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Reflections from the SwampGardening in North Korea

Gardening in North Korea

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

I hope you have been enjoying the summer, getting outside, gardening, and swimming in a lake free of icebergs. I’m sorry that I’ve neglected to drop in at your place; however, I’ve been busy in the garden and finding places to go for swims. Canadians much appreciate summer more than people living in milder climates.

If we don’t grab summer as she passes by, we will soon enough be back stuck in a snowbank

My bride and I have been gardening together for almost fifty years. We started with an NCC garden plot in Ottawa while still going to Carleton as students. We have a path running through our garden, dividing her from my side. I call the story “Gardening in North Korea” because I garden on the north side, and a clear path creates the dividing line where our means of tending our vegetables are done differently. I also heard that you need a catchy title to lure in readers. I hope the title worked.

My bride is the queen of her garden, and I am the grand poohbah on my side of the vegetable patch. A Nova Scotia flag proudly flies on her side while the red, white, and blue Dutch flag flutter on my side. Of course, the Dutch side of the garden always looks the best. My bride would disagree, but she’s biased. Still, this article doesn’t judge our gardening skills but rather to illustrate that even in a loving marriage, each partner needs a domain that doesn’t include gratuitous, unsolicited advice. We both need to have some space in our togetherness.

I get buckets of free advice on everything from how to drive, dress, organize my redneck piles, and what to eat; however, the garden provides a sanctuary where even if I get free advice, I can legally ignore it and be creative in my own way. The other day Frank Sinatra dropped in and commented that the two sides of the garden looked so different. I told him I did it my way, and my bride did it her way. He said, I totally get it. I may write a song about it. I offered to help, but he said, no thanks, I’ll do it my way.

You may be interested to know some of the differences in our gardening techniques. My bride gardens organically, doesn’t always use rows, and won’t let me rototill her side because the soil, worms, and Ed Lawrence don’t like rototillers. She doesn’t like horse manure because a horse only has one stomach while cows have three. She claims that the weed seeds are more likely to be digested by cows than horses. She listens to Ed Lawrence religiously on CBC and keeps his book beside the poetry books on her bedside table. I bet even ED doesn’t know about the Virgin Mary advantage in gardening!

I use the rototiller, am friends with Miracle Grow and get my advice from The Virgin Mary, whose likeness stands mounted to the outhouse on my side of the garden. I’m not particular about what kind of manure goes on the garden. When I was a kid, I noticed that the gardens of my Polish and Ukrainian neighbours often had a statue of Mary placed in an old bathtub or framed in a wooden box in their gardens. I believed the neighbours when they told me that Mary watches over the gardens and encourages the plants to grow. I have asked The Virgin Mary to send all the weeds to my bride’s side of the garden, and she has seemingly done so. I hoe the weeds once a week, need it or not, and keep the rows clean. My bride hand picks the weeds, which is hard to do for me having two artificial knees that don’t like unnecessary bending. I’m like Santa Claus and prefer to hoe, hoe, hoe. I’ve read those plants can send messages to each other through their root systems. The weeds have signalled that their chances of survival are better on the south side and have moved to the bride’s side according to Darwin’s law of the survival of the fittest.

Gardening washes away the dust of everyday living. So do writing, visual arts, and creative expression for many people. Our imaginations can take flight and release a sense of peace, hope, and love. Gardening joins us with Creation, where we can participate in collaborative works with nature that create canvasses that change with time. Our creations move from the birth of plants to their childhood, adolescence, and finally to the fruits of their adult lives. We add a few brushstrokes here and there as the miracle of life unfolds. Gardening forces us to pay attention to the details of our environment. We watch out for frost and droughts and often pray for rain.

Life is the art of gardening without paints and brushes. Nature provides the canvass and colours and fills in all the minute details. I believe that we were created to be gardeners on this blue-green planet. You don’t have to be good at gardening; you need a sense of fun and belonging.

It makes you wonder when you wake up in the morning, go out to the garden, and see that other artists have come during the night. How could they take your seeds of inspiration and turn them into flowers bursting with colour and beauty?

There are a lot of things we need to do with our lives. When I look at the news, what becomes evident to me is that our goals and purposes are easily distorted. We need to take care of our souls. This loss of soul is complex, as are most things, but the simple act of working with nature to create a garden of this world is a means of healing that wounded soul we all experience in living.

There are many ways to tend a garden, do it your way.

When you walk out into a garden, even someone else’s, your soul knows it’s in a good place, and the healing begins. The cares and concerns fade away, the fresh air is scented with healing fragrances, and Mary and the angels whisper in your ear.




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