Garden City, Winnipeg
“People always say, ‘Where are you going this year?’ and I say, ‘My yard!’”
Irene Rajfur retired last year 40 years as a medical social worker. It has finally given her breathing space to spend all her time in the place she has chipped away at for 34 years, since moving into their home in Garden City. “Now, after many years of putting time into it, I have a great place to sit and read a book. It’s a lovely retreat,” she says.
Irene’s lot they are on is about 50 feet by 100 feet, just the typical size for homes built in the early 60s in Garden City. Her husband, Chris Fulmyk, is a lover of trees—”which makes planting … interesting”—and has put in many, adding to the two big trees in the back yard when they moved in. “I don’t have a tremendous amount of sun, but I find the little areas that I can use,” says Irene.
In their relationship, Irene is the gardener and Chris is moves heavy things, like pots. “I have a lot of big planters so I can have things in sunny areas, so I put them on the patio or in my back garden, because of all the trees and so many roots. I have planters to give texture and height to my back garden.”
Irene likes doing anything in the garden from spring through fall. “We have birds and squirrels and rabbits here. Just sort of being one with nature” is what she enjoys, she says. Like many gardeners, she likes the rabbits but has an ongoing battle with them. She guards things with small fences and buys plastic mesh from the dollar store which she puts behind the fencing. “Once I get the plants established it’s not such a big deal. But if I don’t do it right from the get-go, they’ll eat the tulips right away, or primroses.”
A few years ago, Chris took out some of the lawn for her birthday. She mapped out what she was going to do and since then, just continues to add to the map as she adds perennials. This diary tells her that things usually happen with in a couple of weeks year over year, but some years things happen so differently.
“Last year was so dry that my water bill was $100 more than it normally is. And because it was the year I retired, all my friends generously gifted me certificates from Shelmerdine’s and La Costa’s Nursery, so I bought a lot more perennials. I thought, I’m not going to lose these things so I’m gonna have to water and keep up with it.”
She has no garage to keep less-hardy plants in over the winter, so she builds a cage around them and stuffs the cage with leaves. “Then I can hardly wait till spring when I can peel it all off to see what came back.” She has a few Zone-pushing plants, like a hydrangea and a clematis that are rated hardy to Zone 5.
Irene is getting rid of more grass every year in her garden. “I don’t know why people think it’s a wonderful thing to have this nice green grass. You’re always having to do something with it, getting rid of weeds or whatever. You plant stuff? You can enjoy that and you don’t have to worry about it.” She’d like to have just a push mower.
Still, Irene is not crazy about plants that are too fussy. She tries to have things in bloom spring, summer and fall, or to have plants that do double-duty, like something whose foliage turns colour. She has started growing herbs among the flowers. The herbs can be frozen or dried. “I don’t buy thyme, I don’t buy oregano, I don’t buy tarragon,” she says.
Retirement suits her just fine. “For your entire working life there are things that you have to do. There’s a schedule.” Now she wakes up in the morning and does what she wants to do that day. “I think it was Audrey Hepburn who said, ‘to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow’ and I think that’s a great mindset.”