Taking a break from gardening in her front yard, Joan Mara sat down on the wooden swing her husband had placed at the very edge of their South Surrey property.
The unusual spot provided a less-than-enchanting view. The half-acre lot adjacent to her home had originally been slated as a garden, however, a lack of maintenance had led to overgrowth and weeds.
Nearly five years after that summer day, Mara proudly showed off the work she and husband Jon put into the newly-christened Spirit Garden, now full of flowers, a paved walkway and pond.
“I just happened to be out there gardening in my own front yard and I looked over at that unsightly mess and thought, ‘I know there’s a beautiful garden out there,’” she said. “I carried out a little plant from my own garden and placed it on the edge of the swing.
“The rest is history.”
With the help of neighbours and the city, the Mara’s created a community garden for all to enjoy. Tucked away on 140 Street, just past 28 Avenue, the land first had to be cleared in order to prepare for the tulips, poppies and greenery that now fill the garden.
After consulting the city’s engineer and maintenance crew, Joan was given the green light to begin her project.
“We struck a deal that the maintenance department would pick up any yard waste,” Mara said. “I’m telling you, we have put out more than 10 tons of pruning and tree clippings. I’m not too sure they’re happy with that bargain.”
Initially, the garden was called the Secret Garden, due to its hidden location, but last fall, just as the initial vision of the garden had come to her, Joan saw another aspect that could be added to the garden by creating a space dedicated to remembering loved ones who had died.
“We’ve lost people in our lives. Jon’s mom passed away a year and a half ago and my cousin passed away around the time the garden started,” Joan said. “When his family sold their home, we moved over a bunch of plants. Some of the first things in this garden were from a loved one we lost.”
Joan noted that each year, poppies from Jon’s mother’s garden bloom a vibrant red. From those blossoms, she collects seeds and plants them for the next year.
“It’s a way to be reminded of her spirit in the garden,” she said.
While there are many personal memories that can be found in the garden, Joan noted that the space is open to all.
She recalled one woman who inquired about the garden last year. When she found out people could plant something in memory of a loved one, something clicked for her, Joan said.
“The moment I said that, everything changed for her. She just swooned and I put my arm on her arm to steady her. Her eyes filled with tears and she told me about her daughter, who is a five-year cancer survivor,” Joan said. “She had lost so many people in her life, including two of her very best friends, recently.”
The woman came back with her daughter, who planted perennials. Each year, the blossoms will bloom, providing a place for her to connect with her friends.
“My hope is that more people will come and think of it as a place that they could plant seeds or flowers that remind them of someone,” Joan said.
Recently, the Maras created a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SpiritGardenSouthSurrey), updated frequently with pictures and notes.
“You know that phrase, ‘Not in my backyard,’ and how it is usually a negative. Well, why not make it positive by making a contribution not in your own backyard?” she said.
“Buy a small bag of tulip bulbs, plant them a little off your property so everyone sees it. It just makes our whole community beautiful.”