The Bench

Years ago former nursery owner, Doug Green, hosted a glorious annual “prelude to spring” day-long garden seminar in Oakleaf, Ontario. After a long Canadian winter, he and his outstanding guest speakers whipped the packed auditorium into a fever of anticipation, offering news of unusual plants and solutions, along with introductions to intriguing local experts. Those of us who attended, staggered home in a blissful daze,  loaded with delicious free stuff and ideas guaranteed to improve our success rates.

Ever since those seminars, one piece of Doug’s advice has nagged at me. Make sure you have a bench looking at your gardens, he insisted, looking straight at us, but also make sure you take lots of time to sit on it enjoying your gardens.Too many of us are so busy laboring over our plants that we forget to simply spend time with them. Ouch. It’s taken a long time for me to practice the sitting part. The trickiest bit is learning to accept the work in progress state of my gardens without diving into creating perpetual to do lists.  But at the end of the season, maybe to the end of my life, what I will remember most are the still times.

This morning, weary from stacking wood, I flopped on my bench so motionless that a flicker flashed by, nearly brushing my cheek before he settled beside the flagstone path, searching for ants. It’s not really the triumph of growing a mass of New Zealand delphiniums from seed—all this color from a five dollar packet. It’s about taking time to watch the sheeny male ruby-throated hummingbird dance among them.

Let me tell you about the bliss of taking a cup of coffee out on a steamy midsummer morning to sit under a tiny grove of bitternut hickory saplings, spending time with the towering hollyhocks. All that moves are magenta petals trembling under the assault of bumblebees.

Thanks to Doug’s advice, I’ll be out there even when I have to bundle on a heavy jacket, watching the brilliant maple leaves swirl about me, storing up memories as monarch butterflies drift over the asters and sedums gathering strength for their long migration. Even in winter I’ve been known to swish the snow from the bench and spend happy minutes enjoying the witchy swirl of the weeping flowering crabapple with its crimson berries, silhouetted against the blue-shadowed whiteness.

About Peri McQuay

Peri Phillips McQuay is the author of Singing Meadow: The Adventure of Creating a Country Home, The View From Foley Mountain, a book of nature meditations on her experiences living for 30 years at the Foley Mountain Conservation Area and A Wing in the Door: Life With a Red-tailed Hawk is the story of her adventures with Merak, a human-imprinted hawk, who lived free but saw McQuay and her family as her special people. Also Peri has written numerous essays, articles, book reviews and a weekly column, published in the Kingston Whig-Standard Magazine. Her credits include Country Journal, Harrowsmith, Bird Watcher’s Digest, The Snowy Egret, Seasons, The Fiddlehead, Herizons and Brick.
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