Saturday, June 17, 2017


So, I wasn't super psyched about my bday. The weather was shit (although it didn't actually rain), it was on a Monday and I ended up having to work though I had the day off. But strangely, despite that suboptimal constellation of events - it was my freakin' birthday and I made sure everyone knew so they would comp me things. (What? I'm not proud.) I also told everyone that I'm 47 so they would respond with the obligatory you look so young! I intend to work this angle indefinitely, irrespective of accuracy. Youth, people. It's an attitude.

(Brief Sidebar: Make no mistake, a reno is not good for one's youthful mien. I don't know how to quantify my level of stress because I don't have a classification system that supports it. In the words of my day job: this construct is not contemplated within the terms of my current level of experience. I don't want to lead you to believe that this is because its badness is beyond fathomable. I've actually felt more oppressively stressed on a number of occasions in years past. For example, so far - and I'm not taking anything for granted - having a reno is way less soul-crushing than having a baby. Because renos don't wake up screaming.)

At any rate, each year, my friend Nicole takes me on a garden tour. The tour moves around and we've been going for so many years (at least 12) that we've watched it travel out from the centre (the tiny, creative urban gardens that we love and can relate to) to the increasingly affluent "interior suburbs" as I call them. I LOVE the garden tour like a person who is twice my age - and, while we're creeping up on them, the tour is largely comprised of women of a certain age who like to apprise you, sometimes at length, about their own personal experiences of growing plant x. This year, a small dog followed me from garden to garden, who can say why?, to the great dismay of the volunteer staff who kept saying sternly: "Ma'am, your dog cannot enter the back yard." No matter how many times I advised that it was not my dog, that they were welcome to pick him up and remove him, I could tell the volunteers did not believe me. It was odd. Strangely, as we walked from one batch of gardens to the next, a woman going too fast in a big-ass German SUV, rolled down her tinted window and bellowed at me: "Have you seen a small black dog?" and it's not like I was the only one walking down the street. (Um, thought I, get your ass out of your car and start actually calling his name. Your dog ain't gonna know you're looking from behind a steering wheel.) Ah, rich people...

We wandered, on a beautiful, sunny, sweltering day from gorgeous home to gorgeous home, sneaking a peak at indoor swimming pools (behind the shubbery), admiring yet another elm or birch (or peony). Usually, I finish the tour with a heady sense of status anxiety. Don't misunderstand, I take it on for the joy of seeing the gardens, but I always feel vaguely crushed by my inadequacy in the end.

It's silly, I know. I'm generally confident. I recognize that I have a great life. I'm sure I have great taste :-) I have never had one moment of self-doubt when reading Vogue magazine though I cannot afford most of the fashion and all of the models are a foot taller and infinitely more waifish than me. In fact, some of my happy memories include dissecting Vogue with a bottle of wine and a bag of all-dressed chips. But, God help me, Home and Garden throws me into a tail spin.

As they say, age brings wisdom - whether one fights it or not, it would seem - because, this year, as I ambled and peered and petted the flowers amongst gorgeous, classical architecture - in a 'hood I knew intimately from my affluent youth (talk about triggers) - I was entirely unmoved. In fact, during this day, I felt that I saw but one house and one garden because everything looked EXACTLY the same as everything else. There was no creative impulse in this place (east Rosedale meets Moore Park, in case you're wondering). Not one home owner was there to show his or her personalized garden. I imagine they were all in Muskoka... There were no tiny gems, no well-won flowers, coaxed despite the climate. The hard scaping was all expensive and well-maintained - and apparently all acquired from one vendor that doesn't feel the need to reinvent the (elegant) wheel. And for all that, I didn't envy it. I didn't want it. I just didn't give a shit.

In fact, I was vaguely irritated that people of such means could be so inherently bland. There was so much squandered opportunity. Moreover, for the first time ever, I fully perceived the unending effort and money that goes into maintaining a grand, cookie-cutter Edwardian home - because one's primary goal is to look just slightly better than the neighbours (if homogeneously). For the most part, these people work and work and work (as do we all in this centre of commerce), and there's no time to do much more than to pay others to take care of everything. These people don't have energy for (or interest in) being creative, at least not according to their gardens. And that's just not me.

Who can say why I came by this joyous epiphany? Time is a teacher, after all. But I've been banging my head against this wall forever. What changed? Is it that I've finally undertaken the creative redesign of my dreams (or occasional nightmares)? That I finally feel empowered? Is it that I'm living rich-adjacent in my own right and, frankly, I'm unimpressed. I really don't want to live in a block party 'hood that fund raises for a dunk tank. What the fuck, people? I don't want to get to know you after a 10-hour day, though I'm very happy to wave and say good morning (and even to help you should you require it). I'm a downtown girl who finds tremendous pleasure in the standoffish oasis of the urban home. It's not big, but the bones are good. I can be anywhere in 5 minutes. When I want the best El Salvadoran food in North America, I walk up the block. It's right next to awesome Ethiopian and some damn good Nicaraguan too. Plus there's table-cloth bistro, when I'm feeling the need for oysters and cava, albeit in the other direction.

My (front) garden reflects my love of monochrome and tidy verdance. It's an expression of my obsessive compulsive nature, a metaphoric chess board. My former back garden (which will be recreated, post-reno, in a new motif because, why not?) was an ode to floral phasing, respectful of the limits of the landscape. It transcended what it was originally, a sad melange of concrete and lane way.

These spaces will never be perfect but they elevate what's there. Beauty is much more enticing for the the decay that surrounds it. I've always regretted that I see decay in everything but it's my way. Show me anything - I'll find its problem and then I'll solve it. I cannot skate on the surface, though often I wish I could.

My current reno is the very embodiment of this. We have unearthed what was submerged and now we're paying the price (in all the ways). But challenges are meant to be resolved. And homes are meant to be a reflection of the self, at least in my opinion. So that's the gift I got on turning 47. Not bad, I think you'd agree.


  1. Good for you. I've never been much of a materialistic person, yet I remember well the day I realized there really wasn't anything that I wanted. Nothing at all. Yes, I "could" buy this or that, but I really can't be bothered. I don't want anything. It's a lovely place to live.

    1. Not being materialistic is an amazing gift! I'm working my way there :-) Slowly!

  2. Oh, this is an awesome post, and yeah, you're picking up some wisdom in your youth (ha! perspective is all!)
    We used to do garden tours regularly, back when we were building our island garden -- Since most of the tours were on other Gulf Islands, we saw many creative and idiosyncratic renditions of "the garden." -- you'd have loved those tours, I suspect, although they could invite eye-rolling in their own way. But at least we never found them boring....

    1. I now love hanging out with all the people who are older than me so that I can be the young one - but it's increasingly challenging to find people who aren't millenials :-)

      My friend Nic is from Comox, fyi, and she's born on May 17 too. She's told me about the fun gardens in your neck of the woods. I would love to go on a tour like that, surrounded by natural splendor.

  3. Curious, which tour did you do? Was it the Toronto Botanical Gardens' Through The Garden Gate tour? Someone recently told me about this annual garden tour and it sounded wonderful.
    I'm a newby gardener who is in the process of moving from a downtown condo into a house and will have my very own garden for the first time! So, naturally, I'm becoming obsessed with gardens and flowers!
    --Fellow Torontonian

    1. It was Through the Garden Gate. It's very enjoyable and you should totally do it next year. Where will your new house be, Anon? Congrats to you and welcome to the club of the garden-obsessed :-)

  4. Moving to Yonge-Finch area (!) (where hubby and I grew up, in fact). I'm mourning the loss of my downtown lifestyle, though we will be situated very close to Finch station so public transit will still be easy. Looking at the up-sides though, lots more room and a garden to now play around in! It will fee like a palace compared to our cramped downtown condo (and my two kids will finally have their own rooms).