The alarm. 7:30 a.m.
She hits snooze and opens one eye. A sliver of July sunshine peeks through the Venetian blinds. Her husband is still snoring.
The bed is soft and warm, but if she gets up now, she’ll have a moment to herself in her favourite spot. She has to. She has to see what has changed since yesterday.
So out of bed, on with a robe and down the stairs she goes — no time for hair-fixing or tooth-brushing. Not yet.
She fetches her favourite mug, a chipped, blue-and-white café-au-lait bowl with phrases en francais scrawled along the edge. Taking her coffee out onto the small, concrete verandah, she slides into a slatted wooden chair. The chair was a Mother Day’s present, but this — this is her gift to herself.
The eight-foot-by-eight-foot garden looks like it belongs in a jungle, not on a quiet downtown avenue. There is no order in its growth, no plan in its planting, no research into what will (and won’t) thrive in the harsh soil.
She picks the plants she likes, and she’ll make them thrive, somehow: three kinds of hydrangea (white, pink, purple), old-fashioned roses (yellow and peach) and healthy hostas around the border. There’s lilac near the verandah, and mint against the neighbour’s garden. A whitish-green shrub doesn’t look quite right — too serious, not enough colour. Won’t plant more next year.
Her urban oasis has come a long way in 25 years. But so has she.
Marrying at 19, three kids in five years — it leaves a girl very little time to herself. No travelling, no late nights out with friends. Instead, her 20s were marked by diaper changes, arguments over vegetable soup and out-loud bedtime readings of The Secret Garden (complete with attempts at a Yorkshire accent).
And the husband, his slumber less than sweet. The snoring. She recalls the Portuguese town of her youth — grumpy rumbles of old motorcycles speeding over cobblestone roads.
“Where’s my shirt? Do you have an ironed shirt?” he’ll ask in an hour. “Where did you put my shoes? I’ll just be a minute — blow-drying my hair.” (He’s been bald since they met.) The same every day.
After work, she’ll make dinner. “But please, no yellow potatoes, only white,” he asks. “Isn’t there dessert?”
For a quarter-century, the garden was a patch of grass: some brown spots, clovers, mischievously rooted dandelions. A few pink and purple impatiens, and a sick silver maple in the corner.
Nothing special but it’ll do, she thought every spring. Nothing special but it’s mine.
But in May, she said, “Enough. Enough of ‘it’ll do.’ I’m almost 45. My kids are grown and my husband can’t tell which potatoes are yellow once they’re boiled anyway.” It was time for spectacular.
A backhoe arrived on a weekend and with it, her husband did away with the grass and tree roots. Left behind was a royal mess and a black mound of soft earth, eager for vibrant colour and loving attention. Then, weekly trips to the nursery to build her floral arsenal: snapdragons, peonies, lilies.
She would kneel in the dirt and begin digging a hole — yeah, big enough — and in went a plant. Then another, and another. Over and over until dark. When the soil was barely visible, the weeding began. Same rhythm, same intensity.
Soon, she’d head to the garden after work, rather than the stove. In an old T-shirt and shorts, she’d wade into the cacophony of colour: What needs watering? Is that a dandelion? Dead leaves? Out. Bent branch? Needs support. A squirrel’s cache of nuts? Gone.
She raises the café-au-lait bowl to her lips, taking a sip. Leaning forward, she squints at the garden.
What has changed since yesterday?
In an hour, the world will wake up. Then she’ll need to be orderly, keep the shirts ironed and say yes, these are white potatoes.
But for now, it’s coffee and the garden.
Shamelessly copied without any editing at all from an article by Christine Loureiro in the Toronto Star because I love how people make a space beautiful and I love how people like Christine write about a special person who has created a special place. Christine Loureiro is Aida Vieira’s daughter.