by Katie Kroeker, Pacific Ridge Landscapes –
During my elementary school years in Ontario, my family lived in what most people considered an undesirable area, in a small townhouse across the street from a graveyard where we rode our bikes. It was a dull, unlovely place to live, but my mother changed that.
Each spring, Mother’s Day meant the beginning of the gardening season was upon us, and every year, Mum and Dad would come back from the nursery with flats of impatiens to go into the foundation beds that Mum had spent hours digging and amending.
I remember how people would stop and stare at the flowers, often asking Mum about them. This would be followed by a cup of tea and a welcome into the community. Now when I ask her about it, she says: “Pfft, it was just some flowers, little impatiens, they weren’t anything special,” but I disagree. Mum’s garden was a gift of beauty, dignity and friendship in a neighbourhood scarred by drugs and violence, and woe betide you if you were the one responsible for a stray soccer ball headed for her garden!
Over the years, we moved several times and Mum’s gardens got bigger and even more beautiful. The daughter of an artist, she has an eye for colour and she has always enjoyed taking risks in her garden. Even when I disliked certain plants, I always appreciated the way her gardens looked effortless. She constantly experimented and was always transplanting, dreaming and working in her garden.
I remember people regularly slowing down as they drove past our house to admire the hibiscus in the circular driveway bed. Sometimes, they would even start wandering around the front yard, on a spontaneous, self-guided garden tour. (It got a bit ridiculous when we found strangers in our backyard, bending over and examining the plants.)
Mum’s gardening is very intuitive and hospitable. She creates beautiful spaces without artifice and will refute compliments to this day. I learned from her by osmosis. She taught me to respect what already is, to edit carefully and not to compete with nature. She collaborated with the places in which she gardened, understanding intuitively the fundamental principle of genus loci which is Latin and means “the spirit of the place.”
Mum was always getting creative. She put an old paned window into a garden bed, decades before vintage styling and upcycling became popular. She instinctively nestled her focal points into foliage and created vignettes that never failed to look like they had always been there. Mum’s style was a cross between English garden and a traditional garden. Her gardens didn’t have the voluminous laissez-faire of an English garden, but they were much more gracious than a traditional garden.
It’s funny how much the description of her garden is also the description of her. Her gentleness and invitation, her ability to welcome stranger and friend alike. I find myself projecting her on to her garden, anthropomorphizing it as garden and gardener blend together. I can only hope that her influence both on me and my garden design runs deeply.