Perhaps the most beautiful part of the Lodge is the garden. We have been told that Gerhardt Rehm designed it. He was a well-known landscape architect who also created many exceptional gardens in Victoria. We still don’t know the whole story but there is no doubt the garden has been touched by many loving and ambitious hands.

The Lodge rests on a hill overlooking the garden. Every time I walk down the stairs or a guest stands at one of the bay windows we see the remarkable landscape. But in spite of Gerhardt’s artistry and all the hard work of previous gardeners the place had been neglected for several years and had turned into a messy jumble of overgrown and untended foliage.

Looking closer I realized it wasn’t just messy. The garden had been colonized. A full hillside of English ivy—up the trees and down the banks—scotch broom, Daphne, holly, bamboo and blackberries. Even the beautiful little wild geraniums and fragrant morning glory had wound their way around every rock and fern.

Gardening has given me time to think about colonization…the choking and strangling…the taking over. It’s not that colonizers are in and of themselves nasty creatures. In fact, they are beautiful. But they are not satisfied with inhabiting their own territory. They have invaded the whole garden, creeping underground and dominating the soil so nothing else can grow.

At first I got a bit panicked. I had dreams of Sleeping Beauty. If I didn’t wake up the thickets would become so dense I would be choked.

Some plants I’m containing…English ivy, because it is doing a good job of covering a bank…blackberries, because they make excellent jam and pies. The Daphne, holly and scotch broom are gone (for now) as are some of the wild geraniums and fragrant morning glory (they are sweet and hopefully somewhat innocuous).

It’s the bamboo that really got the colonization message through to me. Apparently Gerhardt loved bamboo and many Victoria residences are now decolonizing their gardens along with me. This is not clumping bamboo, the decent, polite kind that remains contained in its own space. This is running bamboo that doesn’t stop. It’s greedy.

I cut down a stand in a gulley along the property line about 4 feet X 20 feet…some had grown 15 feet tall. Gone. But the trunks are impenetrable and the tubers are 2 inches round and those are the ones I can see. What I can’t see is that they have traveled at least thirty feet from the gulley to a small garden under a large fir tree. Bamboo, like long unruly hairs on a dog’s back, was sprouting up through the variegated bishop’s goutweed (itself an invasive species). In the two years since we have been here the bamboo has gotten thicker and thicker.

After clearing out the goutweed I spent two days with a pick and shovel pulling giant clumps of bamboo roots. Again, it’s what you don’t see. The roots were 10 Xs what appeared on the surface. Not to get too metaphorical but bamboo is systemic…the problem isn’t what you can easily see. Snipping the spindly hairs will get you nowhere. The problem is the way it infiltrates the substrata and leaves the soil barren and dry making it hard for natural species to survive.

I have almost exhausted the colonizer metaphor but not quite.

I became a warrior woman. Digging, lifting, cutting, pulling until I had no muscle strength left. I Googled how to eradicate bamboo and after every helpful method there was the same message…repeated digging, lifting, cutting, pulling required. Figure out a way to live with it. The colonizer is a permanent resident.

Now I’m wondering how we could have avoided our western brand of colonization. I wish there had been a way to control the first sailors who eyed this great territory and wanted to possess it. I think China and Russia had a good idea when they set up traders’ quarters in their cities and confined outsiders to those areas. They wanted the goods but they didn’t want the takeover.

Maybe it’s not too late to think of other ways to inhabit space, other ways to imagine ownership, other ways to use resources because the absolute truth is that we do not own the land. It’s not ours. It never will be ours. We are caretakers of it until we are covered by it and forgotten. Don’t get me started on the “return to the earth” metaphor.

Photo thanks to Bart Wentink, a guest at the Lodge from Houston Texas

Photo thanks to Ralph, our fellow Saturnaite

One thought on “Decolonizing the garden

  1. When my parents moved to the ancestral home in 1967, it was like moving to California. The girls in the neighbourhood all wore bikinis, we had a pool, and a sundeck….this was all a bit overwhelming for an awkward 13 yr old from East Van…it was at this time I was introduced to bamboo. The bamboo was planted in a line on one side of the pool…you could literally watch it grow…my Mum, loved the bamboo and managed to keep it in this one area…creating a shady spot with a bench to read in on a hot sunny day…it was lovely. Fast forward to 2012…my Mum left us in 2011, the pool was long ago dismantled and now the Bamboo seemed to know it was time to make it’s ‘move’ half of the back yard was sprouting Bamboo. My sister decided to wage war upon the Bamboo. She hired a bamboo exterminator…this guy may not still be alive after watching his technic for decimating the Bamboo…no gloves, mask, nope just him and some kind of Earth destroying chemical….it was at this time I began avoiding the back lawn as if it was Coquitlam’s very own Chernobyl…. I think it was 3 or 4 years later that the Bamboo was eventually poisoned into extinction…. Bamboo Exterminator made his last visit…the grass still has balding brown spots…but no Bamboo. As tough as your method is Sylvia, at least you are alive…I not sure if the Exterminator made it…or maybe he is like one of those Chernobyl Wolves…that adapted…

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