I was about four years old when I first noticed that there were flowers in my world. My parents owned a new bungalow in Scarborough and other than mounds of clay and construction debris there were no flower beds of any sort to be seen in the newly built neighborhood. My father’s mother, my grandmother, lived just across the railway tracks from us. Her home had been built in the 1920’s and had lots of shrubs but no flowers. However, my mother’s mother, my other grandmother, lived in North York in a home built in the 1930’s. It was here I encountered my very first flower bed.
Now getting to one grandmother was as easy as crossing the tracks, but the other grandmother lived a fair distance away. My parents did not own a car, so the only way to get there was by public transit. So early one morning my mother and I boarded the local Kingston Road bus and headed west. I remember seeing lots of low-rise apartment blocks and small homes as we traveled off on our visit. Eventually we got on a streetcar, my first, and then a very new electric trolleybus! By this time it was nearly noon and the sun was high overhead, and then the bus stopped, and out my mother and I got.
I was now in a totally different world from my native Scarborough. The surrounding homes were all very neat, with lawns and pretty trees and there was not a bit of construction waste to be seen. We walked a couple of blocks to the west of Bathurst Street and at number 204 we stopped, turned and approached the home’s front door. There standing on the porch was my other grandmother who I had not seen in over a year. After welcoming us to her home, my mother and her mother sat down to chat and I was told to, “Be good and play”.
So with those words in my ears I set off to explore the yard and all the greenery, starting with the front drainage ditch. I remember walking down the slope and there on both sides of the ditch were these beautiful purple flowers, just not one or two but a whole carpet of them! I then got down on my hands and knees for a closer look and was amazed at everything that was there. Not only were there lots of pretty purple flowers but also a host of bees and other flying insects. I was quite taken by this as in Scarborough we only seemed to have heaps of clay and the odd ant or two. So kneeling in the grass I watched the bees go about their business and admired the flowers. It was many years later that I learned that flowers were actually planted by my other grandmother and they were a form of primula and had colonized the ditch over the years.
With my ditch discovery completed I then moved on to the green shrubs that lined the west portion of the my other grandmother’s front lawn and there encountered a very thorny thing. This shrub had lots of thorns and small leaves and a noticeable aroma filled the air too. Looking up I then spotted a very bright flower at the end of one of the branches. Unknown to me I was looking at my very first rose. The flower was hard to see as the bush was quite large and I was quite small, but I soon realized that this flower was not alone; there were dozens of them all along the fence line, all living at the top end of this thorny shrub. They were quite pretty I recall and I wondered if we would ever have any in Scarborough as we did have a fence which was flower and shrub free.
I then walked down the side yard and there just beyond the back of my other grandmother’s house was what had to be “paradise”. The plants and flowers of the front yard had fascinated me but here in the back yard was what seemed to be the mother lode of all flowers. The yard was completely fenced in with high white pickets and several shade trees lined the edge. In the middle of the yard was a small patch of grass. Everything else was an eruption of green plants and flowers! This just had to be heaven I thought at the time. I walked to the centre of the grass patch and took in the wonderful aroma of the flowers. To this day I recall the sweet smell and instantly know when I am in company of the same flower today. My other grandmother’s backyard was a sea of peonies which were in full bloom on the day of our visit. There were all kinds of colours and sizes, some quite small, while others stood as tall as me or more and the wonderful thing about them was their very delicate and aromatic flowers.
A call to lunch interrupted my back yard adventure but on the way home I kept on thinking about the flowers and the bees and all the wonderful things you could have in your yard other than piles of clay and old construction material, and wondered if any of these flowers would be able to find their way to our home in Scarborough.