Gardening is very new to me. No one ever took the time to grow flowers, shrubs or trees up north. The closest thing to gardening in Attawapiskat was a sort of potato farm on Potato Island, a small island in the Attawapiskat River. This island has plenty of trees and a thick healthy layer of soil, which makes it perfect for growing potatoes.
At one point land was cleared, ploughed and cultivated by the missionaries who started actively visiting the area about a century ago. They built small barns, somehow brought in heavy iron equipment, used horses, raised farm animals and planted all sorts of hearty crops. Now the farm is just a small plot of land dedicated to growing potatoes.
Cultivated lawns for mowing were not the norm for a home in Attawapiskat. Most houses in the north had healthy tall grass two feet in height and it was never cut. The only clearings in the grass were caused by muddy footpaths that crisscrossed the town in all sorts of directions. There was a large open field in the back of the school but it was not maintained, so it grew over with grass, shrubs and ponds of water. There was a small baseball diamond that was mostly reserved for adults and teenagers. The old cemetery beside St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church was always kept groomed. In my time it never had any headstones but there are people buried there.
I recall that the Shisheesh family who lived near my home had what looked like a modern lawn in their back yard. It was a small clearing of land bordered by a decorative wire fence. The ground had been levelled and the grass was regularly cut by one of the few lawnmowers in town. Since this was one of the few places in town that was not hard clay, wet mud or overgrown grass, every one of us children in the neighbourhood wanted to run, jump and lie down on this small patch of lawn.
Recently I have been introduced to gardening. I also started reading up on the subject and doing my own research. I soon figured out that gardening is not as easy as it sounds. Most of the exotic plants and flowers we might want to grow are too delicate and weak to withstand a cold winter.
My first thought on dealing with all this was to do lots of work in maintaining, caring and protecting plants and flowers from the hard climate we live in. This seldom works as nature is always one step ahead of us and the environment will eventually kill any weak plant that is left out in the cold for too long.
One of the most significant things I have learned about gardening is the idea that maybe some plants or flowers just don’t belong in our backyards or lawns. If it can’t stand up to the cold, the clay, the poor soil, too much rain, drought or the sun, then maybe it is not supposed to be there.
Slowly, I have helped my friend Emily to plant and maintain her garden over the years. Each spring, the garden seems to grow a little bigger, as new perennial plants get added.
I find it frustrating sometimes to work hard at trying to make domestic plants grow only to see a wonderful patch of wild roses in bloom growing in hard, dry clay soil on the side of the road.
One thing I have become fond of is the lowly dandelion. I have always admired this strange, hearty flower. It grows everywhere. They grow in great patches in any open field. It doesn’t seem to matter if the ground is clay, mud, sand or even gravel, dandelions will find some way of surviving. I am starting to see them as the perfect flower. They don’t need any care to grow and they have a perfectly designed delivery system for their seed. It is just a simple puffball and each tiny stem of fluff contains a new seed that can blow in the wind for metres or even a kilometre. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than a lawn full of yellow dandelions in bloom.
We dedicate so much time, money and energy into making the perfect garden and yet there is nothing more beautiful than a field of wild yellow dandelions or buttercups.
I am starting to rediscover the natural beauty of a wild flower. I took a ride on my motorcycle the other day. It was a hot, sunny day and I passed by patches of pink wild rose bushes in bloom, fading blue forget-me-nots and newly bloomed yellow buttercups. There were fields of yellow and white flowers. The air was filled with scents of all sorts and the aroma changed at every mile.
Sometimes I wonder why we work so hard at planting things when we are all living inside a large garden of flowers, shrubs, trees and grass ready for us to admire and appreciate.
All we have to do is to take some time to stop and smell the roses… wild ones, that is.