Mr. Smith lived in an old house on a double lot on a side street in Toronto.
I remember the first time I glimpsed his garden. It was a Saturday afternoon in mid-summer and I was driving past his home. I did a double-take, hit the brakes, reversed, stopped the car and got out so I could see more.
A tall, angular, white-haired man was dead-heading some roses. He wore spectacles, was neatly dressed in white shirt and dress trousers as if he was heading for some important meeting. He didn’t look like any gardener I’d ever seen.
Even so, I knew immediately that this was his garden and he was the gardener. I could see it in the way he bent to study his flowers and the soil around them, like an artist studies his unfinished painting on canvas.
I walked up to him and bravely said hello.
He looked up at me, gave a shy little half-laugh. “Hello.”
Something about that half-laugh endeared him to me, along with his grandfatherly age and look.
His flowers were everywhere. Running their riotous ways around the house and into the distance of his back garden, becoming more muted in the soft shade of trees, then re-emerging in all their glory in the brilliant sunlit spaces.
Big, fat dahlias, snapdragons and roses jostled for space with a multitude of other brilliantly-coloured flowers.
The garden was heaven on earth.
One afternoon Mr. Smith invited me into his kitchen for a cold drink. We sat at the small kitchen table and I told him how nicely the garden was doing and he claimed that it was a mess and needed more tending.
“I’d give a lot to have a garden half as beautiful and lush and healthy as this one,” I said. “It would take me forever, though. How on earth do you get it to look like this?” I peered through the back window and gestured to the garden.
He laughed that humble laugh again, and even seemed to blush.
“It’s all in the soil. Everything starts with good soil.”
PHOTOS BY HAMLIN GRANGE, WHO ALSO MAKES GREAT COMPOST!