A neighbour’s greenhouse

Age (as in ripe old) needn’t be a detriment to good ideas, creative thought, or future planning. Not long ago, I thought it was.

Age (as in ripe old) needn’t be a detriment to good ideas, creative thought, or future planning. Not long ago, I thought it was.

“How much longer could I use it?” “Is it worth the effort and expense, at this stage?” These were the thoughts running through my head as I stood in the back 40 one recent year pondering a different configuration, a new structure for my vegetable garden and a rather decrepit adjoining shed.

Just a few weeks later, I glanced over our adjoining fence at the strenuous effort my neighbor (with at least a decade and more on me) was putting into the careful and measured construction of a small greenhouse. He certainly was not fretting about the time left to enjoy it; he was getting it done, apparently enjoying the work, and prepared to make use of it, right now!

In the following years that little greenhouse was full of over-wintering scarlet geraniums, perhaps tiny seedlings preparing to fill the adjacent garden, or whatever whims enticed my neighbor to make use of his successful project.

That neighbor and his greenhouse were a lesson for me, and I think of it often, when the ‘why bother’ attitude creeps in to stall inspirations that intrigue me.  Sadly, my neighbor is gone now, but perhaps not so sadly either, for he did what he wanted to do and did it happily and well. When he could no longer make these efforts he was satisfied and at peace with his accomplishments.

When I remember this neighbor, there’s much more than the inspiration of his little greenhouse that comes to mind.

He gardened and I gardened, but in no way were our gardens the slightest bit comparable.  Over the fence, the peas, the beans, the potatoes grew like there was no tomorrow under the neighbor’s knowing touch. Mine grew too, but I think the difference between our veggies was something like, mine grew while his flourished.

The fruits of neighbor’s apple tree visited constantly over our fence, and when the laden branches dropped a few choice fruits on my side, they found their way quickly into pies or applesauce. Sometimes part of the abundant harvest of the brambles frolicking along the laneway fence were brought to me for my enjoyment.

Our resident deer from the woods across the street no doubt loved this neighbor, too. The windfalls from the prolific apple tree were regularly spread on the front lawn to supplement their browsing, and perhaps deter them just a bit from vulnerable flower gardens.

Obviously this gentle neighbor was a friendly and helpful one; on his way to the mailbox on a rainy day he would rescue my newspapers from the streaming driveway and tuck them safely under cover on the porch.

Even in the dark days of winter, his garden continued its flourishing with tall stalks of Brussels sprouts ignoring the cold and frost to present green orbs of nourishment for winter meals. The thriving crop of fall rye did its bit toward providing the spring’s turned-under green manure.

And the little greenhouse, my point of enlightenment and inspiration, guarded the tender greenery not yet ready for the outdoors. Thank you, neighbor, for your unknowing lesson to one on the other side of the fence.

You and your little greenhouse made true Gandhi’s words, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever” or to quote James Dean, “Dream as if you will live forever; Live as if you will die today”. In other words, “Carpe diem” … and go for it!

Nancy Whelan’s column appears every second Thursday in The NEWS. E-mail:




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