My Natural History

My Natural History: The Evolution of a Gardener is a memoir of my life as a gardener, the hobby that started when I was a teenager and grew into a career when I became editor of Canadian Gardening magazine and host of its HGTV weekly television show. This excerpt, from Chapter Seven, recounts my admiration for wild, natural gardens–one in particular–which became the basis for my own failed attempt at a suburban meadow garden.

My Natural History book coverSearching for Natural Style

While traveling home on the commuter train from my job in downtown Toronto, I always made myself stay awake long enough to soak up the view of wild flowers and garden escapees growing with abandon on the railway embankment.  It was like an Impressionist painting, a near-blur of colour rushing past the train windows. I realize I was probably romanticizing it—no doubt its beauty had something to do with the speed of the train, which allowed me to ignore the crop of fast food containers, plastic bags and bicycle wheels that had been tossed over the fence and took their place among the flowers.

How had the plants got there, I wondered.  Had they fled from unhappy gardens? Or had they been discarded, tossed over the fence by ungrateful gardeners who’d tired of them? In their new communal home they flourished, along with the wild flowers that seeded there naturally, courtesy of the wind and the birds. None of this pretty show was of any value to most of my fellow travelers, who viewed it as a rampant growth of weeds. I’d overhear their comments: “Time they cleaned that garbage up, don’t you think?” one would say.

“I bet all those weeds are bothering someone’s allergies,” his companion would reply.

“They should mow it all down and put in some good grass,” another would offer. Continue reading