The heartbreak of a disappearing garden
For 17 years, Tom Burke and Dev Fox have been making their garden.
Seventeen years of rescuing plants, turning found objects into objets d’art, building and maintaining a thriving, healthy garden pond.
But this is a disappearing garden. In a bit over a month, it will be all gone. The plants, stones, pond pump, hoses and water barrels packed up, along with the couch and chairs, beds and lamps, pots and pans from their home. All off to a new place, somewhere else in the city.
“It breaks my heart leaving this behind,” says Dev, who with husband Tom has made the back of their Charlton Avenue home what he calls their “little chunk of paradise.”
But Dev and Tom rent their home — the top floors of a house recently purchased by young owners with different plans for it. And so the couple is doing some mental packing, trying to look forward to a new home and garden rather than back, at what they are giving up.
The previous owner gave Dev and Tom full run of the backyard, just weeds and scrubby patches of grass when they moved in. With a sturdy, comfortable staircase down from a back balcony/porch, they saw the garden as an extension of their home. Learning that they have to leave it all has come as a shock.
Tom, a foreman with a landscaping crew, has brought his laboriously-earned knowledge and experience to his own garden, the focus of which is a two-level pond and waterfall he built.
There’s not a drop of city (i.e. tap) water in it. A rain-collection system takes all the water from the garage roof, stores it in two rain barrels and transfers it by gravity to more barrels above the main pond. More pipes take that water to a lower pond, where a pump moves it back above the upper waterfall. There, it is filtered through an old clawfoot bathtub full of lava rock before being released back into the water feature.
“The pond took me about seven months to build by hand back in 2009, and the sweat has paid off in leaps and bounds,” Tom says. “It has provided enjoyment to so many and has attracted lots of nature to the area.”
Float valves ensure that the pond doesn’t overflow, but never runs low on water either. The pure rain water is clearly healthy for a thriving population of large goldfish (which began their lives in the pond as thumb-sized “feeder goldfish”) and a couple of less-common shubunkins (calicos).
Tom and Dev have not decided yet where the fish — 17 at last count — will go, but they will likely be adopted by a garden centre.
The plants, on the other hand, will leave with them. (The new owner has asked them to clear the garden.) They’ve both been collecting and amassing their garden for too long — and their passion for it is still too strong — for them not to have one at their new home.
“All the plants, everything, are going,” Tom says. “The new owner doesn’t want anything left.”
Some — like the pink clematis clambering over the fence — won’t move easily. Others, like the rhubarb that came from Dev’s mother’s garden after she died, will settle into a new home.
The garden has an eclectic mix of plants: they particularly like day lilies, and columbine seems to volunteer (self-seed) all around their perennial beds. Moss and thyme and small succulents grow between the rocks around the pond. There’s iris and ferns to be potted up for the move, and periwinkle going to a family member. A blue spirea and a small smoke bush will move on, as well.
Dev has been collecting “found metal” for years: the garden has orbs and fencing, a lantern and a fire grate, most discarded along the alley behind the house and rescued and repurposed for their garden. “I like the metal in the yard,” she says. She and Tom are looking for a new rental. It could be in the same part of the city, or they may move east where gentrification hasn’t yet raised rents quite as much. Regardless of where they land, though, there will be a garden.
“It would be very difficult for the two of us to move into an apartment without a yard, since we have so many gardening years left to enjoy,” said Tom.
After renting their home for 17 years, Tom Burke and Dev Fox have been asked to take out their elaborate pond and all the flowers, objets d’art, etc by July 1. They’re now looking for a new place to live — and garden. Tom beside his koi pond.