“So we plant for the future and for the past…”

pink perfection

This is one of the first things we planted when we built the west-facing deck: a montana clematis. In my memory (not always reliable), it was blooming on Forrest’s 3rd birthday; friends came up for the day from Vancouver and we celebrated in spring sunlight on the new deck. It’s very rampant and has covered an entire section of railing and climbed up to join a grapevine and a wisteria on the trellis over the table we use all summer.


Last September, after we’d picked the grapes, I heard a commotion on the deck and looked out to see a young black bear climbing into these vines. When I shouted at it, the bear dropped down to the herb trolley below and ran off, but only momentarily. All month it hung around, eating crabapples, ambling around the place like a family dog. (Except it wasn’t.)

When I looked at the clematis just now, I remembered so much. That birthday party, with chocolate cake and the helium balloons our friends brought for the boys, one of which escaped on the ferry across Jervis Inlet a day or two later and probably still circles the earth. (The balloon, not the boy.) The Pacific willow that grew in front of the deck and how the clematis sent tendrils into it, embracing it and eventually smothering it to death. When it fell, the clematis fell too and died but luckily came back from the roots. And when we moved the willow off the bank the fall after it died? We saw that there were old bird nests tucked into the dense shelter created by its branches and the thicket of clematis vine. We couldn’t see them while the tree was living.

When the deck was rebuilt a few years ago, John realized he could use the existing beams and joists but he could extend the surface by cantilevering. The vines were all carefully untangled from their places and laid back on tripods to wait for construction to finish and then they were ceremoniously replaced. The clematis sulked but eventually accepted its new supports.

I remembered the rose we bought at the same time as the clematis, now long gone. And so many dinners on the deck, so many years of parties and conversations (one just last night!) and weeks of watering in the heat of summer. So many raccoons in fall, a bear, generations of hummingbirds, western tanagers, Steller’s jays, warblers.

When I planted the clematis, I wasn’t thinking about the future. The boards of the deck were raw and new. I had two sons, one turning 3 and one a year old. The days were filled with caring for them and helping John with building projects. We don’t plant for the immediate moment but for the future, whether that might be two months or twenty years away. Or thirty-five. While I was taking the photographs of the clematis, I stubbed my toe on something and I looked down to see the Garry oak I am growing from an acorn gathered at Rithet’s Bog in Victoria 5 or 6 years ago. It took nearly a year for the acorn to germinate and each year it’s put on a single set of new leaves. I’ve repotted it once and next year I’ll look for a likely place to put it in the ground.

small oak

This little tree is a sort of double mnemonic. When I look at it, I remember walking the trail around the bog with my husband and daughter, something we often do when we visit Victoria. But I also remember the area before it was a park managed by the Rithet’s Bog Conservation Society, when it was farmland still, before the Broadmead subdivision, before the shopping centre and the churches.

In the late 1960s, I used to saddle my horse early on weekend mornings and ride him across the Pat Bay Highway to a gate leading up onto the old Rithet’s farmland. I was in my early teens, a lonely girl in search of lonely places. Someone had told me that it was fine to ride there, but that the gate had to be kept closed, as there were cattle grazing in the area. I don’t really remember the cattle, but I occasionally saw deer in the tall grass. There were many oaks growing on the slopes. In the spring, there were expanses of blue camas, yellow buttercups, and odd speckled flowers that I now know were chocolate lilies.

I loved the open beauty of those meadows, where pheasants roamed and flew up, sharp-winged as we approached. The meadows smelled intensely dry, fragrant as hay, though not dusty. I’d let my horse canter up the long slopes and loved the way sunlight filtered through the trees.

–from Mnemonic: A Book of Trees (2011)

So we plant for the future and for the past and for the moment that contains both of these. I will probably never see this tiny oak grow into the fullness of time but it’s not why I planted it. Rubbing one of its new leaves between my fingers, I am riding through that gate into Broadmead meadows, my black horse’s neck already damp with sweat.


8 thoughts on ““So we plant for the future and for the past…””

  1. You’ve made me think of the clematis we started the year we moved into this house and how it’s spread and all that’s happened in our backyard since. Ours is a tiny, inner-city backyard at the other end of the country where the clematis are still winter brown and dry, no green leaves yet.

    1. But you have the pleasure of it to look forward to! (Heading for Ottawa for a few days on Thursday where I know things will not be as wildly rampant as they are here. But I’ll collect some volunteer seedlings — tomatillos, a really great cilantro — from our family’s garden to bring home wrapped in paper towel and a zip-lock bag!)

  2. How i wish I could have seen the Broadmead meadows in the days you write about! We live just across the highway, and I often think of it, and your descriptions. I often think of Katharine Maltwood coming over from England and living in the Tudor House, now the Fireside Grill, and what the view must have been from its windows before the Pat Bay Highway and Royal Oak Shopping Centre. I wish I could have seen it. Having moved around a lot, I wonder if my plantings have survived, and what they may look like now. I envy your history in one place.

    1. When I lived in Royal Oak, there was a small shopping centre. The Maltwood was owned by Uvic and I went to theatre productions. The whole area was rural and lovely. I particularly remember the potato field at the bottom area at Rithets, the smell of the soil at night when I walked my family’s dog…

      1. I suppose one of the sorrows of age is seeing things change and remembering them as they were. You and I are very close in age. In 1979 my husband and I bought raw land in the Cariboo, 50 miles outside Williams Lake. We built a log house there, though we knew nothing about how, when we began. One of the locals, a logger, came over to help fell the trees, thinking my husband might kill himself in the process. (They became life-long friends.) Eventually the long winters and lack of employment drove us back south. We ended up here in Royal Oak over 7 years ago, and it is still so beautiful, every day I am grateful to live here. Behind us, what used to be a dairy farm (so I am told) and was a golf course when we arrived, was bought covertly by a developer 3 years ago. There is a movement to try to stop the development, though the outcome is still very uncertain. In the meantime it is slowly returning to wild. Like many others, I walk there regularly, and wonder how much longer I will be able to do so…

      2. I kept my horse in a field on Glanford Avenue, between the highway and Glanford. The whole area was pasture. Amazing to see the changes now…

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