Three Ways to See a Garden
View from the Window
Deb Benner, Heritage Line Herbs Owner
Every morning, I start my day by looking out my window at the herb gardens on our farm. I see beautiful lavender covered with dew and comfrey glistening silver in the sunlight. The tall, proud Echinacea bobs ever so slightly in the morning breeze.
My mind always drifts back ten years to the beginning of all this, when we switched our crops from tobacco to herbs. With this new business, my passion for gardening has been able to thrive.
See, I love gardens. They always tell a story—sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes a story that no one understands but me. My moods are reflected in our gardens and in the over 120 varieties of herbs that we have planted there.
We started with a few varieties of herbs planted in small gardens with signs, telling anyone who happened by the name of each kind of plant. The Tea Thyme garden has herbs such as mint, catnip, lemon basil, and chamomile; while our Asian Garden includes Thai basil, Vietnamese coriander, Vietnamese mint and lemongrass. Butterflies and hummingbirds abound, attracted to the herbs (like yarrow and pineapple sage) that we have planted specifically for them. Our newest garden is also a favourite: it’s a Fairy Garden, with herbs like red clover and santolina calling the fairies in. Just yesterday a grandmother brought her two granddaughters to visit and I listened as the girls giggled about how the tiny frogs from the nearby pond must live among the fairies.
That night, the grandmother emailed me to share how her granddaughters had stayed up after dark, in awe of the summertime fireflies. The girls believed the fireflies were fairies from our garden, coming to thank them for their earlier visit.
What more could I ask for than the simple enjoyment these two little girls experienced? Every morning when I look out the window, the gardens inspire me before my work day begins.
View from the Ground
Justin Benner, Heritage Line Herbs Farmer-in-Training
I have to admit: I get a little overwhelmed when I start weeding our gardens. Mom will go over them with me ahead of time, pointing out certain weeds or invasive species she needs out, and certain herbs or flowers she wants left in. The trouble is that, once she’s gone, I can’t tell the difference. They all kind of blur together.
I razed a small lavender garden once, confusing the spindly, sparse-looking baby plants for weeds. Later, I mowed over a dozen sea-buckthorn shrubs because they were scattered across the lawn and I thought they looked suspect. I even managed to destroy a patch of lilies: their distinctive, sharp-looking leaves couldn’t even save them.
Luckily, gardens are forgiving, as are mothers.
Recently, I worked with a friend to get the gardens ready for summer. He didn’t know anything about gardening either, but he at least had the ability to remember what he was told to do. So we managed. We dug out weeds, raked out the dead plants, edged the garden, and pulled out grasses. We even cleaned an enormous root system out of the pond: a root system so big and invasive that it weighed close to 150 pounds. Finally, we pronounced the gardens ready to go.
Ready, that is, until my Mom and her best friend, who also works on our farm, came out to inspect our work. It was like they manifested the weeds, they found so many we had missed. They laughed at us, but were also very sympathetic. These things take time, they said. Time goes slowly in a garden.
So, my friend and I went back at it for another day, trodding over ground we thought we'd covered, until we knew without a doubt that we had gotten everything. Triumphant, we set out to get Mom to sign off on our work. When she came to check everything out, she smiled and said we did a great job. And then what did she do? She bent over, plucked out a weed, grinned and said, “Whoops, looks like you missed one.”
View from Afar
Melissa Benner, Heritage Line Herbs Admirer
I was living in Vietnam when my mom called to tell me her idea. She wanted to build a tearoom on our farm to showcase our culinary herbs and create a peaceful retreat for visitors. “What do you think?” she asked.
Her idea resonated with my own experience. Having grown up with fields and forests, my first mission in a new town is to find the nearest green space. Da Nang city, with its mash of industry, motorcycles, and noisy street life, had proven difficult to navigate.
Until I discovered the garden cafés.
Tucked behind crumbling Soviet-style storefronts, you’d never imagine these oases existed. But slipping through a narrow entrance yielded unexpected beauty. Orchids and vines wreathe the ceilings. Streams glisten over smooth rocks. Ferns surround teak tables where you sit and drink your cà phê sữa đá. I described it all in great detail to my mom, happy I had my necessary infusion of nature.
A year later, I returned home to our farm to find a freshly-built tearoom, surrounded by gardens, and open for business. My mom, inspired by our conversations, had hired a landscaper to replicate the abundant greenery I loved in Vietnam. A garden café was the perfect addition to our business.
But despite the overseas influence, the tearoom is rooted in our family heritage. My great-grandfather planted the pines that stand behind the new waterfall. The “Silver Birch Tea Room” is named after my great-grandma’s favourite tree, which grows abundantly in our Carolinian ecosystem. And the tearoom itself is built on a dip in the land where my sister and I spent hours as kids, wading in the rainwater.
This mix of culture, creativity, and custom always draws me home. In the tearoom gardens, I find respite from my busy Toronto life. I relax and take a moment to appreciate my mother’s vision and, of course, admire my brother’s expert weeding duties.
Photo credits: Melissa Benner