Renegade gardner

The little folding table that stands stock stiff beside my favourite perching place is stacked dangerously sky-high with seed catalogues.

I don’t know why it is, but I never seem to get around to getting rid of last year’s selection before the new ones arrive, and then I’m even reluctant to throw them away. Lately I just don’t, ’cause the Little Lady is not here to put her foot down, demanding that I clean up that mess. This I will do, of course, about three seconds after the little table, overburdened with weight, crashes, with a mighty sigh of relief, to the carpet floor.

I grew up in a non-traditional market garden within which my father, mother and the rest of my siblings hacked, hoed and furrowed within the heart of a traditional mixed farming community.

Though knowing our way of life was somewhat different from those of our neighbours, I gradually grew to appreciate the discipline of growing things for other tables. I was soon to learn of the direct translation of quality foods into nickels and dimes that could be dredged from deep urban pockets at the local farmer’s market.

When cut flowers were added to that then current limit of meat, butter, cheese, eggs and vegetables, which were long-established local trends, the sanity of my parents was certainly questioned. Along with fellow vendors, the market clerk stopped, looked, scratched his head and openly snickered.

But that was soon to change, and change it did. Before the first hour of that first morning had passed, thanks to the fleeting doldrums of depression and war, the flowers had disappeared from the sustaining waters of that old, battered, galvanized Beatty tub, while the nickels and dimes in our wooden cigar box cash container had increased considerably.

From that point on, it did not take long for a seven-year-old boy to learn to love flowers. My parents remained vendors on that market for 37 years in total (bettered only by a Dutch gardener who topped 42), consequently I’ve become addicted to the power of flowers ever since.

Over the years, I have run the full gamut of flower growing – from the long commercial row of my youth to the flamboyant flourish of mass-produced, geometric planted annuals of the greenhouse grower. From orchids grown casually in the bathroom, as gifts, to thousands of tropical plants under high-pressure sodium lighting,

I’ve gone from the straight-line formality of the traditional English garden to where crowded, overgrown perennials cheekily spill over pathways. But lately I’m of the mindset of a modest, lazy nature, geared towards even more casual style, and I’ve taken a few lessons from the greatest teacher of all – Mother Nature herself.

The appreciation of native prairie and woodland flowers that grow in sweeps and swirls as conditions dictate fits well with the chronic case of lazyitis that afflicts the weary bones of the aging body.

You can fight nature, of course, but be prepared to work hard, have aches and pains, and scads of discouragement. Native plants simply look after themselves, need little watering, attract bird, bee and butterfly, self-seed and look great both outside, on the table and have won many a ribbon for the Little Lady at country fairs.

What more could you want? This year, when my catalogue table takes its inevitable annual crash, it will simply be introduced to the can commonly known as trash.

By the way, perhaps I should mention once again that we will once again be holding our annual bird house and bat house assembly workshop at Little Tree Horticulture, Highway 6, just north of Fergus.

So mark your calendar June 19; that’s the day before Fathers Day. Do you get the picture? Dad doesn’t want another tie, another pair of socks, a belt for his pants, or a coffee mug. Get him something he won’t expect. What better long lasting, environment friendly, enjoyable gift could you give the strong masculine man in your life?

Take care, ‘cause we care.



Barrie Hopkins