Riding my bike down Westminster Highway to the Sharing Farm at Terra Nova for the garlic festival on 14 August, I passed Gibbons Drive. The name sparked the memory of a recent editorial in a Richmond paper about the advantages of having watchful neighbours. When I arrived at Terra Nova, the joyful sight of people thronging in the gardens reminded me of neighbours again, but in a slightly different connection. It made me think about how gardens—and not high fences—can make good neighbours.
Solidarity was the first word that came into my mind when I joined the crowd around the garlic table. I was witnessing a superb manifestation of solidarity, the capacity of people to become united for a common cause, which in this particular instance was fund-raising for the Sharing Farm. The root of solidarity goes back to the Latin word "solidus", solid, in the sense of "salvus", safe. It's the concept that underlies the famous phrase, "United we stand, divided we fall."
United, divided—these are two ideas that we can also associate with the words garden and neighbour, both of whose origins involve the idea of a boundary. But the implication here is positive rather than negative, because it is a boundary that binds, not separates.
The word garden derives from the word yard, which in turn descends from the Old English "geard", meaning fence or enclosure. A garden, therefore, is a distinct area used for the cultivation of fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Neighbour is composed of the Old English words for near ("neah") and farmer ("gebur"). Thus, by definition, it takes two to make a neighbour (you are not a neighbour unto yourself). Neighbours share a real or virtual boundary (they are near each other), and because the boundary is shared, it also links them.
In past centuries, neighbourhoods were essential to ensure the safety and well-being of its inhabitants. For that reason, early neighbourhoods were often composed of related families or clans. Proximity made it easier to protect their common interests. If there wasn't a sense of solidarity among the neighbours, their very lives could be threatened.
The neighbourhood in which I live seems to be made up of people who can claim a good measure of solidarity. We are a diverse lot, we are not related, and many of us don't even speak the same language. But all the same, we care about one another in a neighbourly way. I find that my garden, which grows at the boundaries of my yard, has become one of the main links between my neighbours and me. We communicate by way of the garden. The neighbour on one side is out in her yard, or garden, as early in the morning as I am. The only words we have in common are "Hi" and "Good morning". But she is a master of gesticulation and has called me over to her garden to smell her delightful flowers, and she has wandered over to mine to make gestures that indicate her appreciation or surprise or even amusement. Another neighbour comes over occasionally and admires my herbs. Again, although we do not speak the same language, she says "Beautiful" and likes to repeat the names of the plants as I recite them, following her pointing finger.
The spectacle of throngs of people at the Sharing Farm at Terra Nova, partaking of the sights and smells of the bounty of nature as they strolled among garden beds full of vegetables and flowers as tall as they were, is incontrovertible proof that gardens have the power to draw us out into the open and unite us in the best possible neighbourly way.
This page last updated: November 19, 2011.