Soon after I had graduated as a recreation therapist I was interviewed for a job at a long term care facility. They said they had a strong horticulture programme and asked I felt I had the skills to maintain it. Though I had, as yet, no garden of my own, I placed my trust in the gardening gods and my ancestors, crossed my fingers and responded enthusiastically. How hard could it be?
My first day I was given a tour of the garden; it was larger than I expected, half an acre larger! I was told students cut the grass and took care of the heavy work but I would be responsible for planting, watering and light maintenance (whatever that meant). We went into the greenhouse, yes, they had a greenhouse. On the walls hung 5 first place plaques won in the city's annual gardening competition. “We are very proud of our success,” said my guide, meaningfully. Panic gripped me with a very cold hand.
However, all was not lost. I soon came to realize that the facility residents had, collectively, thousands of years of gardening experience. I mined it for all it was worth. The residents soon clued in to the fact they had a novice on their hands and rose to the task. What a glorious first summer we enjoyed. To be the giver, not the receiver was effective medicine. We spent hours in the garden. Those who were able to planted and weeded the raised beds. The frailer people sat in the sunshine and offered advice and support. Coffee and tea breaks were for reminiscing. We bonded through the passing of knowledge. There were a few setbacks, like the time an enthusiastic group removed all the flowers along with the weeds from a bed. Well done, I said to the proud little faces and spent my lunch break replanting.
Judgement Day arrived. I was in a terrible state of nerves. What if I had let my people down? We did it, first place again. My knees buckled with relief. I cried, my mentors clucked and soothed, we all laughed.We worked so hard to get plaque number six and I'm sure it was the sweetest of them all.
I spent many more happy years at the facility but there will always be something special about that first year.
Now when I’m working in my own garden, lucky me, I have the memories of that perfect summer and a thousand years of knowledge.