It is Finished

On Saturday afternoon Mary and Joan (and Davin, of course) came by and helped us clean up hundreds of cigarette butts, several broken bottles, the bamboo fence we built two seasons ago that had been literally and purposefully kicked in inch-by-inch along its entire length, a bag full of miscellaneous garbage, concrete dust left by City workers and three big bags of garden waste.

By Sunday morning the garden had acquired some new garbage and a broken bottle. By Sunday night there was a large, dead, potted palm, 6-8 cigarette butts from the neighbors, and the garbage bag full of waste that we had picked up only the day before had been dumped back onto the garden. Whomever did it took the garbage bag with them.

I’m enraged. I’m heartbroken. Actually, neither of those words are accurate. I’m beyond both. The last few years trying to tend the garden amidst what is happening in this neighborhood has been like fighting a war. I can’t fight this war anymore. It is too painful. And I know now that I can never win.

When Joan and Mary showed up to help yesterday carrying with them their enthusiasm, good cheer, and two delicious salads made by Mary, it was very heartening. A neighbor named Barry also stopped by and gifted me a bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) from his garden. I love bloodroot. It all felt good. It felt like both myself and the garden were cared for by a community. If they had not been there to share in the labor, I would have picked up all of that garbage along with another helping of bitterness and resentment.

The other day, while laying on the proverbial couch bemoaning more troubles with the garden my therapist (who is also a gardener) said, “A garden can feel like your own body. When someone attacks it, it feels like they are throwing up on you.”

It does.

Perhaps that will read as dramatic to many people but it is the truth of my experiences as a gardener. I put myself into it. I’ve tried not to. I’ve tried to detach. It doesn’t work. And even if I could somehow manage to remain emotionless about the act, the fact is that I don’t want to experience gardening in a detached way. I’d call that landscaping.

From the moment I put my shovel into the ground so many years ago, I became responsible for that space. I care about that little patch of land and what happens to it. I don’t think that was ever my original intention, but it is what happened. For me, gardening is an emotional experience and a complicated exchange. When I work in the garden I nurture, I care, I feel, and in return I am nurtured, I nurture myself and I work through my troubles; a relationship develops. I unintentionally set down roots.

Unfortunately, in a neighborhood like mine, this has come with a price. Depending on what is done to the garden it can feel like the perpetrators are literally puking up their utter disregard and trash on me. At other times it feels like they are throwing all of their own self hatred, guilt, shame, and inner turmoil at me. Two summers ago, when someone very purposefully flattened a patch of plants with their feet, I could feel the rage that went into that act. I could feel the anger and pain and hurt. When passersby throw trash and allow their dog to poop without picking it up they are saying, “I don’t care about anything, myself included.” When the people who live directly over top of the garden continue to throw their cigarette butts into the garden, especially after it was so obviously cleaned up by their own neighbor, it is like they are whispering in my ear, “We are so invested in our self-loathing, we can’t see what is in front of our eyes.

When people dump their diseased and used potting soil onto the garden, it feels like they are assuaging their guilt. When they deposit dead, potted plants into or at the edge of the garden I imagine their confession, “I feel badly that I killed this plant but I can’t accept responsibility for it. I need to pretend it is still alive and that you can save it. Here, you be responsible.

I can’t be responsible anymore. And that was partly why I asked for help. Cleaning up the garden as a group, as a caring community, lifted some of the burden of what lay at the heart of the acts that went into destroying it from off of my shoulders and heart.

Experiencing these assaults on the garden over and over again makes me angry and filled with rage. But knowing what lies beneath the assaults makes me sad. It hurts. I am not impervious to pain. And I don’t think I can continue to set myself up for it anymore.

Before I go on, I need to be clear that what’s happening with the garden isn’t normal. I’ve been gardening that little patch of land for 10 years, and while there has been garbage thrown, some things destroyed, lots of thieving, and a bit of weirdness, what happened then could never touch what has been going on over the last 2-3 years. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 14 years, and I have watched it change. At first I could attribute an acceleration in violence being perpetrated against the garden as the result of the turmoil being experienced in the neighborhood at large as the effects of increasing and accelerating gentrification took hold. But then the bars went in. This part of the neighborhood is turning into the new club district and the people coming in experience the neighborhood as their personal playground rather than a place where people live. They just don’t give a shit. And many of the street people and disenfranchised who live here are being displaced. And they are angry. Rightfully so.

I think there is a lot that can be said about the fact that when I moved into this neighborhood it was considered dangerous and bad. The “bad part of town.” The other side of the tracks, literally. And now that it is cool and hip and “good” it has become a terrible place to live. That “bad” neighborhood had its problems, but it also had a sense of community and caring that thrived underneath the so-called bad.

Unfortunately, the garden has become a target, something to vent on. Gardens can mean a lot of things depending on where you are coming from and how you look at it. Or don’t. Because unfortunately, many people are so screwed up that anything beautiful can feel like an affront or have so little disregard that they are simply blind to it. As I said before, I can’t disconnect myself emotionally from what I put into the garden. And as a consequence I feel it all. Continuing to try and garden through this feels like I am playing a hand in my own abuse. It’s like I am standing on the street and waiting to be spit on.

Yesterday was the first day of the garden’s year. Hardly 12 hours had passed before new damage was done. Not 24 before a total assault.

After 10 years digging the garden, building the soil, putting in plants, taking out plants when the City decided they wanted to put in a garden, putting plants back in when the City decided they didn’t want to put in a garden, replacing destroyed plants, replacing broken fences, spending my own hard-earned money, wasting hundreds of hours of my own time, picking up shit, filth, garbage, etc.; I am done.

I tried my best. I don’t own this space and always knew that I would have to make my exit eventually. It hurts to walk away from it in this way, having been defeated and feeling like I’ve failed on multiple levels.

Walking outside to that scene tonight was the breaking point. It is finished.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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89 thoughts on “It is Finished

  1. Oh Gayla, I’m so sorry this has happened. The community and the earth were lucky to have you there when you were able to help. However, I believe you are right when you say you can’t play a hand in your own abuse. Gardening is a very personal journey and I think your therapist really hit the nail on the head.

    Will it be hard to see this space every time you walk by – see it change from what you knew it had been?

  2. Aw Gayla, there’s nothing I can really say, but in the very least, I can empathize. I never had to go through it for years at a time, but it does feel like somebody’s throwing up on you when they desecrate your garden. The unfortunate bit is, all the people who enjoy your garden are never the ones you hear, only the ones intent on destroying it because those are the ones that are so loud.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear about this. I know what it’s like to nurture a garden and to either have to leave it behind (knowing someone won’t love it) or to go home one afternoon and see your effort destroyed.

    I hope you don’t give up. If this particular garden is driving you insane, I understand. But I’m positive that for every action against what you do, there are at least 100 people that walk by and admire the beauty.

  4. So sorry. That’s awful. I had a single beautiful peony snipped last year and you were nice enough to stop by my blog and express regrets. Words cannot express my frustration at how your neighbours have repeatedly killed your efforts to elevate the world around you. Even Wonder Woman must get discouraged from time to time… for now, I think your superpowers are better expended elsewhere.

  5. Ten years ago or so, I had an idiotic landlord who totally destroyed my garden. It’s still too painful to think about for very long, and that experience was just a tiny fraction of what you’re going through. . . .

    So yes on all counts above, except one: you didn’t fail. You recognized abuse and walked away; you acknowledged the humanity of your abusers; you wrote this piece. That’s success, girl. Be proud.

  6. It seems like the right time to be letting something so precious go.. being easter and all. a time of death and birth.
    maybe as you were cleaning up the mess of your inner garden, and planting new things in your mind, this doomed patch resonated.. but recognizing that it is no longer yours could mean that it’s time to tend a different part of yourself and the world around you. good green things are coming…

  7. I am so sorry to hear about the damage inflicted. You know, now might not be a bad time to consider the poison ivy or other spiky vines option suggested in your last post…

  8. This has sucked the life out of you and I am sorry for that. But I do know that you are resilient, because real gardeners are. So I am looking forward to reading about whats next.

  9. People no longer surprise me, whether it’s thoughtless “helping” or blatant disregard (and disrespect). If you find a new space for similar efforts I hope the space will be respected by others as well.
    In the meantime, I’m so sorry for the hurt done to you by ignorant and mean-spirited people. May you find the strength to rise above their shallow and disrespectful character, and heal in time as forgiveness allows.

  10. I’m so sorry. We used to live around the corner from you there in Parkdale, but we had to move when the neighborhood stopped being about artists and started being about condos and people from the suburbs driving down on the weekend in their SUVs. I go back now and I have trouble even seeing anything I miss anymore. I totally get how frustrating it must be to have seen all this change happen first hand.

    I just don’t understand how people (however drunk) could treat anyplace like that. I don’t understand the rationale that says “this place isn’t my home, so it’s ok to destroy it.”

  11. I’m so sorry that you’ve had to experience this frustration, especially on the heels of what sounds like a wonderful experience repairing and preparing the garden with friends. Your valiant efforts in that garden may not have inspired the best in your neighborhood, but they have inspired many of us online. Thank you for that.

  12. Hello Gayla,

    I have enjoyed your blog for a while, and this note finally made me comment.

    I cannot believe the disappointment you must be feeling. Who knows what motivates people to do things like this? To look at a beautiful thing in a neighbourhood that is working on cleaning up and think to destroy it? It’s the senseless things that get to us I think. Things like littering, tagging with spray paint, not picking up after pets… it’s exhausting, especially when you care.

    Please know that your friends, and everyone who reads this blog are behind you. You’ll always have our support!

  13. You have a therapist? Wow. My garden is my therapist, I think. If you need to talk to a therapist about your garden, then things are very wrong.

    If I were you I’d move somewhere out of the city and get a nice sized piece of land which will be entirely yours – start a new project there and put this really bad experience behind you. All the time you stay where you are, that piece of ground will be tormenting you with its history. Move away and move on!

  14. Gayla, I can’t help but feel that you have not failed. You have made more effort and poured more of yourself into that garden than most people would in a lifetime. I’m sorry you’re hurting but I’m also glad that you’ve realized that working that particular space has been doing more self-harm than good and that you can turn to other more worthwhile gardens that nurture YOU, instead of keeping you down.

    I’d gladly share my space with you if it were only close enough.

  15. I’m so sorry. What a bunch of asshats. You are a great inspiration, please don’t be disheartened. Maybe just re-direct you energy into your other gardens, those type of people don’t deserve the beauty of your public garden.

  16. de-lurking to also express my condolences.

    you gotta do what’s right for you. if it was me, i’d do the same thing, but i might also take out all the plants i’d put in and cared for and either transplant them into my personal garden and/or give them to gardener friends.

    but i’m a little vindictive that way. ;)

  17. Oh for fuck’s sake.

    I’m really sorry, Gayla. As you know, I’m all about finding the light in a situation, but every once in a while, people’s capacity to be casually MEAN just *gets* me.

    Anyway, even though I live nowhere near you, I, for one, am grateful that you *tried.* Really, really.

  18. I’m very sorry Gayla, and I respect your decision, but there is one thing I have to disagree with. This is NOT YOUR FAILURE.

    Mean people suck.

    I hope you can put this behind you and find joy in another space.

    (I would totally call the papers and see if they would do something about the destruction of your urban beautification!)

  19. The little pissers.

    I’m truly inspired by your work & the spirit of your work! You keep on now.

  20. I’m never quite sure what’s worse- deliberate malice or that which is born of complete ignorance. But that garden space was subject to both & no one could ever fault you for letting it go. When the neagtive outweighs the positive it’s time to stop.

    I feel bad for people who don’t care about living things- people, animals, plants…..karma’s going to kick them in the a*& one day.

  21. I’m so sorry; I have a world of sympathy. My partner threw in the towel last year after watching our twelve baby trees get systematically destroyed by neighborhood children and landscapers who were not even supposed to be in our yard. You can’t sit out there defending it all the time, and I know just what you mean about feeling like they’re doing that to you. What tremendous jerks. I hope they gain perspective and compassion somewhere down the pike.

  22. Hi Gayla,

    I just found your website the other day, and I have really enjoyed reading up on your adventures. I was so disheartened to read your post today- I can only imagine the discouragment that you are feeling. It was painful to read, but I am sure that it is even more painful to live it right now, and for that I am sorry, and I send my sympathy, well wishes, and positive thoughts your way.

    On a more positive note, you should be very proud of what you have accomplised, and don’t consider this a failure at all. You invested yourself into this relationship (for that truly is what it is), wholeheartedly, and the return just isn’t there any longer. There are “good” fights that leave your stronger(even if you can’t win them), and there are fights that you should walk away from- they will drain your spirit and, when you lose, leave you weak and discouraged. It sounds like your “boxing ring” has changed on you, and you just need to find another spot to nuture. It isn’t fair, but it isn’t your fault, either. Just another fork in the road, my dear- and there are plenty of roads left to explore.

    I wish you well, as do all of your readers and friends. Whatever you decide to do, you will have our support! Feel pround and strong- the Spring is here, and life is finding its way back. Surely you can find another way to find your joy.

  23. The filthy assasins!!!

    It’s beyond me how dog walkers can be so oblivious/mean/careless/hateful to let their pets desecrate & destroy a garden. I’ve had the experience of becoming so enraged that I’ve shouted at people like that to keep walking & get their dogs out of my parkway garden. My mother hands out bags to them to clean up, they up & walk away leaving their mess behind.

    My house is in similar area in Chicago called Bucktown. During the 1960s, growing up it was an idyllic neighbourhood, many Polish, working class families, children playing in the street & alleys, a decline in the 1970′s & 80′s & a gradual, then furious gentrification, wiping out long term residents, artists, developers razing historial residences, putting up cinderblock palaces. I feel displaced, like I don’t even know where I am, I don’t understand the mentality of destroying homes that have stood for 100 years.

  24. I have been meaning to e-mail you for awhile to let you know how much your book and website have influenced me as a gardener. I read this post earlier today but am writing now, because I just came in from my own garden. In a way, it’s your garden too, because your writing has helped and inspired me so much. I thought, I’m probably not the only one who feels this way! I guess what I am saying is that, aside from gardens you’ve physically worked in, I think you have many gardens around the world because of all of the gardeners you’ve inspired. Not that this makes your loss any less upsetting. (I’ve been thinking about this post since I read it around lunchtime today!)

  25. I’m so sorry.
    Thank you for your years of effort, I hope that in time you will be able to remember the happiness your “investment” brought you without bitter memories of its defilement. As in most cases, it is truely the sum of the endeavour and not simply the end result that is of value.

  26. Gayla,
    I concur with everyone commenting on here.

    You should be very very proud of all your efforts and dedication with the street garden, and not feel like a failure in the least bit.

    It is very disheartening, but you have made some amazing observations here about the sad truth that many people are very disconnected from nature and things around them (and themselves!)
    I think mostly they really can’t grasp the concept of how plants/gardens/nature are so vital and important to our existence.
    Perhaps from living in the city, or perhaps on a larger scale of what our society has become.

    This post has really made me think about the whole concept of the “green movement”, and how I often feel it is merely the current fad to follow, with lack of real understanding of what it means to appreciate and value nature.

    I think for the most part if you took all those looting littering idiots, and actually asked them (when they are sober) the question of whether they would throw garbage in a community/local/street garden, the answer would mostly be no. But indeed when its in front of their eyes they really don’t know what they are looking at. They don’t make the connection.

    Gardens should definitely be shared and be part of a community, but also I’m thinking they are sacred, so all those selfish littering destructive idiots haven’t earned the right to experience it.
    They aren’t ready yet, so to speak.

    If you feel it in your heart, I agree that maybe its the time to give up that garden and place your efforts elsewhere, but you are such an inspiration on here, I’m confident you’ll forge forward with a new project, something bigger, better, and appreciated.

    One last thing – I feel this story is something that should somehow be brought to the attention of the City of Toronto. If it can get more exposure, maybe in some way it can actually encourage people to be more aware of their interaction with gardens/green space in the city.


  27. I read this at mid-day & I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I feel so sad for you and disillusioned (again) about human nature. I’m so upset that even though I’m pretty grubby after spending the afternoon in the garden, I can’t do anything until I vent & send you my support.

    Just a few thoughts — I don’t know if they will make you feel better — that came to me this afternoon.

    1) You are an inspiration in so many ways, not just as a gardener.
    2) You have a huge “army” (a peaceful, green corps) behind you. I’m probably not alone wishing I were physically closer to you to help your neighbourhood garden efforts (if you ever decide to resume them).
    3) I hope that soon you will not feel defeated or that you’ve “failed on multiple levels.” I don’t think either. The subhuman cretins that vandalized your garden are the real losers. They’re just digging themselves deeper into pits of misery and hatred.
    4) Your example inspired me starting last year to take a more active role in looking after our condominium’s common property garden. That’s where I was the hour before coming in & writing this. I’m not sure anyway notices my effort but I like to think I’m part of a larger process where every positive action neutralizes a negative one. Pretty simplistic, I know. But sometimes, it keeps me going.

  28. What kind of mothers raised people like that??

    I don’t get it. Not one iota. I teach my son to be respectful…when we’re walking on the sidewalk I don’t even let him walk on people’s lawns…he picks up his toys, puts his dishes away and throws his garbage out…and he’s 3 years old.

    I’ve already noticed him in the minority, and I lament the day he decides he’s not fighting that battle anymore.

    You try to make the world nice for people and they just…piss on it. Literally. I’m furious with and for you.

  29. This poem is engraved on the wall at Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta. Perhaps it can offer some peace?

    People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;
    Forgive them anyway.

    If you are kind,
    people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives;
    Be kind anyway.

    If you are successful,
    you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
    Succeed anyway.

    If you are honest and frank,
    people may cheat you;
    Be honest and frank anyway.

    What you spend years building,
    someone could destroy overnight.
    Build anyway.

    If you find serenity and happiness,
    they may be jealous;
    Be happy anyway.

    The good you do today,
    people will often forget tomorrow;
    Do good anyway.

    Give the world the best you have,
    and it may never be enough;
    Give the best you’ve got anyway.

    You see, in the final analysis
    it is between you and God;
    It was never between you and them anyway.

  30. “the garbage bag full of waste that we had picked up only the day before had been dumped back onto the garden.”

    what – the – fuck?!

    yep, i would call it a day as well. you’ve put a tonne of energy into that garden over the years, but it’s time to put it somewhere else.

  31. Wow, I just discovered your site and to read this now, I am speechless. I have great respect for you already and have no wish to offend you when I say this, but it is the only way I know how to give comfort of myself to you. I am confident that the great Gardener, the Holy Spirit, has prepared a plot for you to garden as I believe it is meant for all of us to be gardeners. I believe we were all meant to grow our own food. It may be the same plot, or a different one. It may be at a different time in the future. When one door closes a window opens. The Gardener weeps with you because the Gardener has been with you the whole time helping you and guiding you and the Gardner “is especially fond of you”.

  32. I am very sorry for your loss. I am also struggling with gardening in the city. I’m just getting started this year and the uphill battle is amazing. I took Sunday to clear the front garden, only to have someone come and throw rotten fruit into it before I had even been gone 4 hours. It was not only disheartening but gross.

    Although it might feel like everyone is against you- and that the garden did not work out, remember that for the last ten years, no matter what happened this year, your garden was a welcome and beautiful addition to your neighborhood.

  33. Im really sorry Gayla- I’ve been reading about your tribulations for the past few years and I wanted to say you hung in there for a long time and that people can be jerks. I wish people had more regard for life, effort and other people.

  34. I’m sorry for you. But you’re not alone… Too bad, but same thing is happening here, too. The difference is only, that this is “bad” neighbourhood, which we try to make “good”, but the “bad” tries its best to resist. New houses attract alcoholics, party people and teens, and they do the only thing they can: destroy everything that’s new, shiny and “good”. We plant flowers, they dig them up. We clean the neihgbourhood out of trash, they litter it again. They slash the tires of our bikes, burn down the dumpsters, keep us awake with their yelling and motorcycles, steal everything, that they can… Even today i had to get new pencils for the bulletin boards in the hall. And it is not only the young, it’s the old, too! They yell at streets how we students destroy the forests with our new buildings (and they can’t use that small patch of forest as their bar anymore), and steal stuff from the people moving in when they are only just carrying their posessions to their new home.

    I would like to have flowers near the doors, or plant a berry bush to the back yard, even though i live in a appartment house, but they would be destroyed just over night. Too bad, so sad.

  35. Oh, forgot to say, that it isn’t only the appartment house areas, that have people who don’t care. When i still lived with my parents, we had two cats. They walked freely, ’cause the area wasn’t near big roads and was peacefull. But people liked to go through that peacefull neighbourhood while walking their dogs. One day i was inside minding my own business, when i suddenly saw huge dog running freely in our garden. It was chasing my cats, which yelled out of horror. I ran like the wind out side just to see my poor cats in nearest tree. That huge dog stood under the tree barking it’s head off. I started to yell at the dog, trying to get it leave. Just then the dogs owner standing at our fence starts to yell to me. “Don’t you dare to discipline my dog, it’s just playing!”. I went speechless, which, i believe, was the best option. Finally, the dog got bored and run off to our neihgbours garden. The owner just laughed, how funny and happy his dog looked, running wild like that. Her “little angel”, the size of a small horse. I was stunned. Later my other cat lost 3 toes in a similar incident. After that my father confronted the owner, and i newer saw her again. Lucky me. And the cats.

  36. I agree with Steen’s post- sometimes, though, you have to put something down for awhile- or take a different path. Time helps to diffuse the hurt.

  37. Gayla, I’m so sorry. I know this must have been a difficult decision to make. But it certainly sounds as though your relationship with this garden is no longer nurturing – it has become a battleground instead of a place of growth and healing. It’s not a defeat – you’re wise enough to know what you need and what you don’t. And to put it simply, you don’t need this shit!!! :)

  38. Sorry to hear about this, you have tried so hard for so long and as many have already said, those years of toil brought beauty to your area and joy to everyone who saw and/or heard about it. Even if you have to drop it for now, you have accomplished something in inspiring us all for so long. I’m sure whatever you choose to focus on next will thrive. Best Wishes.

  39. It always amazes me how unkind and careless people can be.. I wish there was something I could say that would make it hurt a little less. Just know that the gardening community loves and supports you. I hope that you’re able to find a new place to put the energy that you were putting into the street garden. *big hugs*

  40. Gayla,
    My heart goes out to you. So many people in this world are so damaged that they have to destroy everything around them to make their lives have meaning. You are truely a beautiful and caring person and did all that you could for this forgotten piece of earth. I am sure that it is not easy for you to say I give up, to give in to these people. But I know that there are those out there who appreciated every ounce of sweat that went into that garden. Incuding me and I live all the way down in South Carolina. Best of luck to you in your future ventures. I have always believed that you get back what you put out into the world, so that should meen that those who destroyed your garden should be getting a heap of crap, a few gallon’s of pee, a truckload of trash and may your neighbors wake to a bedfull of ciggarette butts.

  41. Hey Gayla
    wanted to come and post after reading your twitters. I’m so sorry to hear about all this trouble, but I have a slightly different view on all this than some of the other posters. I just wanted to say, don’t give up. Don’t give up. And don’t give up because, there’s a buddhist teacher who says, if you were rowing a boat, and suddenly you felt another boat bump into you, you’d be like, oh my god! And feel angry that someone crashed into you.

    But then you’d turn around and see that the other boat is empty. And think about how your feelings would change. Charlotte Joko Beck says : think of the other people, the other people who hurt you, as an empty boat floating on your lake. If a baby had been sick in your garden, you wouldn’t take it personally, so don’t take a grown-up’s vomit personally either.

    I know this is a different view than everyone else here. But I have the same problem with rubbish being thrown into my own garden, and that’s the way I’ve evolved of thinking about it. There’s even one person who blows their nose every day and throws their tissue in. Never in anyone else’s! Like we have a relationship about their nose! I have begun to think of this person, who i have never managed to spot, as being in a story with me. I don’t know. I’m trying to say – let go of feeling enraged, if you can. Feel peaceful. Think of an empty boat. xx

  42. I’m so sorry about this Gayla. I think you’re making the right decision at this time to be done with this space and move your energy elsewhere. Giving your creative energy to the world also means setting limits on how much abuse you’ll take from outside forces and where your boundaries are.

    There are so many analogies here for the therapeutic process. I feel like I know where you’re at. Take care.

  43. Hi Gayla,

    I am so sorry about your garden. I’ve been reading your book and your blog for the last couple months and like so many others, you have opened up a whole new world to me. Just wanted to thank you for giving of your time and talents. The world is truly a more beautiful place for your investment.

  44. Gayla,

    I read your post and felt my heart break a bit. The destruction of your garden is awful. I can imagine only a little of what you must be feeling. I can’t say I understand what motivates people to do such things – only that they must be suffering and want to act on that.

    I hope that you find another space that you can make beautiful in a place where it is appreciated. I will keep you in my thoughts.

  45. I don’t know what I could say that would be adequate. But I will say I am very sorry this has happened to you. You have put so much work and energy into the garden, and had created a positive space.

    It is a shame some people have no regard and can be so disrespectful. I just don’t understand their actions in destroying someone’s hard work. Just despicable.

  46. I don’t know what I could say that would be adequate. But I will say I am very sorry this has happened to you. You have put so much work and energy into the garden, and had created a positive space.

    It is a shame some people have no regard and can be so disrespectful. I just don’t understand their actions in destroying someone’s hard work. Just despicable.

  47. Gayla, thanks for your heartfelt and honest post about your garden. I had a comparable situation where tenants in the house I share dismantled the back yard garden that I planted and nurtured for several years. They raked off every leaf that I had gathered as mulch, (leaves are dirty) snapped several branches off the Canadian Hemlock I had tended for 12 years, (it’s just a spiky old tree, and got in the way of the raking) ripped up and trashed all the perennials and ground covers (we want grass to put our patio furniture on). I actually felt sick about it for many months, and looking over my balcony at the scorched earth policy below filled me with despair every time. I take not much joy in the fact that the grass they planted last summer is doomed, as the garden is in deep shade, dry and sandy. It is now and will remain a big square sandbox. They are reaping what they sow.
    I think washing your hands of the street garden, like you are doing, is the only thing to do right now. You know you have no control in the situation, other than to keep un-doing the damage that the neighbours are so unthinkingly doing. It doesn’t mean that you have failed in any way. You did what you did, and made something beautiful that many people enjoyed over the years. Other people chose to do what they did. And that’s that.
    I really like what Emma T says above about the empty boat. Sort of helps me with my own trashed garden. Even after 2 years it still gives me a pang, so I need all the help I can get.

  48. Thanks for all of your well-wishes and kindnesses. It feels good to know I am not alone.

    Everything I wrote is still true minus the part about failure. I don’t feel that now. I did the best that i could and I know that the decision I made was the best one for me. I feel even more sure about that, especially since the neighbor has commented here letting me know that I can go fuck myself and has continued to dump his butts.

    But of course it was never about those butts. They didn’t help, it’s a shitty thing to do, but it’s not why I snapped. What happened the other night was the final straw amidst the culmination of an ongoing and relentless series of incidents that have taken place over the last few years.

    I still believe in gardening in public space. I would do it again. I WILL do it again. I would make all of the same choices I have made. I still believe in taking responsibility for public space, I still believe all of the same things and I will continue to encourage other people to think outside the norm and practice guerrilla gardening, community gardening, etc. And you know, the thing is, for many of us this marginal type of gardening is all we have. Many of us do not own homes, do not own space, want to live in the city, but also want to garden. We need to garden. For many of us this is not about choice. It is about doing the best with what we have. Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. And it doesn’t mean there aren’t rewards.

    But I also believe that we have to practice self love and care. The healthiest way I know how to be is to not be complicit in my own abuse. I need to be clear that there are boundaries, recognize when they’ve been crossed and make a healthy choice that is right for me. The healthy choice for me is to walk away. It hurts. It sucks. But it is still the right choice. If someone sat me down and relayed my story to me I would suggest they stop. So why should I hold myself to some ridiculous standard?

    I’ve reached and surpassed my limit. It is time to stop.

    I also want to be clear that I am not some hero. I started the garden because I NEED to garden. My reasons for continuing changed over time but there has always been a selfish aspect to it. Although, I will also say that I believe that most meaningful and even altruistic acts include some selfishness. I NEED to garden. I was gardening on the roof but it is not the same as gardening in the ground. The experiences are very different. All of it is different. I NEEDED it like I needed air and water. I still do. And I didn’t have one. There was an empty and abused plot of land on the side of my building and I made it into an opportunity for myself. People liked it. People hated it. It was never about receiving praise for some altruistic act. It’s not about feeling special like I am some gift to the neighborhood. I do believe that we need to take action in making the community we want to see. That doesn’t make me special or better than anyone else.

    What remains now is grief. A lot of grief and sadness. And loss. I’ve lost something that mattered a great deal to me. And now I have to move so I am also about to lose my beloved roof garden. I am suddenly becoming a gardener and a garden writer with no garden. It’s overwhelming and scary.

    I have to be honest and say that I can’t relate to the empty boat parable. It comes off as judgmental and repressive. Please don’t tell me how I should feel.

    What I am experiencing now feels closer to the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. I was in the denial stage for the last few years, thinking I could stick it out no matter what. I’d say the bargaining stage was in there too because I also believed if I just did things differently, the situation would change (That’s where my sense of failure came from).

    But now I just feel grief and sadness. I feel anger too but the grief is the more important emotion… because I know that hurt and loss are at the heart of what lies underneath my anger. I would even say that while I am feeling these other emotions I am also flirting with acceptance. Just deciding to stop was one step towards that. The first step towards self care. The next was deciding to move… looking for somewhere else to live and garden that will hopefully be less painful, and doing the best with the resources I have… despite the fact that losing what I do have scares me.

    Everything that I am experiencing is healthy and normal. Trying to be more evolved is not going to help me. Working through what I feel and being honest about it is the right path for me to take.

  49. Hi, so sorry to hear this. I have lived in in the same type of neighbourhood and once it got gentrified the drunken college kids and bar hoppers moved in, and yes the people who actually cared about the neighbourhood moved out. Now I live in a park and I have seen many of the gardens vandalized. Sad how people can be so thoughtless and heartless and just plain stupid. I had a very friendly grandfather tell me off when he and his 2 cute grand kids decided to pick every flower in a public garden. Told me the tax payers paid for them and they were just gonna die!! So to hell with anyone else enjoying them!
    I agree give up on it and move your energy and creative talents into something else, it is just too frustrating to keep it up. Thank you for this site, you inspire me to be a better gardener and have opened my eyes to many new ideas. Luckily in life there are more seeds to grow than assholes, find yourself a new plot of soil and look foreward not back. Thanks Lou.

  50. I don’t know you and live on the other side of the world but can imagine how you must feel. I was touched by your post. As an avid gardener of many years I get really annoyed when rabbits and birds destroy my vegetable garden but when humans do it with malicious intent well that’s another matter.

    Some folk just seem to have an evil nature and have no appreciation of nature or what belongs to others. Why they do this I don’t know. Can only put it down to booze or drugs. We have that same problem here in New Zealand.

    Perhaps put up a couple of small signs on your fence indicating that you garden is under camera surveillance, it may be worth a try. We had similar problems some years back but fortunately were able to sell up and move away to a more remote location. Having said that we still have issues with those I call yahoos.

    To finish all I can say is hang in there otherwise these dirt bags will think they’ve won.

    If I lived round the block I drop by to lend you a helping hand …

  51. It seems like the neighbor is envious of what you have going on and like a 2-year old has to crap on it instead of saying, “Hey, how can I get in on some of this gardening, can you show me? No one ever took the time to stop putting my interests down and criticizing them, buy Gayla, you seem like you’d be different.”

  52. This entry is really sad. What is wrong with people?
    It actually makes me think, am I one of these people? I probably have been at some point in my life.

  53. It is the reason we all keep fighting the fight each day. Going to bed knowing you have done your part is all you can do. It is those that go to bed and have to think of what they have done… that we can’t control.

    Good luck… but it seems as if you need a bit more luck.

  54. Once you begin to move out of grief, I hope that you will be able to channel your gardening energy into a project that helps you grow even further beyond the reach of that pain and frustration.
    If you can find a way to carry this lesson forward and use it to help other people who might be facing challenges that equal yours, I believe it will help to heal your heart.
    Any bit of life, garden or inspiration that you unearth in others will pay you back ten fold. Your challenge is to find out how to do it. And I believe you already have.

  55. Five years ago, we bought a beautiful 1920 bungalow with a huge garden in an old, well-established neighborhood. I didn’t realize that the neighborhood was in a serious downhill slide until we moved in. Everything I put outside was stolen or broken or vandalized. I saw people intentionally tear up plants in my yard and all of my potted plants were stolen. We went to neighborhood meetings, belonged to the committees, participated in neighborhood watch, called the police time and time again, and finally gave up. We sold our house and moved to the country. I have never been happier to be rid of that whole experience. I’m sorry you’re going through it, but sometimes, you have to cut your losses (emotional as well as financial) and say enough’s enough. Good luck to you!

  56. I read your post with such sadness. I used to belong to a community garden, and we put so much time and work and love into it only to have it repeatedly destroyed by thoughtless vandals. You have done an amazing job, and although it is incredibly painful to give this up, I know that you will turn your energy and love into another project that benefits the world. I love your site, and read your blog avidly. You are an inspiration to all us urban gardeners! Take care.

  57. Bars are nasty. Maybe you should move your moving plans forward. Then you might arrive in time to plant a fruit tree. Ive never understood growing nonedibles myself. Except for aloe for sunburns.

  58. dear gayla, i found your “you grow girl” site via another forum for avid gardeners couple of weeks back and have been following and reading up on the articles posted here.

    today coming across this i feel bad that u are going through this moment. HOWEVER don’t despair. the world is made up of all kinds of people. some nice and some not so nice (generically). you know if it was not u using that public space to garden and someone else they probably do the same. people sometimes do not respect public or even personal property. for all you know the public space would be managed by city officials and these idiots would have done the same.

    like u have commented, perhaps it is time to move on and not let the $%^&*@# bastards hurt or upset u anymore. it is and will be their loss in the long run not yours.

    i hope u feel better and will find a better place with space and all for more gardening! :)

    best regards,

  59. I just discovered your website 2 days ago, and this posting has almost brought me to tears. That besieged little slice of Toronto doesn’t deserve you – channel your exceptional talents elsewhere.

  60. I’m sorry to hear of your loss. I discovered your site a few weeks ago.

    You’re right to walk away from the constant abuse from other individuals who have no sense of empathy and compassion for those around them. Letting go of that garden must have been one of the hardest thing to do after so many memories and enjoyment with it.

  61. Gayla – Your garden is your soul and your creation and your art, and thats why it hurts so much. Like the prayer says “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” You’re doing the right thing by walking away. So sorry for your pain

  62. could be the irish in me……

    you could be polite and even warn them…….

    pretty little razors……..

    yo! dude….how’s it going?…….

    maybe even a new t-shirt?……

    serving the greater good…

  63. This article made me feel quite tearful. I just don’t get why people have to destroy other peoples hopes and dreams. It’s so un-necessarily cruel, in a world in which there’s already so much ugliness and cruelty. I think the only answer for you is to move. How sad is that as a comment about modern society? I can’t abide vandalism – why destroy or litter your own neighbourhood. What every feline knows is that you don’t mess in your own backyard. You’d think certain humans would’ve figured that out too. We all want to live in safe, clean neighbourhoods … don’t we???? Best wishes, Valerie

  64. Gayla, I’m so sorry to hear this. I live a long way away but I can feel your pain. This is very upsetting.

  65. I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now. I’ve found so much helpful info, and you have been an inspiration for this little urban gardener also.

    I’m just so sorry that this happened to you. I too hope for much brighter days ahead for you. They’ll come, because you’re such a good-hearted person. Hang in there.

  66. Gayla
    I recently hit a wall also – have been planting neighborhood gardens throughout our broken down city block with no enthusiasm or help from our neighbors after years of trying. Our situation is not gentrification -but abandoned houses, drug dealing and general blight. Let’s take this summer to garden our own sanctuaries – safe within our controlled roof tops and back yards and see what next year brings. Everyone needs a vacation right?

  67. Gayla,

    Your story made me cry. How people get their kicks from destroying another’s hard work is beyond me. I hope you can find a way to garden that brings you joy and will not be destroyed.

  68. Gayla, I’m so sorry to hear about this. I believe you when you say this was the right decision for you. I wish you healing, and I hope your move brings you better neighbours and joyful times in the garden. I’m looking forward to reading about it here.

  69. Gayla – I am sorry. This garden may have not worked out, but because of your website, knowledge, passion, and inspiration, you have helped so many things to grow all over this planet! Without you, people like me would never have become brave enough to become invested in gardening. In my little garden, flowers bloom because of you! You are far from a failure….

  70. Gayla – I feel your pain…deeply. As an urban gardener in Spanish Harlem (Manhattan) I sometimes feel like an energized pioneer….more often these days I feel like a defeated woman who has aged out of idealism. I cannot understand why people not only *don’t have concern* for their neighborhoods but are even *actively opposed* to the rejuvenation and beautification of them. Ugh…I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with all of this. It is absolutely heartbreaking. – Tracy

  71. I know you have had an outpouring of support and I just wanted to do two things. First agree with all the support. It is sad that the beautiful thing you created was ruined, not once but until it ruined a part of you. Sad and wrong. Two, a granny I know was given a tomato plant and she (who is in her 80s) planted it while using her walker. After the fruit was just about ready, someone came by and stole the PLANT out of her fenced YARD. I was outraged then and I am now. I can’t fathom these things.

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