My ‘secret garden’ is now only a memory

Though the majority of my life has been spent living out in the country, when the boys were just babies we briefly lived in town.

Though the majority of my life has been spent living out in the country, when the boys were just babies we briefly lived in town. As much as I treasure the solitude of country life there were aspects of city living that delighted me. I still remember cooking up a pot of chili for supper, realizing I didn’t have any peppers and the thrill of simply shutting off the stove, loading the boys into their tandem stroller and trundling off to the grocery store. I returned a few minutes later with my small purchase feeling almost giddy with the novelty of it all.

In the country I only went grocery shopping once every 10 days or so. If I forgot an item or we ran out of something, we simply did without until the next ‘grocery day’. There was no thought of wasting an entire afternoon and all that fuel for the sake of a couple peppers. A convenience store isn’t convenient when it’s over 20 miles away!

The other thing I enjoyed was snooping in neighbour’s yards. That makes me sound like a peeping Pam or something and, I suppose, that’s exactly what I was. But with one notable exception, it wasn’t the people I was trying to get a peek at, it was the plants. Even back then gardening fascinated me. Every afternoon during spring, summer and fall I would load the kids into their tandem stroller and we would cruise the neighbourhood looking for gardens. If we passed a house with evidence of flower beds in the front we would bump our way down the back alley so I could catch a glimpse of their backyard which, I quickly learned, was where the real beauty was usually held.

The only person I tried to spy on was a little old lady that lived two blocks away and even that was garden related. Her house was completely surrounded by magnificent, mature, trees. Not knowing anything about trees at the time I could only tell they weren’t poplar or spruce. In the spring I would catch glimpses of her in green rubber boots, a house dress and a pair of pruners flitting between the branches. By early summer her yard was awash in fragrance and bloom. During July and August the leaves were so thick and dense you couldn’t even make out the house, but every once in awhile I would spot a pair of green boots or a white head slowly bobbing along. Her back yard was fenced with tall planks that completely obscured any view, but it seemed to me there weren’t as many tree tops in the back as there were on the sides and front. That meant . . . a garden! A secret garden.

If Mary Lennox had not been a fictional character and if she had moved to Canada and if she had grown old, she could have been that neighbour. I imagined how one afternoon I would catch my ‘Mary’ on the fringe of her property, how our eyes would meet and I would tell her how much I admired her trees. She would clasp my hands warmly in her own and ask if I would like to have tea in her back garden. We would become the best of friends and she would divulge all kinds of tips; both about life and gardening. And the secret garden? It would be spectacular.

That fall I finally got my chance. I was wheeling the boys past her property and there she was raking leaves off the sidewalk! I slowed down, she looked up, our eyes met and I smiled. She smiled back. And I kept walking. I couldn’t believe it. I had finally got my chance and I had blown it. I circled the block, cursing my shy gene the entire way. Next time I would tell her how much I admired her trees. Next time I wouldn’t lose my nerve. There never was a next time. Winter came and the following spring we moved.

Last summer I was early for a meeting and thinking to kill some time I drove down our old street past my Mary’s place. I felt as if I had been sucker punched. There stood her house like a wild, startled, thing in the blinding sun. The trees, the shrubs, the fence; all of it had been razed to the ground. If there ever had been a secret garden in the back there was no evidence of it now. Maybe the roots were getting into the plumbing. Maybe the new owners simply wanted to let in some sun. Maybe some things are better left to memories and imagination.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns or check out her garden blog by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Public Schools says that in the absence of additional funds from the provincial government, there was no consideration of using alternate classroom sites in the district. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Red Deer Public Schools launches online engagement process

Red Deer Public schools is seeking community input to help ensure a… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels defenceman Mason Ward battles with a Medicine Hat Tigers’ forward during the WHL Central Division season opener. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers come back to spoil Red Deer Rebels home opener

It’s been nearly 345 days since the Red Deer Rebels last played… Continue reading

Students walk into Hunting Hills High School, which is one of the Red Deer Public Schools with solar panels on its roof. (Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff)
Red Deer high school was placed in lockdown following potential threat

Hunting Hills High School was placed in a lockdown Friday after Red… Continue reading

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer says some details of the provincial government’s 2021-22 budget need to be ‘sorted out’ when it comes to the hospital expansion funding. (File photo by Advocate staff)
More detail needed regarding hospital funding, says Red Deer mayor

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer says some information is unclear regarding the… Continue reading

Alberta Health reported two new COVID-19 deaths in Red Deer Friday. (Image courtesy CDC)
Two more deaths linked to Olymel outbreak in Red Deer

Province reported 356 additional COVID-19 cases Friday

An arrest by Red Deer RCMP is facing online scrutiny. No charges have been laid and the incident is still under investigation. (Screenshot of YouTube video)
Red Deer RCMP investigating violent arrest caught on video

Police say officer ‘acted within the scope of his duties’

Thorough sanding of a table top is usually the first step to renewing a finish. Wax contaminants can sometimes still remain on a surface like this after sanding. Cleaning with rubbing alcohol and a rag gets rid of these contaminants without leaving a residue behind. (Photo by Steve Maxwell)
Houseworks: Fixing wood finishes

Q: How can I stop polyurethane from beading up on a mahogany… Continue reading

Need a knife? There are knives of all shapes and sizes at The Kitchen Store.
Hints from Heloise: Finding a good set of kitchen knives

Dear Readers: A good set of knives in the kitchen is a… Continue reading

Runner Melissa Bishop-Nriagu speaks to the media at the opening news conference at the Canadian Track and Field Championships Thursday, July 25, 2019 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canadian athletes struggling to find competition as they try to qualify for Tokyo

Canadian athletes struggling to find competition as they try to qualify for Tokyo

New York Red Bulls midfielder Jared Stroud, right, vies for the ball against Toronto FC midfielder Jonathan Osorio during an MLS soccer match in Harrison, NJ., Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. Entering his ninth season with Toronto FC, Jonathan Osorio said his off-season regimen was no different than in the past. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
Veteran TFC midfielder Jonathan Osorio looks to take it to the next level this season

Veteran TFC midfielder Jonathan Osorio looks to take it to the next level this season

Powell, Lowry help depleted Raptors beat Rockets

Powell, Lowry help depleted Raptors beat Rockets

Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (19) makes the save on Toronto Maple Leafs' Zach Hyman (11) as Tyson Barrie (22) defends during third period NHL action in Edmonton, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. Toronto continues to lead the North Division standings, but hard-charging Edmonton is now just four points back on the all-Canadian circuit heading into a three-game series between the teams in Alberta's capital beginning Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Maple Leafs, Oilers set for key three-game series atop North Division

Maple Leafs, Oilers set for key three-game series atop North Division

Angela James stands on centre ice in front of the Toronto Maple Leafs team after being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame before Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres NHL hockey action in Toronto on Saturday November 6, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Hall of Famers James, Lowe, Hay named to Order of Hockey in Canada

Hall of Famers James, Lowe, Hay named to Order of Hockey in Canada

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse talks to center Aron Baynes (46) and guard Norman Powell (24) during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris O'Meara
Nurse, five Raptors assistants sidelined to due COVID-19 health and safety protocols

Nurse, five Raptors assistants sidelined to due COVID-19 health and safety protocols

Most Read