Garden Heart

I am in the process of revamping the business side of my blog. So now under the Garden Heart tab above you will see a revised description of what it is I actually do for a living, including project highlights. You can also tap into blog posts about past projects and clients I’ve worked with under Garden Heart posts. This process has involved a review of my career. I thought it was appropriate to revisit how I came up with the name for my company. I have operated under many names including, First & Yew (the corner I was living on at the time), Spring Gillard Communications (boring yet self-explanatory) and now Garden Heart. A lot has changed since I wrote this for the Diary, including the loss of a very dear friend. The chapter below reminds me of how everything happens in its own time.

I could hardly believe my eyes. A sign had just jumped into my path. The Vancouver Compost Demonstration Garden. I had lived in this neighbourhood off and on for years, walked by this very spot hundreds of times and had never noticed this urban garden tucked in behind a row of old houses. But what’s so remarkable about my arriving at this garden gate? How did my life lead me down this particular garden path?

I had just arrived back to springtime in Vancouver, B.C., after two and a half years in “Winterpeg,” Manitoba, where you snowshoe to work until May. I had run screaming from the world of advertising. No more selling hamburgers and beer for me; my mind had begun to turn to greener fields. I was recycling everything in sight, but so far my only gardening knowledge was contained in pots of pansies on my balcony.

Right before I left Winnipeg, I went to see the movie Green Card, a romantic comedy set in New York City. Bronte (Andie MacDowell) is a horticulturist who volunteers with the Green Guerrillas, a group that gifts gardens to inner city communities. She has her eye on an apartment with a greenhouse. But there’s one hitch; she has to be married to get the apartment. Enter Georges (Gerard Depardieu), an illegal alien who needs a wife to get his green card. They agree to a marriage of convenience. As they strike their accord, a green chord resounds deep within me.

So there I was back on the west coast, jobless and homeless, sleeping on a friend’s floor, still resonating with this movie. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life, so I took to aimless wandering. One day in a bookstore, I picked up a magazine I’d never read before called The Utne Reader. And what’s the first article I open to? “Zen,Wheelbarrows, and Collard Greens.” The author, Dan Barker from Portland, Oregon, gave away gardens just like Bronte did in the movie. It’s real, I thought. Maybe I could do something like that.

The very next day I was wandering up a street I had walked many times before, when suddenly the sign jumped into my path: The Vancouver Compost Demonstration Garden. I turned my head to look down the driveway and through outstretched gates, I saw an April garden, bursting with colour and new life, wild with scent and possibility. Like a Buddhist chant, the green chord hummed within me, and the chord became a cord, drawing me in. Spellbound, I passed through the gate and stepped into my new life.

A man stood there as if waiting for me. Without greeting him, I said, “What goes on here?”

Michael Levenston, director of City Farmer (as he turned out to be), was unruffled by my stupor and explained the purpose of their garden. “We’re here to teach people about composting. We use the organic garden to demonstrate how to grow food in small urban spaces without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Visitors can see the complete cycle of life here from table top to compost heap and back to earth again.”

“Yes, this is where I belong,” I said. “Where do I start?”

He pointed me to the head gardener, who signed me on as a volunteer.

I started the next day. And my first job? Sifting worms! Separating them from their castings in the shaded “worm corner.” Yes me, an associate creative director, with worm poop under my manicured nails! I never left. The garden healed, soothed, and nurtured me through that warm summer and guided me through a great transition in my life. My life was transformed by this meeting with the earth.

Soon I was teaching “wormshops” to kids and getting paid. Then I was offered a position as Compost Hotline Operator and my office — in the greenhouse! When I wasn’t helping people through their compost crises, I was weeding and tending flower beds, or talking to the media about worms, and finally writing about urban agriculture. It seemed that along with the apple cores and banana peels, my skills were being composted, too.

I was not the first to be recycled by this garden. Many preceded me, our head gardener among them. Wes was a French teacher for 25 years before he stumbled in, in search of new life. Many more followed; burnt-out and soul-starved like me with that telltale look of wonder on their faces. With hands in the dirt, they each go about quietly transforming themselves and eventually return to the world renewed. But they never really leave. This ever-widening circle of city farmers has become a community with the garden at its heart.

As I write this from my sunny little greenhouse office, crocus and primroses are poking their noses out of the chilly soil, and I find myself on the brink of another great transition. Spring’s cycle is about to begin anew, but with its rebirth another season dies. My longtime co-worker, Wes, is leaving the garden, moving on to the next phase of his life. He is salt of the earth, our Wes; his presence has kept us all grounded. Like an old married couple we have tended this garden — raking leaves in the fall; making Christmas baskets each winter with fir boughs collected from forest paths; harvesting fresh produce come summer for a local hospice. In among the seed catalogues, rainy day crossword puzzles, and shared lunches, friendship flourished. My heart aches at his departure and I wonder if I will make it through this transition. Is my season here ending, too? I am not sure, but I do know this: no matter where the path leads me, the garden will always be in my heart.

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