The heart­break of a dis­ap­pear­ing gar­den

The Hamilton Spectator - - STYLE - ROB HOWARD Rob Howard lives and gar­dens in Hamil­ton. Find him on Face­book at Rob Howard: Gar­den writer, or email him at 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.

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