Plants & Ghosts At VanDusen - NevermoreSunday, April 29, 2012
Every year, at about this time I lined up by 7:30 in anticipation for the opening of the VanDusen plant sale at 10. Lined up with me where many of my friends, all enthusiastic gardeners, too. We discussed the merits of one plant over another. Which hosta was bluer, Blue Moon or Sieboldiana Elegans? Which tradescantia did not collapse after flowering?
At the plant sale itself, it often rained and I would happily return home, soaked to the bone, with all my plant acquisitions which I would promptly put into the ground. Rainy days were useful for that. But the high moment was running into or chatting with the 19th century-type British "amateur" gardeners. There was the fern lady, the blue poppy lady, the clematis man and so on. They were all experts on their designated plants but had a renaissance approach and knew about every other plant, too. I would run into many who are now ghosts or almost ghosts. Arthur Erickson was often there as was Malcolm Parry, early in his Vancouver Sun career as gossip columnist. Parry is now a night time gossip columnist and 10 am would be much too early for him. Besides, gardening is now pretty well officially dead or dying. It is far better to ogle impossibly expensive super cars at car shows and discuss the merits of one, two or even three turbochargers.
The business of beautiful garden books is dead, too. I have a huge collection of these of which I only consult one, Beals Classic Roses . In all other situations Google will tell me which hosta is the bluest and the complete botanical name of the Himalayan Birch you see here which I photographed at VanDusen. It is Betula utilis subsp. jacquemontii.
I dropped off my Rosemary today at 9:30. She will be handing out advice to gardeners in the master gardener booth. She doesn’t think too many people will ask questions. The booth is in an out of the way place. Besides master gardeners must really remain silent when asked how to get rid of this weed or that pest. Our city has banned all insecticides, fungicides and weed suppression products. In our digital age, our digits are the ones that will pick off the bugs and cut the weeds with a kitchen knife. Besides why ask a real human being a question when you can comfortably find out, without undermining your intelligence, from Jeeves or Google the answer to what you might think is a stupid question.
I type this looking out into a cloudy day spring garden while hordes line up ready to run in and pounce on their plant choices. As a local musical director once told me when I had called him up to recount my excitement in listening to a Beethoven bagatelle, “Ah, Alex, I am jealous of your ability to enjoy listening to something for the first time. I am long past that.”
I am long past lining up at the VanDusen plant sale. I remember the ghosts of Marion McDonnell, the Blue Poppy Lady and of Arthur Erickson. I miss Malcolm Parry’s smile asking me about my plant acquisitions and making my Cornus canadensis a Corvus (crow!) canadensis in his column. There was a charm to our innocence then – nevermore.