Perfect Partners

This was Kathy Andrachuk’s short story submitted to the July 2017 OHA Convention for the Creative Writing contest category entitled ‘Perfect Partners’. It won a 3rd Place ribbon and the Judge’s Choice rosette.

In 1973 I was living a bohemian existence in an old downtown factory-turned-loft. My garden was on the sunny roof over the back loading dock, which I transformed with seeds, soil and a motley assortment of containers, including old galvanized washtubs, pots, pans and air duct pipes purchased from the thrift store. Discarded steel drums gained new life as standing planters. The various containers, filled with blossoming plants, were grouped on top of recycled industrial wooden cable reels of different sizes and heights, creating a beautiful sight of undulating colour bordering my rooftop patio.

I grew potatoes by layering the eyes throughout a large plastic garbage can and was rewarded with a plentiful harvest. Morning glory vines, grown from seed, climbed up trellises against the brick wall, each morning producing a fresh sea of blue blossoms. While I made breakfast, my husband would count the exact number of blossoms, making a game out of having me guess what the count was. Gladiolus and acidanthera grew amongst petunias. Petunias were my specialty. For a one-time seed-packet purchase I was blessed with abundant blooms in a panorama of glorious pinks, purples and white in every container. I cut them continuously to ensure vigorous growth and flowers all season, discovering that they not only made lovely bouquets but also had a very pleasant perfume.

My husband encouraged me to attend a meeting of the Toronto Horticultural Society, which I looked forward to with great anticipation. My platform high-heeled shoes clacked on the worn wooden stairs as I descended to the basement of the old College Street Church. I stood quietly at the back of the room, scanning the silver-haired crowd for an empty seat when I felt a hand softly touch my right sleeve and found myself looking into the face of a tiny woman who enquired, “Are you sure you’re in the right place, dear?” “Yes”, I replied, “if this is the Toronto Horticultural Society meeting.” She paused, whispering again, explaining that the group was a lot older than I was and, for that reason, I might not want to stay. I assured her I did, and so it was that I found myself sitting next to her. She was Grace Libby, a fascinating and feisty retired secretary who I grew to love and whose passion for plants turned her entire apartment dining room into an impressive greenhouse jungle.

When the talk concluded, tea and sandwiches were served. In the genteel atmosphere of that crumbling church basement I was an honoured guest, with perfectly turned out, tiny elder folk (I was tall in my platform shoes) gathered around me—Clarence, Florence, Lloyd, Vera, Ruth, Marion, Ida…so many faces. How welcome I felt!

I was especially fond of Clarence and Florence Baker, who both became friends and mentors to me. One day, Clarence asked me about my garden and what my specialty was, so I invited them both up to my unconventional rooftop garden and proudly showed off my abundant display of petunias. Clarence quietly walked around the patio, looking intently at all the containers of flowers. Finally, he gave a slight nod of his head, smiled and made his pronouncement, “You certainly can grow petunias!”, and that was all. It was a very fine compliment, simply given, by someone I admired greatly.

Surrounded by my precious plants and two special people, it was a perfect moment in my garden that represented the start of a lifelong partnership with the Horticultural Society, gardening, and my connection to a wonderful group of eccentric, charming and delightful friends who have made my life so rich.

Kathy Andrachuk

Horticultural Societies of Parkdale & Toronto


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