Signs of Gardens and Neighbours

How eclectic signs in the garden bring together a neighbourhood, sort of.

Credit: Tasha Nathanson

Musings from a suburban peasantry

Last year, my neighbour across the street reported that passersby had been fllching tomatoes from the veggie patch installed in my front yard, outside the fence.

“That’s part of the plan,” I assured her. “Anyone willing to take food from someone else’s garden will probably benefit from finding out what it really tastes like.”

My neighbour blinked at me, surprised. “In Russia, I made things and grew things. In Canada, I buy them.”

I don’t think she will be joining my suburban revolution.


“I see you put your family name on the fence.”

This next comment came from another neighbour two doors down. She’s a tiny, bright-eyed, gregarious woman with cocoa features and charcoal hair, married to a tall, pale, wordless man who usually looms at her side.

“Um, actually, it means crazy house.”

In fact, Bedlam is a contraction of Our Lady of Bethlehem, the first mental hospital in Britain and more descriptive of our family life than it should be.

That sign was made by carving the outlines of the letters onto a spare piece of hardwood (thank you, Lee Valley Tools, for the introductory wood-carving class) and then painting our address, some thin Celtic dogs and a Breton triskel onto a nice round piece of wood, which happens to be part of a broken old standing lamp from my late husband’s first bachelor apartment.

The two parts of the sign dangle together by a chain. The result is proudly nailed to my front fence, framed by Braveheart mallow.

Mama, do you have to be so…

There are other garden signs as well, both those I have installed and those that are left for me. One such indirect exchange came through a boy in my daughters’ class who is afraid of me.

He heard me verbally tearing a strip off of one of the twins for some reason or another several years ago. Thereafter, he classified me as “scary” and, years later, still refuses to revise his assessment.

Once, his parents and I set up a carpool home from a late-night high-school party our kids were attending. When he found out who was to be his ride home, this strapping young lad frantically called his folks and begged not to be relegated to my van.

In time, my daughters attended a party at his house. They came back reporting in ravishing detail and with great, appreciative sighs, how all the furniture at his house matched and that the place was absolutely immaculate. These people no doubt have tightly clipped boxwood hedges too.

So, of course, I am inclined to disregard that boy and all his friends and relations – except that my own daughters appear to number among his friends. Still, how can you trust someone from a family in which, apparently, no one ever raises a voice or leaves a sock on the floor?

This boy biked by one day to go for a pedal with my daughters (while I was safely away at work) and – so they reported – commented disparagingly on the Sierra Club sign in my squash and salsify patch, which proclaims, “NO PESTICIDES: I love my family and the environment more than my lawn.”

No Pesticides sign

“It is a bit much” puff my teenage daughters, pleading with me with their eyes to just be a bit more like everyone else.

“I bet you’ll want to eat the good food I grow,” I counter; invoking the ghost of Henny Penny and the morals of all those folk tales we read together when they were little. But they are so much older now.

“Mama, do you have to be so…Oh, never mind.” She adjusts her t-shirts, layered just so over her just-so jeans. Have I lost her? Maybe. Will I get her back? Not likely. She is on her own trajectory.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep sending messages from my garden, carrying on my eclectic conversation with the world that passes by.