grew salad crops and raspberries in the back, and in summer our daughters’ small friends visited with bowls.

In 1968 we bought a tiny shack on seven acres of rocky hillside gravel in South Surrey. We had hens for eggs and pest-control, and after months of rock-moving, we had a vegetable garden.

We added flower gardens. At first our plants were cuttings and divisions from family. Then I joined the Alpine Garden Club of B.C.

This club triggered my love for growing things from seed. These included six seed-grown witch hazels – and some years later, after I had spoken severely to them about compost, they all flowered.

A few years later, we had half the land, a big new house and a cost overrun that sent me back to work as a newspaper reporter and sometimes editor.

A few years later, I was single and my garden was a city lot in warm, sunny White Rock. I could grow plants from seed outside all winter.

I began the garden column in 1985 in the same week that Eric and I got married. Two years later, I was gardening on an acreage in Maple Ridge. In 1994 I began writing features for Gardens West. Meeting and learning from some of the best gardeners in B.C. was a wonderful experience.

Some of the trees I grew from seed in White Rock are with us still, including Katsura, Cornus Mas, Paulonia, Chimonanthus praecox and two Euonymus Europea. But now I’m older and slower. It’s time for another life change which means ending this column. So thank-you to the ones who helped me so much: to Eric who is my proof-reader and office manager, to my patient and understanding editors – and to the gardeners over the years who asked me questions and taught me so much. Since I can’t quite give up, I’ll still answer questions.


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