Anne Marrison grew up with dirt underneath her fingernails.
And while the retiring Langley Advance columnist has spent a large portion of her working life as a journalist, she has had a lifelong passion for gardening.
“I love it, plus it’s good exercise,” she said. “I’ve always loved growing vegetables. The family… from my father’s side, you had to grow vegetables to get through the winter. England is also, I think, the home of gardening. In my village, everyone gardened.”
Today’s edition includes Anne’s final Gardening in Langley column.
Anne, 79, says that as enjoyable as writing her weekly gardening column has been, she needs to focus on her own garden, her health, and her beloved, 93-year-old husband, Eric.
“I stress out easily, I’m more tired than I was, my balance isn’t as good as it was,” Anne said. “I’ve got to do a garden column and I’m not looking forward to it because all I really want to do is lay down and rest. So I said, this is time.”
Eric no longer drives and for the past 29 years, the couple has lived in rural Whonnock, roughly a half hour drive from downtown Maple Ridge.
“I worry in case he’ll fall,” Anne said. “His dad died when he was 94 of a broken hip, so I worry that if Eric isn’t there, I look at all I have to do, and I think I’d better learn to do some of it, including the riding mower – I’m horrible with machines.”
Anne plans on easing into full-time retirement.
“I’m a self-confessed workaholic and my poor husband has been so patient, and it’s an addiction,” said Anne, who added she’s a “perfectionist” with words. “It’s one of the worst addictions of all because it’s favoured by society, and it doesn’t cost you money, it makes you money. I think I may have 10 years yet, and I hope to solve it when I’m retired.”
Over the past 26 years, Anne has drawn inspiration from her readers.
“The garden questions help a lot but I only started those in 1990,” Anne said. “The other thing that helped a lot was, I started writing for Gardens West, as well, in 1994.”
Eric, whom Anne notes is not a gardener, is her proofreader and is “fearless” about criticizing her columns.
“My first garden column took me four days in the evenings, and at about 10 o’clock [on the final night] I finally finished it, and I took it to Eric to read and he said it’s not right,” Anne recalled. “He said it was too stiff. It’s not friendly enough. I don’t think I could have done the column for 30 years without him.”
Her decision to retire her gardening column closes the final chapter of a working career that started when she was 14 years old and living in England.
Anne’s teenage years were spent working at her dad’s automotive store.
“I pumped gas, but the thing I loved was taking motorbikes apart, except I wasn’t strong enough for the cylinder heads,” Anne reminisced.
She was also the shop’s short-hand typist, answered the phones, dealt with salespeople, and took orders for her dad’s large inventory of parts.
When she arrived in Canada, Anne worked for two-and-a-half years as a short-hand typist for the Royal Bank in Whalley, before finding employment as a nanny/housekeeper for a family that included four children.
“No money changed hands, it was a good family… and it worked out well,” she said. “I was there for almost a year.”
After obtaining her Grade 12, she attended UBC for a time (where she wrote for the university’s newspaper) before finding work with BC Hydro.
It wasn’t until she got married and moved to a large property in Vancouver that she really found her passion for gardening.
“It took us six years to save for a house, because we thought it was better I be a stay-at-home mom because we couldn’t have afforded babysitting, anyway,” Anne shared. “We had the two [daughters] together to kind of get it over with.”
When her children entered their pre-teen years, Anne embarked on a decades-long career in newspapers, starting with the now-defunct White Rock and Surrey Sun.
She remembers her first assignment: “There I was at White Rock council, terrified, I didn’t know anything about councils. Win Strawson, from the Surrey Leader, the opposition, I told her I was terrified… and she spent the whole of the break coaching me as to what to do and what not to do. That’s where I learned about the camaraderie of the newspaper business. If they’re the opposition, you don’t give them stories but you help them in small ways. They haven’t got a pen, you lend them yours. They don’t give it back, you don’t say anything.”
She worked for the Sun for another 18 years.
Through the years, she worked as a reporter, editor, and humour columnist for a number of other publications, including the Fraser Valley News Herald, Surrey-Delta Messenger, and the Columbian, just to name a few.
In 1985, she started writing a garden column, the same year she married Eric.
Anne retired from full-time reporting at the age of 65 and it was a good thing she did, because two months after that, Eric was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“There was radiation, the hormone treatment, and all of that, but he survived,” Anne said. “He hasn’t even needed a second lot of hormones.”