Friday, 3 July 2015

Garden 7: The Lady Next Door

Curlicue from my ex-neighbour's front steps railing
You'd think it would be hard to remain dignified while being escorted from one's home wearing a too-large, hooded, Tyvec onesie, duct-taped at the wrists and ankles, like a walking bio hazard - but my neighbour managed it.
She lived that way, it would seem, long before I arrived next door. Her shredded, water-stained curtains never parted; the shapes pushing them up against the windows did not change; and a cold waft of fusty air whacked me upside the head if ever I (rarely) knocked on her door: but it was only in the last few years that the extent of her situation became obvious to me. By then, proceedings had already begun to make her a ward of the province, have her hospitalized, and sell her house.

The place was a disaster, but in some ways a little cheering, too. The grass - which she cut herself, shoving and pulling that seemingly over-sized mower through the underbrush - was filled with bluebell and lily-of-the-valley. The back yard was a jumble of over-grown shrubs; an encroaching fig tree; treacherous, abandoned fence-post holes; a towering, out-of-place - but happy - Douglas fir; slugs; and - survey says - rodents (though I can't say I've noticed a decline since the house and garden were removed). OK, maybe the garden was not so cheering, but she planted it all herself in the more-than-40 years she lived there. That counts for something.

The topic of our odd, but beloved, neighbour came up frequently in the alley; we were vaguely concerned about her, but we let her do her thing. She mostly kept to herself, feigning invisibility unless someone spoke to her first, or she was faced with some task too big for her: break her into her house, or help with a flood and fire in her basement. If we met round the end of the fence she was warily generous, offering excellent, though bruised, Gravenstein windfalls that careened to earth from her never-pruned apple tree; tomato starts, discovered in her composter; Sweet William seeds in sealed, hand-labelled envelopes (no luck in my shady garden); and a miniature cup and saucer set for my daughter. Her comings and goings were announced by the sound of her gate, scraping along the ground between our houses, and, every night before garbage day, by the rattle and clink of the neighbourhood's empties, squeezing through it.

She participated in our annual garbage clean-ups, took canning classes at the community centre, and worked all the voting stations, film festivals, and Folk Fest. No doubt you've seen her around. She was engaged in her own timorous, slightly-crusty way, and she was fond of my kids. She was OK by me.

Hand-me-down hostas, sword fern and clematis; tidy, new neighbours, no trees.
Did she know I relied on
 her to remind me of garbage day?
After her release from hospital, she was moved into a condo across town. I am told someone checks on her to make sure she is not accumulating stuff. I saw her last, very briefly, at an Our Social Fabric sale, about two years ago. When I said hello she stopped not looking at me, and made an acknowledgement. Just like when we used to be neighbours.

I've been thinking: now that the shade is gone from my garden, I might buy some Sweet William seeds and see if they'll grow.

Garden 14:  Harvest
Garden 13: Abandoned Stuff, Things of Beauty
Garden 12: Death and Potential
Garden 11: Japanese Maple Tree and Sedum (?)
Garden 10: Foxglove and Weed Digger
Garden 9: Veggies and Sweet Pea 
Garden 8: Gnomes and Slugs
Garden 6: Euphorbia and Rusted, Metal Things
Garden 5: Cement Bench and Wallflower
Garden 4: Maryjane
Garden 3: Family Portrait
Garden 2: The Neighbours'
Garden 1: Lilac Bush and Abandoned Cans

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