Summers at our mountain home can get pretty hot. We live in the BC Interior where it’s generally hot and dry without much rain and our house sits on a south facing slope. There are no trees where the deck looks out over the lake and some days the heat is intense. Generally, I can quit mowing the lawn in July because it’s so hot and dry it just turns brown and quits growing.

            But the mountainsides are lush. This year’s rains have made it particularly wonderful. The saplings and berry bushes got swelled enormously and the meadow grasses grew taller than I’ve ever seen them. For a while it looked as though we’d turned into a far more temperate zone and I thought I’d be mowing right through the summer. But nature, as they say, took its course and we’re basking in high sky heat again.

            We’re both fond of growing things. We like to get out there and get our hands dirty in the spring and get our flowers in so we can watch them bloom and grow. Our yard, while generally left to be the mountainside it is, features a couple large sized flower beds. I built a rock garden in front of the deck for my wife the year we moved here and there are a host of perennials, all of them over three feet high, that sway in the breezes that cut across the lake. We love it.

            In terms of growing seasons it’s a Zone 3 here. That means pretty dang near drought conditions, leaning towards desert-type weather. Our soil is what you’d expect from dry mountainside. So once July hits and the grass stops growing and withers into brown it’s pretty much the same with most things. You can almost hear everything slide to a stop in the relentless sun. Every evening, just before sunset, I’m out there with the hose making sure the flower beds get their proper water.

            Still, we both love gardening. Some people say it’s not an Aboriginal thing to do but to me it’s all about connecting with the land and that’s about as Native as it gets. Plus there’s a teaching in it – and that makes it pretty Native in my book. See, in a Zone three there’s certain things that can’t be grown. Some plants just don’t do well in desert-like conditions. Gardeners learn to adjust to that.

            For instance, we both love begonias. There’s something in their thick lush blooms that attracts us. Now, in the beginning I didn’t know the difference between a begonia and a carrot. All I knew was that they both grew in the ground. But once my wife had chosen some and we planted them and watched them blossom I came to adore them too. The big orange ones look the best in my opinion. Whatever shade they come in, they have become one of my favorite flowers.

But we were told when we first moved here that ‘you can’t grow begonias in a Zone 3.’ Disappointing, sure, but we just chose not to listen to it. Instead, we scouted our yard and flower beds for areas that most resembled places begonias like to be. We found places that had a lot of hours of shade between onslaughts of full sun. We took care to water them appropriately. We learned to fertilize them. We learned to nurture them.

            We’ve had big lush begonias every year. When we give direction to people who haven’t been to our place before we say ‘just look for the old wringer washer in the corner with all the begonias.” So far everyone’s been able to find us. There are pots of begonias on our front steps. They grow amazingly well here it seems.

            So what’s the Native teaching? Well, the elders say that desire is the energy of the possible. If you want something rightly enough, with an earnest and open heart, with an eye to increasing good energy, your desire makes it possible. But you have to take the first step. You have to plant the seed. You have to put desire into action and do the groundwork.

            We’re told from everywhere, the things that are not possible in this world. We’re told what is and isn’t proper, right, accepted, and normal for gosh sake. If we spent all of our time listening to the voices that tell us what we can’t, or shouldn’t do, we’d never accomplish anything. It takes a great amount of work to turn a deaf ear to all of that. That’s because the voices of the disbelievers will always be louder than the voices of faith and hope.

Gardening is not something a native man should do. Right. And you can’t grow begonias in a Zone Three.


About Richard Wagamese

I am a published author with 13 titles published by major Canadian publishers. I am a First Nations person from the Ojibway Nation in Northwestern, Ontario, Canada. As a professional writer since 1979 I have written for newspaper, radio television, magazines and book publishing. I love the culture of books and the people who populate it. 2012 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media & Communications. View all posts by Richard Wagamese

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