To garden, or not to garden?
That was the question put forth by writer Paul Knowles at the Leaside Garden Society meeting on Oct. 8.
Knowles was the guest speaker as part of the society’s session called ‘Escaping Eden’ at the Leaside Library. He discussed the magic and wonder that comes with gardening and nailed down what makes gardeners like him tick.
“I love speaking to groups of gardeners,” he said. “Gardeners are very special people and I would like to commend you for the stuff you do. What you do gets noticed maybe weeks or months after you do it.”
Knowles asked gardeners at the session why they do what they do.
“We garden in the rain…covered in mud,” he said. “We rejoice in the richness of rotten manure. What makes a gardener a gardener?”
Knowles said all gardeners have their own story of how they started creating beauty. His story includes magic, wonder and a little help from Mother Nature.
“My dad was an absolutely devoted gardener,” he said. “His idea of a garden is quite different from mine today. His idea of a perfect garden was three acres of potatoes and a son with a hoe.”
Knowles grew up in the small town of Eden, Ont. The thoughts and memories of this place were the inspiration for his latest book, Escaping Eden.
“It’s not a theological treatise,” he said. “In fact, the first part of the book talks about how I became a gardener.”
As a kid harvesting potatoes and cucumbers, Knowles decided he would never garden again.
“I vowed that if I ever escaped Eden, I would never garden as long as I lived, ever,” he said.
Like most adolescent statements about the future, Knowles was proved wrong.
He moved to New Hamburg, Ont. to work as publisher of a newspaper. There, he met two people: his wife Mary and Paul Knowles the gardening expeditionary.
“She tricked me. She didn’t mention when I was falling in love with her that she was a dedicated gardener,” he said of how his wife tried to show him the beauty of gardening. “She asked me to help and I said no. ‘No, I’m going to sit over here, drink wine and read a book in the shade.’ I stuck by this for maybe a season.”
But during a trip to England, where he saw the magnificent Sissinghust Castle Gardens, Knowles remembered leaning over to his wife and finally giving in.
“This little bit right here, we could do that in our garden back home. And I became a gardener,” he said. “Mary had chosen exactly the right place to seduce me back to the garden.”
After 10 years of marriage, his wife died from cancer.
“When she passed away and I moved to a new home, I had to make a decision. It wasn’t hard,” he said. “I separated the plants and took at least a sample of everything from Mary’s garden with me.”
Knowles said that before his wife died, she and his father dug up a rose that was at the old house back in Eden.
In his new garden, Knowles planted a hydrangea from his wife’s garden and the rose from Eden.
“I was planting memories and smiles and maybe a couple tears and joy and magic all at once,” he said. “This summer, they both bloomed at the same time.”
Before telling his story, Knowles informed those present that he would not be giving gardening advice. However, at the end he offered some inspiration and a little tidbit to enhance one’s taste for gardening.
“When you are doing your community gardens, you’re not just planting plants. You’re not just fighting weeds. You’re planting magic,” he said, adding that every garden “is dramatically improved with the addition of a wine bar. If you don’t drink wine, start.”
The Leaside Garden Society meets nine times a year. The next meeting is on Nov. 12.