i don’t really have a gardening soul.

i grew up in apartments, with a healthy fear of the wormy, soily outdoors. a significant part of me still thinks of dirt as dirty, and in my secret heart i like my baby carrots pleasantly pre-packaged and washed off. i own seed packets which swear they’ll grow me some yellow beans, but i’ve had those packets on top o’ the microwave for two years now, i swear, and not one single bean has emerged from them. Dave did plant tomatoes in a box on the deck last summer, and i admired them, and felt virtuous just basking in their presence, but i did very little to contribute to their survival. even houseplants do not thrive under my ministrations – i’m more of a hardship post that tests their mettle, forces them to be all they can be in a harsh, forgetful environment…even if i do occasionally sing them cheering, tuneless songs while spraying them haphazardly with water. i mean well. but with plants and growing things, i am always in a foreign country.

the woman who owned this house before us, though…she had a way with plantlife. when we viewed the house, and later came in to check measurements and get it inspected and secretly plot the changes we would make when it was ours (all ours!), the indoors thrummed with vibrant green. the planter she’d built between the hallway and living room overflowed with ivys and ferns and other pretty things – now long since eaten by our cat – and even though it was March and snowy, she showed us around the yard, pointing out all the bushes by name, explaining what grew where beneath the snowcover. she shared all this as if we spoke her language…as if we were worthy to take care of this garden she’d laid in. and i bought in. i was five months pregnant with Finn, and happy, and i imagined myself come summer, waddling about my yard – my yard! my first ever yard! – with garden clogs and random tool-like items, mysteriously making things live.

i think you know how that part of the story goes. the day we took possession of the house, i’d already been in Halifax on bedrest for sixteen days, water broken, lying still, on eggshells. and that day we’d been waiting for, had circled in green marker on the calendar months before, was the morning i woke up in labour. funny one, gods. i had to call Dave away from the house before he’d even gotten the keys in hand, and while i laboured, in that strange, animal otherworld that is pain and metallic fear, he drove. he made it. but Finn did not. by the end of the day, we knew he would not. and so we never did celebrate the milestone of our first home – it got swallowed, along with my visions of myself as capable of making things live.

the plants were not high on my priority list when we eventually came back from Halifax to this house that we’d never slept in, without the child we’d bought it to be a home for. the house itself wasn’t high on my priority list…it offered sanctuary from the unpredictability of the outside world, which skinned me raw every time i ventured out into its neon signs advertising Mother’s Day specials, and it offered the mixed blessing of mindless work to be done, to expend myself into, but beyond those things i would have been happy to see it burn. i wanted my baby, not the stupid, empty house. i went through the motions of learning to paint and sand, because i needed something to occupy me, but never once did i step out to look at the side garden as it burgeoned into spring weeds. living things, other than the trees we planted in Finn’s memory, which i watered every night, were an affront to me. and i feared them, feared to fail them.

i didn’t explain any of this to my middle-aged neighbour the first time i met her. i’d stepped out with the watering can, heading for the trees, when a solid woman five feet away at the fence between our properties accosted me. no “hi” or “hello,” or “you’re the new owner…welcome to the neighbourhood.” nope. Brenda just laid it out, fast and rough and matter-of-fact, “you’re gonna lose them plants if you don’t start weeding them.” you can tell we live in a posh spot, non? i think i stared at her. i don’t know what i said, just goggled at her, frozen, afraid of bursting out into tears, fantasizing about pushing her pinched face into the weeds and forcing her to eat them. i refrained. i’m neighbourly that way, raised polite and constrained by social niceties even when i don’t want to be. but since that moment, i’ve never once weeded that side garden (and i do weed it, about three times every summer, or about a hundred times less than the damn thing needs) without tasting bitterness, without feeling that same violated, wounded, inept fury that i did the day i met Brenda and imagined turning her into my own personal goat. until this week.

this week, for the first time, it got warm enough for Oscar and i to really play outside, and to check out the garden. it did me good. at the front of the house, he tried to eat one of the tulips that survive as a legacy to the good gardener who lived here before us. and he fell and got frightened by the strangeness of the soil, and i got down beside him and got my hands dirty trying to show him worms and that really, dirt ain’t so bad. and i started to believe myself.

Oscar in tulips

later, on the side of the house, he revelled in the weed cover and its raging greenness, and for the first time, all those weeds looked less like a Sisyphian chore and a reminder of pain and inadequacy than just like, well…weeds. kinda pretty weeds. weeds that will likely choke out all the other plants that that poor lady took such care with, true…but she doesn’t live here anymore. we do. with Oscar. who warily checked out the new leaves on Finn’s trees in the backyard, and decided Japanese maple didn’t please his palate.

Oscar with Finn's tree

but it pleased my heart.  each new spring, a little healing.

that, i can get dirty for.